As part of the Tokaido Road project coming to the new Colyer-Fergusson Gallery later this month, Faversham-based photographer Hope Fitzgerald will be bringing her #walkSwaleMedway series. In advance of the show opening on Friday 17 April, I caught up with Hope and asked her about the ideas behind her various walking projects, and what to look forward to in her forthcoming exhibition.
Tell us about the #walkSwaleMedway project
Walk Swale Medway began with a continuous walk of nearly three weeks through Swale and Medway starting on 22 June, 2014. Using a mobile phone, I took pictures as I walked and posted them to Instagram using #walkSwaleMedway. Links were also shared on Twitter and Facebook. As part of the original Walk Swale Medway three-week walk, I relied on the kindness and hospitality of my neighbours in Swale and Medway. I took a few photos, heard stories and shared them on Walk Swale Medway. Sometimes a friend recommended someone who could help.
The website includes a selection of writing and photographs featuring the places seen, the people met, and the stories heard along the way. Walk Swale Medway continues to be an open ended invitation to take notice of and share where we live, connect with and contribute to our community
What was it about the Tokaido Road project in particular that interested you in taking part ?
It was completely unfamiliar to me at first, so that was appealing. I was interested in the fact that a connection had been made between #walkSwaleMedway and the paintings Hiroshige made from views sketched while walking the Tokaido Road. Once I’d read up on it, I was really struck by the fact that Hiroshige’s paintings included details of date, location, and anecdotes of his fellow travellers, just like I had with WSM by adding text on my Instagram images before posting. There’s this lovely timeless parallel – of movement and looking around, and taking notice. It was also his job, really, and not that well paid, but the success of the Tokaido Road series increased awareness of his work.
#walkSwaleMedway explores similar themes of travel, landscape and people to Hiroshige’s ‘Tokaido Road:’ do you see WSM as a Kent-ish version ?
The more I look, the more parallels I see. I’m also really pleased to be on the fringe of a project that has inspired a lot of people working collaboratively to make something new – the librettist Nancy Gaffield, composer Nicola LeFanu, and musician Kate Romano, among others. Not the first time Hiroshige has inspired others, I like this about it, too.
You’ve done similar projects walking in Faversham, and to Folkestone last year for the Triennial: what is it that makes you want to explore like this ?
Walking in Faversham is where it all began, almost by accident. I gave myself a two-week target of walking every day, with a new pair of trainers as my incentive. By about day 10, I was hooked, and walking was a reward in itself. I didn’t mean to do it – it sort of just kept going! I did that every day (barring a couple of sick days) for a year before #walkSwaleMedway. WSM was much more profound an experience than I’d anticipated – I thought I’d just go for a wander, but it was challenging and exhilarating in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I heard a radio programme later about long distance walking and how intimidating it can be, but I didn’t really think it through – I just thought ‘Hey, I know, I’ll walk across Swale and Medway.’
I walked to Folkestone to take part in Alex Hartley’s brilliant work called Vigil, in which a set of mountain climbing ledges hanging off the outside of the Grand Burstin Hotel was occupied by volunteers. It seemed like as good a reason to walk somewhere as any, so I went for it. It took three days, and the countryside that way is beautiful and walking for a long time is a great way to see things. There’s a wonderful metaphor for life built into walking for me – it’s just one step at a time – sometimes they are heavy, sometimes light, but always just the one step keeps you going. I’ve been so busy lately that I have been skipping steps here and there, but I’ll find my stride again. I’m looking for an excuse to walk somewhere most of the time.
What can we expect when #WalkSwaleMedway opens in Colyer-Fergusson later this month ?
The plan is to mirror, in number at least, the 53 Stations of the Tokaido Road along the eighteen panels of the new Colyer-Fergusson gallery. The photographs are small, so on an intimate scale and framed in hand-finished black shadow boxes. They are printed on aluminium, so some are jewel-like, while others glow with the feel of watercolour. They are pictures of my home.
Hope’s #walkSwaleMedway exhibition opens in Colyer-Fergusson on Friday 17 April and runs until Friday 1 May; admission is free.
All images: © Hope Fitzgerald. #WalkSwaleMedway is supported by Arts Council Funding through Ideas Test.