Timmy Reynolds: How did you first become interested in photography?
Tim Batten: I spent my early teens building sets out of anything I could find on the farm where I grew up. I would then get friends along to help out with shoots. I think it stemmed from a mixture of trying to be resourceful with what I had to hand, feeling the need to have a creative outlet and being given a camera from a relative.
TR: What inspired you to start your Edgeland series?
TB: It started with wanting to represent England as a country. I knew it had been done successfully before; I would say each generation has one or two examples that really stand out. For me, I got going by just getting out and driving from town to town with the simple aim of wanting to build a set that reflected the feel of England. The word I focused on was ordinary. I wanted to scrutinise what I take for granted as the everyday. Despite initially wanting to represent England, I found that I was naturally only ever going to the outskirts of midsized towns. A few months into the project I was introduced to the book Edgelands written by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley. Right from the go I was captivated. The book talks of this word, which was first coined by Marion Shoard, as “a place that is as difficult to pin down and define as poetry, but like poetry, you’d know it if you saw it. It often contained decay and stasis, but could also be dynamic and deeply mysterious.” I realised that even though I was aware that I was documenting the outer parametres of towns, I was subconsciously rejecting any association with the notion of suburbs. Perhaps this is because connotations towards this area have been built up in my mind to be sterile, man-made environments suggestive of control, order and a rejection of the unexpected. The book Edgelands is aimed at celebrating this overlooked space around urban areas, which is something I also aim to do. For this reason, I named the work Edgeland to make a nod to the book and widen conversation around this area.
TR: You stated that one of your aims was to “represent the feel and pace of the line between town and countryside”. Would you say your work also shows the transition of the two fields?
TB: I agree that the “edgeland” is naturally a combination of both town and country. The reason I see it as a line though is to distinguish it is a place in its own right. From travelling extensively across England in the last year, I have noticed enough common threads in this area to make it feel like an entity in its own right. When showing people this series, they often think that all the images are shot in the same town, the reality is that they are formed of shots from any of the thirty towns that I have visited in the last year, from Cornwall to North Yorkshire.
TR: Is the interaction between the people and the landscapes that they reside in an important part of your project?
TB: Yes, I am very interested in our interaction with the landscape. I centralise each subject at a distance that I have found is a good balance between capturing sufficient details in the subjects body language whilst also showing how integrated they are to the landscape that surrounds them. By building a set of images around this basic rule in composition, I think the viewer is left with a limited number of variables between each shot of which they can naturally draw comparisons. The first of these is, as you have pointed out, the connection that each subject has to their environment. The second is limiting the colour pallet to greys and greens, pushing attention towards the rich diversity within these two colours that I feel are symbolic of England’s edgeland.
TR: Your work in Edgeland seems to focus on beauty in the banal. How do you feel your work differentiates from previous work on this subject?
TB: I think my approach is fairly unique. I take special measures to blend into my environment, allowing me to get close to moments that happen in front of me. I try and consider everything in terms of my affect on these potential moments that are forming. I take it as far as wearing earthy coloured clothing because I have noticed that when I’m dressed in black people are instantly more suspicious. I have my camera hidden away in a messenger bag until the moment is right. All of this goes towards capturing people in a moment, absorbed in their actions or thoughts. If I can pre-empt one of these moments as they are developing in front of me, it’s amazing how close I can get, capturing something genuine. Often people ask me what I’m doing, I will always take the time to explain the project and find that most people are pretty intrigued. I feel that I am trying to celebrate the overlooked banality of the everyday, for this reason I don’t see acting discreetly as a negative that photographers working within this field often get criticised for. I think it’s quite hard to pick out the beauty in something that you are constantly surrounded by. I hope that it is an element of this series that will naturally grow over time as our feelings of familiarity blend into nostalgia.
TR: Are there certain places in the towns you go to that yield more interesting results or do you wander more than plan?
TB: Most people walk around with the intent of getting to their destination. I look for the few moments where for whatever reason they have their mind on something else. When I am navigating around a town I am looking for places that I think I have more chance of finding these moments. In the outer edgelands it’s very quiet, so rare to encounter people at all. I often speed things up by hopping on a skateboard. The whole process does take patience, but a happy side effect is being able to explore the country I’ve grown up in, something I’m sure people don’t do enough.
TR: Why create a newspaper to show your photographs, rather than a book or other format? Does this help to reinforce the idea that Edgeland could be a town itself?
TB: I want to spend a few years on this project. By staying in hostels I can do a 3-day trip for around £100 but that soon adds up. Being able to fund them by selling newspapers would be the dream. Ultimately, I can see an expanded series in the form of a book, but that wouldn’t be for a couple of years. That said, I think when creating a representation of the general public, there is good reason to present it back to them in a way that’s accessible and not exclusive. Newspapers seem like a good way of making this possible.
TR: You mention on your website that the Edgeland series has potential for unlimited expansion, have you thought about any possible future developments?
TB: I am moving away from London to work in a school in South Korea for 6 months. When I return in January, I will travel around in a van with a desk setup to edit in the evenings. I feel like I have barely touched the North of England, let alone the rest of the UK.
— Timmy Reynolds