Tarmac to Towpath by David Banning & Julian Hyde

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The arrival of the Covid virus into Europe changed the way of life across the continent. What was normal, suddenly became forbidden or restricted. Words that were rare in our lexicography suddenly became common; furlough, social distancing and isolation. The first lockdown was a bit of a novelty for everyone. However, as the virus ebbed and flowed around the population, people came to realise that these changes were here to stay for a while.

We were allowed out at times. If you could not work from home then you could travel to work and there was permitted exercise for an hour a day which I used to discover more of my local area. People reacted to these changes in many different ways and David Banning & Julian Hyde have collected in this slender volume text and images from 13 artists across the UK. The first page is a Year planner, wherefrom the 16th March someone has written ‘IN’ on every day until the end of June.

Some of the photos in here show the eeriness of the empty streets, the queues of people waiting to scour the empty shelves for something to eat. Trains that were once full of commuters are now rattling empty along the lines. Most poignant is a series of black and white pictures with the discarded blue face masks picked out in colour.

It was dark; even the faintest stars were unusually clear

I hesitated.
I was afraid of the empty streets.

If you are looking for a very different take on the pandemic so far, then this book is a very good place to start. The artistic responses here are as good as they are unsettling, the empty streets feel like spectral walks, the ghosts of people who once passed seep out of the concrete. Without the people passing the eerie geometries of structures are much more visible, and the surreal things that have been discarded add to the psychogeographical encounters throughout the book. As unsettling as it is, I really liked this, it picks up on themes from the excellent Unofficial Britain by Gareth Rees about those fringe parts of our urban landscape that are not normally seen and brings them to life.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    I’m finding it a bit early to read anything but the nature-y pandemic books so far, though I have Pandemic Solidarity to read. But this sounds interesting and I do love that people have documented it all through art.

    • Paul

      I know what you mean. This is the third that I have read so far. This is a very different take on it all though

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