Another sunset. At this time of year we begin to get spectacular sunsets much of the time, and the sun goes down just behind the huge tree that grows a couple of gardens over. Later in the summer, with the earth’s rotation, the sunset moves clockwise past the tree and the skyline isn’t nearly so interesting there, so it’s good to make the most of it while it’s happening. Well, that’s my excuse, anyway!
I’ve photographed the amazing sunsets I see from my study window plenty of times before, but this is the first time I’ve tried some intentional camera movement. I had to delete most of the shots I took as they didn’t work at all, but this one, my last one, came together in the way I was hoping for. I found the trick was to jiggle the camera rather than move it in any particular direction. It was a bit of a rush job as the colours were fading fast and I had to grab my camera, find the key that opens the window, lean out, and shoot like mad in those few moments.
I’m pleased with the result, as I think it captures the feeling of the soft but fiery sky, and the quiet gentleness of dusk. I can see myself moving more and more towards this impressionistic style of photography as time goes on.
My contribution to the project – low tide, West Kirby, on the Wirral Peninsula
Ages ago – years ago, now – when I was just finishing studying with Open College of the Arts, some students on the Flickr forum got together and designed a collaborative project. It was called The Nearest Faraway Place, and each of us who wanted to take part had to supply a 6 x 4 print that interpreted the title any way we wanted.
The book took a concertina form which made it easy for each person to add their bit onto the end of it, and it travelled round the world to one student at a time so that they could personally attach their contribution. Each person also saved the stamps from the parcel it arrived in and added them to the metal box in which the book travelled. The idea was that these would become part of a collage that made up the book’s cover.
I remember the day it came to me in the post. It was incredibly exciting to be holding something that had travelled so far, and had been put together by many people whom I knew online but had never actually met. There was something very special about holding the book and knowing that these people had also held it in their hands. This is how it looked when I got it:
The book made its way round a large chunk of the world – USA, China, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, Tanzania, Japan, Switzerland, Greece, Ireland, and more – eventually ending up in the UK. There were one or two hairy moments when it seemed to have got lost in the post – with one notably long and anxious wait when it was making its way from South Africa to the UK – but it always turned up eventually.
I think it took about two years in the end for everyone to get their chance to contribute, but a few months ago the book finally made it to the last person on the list. This person is Yiann, who had volunteered to tidy the book up, make a cover for it, and generally put it into its final physical form. On one of my increasingly rare visits to Flickr, I discovered that she’s now done just that and, even better, made a video of the finished thing. She’s done a brilliant job with it, as you can see in the video below:
I once planned to do a whole project on nature reflected in cars, although I never did get round to it and it’s joined my very long list of ideas for themed projects that have never actually happened. Something about juxtaposing a hard, mechanical, man-made thing like a car, and the organic shapes of the natural world really appeals to me.
They seem so at odds with one another, but I was struck at the time with the fact that I needed a car to get myself to the kind of wild, natural spaces that I love – cars and roads paradoxically both destroy our environment and enable us to experience it. And everywhere I went for a while, I saw nature and cars coming together in some way – piles of spring blossom fallen on windscreens, trees reflected in bonnets, tyre tracks in woodland access roads, leaves trapped under windscreen wipers, a bunch of flowers on the parcel shelf, a sapling growing out of an abandoned car. And cars run on fossil fuel, created over time by trees, plants and other organic matter.
I love my car for the freedom it offers me, and its ability to take me to wild places that I couldn’t access any other way, while at the same time I’m aware that the act of doing that is helping to destroy those very places.
This little project is teaching me many things, and one of them is how hard it is to stay true to my own vision and not be swayed by what I think other people will like. Unusually, I had quite a number of images to select from this week and have changed the posted image about four times so far because I can’t make up my mind. Some were ‘safe’ – the kind of thing universally liked but not that interesting – some were dark, both in tone and visually, hinting at darker emotions that are not so immediately appealing. Some I loved myself, but knew that others almost certainly wouldn’t.
I never photograph for anyone other than myself. While I’m using the camera, it’s all about how I’m seeing things and what I’m drawn to. Afterwards, though – afterwards – I begin to see my pictures as other people are likely to. In some ways this is good – it introduces a little bit of objectivity into the proceedings – but it’s also when I start tying myself in knots.
It’s easy to say it shouldn’t matter and of course there’s a lot of truth in this. On the other hand, some of my motivation to continue taking photos lies in sharing them, and I like to feel I’m sharing them with people who enjoy what I do – for the most part, at least. I’ve questioned this need to share more than a few times, and the conclusion I came to is this: I need to share in the same way that if I got a piece of good news or something fantastic happened to me, I would feel a strong urge to phone up a friend and tell them about it. It increases the pleasure for me, and I hope gives them some second-hand pleasure too. It’s not a case of looking for validation – rather, an intention to connect through the medium I most enjoy. So I’m very grateful to anyone who takes the time to look at what I’ve done, and I’d rather not alienate them with too much stuff they won’t like.
Then there’s the business of trying to assess, as objectively as possible, what I’ve produced. I believe that I’m producing better art these days than I did a few years ago – in fact, I believe that I might venture to actually call some of what I do ‘art’ – but self-doubt is never slow to poke its head in. It’s so difficult to judge your own work – it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve looked at something I’ve done and loved it, only to realise later that it was pretty poor stuff.
Other people’s reactions are not really something you can go on here. The more you look at images the more sophisticated and informed your taste becomes, and any one person’s reaction to what I’ve produced is likely to be dependent on where they are on that scale of visual experience. What I’ve resorted to is looking at other people’s work – work that’s gained some recognition – and comparing with my own. Much of the time I can see how far I lag behind them, but on occasion I see people doing the kind of thing I’m doing myself, and even more occasionally I think I might be doing it better.
So I think I prefer the weeks when there isn’t much to choose from. I’ve no idea if I’ve made the best choice here or not, but I’ve been playing with diptychs lately – something I haven’t done for a long time – and this is one of them. I was also playing with my Lensbaby – another thing I haven’t done for a long time – and I liked the way it blurred the background layers of these hanging branches. It’s a quiet image, with perhaps something of a Japanese aesthetic about it.
I’m at the stage where I’m getting a little bit bored with this project, or at least, bare trees with no leaves. However, we’re now getting a bit of sunshine and on Sunday it was bright enough to cast these wonderful shadows on the Georgian houses round the corner from us. It makes a change from reflections.
I guess this is the danger time in a project, when you’re well enough into it to have lost the initial excitement and you begin to get the feeling you’re repeating yourself a little too often. Time to up my game a bit, I think, and start thinking a little more laterally.
It does help to have a camera with you at all times. I don’t usually, because mine’s far too big and heavy, but on this occasion I happened to have a little digital compact in my bag. The quality’s not nearly so good but, as they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. However, at long last it’s looking as if I might get a bright shiny new camera in the near future, and I’ve decided to go for the Sony a6000 which is going to be small and light enough to carry around with me most of the time. I’m rather hoping it will give my photographic creativity a bit of a boost.
Oh how I long for colour! Much as I’m enjoying the strong lines, shapes, and contrasts of black and white photography, colour is what I most love. There’s little of it around at the moment, so when I saw these richly coloured autumn leaves floating at the edge of the lake, adding their vibrant tones to the darkness of the water, I was drawn right to them.
A return to ‘straight’ photography this week. This magnificent tree grows within the shell of Newark Castle, which was turned into public gardens by the Victorians. As usual at the moment not much colour around so a black and white conversion it is.
I’ve got a bit of thing about gardens inside the shells of old buildings. My favourite place in London is St Dunstan’s Church, in the City, which is just that. In the days when I visited London regularly it was one of my go-to places for photography, and I loved the contrast between the peaceful green leaves of the garden inside and the hurry and scurry of the city workers on the outside. So, two for the price of one this week, as I’m feeling nostalgic. (And also a nice reminder of summer)
Look carefully at this one – these trees are reflected in very shallow water, and the dead leaves just underneath the water give it a textured effect. It seems a little like a double-exposure to me, and I liked the idea of bringing earth, sky and water together in one image.