There’s a melancholy air to this time of year that this picture seems to capture. Taken at twilight, a flock of birds took off suddenly, and followed the line of the trees through the clear area of sky above them. What I like best, though, is the small jet trail in the background – humans and birds, flying together.
Something that’s always paid off for me is to keep ‘working’ the same area time after time, even when I think there’s nothing new left to photograph. The act of going back and looking, again and again, until I start seeing things I never saw before,has been one of my most rewarding experiences as a photographer.
There’s usually some place nearby that draws me to it. When I lived in Canterbury, it was the cathedral; when I lived on the Wirral, it was the Dee Estuary; here, it’s the cemetery and small lakes that lie behind it. Whatever it is, it has to be close enough to where I live to make constant, even daily, visits easy, and there has to be something about it that makes me happy to go there often.
Many times I don’t even want to take my camera with me – it’s grey, flat light, it’s dull, there can’t be anything worthwhile left that I haven’t already photographed, I say to myself. The trick is to take the camera anyway and not care if I come back with nothing – but I rarely come back with nothing.
The images on this post started with one of those days. I went out for the exercise mostly, took my camera but didn’t think I’d use it. It was a grey day, although quite bright, and there was very little wind. I’m always attracted to water reflections but have done the obvious ones; however, when I looked closely at the patterns made by the interaction between the tree reflections and the ripples created by the many water birds, there were wonderful lines and textures and shapes to be seen and investigated.
I’ve been back several times for more, but these kind of images aren’t that easy to achieve. Too much wind destroys the reflections, too little light makes it impossible for me (with my rather archaic camera) to get a fast enough shutter speed, and too much sun creates too much flare and dazzle. It’s rather hit and miss even in perfect conditions – the lines and ripples move and change constantly, and getting any kind of focus isn’t easy. The autofocus hunts around like crazy, taking ages to lock onto anything and my few attempts at using manual focus were a complete disaster – even with an adjusted dioptre, it became obvious that I can’t see well enough to know if it’s in or out of focus. I’ve deleted many more images than I’ve kept, but every so often one of them pops up as a keeper and keeps me going.
“Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity.” Robert Pirsig
I’ve found this to be very true: nearly all my best – or at least most absorbing – work has arisen out of boredom. Something happens when I feel apathetic about what’s in front of me. If I go with it and don’t fight it, and just accept the apparent dullness, some little thing will eventually catch my eye. I’ll feel a flicker of excitement, of possibility, and then suddenly I’m away. I’ve rarely known it to fail.
A year ago I was loving winter’s skeleton trees and couldn’t get enough of them – this year, I’m longing for the soft greenness of the leaves to appear. Last winter the starkness of the trees suited my mood – we’d just had a depressing Christmas and were heading into another year of Geoff’s search for work. We’d had to borrow money from family to help pay the mortgage, and although I had some irons in the fire they weren’t yet producing anything. I’m so glad we didn’t know then that he’d still be out of work a year later, or our gloom would have been even deeper. As it was, he did get a short but well-paid temporary contract that helped us to keep going, I managed to develop enough of an income to make a difference, and somehow we survived the year.
For a while it was looking as if this Christmas would be even worse than last – all our savings were gone and we knew we couldn’t go on as we were. But, as often happens, we had a sudden turnaround and Geoff starts a brand new job in February – suddenly the future seems a lot brighter and we’re moving out of the limbo we’ve been living in for so long, and maybe that’s why the Gothic severity of the bare trees doesn’t appeal so much any more. Looking up through them, however, it seemed to me they were reaching for the light just as we are – a little dim at the moment but knowing growth and abundance is on its way to us.
I’m finding it difficult at the moment to come up with much variety in these shots, especially as I was knocked out by a very nasty chest infection for about two weeks over the Christmas break and I haven’t been able to get out much. I’m feeling the need for fresh inspiration – to go somewhere new, or at least somewhere different from my usual walk round the cemetery/lake – but the virus has left me feeling too tired for an outing right now. However, I did like the way that this low winter sun peeked through the mass of skeleton trees in the cemetery.
After I made my Christmas tree post live, I realised I’d missed a week! – not sure how that happened. This was the tree that should have gone on before the Christmas post.
I’ve always thought of myself as very much a colour photographer. Colour is my passion – it excites and energises me. What I used to find, though, was that my interest in photography would diminish to almost nothing in winter when there was little or no colour around, and I’d go for months hardly picking up my camera. In the last year or two I’ve become much more interested in black and white photography, and while colour is still my thing, I’m beginning to enjoy playing with monochrome as well. My winter photography has been revitalised by this, and even a grey day can offer exciting possibilities of line and pattern.
These birds in their winter tree have a bit of an oriental feel to me. I love the fact that, although I’ve converted this image to black and white, it really didn’t change it much as there was very little colour there to begin with. What I did do was boost the contrast up to give a cleaner, more graphic look to it.
HAPPY SEASONAL GREETINGS TO EVERYONE, AND WARM WISHES FOR ALL GOOD THINGS TO COME TO YOU IN 2016
Well it had to be a Christmas tree this week, didn’t it! Unfortunately I haven’t had time to get out and take something new, so this one dates from last Christmas. Every year the Town Hall, which is housed in the Georgian Buttermarket building in Newark’s market square, places a huge tree on the balcony and floodlights it in different colours. The market square itself has an enormous canopy erected over it, made up of strings of twinkling white lights. It’s quite magical at night and I hope to get some shots of it once I get some time to go out there.
I’m going to take a break over Christmas week, and hopefully play around with a new blog design that will allow me to post much larger images. So if you turn up here and it’s all gone a bit haywire, don’t worry, I’m working on it. I’ll be back again on 6th January.
The book – I took the photo after two large glasses of wine, in a hurry, and in low light, and yes, there is camera movement – happens to us all sometimes!
When we first moved to this area we rented a wonderful 17th century cottage – living in it felt like being enveloped in a warm hug. We became good friends with our landlady Maria, who is one of the most delightful and lovely people you could ever hope to meet. She loves her cottage too, so when we left I wanted to give her something very personal as a thank you.
That was about a year and a half ago, and it’s taken me till now to do it. My idea was to photograph small quirky parts of the cottage and make the resulting images into a keepsake book. I took all the shots before we left and then things stagnated for a while, partly because we were very busy settling into our new home and partly because I didn’t know how to make the kind of book I had in mind.
Eventually I went on a small workshop that took me through the steps of making a leather-bound book, but then my ambitions began to soar and I had so many complicated ideas for how Maria’s book should be put together that I confused myself into a standstill. Eventually I got clearer (and simpler) on what I wanted to do, and while still a bit overly ambitious for a first attempt, it began to look do-able.
Unfortunately there was little prospect of seeing Maria for a long time, as she was then sole carer to her two very elderly and infirm parents and rarely had any time to herself. I’m the kind of person who’s far more likely to get things done if there’s at least a loose sort of deadline in place, and knowing I probably wouldn’t see Maria for ages meant that the book was constantly put on the back burner.
Things change, however, and Maria’s mother died a short while ago and with only her father to care for she gained a little bit more time for herself, although I still hadn’t managed to meet up with her. Then last week we had a small impromptu party and I invited Maria, expecting her to say that it would be too difficult for her to come. But then she said yes……
I was thrilled she was coming, but went into instant panic about the book. It meant I really had to get it finished, and in a matter of days, at that. But I did it, and the pictures you see here are the result.
First page – the lace lining is part of a curtain that used to be in the cottage
Let me explain something of how it was put together. The leather cover is lined in lace and the lace came from a small curtain in the bedroom of the cottage. One day when we were out, there was a sudden summer storm and when we got back we found the bedroom window (which we’d left open) had been banging back and forth in the wind, trapping the curtain and tearing it. When we left, I took the torn curtain with me thinking I’d use it in some way for the book. Part of it made the lining, and I used the piece that was left as a kind of stencil.
Because the images aren’t hugely interesting in themselves, being meaningful only if you know the cottage, I felt that some of the pages needed jazzing up a little. I had the idea of spraying gold paint through sections of the curtain lace, and tried to link up the pattern with the photograph – eg, on the opposite page of a photo of the brick kitchen floor, I used a section of curtain that looked a little like a brick pattern.
Sewing the pages in wasn’t easy. I had some thin cord that I wanted to use, but then found I didn’t have a needle with a big enough eye in it to get the cord through it. With a bit of help from Geoff, I did manage to thread it in the end, and then found that I had to make what seemed like enormous holes in the spine to get it through. I was worried about the lace inside tearing, but fortunately it didn’t.
The cover needed decoration too, and some kind of fastening. Eventually I found some outsize decorative wooden buttons on Ebay, and some fancy string-like trimming in a local shop. I had planned to sew the button on, but it would have spoiled the effect of the lace inside as the stitching would have shown on it. In the end, I glued it on with fabric glue after creating some fake stitching to make it look sewn. I also glued the trim to the underside of it, and the trimming then wrapped round the book and was held in place by the edge of the button. Surprisingly, it all worked out very well.
I finished it yesterday, and handed it over, wrapped in Christmas paper, to Maria. She won’t open it till Christmas day, and I really, really hope she likes it – but more than that, I’m just so relieved to have it finished at last. And for those of a worried disposition, she doesn’t read my blog so I think it’s safe to post……
A little bit of research on Google produced this map from 1906, with the cottage marked on it
The Welcome sign on the outside of the cottage, plus a view from outside, looking into the kitchen
The original brick floor in the Victorian kitchen extension. The gold stencil on the left page echoes the brick pattern of the floor.
The beam above this wall light in an upstairs corridor is covered with 1950s newspaper, announcing Queen Elizabeth the second’s coronation
Close-up of the stencilling, created with gold paint sprayed through part of the lace curtain
The stairs to the attic master bedroom were all of uneven heights and sizes and twisted round in a curve. The door at the bottom warned you to Mind the Stairs.
Something about this group of trees intrigues me -the way they’re grouped and the various angles at which they lean. You might well be seeing more of these, especially if it snows this winter (I’d love to see these with a covering of white on them). This time, though, it was the perfect reflections that made me press the shutter.