One of the things I was excited about when we moved up here was the fact that we’re not far from Crosby, where Antony Gormley has an installation of 100 statues on the beach – something I’d always wanted to see. Last weekend we took a trip there; it was a grey day on the whole and I thought my chances of getting any decent shots were low, but they’ve turned out surprisingly well. Admittedly I’ve helped them along quite a bit by under-exposing slightly and doing copious amounts of dodging and burning. One thing I found very difficult was getting the colour balance right: there was a blue cast that was easy enough to get rid of in the areas of the beach or sea, but what looked natural there left the sky and horizon looking unnaturally blue. I ended up making a selection of the sky and desaturating the blues and cyans to get something that at least didn’t look totally artificial.
All the images I’ve seen of these figures have shown them against a sunset/sunrise/interesting sky, in the tradition of classic landscape photographs. The impression you get from these is of some lonely, windswept, romantically-isolated place – the reality is somewhat different. Crosby, it has to be said, is not a pretty place. The beach itself is wonderful, but the promenade doesn’t have a lot to recommend it and the Mr Whippy ice-cream van and burger vans don’t help. The beach is busy, even on a grey day like this, and there are lots of people wandering around with or without dogs, looking at the statues.
The interaction of people, dogs and metal figures is interesting in its own right and I’d like to spend some time there one day doing a bit of ‘street’ photography, more along the lines of the image lower down with the seagull. However, despite the fact it creates something that’s unreal in many ways, I like the feeling of space, expansiveness, and melancholy that you get when you leave out the ugly bits and capture the essence of these strange, compelling figures. Photography really is all about what you choose to include or to leave out.
And then there’s this one; not quite in the same vein as the others.
Finally, Crosby Beach without figures; rather a beautiful place in its own right.
A while ago I had an idea for a project with a working title of ‘nature taking over’. It was prompted by some random shots I’d taken of man-made things being engulfed in plants and leaves. I’ve always liked the idea that, were humankind to vacate the planet, it wouldn’t take too long before plant and animal life began to reclaim it for themselves. And I like the idea, too, that no matter how clever we think we are, we aren’t separate from nature and don’t have dominion over it and it will always, always, have the last word. If I’d completed the project, I was going to call it ‘I saw some grass growing through the pavement today’ – a line from a Jethro Tull song called ‘Jack in the Green’:
It’s no fun being Jack-In-The-Green — no place to dance, no time for song. He wears the colours of the summer soldier — carries the green flag all the winter long.
Jack, do you never sleep — does the green still run deep in your heart? Or will these changing times, motorways, powerlines, keep us apart? Well, I don’t think so — I saw some grass growing through the pavements today.
The project was originally intended for one of my course assignments, but it just didn’t come together the way I’d hoped it would. The images didn’t sit together well or look part of a coherent set, and it was getting late in the season to take more so I did something different for my coursework. But I haven’t completely abandoned the idea and may go back to it – I find myself looking for these kinds of shots without really intending to.
A while ago I did a similar series of pictures but with a different slant, centred around the derelict house next door to us. Oddly enough, nature encroaching on this nice old house didn’t make me feel the same way – instead of an inner sense of satisfaction in its reclamation of the house, I felt a sadness that the house had been so neglected. Nothing we do is ever truly original so I wasn’t surprised when I came across a project on Flickr, by Julia M Cameron (no, not that Julia M Cameron – her namesake) that deals with the same kind of themes and, interestingly, some of the images in her project have as part of their title: ‘Neglect – nature taking over’. It got me wondering about the way you could take the same image, and by titling it differently express two very different viewpoints. The images in my ‘nature taking over’ and ‘derelict house’ are similar in many ways but express two different perspectives and motivations. And there’s yet another title involved – I called my house project ‘Abandoned’, which introduces different connotations again. I’m wondering how much influence the title of a work or series should have, or how much the viewer should be left to make up her own mind.
I don’t like the post-modern habit of calling everything ‘untitled’. I like things to have a title, even if just to make identification easy. However, if you were to look at my images with the idea of ‘neglect’ in your mind, would you experience them differently than if you looked at them with the notion of nature triumphing? Would a rose by any other name really smell as sweet? Or should the photographic technique used be enough on its own to identify the photographer’s intention? I have no answers, I’m afraid – just posing the question.
My course may be finished, but the work definitely isn’t. I have to get things into some kind of shape for the assessment process and since I work in a very idiosyncratic way when it comes to doing courses, I have a lot of sorting out to do. It’s always been like this. When I did my first degree I only went to those lectures and tutorials that I thought were worthwhile; since attending a lecture involved a lengthy jaunt into London, I wasn’t prepared to go if the lecturer was only going to read from his own book – and yes, some of them did that. I figured I could do that at home, and more efficiently too. I worked very hard in my own way, but it was my own way, and I was lucky that my subject – philosophy – lent itself to private study. There are a lot of subjects where you really do have to attend everything or you’ll lose out.
There’s danger in picking and choosing like this – it’s easy to become a little arrogant and think you know more than you do. On the other hand, I so hate to be bored and made to go over things I’m already familiar with – that turns me off a course completely, and means I’m likely to abandon it altogether because the reason I like learning is that it keeps my brain stimulated. I like to think I have enough self-awareness to know when I need to do something or not – when I began an Access to Art & Design course, for example, I knew I had to go to pretty much everything because my drawing and painting ability and other hands-on skills weren’t strong. What I did try to get out of was the (very!) basic IT classes as I’d been teaching IT for several years before that, but it took a lot of argument before they agreed to ‘let me off’ that particular class. I struggle with courses that are too prescriptive and I don’t like being on the receiving end of condescension or a patronising tone. But I have to be careful, because it’s all too easy to airily dismiss the need to attend or complete something when actually it might be helpful and useful. I don’t always know best, even if I think I do.
So this is my dilemma when it comes to going through the small exercise projects in my course and putting my learning log together. I haven’t done all the exercises, because to do some of them would be so unbelievably tedious that I’d probably abandon the course forthwith. I’ve made myself do some of these duller exercises to show willing, but the thought of having to write them up as well – and ‘reflect’ on them – is enough to get me reaching for the sloe gin bottle. Take a couple of the early ones – ‘try taking your photo in both landscape and portrait formats’ and ‘try varying where you put the horizon’. Do they seriously think I’ve got to the second year of a university course without having tried these things? I’ve been doing both of these since I first picked up a camera, and every time I shoot I reflect on which shots work best. To turn what is already an unconscious habit into a deliberate exercise feels awkward and too much of a box-ticking exercise. For that reason I’ve been quite selective about the projects, mostly doing those ones that seemed useful and only writing up those where I felt I had something I wanted to say about them.
Barbed wire as a landscape subject – why not?
The Landscape course is one of the worst courses on offer through OCA and desperately needs a re-write. I’d like to see far fewer of these kind of exercises in the course and far more that helped you explore and find your own vision or voice; I’d like to see something that would go a lot deeper than this goes and be concerned more with the art rather than the technology. However, I realised early on that you have to make what you can of what’s there and that, fortunately, OCA doesn’t take an overly prescriptive approach and is happy for you to interpet the subject widely. The freeing up point for me was when I decided to stop caring about what tutors thought, or what I thought ‘proper’ landscape photographers would do, and simply do what I wanted to do. Again, there’s a danger of becoming pig-headed and blinkered if you do this, and that can be a little worrying, but I don’t think I’ve gone too far down that road. And I might not have learned in the way that I was ‘supposed’ to, and I might not have learned exactly the kind of things ‘they’ thought I should, but I have learned quite a lot that’s meaningful to me, and isn’t that what it’s really about?
These are a few of the things I’ve learned:
my sort of landscape tends to be small and intimate and lies in detail rather than the big picture, and that’s OK.
while a traditional landscape photographer is usually obsessed with getting maximum depth of field and sharpness, I’m not very interested in that side of things, so please don’t talk to me about hyper-focal focussing distances – I don’t want to know.
neither am I the kind of landscape photographer that gets up at dawn and trudges 23 miles cross-country carrying several hundredweight of equipment, and then sits and waits seven hours for the light to be in just the right place. I am not that person.
I’d rather evoke a mood in my photo than have it be representational; reality doesn’t interest me that much, and I’m not shy of doing serious post-processing to get it to look the way I had it in my head, and that’s OK too.
I often enjoy the post-processing as much as I enjoy taking the shots; it’s a different sort of enjoyment but it keeps me happy for hours.
I’m a flaneur, not a planner. Some photographers like to plan everything in advance, arrange objects to satisfy their vision, and know exactly what they’re going to do before they go out. I’m not knocking this as an approach, but it spoils things for me. I’m more in the tradition of the flaneur – ‘someone who strolls’ and relies on serendipity based on a minimum of planning – and this isn’t really in the tradition of landscape photography, although it’s one way of doing it. If I wasn’t so self-conscious, I’d be a street photographer for sure.
landscape can be many things, including urban buildings and puddles and skies and fallen petals and even barbed wire – realising this was a huge relief
I like having tiny people in my landscapes. This one surprised me, as I thought I preferred my photos without people in them – now I feel there’s something lacking if there aren’t any people in the frame……..but they must be tiny and far away.
landscape photography is no longer a clear-cut genre and often overlaps into social documentary and I feel comfortable with this – I’m not a fan of fitting things into genres and think that the most significant works in any medium are often the ones that don’t fit neatly into any particular category.
when I let go of my fixed ideas about what I think others expect me to do, and let myself follow my inclinations, I become infinitely more creative and take much more interesting photos.
despite having lots of problems with the course (some of which were self-created) and even abandoning it for a year, I’m jolly glad I came back and finished it.
More barbed wire – funny how themes emerge without you even trying
Wouldn’t you know it! – I took this photo a long, long time ago, way before I was working on my ‘earth and water’ assignment. I was scratching around for another image to replace number 10 with and remembered I’d taken this one, but couldn’t find it however much I searched because of the general disarray of my hard-drives. Today, of course, I come across it while I’m looking for something else. And it would have been perfect……sigh.
Especially for those of you who helped me with my decisions on my last assignment, here’s the final line-up – in the order in which it went in. Feedback from tutor coming up in a moment…….
I was pretty pleased with this in the end, although I had one or two doubts that were confirmed by the tutor feedback. The image third from the end was put in as a filler – I didn’t have an alternative and so it had to go in. I felt it was a bit similar to the one after it, and not as interesting, and that’s exactly what I got back in terms of tutor comments. The other one I wasn’t sure about was the blurred leaves (second from top); I like it a lot, but I think maybe a slightly quicker shutter speed would have held a little more sharpness and made it better. My tutor admitted that it fitted well in the sequence, but he thought it was too blurred. Before I put these in for assessment I can make changes if I want to, and I’ll almost certainly change number ten for something that gives more variety. However, I’m going to keep number two, because despite its faults I like it, it fits in well, and I think the blurriness is compensated for to some extent by the light and the colour.
I spent a lot of time on the sequencing, spreading the prints out all over my study floor and moving them about till the order made sense. In the end, I decided to start with an earth/water combination, move onto the water shots, then to the earth shots, and finish with another earth/water combo to bring it full circle. I also did my best to make some colour link between them, although it wasn’t always possible. My tutor thought the sequencing worked well.
In some ways this was an easy assignment for me. Anyone who’s been reading this for any length of time will know that I’m an ardent fan of Ernst Haas, and some of that’s because my own style of photography is quite similar (if not quite up to the same standard!). This made it easy for me to put myself into an Ernst Haas kind of mindset and produce something in that vein, although it was a lot more difficult to find the raw material for the images. I think it would have been much more of a challenge for me to take on someone whose style was very, very different to my own, and in some ways I regret not doing that because I would have learned a lot. But the last year has been hard enough without deliberately making things difficult for myself, and I think I have plenty of excuse for taking the easier option. I also wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much, and it’s been a pleasure to go round pretending I’m channeling Ernst. I’m quite proud of the results and might go on adding to these over time, particularly if I take the exploration into fire and air as well.
Roots, and home, and all that that means have been on my mind lately. I’m terribly unhappy at the moment and find it hard to write anything and even harder to muster up any enthusiasm for taking photos. I feel displaced, out of tune with where I am, and almost as if I’m suffering a bereavement, but of a place rather than a person. This last weekend I hit a new low and spent much of it in tears, sobbing from a deep, deep place, remembering all the things I loved about where I used to live and missing the friends I used to be able to see. It’s hard not to see myself as pathetic and inadequate – I know of many other people who move countries and even continents and take it all in their stride. I’ve been wondering why it’s hit me so hard.
I’ve made a major move before and didn’t feel like this. But that time I was glad to be going, glad to be leaving a marriage that was falling apart and a place where I never had felt that I fitted. I grew up near Glasgow in central Scotland and lived there until I was nearly thirty, but it never felt right to me. I loved the Scottish land and scenery with a passion, but I found the towns and villages grey and austere and lacking in flowers, joy and life. I didn’t fit with the people there either – Glaswegians are wonderfully friendly, funny, helpful, and easy to chat to, but they don’t have much interest in the arts (they regard you as rather suspect and a little bit up-your-own-**** if you do) and they don’t tend towards deep thinking (something I know I do too much of, but it’s who I am). I liked a lot of people but never felt I could connect with them in any meaningful way. So moving several hundred miles south didn’t make me feel as if I was being torn out by the roots, as I do now.
After a few years in the south-east, I ended up in Canterbury where I stayed for the next twenty-five and for the first time in my life I felt at home somewhere. I put down roots there, great solid curling roots that drew in ample nourishment for my life. I didn’t seem so much the odd one out, which was a huge relief and I was happy there. It was the kind of place I used to dream about living when I was growing up. While few places can compare to the drama of the Scottish mountains and coast, I loved the gentle, rolling Englishness of the scenery and the pretty, flower-filled villages and mediaeval towns. I loved the orchards that grew everywhere and the sunnier, warmer climate. Over the years I found places that came to mean a lot to me: the green, mossy, RSPB woods at Blean; the astonishingly lovely gardens at Mount Ephraim; the wide empty pebble-filled beach at Sandwich Bay, which was always quiet even on a hot summer’s day because you had to pay a toll to drive on the road to it and where you could park your car almost on the beach; another bay at St Margaret’s where you could buy an ice-cream and watch huge ships sail into Dover harbour; Canterbury Cathedral, where I spent hours with my camera; a secret wild-flower meadow just off the main street; Jojo’s in Tankerton, probably my favourite restaurant ever; Whitstable, with its quirky shops and working harbour and promenade lined with pastel coloured houses; and the list goes on and on. It physically hurts when I think about these. It’s early days, I know, but I haven’t found anything here that I love that much yet; it’s a different sort of place here and I’m not sure I ever will.
The thing that has bothered me most is my loss of enthusiasm for photography. I’ve hardly taken any shots since I got here and have had little or no inclination to. I’ve wondered if my passion for it will ever come back, and at the weekend I even thought about abandoning it altogether. While it often helps to write about things that trouble me, photography has always been associated with joy for me and I’ve never known how to use it otherwise. I’ve taken photos because I’m happy, and what I see makes me happy, and I want to make other people happy by giving them – hopefully – something wonderful to look at. But today I went out for a walk and photographed roots.
The Wirral Way is a cycle/walking track created from an old, disused railway line. In one area the rock has been sliced into and cut away, forming a sort of roofless tunnel of sandstone. All along its length, trees and plants cling precariously to the rock and small pockets of shallow soil. Like me, they’re trying to root themselves in a place that isn’t quite suited to them. Some of them manage to flourish regardless; some of them have established a foothold, but remain immensely vulnerable to the elements; some have their roots hanging in the air, looking for something to cling to. I can identify.
This little fern looks so vulnerable. You can see the run of water that’s both keeping it alive and threatening to wash it away.
There’s something terribly optimistic about these little green ferns, managing to thrive but with their roots dangling in mid-air. They make me think of terrestrial jellyfish.
My prints have arrived – fantastic service from Photobox, as I ordered them yesterday lunchtime and they turned up first thing this morning. All of them work, except for one that I think looks out of place with the rest. It may have to go in anyway, as I don’t have another alternative; on the other hand, it’s a nice day out there and if I can get something today I still have time to get a print made.
I’m beginning to realise how worried I’ve been about this assignment; I wasn’t consciously worrying about it, but now that it’s all but done I feel a huge sense of relief and my back pain has improved beyond all recognition! Just goes to show how much the mind affects the body. I suddenly feel enthusastic about my photography again, too – I was beginning to wonder if my loss of interest was permanent.
I’ve started processing a backlog of stuff that my general apathetic state had allowed to build up, and which includes these shots of Liverpool. I don’t find Liverpool a very inspiring place photographically – it’s not a beautiful city, although it has lots of other things to recommend it – but the light was wonderful on the day I took these. The image above is of the famous Liver bird building – probably completely unknown by anyone outside the UK, but the stone birds on this building have become a large part of Liverpool’s identity. The modern wall in front of it belongs to the recently opened Museum of Liverpool. It seems quite appropriate to have the old and the new together. The photo below is of old Liverpool reflected in the window of the Museum of Liverpool so it, too, brings old and new together.
I particularly liked the wavy, squiggly shapes that this reflection produced, so I cropped in to the picture above for a close-up shot that shows them off better. I thought it would work well in black and white, but it didn’t – I think I need to seriously improve my black and white conversion skills.
Yikes! – eight days to go before the cutoff date for my assignment (and my course) and I haven’t even made a decision about what to include, never mind organising the prints. I’m usually pretty good at getting things done on time, but this one has crept up on me. I’m going to get prints made of all the possibles, and then make the final decision when they arrive (and just hope and pray that none of them need rejigging). This is the almost final line-up, although there are a couple I’m still working on as well. I’d be very grateful for opinions, suggestions – any kind of feedback at all. I’ll number them for ease of reference, and just to refresh your memory, I need to produce twelve images in the style of Ernst Haas, and on the theme of the elements water and earth. I’ve put the water ones first and the earth second, although a lot of them contain both water and earth. I’ve also included some of my thoughts about each one.
#1 I’m quite pleased with this one, but wonder if it needs warming up more, or more contrast.
#2 This one is another favourite that I feel captures the Ernst Haas aesthetic; I’m just a little concerned that there isn’t a definite enough area of sharpness.
#3 This seems very ‘watery’ to me, and I love the colours. I just wonder if I’m getting carried away with the colours – does it work compositionally?
#4 This one plays with scale a bit, which I haven’t done much with the watery ones.
#5 I like the colours here, and it’s definitely in the Ernst Haas tradition. However the others are close-ups and this one isn’t.
#6 This is my favourite of the lot, and is definitely going in.
#7 Too many images of colour reflected on water?
#9 I’ve got several of this curvy mud stream; the others have no water in them, and I don’t think they work quite so well. With all the mud images, I’m not sure how much to warm them up – these strike me as a bit cool.
#10 I’ve got two versions of this; the first is better balanced in terms of contrast, etc and I think the second is a bit dark but I like the way the light is falling on it and emphasising the depth.
#11 This is a bit of a wild card. I know my tutor will hate it because he hates anything high contrast, but I think it might have something, and Ernst used a lot of high contrast so it’s in keeping.
#12 A little bit boring, maybe?
#13 Only one of the following two can go in; I know which one I prefer, but I’m not saying at the moment!
All help and opinions gratefully received…….I can’t think straight about it all right now.
The Tate Gallery at Liverpool has an exhibition on at the moment consisting of art chosen by Marianne Faithfull. It was all chosen because it was meaningful to her in some way, and the collection was a fascinating mixture of artists, media and styles. One of my favourites was this little sculpture by Yoko Ono – a cluster of pyramidal prisms with a light shining through from underneath. It produced a wonderful pattern of refracted light on the studio walls, but unfortunately the effect didn’t come out at all well in my photos – the close-ups you see here worked a whole lot better. They remind me of the crystals on the inside of a geode.
I’m getting every so slightly panicky now; my final course assignment is due in before the end of May, and I’ve been feeling so apathetic and uninspired about my photography recently that I’ve done very little about it. I’m supposed to be emulating the work of Ernst Haas – in particular his treatment of the elements from his book The Creation. After getting some advice from my tutor, I’ve decided to narrow it down to water and earth, or possibly even just water. At the moment I’m working on the assumption that I’ll be doing both and I’m looking for photos for each. I’ve got quite a few for water already – although I do need some of a different type – but I’ve been lagging behind on the earth front.
I met up with my lovely friend Eileen on Saturday in Liverpool, and as we left the Tate Gallery down by the docks, we noticed the tide was out and the river banks had some wonderful mud patterns carved into them. ‘What about that for earth?’, said Eileen, and so I got down to photographing them. One of Haas’ trademarks was to play with scale by using abstraction, and in these photos I’ve tried to do that – is this a huge landscape or just some runnels in the mud? The shapes that water leaves in mud have always fascinated me but if you’d told me years ago that I’d happily spend time taking pictures of mud, I’d have thought you were crazy. Now I think it’s probably me who is – but in a good way.
This one is a little strange, and I’m not too sure about it yet. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.
And I was playing about with this one, and solarised it for fun, then decided I rather like it this way. It’s like some weird lunar landscape – apart from the bird. You had noticed the bird, hadn’t you?