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.
Here’s an example of breaking all the rules and still getting something that (I think) works. The sunlight was blindingly bright – far too bright, when shooting straight into it, to get a fast enough shutter speed to prevent over-exposure. The resulting image was interesting in some ways but too washed out to be usable as it was. I duplicated the original layer, blended the two together using Multiply, et voila! I like the way the sky has blown out, making this look more like a wet-into-wet watercolour than a photograph.
I always feel it’s a bit of a cheat to photograph other people’s artwork – like all the hard work’s been done for you. The only time it becomes satisfying is when you can add something more to the original. I loved the subtle colours in this Henry Moore sculpture in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, particularly the warm bronzy red patch in the bottom curve, and then I noticed how the autumn trees in the distance picked up and reflected the sculpture’s colours. Moore’s beautiful stone curves, and his trademark ‘window’, became a wonderful frame for the trees.
Not much to say about this one. I was walking to the park on a grey, damp day, looked down and loved the unusual combination of bright yellow and burgundy red leaves underfoot. Add in the vivid mossy green of the fence behind and you have an autumnal symphony of colour.
A night of thick mist and fog, a dull morning, and then as afternoon approached, a mellow autumn sun cutting through the mist. It was one of those perfect autumn days that don’t happen very often and must be relished when they do. Autumn as it should be, and a photographer’s gift.
I’ve added a touch of Orton technique, just to bring out the glow. And only a touch – it’s easy to overdo. If you’re not familiar with the Orton technique, or you are but don’t know how to do it, you can find a downloadable pdf (plus other how-to articles) right here. If the link doesn’t work, click on the Articles tab above the post.
In the interests of photography, fitness, and de-stressing, I’ve been taking a daily walk through the cemetery and round the lake. In the dull grey weather we had for a while this wasn’t offering a great deal in terms of the photography, but the weather this last few days has been the best that autumn has to offer. Where lake reflections were muddy and indistinct, now they’re clear and – often – full of colour. However, this series of trees reflected in the lake was more rewarding in black and white, emphasising the wiggly lines caused by the ripples on the water. It looks better the bigger you see it – unfortunately this is the maximum size my blog theme allows, but you can get a bigger version by clicking on the image.
When I started this project my intention was to aim for shots that went a bit beyond the representational. I haven’t been very successful with this so far, but I think I’m beginning to move in that direction. I wanted to see how many different ways I could depict trees, or perhaps more accurately, ‘tree-ness’. The kind of shots I had in mind have been slow in presenting themselves, and general busy-ness and a nasty virus have kept me from doing much exploring.
It’s made it clear to me how much in photography depends on giving yourself the space, both mental and physical, to allow the shots to come to you, in their own time. The pressure of ‘yikes, what am I going to post on Wednesday?’ works against this, but it’s countered by the fact that it makes me go out with my camera when the temptation is to stay put in warmth and comfort. Enjoying my walk for what it is also helps, because then it doesn’t matter if I get any shots or not, I’m still benefiting. And I decided when I started this that, rather than post an image I’m not happy with, I’d use something from my archives – and I wouldn’t beat myself up about it, either. The trick to keeping a project going is to work with your own limitations and motivations – it’s taken me a long time to learn that, but I think I’ve got it now.