We’re only thirty minutes away by train, here in Newark, from Lincoln. I’d been to Lincoln many years ago and remember liking it a lot, so I went there last week for a look round. It was a lot bigger than I remembered, with a shopping centre that’s very pleasant but no nicer than many other places. However, once you walk through the main shopping streets, and further uphill a little, it suddenly changes to one of the loveliest little places you’re likely to find. I spent hours there taking photographs, and I’ll be sharing some of them in another post, but this time round I’m posting a few that I took right in the middle of the High Street.
The River Witham cuts right through the centre of town, and with the sun shining as brightly as it’s been doing lately, there were some great reflections in the water. The one above shows the reflection of a riverside building that houses a shopping mall. I liked this well enough, but then some swans swam right through the reflections and everything went wild, and I liked that even better.
Since this one was so brown, I experimented with inverting it to give it a more watery look:
And this is the straightforward view of where I took all these, with the reflected building on the left-hand side and a rather nice piece of sculpture over the water:
My constant yearning for the sea led to a trip to Talacre Beach last weekend. Of course, the tide was out – a long way out – but we walked the several miles to get to it (just kidding) and it was enough to keep me happy for a little while. Unfortunately, at low tide there are pockets of quicksand/mud that you start sinking into very rapidly. It’s impossible to know where they are – one moment everything’s nice and firm underneath you and the next you’re up to your ankles in it, as this picture of Geoff’s shoes will demonstrate – a bit like life, really.
Even though the sea is mostly AWOL, I do like this beach – it’s such a huge, open expanse that seems to go on forever. It’s the very opposite of feeling trapped, claustrophobic, and limited, as I have been prone to doing recently. Geoff’s temporary job comes to an end in a couple of weeks and he has no interviews lined up or any other prospects. This situation we’re in can easily make us feel powerless, immobilised, stuck, and fearful for the future, so being in a place where the space is huge and horizons expanded can help bring back some balance.
My friend Eileen mentioned a book called The Old Ways, by Robert McFarlane recently, on her blog. She quoted something that stood out for her, and also intrigues me: “The two questions we should ask of any strong landscape are these: firstly, what do I know when I am in this place that I can know nowhere else? Secondly, what does this place know of me that I cannot know of myself?” McFarlane has claimed elsewhere that “cognition might be site specific” and that we think differently in different landscapes. He even wonders whether it’s possible that “certain thoughts might be possible only in certain places”. This idea took hold of my imagination when I read it, and I’ve always meant to go back and ponder on it a bit more.
I wouldn’t know how to answer these questions in any depth, but it does seem to me that we are enabled to think differently in different kinds of spaces. Positive thoughts are harder to come by in miserable environments, and being in a huge open space like this beach helps get things into proportion – perhaps by making us realise how small and unimportant we are in the total scheme of things (in a good way, of course). It also seems to me that being in a big space could naturally lead to bigger, more expansive thoughts. Aesthetically-pleasing natural surroundings help us in some primitive, physiological way, too. There have been numerous studies that show that hospital patients in rooms with a view of trees get better and are discharged more quickly than if they’re looking out onto concrete. Seems obvious to me, but it’s nice to have it confirmed.
But now, on with the photographs – first off, I had a couple of Gursky moments (wish I could get paid as much as he does for them):
For the rest, I just wanted to capture the feeling of space and the wonderful clouds and sky and water.
And then there were these amazing ripple patterns in the sand:
And finally, my favourite shot of the day. Turned upside down, it takes on a rather surreal look:
I’m fascinated by reflections. Yes, it’s yet another cliche and I know that, but hey ho, I like them and I don’t care. At the moment I’m particularly enjoying taking shots of the sky reflected on the ground. Perhaps it could be classed as a variation on my Fallen series – pieces of fallen sky.
When I was about eight years old I went on a bike ride with my older cousin. It was a sunny day, but there had been a lot of rain and there were puddles everywhere. Cycling along a country lane we came to one puddle that was several inches deep and spread right across the road – it was really more like a small pond. The air was still, and the clouds, sky and trees were perfectly reflected, as sharply and smoothly as if in a polished mirror. I looked into it and felt like I was falling into the sky.
I couldn’t go through it, I simply couldn’t – I froze, there at the edge. My cousin did everything she could to persuade me, even cycling back and forwards through it herself to show me it was all fine. But even with ripples, it looked far too real. I knew I’d fall into the sky if I tried it. We turned round and went back.
Later, I found out that fear of falling into the sky is a recognised phobia – it’s called casadastraphobia. People who suffer from it commonly fear that the earth will flip and that they’ll fall into an endless sky. I can relate. Nowadays, though, I rather like the idea of falling into the sky and losing myself in it.
There’s a wonderful beach at Talacre, in North Wales. Unfortunately it’s somewhat spoiled by the tacky caravan sites that line its edges for miles, but it’s big and beautiful enough to survive this. At this time of year, there aren’t many holidaymakers and most people are there to walk and enjoy the open expanses. One of the most photographed landmarks on this stretch of coast is the old lighthouse and the kind of shots you see are pretty similar to the one above (of course, many are lots better than this one, but all quite similar – interesting sky/sunset/sunrise, open stretch of beach, romantic lighthouse, etc). I’ve been pondering the problem of photographing cliches for the past few years and have a few thoughts that I’d like to share with you here.
-It’s all been done before (but not by you). Of course it’s all been done before – there really isn’t anything new under the sun and no matter how original you think you are, somebody somewhere will be doing something similar. This is especially true if you’re photographing something that’s hugely popular, whether because it’s a well-known landmark or just a popular subject, like flowers. But the point is, you haven’t done it yet and you probably need to if only to get it out of your system. Even if your image is no different or better than a million others, it was you who took it and you who have the experience and memory of being there. It may not mean much to anyone else, but it has meaning for you and that really is enough to justify it (not that you should have to). And more importantly, if we weren’t allowed to do anything that’s been done before, we wouldn’t be able to do anything much at all.
-It’s been done before but you might be able to bring something new to the party. Two people can take the same shot, but it will be different – you’ll never take exactly the same shot as someone else even if you try. There are instances where you might come close – one of these happened when I took a shot of an old window in Italy, and then came across someone online who’d taken the – almost – identical shot. We used pretty much identical composition and framing, but her shot had more leaves on the vine surrounding the window and my shot had more interesting lighting. The same, but not the same. As it turned out – we’re now friends – we think and see very similarly. But this is quite unusual – most of the time, if you put six photographers in front of the same scene, you’ll get six very different images. The extent of these differences tends to reflect the extent of the group’s creativity, so in a group of beginners there’s likely to be more homogeneity than in a group of experienced photographers. But I’ve taught enough beginners to have seen that even people starting out will produce very different interpretations of the same subject matter. You do have something to bring to the party.
– You usually need to do the cliched shots before you can hope for anything better. Only a tiny number of us can jump straight to being inventive and creative, and I expect even these people reject a lot of their early attempts. Just as a writer wouldn’t expect to get a finished piece of work down at first go, and would write a rough draft that gets more and more refined with each edit, our first shots are likely to be ordinary and uninteresting. Keep going, though, keep shooting, and eventually you’ll leave the obvious behind. What happens is that you run out of ideas quite quickly and then you have to let something else take over. The ‘something else’ is what’s going to give you what you want – boredom often leads to creativity.
– When it comes to cliches for subjects, there are basically two ways of tackling things. Once you’ve got the obvious shots out of the way, the first – and what usually feels like the easiest – is to look for something unusual or interesting or different. The photos that follow are like this. The strange cyberman-like figure on the lighthouse balcony was an obvious choice. It leads to an image that’s interesting because it shows something unusual, rather than because of any particular cleverness on the photographer’s part. It’s the content that makes this work.
The next few are similar. A number of roses had been carefully placed around the concrete base of the lighthouse, and there was a rose at each side of the door – one red, one yellow – flanking a small glittery candle. Some kind of ritual or ceremony? I don’t know, but it was intriguing. Again, any interest these images have is because of the unusual juxtaposition of roses and lighthouse and doesn’t have a lot to do with the photographer.
Looking back down the lighthouse steps towards the beach produces a reasonably interesting shot because of its unusual angle and the contrast of the seaweed covered rocks with the sand surrounding it, but it’s without depth or emotion. There’s not much I can get excited about in this shot.
This one, I feel, is slightly better and has more of me in it. I liked the way both the lighthouse and the post act as signs and echo each other.
– The second approach is less easy. You let yourself be guided by what draws you and what inspires you, regardless of whether it’s a new idea or not. The hope is that something a little different will come out of it, but if it doesn’t you at least have the compensation of having had a great time taking the shots. What immediately grabbed me when we walked onto the beach were the reflections in the seawater pools. What I really liked was the ambiguity of the crystal clear lighthouse reflections mixed with the sand ripples and pebbles in the pool. These are the shots that make me happy regardless of what anyone else thinks about them. These are the shots that I got so excited about I couldn’t be pulled away. I don’t think they’re all that original – puddle reflections are a cliche in themselves – but it seems to me that they have something of ‘me’ in them that the other shots don’t, and that’s a result.
Rain does wonderful things to a place. Something that would be quite uninteresting in the dry becomes fuel for wonderful images in the wet. For once, I’m going to shut up and let them speak for themselves.
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.
I got so excited with my wet night photography that I took loads of photos, so this is the second instalment. (If you missed the first one, look here) We moved on to the Royal Exchange, which was floodlit with the most astonishing reds and pinks, but I have to admit that these photos are very noisy indeed (please Santa, can I have a camera that goes up to ISO 12,800+ and manages noise beautifully? instead of the one I have, which becomes unusable at ISO 1200? not this year? I’ve been very good this year, you know……..)
I love that foot that crept in at the bottom left corner; I didn’t know it was there till I got this up on screen.
At the bottom of these pillars there are mirrored boxes that reflect the surroundings. It made for an intriguing image, but I have to say the resulting photos were so horrendously noisy I nearly threw them away. Eventually I settled for making a separate layer and blurring it to get rid of some noise, and then erasing the part of it that had the reflected image so that it was left sharp (as always, I use this term loosely). I don’t think it works very well, but it’s better than before – honest.
We moved on after this, shooting anything that looked interesting, and ending up at the Lloyd’s Building. The shot below looks so timeless it could have been the London of Dickens; the only thing that gives it away is that it looks so clean.
Just to contrast nicely with the Royal Exchange lighting, the Lloyd’s Building was floodlit in blues and greens. The image above is of the glass lifts that go up the outside of the building. Far more blurred than it was meant to be, but I like the resulting abstract.
I had such a lot of fun with this that I want to do more; I’m amazed how many of these came out despite my noisy, hand-held camera. Bring on the rain………. (I don’t totally mean that.)
It always amazes me what you can do with Photoshop. I’m in a bit of an Ernst Haas phase at the moment as I have to create a collection of images in his style for a course assignment which is coming up soon. I’m planning to base this on his book The Creation, in particular the section of it that deals with the four elements.
I saw this pattern of ripples and sunlight on the bed of a stream, and thought I might be able to make something of it. This is the Haas image I was thinking of at the time; I couldn’t find a link to it online so I’ve scanned it in from my copy of the book. It’s not a great scan, so you have to use your imagination a bit. I also wasn’t aiming to replicate it, but just to use it as inspiration for my own version.
Ernst Haas: from The Creation
And the next photo is my original: as you can see, it’s a little dull. Using Curves made the biggest difference, bringing out the rich blue colour and emphasising the shadows and highlights. Then I cloned out the little stones underwater and the piece of grass floating in it, as I thought they were distracting. I then duplicated the layer, using Soft Light blending mode, turned that down a little by increasing transparency, and used a touch of dodging to bring out the highlights. Et voila! – quite a difference.
This week, Kat Sloma is blogging on Reflections in glass
I’m a bit obsessive about photographing reflections, although when I started trawling through my archives it turned out I have far more photos of reflections in water, mirror, metal, or other substances, than I do in glass.
The word ‘reflection’ comes from the Latin ‘reflex’, which means to bend back – in the case of glass it’s the light rays that are bending back but this also gives it its other meaning of considered thought – ie, you turn back on your thoughts and give them more consideration. I’m pretty keen on that kind of reflection as well and have eagerly engaged in lots of it – some might say to the point of over-indulgence but I don’t listen to them. Studying philosophy just egged me on as far as this went and I was actually encouraged to write whole essays about this sort of thing –
Do you ever wonder if the guy in the puddle is real, and you’re just a reflection of him? — Calvin and Hobbes
Kind of makes you want to disappear up your own tutu, doesn’t it?
Staying true to my nature, I’ve been giving a bit of thought as to why many of us are so fascinated with photographing reflections. Speaking for myself – which is all I can do here – I’m drawn towards abstraction in art and reflections can turn something quite ordinary into a fascinating abstract. They distort the subject, sometimes making it semi-transparent, and giving it a less substantial, dream-like look. You often get a double-exposure effect as well, which adds to this. I like the sense of ambiguity and the little bit of effort that’s needed to figure out what’s going on. You can’t usually take in a reflection picture in one casual glance – you have to really look at it. If you look at the image at the end of this post, it can take a while before you realise that the leaves are painted onto the glass and the building is reflected in it.
I also don’t like straight lines much and find it fascinating to see buildings and other straight-edged objects take on wavy, curvy shapes. I’ve always loved Gaudi‘s architecture because of its lack of hard edges and straight lines – a reflected building can turn into an instant Gaudi.
Someone else who likes distorting buildings is Cole Thompson. In his project The Fountainhead, he photographs skyscrapers reflected in some kind of curved metal board (I can’t remember what it’s made of). I think he’s had a mixed reaction to these, but I like them.
I’d love to know what it is that other folk like about reflections. Nearly everyone is fascinated by them so if you have any thoughts on why, I’d welcome a comment below.