York and its surroundings have have taken on a definite yellow tinge of late. This is mainly due to the canola crops in the fields but soursob and yellow daisies are also to blame. It’s not a warm and inviting yellow but rather a green tinged acidic looking yellow. Nevertheless it sends the tourists wild and as you drive round you can see countless people standing in canola fields having their picture taken or taking a selfie even though many of the fields have signs up asking people not to. I don’t know when this became a trend – I can’t remember people doing this when I grew up in Kent and Sussex. Mind you back then it wasn’t canola it was oil seed rape. I think it’s probably got something to do with mobile phones and Instagram, but as somebody who has only just started an Instagram account I can’t be too certain of that so don’t quote me.
Oh did I mention I’ve now joined the 21st Century and got an Instagram account? I’m not really au fait with it yet. That’s probably because I don’t really like messing about with images on my phone – I’d rather do it my computer but Instagram won’t let you upload from a computer. If anyone knows of a way to load photos to instagram from a desktop please let me know.
Last week I talked a bit about how the Weald and Downland Museum was a special place for me and how it had a distinct sense of place. Today I want to talk about a favourite place that is a lot closer – 14,500 Km closer to be precise. But first I want to differentiate between sense of place and spirit of place.
Technically speaking sense of place is typically applied to urban and suburban areas and used to characterize the relationship between people and spatial settings It is the characteristics that make a place special or unique and foster a sense of belonging. Exposure to an environment through childhood play, the role of family, culture and community all combine to establish environmental preferences later in life. Which is a roundabout way of saying that if you were brought up in a certain setting as a child you’d like that setting later in life. This can be seen in a lot of rural communities where young people leave for the economic opportunities offered by cities only to return later when they want to raise a family or eventually retire.
Spirit of place is usually applied to a rural or a relatively unspoiled or regenerated place and is a bit more of an airy fairy concept. The soul, for want of a better word, is formed by the apparent characteristics (both positive and negative) of a place and these qualities are talked about by artists and writers, They are also the subject of myths, folk tales and certain celebrations. The characteristics then help people form associations and attachments with the land. The Romans called the concept Genius loci and believed that every place had a protective spirit which was depicted in their religious iconography as a youth holding an item such as the horn of plenty, a libation bowl, or a snake (symbolising fertility and a connection to Mother Earth). Indigenous peoples see a landscape defined by guardian spirits, supernatural beings, and ghosts. Here in Western Australia the Nyoongar people describe their relationship with the Swan River through the Wagyl or rainbow serpent. Geographical features were created by the Wagyl as it made its way along the river and these sites were considered sacred. It all sounds like a load of cobblers but in the Twenty-first Century we are seeing people who feel a sense of alienation looking to re-establish a connection with the natural world with a combination of environmentalism and spiritual beliefs such as religious naturalism.
We came to live in York in 2004 and we both fell in love with the landscape – the rolling hills, the farmland and the wandoo forest. In fact we developed such a deep connection with the landscape that when we moved to Tasmania for a couple of years we pined for it. The sense of dislocation was visceral and we found it exceedingly difficult to adjust our arts practice to the Tasmanian landscape – we missed the big blue skies and the open woodland, the smells, the sounds, the red dirt and the quality of the light. To put it bluntly we felt like we didn’t belong in Tasmania – we belonged in York. So we returned and the relief we felt on doing that was palpable.
I have a couple of places that are really special – they are both patches of remanent woodland with granite outcrops, amazing varieties of orchids and birds. I’ve had many magical moments in them like when an echidna literally bumped into me as I was photographing, or the time when I was so engrossed photographing some flowers that I didn’t notice the mob of kangaroos that settled around me and I only noticed them when I stopped and it only seemed right to stay there sitting on the ground with them. Last week I was out photographing orchids in the late afternoon, the light was turning golden and the shadows were lengthening. A couple of kookaburras were calling out to each other. It was nice to lie under the wandoo tress and look at the clouds scudding across the sky. A sublime experience and I couldn’t think of any better place to be. A spiritual experience? Yes most definitely.
The other night I had trouble getting off to sleep so I had a look at Australia’s National Broadcaster’s – the ABC – catch up TV service on the internet which is called iView. I was looking for something not too exciting, that would be soothing and comfortable. So I was trawling through the arts documentaries and I found a program called the Repair Shop and the one particular episode that appealed featured the restoration of a 1930’s portrait of Shihan Yukio Tani who is the man largely credited with introducing and establishing Japanese martial arts in England so I tuned in to watch. The history of the painting and its restoration was vaguely interesting but it was the location of the filming that was particularly engrossing. It was filmed at one of my favourite places – The Weald and Downland Museum in Singleton, West Sussex, England. The museum is comprised of a collection of fifty vernacular buildings from the south-east of England that were built between 950AD and the 19th century, along with gardens, farm animals, walks and a mill pond. I was last there in 1991 and so the the TV program was a huge nostalgia trip for me.
As a consequence I started thinking about the museum, the village it is based in and when I worked there in 1981. The next morning I scuttled off to look at my photo archive and find some pictures that I took on my last visit. It was really nice to revisit through those photos, it was almost like reliving the past. Gerry Badger the photographic curator and critic in his 2007 book “The Genius of Photography – how photography has changed our lives” said that there were “basically three photographic subjects – people, things and places” (page 131). So obviously my photos of the museum fall into the places category. However Badger goes onto quote from the American landscape photographer Robert Adams who said:
“Landscapes can offer us, I think, three verities – geography, autobiography and metaphor. Geography is, if taken alone, sometimes boring, autobiography is frequently trivial, and metaphor can be dubious. But taken together … the three kinds of representation strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life” Robert Adams (p 154, Badger, G: 2007, The Genius of Photography)
The geography is simple the museum is located in Singleton which I’ve always regarded as the quintessential Sussex village. Well it was until the mega rich started buying rows of cottages and knocking them into one large house only then not to live in them but visit once in a blue moon. The village is roughly seven miles north of Chichester, the town where I lived from age 10 to 23, on the South Downs. The autobiography is that I went to work at the museum as a summer job in 1981 with my then girlfriend. She worked in the tearooms and I was a general dogsbody. It is the job I’ve enjoyed the most out of all the jobs I have done and I really enjoyed working with the people there. The dubious metaphor I suppose is that the museum presents an idealised view of what the ideal English village should be like – quaint old buildings nestled among bucolic rolling green hills inhabited by happy people. But all that doesn’t matter in many ways because to me it was and is a special place and the fact that 57 year old self still appreciates it as much as my 18 year old self is important.
Photography and video are both media that allow the artist to play with the concept of time. Up until recently I primarily worked using still photography. With the advent of good quality video being added to most digital cameras I started playing tentatively with moving images and enjoying the whole idea of capturing movement in another way. Now I’m playing with time-lapse which is a way of using still photos to play with movement that the eye doesn’t normally perceive.
The last couple of weeks have seen me shooting the canola fields around York. I’ve yet to do anything with the resulting video footage, but the pictures illustrating today’s post are still out takes. It is just a matter a shooting hundreds of shots of the same scene over a defined time period. My normal landscape gear and technique are used. I’m also experimenting with adding my own movement in the form of pans, tilts and slider moves. Thankfully my camera has an electronic shutter so I’m not burning through the shutter life.
The thing with experiments is to allow ourselves to make mistakes. This can be difficult if you have, like I have, been practicing in a medium for many years because you tend to develop a certain competence/mastery (pick whichever is the most appropriate) and expect a certain result for your efforts. So when confronted with learning something new and seeing all the mistakes and failures it is tempting to run back to the security of our old established ways of working as it is more ego friendly. In our society the notion of mistakes and failure is seen as a negative, but they really should be embraced. We need to give ourselves freedom to explore and experiment in a nurturing environment so that we can learn and progress. At the moment I’ve got a couple of dozen time-lapse clips sitting on my hard drive, two of them are OK the rest suck big time. Looking at them objectively and looking at the work of people who are considered masters of this art form I can see where I have made my mistakes and so I can now work to avoid repeating them. Who knows in another couple of years I might actually get good at it.
Talk to a lot of people in Perth (Western Australia) – especially migrants – and many haven’t left the metro area. They know nothing of rural Western Australia at all. Few people realise that the Wheatbelt has a large number of lakes such as Kondinin Lake pictured above. The assumption is that because the rainfall is low there can’t be any large bodies of water. The truth is that the Wheatbelt has a very low drainage profile which means that water collects in large shallow depressions. During the hot summers the rate of evaporation is high and tat creates these salt lakes. Kondinin Lake is huge – it covers an area of 15 square kilometres – and after a decent bit of rain it attracts a huge variety of wild birds. It is also a popular boating and water ski destination. Now who would have thought that.
On the shore of the lake is the Kondinin Pioneer Cemetery. A final resting place with a nice view. It’s not the most interesting cemetery but it does make you think at what life must have been like as you walk around. The saddest part of the cemetery the grave of the “unknown pauper” who in 1934 shuffled off of this mortal coil. The people of Kondinin couldn’t find it in their hearts to bury the poor wretch in the cemetery itself so the grave lies outside it. Unfortunate in life and unfortunate in death.
So if you are driving to Esperance or Hyden, then do a bit of a detour and see the lake.
*Today’s musical reference is of course Road To Nowhere by Talking Heads.
Got up at “stupid o’clock” the other morning to try out a new bit of time lapsing equipment. Streuth it was cold, and as I drove down to Monger’s Crossing I mused that the brass monkey would be tucked up at home in bed if he was sensible. A Swedish friend of mine once told me that there’s no such thing as cold weather just poor clothing choices. Well I took Matts’ advice to heart and I had more layers than an onion. On reaching the river it was dark and foggy, not the most photogenic conditions, but I thought for the purpose of this test it would be OK. So I set up the camera and sat down to wait for it to shoot one frame every twenty seconds for one hour.
I tried watching a video on my iPod but it was so cold that the battery ran flat real quick so I thought I’d take a few pictures of my companions on the river bank.
As to the time-lapse, well bearing in mind it was just a test to see how it worked, well it was a reasonable first attempt. The only downside was that the camera sensor was filthy and that meant a lot of cloning in Photoshop.
* English is pretty confusing at the best of times for non native speakers. “Taters in mould” is Cockney rhyming slang for cold.
Normally summer is pretty full on here in the vast Wheatbelt Metropolis that is York – temperatures hovering around the 40 ℃ (104 ℉) mark. Consequently most people here plan on getting away to the coast during summer for some respite from temperatures more akin to a low oven setting rather than the weather. I say “normally” as this years weather is really topsy-turvy, but as we had to make the accommodation booking some 6 months in advance we went any way. Our preferred escape York/the heat destination is Denmark – no not the country, the town on the south coast of Western Australia.
We rent the same house on Wilson Inlet as it enables us to walk the Bibbulmun Track that follows the edge of the Inlet for some distance. The track has been an abiding interest for us for many years, Helen has end to ended on it, me I’ve just done one over night and lots of day walks. It is always a great pleasure to get out into the bush.
For a more strenuous walk we climbed Mount Hallowell, Helen reckons it is one of the harder sections on the whole track. We managed it relatively easily – which probably has more to do with the fact that we weren’t encumbered by 10Kg back packs.
We walked up Mount Hallowell – which is more of a big hill than a mountain, and then on to Monkey Rock, which is a granite outcrop on the southern side of the hill that gives 270 degree views over the surrounding karri forest, southern coastline and Wilson Inlet. Despite the stunning views I took no photos as the air was very hazy. Still there’s always next time!
If you have slightly geeky bent, and to be honest if you are reading a photography blog it’s pretty much a given that you have, then Adobe’s Lightroom has several useful tools. One of the ones I’ve been looking at is the ability to look at your photographic work for a specific time frame, and in this case it’s for the year 2016. You can also look at the cameras and lenses you used for that period which enables you to see what patterns of equipment usage emerge. It might ultimately save you money i.e. if you have a hankering for an expensive lens you can look back on your past year to see if that focal length/s you used and whether the objective lens of your desires is one you’d actually use or not. This has actually happened to me – a while back I was working on my project Broncos and Bulls and I felt that the Canon EF 75-300 f4-5.6 IS was costing me shots as it wasn’t the fastest lens to focus and the images at the long end were pretty soft. I wanted a Canon 100-400 L IS but my then preferred local dealer didn’t have one in stock and after waiting nearly 3 months they informed they couldn’t get one. I allowed them to talk me into buying the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS with the Canon x2 converter which they had in stock. Their logic was that I’d end up using the 70-200 much more and would hardly use it combined with the teleconverter. Now looking back through my Lightroom library I can see that I’ve hardly used the 70-200 at all on its own and virtually all the times I have used it was in conjunction with the teleconverter. I should have stuck to my guns and gone to another dealer and that way I’d have a lens that met my needs gave and gave good image quality rather than put up with a convenient compromise.
So what have I deduced about my photography for 2016? Well I’ll start with commenting on 2015 – for that year over half my photographic output was shot with a DSLR (50:50 split between full frame and APS-C). In 2016 that dropped to 10% the other 90% was shot on mirrorless. The DSLR was only used for some macro work (radio controlled TTL flash), some architecture (a specialised lens) and one event where I had a crisis of confidence and didn’t think the mirrorless cameras would cope with high ISOs and low light focussing. When I look at lens usage it comes as a big surprise that one-quarter of the images were taken using adapted lenses and these with a focal range of between 15-135mm in full frame terms. Hmmm well I knew I preferred shorter lenses than
longer already, the main thing is that I enjoyed using legacy lenses and was more than happy with them in terms of image quality. I don’t have to use legacy lenses at all as I have 20 to 600mm covered by modern dedicated AF lenses. For work where it is appropriate I will use the legacy lenses because they give a certain aesthetic that I like which is a less digital and clinical look.
Well what will 2017 bring. Well for 2016 I experimented with finding a certain look. For 2017 will be more project driven as I have found the style I wanted and now want to put it to practice. There will be at least one new book (work on that has already started) and there will be some multi media projects. So exciting times indeed.
I hope for my readers that 2017 will be all that you hope and that you’ll be healthy and happy.