Saturday, 6 September 2014

Last Harvest - Dekkergraph

Here is a small ‘dekkergraph’ made last month at Barton Farm. My previous post about Ger Dekkers has proven to be one of my most viewed pages, which says more about the lack of information online about the artist than it does about the blog. There was a recent post on the Socks Studio blog which has some interesting image series to examine.

All of Dekkers’ series are of the large scale landscape; clean open vistas of fields or regularly planted stands of trees and woods, where the geometry of man-made lines or curves are exploited to create the design of the series and the interlinking of adjacent pictures. In my experience, spotting suitable locations that are suitable for ‘dekkergraphs’ is difficult enough in the first place. Then the series of images need to be rigorously executed to ensure that the series works cohesively. To do this successfully requires careful thought, planning and a fair amount of walking. Perhaps it is not surprising that few people have followed this branch of photographic technique. In Dekkers’ homeland of the Netherlands such scenes might well be common, but in the cluttered, rural areas of Hampshire such opportunities are hard to find.

Last month I was up at Barton Farm attempting to make a joiner of the newly harvested fields. As the harvesting was only partially complete, the fields were especially interesting, with plenty of close shaven stubble, long mounds of cut straw, and stiff upright stalks of barley with soft heads bowing under their own weight. I came across this acute corner of remaining barley which I wanted to photograph, but knew that it would not work with any of the other pictures that I had taken for a larger joiner of the field. It occurred to me that this might be worth an experiment as Ger Dekkers-style sequence. Unlike Dekkers’ pictures, the subject of this sequence was close to the camera. This meant that instead of walking in a straight line I would need to walk in an arc, maintaining my distance from the corner of the barley cutting. Care was taken to ensure key points in the geometry of the images remained aligned from frame to frame. It’s not the most complex or challenging of pictures, but the sequence seems to work well enough and hopefully is a stepping stone to some new work.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Bicycle Races

In July we took a trip into rural Essex to watch the Tour de France ride past on the stage from Cambridge to London. It was a good mini-adventure; B&B at a nice farm, a good curry the night before and a lovely bike ride through the countryside to the village of Felstead which was in party mode for the day. Standing at the corner of the road (always a good place to watch) and opposite the pub, there was a lot of funny banter as we waited for a couple of hours until the peleton flashed by. But unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of cycling to be seen. The main pack shot past in a matter of seconds, the stragglers delayed by mechanical, food or ‘comfort’ reasons in the next minute. Then it was all over and time to go home after a walk around the village and a spot of lunch.

 A much better way of getting close to the action of a bike race is to watch a criterium race. This is where a kilometre or so of a town centre is cordoned off and cyclists hare around the twisty narrow lanes for about 100 laps.  The event is free and spectators can wander around behind the barricades to find different vantage points. My home town of Winchester hosted such a race last Sunday; I happened across the event only by chance when travelling out of the town earlier in the day. On our return, I stopped off in time to see the final race of the day, the men’s elite race. 

 All I had with me was the G3 with the standard 20mm lens, so the only way to take pictures was to get in close, something that is pretty easy to do at a criterium as the riders come perilously close to the barriers. It is also easy to find a good spot to take pictures as the there are many sharp corners and the crowd is spread thinly all around the course apart from the premium position at the finish line.

I started by taking pictures using a high shutter speed but these pictures were pretty dull. Sharp backgrounds and static riders didn’t really tell of the speed and danger of the event. So I dialled down the speed of the shutter to about 1/15th, pre-focussed the camera with a small aperture, panned the camera and started blasting away. Electronic viewfinders are hard to use for sports events, so these pictures were taken by keeping one eye on the rear preview screen for composition and one watching the riders and trying to assess the peak moment. It’s one reason that we were born with two eyes...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Last Harvest

Barton Farm, on Winchester's northern boundary will soon no longer yield to the plough. It will bend instead to the bulldozer as 2000 new homes are built over its rolling fields. Such large scale development will always be controversial, and one cannot but feel sad for the loss of more open space especially when it is on one's doorstep. Progress or profiteering? Let's hope it’s the former.

If there is one thing a photographer has to do it is to record; people, places and things, because they and their context will change will change. Last summer I rode up to the farm to photograph what I thought would be the last fields full of corn and barley. But I had left it too late, only to find neat rows of stubble, corn dust in the air and the combine harvester cutting its way through the last few rows of corn. I felt quite bereft at having missed the opportunity. Most of us locals believed that the construction work would start early this year. For whatever reason, the Farm was given a reprise, or a stay of execution, for another year and the fields have had corn in them again this summer. The wheat is already in, but the fields I wanted to photograph have barley which is still standing for a few more days.

Over the past week I have cycled over to the farm to take pictures, and get enough material to create a new joiner. I have yet to build that joiner, but at least I have a record of how Barton Farm looked before its last harvest.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Nature and Nurture

We have an allotment and it is a constant fascination to visit the site to see how everyone's endeavours are flourishing. When the horticultural tasks are finished on our plot I wander around with the camera. The place is ripe with beautiful produce, and it is my task to produce something beautiful with the camera.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Revisiting the Farm

We used to visit the farm four or five times a year in the eighties and nineties, so it was good to visit again last weekend. These are a couple of shots from a flying visit.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Bluebells at Dawn


There is a certain type of landscape photography that is a kind of geographic or natural history big-game hunting. Super-keen photographers will travel large distances, arrange special holidays and camp out at these beauty locations in search of the perfect lighting and weather conditions to produce a photograph that is complete facsimile of the same view seen many times over in magazines, competitions and lectures. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen pictures of Glen Etive Moor, Malham Tarn, the boat huts at Lindisfarne and arch at Durdle Door. I’ve met some guys who make a profession of photographing these clichés and taking groups of keen hobbyists on workshops to reproduce yet more versions of these places.

Our local honeypot is the rather mundane Micheldever Woods. For most of the year it is unremarkable small woodland that has the M3 running noisily past it. However, for a few glorious weeks at the end of April and the beginning of May it is the place to go to photograph bluebells. I’ve known people travel for a couple of hours in the night to be here just as the sun rises to capture that perfect rendition of a bluey-purple carpet of flowers. A friend once relayed how on one occasion a dozen or so other photographers had set up a line of cameras on tripods on either side of him so that they too might capture an original picture. There have been times too when we’ve travelled up there for a springtime exam stress-busting walk only to find choked car parks and strings of abandoned cars along the road through the woods.

We travelled up to Micheldever Woods late on Saturday afternoon for stroll amongst the tall trees and the dusty bluebells. The display in the main wood was less impressive than it had been in most of the previous years that we’ve visited this spot. I don’t know what the reasons were; apart from a sizeable number of fallen trees little looked different. But we had spied another section very close to the motorway on our way in and decided to visit this place. In here was the densest covering that I’ve ever seen. The scent was heady and the colours, even at the end of the day, intense. After a short walk my wife suggested that I come back first thing in the morning to take some pictures by myself.

I don’t sleep so well these days, and so at 5:30 the next morning I found myself awake and in need of stretching my legs. I parked the car just after six and entered the newly discovered woodland, which was just beginning to catch the first rays of morning light. The protocol is to find your pitch, set up the camera and tripod and then repeatedly take pictures of the scene as the light changes. I can’t work this way; all of my shots are hand held, up close and often from a low vantage point. I’ll stick the flash on if it is too dark or the contrast is working against me, but almost never use a tripod. I need to move around, try new ideas, work the subject and finesse the picture. Maybe that’s why so many of my pictures rubbish. Anyway, I wandered off to a quiet corner of the woods and had a very pleasant hour making pictures while the sun came up.

One thing that was apparent was just how many bluebells had been trampled by previous visitors. It was sadly clear that the flattened flowers were the result of photographers trying to get in close or get a good vantage point. The paths made only went as far as these photo-opportunities. I’m afraid that this is a continual problem for attractive places be it bluebell woods or historic sites. In our eagerness to see these places, our presence makes them less attractive for everyone else. Fortunately there are several other woods in my area that, while less extensive than Micheldever, are prettier and more intimate. I’ll be visiting those places over the couple weeks, and hopefully I will be able to keep them secret.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Kurt Jackson: The Thames Revisited

A Dusting of Snow. Cliveden Reach. November 2010 © Kurt Jackson

A Dusting of Snow. Cliveden Reach. 
November 2010 © Kurt Jackson

I’m trying hard not to miss out on opportunities to see the work of artists that I admire, and a couple of weekends I had rather a treat going up to London to catch a couple of exhibitions that were on my ‘must see’ list. 

Four Mallard Four Mallard Tumbling Into the Source of the Thames at Dusk 2013 © Kurt Jackson

Four Mallard Tumbling Into the Source of the Thames at Dusk 
2013 © Kurt Jackson

It’s only in the last six month that I have found the work of Kurt Jackson, the highly talented and well respected landscape painter. Since then I have bought a couple of books of his work and become a big admirer of his paintings. His pictures bristle with life; whether they are of crashing seascapes or tranquil river views. This vitality comes from paint that is brushed, poured, flicked & scraped on surfaces ranging from small squares of paper to giant wall-sized canvasses. Jackson is neither a photo-realist nor a dauber, but his pictures accurately capture the gestalt of a place better than most can manage. His latest exhibition was Kurt Jackson: TheThames Revisited which was on display at the Redfern Gallery in Cork Street. The exhibition followed the river from source to sea, and includes a wide range of imagery that spans from rural idylls to motorway underpasses, impressive views of the capital and on out to the reaches of the estuary. The paintings were marvellous, every bit as exciting as I had hoped. It is wonderful the way in which his gestural, energetic mark making seems to result in believable details.

Thames Meander, Dry Nettles and Willows. February 2009 © Kurt Jackson

Thames Meander, Dry Nettles and Willows. 
February 2009 © Kurt Jackson

If I were working in London I would have found ways to go back and see the pictures again. Instead, the exhibition comes to me in the form of a really nice catalogue that I bought as the third book in my Jackson library. I just know that there will be more future purchases for that book shelf. 

Hawthorn and Willow. Oxford, Cherwell. Chiffchaff Calls. May 2010 © Kurt Jackson

Hawthorn and Willow. Oxford, Cherwell. Chiffchaff Calls. 
May 2010 © Kurt Jackson