More Urban Trees

Good news! I’ve uploaded 16 new images to the Urban Trees collection.

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ConnectedTEN – This weekend!

Once again Spring has rolled around and with it comes the annual Connected exhibition at Patchings Art Centre, Nottingham.

I’ve got another couple of images in the exhibition this year – a couple of previously unseen Urban Trees images. The only place to see them for now is at the exhibition – along with a whole load of other stunning, varied work.

As usual there will be a number of great guest speakers, and this year the launch weekend is over both Saturday and Sunday, to mark the special 10 year birthday of the exhibition.

Get yourself down there!

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City Gardens

I recently purchased a Sony RX100ii as a little every day camera for London and mini project work.

I popped down to the Barbican, which is just a very short walk away from my work office and a place of near endless photographic opportunities. It’s a large site with a lot going on. Some remarkable brutalist architecture; high walkways; gardens; people; water. I could easily spend a lot of time there producing vastly different images. It’s a real treasure trove of London that doesn’t get enough love in my opinion.

They have a wonderful conservatory garden there. I took a few images of the gardens from the outside windows looking in, which produced some interesting results:

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Casual Photography

I recently got a chance to spend a couple of days in my favourite parts of the country, North Devon and Cornwall for some photography and relaxation. It’s about as much chance of a holiday as I ever get, so when I get the chance I really look forward to it. Once a year my partner goes away for a while in May to help run a field trip for her university students, so I’m free for a few days and I try to use the time constructively (read: hanging about on beaches for too many hours and hoping for a little light!).

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Widemouth Bay, North Devon

It’s easy to get carried away when you have a small block of free time. Shall I do every sunrise and sunset, making the most of my hours, dedicating myself entirely to planned shots and hoping for the best? A lot of photographers would do this I think. I regularly see photographers talking about how often they’re out there, grinding away, day after day, so that they’re out and about when those magical moments occur more often than not. I rarely get the impression that people really enjoy this approach, there are many complaints about disappointments, conditions and a permanent state of bleary-eyed regret at not sleeping enough. It seems that some people feel this is the only way of approach: be out there as much as possible, to hell with everything else, plan, plan, visualise, plan, repeat.

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Bude, Cornwall

This is not the approach I take generally, especially on my ‘holiday’. My extent of planning generally stops at selecting which location(s) I want to spend time in and a rough glance at which direction the light will be falling. I want to, and enjoy the process of discovery. Whether that be an entirely unfamiliar location to me, or spending hours on a familiar beach, I don’t set out to take a specific image in certain conditions. To me, visualising a specific shot can only destroy morale, and most importantly, time.

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Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall

Some photographers will have the exact shot they want in mind, and they will continue to revisit that place dozens, sometimes hundreds of times, until they get exactly what they want. I am sure that the moment they get the desired result they are delighted. But is it worth losing countless hours or days for a single image? Is it worth disappointment and frustration time and time again? I see time as a hugely valuable commodity, and we should aim to squeeze as much enjoyment out of it as possible. The visualised, perfect conditions approach just feels like an unnecessary, repetitive slog. It feels like work, a job, and not like a hobby or expression of self, as a process to be enjoyed.

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Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall

So, with that in mind, my trips to the coast do away with pressure. I am there to enjoy myself, the break from the hectic world of London. Primarily I want to relax and be away from crowds. I take my kit with me everywhere, but it will often stay in the bag as I simply look, or take a few camera shots. I will look out for sunsets, but I’m not going to drag myself out of bed at 4 in the morning in the vague hope that the weather forecast is wrong and a world of glorious light and conditions appears from nowhere.

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Bedruthan Steps, Cornwall

This year I made a slight exception: I would do one sunrise, the first day. I drove down late on Sunday night to be ready for sunrise at Blackchurch Rock. It was a complete failure. There was a wonderful sunrise full of drama and colour. But it was all behind a thick layer of cloud. A tiny slither revealed itself to be very briefly. I was disappointed and knew I’d pay for zero sleep later in the day, so frustration set in. I sat down for a bit, had a sandwich and just looked around me. I soon began enjoying myself again as I started looking at these other things – water movements and patterns, the soft diffused morning light on the rocks, millions of barnacles, and the nesting seagulls in the cliff faces. It was in the small things that I found enjoyment, and as I was playing around, experimenting with multiple exposures and detail shots, I heard a sudden thumping sound, like something had just punched through the air by my head. As I swung my head round in surprise I caught glimpse of a Peregrine Falcon, just a few metres away from me, in full chase of a seagull. It was over in an absolute instant, but it was incredible to be so close to something so impressive.

Had I been the sort to only consider visualised shots, I would have left the beach shortly after sunrise. I would have missed this moment. I wouldn’t have got any detail shots. I wouldn’t have learnt, or experienced anything other than disappointment.

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Bude Tidal Pool, Cornwall

I stayed at the location for a few more hours until I headed off to a location closer to my hotel and probably my favourite rocky beach in North Devon, Welcombe Mouth. It’s a similar type of location to the much more known and visited Hartland Quay, only with better rocks, much fewer people, and a little waterfall. At low tide you’ll get a couple of sandy stretches. By this time it was the middle of the day, a time when you “shouldn’t” be taking landscape photographs due to the harsh light. That’s absolute bollocks of course, there is no time that photographing the landscape should be considered a no-go. I spent most of my time looking into the many rock pools and watching the tide.

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Bude, Cornwall

After a while I went back to the hotel and caught up on some sleep. I didn’t even check the sunset that day, I had a large bed with lovely crisp sheets and I was a very happy man to finally get some snooze. I did not regret this decision at all.

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Bude, Cornwall

The next day was largely cloudy, apart from a small break that gave some soft, consistent light, so I had a crack at some daytime shots of the incoming tide at Widemouth Bay. I popped down to Bedruthan Steps after, which is a mightily impressive place and one I’ll definitely go back to. The conditions here were really poor, but the heavy winds churned up some great waves, and the colour of the water was incredibly rich and luscious, as you can see from the images here. So again I focused on some detail shots of water motion and sat watching for a while being battered by the wind at the bottom of the steps. The steps down to the beach are very steep and slippery in bad conditions, so there’s a load of railings to help people. These railings have been here for a long time and have suffered at the hands of the elements over the years, creating some beautiful weathering and rusting effects, so I took a series of quick images of these – I’ll probably put a short blog up featuring them soon.

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Welcombe Mouth, North Devon

These are the kind of things that are easily missed, but they’re also the things that give me the most joy. Had I been a visualiser, I wouldn’t have even attempted to take the camera out that day. I only took a couple of ‘proper’ camera shots, the rest were from the mobile. In fact all the images in this blog were mobile phone images, with a very quick pass through the excellent Snapspeed app.

This has been pretty long and ranty, I wrote a lot of it on the tube home from work today, so apologies for the slightly wandering nature and any repetition. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s easy for photographers, amateur in particular, to get bogged down in the end result. It’s easy to lose sight of what we enjoy about the hobby and focus solely on the images we produce. It’s so easy to lose the experience and the discovery of the landscape as we focus so much on technical details and conditions. I’ve barely even begun to look at the more serious images I took, partly down to being very busy, and partly because the enjoyment of actually being there is probably more important to me than the end results. It’s certain that my end results won’t have the ‘best’ conditions, the ‘best’ light, or the ‘best’ compositions. But they’ll hold a place in my heart and I’ll share them anyway. I’m sure many people wouldn’t share the images. I’m sure many people will consider the images to be substandard. I considered not even adding the final two images to this blog post as they have some big issues, despite being simple phone shots. But it would be disingenuous of me to censor them because of poor technical and compositional qualities; they were part of the casual experience, and they resonate with me.

There is no pre-requisite for images to be the best they can be. They can just be.

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Welcombe Mouth, North Devon

Urban Trees Project

If you read my last blog post, or follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been doing a new project recently. After much faffing, I’m finally getting some images online.

Unsurprisingly, the project’s focus is the wonderful world of trees. However, these are quite different images from my normal work, with a different focus. Instead of focusing on a specific location, the aim here is to examine trees in urban environments, and the relationships between nature, buildings, streets, and people.

Living and working in London, it’s really easy to miss these little treasures as we’re all so busy. My slight obsession with trees saw me paying more and more attention to their forgotten, but essential presence. London can be a grim, oppressive place at times, with little open spaces or green areas. So the trees by buildings, on roads and pavements, help break up the swathes of brick, concrete and glass.

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The above image is of the tree that started it all really. It’s just out the back of my work building, and I pass by it most days. The scene has changed a lot in the last couple of years. There used to be a school behind the blue boarding, and since then it has been demolished and construction of a new (probably quite tall) building has recently commenced. I was always struck by its slightly odd placing; just unassuming on the corner, on its own. The removal of the school building and the security boards only served to highlight this tree even further, so the project began from here.

I wanted to do something that didn’t rely on light, or conditions. I wanted something that was solely based on subject, relationships, and composition. When working with landscape photography, people often comment about the quality of light or atmosphere, and it can be frustrating receiving comments on the few elements that are out of a photographer’s control.

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So far I’ve taken 6 rolls for this project (more on that later), and I’ve not strayed any further than 20 minutes away from the office or my commute. I’ve barely touched the sides. The more I look into this and the more images I take, the more I realise that this project is not going to be a short one. There’s just so much to work with, so much diversity and so many unique elements that can be brought together. So this is a project I’ll be undertaking on a slow-burn. I’ll trickle images online as and when they’re ready.

Hopefully this project will encourage people to consider the wealth of nature around us that isn’t specifically in woodlands, countryside, mountains, or by the coast. Even in the most unenvironmentally-friendly place in the country, nature has a place.

The end goal for this project would ideally be some kind of book. I think it would work well and will look into the options when it is ready to do so. I expect that will be some time, since there is so much to capture and consider. I would really like to spend a year or two more, visiting a broader range of locations before I begin to think about any of that stuff really. I expect that publishers may not be willing to take a punt on someone so unknown, so self-publishing may be the way to go.

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If you were wondering why these images look so different in style to my previous work, that’s because I’ve ditched digital for this project. I’m using my 50-year-old Praktica Super TL (35mm), with Portra 400 as the film of choice. This was a conscious (non-hipster) decision on my part to get a naturally grittier look that complements the subject. The camera is considerably smaller and lighter than my DSLR, easily slipping into my pocket, making it convenient to work with.

It took me a little while to get used to some of the technical difficulties/restraints that using budget equipment from a long time ago, but after some experimenting and compromising, I’m quite happy with the results. Do let me know what you think, although I understand this project won’t be for everyone.

Go take a look at the project images so far.

Connected/Project

As mentioned in my previous blog post, Connected 2016 had its launch day on last Saturday, and I was able (just!) to make it up there for a few hours.

Sadly, an accident on the M1 kept me in traffic for quite some time, and I only just made it in time with a few minutes to spare before the talks from Vanda and Guy began. As such I didn’t get much of a chance to chat to everyone there, so sorry if I missed you – Matt Botwood, Karl Mortimer and Alastair Ross in particular, and anyone else I know was there that I wasn’t aware of.

The day was a big success. The quality of work on show was very high, the talks interesting and relevant, and a good sum of money was raised for the chosen charity The John van Geest Cancer Research Centre. There is a JustGiving page set up from the event, and if you wish to donate you can do so HERE. The total raised so far stands at £880, it would be great if we could get this over the £1k mark.

I was really pleased with the quality of the prints, Rob, Karen, Fotospeed and Patchings did a great job getting things running so smoothly. Should any of my images sell (unlikely I know), any money I receive will be going directly to the charity, so if you happen to get up there and want something, you’ll get a wonderfully presented image and the charity will directly benefit.

 

In other news, I’ve been relatively quiet in putting out new work. This is largely because I’ve begun work on an entirely new and different project.

The project is a bit of a departure from my normal, location-based work predominantly in Prince’s Coverts. I wanted to do something away from the powers of conditions/light that landscape photography demands; I’ve felt at times like I have been creating images almost on auto-pilot. I needed a jolt of creative thought, and I wanted to create something a little less derivative and frustrating (any landscape photographer will tell you of numerous wasted mornings and disappointment!).

Now, I’m aware that “derivative” is quite a weighty word with distinctly negative connotations, but I don’t use it in a particularly demeaning sense here at all. Living in South West London, choice of location is severely limited. There are few places that aren’t just suburban sprawl, and the ones that are accessible in reasonable time, like Richmond Park, are flooded with photographers doing a very similar thing. So, Prince’s Coverts became my go-to location; it’s very quiet, diverse and I’ve never seen another photographer there. It essentially is mine, photographically. This suits me well, I like the solitude and quiet (well, as quiet as it can be given it’s proximity to the M25 and A3). It is, however, a place that is at times excruciatingly unforgiving if conditions aren’t perfect, and they almost never are down here. Combined with the fact I’m a bit of a night owl and a lover of the sleepy times, I was very rarely getting out. And when I did get out, the images I was producing could really have been taken by anyone. I didn’t feel like there was much of ‘me’ being represented in my work, it lacked identity.

I was a little uncertain about the new project at first and there have been several teething problems, but I’m finally in a place where I’m happy with the direction and quality of the images. I hope to have some online next week, and I’ll discuss the project in more detail with another blog post introducing it all.

I won’t be giving up my forest and landscape work (I’m off to Cornwall and Devon soon for a few days), so if you enjoy that and aren’t into my new project, no need to worry. The misty trees will return, as there is little in life as glorious as a foggy arboreal scene.