Time Passages

Sometimes you have to accept that just because you love an image it doesn’t follow that everyone else will do so too.

 I stood at the roadside before the light was up and froze one November morning in 2015 in order to take (make?) this photograph. You could say I invested in its conception. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much? It was probably the only image from that morning that I kept.

When I saw it emerge from the RAW file on my large computer monitor I was instantly drawn to the way the streaks of the clouds and the shapes in the water suggest movement, the passage of time. Part of my life wandered by whilst stood on the roadside and this image has captured that fleeting moment. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much?

As I looked at it, the words of a favourite song came unbidden into my head. Time Passages. This image links to not just my visual senses then but my aural too. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much?

I guess the viewer has none of these emotional cues. I guess that I will just have to accept that just because I love this image it doesn’t follow that everyone else will do so too. Perhaps that’s why I like it so much?

“Well I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on are the things that don’t last
Well it’s just now and then my line gets cast into these
Time passages”

Time Passages by Al Stewart

A Wiltshire Afternoon

As you’ll have gathered from the last two posts I spent a few hours recently in the vicinity of Hackpen Hill and Uffcott in my home county of Wiltshire. All of the images in my last two posts were processed sat in the car on the Ridgeway using Snapped on my iPad. I’m home now though and a few hours to spare this afternoon for some processing on the Mac.

© Dave Whenham
Trees lining a field boundary near Uffcott, Wiltshire. Nikon D800E, processed in Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro

All of the images here are destined to be used in monthly folios with the Postal Photographic Club of which I am a member.  As such they are unlikely to be seen as a set anywhere other than here. I still however processed them in such a way that they have a unified aesthetic. I often think of my photography in terms of different “bodies” of work (without meaning to sound pretentious) rather than a collection of individual images.  For me there is something very powerful about a set of images that work together, an approach no doubt influenced by my days studying with the Open College of the Arts.

© Dave Whenham
Abandoned roller and trees, near Uffcott. Nikon D800E, processed in Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro

Degree-level study was however far from my mind last Saturday afternoon. I was simply enjoying the pleasures of being outside with a camera in my hand. I kept it simple; no tripod or filters and just two lenses, one a telephoto the other a wide-angle lens.  I do think it is important to remember that photography, for me at least, should be something I enjoy doing. Even though I have studied and researched the subject extensively, even though I have worked hard to practice and hone my technical skills and even though I have spent many days on workshops and training courses I still remember not to take it all too seriously.

© Dave Whenham
Tumuli, Hackpen Hill. Nikon D800E, processed in Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro

Don’t get me wrong. I am competitive (very competitive one of my line managers once said) and I have enjoyed the successes I’ve had in my club competitions over the last five years. Winning though is not the ultimate goal – creating images that fulfil my vision and that I find aesthetically pleasing is the objective. If other people, or indeed if judges on the club circuit, enjoy my efforts than that is a bonus for sure.

© Dave Whenham
Hackpen White Horse. Nikon D800E, processed in Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro

So, the images here, processed similarly, are presented chronologically. I can retrace the drive from Uffcott up the hill to the top of Hackpen Hill from these photographs. Which is what I was unconsciously doing even as I wandered on Saturday. Unconscious competency I think some theorists term this. I prefer to think of it as “consciously aware of unconscious competence” as I know exactly what I’m doing even if I don’t have to think about it.  The same can be said of using the camera, I have used it extensively such that even after four months of not using the camera I was able to pick it up and carry on where I left off last time. This ability to deal with the technicalities without conscious thought leaves the mind free to make choices and consider composition rather than fret about which button or menu item is required to achieve those objectives.

© Dave Whenham
Nearing the tumuli, Hackpen Hill. Nikon D800E processed with Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro.
© Dave Whenham
Tumuli, Hackpen Hill. Nikon D800E, processed with Photoshop CC and Silver Efex Pro

Looking back over these images this afternoon I’m pretty pleased with what I achieved with the minimum of kit and the maximum of application. Are these masterpieces? Of course not. But do they satisfy my original creative and aesthetic objectives? Absolutely. And that is what photography is all about in my eyes.

© Dave Whenham
Inside the tumuli looking out on Hackpen Hill, The Ridgeway, Wiltshire.


It’s been a long time …

… December 1st 2015 to be precise since I last wrote in this blog. Long story which I won’t bore anyone with here but the important thing is that I grabbed the camera yesterday morning, jumped in the car and headed off to The Ridgeway whilst my wife went to the football with her cousins (I know, some would see this as role reversal).  Now the Ridgeway is over two hundred miles from where I live, which is where the football becomes relevant but I digress.

© Dave Whenham

It was the first time since early November last year that I’d gone out with any serious intent of making photographs but I’m pleased to report that it felt as if I’d never been away.  My way of working has evolved over the years and usually involves wandering around a location with or without a camera in my hand and only taking the tripod out when I’ve seen a composition that I want to work with.  The tripod slows down the “serious” picture making which brings considerable benefits but having the camera in my hand also allows a degree of spontaneity.  For me using both approaches works but it won’t find approval with all camps I’m sure.

One thing I’ve rarely compromised on though is in the processing of the RAW images (yes, RAW not JPEG, but that’s a debate for another day) which I have always done on the computer at home. Experiments with a laptop in the holiday cottage have rarely been successful and so I usually wait until I get home. On Saturday afternoon though I was keen to see what was on the cards so downloaded a handful to the iPad whilst sat in the car at the top of Hackpen Hill.  The results surprised me and I was more than happy to post a couple to Facebook and also Instagram sat peacefully up on the Ridgeway.  I might even try printing them when I get home next week.

The Power of the Sublime

It was the Romantic artists and poets of the late 18th century who were inspired by the forces of nature to create an art of the sublime. Michael Freeman recently described it as ‘how to enjoy a perfect storm’ and that was very apt stood on the beach at Elgol in November as the rain lashed down and the wind whipped with such fury that I genuinely feared that even someone of my size might just be blown away by the force.

© Dave Whenham
Backlighting is an oft-used device when photographing the Sublime
© Dave Whenham
The same scene in colour is slightly less threatening

I truly experienced the sense of fascinated delight he described and for the first time I think I truly understood what emotions are evoked by the power of the sublime. Freeman goes on to quote Joseph Addison who, in 1712 wrote about scenes that were “… at the same time, as Dreadful and Harmless; so that the more frightful Appearance they make, the greater is the Pleasure we receive from the Sense of our own Safety”.

So with these thoughts in mind here are a few from what was a truly Sublime experience at Elgol on the Isle of Skye in November 2015.

© Dave Whenham
On the beach
© Dave Whenham
The power of the wind
© Dave Whenham

(Michael Freeman was writing in N-Photo magazine)

Birch Trees and Limestone

I took the Hasselblad with me to the Isle of Skye recently and this weekend I developed the black & white film before retiring to the darkroom to print a couple of frames.

It’s been three weeks since I printed owing to the trip away and other domestic duties and I was keen to get in the darkroom to try the Fotospeed RCVC Oyster paper I bought recently.  It proved to be an excellent choice of paper and I was very pleased with the outcome.

© Dave Whenham
Birch trees on limestone outcrop Hasselblad 500C/M, Ilford FP4+, Fotospeed RCVC Oyster

My favourite from the first roll out of the Hasselblad was taken on the road to Elgol showing a small group of birch trees  on a limestone outcrop. There was a lingering mist and scudding clouds so it was not ideal weather nor light but I was keen to capture the atmosphere and the roll of FP4+ made the Hasselblad the perfect tool for the job.

The paper is a variable contrast paper, something I never used back in the 1970s, and my initial test print was printed on an equivalent grade of 2½ which rendered the cloud and mist very nicely. After producing the envisaged print (above) I then experimented with a harder grade which made a dramatic difference to the foreground and even accentuated a narrow band of light falling at the foot of a distant mountain.

© Dave Whenham
Hasselblad 80mm lens FP4+ Fotospeed Oyster RCVC All 4 secs 0-90-0 Sky + 19 secs 0-30-0 5mins in Kodak selenium toner

Memories (of Milk & Alcohol)

There’s been a lot written recently about the demise of printing and the irony that in a world that produces more images a day than in whole decades past we have less printed artefacts for future generations. It’s one of the reasons I print family photographs. In a world where memories are evoked by a computer-generated prompt on Facebook saying “remember this from 1 year ago?” I sometimes like to think back even further and my suitcase full of family snaps does just that.

Recently I was talking to someone about my early days in the darkroom and recalling how I used to attend “gigs” and take photographs and then rushed home with the roll of Tri-X (sometimes two if feeling flush) to develop the film, hurriedly dry it and produce some basic black and white prints to sell at school the next day to raise funds for the next roll of film. It’s a shame that entrepreneurial spirit didn’t stay with me but that’s another story.

Spooky therefore to find what is probably the only remaining sleeve of negatives from those heady days when clearing room recently to install a darkroom.  They are badly underexposed but the negatives themselves are in good condition, testament to my developing skills back in the day I hope. The film stock is Kodak Tri-X and from memory it is likely to have been rated at 800 ISO or even higher so it is not surprising that it is a little grainy. The camera would have been a Zenith E with a 50mm f1.8 lens, not the sharpest combination in the world and as I’d have been using the lens wide open a little softness can be expected – even on those not affected by camera shake!

© Dave Whenham
The Inmates, supporting Dr Feelgood – 1st June 1979.  Scan of 2015 darkroom print

I printed one of the negatives last night and it provoked a pleasant trip down memory lane for both myself and my wife (then my girlfriend) who claims that it was my idea of a birthday present for her in those days. A charge I refute absolutely of course.