On a recent visit to the Welsh borders I began to experiment with making sound recordings of the same length as the exposure time of the photograph. The descending flood waters combed all the strands of grass in a strange and uniform direction back towards the racing current. On a dull day using paper negative in a beautiful little oak camera, four minutes was required. Listen to the environmental sounds of the exposure below.
One of my photogravures, ‘Look Both Ways’, is on display at the Derby Print Open exhibition from 1st – 29th June 2018 at the Banks Mill Studios in Derby, UK.
This head amongst the grass is full of seed
pulsating with rich life when ending’s fear
blurs hopes and tries to lie when I still need
to see with open eyes. Now leaving here
I tread a path which winds between the trees,
not straight nor worn but forked and born
of chance encounters where others do not flee
but talk and lead me on, feeling less torn.
The gaze upon the dirt misses the sky,
where larks and swifts so light above the world
fill hearts with lift and liberate the sigh
of flesh which loves the earth on which it’s curled.
When running down, not up, on darker days
Find seeds, high ground, a lens to look both ways.
A simple crust between man and oblivion.
One hundred fragile summers left,
maybe less, dark cushion for jewels,
trodden with unseeing soles.
There is art down there if we know
to sketch its lines, sculpt its frame,
shade the subtleties of its face
drawn long from spring to frost.
The pulse thrives between our fingers,
crumbles the warm tilth,
lets through the twisting root
searching for the core of life’s longing.
Those lips’ butterfly pause
briefly on the skin
then flower, drink
until the ceaseless breeze
lifts the fragment.
Complex veins pulse
against the light.
Contre-jour is difficult,
still beauty shines
stronger against the rules.
Cool gusts blow,
pull the wings
the sun which dries
the drop so recent
and so moist,
steady for departure.
The future is a feint
of once-lined maps
dried in memory of land
by ocean travellers
hoping full circle
can be true.
I took a walk a couple of weeks ago along the undulating cliffs of Dorset. Not having walked further than the local shop for many months, I was uncertain how far I could go before my legs seized and I was morbidly curious to know when and how obviously the crash might happen. The sun beating down on the pastures, woods and pathways of the chalky terrain pushed the world into a drowsy, contented dimension, a cider-with-rosie dream of past and present fused by the buzz of insects and the unifying swish of the breeze in the twigs and grasses. I felt as if I were dissolving into the warmth and thrilled to the regular feel of step after after step through the chalk and turf of the undercliff.
On reaching the beach, briefly, and scrambling onto the rocks at water’s edge, the route, the challenge, the almost tangible motion of the world was not, I felt, up onto the downs where I had planned to walk, but along the switchback high and low rolls of the coastal path. As I gazed at the map and terrain together, a sense of possibility lit me up. There was only one option when this mood takes hold and that is outward, away from home, fervently, and with what the great walker John Hillaby called ‘ambulatory overdrive’ – the rhythm and drive that takes one beyond merely stepping and into a realm where mind, body and land all move together with apparent effortlessness. Although I had set out with no ambitions of walking far, I was gripped with the desire to just keeping going as if possessed by some previously unseen will. The chalk arch of Durdle Door drew me as if on a pilgrimage to a world apart, a place of wonder, beautiful in its hidden fold miles away.
I set out with the intention of making just one exposure on arrival and then immediately returning but I suffered a momentary lack of confidence. Thirteen miles of walking seemed a large stake to chance on what might result in a failed paper negative. A guessed exposure using a relatively untried pinhole camera in bright conditions (paper can be terribly fickle in such light) would be unlikely to be perfect first time and I bowed to the fear of returning empty-handed by making five or six exposures from the same spot. As always seems to happen, the first exposure served merely as an ‘unsticking’ event, doing little more than allowing me to tune in to the scene in a subtler way, with greater feeling than the smash and grab mentality of the conquistador. Having made this and fiddled hotly in the changing bag to reload a fresh sheet of paper, I began to see things more clearly in my mind’s eye. Ideas and feelings began to flow and I ended up making this unusually high number of exposures from one position.
The return journey proved just as fascinating as I wandered past cruising peregrines and hunting kestrels. I bowled along filled with a sense of a having made a real pilgrimage to a place of wonder and of having paid some homage to the ability of being able to walk unfettered and strong at long last; a sense of being able to use freedoms so often taken for granted.
I have started working on a project around the idea of routes and maps. The work is in the purely experimental stages and I may well abandon it altogether if the project chooses to take its own direction. It may coincide with the work of a newly-formed group I am part of here in Warwickshire (which will give it legs I am sure) or I might work it in parallel.
I began with a plant of beautiful patterns and textures which has always struck me with its tracery of veins and stems, the rhubarb. Examined closely the leaves can be seen in all their delicate intricacy, a web where one line or route moves on to many others in enormous variety and complexity. Paper maps reveal much about the inter-relationship of elements of a landscape which are unseen and unseeable where we stand. Likewise, a rhubarb plant, so easy to dismiss or ignore, shows a fascinating web of elements – lines, curves, rises and hollows – inviting one to travel through them on an imaginary journey. Webs have an innate beauty and for me are the perfect example of a whole being so much greater than the sum of its parts. Maps and leaves feel very akin in their construction and appearance and both give me an exhilarating sense possibility and wonder when examined closely.
I am not physically strong enough at the moment to undertake my planned Summer walk to the sea but funnily enough this very intense looking feels almost as exciting as the scrutinising of maps and relating them to the wider landscape that takes place on an actual walk. I have always thought that the sense of possibility is what makes travel so alluring and, in fact, I am finding that the enthusiasm to discover and open up wells up almost as strongly in this type of mental movement without any physical displacement as it does when setting out with boots and backpack.