I was out for a walk with the dog last night in Lorenzo’s walk, Hare Warren. It’s an interesting little stretch of woodland and part of the larger Grovely landscape. When I came across this scene, I thought that the adult trees were trying to gather round and protect the little sapling in the foreground. I quite liked that thought anyway!
One of the things that I have struggled with living in Wiltshire until fairly recently is feeling disconnected from nature. I grew up in Porthleven, a fishing village in Cornwall, where the sound of the sea was my evening lullaby. Whilst living there I always kept my window open at night, so that I could listen to the percussion of the sea. The endlessly repeating motion of the tide was very comforting and reassuring to me.
In winter, the village’s inner harbour was closed off to the sea by massive wooden beams (known locally as the ‘bock’). At night, I remember hearing the sea smashing against the beams trying to dislodge them. On a few occasions the sea would achieve its aim. Once the storms were gone, boats would go out to recover the wooden beams from various parts of the sea.
In the last major storm a couple of years ago, the sea broke through the bock. There, my father watched his day sailing boat break free of its mooring and float out to sea, never to be seen again. There was nothing he could do to rescue it. It was named after my two daughters, and was a boat that I never got the chance to see as it was taken before I could do so.
Being in nature was something that I took for granted, as in Cornwall it’s almost impossible not to be aware of nature’s influence. Moving to Bristol in 2006, really highlighted a feeling of disconnection from nature for me. Seasons would pass, but I would almost not notice them – certainly not in the same way that I was used to. At the time, I put it down to the lack of presence of the wind, as in Cornwall the main times you notice the wind is when it is not there.
In the last few months I have been using the local woodlands as photographic subjects more, needing a break and a different challenge to the usual street photography.
Up until now, I have not really liked woodlands that much. I have tended to find them quite sterile. However, shooting my recent project Verdant in Grovely Woods was a good experience for me. Taking the time to just be in the woodland, to just be in nature, was at some points quite profound. The longstanding feeling of disconnection passed. In my mind, up until that point, I was of the belief that this unsettled emotion could only be counteracted by the rhythms of the sea. However, this proved not to be the case.
Returning to an enjoyment and respect for nature has been a searching experience for me, and one that brings me back somewhat to why I started photography in the first place – to capture the nature and landscapes that surround me.
Yesterday, I returned to the New Forest for the first time in a long time. I used to work in the New Forest a couple of years ago, and the daily 90 mile round trip to work put me off the place for quite a long time. We went to the Turf Hill area to walk the dog, his first walk in a week as he escaped from his lead in an attempt to chase down a rabbit and ended up shredding his feet on the rough ground. It seems that whilst Grey Hounds are fast, they are also quite poorly made and prone to breaking down. He didn’t get the rabbit, I am pleased to report.
I returned to the area in the evening (again with dog in tow), but this time I was armed with some camera equipment. My main focus was to just survey the area and search out potential compositions. It was also to think about how I want to approach shooting this area. At the moment, I am not entirely sure, but part of me would like to photograph it in poor weather. I am sure as I visit the area more, the project will take shape.
The main point for me is not the photography, but the act of being in nature. Years ago, I would often go out with cameras ready to get a sunset shot only to find that I would leave the cameras in the bag and just enjoy the experience of being there.
So, for me, returning to nature has been a sort of familiar homecoming, a kind of feeling of ‘rightness’. However, for my children, and the different world they are growing up in in comparison to the world I grew up in, things are very different. I hope that they can learn to appreciate, value and respect our natural environment as well. I hope that they realise it is much more than a resource for our pleasure, or a commodity to be used and exploited as we see fit. But actually realise that in and of itself it is of fundamental importance to our quality of life, let alone survival.
The world that our children are growing up in seems to me to be increasingly disconnected without awareness. Children (and adults) are disconnected from nature, and quite unaware of it in many circumstances. It’s something that happens ‘elsewhere’, not ‘here’. My children (and probably many others in the UK) are more influenced by media and social media, than nature. Their world on one level is much more connected than mine was as a child, but also much less connected in other ways.
I don’t think they will have this unsettled feeling of disconnection that I have, at least not in the same way, as the nature in this area does not seem to be so raw or pervasive as it is in Cornwall. However, I do hope that over time I can instil some sense of the importance of such things to them, but also keep that feeling of connection alive in myself.
It’s been a little while since I last posted up on the blog (though not as long as on other occasions). I have been quite productive on the photography front, I just haven’t quite got it all ready to go just yet. So, I thought I would post up an image from the recent project and explain what I am trying to do.
This project is called Verdant. All of the photographs for it were taken during June in Grovely wood. I was out walking the dog one evening. I had a 70-200 telephoto lens with me as I was hoping to capture some images of the deer that can often be seen in the wood. I did get some photos of deer, but they were pretty average to say the least. Whilst I was there, I did capture some interesting images of the trees that caught my attention.
During the last month, I have tried to create a body of work using the greenery of the wood as a key theme. I have tried to construct images that work together using the idea of light, form and hue. The aim of the work is to try to build a series that is subtle in its focus, where the viewer looks at the images to see the similarities and differences between them. The work is about diversity, not in terms of the variety of images themselves but what they intend to illustrate.
I am quite a cognitive person, by and large. However, for this project I wanted to drop as many preconceptions as possible and go with the ‘flow’. I wanted all the images to have a family resemblance. The unpicking of what it all meant to me was to come later. For the project I just wanted to go with my feelings about the images. In my view, I think it worked well. It’s certainly an approach I will use again and develop more over time. Along with the winter images I took of the snow storms in Porthleven earlier this year, this has been my favourite work to date.
I will release more about the project, such as a video (and possibly some kind of Podcast), as I am looking to shake this blog up in the coming months and shift its focus a little. More on that to come…
Just found out that the Leica M7 has been discontinued. This is a camera that I had a lot of fun shooting until relatively recently, when I found that my street photography style [and eyesight!) was changing and more suited to a digital workflow. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I do actually miss that little camera…
For anyone who likes film street photography, the M7 is a very quick and accurate camera to use. The only real issue with the camera (apart from price, but hey it’s a Leica what do you expect?) is the somewhat shaky electronics. For me, as much as the Leica MP gets more of the plaudits, the M7 is actually better to use in practice.
Here are a couple of images that I took with the M7:
A little while ago I bought a micro four thirds camera as a pocketable decent quality family camera and a daily carry around street camera. In the time that I have shot with this small sensor size, it’s been great fun. As we are into long days at the moment, and I have been ridiculously busy recently, I haven’t had time to try it in low light. However, my hunch is that full frame will still be considerably better come the winter nights. I will test this out later in the year, and probably run a comparison between the two formats. Night street photography is my favourite aspect of the whole process, so getting a set up with fast auto focus, portability and decent image quality is important to me. Currently, the Sony A9 is the major front runner in this regard for me.
Back to micro four thirds though. I wasn’t sure how I was going to take to the smaller sensor size, as I have been shooting primarily full-frame for the 5 or 6 years now. But, for street photography, it’s not been a problem. I actually prefer it over the APS-C format of the Fuji’s. They are small cameras but not in the same ball park as the Lumix GX9. It looks more like a compact camera than a system camera. I haven’t really noticed too much of a difference in image quality for the work I do.
I have picked up a Panasonic Lumix GX9 to use as a portable family / street camera. Whilst my preference is for full frame images, even a camera like the Sony A9 is quite large (with the 28mm lens it’s fine, but the 24-70 G Master turns it into a bit of a beast). The GX9 is literally pocketable, which is great. It’s got a similar form factor to a film Leica / M10, well actually it’s even smaller. The lens is a 20mm (40mm FF equivalent) pancake lens. It’s a little long for me nowadays, but it does keep the camera very compact. No doubt, I will pick up the little 15mm (30mm FF equivalent) at a later stage. However, for the moment, I will just use the 20mm for a while to see what I can do with it.
Right now, I am just getting used to using the camera and how I need to use it to get the sort of images I like. Whenever I get a new camera (DSLR, Rangefinder or Mirrorless), it does take me a while to ‘get my eye in’ (i.e. to get used to seeing the sort of images I want to create). I find that by using a specific type of camera for a while, I tend to get into the swing of things. When I change from one type to another (such as from DSLR to mirrorless), it throws me out for a while. I am not sure if other people have a similar experience when they change cameras?
It doesn’t often matter about the camera, when I switched between a Canon DSLR and a Sony mirrorless, it wasn’t so much about the ergonomics – as I was used to them both (although ergonomically, the Canon was much better in my opinion). For me, it was more about the viewfinder experience and how that kind of messes things up for me.
Anyway, here are some test shots from my first little excursion with it this morning in Salisbury’s Saturday market.