Photosketch. Part Two, the instant film photos.

May 6 2019 – near Settle, North Yorkshire.

Photosketch Part Two.

Yesterday’s post was all about the Photosketch day, what it was about and how the day went. This one will, hopefully, be much less verbose. 

The objective of this, the second of two walks, was to experiment with instant film cameras; both Polaroid and Fujifilm Instax in a variety of Yorkshire Dales environments. I have never used an instant camera, and I don’t recall any of my friends having them back when they were more common. Everyone else on the walk had used them, and some brought their own along for the session.

When Polaroid stopped making the film in 2008 there was an outcry from the millions of fans around the world, with many buying bulk and hoarding. In 2010 the Impossible Project started manufacturing film for the Polaroid and the world took a long sigh of relief, and things carried on as normal. Fujifilm has been making their Instax cameras for almost as long, and never ceased production like Polaroid. The Instax films are smaller and a more traditional photo shape than the good old, almost square, Polaroid.

There were six different camera models to choose from, some quite old, and most not being used in a long time. Though all had been cleaned, there were still a lot of artifacting and strange marks from the rollers. I loved them.

I started with one of the Polaroid cameras. I liked it, so simple. Point it. Press the button. Wait a few seconds for the photos to emerge, then stick the photo in a pocket to develop somewhere warm. There is nothing fancy with these plastic cameras, no focusing, no setting aperture or ISO, fixing shutter speeds. Nothing. just point, then click.

For my first image I wanted to test the tonal range of the camera to see what it could actually do with contrasting light. I am still reflecting on Robert Macfarlane’s new book ‘Underland’ as it has challanged me to think more about my environment, and think a little about what is below my feet.  Not that I was moving in to an underground system, I just took a photo of a hole in one of the dry stone walls. I am assuming this was to allow small beasts out of a paddock, it is too small for a sheep and a farm dog would just jump over. I cannot think of any other reason for it to exist. It was a view into a place I had never been, and one that was not accessible. OK, it was just another field, but hey, I wanted to create some sort of drama!

The photo did require me to lie down on the damp stony ground, and get up quite close to the wall. Point. Click. Done. New experience.

It was cold and windy up on the hill. I was advised by those wiser than me in the ways of instant film to stick the print under my jacket and into my armpit as the chemicals on the paper require warmth to do their magic. It would happen, but it would take some time. And here is the first image.

I was quite pleased. I love the light leakage at the top and bottom, though I really like the roller flashing a lot more.. They do add to the image. It is all slightly out of focus, but that does not bother me at all.

My second attempt was out in the open, with quite even light. I had no idea what this digger was doing up in this field. It was in good condition, so didn’t appear to have been here for long, but there were no tracks or other sign as to how it got there. I am wondering if it is used to bury carcasses ?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though this was taken only a few minutes after the first one the light artifacts and leakage were slightly different. There was no predicting what was going to come out of this camera, and I really liked that.

As we were walking up the field to enter into the next section of the walk the heavens just opened and dumped a whole load of very cold rain on us, it was very brief, but quite heavy. I snapped this image of Steve taking a photo on his phone as the clouds sat just over his head. I have no idea what the bright thing in the bottom corner is…

I like that these images, just look old, and slightly degraded; the loss of focus and the the flat light as a result of time and poor technology. Not that they were taken an hour ago.

At the highest point of the walk there was a collection of rocks overlooking a low bluff. I was working my around the edges and saw this small entrance point. I have no idea if it was short or long, it was small, it made me wonder what was there. Was it an entrance into the underland, to the below/ Who knows.  I took a photo, triggering the flash this time. Different artifacts.

By the time we reached the next area to explore I had used up the film in the Polaroid and it was time to swap to an Instax. The camera I was given was a lot newer than the Polaroid and had significantly less noise and light leakage, but I could not work out how to turn the flash off, it just refused to not fire. It had one more function than the Polaroid, light or dark. Otherwise it functioned the same. Point. Click.

My first play with this camera was in a small section of pine forest.  I literally crawled in to the very dense low-hanging trees for the first couple of shots. Before I knew about the always-on flash, I was trying to capture the very low foilage, the very high moss and tree litter, and the thin gap of light working its way in between. I just got a lot of very bright flash.

Similar to one of the photos I took with the Polaroid I ended up with this strange thing in the foreground, in this case, right across it. No idea what it is, nor why it is there. it did ruin it for me, and it was the worst photo of the day. Things got better once I was not close to anything.

I really like the colour palette in the Instax, it has the yellows and grey that I really like, and the green is quite muted. If only they made a version bigger than 2.5 inches.

Crossing the wall we started down a gradual slope back towards our start point at Fleur’s house. The light was just wonderful as we walked and I took a number of photos on both the instant and the normal camera as we walked.

We stopped for a while at these two trees, native trees are so rare in the dalesl it was an interesting place to take some photos. This is, I think, my favourite of the Instanx photos.

Somehow I managed to accidently take two photos (It is now three months later and I am typing this in the pub, and I have no recall as to what button I was trying to press). However, I like both photos. They break so many rules of photography; the horizon is not straight, nothing is in focus and there is what looks like hair on the lens; and I rarely take photos of people, so a personal ‘rule’ also broken. Fleur and Rachel.

That was the last of the images I took over the course of the day. I very much enjoyed working with this group of people, and with the instant cameras. Back at Fleur’s place we had a very enjoyable session reviewing the range of images we all took. No-one took the same thing, we all have a different eye and different ideas. The important lesson I learned from the people and the day was they are all valid. 

The next Photosketch is in the Peak District on the 8th September. I recommend it. Check it out here.

Photosketch. Part one, the day.

May 6 2019 – near Settle, North Yorkshire.

Photosketch Part One.

This will be a two part post, primarily due to a large number of photos to show. This first post will be all about the day and the images taken on my camera. The next post will be all about the Polaroid and Instax images I took as the day progressed.

The reason for this trip to the North Yorkshire Dales was to attend today’s Photosketch walk. It was the excuse I needed to come north, get out of my comfort zone and share a day with some very talented, exciting and experienced photographers.

The event was advertised on the Twitter feed of Al Brydon, a photographer I follow and whose work I greatly admire, I have made a number of images that Al has directly influenced. Al and fellow photographer Fleur Olby organised Photosketch, a photography based walk by Fleur’s home near Rathmell, a village even smaller than the nearby Settle. The village had a car park, and that was about it, no shops, no pub.

The concept behind Photosketch was for a diverse group  to get together to create photographic art while walking, taking to time to think about and reconnect with nature and the outdoors. It sounded like just the sort of thing I needed to drag me out of a long photographic slump. I liked that this was about making art.  I needed to be reminded that photography is art, and I do it to be creative, not for Instagram followers.

I was a bit pensive going into this event, Al and Fleur are great photographers and I knew there were others coming, they were probably good as well.  I felt a bit of fraud coming along. What if I sucked? We were supposed to show some photos as part of the introduction, my images, my style, my lack of a ‘body of work’, would those be held against me? Would there be sneery looks at my ineptness? Breaking my main camera on Saturday didn’t help much either, cannot even look after my equipment!

As you would expect these were ridiculous thoughts.

Fleur picked me and a couple of others up from the train station in Settle, and we set off in her Land Rover (so much more appropriate here than in London) to Rathmell, where we met Al and the rest of the participants in the towns only highlight, the car park. There were five participants in all. Most of them seemed to know each other, either by reputation or through working together previously. I was not intimidated by this at all, oh no, not at all.

The day started with an introduction session in Fleur’s office/studio/barn. She lives a long way from nowhere, it is very remote and very beautiful. Pretty much all of my event mates were professional photographers or ex degree/masters students; all had exhibited before. In galleries, not in cafes like me. I felt inadequate to start with, however they are all lovely people and once we got talking things all balanced out. We are all human, and all love what we do. We are all equal, just different.

The day was split into two, a short walk to a small ancient swamp forest near the end of Fleur’s property, followed by lunch and then a longer walk into the moorland above. For the first session we took our own cameras, the afternoon was all about playing with instant cameras; both Polaroid and Instax.

The forest was beautiful, very small, very quiet, verging on eerie. It would have been magical to spend some time here alone, absorbing.  There is an interesting mix of light marsh grass and twisted beech amongst rock and fern. There was a very brief moment as we arrived were the light was stunning, though it did not last long enough to get cameras into action.

I was trying to think about my photography in different ways, take things slowly, looking at the details, watching the others; trying to get the feel of the place and get that onto the sensor in the back of my camera.

I wanted to think a bit like Al in the short period of time we had., time when I was largely on my own and able to think and focus.  A lot of Al’s work is underexposed, dark and very moody, allowing the viewer to interpret more from the things that cannot quite be seen than what can be seen.

I had to take a couple of my more usual impressionist photos though 🙂

After a very big lunch and a long discussion covering art, photography, books, nature, place and a wide range of other vaguely related subjects we all donned boots, coats, woolly hats and headed off up the hill and onto the moorland above Fleur’s house.

We were all given an instant camera, with a pack of film. I started with an old Polaroid, others had a range of different Polaroids and Instax cameras. The idea behind this longer walk was to play with this different technology, look and think about what we were going to take images of, not just snap away taking dozens of frames of the same thing with the hope of getting one good image. The instant cameras meant we could review the results today. I have never used an instant camera before, I was the only one who hadn’t, all the others regularly shot film, or used old plate cameras and were ued to thinking about taking images over a longer period of time.  This sort of low tech was what they were used to. I will talk about the instant camera experience in the next post. It was fun.

We passed an old farm house on the way and I got told off for taking photos. The locals do not like the ruin porn thing, displaying the slow decline of the rural way of life. Fair enough I guess.

The moorland was amazing, I really liked it up on the hills, we had a few zones to take pictures, with 20 or so minutes in each as we covered the six or so mile walk. It was moody and cold up in the hills and at once point it rained heavily, though fortunately briefly. The clouds were amazing and I was gutted I did not have the big camera as the wide angle was perfect for this environment. The little G16 did OK though.

We dropped down into a small section of pine forest, passing a really cool mountain bike loop on the way. The pine forest was an interesting change from the open and mostly treeless moors, and Iiked the closeness and darkness of the trees. We didn’t have long there unfortunately, I think I could have gotten quite ‘lost’ in the depths of this large grove.

Walking back down from the top we were again exposed to some massive views, with big clouds, big horizons and wonderful contrasts between the yellowy grasses and the grey sky. I took way too many photos. This is my sort of place, though I was supposed to be not taking cliché Phil photos today. I couldn’t help it, and I know I was not the only one…

Watching sweeping rain showers batter the horizon from our position of relative dryness was dramatic and inspiring and I wanted to stay longer, however those clouds were not all ‘over there’ and we could see them coming our way, with growing rapidity.

Apart from the pine forest, we saw very few trees, coming across two trees together we stopped to take a few photos, they were almost unique in that environment.

I had a lot of fun with the instant cameras, I had a go with both types and took about 24 photos. All the cameras were old, some hadn’t been used for a while so results were unpredictable, there was a lot of roller noise, but for me this just added to the joy of the images. This was my favourite, a landscape Instax. I will show some of the rest in the nex post, maybe tomorrow.

It was cold out, so the instant photos took a while to develop, even stuffed into pockets close to body warmth.  Back at Fleur’s we spent some time looking at all photos we had taken, comparing images and effects from the different cameras and discussing experiences. It was really nice, quite education, and interesting to see the varierty of styles. I very much enjoyed it. adly and all too soon it was time to be dropped back in Settle, the day was done 😦

It was a good day, I learnt some things, met some brilliant people and came away feeling validated that I can make good images. I just need to find my thing, as I don’t have a thing at the moment. It will come !

Big thanks to Fleur and Al for organising, and to Steve, Rachel, Kristell and Phoebe for being great company and good teachers.

The next Photosketch is in the Peak District on the 8th September. Check it out here.

Victoria Caves

May 5 2019 Part 2 – Settle, North Yorkshire.

Inside the cave mouth it is near silent; no bird call, no wind. Just the occasional bleat of a ewe calling her lamb, and the steady yet slow drip of water falling from the rock above It feels like the outside world is slowly ceasing to exist. The further I move into this, most shallow of caves, the more the outside disappears. As light slowly reduces so does sound, natural noise cancelling headphones.

Caves terrify me. That is not totally correct, as THIS particular cave doesn’t terrify me. It is quite large and open and at a glance it does not appear too deep and foreboding. Being a law-abiding citizen, I am not going to pass that safety rope, so I don’t have to explore its crannies and tunnels. I can safely ignore any paths into the dark below, into the underland. It is they, and the unknown terrify me.

One person who does know what lies in the dark below is the author Robert Macfarlane, who has just published a new book ‘Underland’. Exploring ancient and future history by looking at what is under our feet and hidden from view. Cave systems, mines and melting ice fields revealing all sorts of things that humans have buried or disappeared. I started reading it in the pub on Friday night, and have been reflecting on the passages I have read over the weekend, I am going to take my time with this book. it intrigues me.

After five hours of job application writing I was finally ready to back out again, it was getting late in the afternoon, though I still decided to take a walk up into the hills and try to find Victoria Cave. It was clearly marked on Google maps and was do-able in the time I had between now and it being too dark to be out wandering alone in strange hills.

The first 40 minutes just seemed to be uphill, with a little bit of flat before going back up hill again. I am not as fit as I used to be, but managed to keep pretty good pace given I didn’t have a lot of time.

I love the dry stone walls here in Yorkshire. There are very few trees in the hills. Not knowing the old history of the area I am assuming that this was not heavily forested back when these walls were built, some possibly date as far back as the bronze age, though those old stones will be very low down in the walls as remedial work has taken place over the centuries. They are a thing of beauty, and control in this otherwise slightly disordered landscape.

I wish I had taken more time, exploring the bluffs and craggs that surrounded me would have been so much more interesting than writing job applications. Though I guess being in work allows me the time to indulge in walking and photography in places that are a way from home.

At the top of the first climb I came across this ruin. I have no idea what it was, and do not really want to know as my imagination ran riot trying to work it out. Why are there blast holes in both directions on that panel, what the heck blew holes that size?

I also want to know if this plate, made in Bishopsgate, in what is the heart of the finance centre of the City of London is covering, is there something under here ? did it blow up ?

There are not a lot of trees here, the land does not look it would sustain many, and I wanted to photograph each and every one. How old are they? And why one? So many questions.

It is very unusual for me to not be listening to music, I have headphones glued to my head on my commute and as much as possible in the office. I play music when I cook, sometimes it is why I cook. I am playing music as I type. I listen to it a lot. Except when I am walking in the country, when I walk I want to listen to nothing but the countryside and the questions in my head. There are often a lot of questions.

My object for this afternoon’s walk, the Victoria Caves are somewhere in this bluff, the Attemire Scar. There are a lot of cave systems in the Dales, including some managed commercial systems. If I had more time I would have had a look at some, though I doubt they would be as amazing as those mega caves I visited in Malaysian Borneo. I am intrigued by what fears me.

I reached the cave about 5:00pm and had a sit down, a drink of water and a snack bar. I had walked quite quickly up to the cave as I had no idea how long the loop would take to do. The return journey was simpler than the way there. So arrival with plenty of time meant a relaxed walk back.

The cave is not deep, or at least access is not deep, there is a lot of rock fall and most of the cave is roped off. I could have gone deeper, there is no-one there to stop you, but I am a chicken so only went as far as the barrier. The darkness, dankness and silence was calling me further in, I really wanted to see and learn more, perhaps find someting so far undiscovered, new bones, a few coins. Something newly revealed by rock fall or fissure. 

The caves were discovered in 1837, the year of Queen Victoria’s coronation, hence the name. They were apparently an archaeologists dream find, with loads of prehistoric bones as well as a collection of Roman and pre-Roman artifacts. The question remains as to what it was used for.

Between the main cave and the much smaller second cave I found two climbers, playing on a wall. The wall was not high, not particularly dangerous looking, though I was terrified just walking up the scree slope to the caves. As well as not doing dark narrow tunnels I also do not do heights, and the older I get the worse the vertigo gets and I really struggled getting back down from the caves to the level grass below.

The path that makes up the second half of the loop was more clearly defined than the one I followed on the way up, which was at the best of times a mown strip in the grass. This path leads to a nearby car-park, and then the road,  following a very wiggly line of dry stone wall.

I came across another solitary tree, as this one was in my path I stopped to take a few photos, intrigued as to how and why it was growing on this particular rock outcrop.

I think this is a hawthorn. I love how nature has allowed a seed to grow between the rocks of this harsh environment, forcing its way up into the light, pushing the rocks apart to allow its growth.

I was soon walking down the road towards Lancliffe, passing these very friendly lambs on the way, I thought they were trying to come with me for a while. Maybe my sheep voice is better than my Scottish accent ?

On the outskirts of Lancliffe I passed what I am assuming is a private forest, possibly surrounding some large manor house. The variety of shades of green in the walls, the moss on the banks and the trees was incredible and I have failed to capture them with any accuracy. The light was low and I had no tripod. After spending so much time with few trees, it was wonderful to be reminded of why we need more, not less of these wonderful things, and that wandering amongst them should not be just the privelidge of the wealthy.

That was pretty much the end of the walk. It was lovely and I wished I had more time to enjoy it. I did deserve the massive meal and couple of pints I had in one of the pubs!

Cragg Vale, Yorkshire. The Gallows Pole.

May 3 2019 – Calder Valley, Yorkshire.

I do like a good book. However, they seem to be quite hard to find and I have started many that turn out to not be as good as I hoped. I am sure there are loads of very good books being released right now, though probably not that many that I will like today. I might like them tomorrow, who knows? My emotional need for books changes and what thrills or interests me today may completely bore me next week.

One of the very few good things about being constantly busy and constantly tired is that I have much less time, desire or energy to read. I can make a good book last a long time, thus reducing the need to have a lot of good books to hand.

Earlier this year I read ‘The Gallows Pole’ by Benjamin Myers. It is set in Cragg Vale, Yorkshire as the industrial revolution of the 18th century starts to bite into traditional rural working class lives. It is not a book that I would normally read, but it was highly recommended by people I follow on Twitter and it subsequently won an award for historical fiction. I really enjoyed it, read slowly.

The books foundation is the story of the Cragg Vale Coiners, a group of counterfeiters making new coins by ‘clipping’ the edges of real coins, melting the clippings down and casting new money. It was a very evocative read and very much made me want to visit the area and see it for myself. Times may change, but environments less so.

Cragg Vale is very close to Hebden bridge, a ‘now’ sort of place, a place where lots of bands I like play, that seems to have lots of art and artists and somewhere that sounds like a fairly cool place to live. It was also sort of on the way to Settle in North Yorkshire where I have a photo walk on Monday. The detour seemed like a good option.

It was not the best of days when I left London for the supposed five hour drive north. I elected to follow the recommendation on Google Maps to take the A1 rather than the M1, even though my gut was telling me that was the wrong choice. I followed my gut on the return journey. There were a lot of trucks on the A1.

I arrived in Hebden Bridge in the early afternoon. I was hungry and dying for a wee. It took me ages to find a car park and the public toilets were closed. I think this rather soured my view of Hebden Bridge. I wasn’t overly enthralled by the place, it is extremely commercial, most of the buildings seemed to have been converted into an establishment to suck money out of tourists. It reminded me of Canterbury, another historic town laid ruin by tourism. After weeing and eating a sandwich in that order, I left.

The River Calder and Rochdale Canal that run through the Calder Valley and past Hebden Bridge are glorious, the whole area is beautiful and I have to go back some day and spend a bit more time exploring more slowly.

Leaving town the way I came in, it was a short drive before I turned off the main road and headed up to Cragg Vale. The road is narrow and gently winding and quite fast and there were not a lot of places to stop and take photos. The village is so small that a long blink would blank it out from your journey. I carried on up the valley towards the top, and the burnt black and dry brown of the moor. This is what I wanted to see; bleak and barren open moor land. I was blessed with almost perfect weather, dark low cloud. Lovely.

Cragg Valley with Turvin Clough flowing through to the reservoir below.

I stopped outside St Johns Cragg Vale and took a couple of photos of the church and the stream, before getting back into the car and heading towards Settle and my Air B and B for the next three nights.

I took the most direct route, it may not have been the fastest, but it was a very nice drive, particularly driving up the road from Hebden bridge. There was no where easy to stop, but I can see why the place is so popular, it is a very attractive town when you are not up close and confronted with dozens of shops.

On the way I passed the small, but perfectly formed Lower Laithe Reserve, stopping to take a couple of photos before continuing my journey northward.