This week I’m down by the river again. I love coming here, and so it’s fitting that it should feature more than once in my 52-week-project, especially seeing as this is becoming far more personal than I’d originally intended. I’m less than halfway through, so I have plenty of time to explore the county of Yorkshire, but for now I’m giving you an insight into myself and my photography.
To me, photography is about revisiting the places I love. Each time I go somewhere, I get to know it a bit better. The photography becomes an ongoing conversation between myself and a place, rather than simply a set of images. Occasionally, I visit one of these places and find something new, exciting, and truly beautiful, and it is those moments that I live for.
The other day I found myself in York with my camera, so I decided to go and visit the minster. It was the middle of the day, and the sun was shining brightly. I wanted to try something a little bit different to my usual architecture shots. I wanted to try making the Minster a near-silhouette against the bright blue sky, and the results are fitting of an old Gothic cathedral.
In this image the Minster towers above like a Gothic giant. I changed the blue-tone levels in Lightroom to simulate a red-filter, giving the dramatic effect seen in the sky, which serves to accentuate the dark form of the cathedral. The form of the Minster itself is intimidating but vague, having been nearly reduced to a silhouette, and this really draws me into the image.
This image is not quite as intimidating as the last. It features a close study of part of the Minster, with two adornments jutting out into the soft white cloud. The clouds themselves aren’t as harsh and contrasting as in the first image, and this gives the image a softer tone. Again, the Minster is mostly obscured, with only a few details visible, forcing you to really study the image.
These are two images of York Minster that I really like. They are not just studies in the form of this beautiful cathedral, but also studies in the use of light and form to suggest, rather than to tell. I like that. I’m not telling you anything with these images. I make suggestions, and it’s up to you to fill in the blanks.
This isn’t the first image I ever printed in the darkroom using an enlarger – but it is the first I’ve felt comfortable sharing. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about film development and printing over the last few weeks, and while I have plenty more to learn, it’s time to start sharing images with you.
I like the idea of posting these images as scanned prints, rather than as scanned and edited negatives. There are two reasons for this. The first is that it allows me to do my post-processing in the darkroom, the old-fashioned way. I never did edit my images too much in Lightroom, but this restricts me even more, and forces me to take the time to hand-craft each print. I’m still learning about analogue printing, but I have tried my hand at dodging and burning prints, which is far more difficult under an enlarger than in Lightroom. Each print, even if it’s from the same frame, and I edit it in the same way, will be unique, and I find that thought beautiful.
The second is that it allows me to see images not as abstract concepts or files on a hard drive, but as physical objects that I can hold in my hands. Negatives, of course, are also physical, but as soon as you scan and edit them I feel like that fades. There is nothing wrong with that, and I would never tell anyone how to create their art, but this is my preference. To me photographs should be physical, like paintings or sculptures. Even with my digital work I try to print as often as I can, but getting professionally-made prints at a lab is expensive, and it makes me feel more abstracted from the process. When I print in the darkroom, I’m seeing my images through to the very end, like photographic children.
It’s been miserable for the last few days. The rain has barely stopped since Monday morning, and the sky has been a constant, uninspiring shade of grey. As a photographer, it’s my job to work with the environment I’ve been given, and I certainly haven’t been given much. What I do have, however, is a dark night, empty streets, and the texture of the rain pounding against the ground.
Rain makes a dull night scene intriguing, with white streetlamps glinting off wet surfaces, like in this image of a tree and its surrounding foliage. You can barely see anything, but that doesn’t stop you from constructing the scene in your mind, piecing together fragments of reflective water to form an implied whole.
This one is no different. You can see the detail on the trunk of this tree as it is illuminated by a nearby light, but the branches just fade into the dark, leafy background. It is impossible to tell where this tree ends and others begin.
The wind batters against the leaves of this tree, reducing them to a blur over the course of a long exposure. The tree stands alone against a black background, merging with it like a figure in the shadows.
These images combine my love of natural forms with the vagueness granted by the veil of night. The long exposures required to capture these images results in blurred, haunting scenes, only accentuated by the rain.
This one is a bit late. It’s Wednesday of week 23, and I got so caught up in celebrating the end of exams last week that I didn’t get a chance to submit week 22’s image, so there are going to be two images for 52 Weeks of Yorkshire this week!
The weather this week has been miserable. It hasn’t stopped raining since Monday morning, and it’s been frustrating not being able to go out on the few days I have free this week. Last night I finally gave up, and left as it was getting dark. Campus was completely empty, the rain having forced everyone inside. The university has a very different atmosphere when there are no students to be seen.
On the university campus is a large totem pole. I have no idea why it’s there, but it’s always intrigued me. Despite this, I have never photographed it until last night.
The wet surface of the wooden birds reflects the light from a nearby lamppost, while the rightmost birds are shrouded completely in shadow. There is not so much a form here as there is a suggestion of form, and that’s what I love about this image. This is the kind of image you can’t glance quickly at. You have to take the time to study it, and get to know it, and in doing so you let it know a piece of yourself. That’s the kind of photography I love – the kind you can have a conversation with.
Over the last week I’ve been spending a bit of time in the university photography society’s darkroom, which is fully equipped for B&W development and printing, as well as C41 development. I already knew a bit about development, but had never actually done it until a couple of weeks ago. The satisfaction I felt at opening up the developing tank to a roll of negatives was an incredible feeling. I’ve shot a few rolls since, and went back to develop them as soon as I’d finished all my exams.
This contact sheet shows the images from my second roll of film – a roll of Ilford Delta 100, shot on a Praktica MTL3. This post isn’t really about the images on this contact sheet – those I’ll talk about another time. Today I wanted to share my thoughts on the darkroom process itself.
I’m so used to sitting in front of a computer screen, keyboard and mouse in hand, and editing my images in Lightroom with music piped into my ears. I work really well in that environment, but sometimes it’s nice to get a change of pace, and the darkroom offered that. Development took about an hour in total, and for that entire time I was alone, in silence, with no other distractions. It was therapeutic. The end result is not a folder on a computer full of digital files, mere abstractions from the images they represent. Once you’re done with development you have a binder sheet of negatives you can hold up to the light – something which is still a novelty to me!
It’s such a tactile process, something sorely missing from the Lightroom experience I’m used to. The entire experience makes me almost want to switch over to B&W film photography entirely, and I can completely understand why many people love it so much. The jury is still out for me, but I am certain of one thing – I will be in the darkroom again.
A while ago I received a copy of Forms of Japan, a collection of photographs from Japan by British photographer Michael Kenna. Kenna is one of my favourite photographers, not least because of his meditative approach to photography, and this is very apparent when looking through the pages of this book. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the contents of the book, but I do want to talk about its presentation.
Upon opening the cover, itself holding a misty forest scene which does a perfect job of setting the mood for the rest of this book, you am greeted by the first chapter, aptly named First. In this chapter, Yvonne Meyer-Lohr, who collaborated with Kenna to produce Forms of Japan, talks about the influence of Japanese Zen on Kenna and his photography. From here on, the book is split into five main other chapters, each dealing with a specific subject studied in Kenna’s photographs.
- Sea – Forms of Isolation
- Land – Forms of Strength
- Trees – Forms of Transformation
- Sprit – Forms of Entireness
- Sky – Forms of Elusiveness
These chapters lead you through the book, tackling each of Kenna’s forms in its entirety before moving on to the next. Each chapter begins with a beautiful header, and a preface written by Meyer-Lohr, before showing a series of beautiful photographs which capture, as Kenna always does, a beauty that transcends that of the landscape itself.
The images are uninterrupted, save for haiku which perfectly reflect the images they accompany. These haiku, coupled with the calming, meditative nature of Kenna’s images themselves, give the entire book a contemplative atmosphere, and make browsing the pages an absolute joy. This book makes it obvious that the haiku is the perfect written form to compliment Kenna’s photography.
The sizing of images varies throughout the book, but fits every image individually. Some images take up full pages, sometimes more, and create an impact as soon as a page is turned, rushing up to strike you in the face, leaving you staring at the photograph slightly dazed. Others take up a quarter of a page, leaving plenty of negative space on the paper, and forcing you to interrogate the page to really understand the images. Often a row of images are presented on a spread, fitting a particular form, like these piers, the horizon in each image at the same height to give a sense of continuity.
I could talk for hours about this book, but it would be far better for you to read it yourself, because no matter how many words I type, I could not do it justice. The design and layout of this book – from the organisation of the chapters, down to the fonts chosen for section headers – go hand in hand with Kenna’s photographic study of Japan – a country rich in history, culture, and beauty.
I have my first exam tomorrow. For two weeks I won’t really be able to spare the time to do any photography. I might be able to shoot the odd image here and there, but I certainly won’t be able to contribute anything to 52 Weeks of Yorkshire, or any of my other ongoing projects. For this reason, weeks 19, 20, and 21 of the project will be missing. I’ll resume again in week 22.
In the meantime, I don’t want complete radio silence on this blog. Instead, I’m planning a couple of posts that will explore topics relating to photography, but not necessarily looking at any of my images. The first of these will be a book review – I’ll leave you in suspense as to what the book is!