Last weekend I happened to be back home in the Dales for my brother’s birthday. In between the celebrations, I managed to get out for a walk in the woods, a place I’ve visited many times and with which I’m sure even you are familiar with now.
I often talk about chance on this blog – the idea that when you are photographing the natural world, you really have very little control over what happens. Sometimes this can ruin what would otherwise be a great shoot – I can’t count the number of times I’ve been disappointed by a sudden rush of cloud – but on very rare occasions it can lead to something more beautiful than the image you already had in your head.
This is one such image. I was photographing the fallen tree anyway, the ice and snow glistening in the morning sun, but I had no idea this beautiful creature was going to come along and pose for me! It’s very easy to have something like this happen, and to simply discard it because it’s not what you previsualised. I feel like that would be a waste. Some of the most beautiful things in our world occur simply by chance.
Work has changed the way I do photography. Having just started a year-long placement, I am working 8 hours a day, leaving me with only the evenings and weekends to shoot and edit my images. This means that I often can’t edit my images straight after shooting them. When taking into account other hobbies and commitments, I often don’t get round to editing an image until at least a few days after it’s been shot – maybe even as long as a week. The strangest thing is, I’m beginning to quite like this pace.
I find that leaving the images for a week or so before editing them makes the process much more enjoyable. I won’t always leave them for this long – sometimes I get so excited about an image that I simply can’t wait to start working on it – but when I do, it makes the editing feel fresh and independent of the shooting. This, in turn, allows me to discover the images in a way that I would never have done had I been blinkered by the lingering thought from the shoot.
That’s exactly what I did with these images from a trip to Skipton a couple of weeks ago. The delay between shooting and processing allowed me to approach the images with a fresh mind, and work with them much more thoughtfully.
Plenty of times I have gone out for a shoot and come away disappointed, before angrily formatting my camera’s SD card. Although I don’t like to admit it, the times when I do come away with nothing are frustrating, and it is hard to think calmly in that state of mind. If I leave the images, however, and come back to them a week or two later, that frustration and anger has melted away, and I can look at the image with a new pair of eyes.
I find myself inspired by the Romantic movement, not necessarily in terms of style, but certainly in terms of objective. The focus of Romanticism (bear in mind that I am greatly simplifying here) was emotion, rather than reality. It is interesting to apply this to photography because photography takes reality as its starting point, allowing you to alter it through manipulating various technical aspects to create the image you visualise.
I love being in nature. Even in a world where humanity has taken control of the majority of the environment, pockets of nature remain, albeit altered by our presence. Skipton Woods is one such place, and that is one of the reasons why I love coming here. For me, the experience is more important than the final images, but I wanted to try to combine the two, and come away with an image that described how I felt upon seeing the light filter through the trees onto this small river.
The black, twisted forms of the trees arch over the beck, forming a tunnel through which light filters, reflecting on the water. A slight vignette focuses the eye on the circle of light in the very center of the image. The contrast between the water and the branches creates a haunting image. I very rarely have the confidence to consider one of my images beautiful, but I think this may be one of the few that I believe are, at least to me. You might believe that it’s arrogant to say that, but I don’t. If I don’t believe in my own ability to create beauty, then there is no point to me being an artist.
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.
Yesterday I wanted to take my newly acquired Praktica MTL3 out to shoot some film, and so I set off down the road to the Millennium Bridge. This is a path I take very often, but this time it was different. As I approached the woods, I looked to the right, and spotted a trail I’d never noticed before. I’ve been here more times than I could count, but I’d been so focused on walking through the woods that I failed to notice this obvious path leading off in a different direction. My intentions in coming here all the other times had given me tunnel vision. So often when we’re out we’re so focused on what we’re doing that we fail to notice our environment. Only when you resign yourself to wander freely, without intention, can you truly find new places.