The Ashness bridge story and other tales ......and turning the other way.
For some time now when visiting a “photographic hotspot” I have turned the other way and found something else to photograph. This may seem bloody minded, but it is deeper rooted than that and there are a few occasions I can point to that have led me down this path.
This is the long awaited Ashness Bridge story and other tales.
I should make very the clear the following as undermining a certain Landscape photography Workshop organisation could not be further from my intention. I have been on 2 Light and Land workshops and wish it had been more and am still looking at doing another in the future. The first with Charlie Waite in 1996 I think was to the Lake District. The second was to Rannock Moor in 2008 on a workshop led by David Ward and Phil Malpas. Both workshops were brilliant, I learned a great deal, mixed with some fantastic photographers, and had an absolutely brilliant time.
In 1995 I had an opportunity to visit Yosemite National park as a departure from a “lads” trip to Las Vegas (visiting libraries and places of worship) to re-join them a few days later. I was discovering black and white photography at the time using a Nikon F, with a waist-level finder which I absolutely loved and wish I still had to this day. I had started photography as a hobby a couple of years before and was finding my feet I think but my style was all over the place and very much influenced by Charlie Waite as he was making (and still does) amazing images and obviously Ansel Adams whose black and white images are timeless and sublime IMHO. (it still shocks me when people haven’t heard of him when I mention his name). I shot slide film and projected onto a wall to show them in those days and thus I started with colour. I believe I used Agfa Scala as soon as I found out about it so that I could project black and white images onto the wall with it being a reversal film and believe that I had some of this in Yosemite.
Anyway, the point of this bit of the story is, I had gone to Yosemite because of the images made by Ansel Adams, believing that all I had to do was show up, put my tripod in his tripod holes and press the shutter*. My first real disappointment! (*Obviously, I didn’t really expect to be able to do that, but I was going with a level of expectation.) Whilst there, I enjoyed beautiful cloud free blue skies every day, mid-September foliage and no snow to be seen anywhere …. obviously. Needless to say, the slides I brought back were appalling from an artistic point of view!
I visited “Tunnel View” and parked in “Tunnel View Car Park” right next to it. The view looks out over the valley of Yosemite and is a similar view to that photographed by Ansel in “Clearing winter storm” It doesn’t look the same under a midday sun with clear blue skies and I can say that from personal experience, but it is a completely stunning view nonetheless. I did set my tripod up because I was here, and I must make a few photographs of it. Whilst doing this I heard a bus pull up into the car park and a group of tourists disembarked, all with a camera slung over a shoulder and made their way towards me. There followed the surreal experience of each and every one of them placing their cameras directly adjacent (but not touching) mine and taking a shot. Each then would thank me and head back to the bus! It was odd but got me thinking. Why did they do that? I can only assume that my tripod gave them the impression that I must know what I am doing (I didn’t) and then why was I making this slide at this place at this time. I certainly had more than “record shot” in mind but should really have saved the slide for somewhere else. After a while during this visit, I did start to see what I see and made lots of images…. but all under a cloudless blue sky.
I did have the absolute pleasure of visiting an Ansel Adams gallery while I was there and stood in awe in front of a mural sized print of "Clearing Winter Storm" which completely and utterly took my breath away !!
Ashness Bridge, 1996…. (I think…)
I have mentioned that this was my first Light and Land workshop. I would recommend them to any photographer as they really are great experiences for a landscape photographer or burgeoning landscape photographer. The next occurrence to make me think happened here. We visited many beautiful places, and I learned many techniques and I made several lifelong friends…. that I have lost contact with now.
The days were spent travelling the lakes to various locations and I can remember the excitement of the trip to Ashness bridge. I had seen images of it of course and it really is a beautiful scene. I clearly remember that on the bus Charlie was admiring my camera bag and discussing cameras and for this reason I was last to exit the bus….and at the back of the queue to photograph the bridge. Basically, I found myself about 50 yards upstream from the bridge with maybe 30 other photographers setting up in front of me, tripods, and all. Now I have no issue with this really, it’s a lovely scene and understandable why a photographer would want to photograph it, but in the wait for my turn (which I did take by the way) it again got me thinking. Looking around me I saw lots of things to photograph, things that today would draw my attention before I even saw the bridge there. Why do I need to photograph the bridge? Well again, it is what we came for and there it was but is it my photograph and my vision? I don’t think it is really, it’s a thing that we went to make images of, that had been done many times before and many times since….and is beautiful, but its not really my image. My images are the things I see that pique my interest, that make me stop and want to make an image. For the remainder of the workshop, I did start to see things a little differently, I made images in the places we went to but maybe not of the places we went to. I turned the other way.
The print, hanging on the wall at my Mum's house, and
probably the only copy of this particular image
in existence....so.... limited edition then?
During the evenings of this workshop, we had an opportunity to “show and tell” our own photographs that we had brought along for the purpose. For all of us this meant either slides or prints and, in my case, the former. I was exceedingly nervous about doing this but needn’t have been and one of my “unknown places” shots I had taken a year or so previously got a very positive reaction and made my day, week…. year probably!
And I got my book signed by Charlie !
The slides from both Yosemite and from this lakes workshop are long lost I am afraid due to life and home changes many and varied over the last 25 years (good god!). I will though check through some CDs and prints before publishing this blog and put some in it if I can find any. (I couldn't)
Rannock Moor, 2008 (almost certainly)
I had driven through the Pass of Glencoe a few times on my way to and from work and made a plan that I would one day visit with my camera and spend some time there. Quite by chance in November 2007 I had seen an email advertising the workshop with light and land led by David Ward and Phil Malpas. I knew that they both used large Format cameras and I had fairly recently bought my first such camera, a Horseman 45FA field camera. I booked immediately as I had some leave available and couldn’t wait to spend a week in the snow on the moors with other like-minded photographers and gain valuable insight into the workings of a large format camera!
It snowed very heavily on the first 2 days of the workshop. Unfortunately, it snowed very heavily at home in West Wales and not on Rannock Moor. Cue quite a few slightly disappointed photographers. However overnight on the Tuesday it snowed VERY heavily on the moors and we awoke to a wonderland of opportunities. By now I was well versed in seeing what I see and making images for me, but using a large format camera was new to me at that point.
Similar to the last workshops the evenings were spent both listening to the workshop leaders talking about various interesting subjects which were both illuminating and engaging and also “show and tell” of ones own images, this time for me ….prints ! I remember in an introduction to myself I quoted from Charlie Waite's book “The making of landscape photographs” and stated that instead of the inner sigh of contentment when a photograph was made , that I let out a massive “Woooohoooo” ……………..and was expected to do so for every image I made on the workshop from that point on….which I did ……although sometimes they were quite quiet and subdued massive “Woooohoooos”, just in case of avalanche.
During this workshop I did mostly work quietly on my own creations and again tried to find my own thing.
One thing I can say though is that a lot of work went on before the workshop by the leaders to establish the right places at the right time were visited and they absolutely nailed it!
I probably made about 40 images using the Horseman camera and all of them are still with me, many are printed and a couple are shown below. I remember a long chat with Dave and Phil about camera movements and specifically the scheimpflug principle ……this remains my most favourite principle to this day!
We had stopped one morning on the main road to look and photograph the mountains reflecting in a partially frozen loch. It was utterly beautiful ! But on the other side of the road I saw this and it spoke to me more clearly.
River Etive at dusk in the snow. Just upstream from
where it went all photogenic. The sharp eyed
among you will notice...its in colour!
And I got my book signed by David !
I think what I am trying to say in a very long and laborious (yet strangely entertaining I hope) way is that making images is personal. It is something from within. Something from the heart. If a photographer is moved by a scene then it is those scenes that are best photographed. Most of my images are of places that are not well known and to be honest in a lot of ways where they are is not that important ….to me anyway. I am trying to show places that moved me for one reason or the other. The light on a slate bank, the interplay of rain on a grey overcast reflection or the sun barely illuminating through the fog of a winter’s morning. All these things and more for me, make me stop and wonder. Those are the things I have found
…. or more accurately those are the things that have found me.
Absolutely you should look at photographers that inspire you and will find yourself drawn to their vision and there is nothing wrong with that and it is a natural way to learn the craft. But don’t be afraid to look in a different direction ………or to look the other way.
I didn't feel I could write all this without at least providing a few links, in recognition of the shameless namedropping that has occurred ! In addition I would recommend both the books that have featured above.
I am not affiliated to any of these above links and nor do they know who I am!
Thanks again for reading what are slowly becoming articles not blog posts !
The why and how of a Super Ikonta 521/2 6x9cm , 1943, folding camera, and, how it earned a place in my suitcase to the Western Isles......