I was recently re-reading a short article published in LensWork 51 by North Carolina-based photographer Joe Lipka entitled Photographing the Not-So Grand Landscape. In it, he contrasts the grand landscapes of the American west with the approach he adopted to photographing the ‘small landscape’ of Carpenter, North Carolina – one more akin to documentary photography, questioning where one ends and the other begins.
The article was an interesting read as most of my recent landscape photography has been within a short drive of home. Few, if any, of the locations I’m visiting could be described as ‘grand’ or even ‘iconic’ though some might just make the description of being quirky. I’ve revisited locations multiple times, at different times of day and in different weather conditions, when they are busier and when they are quiet. It has given me the chance to play with different compositions and lighting.
It may not be the Lake District or Scotland, but exploring my local area has given me a better understanding of the photographic opportunities it presents in terms of landscape and its rich heritage. Rutland is the UK’s smallest county and its landscape of broad, rolling ridges and secluded valleys has a quiet, remote and rural character with small villages and scattered farms. It is criss-crossed by a network of narrow country lanes, tracks and footpaths interspersed by small thickets, copses and woodlands, some of them ancient remnants of once larger forests. At its centre is Rutland Water, one of Europe’s largest artificial lakes. Rutland’s moto Multum in Parvo, “much in little” seems rather appropriate for a focus on the Not-So Grand landscape.
Despite being only a short drive from where I live, I’ve never actually photographed the iconic Normanton church that is seemingly set adrift on Rutland Water in the UK. This week, I finally managed to visit this location on two occasions, albeit in very brief spells in the atrocious weather from the tail end of storm Dennis. Having the opportunity to visit more than once in quick succession lent itself to exploring a number of compositions using a fortuitous piece of driftwood on the shore.
The first visit was cut short by a heavy rain shower, but looking at the images I took it seemed obvious that there were other, possibly more interesting compositions to be had. In particular, I realised that a wide angle lens would enable me to create a sweep around the small bay toward the church. Unfortunately on that visit, I’d not managed to find the ideal position prior to the weather turning foul. With a building in the shot, perspective comes into play quite significantly when using an ultra-wide lens, it’s all too easy to set the camera too high and pointing downward so you end up with the depth-of-field you want but also with a wonky building! Second visit, two days later, and luckily the intervening wind and rain had not dislodged the driftwood from the beach. In the end, the final composition I’m most happy with is perhaps only a metre or so from my original position but equally shot with the camera perfectly level to reduce any distortion issues with the building.
As I child one of my early memories was of our dad taking photographs on what I later learned was a 1940s vintage Zeiss Ikon folding camera – I have it to this day. He’d been in the airforce and there were a few board-mounted black and white prints of places as diverse as Paris and the Shetland Islands that he’d made himself in his own darkroom. Years later, as a graduate student, I’d set up my own darkroom in a cupboard of a flat I rented using his enlarger.
As a teenager I was given a Russian Zenit-EM 35mm with it’s 58mm f/2 Helios lens. I probably had that camera for longer than just about any other since and it served me well as a student geologist. Later, I splurged on a second camera a Soviet Lubitel 2 120 roll film twin lens reflex. While there were undoubtedly better cameras around in the 1980s, they were well beyond my budget and I can’t help but feel that the shear fun I had using these manual cameras instilled my long term interest in photography.
I recently spent a thoroughly enjoyable few hours wandering around the iconic location of Bodiam Castle in Sussex on the south coast of England. Wind direction and light conspired to make this view the one that worked best rather than the more usual image that shows the castle completely isolated by it’s moat but it was the pure fun of making it that will be my lasting memory of the day.
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Much Meddling in the Marsh may be a rather corny pun on the Kenneth Horne radio comedy show Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh broadcast over half a century ago on the BBC. However, it rather aptly describes the various attempts I’ve made over the years to capture an image of St. Thomas à Becket church on Romney Marsh. Seems a wet and rainy October Monday finally gave me a chance to photograph this iconic location and capture some of its characteristic isolation, minus the usual summer weekend tourists.