Earlier this year Andy Vivian very kindly took me up into the bell tower of St. Peter’s Church in Newnham. We were armed with my 360-degree camera which I controlled remotely. Those who know me well are aware that if I stand on a chair I get dizzy and wobbly, so going up into the tower was a feat and looking out of the window almost impossible for me. With support from Andy, I managed to position the camera precariously on a tripod to capture some stunning views.
I was fine on the level of the Carolan bells and took several photos of the view through the windows. But the real bell tower, where the enormous church bells are, is yet another storey up. My knees turned to jelly. No way could I do that. Climbing up the tight spiral staircase to the entry point was one thing, but climbing up through a hole in the floor, and balancing on beams, was unimaginable for me.
Andy kindly did that bit and positioned the camera in various locations with instructions from below, as I directed from my iPhone screen – “left a bit, turn it a bit, yes, perfect, now hide!”.
Viewing on the tiny phone screen, the image was not very clear, but when I uploaded them onto my computer – wow – I was stunned! The views through the windows have a medieval timelessness to them. The river framed by wonderful architectural arches and the lichen and stonework revealed. The images of the big bells were something entirely unexpected.
The surprise was the playschool colour of the steel beams in the upper bell chamber. I was expecting bronze-y, dirty colours but BOOM! Bright red, yellow and green powder coated steel rang out loud and clear!
I’ve been working with the images the last few days, preparing some to put up in the Newnham Community Library. Seeing them together as a set makes me realise what a privilege it was, both to go up there and to have a 360 camera I can experiment with.
Library hours are limited, but if you are in the Armoury Hall for other reasons, do nip in and have a look at them on the wall. They are presented in 18cm square frames, black or white. I’ve a feeling they may be popular, and the exhibition will be up right through to Christmas, so I can take orders. Deadline for orders will be 1st December 2018 and dependant on availability of the frames.
There will be other works in the library, original, large, panoramic drawings and a few smaller prints.
And a show coming up in Brockweir Community Shop.
And my book Severnside: An Artist’s View Of The River Severn will be launched very soon.
Here’s a little preview of the church photographs, not great due to reflections but I never complain about sunshine!
I’m on the banks of the Severn, just before sunrise. I know it’s coming very soon, as above the Cotswold skyline there is a small row of eight or nine clouds just above the horizon. They look like fragments of torn paper, maybe from a to-do list, all of similar width and height, separated by tiny bits of sky. They are up-lit by the sun below and as it rises it frames them with a subtle, red, glowing edge. Each piece becomes more vividly defined before the power of the sun overcomes my retina’s and the tiny clouds fade away in the glare.
I’m standing precisely opposite this imminent sunrise and the wildlife around the river is responding to it’s arrival too. Crows and gulls spiral above my head, calling, whilst on the watery stage characters enter from both left and right. On my left, a sole duck floats silently towards the centre of the stage, anticipating the arrival of it’s spotlight. It is a little early really, but that’s fine, it will learn.
On my right three ducks slip out from behind the cliff, chattering together.
Above my head, the world of business is approaching another Monday morning. Transatlantic planes fly toward the sun, European ones too, but lower in the sky. None of them are much more than tiny white arrows high above, leaving chalky tails in the pale blue sky. I wonder, when we have gone through Brexit, will this lessen? Will the sky become hauntingly quiet, as it did in 2010 when the volcanic Icelandic dust forced the closure of the UK airspace?
I think about M.C. Escher’s patterns of black and white birds. Today the sky is like that, the white ‘birds’ are planes, the black one’s are crows and gulls. The scale changes, as it does in his drawings, those flying lowest are closer, more vivid, those in the distance more abstract and vague. I recall Norman Ackroyd and Robert McFarlane discussing the white birds in Ackroyd’s paintings, on Radio 4 last week. How the little egret is now the whitest bird we see on our rivers. There are none here today, sadly. They will have flown off with the herons earlier, before the tide rolled in.
As I absorb all these activities, a circle of ripples appears in the water. A number of other concentric rings roll up out of the water, then disappear. They are moving closer to centre stage, they know that, very soon, the sun will rise in full glory. The lone duck is now joined by two other pairs, all moving determinedly towards the golden rippled area that is appearing on the surface of the water. The fish underwater do the same.
The shimmering lines of light come closer to me, creeping over the lapping tidal waves as the sea flows upriver, as it always does, on the Severn.
We reach the crescendo, the great ball of fire rises up and the ducks are silhouetted by its brightness, bobbing about on the highlights of the folds in the water. I stare in wonder at this red mass and take a deep breath – the day has begun. I turn away to walk home and see vibrant acid green sunspots peppering the ground. I watch them as I move back up to the path. As I walk up the street I notice they are now red blurs.
Eyes are amazing, complimentary colours vying for attention, just as the skyborn objects were, the fish in the water, the ducks on the waves.
All mere sunspots in my eyes.
Hand-tinted photographs have always held a certain appeal. Of course when they were first done, it was because we had no colour photography. But we do now, indeed we have digital, which opens up many new ways of working. I use my iPhone for most of my photography these days and occasionally play about with image editing software and apps on my iPad. I bought a Pencil years ago, to use with Paper (don’t you just love how close they want to be to materiality, the real thing?)
As many readers know, I’ve been drawing large, monochrome riverscapes for a couple of years. Only once did I do one in colour, but rejected it and returned to good old black and white. Psychologically, this may be related to life (and death) events. I’m walking in circles, finding my feet again.
This year I have done several 360 degree images and videos, which I have edited into muted colours. The natural colours were pretty mute to begin with, but I also found myself celebrating bright blue skies and green leaves. Colour started to seep back into my life.
There’s a pattern forming here. When I write I often write in prose, then reduce it to more poetic form (I stop short from calling it poetry). Then reconstruct, having pared back.
Also this year I have been enjoying the changes of light on May Hill, from a viewpoint that means I can snap it willy-nilly and relish the wonderful shifts of forms and hues. It reminds me of when I moved into my Newnham home and took photos from the bedroom window almost EVERY morning, of the Severn, for the first couple of years. I still do so, occasionally.
So moving away from the river (it’s scary, but I don’t go far!) I’ve become intrigued by the view from Pleasant Stile. I drive down some mornings quite early so I jump out and take pics of the Severn from there too.
So, after all this preamble, I’ve been playing at digital-darkrooms. I take colour photos, I greyscale them, then I put back a little colour. And I think they are growing on me.
I welcome your thoughts on them, and the process.
Click images to see them larger
I went on my regular pilgrimage to the banks of the Severn today, to view the bore. Only a ** prediction today, but it was probably a -*
With lots of Monday-thoughts on my mind, I observed the activity on, and in, the river. There have been duck shooters there recently and local people are upset by it. I mention the ducks, and the role they play in warning of the waves arrival, in my upcoming book, An Artist’s View of The River Severn:
Switch your clock back to the now and breathe in the pungent smell of the elderflower ripening in nearby hedgerows, or the brambles plumping up in tangled masses like unruly hair. They have always been there and will return every year, long after we have gone.
Notice the ducks as they gather anxiously, awaiting the arrival of the bore from stage right. They navigate the turbulent currents that begin to form, at one with the water they glide on. Across the river, stage left, some of their human equivalents flip-flap onto the mud-flats. Dressed in tight black wetsuits, carrying huge surf boards, they enter the riverbed from both banks. Audiences line up on either side with anticipation, all eyes turned seaward, waiting. In the quietness, the lull before the storm, you might catch the sound of the village clock chiming in the High Street, then, seconds later, the bells of St. Peter’s follow. Time is proven to stand still in Newnham, if only for a split second……..
The herons elegantly wait, upright, alert
No large wave today
Few fish swept in for breakfast
A sole surfer
Returns to the bank
With head bowed low
The ducks wing back
In twos and threes
Safe, behind the cliff
Grateful to have survived their flight
Meanwhile, the tide curves in
To meet the river
On its way down to the sea
Approach, then circle
Back to back
To their original positions
Ripples shift around each other
Jostling for their right
To do what they must do
The leavers seek to move forward
Halt the tide of immigrants
Forgetting the purpose of the EU
To keep this island safe
The remainers hope to turn back the clock
The sandbanks begin to disappear
Flooding overcomes them
The bore returns
Again and again
Then continuing on their way
Whirlpools are forming
In this world
Under the surface
Drags us down