Longing to see something new

Why we take photographs is something for each photographer to answer in their own way, but it is often about self fulfilment and the urge to make something other people will appreciate. It  might also be about learning a skill as a means of building self esteem and achieving something. For many people it’s just a way of keeping a record of people and events. At its best though, photography is about watching and waiting to be captivated by something mysterious – to explore and discover images we hadn’t planned or expected to see.

Bark Calvery

If we go into the field with a preconceived idea of what we are looking for, the ideal photo, then there is a good chance we will not see what is actually there. We are conditioned to see the world in a particular way and to filter out anything that doesn’t conform to our expectations. This is deep stuff because what we think is true about the world may only be what we allow to pass through our particular coloured lens.

So, it seems to me, photography is about submitting ourselves to the possibility that there is more – more than we expect or can imagine. To make this shrouded world visible we have to be open to nature and not control it, to be willing to spend time getting to know it.

When I search the Internet for inspirational landscape photos, as I often do, I am mostly disappointed. It seems to me that many people (including me) are striving for the textbook photo – a well composed shot of a classic vista at dawn in the style of a celebrity partitioner. I picked up a small book recently offering a guide to classic Yorkshire landscape locations. The guide is full of information about location, time of day, composition tips. It makes me wonder whether this isn’t more reflective of our desire to be accepted and feel we belong to the club.

If our creativity doesn’t challenge and disrupt our normal patterns of  feeling and seeing then it is simply a nice piece of decoration.

And so as I sit in the wood near my home I am waiting in the silence to be found by nature and introduced to something I haven’t seen before. I am looking for a connection not just with the natural world but with its creator and longing to be immersed in that relationship.

 

 

Black Beck in Heber’s Ghyll Woods

Heber’s Ghyll Woods is about 10 minutes walk from our house. It’s a lovely walk up some steep steps beside a tumbling beck – Black Beck according to the map. You climb through trees and criss-cross the beck over a series of bridges leading up to the edge of the moor.

In the last few weeks the falls have been wonderfully energetic.

Everyone usually heads for the Cow and Calf Rocks or to Middleton Woods, but I think this spot deserves more time and attention.  more photos

Complex Wood

I have taken out an online subscription to www.onlandscape.co.uk which is brilliant I have to say. On the site there is an interview with David Ward who’s work is terrific. In it he said he is always looking to simplify his images. I heard a similar thing from David Bailey who said he was always working towards a blank sheet of paper.

Walking in the woods it has always been the complexity that has fascinated me and so the idea of trying to simplify what is already complex seems to me to risk losing something of the nature of it.

Another quote from someone is that “for every complex problem there is always a simple solution, this answer is usually wrong”. In fact I would say the “keep it simple” mantra has become something we no longer ever question in almost every creative field!

So as I walk though the woods today I have been thinking about complexity and how to embrace it.

Cut is the branch

cut is

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight,
And burned is Apollo’s laurel bough,
That sometime grew within this learned man.

Faustus is gone; regard his hellish fall,
Whose fiendfull fortune may exhort the wise
Only to wonder at unlawful things,
Whose deepness doth entice such forward wits
To practise more than heavenly power permits. [Exit.]

(Scene XIV. Marlowe, Christopher. 1909-14. Doctor Faustus. The Harvard Classics)

The wood is not yet dead

woodIt doesn’t seem long since we were enjoying blossomy trees and children were playing amongst the bluebells. Now, life is retreating again and the sun is muted by washed out skies.

The wood is not yet dead just preparing for rest, and this clearing is like a house strewn with the remains of a riotous party. It is a place recovering from the excesses of time well spent.

It is peaceful here where the smell of decay is sweet. There is not much sound, only the crunch of leaves and a lone crow’s call stabbing onto into the cold air.

The wood is not yet dead and the glorious shades of yellow and red seem to insist that in even in the dark seasons  is something to celebrate.

The beauty of the wood never ends, but it also never stands still. The wood is not yet dead.

Be nice if the CofE could do some proper brand advertising

It concerns me that the Church of England for whom I work sometimes equates the transfer of text based information with communication. A word written or read out loud is not the same as a word received.

The written or spoken word in a religious context is often a kind of legal transaction which establishes the terms of membership. The words are a statement of what we are signed up to. We are connected in a formal sense but it requires creative expression to bring the meaning to life. I wish we could be more like the advertisers, or at least learn from them.growing-younger-header.png.576x260_q100


In fact, I spoke too soon! Birmingham diocese has grasped the advertising thing with both hands in this message – “we’re growing younger”. In an unconventional move the diocese wants to install significant numbers of young people in positions of leadership.

Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.
Yamaha places a piano in a shopping area inviting the pubic to play.  An accessible and creative brand. A live product demonstration.

It has been said that St Francis of Assisi urged his followers to preach the Gospel, “use words if you have to”, but maybe he never said those words, I don’t know. The point is that it’s the stories that make the communication – every colourful detail of how we live our lives becomes our sermon.

We are compelled to tell our story by whatever means we have at our disposal. It is no use saying that words are better than pictures or any other medium for that matter.

What matters is the connection. The famous theme at the start of EM Forsters Howards End is “only connect”. That’s just it – THE CONNECTION. We live in fragments searching for a connection and in the end that’s what we strive to achieve.

Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds
Lloyds Bank advertising in Leeds positioning banking as part of your life story and values. It takes no time at all to read.

I think it is fair to say that we live in a time where the captured image is the medium of choice when it comes to communicating stories; from films to magazines, to websites.  The power of the photograph to connect with people is extremely powerful.  But we must remember that according to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. I understand from this that the words on the printed page can be spoken, and that the voice may convey images, and that the images can embody the stories.

Pictures have always been engaging and in our busy, mobile world pictures are now also extremely convenient.  An image can communicate an idea far more quickly than a paragraph of text. It is this convenience in our speeded up world that is the important thing to remember. This surge of interest in photography is not to diminish the power of words at all, it is simply to say that in our busy lives we need to keep it short. In fact pictures can assume tremendous power when accompanied by a few words of text. Poetry is a wonderful form. This leads me on the Twitter.

Twitter is a social media channel that restricts posts to 140 characters with the option of accompanying image, as you may know. The two most striking observations we can make is firstly that brevity (both in expressing and reading) is important and secondly that the message does not persist, by which I mean that it is designed to be visible only for a short time.

iPhone 6
The on-screen image is the message of this iPhone ad. Design and creativity.

So, the way we consume messages today is in the fleeting moments available to us.

As a society we are expected to be in sync with the conversations going on around us as they happen. These fragments of conversation are connected to other fragments of conversation and eventually coalesce into coherent ideas. We must be alert to the conversation.

The ideas are forming collectively with many voices participating. There is a flow and a rhythm to the dialogue which can be a beautiful thing. The connectedness of these conversations is a step towards being connected as humans and so here lies a wonderful prospect.

Yes I love photography and I love advertising because those who excel in these arts have understood that communication is about connection and  relationship not simply the transfer of information.

Waiting to be found

I am trying to be less calculating and rational about taking photos. There is a sense in which it is important to be found by an image rather than to search for it. It was something Simon Armitage said about writing poetry – about not thinking too much but allowing the words to find you. Bishop Nick Baines of Leeds said something recently about discovering that we (all of us) have already been found by God. This inspired me in so many ways.

So here I am wondering what else is going to find me., words, images, ideas. There is something wonderful about not being so intent on searching but being still and listening, watching, waiting. The less we struggle to find something the more likely it is that we will be found by it. This seems to me to be an important element of creativity.

14585109686_08dbe7b2c1_zThis photo and the idea behind it found me. What struck me most was the way the gate post seemed isolated in the field. This field is near Swinsty reservoir.

In some of the reservoirs around here there are abandoned buildings beneath the waters which occasionally reappear when the water levels fall. This gatepost is in a field, a reservoir of grass and wild flowers, but it evokes the feeling of an abandoned place which is slowly, but not quite, being submerged by nature.

Close to home

Today, amongst other things, I had a conversation with a charity which has been producing some very professional video to promote its cause. These videos are produced centrally as generic promotions – by their head office somewhere.   This made me think that organisations that keep a tight reign on their corporate message, produce media centrally and filter messages through communications departments can sometimes be a real handicap to effective connection.  

In many cases people want to connect with people who share their particular circumstances and share their view of the world – and that can be very localised. They want to know that the person with whom they are connecting shares their experience and is walking side by side with them.  Centralising communication and taking it further away from the local context can lead to a feeling of disconnectedness.  For this reason I have been thinking a about how we can make local voices heard and reduce the tendency for filtering out those people who are close to where the need is – the people we really should be listening to.  

This picture is from an early walk in Middleton Woods today. The Bluebells are starting to come out and the young leaves are breaking out. This is a great time of year.