The Spirit of a Mountain Climber

Today is the birthday of Frank Smythe probably one of the greatest mountain climbers of the early 20th Century. He was born on the 6th of July 1900 and from an early age he had a deep passion for the hills. During his climbing career he pioneered two new routes on the Brenva Face of Mont Blanc, the first ascent of Kamet (India) which in 1931 was the highest mountain yet climbed, and made attempts on Kangchenjunga (the second highest mountain in Nepal) and Mount Everest. His most successful expedition to Everest saw him reaching 28,120ft only a 1,000ft beneath the summit setting an altitude record for climbing without supplemental oxygen that was not broken until 1978! But what is rarely written about Frank Smythe was that not only was he a great alpine climber but also a passionate and gifted photographer. He didn’t just simply record his expeditions, he created stunning photographs of breath taking quality of the mountain landscapes he explored which he published in his numerous books such as “Camera In the Hills” “Over the Welsh Hills”, “Alpine Ways” and many more.

So in my own way I decided to celebrate the birthday of this great man by posting a few pictures from one of my own adventures in the hills. They where taken on a friend’s stag weekend in the southern Lake District. On the morning of the walk a heavy mist had rolled in off the Irish Sea, it lay thickly in the valleys and it wasn’t until we started to gain some height that the landscape around us really came into view.

Fox Haw

Fox Haw and Long Mire. Ilford HP5, Yellow Filter.

The objective of the days climb was the steep rocky peak of the Caw which rises sharply from the craggy mass of the remote Dunnerdale Fells. As we began to near the summit more and more distant fells came into view, Ulpha, Harter, Grey Friar, and the lofty summit of White Maiden. After a quick break on the summit which was just about big enough for us all to sit and have a our lunch we started our descent back.

Caw in the Mist

Caw and Cloud. Ilford HP5, Yellow filter.

We were picking our way down through the crags and mosses back towards where we started earlier that day at Stephens Ground when I stumbled across a small pool of water. It was crystal clear and through its base ran a thick seam of quartz which carried on up through the rock face beside it. I love finding hidden places like this, often overlooked they can be a microcosm of the greater landscape.

Roots of the mountain

Roots of the Hill. Ilford HP5, Yellow filter.

It was a memorable day spent in the hills with great friends and I hope Frank would have approved of the pictures. Though only 1,600ft the Caw is a small hill compared to is more famous neighbours, but what it lacks in height it certainly makes up for in its grandeur, it is a true mountain in every sense, and as Frank put it himself;

“Comparisons between low hills and high hills are invidious. There is no denying the grandeur of the Himalayas; there is also no denying the grandeur of the British hills. I have seen Snowdon on a misty September morning as far removed from earth as Kangchenjunga. Altitude in terms of figures counts for little. It is the instant vision that matters”

                                                                                Frank S. Smythe, “Spirit of the Hills”

 

Thanks for reading!

Graham

 

 

A Morning Pouring

It’s been a while since I’ve done any wet plate photography, but with a potential portrait commission from the gallery on it’s way I thought I’d better dust off my plate camera and get pouring some collodion and try and get my hand back in!

HelenTintype1

Helen, Plate 1. f4,5 8secs

HelenTintype2

Helen Plate 2, f4,5 8secs.

I used Lea’s No7 Landscape formula collodion premixed by a company called Mamut based in the Czech Republic.  The developer I had in stock was very old and oxidized so I  made up a new batch using  Scully & Osterman’s Formula;

15 gr Ferrous Sulfate
355 ml Distilled water
18 ml Alcohol
14 ml Glacial acetic acid

This brand new fresh developer would be too fast and contrasty to use as is, so I mixed it 50/50 with my old stock to get a solution that would be easier to use. Both pictures where taken with my vintage Half Plate camera fitted with Cooke Aviar 210mm lens on black anodised aluminium Tintypes. It was a bit of a dull day and even though Helen was sat right beside the window there was little direct sun light, the first plate had a lot of shadow so to help lift this on the second exposure I placed a full length mirror to reflect a bit of light back onto Helen.

I have to confess when it came to pouring the chemicals I was pretty rusty, and a bit more practice wouldn’t do me any harm but by taking my time and working methodically I didn’t cause too much of a mess! It was also the first time I had used the Mamut’s Lea’s No7 Landscape formula so there was a lot that could have gone wrong, but I was really pleased with the way the collodion and developer combination worked together.

Exciting Things Are Afoot!!

Last week I had some fantastic news that one of my liquid silver emulsion pictures “Dwarfie Stane, Hoy” had been accepted to be part of the ACTINIC Festival show in Edinburgh this summer!!

GrahamVasey_DwarfieStane,Hoy

Dwarfie Stane, Hoy. 100x75cm liquid emulsion on water colour paper.

I originally took the picture back in August 2013 when Helen, Alice and me travelled to the far north for a holiday on the isles of Orkney, and when I heard about this competition out of the four photographs I submitted it was this one I hoped they would pick! The exhibition will take place in July and has been organised by a fantastic group called Alt-Photo Scotland who dedicated to connecting and promoting alternative photography in Scotland and beyond so it really is a great honor to be chosen to display my work amongst some of the best in the world! More information about dates etc to follow!!

http://www.alternativephotographyscotland.org/

Oh and if your interested here is the original blog post!

https://grahamvasey.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/fifty-nine-degrees-north/

Cheers

Graham

Whitby In Spring Time.

I discovered a fantastic old northeast term the other day in a book I’m currently reading called Landmarks written by Robert Macfarlane, and that is “Lambin’ Storm” the name given to the gales which batter our coastline in Mid March, and not to be proven wrong that’s just what mother nature gave Helen and me on our visit to Whitby the other week. A blustery cold north easterly wind had whipped the high spring tides into a furious white foam and waves rolled in and crashed against the stone walls of the harbour. Now some people may think we were mad to venture to the seaside in such conditions, but for me I don’t think you could ask for a better day to walk along the pier as the sea crashes against it while the wind pulls at your hair and your clothes, plus it makes sneaking into a cosy pub afterwards even more rewarding.

Whitby Pier Lith

Lambin’ Storm, Whitby. Carl Zeiss Super Ikonta 6×9.

The day out also gave me chance to put a film through a vintage Carl Zeiss Super Ikonta folding camera which because of  some corrosion on the film gate and a little fungus in the lens had been put to one side. A little bit of black model paint sorted out the rust problem but all I could do for the lens was give it a good polish. Thankfully the fungus seems only to be in the front element and I couldn’t see any evidence that effecting the quality of the lens.

Whitby Pots

Pots, Whitby Harbour. Carl Zeiss Super Ikonta 6×9.

For these photographs I wanted to do something different. I’ve been saving some of my favourite black and white paper, Forte Museum Weight, which was made by a once great Hungarian photographic company called Forte, sadly they closed down a few years ago so the paper is no longer in production, so these last few boxes are probably the last I’ll ever have. One of the great attributes of this paper is it’s perfect for developing with Lith which are specialist developers used in a highly diluted solution and create a warm grainy print with a unique tonal range. The paper is usually over-exposed by 2 or 3 stops, then when the required density of image is achieved it is ‘snatched’ from the developer and placed into a stop bath. Lith printing can produce a very wide range of different colour and tone effects, and the contrast can be adjusted by varying the exposure time and development time. The image colour varies a great deal from warm – brown, olive, yellow, pink through to ivory, giving each print it’s individuality. The Lith developer I used for these photographs was Fotospeed LD20 which is  readily available and easy to use, but there are a number of others on the market. I really like this method and definitely feel it captured the atmosphere of the gritty, windswept day we spent in beautiful, unique Whitby.

 

 

 

The Great Look Out!

This is a bit of a late post. It was at the end of Febuary and I was back in Swaledale with my friend Gareth and my dad for another walk, this time to the summit of the mighty Great Shunner Fell! Not only was it my first proper fell walk of the year it was also my first attempt to climb this impressive mountain, which dominates the heads of Swaledale and Wensleydale and at 716 meters above sea level and just so happens to be the third biggest fell in the Yorkshire Dales.

It was a bright sharp day when we set off from the small village of Thwaite which nestles in a fold of hills near the head of the dale. We followed the path of the Pennine Way up the long slopping ridge along the edge of Stock Dale towards Shunner Fell Rake. As we slowly climbed up the slope stopping here and there to take pictures the more the summit loomed above us. Beneath its domed top, snow cornices still clung to the ridges and gullies on the fell sides.

The higher we ascended up the fell’s broad shoulder towards Shunner Fell Rake the more this mountain started to live up to the name it was given by the Norse settlers who came to this part of the world in the 10th century “Sjon’s lookout hill” from the Old Norse, Sjon + haugr meaning hill. All round us the views started to open up. To the north Teesdale and Mickle Fell could be seen with Stainmore and the A66 lying in between, to the south the high tops of Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough. We stopped for a quick break beside the large cairn which marked the beginning of the steep rake to the summit.

Shunner Rake Cairn

The cairn is a fantastic example of the wall builders art and must have stood over 6ft tall, it had slump to one side slightly giving it the impression of stoop old man. We had a quick cuppa as we soaked in the wild grandeur of the landscape that was stretching out before us before continuing on our journey along the rake which is an old Cumbrian term for a steep path or track up a hill. The closer we got to our goal we were treated with more glorious panoramas and mountain vistas, now Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang could be seen and behind them the Howgill Fells could just be made out.

Shunner Fell pool

At the top we found a very comfortable shelter cairn so we hunkered down for a while out of the cold wind, mixed with occasional snow flurry, soaking up the atmosphere of the summit before starting our long descent down to the Buttertubs Pass and then back to Thwaite. This was by no means an easy route as it meant crossing the enticingly named Grainy Gill Moss and Grimy Gutter Hags. When people started to name these places they didn’t just pick names on a whim they were often descriptive and created to form a kind of oral map of the landscape so “Grain or Grainy” means a meeting of gills or sikes and “Moss” is the old term for a marsh or peat bog with that in mind we where pretty thankful the ground (if you could call it that) was still part frozen as I have no doubt that we would have been up to our ears in peat if we tried it on a wet summers day!!

I took a few more pictures before we dropped down onto the road that would lead us back to the car just as more dark clouds swept across the fell.

Clouds Over Shunner

Once we dropped down to the massive limestone sink holes of Buttertubs the rest of the walk was on tarmac which always makes the journey a bit longer than it should, even more so this time because I knew I had a 6 hour shift behind the bar at work to look forward to. So sadly this time we didn’t have the pleasure of celebrating what was a fantastic day out in the hills, we will just have to save it for later!!

 

Cheers

Graham

 

Land Of Lead Revisited!

A few weeks ago me and my girlfriend Helen was chatting with my mate Gareth over a nice pint when me and Gaz started to reminisce about our recent trip to the Old Gang Smelt Mill in Swaledale, the conversation soon moved onto new topics but it got me thinking about whether I really got the most from all the pictures I had taken that day? There was one in particular I’d been really disappointed that it hadn’t turned out as I hoped. So inspired by my friend today I made a bit of spare time in my darkroom session to take a second look at the one that nearly got away.

 

Smelt Mill

Smelt Mill Door, Swaledale. 90mm Schneider Angulon lens, Fomapan 200.

The final photograph was made by contact printing the negative onto Fomatone Chamois paper at grade two and half for 6 seconds with a bit of extra burning in. I think in the future I should follow in my friend and photographic hero Bill Schwab’s advice and not be scared of thin negatives but love them for their beautiful delicate tones, the devil is in the detail after all!!

And of cause thank you Gareth for putting me back on track!!

Cheers

Graham

 

 

 

About Two and Six

Just up the road from were I live is the village of Cockfield, it sits on Cockfield Fell which is a broad piece of rising heathland bounded on it’s northern side by the fast flowing river Gaunless. The fell at almost 350 hectares is England’s largest scheduled ancient monument and within you will find numerous places which show remains of people living here from Iron Age, the Roman period and the Middle Ages. This was also a place of industry, coal mining began here as early as 1303 when a licence was granted by the Bishop of Durham. The mining steadily grew in its importance and by the 19th century the South West Durham coalfield was opened and the population of the area grew significantly, in fact some of my partner’s ancestors were among many who came here for work. The last Coal Mine closed in 1962 when the last of the coal had been finally worked out of the hills. But this place is not just a land resevered for the past, it’s also a living landscape. This is common land shared between the land owners of the parish which is managed by a group called the Fell Reeves. This means that local residents can pay a yearly rent for a “Stint” which gives them the right to graze their animals on the rough pasture of the fell side.

The stockholders are also allowed to build sheds on their stints, so not only will you seen live stock roaming across the land you will also see all kinds of sheds, stables and shacks dotted across the fell. A few years ago I came across a very weathered little pigeon cree standing beside the road, I drove past it time and time again until one morning a thick fog covered the hill the setting seemed perfect.

Come In Number 6 Bromide

Come In Number 6. Fomapan 100, 90mm Schneider Angulon f6,8 lens.

But as I said this is a working landscape and one morning I drove down the lane only to see a work team clearing the ground were Number 6 once stood, and for a few years all that remained was a small patch of bare earth. But this shouldn’t been seen as a negative, it’s a sign that there are people who still use the fell for it’s true purpose maintaining it for future generations.

The other day while driving back from a fishing trip in Teesdale I spotted another timber shed standing on the hill above the river, a number 2 painted on it’s side. Learning from past expirences this time I acted a bit quicker and returned a few weeks later to take some pictures.

Number 2 Shed

Wind Torn. Fomapan 200, Schneider 90mm Angulon f6,8 lens.

There was a stiff north westerly breeze blowing while I was there and the whole structure seemed to rock and sway with it. The elements had certainly took there toll and looking at it I wasn’t sure if another stormy night would beat any work parties and reduce it to a pile of rotten timber and ash-felt. But maybe when it does collapsed or is pulled down somebody will decided it’s a good spot to build something new and the circle will begin again.

While doing a bit of research for this post I came across a number of interesting articles on Cockfield Fell, there is a lot of information on the Keys to the Past website (which is always very useful) and the Northern Echo has a couple of interesting pieces from past publication. Here is a link to one which includes an incredible local poem which dates from March 12th 1878 when the fell must have seen it’s most intense period of heavy industry..

Bleak and Charmless…the fell is a hard place for all.

Cheers

Graham

 

 

 

 

 

 

Land Of Lead

 

These days I usually head out to the hills by myself and I don’t often get chance to go walking with my friends. So when I got a call from one of my best and oldest friends asking me if I wanted to head out for a walk I wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity! We made plans to meet after the new year. By then more snow had arrived and as we drove through Richmond and started to head up Swaledale the landscape quickly became a winter wonderland of snow and ice.

We where heading for Surrender Bridge which sits high in the fells above the small town of Reeth. From there we wanted to explore the ruins of the Old Gang Smelt Mill one of the best preserved relics of lead mining industry that’s once dominated this landscape.

It’s a steep drive up to Surrender Bridge and the higher we climbed the worse the roads became. I couldn’t help feeling grateful that I had just replaced my front tyres, and for once I had someone with me who could get out and push. Very soon the road had completely vanished beneath the snow, but luckily it stated to level out a bit so we decided it would be safer to park up and travel the rest of the way on foot.

It seemed like an age since me and Gareth had last been out walking together, and it didn’t take long for us to fall back into our usual banter of music, films, and on this particular trip the Viking Saga’s! Crossing the mysteriously named Surrender Bridge, talk turned to the possible origins of it’s name, which as far I’m as I am aware know one alive today knows? On the OS map higher up the fell they have marked a Surrender Ground and a Surrender Moss which I think all took their names from the local Surrender Mine, but where that name comes from who knows?  We followed the Old Gang Beck up its little dale and quickly we started stopping to take pictures. The landscape was breath taking, the thin dusting of snow gave a dramatic contrast to the dark heather and the dry stone walls, while all the time clouds constantly rolled over the fells.

North Gate To Brownsey Moor

North Gate to Browney Moor, 90mm Schneider Angulon and Fomapan 200.

Soon we reached the dramatic ruins of the Old Gang Smelt Mill. I often come across the remains of lead mining on my walks and I still find it hard to believe that these places where once the centres of a major heavy industry which boomed throughout the 18th and 19th century, at it’s hight employing 1,260 people in Swaledale alone. The days freezing weather brought into sharp foucus what the men, woman and quite often children had to endure to earn their daily wage. But by the 20th century cheap importants forced all the mines to close, and in the end the Old Gang Lead Mining Company which was once one of the largest employers in the dale was sold for £25 in 1933. We climbed above the old smelt mill to explore the ruins of the massive peat store. The huge structure was said to hold up 3 years supply of dried peat to feed the fires of the mills in the valley below. The game keepers had been hard at work burning back the heather for the red grouse, and the charred remains seemed to suit the subject matter somehow.

Peat House

Peat Store, 90mm Schneider Angulon and Fomapan 200

Soon the weather started to close in around us as heavy snow laiden clouds started to move across the hills, so we decided to leave the higher summit for another day and beat a retreat back to the car before it became buried in fresh snow.

Throughout the day we talked a lot about the Norse settlers who came to these dales in the 10th century and left there mark in many of the place names and dialect of their descendants. Many of which I’ve used in this post such as dale, fell, beck many of which can be seen in the place names of Norway and Iceland. But a poem kept returning to me which I first read as student which though not really Nordic seemed apt for days weather….

“Where has gone the steed? Where has gone the man? Where has gone the giver of treasure? Where has gone the place of banquets? Where has gone the pleasure of the hall? Alas, the gleaming chalice; alas, the armoured warrior; alas, the majesty of the prince! Truly, that time has passed away, grown dark under the helm of night as though it had never been. Now there remains among the traces of those dear people a wall, remarkably high, painted with serpentine patterns. The might of ash spears has snatched away the men, the weapon greedy for carnage, notorious fate; and storms beat upon those heaps of stones. A falling snow storms fetters the earth, winter’s howling. The darkness comes; the shadow of night spreads gloom and send from the north fierce hailstorms to the terror of men. The whole kingdom of earth is full of hardship. Here wealth is ephemeral; here a friend is ephemeral; here man is ephemeral; here kinsman is ephemeral; all this this foundation of earth will become desolate.”

Wanderer [Book Of Exeter]

See the Anglo-Saxons could write a pretty good tale as well Gaz!!

If you want to see more photographs from our trip to the fells please have look of my friends blog post:

https://numberofthegaz.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/old-gang-smelt-mill-swaledale-north-yorkshire/

Thanks once again for reading!

Graham

 

 

All Alone On Cotherstone Moor

Well like for many my December was frantic! Every year it doesn’t matter how much I try to plan a head it always ends up mad dash to get everything sorted. But it’s always well worth it particularly this year with three separate print commissions and one off the wall sale all from Gallerina. All this work certainly kept me on my toes, so when Christmas eve finally arrived it was lovely to sit back and relax with the family and enjoy the festive holiday. But in all this madness I did end up with one free day, and lucky for me it coincided with the first snow fall of the year.

It was a Saturday and we had originally planned to pick our family Christmas tree, but plans soon changed when we found out Little’n was being taken to the Panto by her Nana. So with the day now free I decided to revisit a spot I first found back in the Autumn.  On that day gale force winds had meant it was pretty much impossible for me to capture the photograph I wanted, so it has been on the top of my list of places I had to go back to ever since.

The drive up there was definitely interesting and I had to take care in negotiating the numerous patches of snow and ice along the small road that runs across the moors between Bowes and Cotherstone. As I reached the highest point of the journey the days objective came into view the small rocky summit of Crag Hill.  From the road side it was a short walk to its top where in amongst the rough gritstone slabs and boulders which give this hill it’s name stands probably one of the most incredibly weather-beaten trees in Teesdale. It’s incredible to think that for decades this tree has stood what ever the elements has thrown at it leaving it twisted and scared, but for all that it  still stands on it’s wind swept craggy hill side.

Crag Hill

Lifting Cloud Over Crag Hill. Schneider 90mm Angulon f6,8. Fomapan 200.

During this trip I also got chance to try out my new Grafmatic film back. It holds standard 5×4 sheet film but instead of like the conventional double darkslide which only holds two sheets this carries six. The film is held in thin metal septums which are mechanical pushed to the front each time you want to make an exposure and then rotated to the back once exposed.  It’s really neat plus it is a lot more compact that carrying normal film holders, and on this trip it performed really well.

So that was my first post for 2015 thanks for reading!!

Graham

Seasons Greetings!!

Snow flurry Xmas Letter

This photograph was taken on a cold winters day in the Howgill Fells below Wild Boar Fell. A sudden snow storm enveloped me and I was just able to capture this shot before everything disappeared in a blur of white. It’s not the greatest picture but it does make one look forward to a warm fire side and a hot cup of tea…or a nice dram of Islay Whisky??

Thanks to everyone who has been following my blog and liked my posts. It’s been a great year and I have thoroughly enjoyed creating this blog and the responses I received have been fantastic and I can’t wait till next year to find some new places to photograph!!

Happy Christmas everyone and I hope you all have a happy new year!!!