It’s been a harsh winter so far with days and days of high winds and rain battering the North of Engalnd and Scotland. Rivers have been bursting their banks and destroying bridges roads and worst of all people’s homes. Like usual I have fallen behind with my blog posts but back in November before the worst of the weather hit I visited the Low Barns Nature Reserve which is run by the Durham Wildlife Trust with the aim of testing out some more expired Polaroid Type 665 a photographer friend had sent me from Sweden. The reserve is nestled in a broad bend of the River Wear and it’s made up of a fantastic landscape of deciduous woodland and reed fringed lakes and ponds, perfect environment for wildlife of all kinds. A brief gap in the weather meant I had chance to explore. By all the flotsam spread in amongst the trees along the river bank it was obvious it had only just started to fall back but it was still very high and was running the colour of strong tea. I slowly worked my way upstream finally reaching the remains of an old ford which had become a torrent of churning water. It provided the perfect subject matter to sum up the weeks weather.
The pack of Polariod worked perfectly producing a lovely fine grain negative full of beauiful tones, starting to really get rehooked on this expired Polariod malarky sadly some stocks are becoming harder and harder to find!
It was a great afternoon spent in a wonderful place but this was only the beginning of the wet weather and soon Cumbria, Yorkshire and now Galloway in the South West of Scoltand were being hit with massive floods, very sadly causing wide spread destruction to some of our most beautiful towns and villages forcing people from their homes.
If you have ever driven across the A66 motorway as it crosses over the wide expanse of fell and moorland between Bowes and Brough called Stainmore you may have noticed a black metal sign standing a short distance below the road. The sign is a replica of one which stood beside a train line that once past by here and simply reads “Stainmore Summit. Height 1370 Feet” this is the highest summit of any railway track in England and was an engineering feat of it’s age. But like so many of these rural lines “The South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway” didn’t survie the Beeching cuts of the 1960’s and the last train to pass this point was on the 5th of April 1965.
The Stainmore line has interested me for a while and few years ago I visited it not far from the summit sign and the photographs I took became one of my first posts on this blog called “Return to Bleath Gill” . On that morning in March 2013 a late fall of snow had covered the hills and the old railway embankments were covered by deep drifts. However this day couldn’t have been more different as I stepped out of the car to meet my friend and fellow photographer Gary Liggett on a bright crisp Autumn morning. So under a clear blue sky we started to follow the course of the line towards Bowes, soon reaching a shallow cutting lined on both sides by crumbling stone walls and the occasional gnarled alder tree. The rains the night before had turned the old bed of the railway into a quick flowing stream, almost transforming it from it’s heavy indusrtial past back into a moorland beck. It was then that I realised that in my rush to get ready I hadn’t brought all of my film. All I had was my 6 sheets of 5×4 in my grafmatic back and one role of 120 I found at the bottom of my camera bag, but luckily for me I still had what was left of my pack of Type 665 polaroid. So I was going to have to be careful with what I chose to shoot especially as the light was becoming more and more promising. Clouds had started to sweep in from the west casting long shadows over the landscape, it was becoming a perfect day to be on the moors with a camera.
All Became Water, Stainmore. Polaroid Type 665.
We continued on and soon the cutting opened out onto an embankment with a river, in fact River Greta running below us and infront wide views across the Forest of Stainmore. In the far distance a small plate layers hut came into view, it still had it’s chimney but it windows had been blocked up long ago. As we got closer we could see it’s door had been left off it’s hinges but inside it still had it’s small open fire hearth. These little shelters must have been a real life saver in cold days, which are common up here even during the summer. How many times during the life of this hut had it provided a respite for the railwaymen caught out in the snows and driving winds of deep winter?
The Long Haul, Stainmore.
As we passed by the hut and carried on it became obvious it was going to become increasingly difficult to get much further so we decided to turn round and start walking back towards the cars. Throughout the morning we hardly noticed our slow descent, but now Gary and I could really start to feel it as we headed back up towards the summit. It was turning out to be a long and steady haul and things were being made harder by the fact the ground which seemed solid at the begining still frozen from the previous night, had now thawed turning everything into oozing marsh. By time we reached our starting point we were both covered up to our knees in mud. Well at least it was at the end of the walk and not the begining.
In my last post I was reminiscing about the loss of Polaroid pos/neg film, especially my favourite the Type 665 pack. Well the devil makes use for idle hands and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t just sit and dream about past triumphs and I was searching through a popular online shopping site in search of a pack of Type 665. At first I didn’t have much luck, mainly because, as stocks of this film become ever more rare the price goes up but I kept on looking and eventually found a pack which sounded promising. It was pretty old film and had technically expired in August 1990! But in the description it stated the pack was unopened and had been stored in a fridge, so I decided to take a chance and buy it.
There are a few risks in buying any old expired film particularly when it comes to instant type films such as polaroid, if the pack of film hasn’t been stored correctly the liquid chemicals which do the developing and fixing can dry out and make the material completely useless. All these thoughts went through my mind as I set off to the edge of Hamsterley Forest a few miles up the road from my home in County Durham. Last Autumn I had driven past the top edge of the forest and I was struck by the stark forlorn looking birch trees left behind by the felling of the pine trees, it seemed to be the perfect spot close to home to try out my new film.
The Shen-Hao loaded and ready to go.
It was with a great deal of trepidation I pulled the tab of the first sheet of polaroid from the camera back (kindly loaned to me from my old college tutor John Quinn) and I had no idea it would work as well as it did!! I only took a few exposures wanting to save the rest of the film for another day, storing the neg part of the sheets in water to wash off the masses of black gloop that covers them after you have peeled them apart.
Once washed and dried I contact printed my favourite of the two negs on my usual Fomapan Chamois fiber based paper. I think this a negative I will definitely return to!
I took this photograph of Middle End Farm in Teesdale many years ago just after leaving college. At the time I couldn’t afford my own large format camera so I borrowed a good friends MPP, neither did I have the money to buy sheet film but luckily for me I had a small stash of Polaroid Type 665 Pos/Neg film kept at the pack of the fridge from my students days! So I spent a great rainy afternoon exploring the landscape of this fantastic dale which in future years was to have such a massive influence on my work.
It was a lovely film with beautiful soft dream like tones and of course being instant you knew how it turned out straight away! But at the time I didn’t realise how much trouble Polaroid was in and when it went under many of my favourite photographic mediums including Type 665 went with it! Looking back if only I had the foresight to stock pile as much as I could! But there’s light at the end of the tunnel a new instant 5×4 pos/neg film is now on sale called New55 and I can’t wait!!