It wasn’t until late March that I finally got the chance to finish the double exposures which began life on my makeshift kitchen table studio. By then the late winter darkness had started to open up to the beginnings of spring and a weak sun shone through the bare branches of my chosen location. I had nicknamed this place Mirkwood (the title I also gave to one of my Stag Skull pictures that began this series of work), not only as a nod to the dark woods of J R Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but also to William Morris’s anglicised term for Myrkviðr the mythical black forest of Norse poetry. It’s a strange, sombre kind of place, tucked deep into the side of the dale and divided by a clattering moorland beck, while the high sided fells cut out most of the sun light. The ground has always been damp when I’ve visited, centuries of fallen leaves have turned the woodland floor into a marsh which sucks at your boots. The little direct daylight and the sodden ground has forced the trees to grow gnarled and twisted, hung with lichen and scarred by past winters, their knotted boughs creaking in the gentle breeze. The wood has proved inspiration for a number of my pictures and I never tire of the myriad of shapes the branches form, every corner provides something new, it really is a place that envelops you and takes you out of modern world.
As with the other pictures in the Dain Series I had taken multiple exposures in the studio to experiment with in the wood. So armed with four pre exposed film holders I spent the afternoon exploring the different contorted shapes of the ancient trees while all the time surrounded by the sounds of running water and early spring bird song. Hunting around the wood it didn’t take me long to find some possible backgrounds to compliment my fox, but one of the things I love most about this double exposure method is that no matter how much I try to envisage what my final picture will look like, it is not until the film is finally developed when I really know what I’ve managed to accomplish. But thankfully once again Mirkwood did not let me down and one of the negative compositions turned out just how I hoped.
Fox Wood. Fompan 100 5×4 sheet film. Double Exposed in Camera and then developed with Tanol 1-1-100, printed with Foma Liquid Silver Emulsion.
A day off work and for once the weather looked like it was going to turn my way, a perfect excuse to head out up the dale to take some pictures. Over the last few weeks I’ve spent most of my time either working in the darkroom creating prints for my gallery Gallerina or sad to say desperately trying to catch a salmon before the fishing season ended, thankfully I was pretty successful with the first one but not so much with the fish. Anyway it was a great feeling to be heading out again with my camera and though there were a few days in which I could flog the river into a foam in the pursuit of a silver tourist I think I made the right choice. Although pretty soon it was obvious that the weather was not going to be as kind as I’d hoped when gusts of wind started to rock the car as I drove along the moor road. With the higher tops pretty much out of the question I needed a plan B, somewhere a little more sheltered from the elements. A quick change in direction saw me heading South towards the village of Bowes. Beneath the village and it’s dramatic ruined castle sat in the corner of the Roman Fort of Lavatris. It’s pretty hard to find a place with more history than Bowes and and in a more dramatic position stood beside the old Roman roads that crossed Stainmore something that wasn’t lost on artists and writers over the centuries such as Sir Walter Scott who in 1832 created his poem Bowes Tower which was illustrated in watercolour by William Turner. It has to be said that it’s very hard to find a better place to spend an autumn morning than on the banks of a wooded moorland stream and the Greta must be one of the best. A short walk along it’s banks and I could hear the wind whistling through the upper branches of the trees but around me was still and quiet apart from the sound of the stream which was rattling around it’s boulders, I soon came to my destination the picturesque waterfall of Mill Force, which takes it’s name from a mill that once stood beside it. There are still some substantial remains left to explore, one of the most dramatic is the two concrete pillars that must have carried a walkway or sluice gates to control the flow, they now stand like standing stones, scarred from the battles with years of savage winter spates, slowly being eaten away by the river.
Mill Force Piers, HP5+ taken with Shen-Hao 5×4 and 90mm Schneider Angulon with MPP 6×9 120 back.
I had one last treat as I was taking down my camera gear, suddenly a few salmon and sea trout started to leap up the falls, one after the other making their way upstream towards their spawning grounds. The Greta is a tributary of the River Tees, a river who’s estuary was so polluted by heavy instustry that it’s once prolific runs of salmon were reduced to nill and it’s only in recent years that they have started to return, so to see them running is always a privilege, and I didn’t miss my fishing rod once….honest!!
There are times when my partner Helen hates driving in the car with me. Basically because I have a habit of constantly staring out the window at what we’re passing by rather than the road in front of us!! I just can’t help it, every so often you see something which just makes you want to slam your brakes on and get out and take a photograph, there are so many fantastic places which if you’re not careful can just pass you by!! Though I’ve got a feeling that Helen would much prefer me to keep an eye on the road?
Anyway a few weeks ago such a thing happened, after a lovely bit of lunch in the small market town of Corbridge in Northumberland Helen and I decided to drive the extra scenic route home (extra because the normal drive up the A68 is pretty dam scenic to be honest) and as we headed up East Allendale towards Sparty Lea I saw something out the corner of my eye that I just had to stop for, and I think it was worth it.
Corrugated, Sipton Cleugh, East Allendale.
This also gave me another chance to try out my new Adox CHS II 100 film and Tanol developer. So far I’ve had great results, this was developed in a Combi-plan tank for 10 mins at 20c with constant agitation for the first minute and then 2 inversions every 30 secs after that. It was taken with a Rankin & Pullin 6 1/2inch lens on my Shen-Hao TFC45.
I have to point out that the road was very quiet and no one was following behind us (I did check before I stopped and pulled in off the road) I’m not really that dangerous honest……though if you do see a car occasionally wandering across the lines in the middle of the road don’t worry it’s probably just an unfortunate landscape photographer being distracted by the view, just give them a wide berth!!
Well I’m all for adventure and searching out the new, but sometimes it’s good to go with what you know, and not to overlook what is really just on your own doorstep. I must admit though most people aren’t so fortunate as to live on the edge of Teesdale, an area of outstanding natural beauty and England’s last wilderness so I guess I’m a bit spoilt when it comes to places to go out and take photographs. Same goes for my photography equipment, at times it’s better to go with the devil you know and stick to proven materials, that way if you’re out in the hills and lucky enough to stumble upon the perfect vista you can have some confidence that you may have a decent image at the end of it. Having said that, sometimes you just can’t help yourself and a new black and white film (a very rare thing these days in the digital age) comes on the market you just had to give it a try. So with a with a day of stormy weather forcasted a 20 minute drive to the other side of the dale and I was parking up on the slopes below the rocky gritstone outcrop of Goldsborough, with a couple of darkslides loaded with the new Adox CHS 100 II film.
Hanging Crag, Goldsborough, 90mm Schneider Angulon, Adox CHS 100 II.
The views from the top of the crag were stunning and made even more dramatic by encroaching heavy showers and storm clouds. I managed a few exposures until the wind started to pick up bringing with it a sweeping curtain of rain. Back home with a good brew in hand I started developing the films, and just incase anyone is interested here is what I did… I decided to use Tanol, a fine grain staining developer made by Moersch Photochemie. Because this is a new film I got in touch with Wolfgang Moersch and he recommended I develop the film for 10 mins at 20 degrees agitating constantly first full minute and then 4 times every 30 secs thereafter, this was all after a 3 min pre-soak in water. For a stop bath I simply used plain water and then fixed with a non aggressive alkali fixer. The results were great, sharp smooth grain with a good balance between highlights and shadows, I couldn’t ask for better!! Well that’s about it, a bit of a dry and techy post but I hope someone may find it some help.