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Tuesday, May 5

Singular Image: Highland Road



It's been a while since I posted a Singular Image article. I'd intended making it a regular feature, choosing just one pic and talking a little bit about it if there was something worth saying. From looking at similar images in this wee series, I can see that I tended to get side-tracked, sometimes posted more than one pic in the one post (defeating the whole idea of a "singular image"!) and waffled a bit.
I'll try to stay on message here. This pic was taken some years ago when I was using a Mamiya C330 TLR outfit. I also had an old caravanette that I used for extended trips to the Highlands in the north-west of Scotland and some of the islands such as Mull, Iona and Skye.
On this occasion, I was heading to Oban in Dan (the van) when I saw this scene. It was the wet road that caught my eye but it was very small in the viewfinder. The longest lens I had was a 180mm, roughly equivalent to 120mm in the 35mm format.
However, the good thing about the 6x6 format is the size of the negative. So, although the part of the scene I was interested in was quite small on the Mamiya's focusing screen, it still managed to fill a 35mm frame-sized area on the negative.
The photograph above needed a bit of work, though, to convey the road as it appeared to me on that dark, overcast day. The foreground was burned in to suppress detail (mainly some conifer trees poking up) and give a solid base to the image. The sky was also given a little extra exposure to accentuate the moody weather and the edges burned in to heap concentration onto the road.

A quick and very dirty scan of a 30-year-old slide of Dan the morning
after an overnight stop on Mull.

Most important was to lighten the road which was done by dodging it a little and then bleaching it back with ferricyanide applied using a cotton bud. The bleaching made a real difference, turning the road into the brightest highlight and, as we always read in arty books, the eye is drawn to the lightest part of an image.
I think what makes this photograph work for me is the way the road emerges from the trees at the bottom and then disappears over the crest of a small hill, giving the impression that it's some random sliver of silver that's been plopped down in the landscape.
Although I might have zoomed in on the road if I'd had a long enough lens, in retrospect I think the picture benefits from the small scale of the ribbon of tarmac. Without the context of the surrounding hills and the oppressive and swirling clouds, it would have lost some of its impact.
It's always tempting to see a feature in the landscape and close in on it (because "filling the frame" is a good thing, isn't it?) but it's often better to give the surrounding environment some consideration as well.
The late and great Fay Godwin was a master of that, often naming photographs after a particular feature that was small that you almost had to hunt for it in her image. However, once you'd located it, the feature usually acquired more prominence than it might otherwise have enjoyed had it been given centre stage in the composition.

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14 comments :

DavidM said...

I think you were right to keep the road small. If it were made to fill the farm, it would become a mere graphic squiggle – excellent in its own way, no doubt.
The distant road gives a powerful idea of a journey. "...miles to go before I sleep." More powerful still because the rest of the road is hidden and the destination unknown. If I were given to that sort of thing (which Im not) I'd say it was an allegory of Man's (sorry Germaine) brief span of time in this world, or indeed, in any other.

Hernan Zenteno said...

Beautiful photo

Bruce Robbins said...

If I'd taken the photo last week, David, then I'd tend to agree with your allegorical explanation. However, it was taken when I was in my prime and immortal so I don't know if I'd have been tuned into that sort of thinking. Although I do have a tendency to surprise myself from time-to-time so you never know. Haha.

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks, Hernan. :}

Dave said...

That's a great photo, it reeks of atmosphere, and a great advert for analogue.

Joe Iannandrea said...

You've been holding out on us Bruce! Maybe it's just my photographic sensibilities which have been known to lean towards the ominous and brooding, but of all the work you've shown us over the years this one may be my new favourite, and that's saying something.

Stefan Eisele said...

Very beautiful shot! I think having the road not filling the frame is definitely the key here!

Donato Chirulli said...

I agree.... the little, shining road males the difference! Great shot!
The only thing we can say is that, if you had a longest lens... you could have filled the 6X6 frame instead of the smaller you got then... ;-)

Digby said...

Bruce, an outstanding image that reflects a great meeting between your eye as a photographer and your skills as a printer.

Folker said...

Bruce, you did a great job on this image! I like it a lot: simple, minimalistic and still with great mood!

Herman Sheephouse said...

Truly beautiful Bruce - I was going to say Fay Godwin too.
Why isn't this up in a gallery and is there any way I could get a print of it?

Michael Carberry said...

I like it. Stark yet the details are there for the mind's eye to fill in.

DavidM said...

Well.
You may have clicked the shutter when you were nobbut a wee laddie, but you chose to show it in the full flower of maturity.
Do you have any more from the same trip?

Bruce Robbins said...

I've probably got a few but I was a wee laddie lacking maturity and they're mostly crap. This was a "rare success", some would say a fluke. :)