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Monday, October 3

Rediscovering Glenisla

Forter Castle, Glenisla

I've found a "new" location that I really love. It's Glenisla, one of the Angus Glens and a 40 minute drive away. I've visited the glen a couple of times in the past but not with any photographic intent. But last week, heading off in the car with my mum and Cath, I decided to drive in that direction to see what the day would bring.

It was my type of weather: absolutely miserable. Heavy cloud, a light mist, constant drizzle. Does it get any better? Why would anyone want to take pictures in bright sunlight? Beats me. So that puts me and Don McCullin in a two-man club, I suppose.

I really don't like Don's war photographs. They're too direct, too accurate, too unsettling. Don once said pretty much the same himself years ago when it gradually became apparent how little impact they'd had on the world of armed conflict. As if the demonic forces which drive such cataclysmic events could be dissuaded from their gory, blood-soaked, money-grabbing quest by mere silver gelatin.

To me, Don is a landscape photographer and a very good one at that. I'd developed my own style of dark, moody landscapes before I'd seen any of his but I at once recognised a kindred spirit. Please don't think I'm comparing myself to Don: that's not the intention, It's more the feeling that the elements he seeks out in the landscape are exactly those that I go in search of whenever summer shakes off its pollen-covered cloak and defers to the muddy wellingtons of autumn. For new readers, here are another few moody shots I've published on the blog in the past to let you know what I'm on about.

When the cloud level drops, bare naked branches stand out starkly against a low sun and the scars and fissures of the hills and glens glisten and run from the drizzle and damp, that's when photographers who love the dark side of the landscape check their cameras, blow the dust from their lenses and pick out their favourite film stock. Take a look at this classic McCullin shot:

"View From Hadrian's Wall, England" by Don McCullin

And what he says about Hadrian's Wall:
"I go in winter in blizzards. When you’re standing on the wall, which you’re not strictly allowed to do, it’s incredibly romantic and melodramatic. I feel as if I’m in history, as I do at home in Somerset at the iron-age forts. 
"I like to imagine what it must have been like to be a Roman soldier. I was there last year and it was incredibly cold – I was wearing long johns. I walked along the top, around the bend, then took this picture. I’ve just had it made into a platinum print – it’s one of the most beautiful scenes."
For overseas readers, Hadrian's Wall was a defensive barrier built by the Roman Empire in the north of England from coast to coast and was, at the time, the furthest north they had ever penetrated. They took a look at the Scots, wet themselves at their appearance and barbarous nature (if you're in certain parts of Glasgow on a Saturday night you'll get the general idea - haha!) and decided to do a Trump.

We're not quite in blizzard country yet but the weather and the landscape are at last starting to turn in my direction. After weeks of driving around and taking a single exposure here one day and another there on a different day, I'm beginning to experience the old appetite being thoroughly whetted.

The photograph at the top of this post is a not too sharp iPhone file. I'd stopped the car to photograph Forter Castle* in the distance and I whipped out the iPhone so I'd have something to illustrate this post with. I liked the way the drystone dyke in the foreground led almost directly to the castle as did a couple of other strong lines and the hills on the left.

You might be relieved to know I also photographed this scene on my Contax 137MA fitted with the 50mm f1.4 Planar. TMax 400 was in the camera. The castle is very small in the frame but I remembered the way Fay Godwin often depicted the subjects of her photographs by placing them almost as secondary features within their environment rather than switching to a longer lens. The negative will probably show slightly tighter composition than the pic here as the iPhone 4 camera is nearer 40mm if I remember correctly. The digital file was converted to black and white in Lightroom, the highlights given a sepia tone and the edges burned - both of which I could do in the darkroom.

I haven't got round to developing the film yet but I've at least looked out all my developing bits and pieces. All I'm lacking is developer. I've still got the Firstcall Superfine brew I'd been using before my hiatus but it's knocking on a bit now so I'm inclined to order something fresh. Not sure what yet. Maybe more of the excellent Firstcall developer (it's the same as Amaloco's AM74 or Rollei RHS) or perhaps some good old ID11/D76 or even Xtol for something new. What's the local knowledge on getting the best out of TMax 400 negs anyway?

* In case anyone fancies a holiday away from it all, you can hire Forter Castle for holidays, weddings, etc. It also has quite a history.


Roy Karlsvik said...

Very nice to see a post in here again, Bruce.
And those snaps...!! I can look at them all night, I think. Really looking forward to see the film shots whenever they appear.
Brilliant work, again!

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks, Roy. I'd forgotten how much I liked just tapping away on a keyboard and thoroughly enjoyed writing the post which is always a good sign. :) I must have three or four films shot over the last nine months (I know - I can hardly believe it myself) that are awaiting development. Can't promise that there will be anything special on them because I've forgotten what the subjects were!

Bob Dungan said...

Luv the photos. I'll have try some stormy weather pictures.

Dave Jenkins said...

Very glad to see you back. I've checked your site nearly every day in hope you would start posting again.

DcAnalogue said...

Welcome back Bruce!
C'mon we're looking forward you buy that developer...! ;-)

Folker said...

Hi Bruce,
nice to see/read you again.
As to your film/developer combo question:
I now enjoy TMY-2 in FX39 - now Adox Fx 39!

Steve Weston said...

Good to see your getting the mojo back Bruce and posting some images again. I agree about the weather I prefer anything but summer when it come to landscapes. Regarding developer I would say stick to the ID11 / D76 but I don't tend to listen to my own advice. I recently spent all afternoon developing four roles of film. Three different developers, four different films and four different dev times. By the end I am thinking If I just standardised on one or two films and a couple of developers I could save so much time. But it never works out that way. I am always looking for that silver bullet.

David McCormack said...

A nice surprise in my inbox to tell me you had posted again. When the swallows gather on the wires ready to leave our shores, the hardened autumn and winter photographers slowly start to emerge....!

Your winter muddy track images are very inspiring Bruce, thank you.


mono4me said...

Welcome back Bruce, you've been missed :)

I think the 'Dark Moody Mono Club' is bigger than you imagine!

Paul Blanchard said...

Excellent to see your Blog again-I have it on my Header and check regularly. It certainly brings back memories of a long drive from Wiltshire to the Angus Glens in 1961-looks as if the roads are as bad as ever in the area- We stayed at Edzell and I recall Tarfside and Glenesk as the scene of my first B/W work with an old Balda and one roll of Super XX from the States! Keep up the Good Work /Paul Blanchard

Omar Özenir said...

Bruce, you must have watched this *amazing* McCullin documentary:
At around 1:29 there is Don photographing the landscape with a huge Mamiya Press...quite a moving scene.
As others have said, it's nice to hear from you again.

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks for the nice comments everyone. I was just saying to my better half that it was a good feeling sitting down at a computer and writing again. I've probably missed it more than I realised.

John Carter said...

Lucky you, I live in sunshine California. It sunshines so much here that I forget how to approach a rainy overcast scene. Believe me you do get tried of sunshine. Plus, bad wheather days are the best for both color and B&W.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Lovely to see your moodies again Bruce - keep your chin up old man . . .nearly there!