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Monday, April 2

Carse Project underway

Near Ballindean

So, the Carse project. I'm getting quite into it I must say. For anyone who can't remember what this is about, a quick recap. The Carse of Gowrie is a strip of low-lying fertile land about 20 miles by 2 miles situated between Dundee and Perth. The idea is that I'll record it over the next two years with the somewhat ambitious goal of staging an exhibition somewhere. Kind of like what James Ravilious did in Devon but without the talent.

I really started taking photographs of the Carse seriously last year but things ramped up when I emerged from my photographic torpor a couple of months ago. It was the snow that got me going, I suppose. I know the area very well and it can sometimes seem over-familiar. A blanket of snow, however, transforms the Carse the way it does most landscapes. Suddenly, every scene looks like a promising photograph.

It's almost like visiting an area for the first time and inspires much the same kind of enthusiasm. As a result, I now have a wee collection of Carse negs that I'm feeling quite happy about. The recent shots sit alongside the likes of the ones I took of Grange Orchard and random others that I've posted on the blog. 

The Pow of Errol burn which drains into the Tay at Port Allen about a mile away.

The pics here were all taken on the OM1 and Tmax 100 with the exception of the first one which was shot on Adox CHS 100 II. The developer was ID11 stock. My modus operandi is to basically travel along every road scanning left and right for pics and occasionally looking forward to make sure I've not driven into a ditch. Years of practise at this sort of thing have given me a quick eye for something photogenic and I have to reverse not infrequently to check out a potentially coherent arrangement of elements that flared briefly on the retina in a sidewards glance.

The biggest problem in the Carse is finding somewhere to park the car that isn't too far away from the shot. The roads are narrow and there are few verges broad enough to take a vehicle or even most of one. It's not so much that I object to walking - it's the fact that it takes time and doesn't always result in a photograph. You see a scene, eventually find somewhere to park and hike the five or ten minutes back to the location. Then you find it's not worth recording, return to the car and write off 20 minutes. Three false starts like that and an hour has gone and if you just have a couple of hours to spare that's a lot. I've got a few favourite spots where I can park up if I just want to go for a general wander and I'll be doing more of that - and also cycling as I mentioned in an earlier post - when the better weather is here.

Ponies, Kingoodie

The photography is still a case of trying to find nice compositions, preferably with something locally noteworthy in them rather than just a picture of a field. There will always be some images that I just happen to like for their atmosphere but which could have been taken almost anywhere such as the tree in fog at the bottom of the post. I've fallen right out of the habit of using filters to bring out the clouds or break the monotony of a splurge of green foliage in the landscape. That's partly because I like white skies but also because I can't really afford to lose a stop or two when I'm working with 100 ISO film handheld in the winter. I'll need to do something about it if only to justify the fairly comprehensive line-up of Contax 55mm filters that were included in an RTS II outfit I bought some time ago.

Longforgan level crossing and the Huntly Burn

Huntly Burn

For all of my photographic life until about two years ago, I can't say I was influenced by anyone being, at that time, largely ignorant of the work of earlier photographers bar a few big names. Lately, though, by taking more of an interest in the "greats" and lesser-known but sometimes better (in my opinion) photographers, that's changed a little. The aforementioned Ravilious and Ray Moore are the two whose images I've been enjoying the most and, consciously or sub-consciously, I feel I've been looking for the type of pictures they would have been attracted to.

However, I think I'm still looking for "good images" rather than telling a story so my output thus far lacks a narrative quality. That's OK as I've got a long way to go and I'll turn to life in the Carse, instead of landscape, in a month or two. If you base your judgement on the photographs in this post you'd be forgiven for thinking the Carse was a bleak, inhospitable place but the opposite is actually the case. Yes, it can be a bit off-putting in the winter (although I like it) but it's lovely during the other seasons. I love the feeling of space I get in the flat landscape and if I want hills then the Sidlaw range is just a couple of miles away to the north.

Overyards tree-lined drive

A reader asked me in an email a while ago if I could talk about the photographs I post a little more, what attracted me to take a particular shot and what I was hoping to achieve, etc. I find that sort of thing difficult to put into words but I'll have a go. The first pic of a landscape at Ballindean was taken late one afternoon when I was on the way home from a few hours snapping away. The light was beginning to go but a nice, drizzly mist descended and created the kind of atmosphere I like. The first thing I saw when driving by was a large number of crows on the telegraph wires. The only tele lens I had was the 75-150 Zuiko zoom with its not too generous maximum aperture of f4. My shutter speed was down to 1/30th by this time on the 100 ISO Adox film.

Not having my tripod with me, I balanced the camera on a fence post using the fingers of my left hand to even it up and released the shutter using the self timer. It's just about sharp enough but I wouldn't want to blow it up too much. A guttural war cry was enough to get the birds to fly off at the right time.

The Pow of Errol shot was a scene I'd passed many a time and always thought I should stop and take a pic but, again, it's not easy finding a parking space nearby. I had my tripod set up on an 18-inch wide pavement on the little bridge over the burn, one leg on the parapet and the others on the ground. Passing traffic felt very close behind me so I made sure my backside was well pulled in. Without the caravan, this one wouldn't have caught my eye. As it is, there's a certain quirkiness to it which I like and the snow helped in that respect. Having said that, I think I'll re-do it without snow just to see which I prefer.

A handsome tree in the fog

The "lead" pony in the shot of the horses was a pain in the neck. He must have had ADHD or something as he wouldn't keep still for a minute. Never mind sugar lumps: this guy needs ritalin. His pals were very obliging but he kept throwing his head about and spoiling the composition. Again, I took this one on the way home from an outing and it was a 1/60th at f2.8 shot on the 24mm Zuiko in the gloaming. He was facing off to the side when I focused on him but just as I was about to click the shutter he took a step towards me. He's slightly out of focus as a result but I think the pic just about gets away with it.

The road through the Carse crosses the railway line, depending on which route you take, about three or four times. I felt the crossings should be documented so I made a start with Longforgan. This was taken from the back of the signal box mainly because I liked the burn in the foreground and the general higgledy-piggledy-ness of the scene. I was standing on a small bridge again for this one that provided access for farm vehicles over the water to a field. I turned the tripod around and took the photo below it pointing in the other direction.

Overyards was an orchard and, I think, is now a farm with a nice tree-lined drive that makes for a pretty scene in summer and a graphic one in winter. I liked the starkness of this shot and the fact it was easy to compose whilst standing in the middle of the road. The serried ranks of trees reminded me a little of the carefully pruned ones you can see in the Tuileries garden in Paris in winter.

Finally, there's my tree portrait. This was a horrible day to be out and about in the countryside. It wouldn't stop raining, the fields were saturated and muddy and there were a couple of bulls nearby that I had to keep a close eye on. This scene, technically-speaking, isn't in the Carse: it's in the hills to the north which are known as the Braes of Carse. I decided to include it because it overlooks the Carse and also because there are one or two picturesque villages in the braes that I'd like to include in the project. Artistic licence, I think they call it.


Herman Sheephouse said...

Well readers, believe me (I know the area, though not as well as him) Bruce has nailed the feel of the Carse to a lampost. Spot on. The atmosphere in these is absolutely perfect - I am looking forward to it all coming to fruition!

What I will say though Bruce, is you could do with something like a Leica Table Top Tripod and a small ball head. You'd be amazed how useful these wee things are - you can even use them as a brace against your chest, and squeeze another stop of light out of things. I wouldn't be without mine and use it with 35mm and 6x6/6x7.

Keep up the great work.

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks, Phil. Don’t know about a mini pod but I’ve got a mono pod that I could use more often. It should be a full sized tripod, of course, but if I was going to use one of them all the time I’d be as well bolting the SL66 to it rather than a 35mm SLR.

Andrea Ingram said...

I am so looking forward to this project developing.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Seriously, the TTT is better than a monopod - you can angle the head so that all 3 legs rest against your chest as a brace - works really well for me.

Dave Jenkins said...

Great post, Bruce. I note that you have run afoul of Jenkins Rule(TM), which states that "the photogenic qualities of any scene are in direct inverse proportion to the possibility of finding a place to park anywhere nearby."

Bruce Robbins said...

Very good, Dave! I might use that in future with a H/T to you and mindful of the TM status. :)

Martyn Lacey said...

Interesting and encouraging Bruce, prompting me to get on with my local farming based project.
I particularly liked the murky tree and in contrast the tree lined lane which has great depth.
Look forward to seeing the next batch of the carse

Kerstin said...

Very nice images. I love the little group of ponies. I would say, as the leader of the pack, he behaved quite adequately, trying to find out what you were up to. Standing still being shot (if only by a camera) is not how horses survived evolution...

Keith Launchbury said...

Two years became 20 for me in respect of photographing what I saw as the quirkiness of the Cumbrian Coast. Now I've retired to live in the midst of Raymond Moore country - view my work during this period on Blurb. Keith Launchbury FRPS

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks Keith and Martyn.
Kerstin, that's a great way of looking at it!

Dave Bjorn said...

Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things. -Edgar Degas
Keep pressing in! You've done the leg work, now show us you can fly!

MartyNL said...

Great start, Bruce. I'm looking forward to seeing the body of work evolve.

It's early days I know but I'm curious about how and when will you decide about printing? Will you print as you go along, in stages or not until the end? Will you make contacts and proofs or dive straight into exhibition prints? RC or FB?

Any thoughts?

Bruce Robbins said...

Those are familiar-sounding questions, Marty - I've been asking myself much the same. At the moment, the plan is to make contact sheets on 10x8 RC paper, decide which ones I want to print and do some work prints on more resin coated. I'll live with them for a while before making any more decisions. I'd imagine the exhibition prints would have to be on fibre-based although Fotospeed RC paper is apparently very nice and could be used for exhibitions. I'm going to send away for some to try it out.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Bruce - for large scale projects apparently Eugene Smith contacted, decided what he thought he might want and then printed them all 6x4 and pinned them places. Short of covering your walls with 6x4's I'd say it was a good idea - much much quicker than larger sizes when you get into the flow - they don't have to be perfect, you just have to live with them as physical objects for a bit ';0)

I'll attest to Fotospeed - though it is incredibly fast and can give a quite dominant contrast on Grade 2. If it were me, I'd buy the cheapest 6x4 RC I could find and take it from there. For exhibition, well, take your pick on fibre - there's not much choice!

Bruce Robbins said...

Good idea, Phil. Might get some of the Fotospeed in that size and see how it goes.

DavidM said...

The small postcard-sized prints are a very good idea. When you come to a final (if anything is ever final...) selection, you need to establish not only which images you like, but which images go together. The order they're viewed in can be important and so can which images are neighbours. Almost certainly, you'll have to sacrifice a couple of favourites. If not, you might need to take some more.
Laying them out on the living-room carpet and shuffling them about seems to be the usual method and can be combined with refreshing beverages, taken for preference with a trusted friend. This might be the time when you decide to print, or frame, to a constant size, or show a few images bigger, like initial caps on a manuscript.
You might care to add a bit of text. Or, God help us, a lot. More than name, rank and number but less than Yes, I have read the Terms and Conditions. You seem to cope with all that subject-verb-object stuff, so no major problems there.

Bruce Robbins said...

Good advice, David. I'm off to work on my artist's statement. :)