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Tuesday, April 16

The Lochee Burn

It's hardly a raging torrent at the wettest of times and for much of the year it's little more than a gentle stream just a foot or two wide in places. And yet, the Lochee Burn, which only appears above ground nowadays over a 500-600 yard stretch, is what made the community of Lochee in my home town of Dundee a possibility.

Lochee was once a separate village from the rest of the town, a hard-working, rough-about-the-edges settlement a few miles to the west populated largely by Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine. It's local nickname was Little Tipperary, which tells you all you need to know.

It grew up around the eye of a small loch. Lochee actually comes from Loch-eye, "ee" being the Scots for "eye". Feeding into the loch was the Lochee burn which actually broke ground as a spring about a mile-and-a-half to the east.

Before the arrival of the Irish, Scots had built a settlement around the loch, a gaggle of basic, thatched houses, probably with earthen walls and floors. When the weaving industry made an appearance, a couple of small mills opened with the burn proving useful for powering the odd water wheel.
A Dutch family by the name of Cox, which later built the world's largest jute complex in Lochee, were the movers and shakers behind this fledgling industry. In the early 1800s they had a mill and a large home in a countryside location near the original Lochee settlement in an area called Denhead of Gray. An adjacent row of cottages with unusual red-tiled roofs also housed a butcher, a tailor, a shoemaker and, inevitably, a pub.

This little community was doing fine until a big fire destroyed the mill and the Cox family home in about 1818. The family moved to a spot a couple of miles away called Foggyley and built another mill that developed over the decades into the spectacular Camperdown Works, the aforementioned world's biggest jute factory.

An attempt was made to keep the weaving community intact at Denhead of Gray but it proved fruitless. The Foggyley mill attracted labour eastwards and houses were built between the rural location and the Cox family's new business, transforming Lochee into a linear development along the path of the burn.

Camperdown Works had it's own elevated railway line and a pillar of one of the bridge supports was built over the spring that gave rise to the Lochee Burn. Until the mid-1800s, Lochee's water supply consisted of a whole series of springs in private gardens and ground which were fine for most of the year but which had a tendency to run dry in summer since they were all drawing from the same source. The Lochee Burn spring became one of two permanent public wells that provided year round water for the local community and ended the droughts and the occasional outbreaks of disease that could accompany them.

In the 1800s, the burn ran alongside roads and provided drinking water for horses. Then, as Lochee developed, it began disappearing underground in a series of culverts. Of course, there's an awful lot more to Lochee's history than I can cover here but maybe that's enough to put you in the picture. If we fast forward from this history lesson to the present day, the burn is now entirely hidden until it breaks ground at Denhead of Gray.

When I was a boy, my dad used to take my brother and I for a run into the countryside in his Morris Minor and would often use the road through Denhead of Gray as a short cut. In the 1980s, this "entrance" to the den became part of an industrial estate and was closed to traffic. The den is largely hidden from view now by commercial buildings and people new to the area will most likely be unaware of its existence. Amazingly, I'd never been back to the den until just a few weeks ago.

Cath and I were walking the dogs in the estate when I found a path going down to what I realised was the old road our family used to travel along. It brought back a lot of memories and I knew there and then that I had to make it into a wee project.

One of the nice things about film photography for me is that I get to obsess over which camera format to use for these projects along with the film and developer. It can be a lot of fun deciding which outfit would be most suitable.

Anyway, I decided that it was time to give the big Rollei SL66E an airing and, since I'd be using a tripod, the slowish Ilford Delta 100 was the film of choice. Fotospeed's FD10 was an unknown quantity with this film but, no matter, as it's good stuff and has to be used up. I'm happy to report that Delta 100 and FD10 are a match made in heaven. Sharpness and grain are what you'd expect of Delta 100, which is to say very good, but the tonality is terrific.

Seldom have I had negatives that look so good. Shadow detail is excellent, highlights are where you'd want them to be and there's just a "flow" to the contrast throughout the tonal range, a sort of smooth progression of tones in all the right places. Lovely stuff. With some films, the contrast range might be quite high but it's all from the extreme ends of the scale: in between can still look flat in areas. Not so with Delta 100 and FD10. I wouldn't call it micro-contrast but just, to re-use my earlier words, terrific tonality.

Fotospeed's instructions don't cover many films, to be honest, but they do provide some useful information. There are times for 1+9 and 1+14 dilutions and also for low and high contrast negatives to match condenser and diffusion enlargers respectively. Since I'm always fighting low contrast negatives because of the weather I like to photograph in and, given the overcast day on which I started the project, I opted for the high contrast time.

I'm glad I did as the den through which the burns flows is heavily wooded and there was very little light underneath the tree canopy. The lighting was about as flat as I'm ever going to encounter but you'd never know it from the negatives.

The SL66E proved a good choice as well. The 40mm Distagon, equivalent to about 22mm, was very handy along the confined spaces of the river bank and a little bit of lens tilt, a feature of the Rollei, helped secure front-to-back sharpness when using the 80mm Planar, although it can, if you're not careful, cause some unsharpness towards the top of the frame where overhanging branches might be lurking.

The photographs on this post follow the passage of the burn towards the sea from the point where it breaks ground to the end of the small, wooded valley that is the "den" in Denhead of Gray. Beyond that, there are the remains of an old mill and just another few hundred yards of water. None of the photos in this post is anything special on its own but, together, I think they provide an accurate depiction of the relative insignificance, at least visually, of a burn that played such an influential role and the overgrown and neglected air of the den.

The project has grown a little since my first couple of visits. I've since shot a roll or two with the Rolleiflex 2.8F TLR and HP5, a nice film with FD10 but not as good as the Delta 100. I also dug out an early 1900s Sonnar lens from an old folding camera, which can be fitted to the SL66E via an adapter, to see if it might impart a different look to the burn and its surroundings. It certainly does but these images can wait for a follow-up post as this one is already long enough.

I also have some pics of the burn further on in its travels where it joins forces with the Fowlis Burn to become the Invergowrie Burn, a minor tributary of the River Tay. And, to complete the burn's story, I'll be going back to photograph the railway bridge pier at Camperdown Works where the spring emerges, although I might do this at night to give it a bit of atmosphere. So, if all of this is your sort of thing, look out for another couple of posts in the near future.

Who'd have thought that a chance detour whilst out with the dogs would have led to an interesting series of photographs and the chance to do a bit of research and learn more about an area I've known since childhood without ever really knowing it at all.


Tony said...

Some lovely photographs here. Film developer combination working really well. . I use a Hasselblad 503 but in many ways I wish I had opted for an SL66. As you know Barry Thornton loved it.

Marcus Peddle said...

These are all pleasing to look at and I like the low-key tones. I especially like the last one. It sounds like you've got an interesting project to work on and I'm looking forward to reading about and seeing the area. Korea has a long history and I sometimes wonder what sort of stories exist about the place where I live.

John Carter said...

I've missed your comments on your photos. This little history lesson is really interesting. I hope you are filing them away. I've been out of commission for the first 3 months this year and have only developed one roll. So it is great that you hit me with this great post. I still have my first roll of Delta 100 in my Rollei T. I hope mine are as good as yours.

John Carter

Herman Sheephouse said...

It's been a long time waiting for a post Bruce but what a post - SUPERB.

You need to take this further - it is incredible how nature can claim back something that at one time was a hive of activity - it's like the industrialisation never existed at all. You've captured an atmosphere in these photos which is hard to do in landscape - well done.
And to anyone reading this, maybe this can spur you on to explore your own locality with a map and a camera and some old stories . . .

More please.

DavidM said...

We all seem to think that this is the beginning a long-term project. Well done. Looking forward to more.

Andrea Ingram said...

lovely work as usual. I do find that fd10 published times seem to be a bit off - with HP5 anyway. the negs are very thin.

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks to everyone who's taken the trouble to comment. It's much appreciated.

Keith said...

I wonder if using a non-specified dilution of FD10 would work better with the HP5 PLUS? Perhaps 1+7 and suck it and see starting time.

I am just bought some of this developer and noticed there are no times for Fomapan films.

Bruce Robbins said...

I’ve probably given you the wrong impression of HP5 in FD10, Keith. It’s a very nice combination. If you read the previous post about the V&A you’ll see that I like it a lot. However, Delta 100 and FD10 just looked perfect to my eyes.

Omar Özenir said...

This post is a great pleasure to read and look at, Bruce. Thanks!

andy nutter said...

Nicely done Bruce.Natural woodland and mono film are a great combo in the hands of a good photographer. Your writing is excellent hope you find a project (£££) that combines both...

Kodachromeguy said...

These negatives are magic - well done. I have used the 35mm Delta 100 with great results in gloomy or rainy weather. It seems to shine in those conditions. In 120, I am still using my stock of the amazing Kodak Panatomic-X, but soon it will be gone forever and it will be time to find something else - maybe Delta 100. Cheers,

Keith said...

I bought a 250ml bottle of FD10 and also a bottle of Adox FX39 (Mark 2 version) which is claimed to have keep better than original FX39. Both FD10 and FX39 developers are very good, but despite the high-definition tag for FX39, it seems to be just as good an all rounder as FD10 from the limited films I have developed so far.

Now which one should I stick to? To be honest, I don't think you can go far wrong with either developer.