Had a great January walk with friends, on the East Lothian coast near Tyninghame. It was cold but bright and we walked through the woods to the estuary, at the mouth of the Tyne. The trees there grow so close to the shore that their exposed and tangled roots, dangle like dreadlocks over the pebbles. If the sea had been azure blue I would have thought I was on the Riviera as the views were framed by lone mature pines with their trunks of chunky bark, scaled like alligator skins. If there had been any real heat in the sun the dried and faded pine needles, strewn on the sandy pathway, would have filled our delighted nostrils as we walked. But all the while as much as I enjoyed being there, I desired to hold onto, to record in a material way, the beauty of the surroundings, and I wished I’d brought my camera.
I used to get really annoyed if I saw something visually stunning like a sunset and I didn’t have my camera. Once in the early seventies, driving through Limburg in the Netherlands at dusk in winter, past rows of vines silhouetted against a sky streaked with colour, I was so frustrated that I didn’t have the means to capture it that I turned my head away, I couldn’t look. That literally was a turning point and I decided to start enjoying those moments of visual excitement, without my camera.
So after a period of restraint and a turn away from photographing nature in the landscape and ‘arty’ abstracted selections, I began photographing my family and friends instead.
Those were the days of photography being limited by the number of frames on a roll of film and when used up, the restrictive cost of developing and printing. While at Art College my friends and I rarely took photos of each other, which I now regret. We saved our precious film for those ‘arty’ considered photographs and the thrill of a ‘good’ result in the form of a slide or print.
More often the results were disappointing, for various reasons; the colour was rarely true because of the processing or the type of film used, a lack of technical experience, no involvement with the processing and what the eye saw often being different to what the camera saw.
Looking back at those early photographs, they were taken as slides on a slow film, there is something rather pleasing about their quality. The camera lens wasn’t very good, someone once said ‘shame about the putty lens’ and there wasn’t Auto Focus either!
I’m taking photographs of landscape again but it’s not quite full circle as digital photography has enabled us to make unlimited numbers of images, of everything and everyone, we have Auto Focus and we can ‘photoshop’ our images to achieve a variety of results with quantity having little impact on cost.
I try and remember to take my camera on my walks but it’s not the most important aspect of the walk and yes I sometimes ‘wish I’d brought my camera’. Having the camera doesn’t mean that something will catch the eye, it doesn’t mean the eye will be inspired, and it sometimes means it stymies process. Nothing is seen if I’m in a dream and being present and stirring the senses out of their sleep is process and remembering to do so is progress!