Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Kurt Jackson - Place

I know I’m not really giving anyone enough notice, but if you are in the Southampton area this weekend or next you must go down to the City Art Gallery to catch Kurt Jackson’s wonderful ‘Place’ exhibition before it packs up and heads to the West Country for a long stint in Truro and then onto Bath in October.
Kurt Jackson, Walker on the Broomway, rain coming in,
wind picking up. Low water September 2013

The last Jackson exhibition I saw was The Thames Revisited where Jackson followed the path of the River Thames, and the progression of landscapes it moves through. This exhibition finds him travelling all over the country visiting the favourite locales of selected guests. These include writers, poets, musicians, environmentalists and friends. Each of the guests has written describing their feelings about the places, the texts placed alongside Jackson’s creations.

Kurt Jackson, Femi Kuti on the Pyramid stage, Glastonbury 2010

The display ranges from tiny playing-card sized paintings through to his enormous canvases. There are beautiful cast sculptures, a wire and junk mesh (from Glastonbury), beach-combed shells and bones from the Scottish coast. My favourite piece called Erme, Dusk was a small collection of driftwood with a painted coastal scene, complete with found pebbles, a bleached stick and a plastic fork. At the other end of the scale, his huge paintings of the Broomway on the Essex coast really conveyed the enormity of the Essex coastal mudflats and sky. But I liked almost everything in this exciting show. 

Kurt Jackson, This place. Photogravure and drypoint

There is a very nice book to accompany the show that is now my bedtime reading, however the work really deserves to be seen in the flesh to appreciate the physicality of the paint textures, the three dimensional collaging added to some of the pictures and the hugeness of his largest canvases. Seems I'm going to be making another trip down there this weekend.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A Stake in the Ground

A Stake in the Ground © Graham Dew 2015
A Stake in the Ground: Barton Farm

For years there have been discussions, protests, public meetings and local news articles about the fate of Barton Farm, the first area of green space north of Winchester. But it's a done deal now. The approvals have been given, the diggers have arrived and the ground has been cut. Over the next few years, this unremarkable but cherished area will turn into a new housing estate with over 2500 homes. The plans have been made, the first stakes in the ground have been placed. Topsoil in which crops once grew has now been removed, presumably for purposes of landscaping. Will this project provide rich profits for the developers selling housing at a premium and over burdening the city's infrastructure, or will it provide affordable housing and give stability to the city centre and its key services like the hospital? I don't know but I hope it's the latter.

Let's hope that the name stays as Barton Farm to remember what was here, rather than giving some stupid name such as Cameron Fields or Thatcher Heights. That wouldn't surprise me.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Experiments in Art

Experiments in Art © Graham Dew 2015
Experiments in Art

When working with materials artists routinely experiment to find interesting and inspiring textures, patterns and shapes. With photos, we can keep an eye open for similar experiments that have occurred by nature or wear. This is a picture of corrugated sheet found on the side of a compost heap up at the allotment. Something has made the paint craze and shrink, revealing the zinc plating below, but it is hard to imagine just what the mechanism was to create such nice soft ellipses.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Frost on the Allotment

We don't get much snow down these parts. I think that in the thirty years that I've lived in Winchester we have only had about five significant falls of snow in which the snow lasted for more than two days. This, of course, is hardly surprising given our location. However, we do get frosts and once or twice each winter and if we are lucky we get to see good hoar frost. Such a frost occurred just before New Year. With a spare hour before the arrival of friends, I took off to our nearby allotment to see if I could make some worthwhile pictures.

Frost on the Allotment #1 © Graham Dew 2014

I have been photographing allotments for many years now and find them endlessly interesting. There is always the juxtaposition of growth and decay, built and natural, creation and abandon that is interesting in its own right, or as metaphors for other concerns. As photographers we are able to find a wide palette of colours and textures, and a myriad of small details that can be contrasted with the larger environment.

Frost on the Allotment #2 © Graham Dew 2014

The flat soft light of winter can be very appealing, but I find that a small additional amount of lighting really helps to lift the picture, so in these conditions I often use fill-flash. Our eyes and minds see and interpret all the interesting details in front of us, balancing and emphasising in many different ways. Our cameras, on the other hand, are dispassionate and so render the scene without interpretation. I feel it is our purpose as photographers to modify the image on a way that helps guide the viewer, and so I enjoy using the flash to help build the image. The trick, of course, is to make the image both special and believable.

Frost on the Allotment #3 © Graham Dew 2014

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Last Harvest - Dekkergraph

Here is a small ‘dekkergraph’ made last month at Barton Farm. My previous post about Ger Dekkers has proven to be one of my most viewed pages, which says more about the lack of information online about the artist than it does about the blog. There was a recent post on the Socks Studio blog which has some interesting image series to examine.

All of Dekkers’ series are of the large scale landscape; clean open vistas of fields or regularly planted stands of trees and woods, where the geometry of man-made lines or curves are exploited to create the design of the series and the interlinking of adjacent pictures. In my experience, spotting suitable locations that are suitable for ‘dekkergraphs’ is difficult enough in the first place. Then the series of images need to be rigorously executed to ensure that the series works cohesively. To do this successfully requires careful thought, planning and a fair amount of walking. Perhaps it is not surprising that few people have followed this branch of photographic technique. In Dekkers’ homeland of the Netherlands such scenes might well be common, but in the cluttered, rural areas of Hampshire such opportunities are hard to find.

Last month I was up at Barton Farm attempting to make a joiner of the newly harvested fields. As the harvesting was only partially complete, the fields were especially interesting, with plenty of close shaven stubble, long mounds of cut straw, and stiff upright stalks of barley with soft heads bowing under their own weight. I came across this acute corner of remaining barley which I wanted to photograph, but knew that it would not work with any of the other pictures that I had taken for a larger joiner of the field. It occurred to me that this might be worth an experiment as Ger Dekkers-style sequence. Unlike Dekkers’ pictures, the subject of this sequence was close to the camera. This meant that instead of walking in a straight line I would need to walk in an arc, maintaining my distance from the corner of the barley cutting. Care was taken to ensure key points in the geometry of the images remained aligned from frame to frame. It’s not the most complex or challenging of pictures, but the sequence seems to work well enough and hopefully is a stepping stone to some new work.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Bicycle Races

In July we took a trip into rural Essex to watch the Tour de France ride past on the stage from Cambridge to London. It was a good mini-adventure; B&B at a nice farm, a good curry the night before and a lovely bike ride through the countryside to the village of Felstead which was in party mode for the day. Standing at the corner of the road (always a good place to watch) and opposite the pub, there was a lot of funny banter as we waited for a couple of hours until the peleton flashed by. But unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of cycling to be seen. The main pack shot past in a matter of seconds, the stragglers delayed by mechanical, food or ‘comfort’ reasons in the next minute. Then it was all over and time to go home after a walk around the village and a spot of lunch.

 A much better way of getting close to the action of a bike race is to watch a criterium race. This is where a kilometre or so of a town centre is cordoned off and cyclists hare around the twisty narrow lanes for about 100 laps.  The event is free and spectators can wander around behind the barricades to find different vantage points. My home town of Winchester hosted such a race last Sunday; I happened across the event only by chance when travelling out of the town earlier in the day. On our return, I stopped off in time to see the final race of the day, the men’s elite race. 

 All I had with me was the G3 with the standard 20mm lens, so the only way to take pictures was to get in close, something that is pretty easy to do at a criterium as the riders come perilously close to the barriers. It is also easy to find a good spot to take pictures as the there are many sharp corners and the crowd is spread thinly all around the course apart from the premium position at the finish line.

I started by taking pictures using a high shutter speed but these pictures were pretty dull. Sharp backgrounds and static riders didn’t really tell of the speed and danger of the event. So I dialled down the speed of the shutter to about 1/15th, pre-focussed the camera with a small aperture, panned the camera and started blasting away. Electronic viewfinders are hard to use for sports events, so these pictures were taken by keeping one eye on the rear preview screen for composition and one watching the riders and trying to assess the peak moment. It’s one reason that we were born with two eyes...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Last Harvest

Barton Farm, on Winchester's northern boundary will soon no longer yield to the plough. It will bend instead to the bulldozer as 2000 new homes are built over its rolling fields. Such large scale development will always be controversial, and one cannot but feel sad for the loss of more open space especially when it is on one's doorstep. Progress or profiteering? Let's hope it’s the former.

If there is one thing a photographer has to do it is to record; people, places and things, because they and their context will change will change. Last summer I rode up to the farm to photograph what I thought would be the last fields full of corn and barley. But I had left it too late, only to find neat rows of stubble, corn dust in the air and the combine harvester cutting its way through the last few rows of corn. I felt quite bereft at having missed the opportunity. Most of us locals believed that the construction work would start early this year. For whatever reason, the Farm was given a reprise, or a stay of execution, for another year and the fields have had corn in them again this summer. The wheat is already in, but the fields I wanted to photograph have barley which is still standing for a few more days.

Over the past week I have cycled over to the farm to take pictures, and get enough material to create a new joiner. I have yet to build that joiner, but at least I have a record of how Barton Farm looked before its last harvest.