Tree Days

Oak, Fulbourn Fen

13th November: Walking round Fulbourn Fen; stately oaks and a magnificent beech with bifurcated trunk.  14th November: ‘The Susurrations of Trees’, Radio 4; Bob Gilbert on how poets and musicians capture the distinctive sounds of trees; Lisa Knapp incorporates the sounds of leaves in her beautiful violin piece.

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Undertow cover

Final copies of Undertow (see post 191015) arrived from Blurb on the 4th November.  I was pleased, and relieved, to find that the printing matched the standard achieve in the draft (not always the case, I’m afraid).  I’ve now pasted two vintage postcards, an old photograph and a sealed envelope of captions into each of the seven copies.  So, it’s finally done after a long gestation.

Undertow is light on text.  A few lines at the beginning hint at its purpose.  ‘Undertow: an undercurrent that flows in a different direction from the surface current; a hidden tendency often contrary to the one that is publicly apparent.’  Thirteen quotes from favourite books, such as ‘… the nature which, we have always hoped, will endure long after our own end…’, are set against selected pictures.

Undertow p.37

An afterword includes an extract stressing the difference between what a photograph is of and what it’s about from On Looking at Photographs by David Hurn and Bill Jay.      I conclude: ‘If you need to know what the photographs and other images included here are of you may open the envelope at the back of this book.  Resist the temptation to do so.  What they are about is up to you.’

I’m not sure where the idea for this book came from, nor when it started.  I recall only that I began to sets aside some prints that didn’t fit in with other projects I was working on, but which nevertheless I was drawn to through their somewhat mysterious quality.  I put them in a box file labelled ‘Conceptual’, a bit pretentiously.  As the number grew the idea of making a book began to form.  Seeing ‘Joseph Cornell – Wanderlust’ at the Royal Academy in 2015 alerted me to two ideas: the concept of ‘imaginary travel’; and the practice of combining found materials into coherent images or objects.

Undertow pp104-105

The very hazy concept became slowly more concrete and I decided that the aim should be for the book to trigger speculation by encouraging observation, exploration and mysterious associations.  It would pose visual puzzles, blur the boundaries between fact and fiction and suggest multiple and metaphorical meanings and interpretations. The hope was that there would be interactions between the varied contents of the book and between all of these and the reader.  Each page would be an invitation to tell a story, or maybe many stories; and the whole book might metamorphose into a narrative, differing for each reader.

Undertow p.13

Knowing where the book was going shaped my way of working.  I still added pictures somewhat randomly to my ‘conceptual’ box, but was beginning to make more with this project in mind.  I also went back through past negative and digital files to review them with fresh eyes, which proved to be both a rewarding (some good additions) and a salutary (too much dross) exercise.  I never did get through all the files: J said ‘You should stop that and go out a shoot some new pictures’, which I duly did.  The earliest picture dates from December 1965, the most recent from August 2019; 85% of the pictures are post 2000, 60% post 2010.

Undertow p.103

By the beginning of September 2019 I had a pile of around 350 potential pictures.  In May I had decided to limit the book to 100 photographs, which became the working title for posting on this blog.  A first pass at the editing was comparatively easy: the elimination of pictures that has got into the pile before my vision for the book had crystallised.  A long editing session with J followed – we didn’t always agree!  I also had useful feedback from the blog postings.  The final choice was mine alone. Ninety-six of the photographs are black and white, four are colour.

At the same time I was collecting other material – books, maps, photographs and postcards – from charity shops and antique markets.  Eight pieces, three originals and five scans, went into the book. Again, the choice was mine alone, indeed none of these pieces was seen by other people in advance.

Undertow p.59

The images and text then had to be sequenced.  I laid out everything and began moving pieces around to see how they related to each other and to try to establish an overall feel for how the book might look.  The only restriction I imposed was that the four colour photographs and the twenty-one other pieces should be distributed fairly evenly through the book.  I largely avoided pairing pictures with obvious visual links on facing pages, though this is so in some cases and it would have been perverse not to have recognised the connections. The sequence decided, I then made a loose leaf dummy of the book.

Undertow p.77

I hope the audience of friends for this very short print run will find Undertow accessible and engaging, yet intriguing and mysterious.  Some readers may spot images that I’ve included as homages to past photographers. If its meaning differs from person to person it will have achieved its aims.

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Tate Modern View

Sumner Street, London

‘Residents living in flats overlooked by the Tate Modern on London’s Southbank have lost their High Court bid to stop “hundreds of thousands of visitors” looking into their homes from the art gallery’s viewing platform.  Mr Justice Mann dismissed their claim at a hearing in London, saying: “These properties are impressive, and no doubt there are great advantages to be enjoyed in such extensive glassed views, but that in effect comes at a price in terms of privacy.”’ Evening Standard, February 2019

Maybe less grandiose housing to meet the needs of the not so super rich would have produced fewer complaints.  Anyway, it’s the street views, not sitting rooms that are worth looking at.

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Fen Landscape 36 – Long Drove, Cottenham

Long Drove, Cottenham

Long Drove runs north-east straight for two and a half miles from Cottenham into the Fens; add another mile and a half of dog legs and you end up on the bank of the Great Ouse.  Drove: a herd or flock of animals being driven in a body; a drovers’ road for moving livestock on foot from one place to another.  There’s little livestock in Cottenham now; arable fields stretch to the horizon and trucks and tractors trundle along the Drove.

Land on the way to the Ouse carries anachronistic names from a pastoral Fenland history: Mason’s Pastures, Green End Cow Pastures; The Lots, Mitchell Hill Common, The Undertakers, and Chear Fen.  There was a pastoral way of life that produced Double Cottenham, a blue-moulded cheese, creamier in texture and a little flatter and broader in shape than Stilton.  Its unique flavour was supposed to have come from the wild thyme rich grass on which the cows grazed.  No cows, no thyme now.

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Anglesey Abbey Colours

Anglesey Abbey, October 2019

Anglesey Abbey is holding its ‘Nature by Night – Nature by Light – Winter Lights’ celebration at the end of November and beginning of December.  Past experience suggests that it will be beautiful and spectacular, weather regardless.  But more beautiful than the natural autumn colours of the Abbey grounds?

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The Art of Innovation – Science Museum

The Art of Innovation at the Science Museum today – no pictures , but a few interesting quotes.

‘A new world of sights and wonders, was indeed, opened by photography, which was not less astounding because it was truth itself.’  Photographic News, 1882

‘I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination.  Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination circles the world.’  Albert Einstein 1929

‘For [Cornelia] Parker this process [photographing AE’s blackboard] gave her a greater understanding of Einstein’s work, explaining that “looking so closely at his chalk marks…helped me to comprehend what was previously unintelligible.”’

‘These illustrations were as much images of persuasion as they were evidence of observation – they could be considered both as artistic “studies of nature” and as scientific data.’  On cloud studies by Luke Howard (1772-1864)

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Blue Gate

Wilsmere Down Farm, Barrington, Cambs., October 2019
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Take a Seat – Take a Moment 20

Musicals, Takis, 1985-2004: Comprises nine wall-mounted panels each with hidden magnets that pull steel rods against instrument strings to produce a single ringing note and its reverberations; Takis called them ‘space sounds’.  Tate Modern, October 2019

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Takis’s Gong

Gong, Takis, 1978: ‘Within the Takis Foundation is an open-air theatre space featuring an ensemble of Takis’s works arranged around a central gong.  This giant musical instrument is made from the rusted wall of an oil tank.  In a shift in energy, this container of fossil fuel is now an instrument for producing meditative and resonant sounds.  Inspired by Zen Buddhism, Takis’s work often relates to his contemplation of the individual’s connection with the universe.  “In the greatest solitude I feel the greatest happiness,” he has said.  Photo: Tate Modern, October 2019

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Fire Fighters and Ginkgo

National Fire Fighters Memorial and ginkgo, Sermon Lane, London, October 2019
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Cambridge Station

Cambridge station yard, October 2019
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Take a Seat – Take a Moment 19

Cindy Sherman exhibition, National Portrait Gallery, London, September 2019.

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This gallery contains 3 photos.

Finding pleasure in contemplating decay is perverse, according to Christopher Woodward’s In Ruins.  But pleasure there seems to be, hence the queues at palaces, temples and castles around the world.  Are we subconsciously facing up to our own inevitable demise, … Continue reading

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Gogs Farm Shop, Cambridge, October 2018
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Hawkweed, Magog Downs, Cambridge, October 2019
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