Walking out onto North Fen under a bi-polar sky, yesterday evening. Clear sky and bright sun to the east; slate skies of an approaching front to the west. Trees and buildings, hedges and stubble illuminated in a diorama relief.
According to historian on the Fens, W H Wheeler,: ‘so wild a country naturally reared up a people as wild as the fen, and many of the Fenmen were as destitute of all the comforts and amenities of civilised life as their isolated huts could make them. Their occupation consisted in dairying and haymaking, looking after the beasts and sheep which grazed in the fen in summer; and in winter, gaining a living by fishing or fowling.’
The poplar plantations are a striking feature of RSPB Lakenheath – the trees thrive on the moist soil and the mild/temperate climate. There are many 40-60 year old plantations throughout the British lowlands, including the Fens, as a result of Wilkinsons Match encouraging landowners to plant the trees for the match and basket making industries. Private planting reached a peak of about 400 ha annually in the 1960s; planting by all sectors totalled about 6540 ha. But a decline in the use of matches and replacement by synthetic fibres in basket making saw the market for the wood collapse. Many of the plantations are therefore left standing today. The RSPB is planting additional species, e.g. alder, to encourage biodiversity.
The Little Ouse marks the northern edge of the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath, flowing through rough pasture between raised embankments. It rises east of Thelnetham, flows west and defines the boundary between Norfolk and Suffolk for much of its length. After 37 miles it joins the Great Ouse north of Littleport; a 16.6 mile stretch upriver is navigable.
To Lakenheath over slumped, rodeo roads yesterday. A once familiar route from Ely through Queen Adelaide, Prickwillow, Shippea Hill and down towards Beck Row. Still a landscape of dykes, big fields, lonely farms, straight roads and sharp bends. Still an unpeopled landscape of wheat, onions and potatoes. But now it’s all sky and soil, the landmarks that once gave the road rhythm and pace have gone: the Ely Sugar Beet Factory, which at night floated like a glittering liner moored by the Ouse, lost to rationalisation; the lonely Padnal signal box with its steep external stair destroyed by fire; and the Wellingtonia (?), a true Fen erratic, at Stock Corner, felled by wind or human hand. Time for a few strategically placed wind turbines.
Here is the ultimate in deferred gratification. Tim Hannigan is interviewing travel writer Rory Maclean.
‘Look!’ he said, reaching across to his desk as I settled into my seat and switched on my digital recorder. He lifted a small, hard object like a battery. ‘I’ve just rediscovered this film, photographic film, Kodak film from I think about 1967. And I exposed half of it and then I thought, “Oh, well, I’ll wrap it up and expose the rest later,” and I never did! And what I love about it is the latent images that are there. What did I photograph? What is on there?’
‘Can you remember?’
‘No, I can’t! You know, they’re probably terribly boring and naff photographs. But I just love the potential there. I must never process it of course…’
The Travel Writing Tribe – Journeys in Search of a Genre, Tim Hannigan, Hurst, 2021, pp151-3
Faun (Roman) or Satyr (Greek), a woodland creature that is part human and part goat. Part of the retinue of Dionysus and devoted to drink and sex. The name faun is derived from Faunus, the name of an ancient deity of forests, fields, and herds.
Figure: The Sleeping Faun, Harriet Godue Hosmer, c. 1865, marble; origin unknown.
Further to the previous post, here’s something from an interview with Bellamy Hunt, founder of Japan Camera Hunter, in which he’s asked, ‘Why do you think there’s been a resurgence on film photography?’
‘There are a few reasons, but the main one is nostalgia. People want old cars, old watches and vinyl. They want to collect the old fliers of the raves they went to back in the day. The camera was a pivotal part of that experience of life for a lot of people. There’s also this young generation who’ve grown up with everything in their life being on line from the word go. And I think for some of them, film photography gives them this opportunity to not be online; to have something tangible that isn’t going to be shared or stolen, perhaps. Who’s going to steal some negatives?’
‘Ultimately, people just want personal moments. And photography is a relatively easy hobby to get into – you can still go out and buy a perfectly serviceable, workable film camera for 25 or 30 quid. You can then go to town and grab some film and you’re good to go. And that’s appealing; it’s different.’
I’ve been able to make progress with my Classical Contrasts project (see posts 28th &29th July and 4th June 2020, renamed Ambivalent Auras) now the Museum of Classical Archaeology has opened for booked visits. I spent a couple of hours there recently making photographs of some of the 30 subjects I need to complete the book. I felt it went well at the time, but as I was using film I couldn’t tell until I had negatives and prints in my hand. In the event, I have 19 images I’m happy with and six subjects need redoing. I count that as a reasonable success. If I’d been using digital capture the six duds could have been reshot at the time, of course.
So, why use film, why not make life easy for myself? American photographer Sarah Christianson explains why she uses film in an interview in Analog Forever (Edition 2, Summer 2020).
‘It’s a passion, a labour of love. The magic of the darkroom enthrals me, and I love coaxing images out of the materials, light and chemistry. I find I have deeper relationship with my images because of this. Shooting film slows me down – in the best way possible. I’m more careful and considered in my approach. There’s a seductive quality to 5×4 negatives, too. The historian and archivist in me also loves the physicality of film and amassing this giant collection of negatives that can be passed on to future generations.’
I share much of this thinking, though I’m now divorced from the darkroom magic, somewhat regretfully. Even 35 mm negatives are seductive – they have an iconic beauty and embody both presence and potential. The slowing down when making the photographs is complemented by the delay in seeing the final prints – and there is the pleasurable bonus of deferred gratification. The full joy of the analog world of photography is realised when the final image becomes a ‘real’ silver print with its distinctive range of tones and aura as a unique tactile object.