Photo taken with a Chamonix 045F1 View Camera, using a Nikkor-SW 90mm f/8 lens, on Shanghai 100 film, and developed in a mix of Xtol and Rodinal.
Photo taken with a Chamonix 045F1 View Camera, using a Nikkor-SW 90mm f/8 lens, on Shanghai 100 film, and developed in a mix of Xtol and Rodinal.
You are full of grace…
The street has its own message. Sometimes the shadowy silences hidden in alleyways and alcoves is punctuated by the voice of art. Elsewhere the bustle of crowds, and sounds of the city are erased by a message left on a wall from an often anonymous artist, that briefly brings moments of hope, joy, whimsy or insight, delivering us from our angst.
I wonder if the crowds queuing in Barcelona’s old city to enter the museums of famous artists such as Picasso view the messages gracing the streets with appreciative eyes. Visitors rush from one museum to another, hustle through the markets, or ramble down the famous boulevards with their hawkers, yet in the Ciutat Vella I felt myself slowly surrendering to its embrace.
In other hours, I reminisce now from afar of the homeless men who would greet me as I walked past Sant Pere de les Puelles with their dog lying on the steps of the basilica, the toy maker sitting on the curb, the art class quietly painting in the Plaça de Sant Agustí Vell, or a canto being sung by a busker advertising opera classes. From early in the morning to late at night, each hour brought its own mood and memory.
Glancing at the pavement, covers for the water mains have their own artistry, as do the embellishments of door knockers, street lamps, water troughs, and the reminder of workers on a cathedral door.
A city is more than its landmarks. It is its people. It is the quiet dignity that graces the street in unconditional love through the celebration of art. Each world has its own eternity to be graffitoed breaking down the walls that bound us, liberate, and remind us we are filled with grace.
Llenas eres de gracia – you are full of grace.
Nestled on a steep hill overlooking Granada sits the Alhambra with its red walled fortress and palaces. From its towers the distant snow covered ramparts of the Sierra Nevada are visible. The highest peak Mulhacén, is named after Abu I-Hasan Ali or Muley Hacen (in Spanish), a 15th century Emir of Granada who is believed by legend to be buried on its summit. Arriving by plane this peak of 3,478 metres (11,411 ft), the highest in Spain, confronts passengers before the descent into the valleys near Granada covered with mile upon mile of olive groves. After landing, cars and buses travel along the highways of modernity passed shopping malls until entering the bustling narrow streets of the old city, where one then climbs to find peace and serenity in an oasis of gardens and the Moorish palace at the Alhambra.
How then does one understand the Alhambra? Is it a place representing Islamic conquest, rule and surrender; a monument celebrating the triumph of Spanish unification; a court where Columbus sought finance and patronage before sailing to the New World beginning new conquests and empires; a place of politics, romance, intrigue, tales, and legends; an archeological site; a museum of design, architecture, engineering and hydrology; a site of botanical and horticultural inquiry: a place of religious inspiration, and an imagined community living now through history.
A book is a tactile thing. We touch it, we feel it, we read it. Paper has its own texture, when we are not being transported to other worlds, times, visions and places by the words printed across its pages, we can see the fibers, textures and ink of which the page is composed. Similarly, the Alhambra is felt, not just seen: its arches and vaulted domes of mocarabes, carving stalactites from empty space and creating intimate spaces: delicate arabesques framing windows, miradors, patios and oratories with views opening onto gardens or the city far below; intricate mosaics, and patterns etched into stone along with Arabic words, phrases and poems talking of God, and wisdom; doors and passages seemingly leading nowhere opening to courtyards or rooms; the ever present sound of water flowing from fountains; the scent of flowers; high walls and towers shielding the outside world from that hidden within, as well as commanding views and power; the interplay of light, shadow and colour both within the Nasrid Palace, Gardens and Generalife during the day and red glow as evening descends; and the relief against which this tactile experience of the Alhambra is felt, that captivates and transports one’s imagination to another time and place, when contrasted with the Palace of Emperor Charles that was added to the site with its brutalist style, in homage to classicism and Catholicism.
I can imagine the Emir in the Court of the Ambassadors receiving noble visitors, of supplicants entering through the Gate of Justice, the busy medina with its workers and traders adjacent to the Nasrid Palace, soldiers in the Alcazaba watching Granada or washing in the bath house, life in the royal residences, children running through the gardens, horticulture being developed in the Generalife shaping agricultural development in Andalusia, bells ringing from the Watch Tower telling farmers in the valley it was time to irrigate their crops, flowers blooming in summer, and the cold days of winter with an icy chill blowing from the Sierra Nevada. Finally, I see the last Emir departing with tears of sorrow for North Africa with the bones of his ancestors never to return, except for Muley Hacen buried on the highest peak of the Sierra Nevada. Those ancestors had built a beautiful palace and kingdom, which was ultimately peacefully surrendered by its last Moorish ruler to prevent its possible destruction.
On the bell gable of the Watch Tower, a plaque declares that on the 2nd January 1492 in the Christian era after “777 years de la domincion Arabe”, Catholicism was victorious under Ferdinand and Isabella. Of course, in less than 50 years the Inca Empire had been conquered in the New World, its culture brought to heel, its wealth stolen, most of its building and temples torn down to be rebuilt as cathedrals celebrating the Catholic Church, and later thousands upon thousands dying in Andean silver mines financing economic growth, wars and empire. Ironically, recalling the Inca terraces, I am reminded that they too were horticulturalist and hydrologists that experimented with improving crops in relation to their environments and developing irrigation systems.
Standing at the Alhambra looking 500 years back to 1492, or the 777 years that the Moors ruled in southern Spain their history seems so far far away, and time passed slowly bringing us forward through epochs of competing European discoveries, trade and empires consolidated under absolute monarchs, to the world of today where there have been global conflagrations, and the speed of technology and economies of scale bring us closer together. Although time and history seems to pass slowly, change perhaps is actually swift and sudden, with events having their own momentum or impetus. Islamic conquest spread swiftly, and equally the victory of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, and subsequent conquest of the New World was equally cataclysmic in sweeping away the histories of other peoples.
Technologies change worlds, the galleon, cannons and muskets meant armadas were able to establish dominions in far off lands. Today, information technology and digitisation, has swept away inventions and created new economies, through changes that fifty years ago seemed to be only fantasy or science fiction. Books are no longer bought physically but are read online, whilst images are mostly captured electronically although I still like to make photographs using film. Even photography is a medium that has only existed around 150 years before displacing arts such as painting and drawing. The reporting of news and events is no longer local but spreads globally at the click of a button, and goods from one country can be purchased in another through the internet. The market is no longer in the medina, or protected by the shadow of the Alhambra, a castle or monarch, but instead like most transactions exist in cyberspace.
How then do we view and represent the Alhambra? Is it as a series of images inhabiting our mindscape, momentary memories, that the unconscious will recover with the passage of time and emotion, revealing pictures as the remainder of a holiday like the empty fragments of shells worn by the tides, or are these images, these photographs ordered by theme and content, journeys of inquiry and imagination, the tactile reminder of a place that we read, and are touched by.
As I reflect on the Alhambra, and my passage through it, I remember two Arabic phrases that greeted visitors on the walls of the Nasrid Palace, Everything that you own comes from God, and, Enter and fear not ask to ask for justice, for you will find it. Perhaps too history, and the communities we imagine inhabiting the past, are never really owned and we should not fear to enter, because in these special places we find ourselves.
All photographs taken using an Olympus OM-2, G. Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 lens on Kodak Portra 800, Fuji Superia 400 and Fuji Superia 100.
It felt like the sun had barely risen, but I’d had breakfast, hopped on the Tube, got my rail tickets, bought a latte, visited a deserted Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station, and was soon on the 7:15am express to Cambridge, where the magic really does happen…
Cambridge is not just a university, or another English city nestled in green countryside, but a place of history, romance, learning and legend. Every step, every place, every sight, has a story or name that inspires one’s imagination: whether it is link to the War of the Roses, or espying the initials of Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn together in King’s College Chapel that had escaped erasure; the clock that eats minutes, and worm holes leading to alternate realities in space time; gravestones in church yards of poets, fellows and members of secret societies; hints of spy rings and the presence of bohemian idealism; advancements in science and medicine leading to Nobel prizes; and, the quiet of study and contemplation.
Unexpectedly visiting London, after Barcelona, I touched base with internet photography friends in England suggesting that we meet up for a day of shooting, perhaps at Brick Lane. My friend Judith, was quite keen (adamant even) that I should visit Cambridge, and also soon had Juliette from Stansted and Alison from Leeds on their way as well.
Arriving at Cambridge, and after exchanging greetings, we headed off for a walking tour around the town and some of the colleges, with Judith as guide. Highlights included visiting King’s College Chapel, and St John’s College.
After lunch we visited the Ascension Parish Burial Ground where many well known former Cambridge fellows are buried. Judith had promised to show me the gravestone of one of my favourite modern philosophers and Cambridge Apostle, Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Leaving the churchyard we headed out to Grantchester, with its meadows and Orchard popularised by the Neo-Pagan group of Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, E.M. Forster and Wittgenstein. As it was a fine Saturday afternoon, with exams finishing, many students were enjoying picnics, swimming or punting on the River Cam, or the Granta as it is also known.
Of course nothing says being in England more than an ale at a pub, followed by dinner, which is perhaps how all meet ups should conclude, or be celebrated. A little of the magic was captured with my Olympus OM-2 and Zuiko 50mm f1.4 lens, on some expired Kodak 200 film.
Winter comes –
I see it in my face,
days grow shorter.
Light is white
Except when it’s black
– clouds are grey.
Lines, lines, lines.
Lines radiate from my eyes
– laughter lines
All photos taken on the rock shelf at Shellharbour using a Chamonix 045F1 View Camera, Wollensak Velostigmat W.A. Ser. III f/9.5 6-1/4inch lens, on Fomapan 100, and developed in a mix of Xtol(1.3)+RO9(1.160).
Over the weekend we visited Cowra and Canowindra on the western side of the Great Dividing Range. The latter is on the Belubula River which flows into the Lachlan not far downstream from Cowra. It is a prosperous grain and grape growing area when it is not otherwise in drought. Many of the fields have been ploughed ready for spring crops and welcome late autumn storms and rain.
The country beyond the great sandstone curtain in the central west is different to the world experienced on the coast. It is hot in summer and cold in winter. Hills roll out from the mountains into gently undulating slopes which gradually flatten into river flats and eventually plains where the eye can see almost forever. The dirt is a rich volcanic red.
Small ranges rise along the Lachlan River Valley, and caves hidden in their forests once were home to bushrangers. As the river travels deeper into the interior, its banks are home to old river gums and the land of the ancient Wiradjuri people with their culture once of carving trees.
Canowindra has an iconic narrow main street that winds above river flats around a small hill. There are four old hotels in the space of a few hundred yards and the remarkable Garden of Roses cafe with its stained glass windows and rows of empty tables and chairs. At one end of the main street is the small but important Age of Fishes Museum with its rare fossils from the Devonian period. Much as I am committed to landscape photography I force myself to make a few photographs within the streetscape.
We toy with the idea of moving inland where property is significantly cheaper and life slower. The people seem kind and generous, and it feels almost like an agricultural utopia. One suspects the streets are quiet on a cold Sunday morning, not because the townsfolk have gone to church, but because they are sleeping in. Beneath the surface, poverty still dwells but is concealed by the presence of tidy towns, cafes, local museums and galleries. Although time passes by many small towns, freshly painted buildings and window displays in empty shops encourage a sense of hope lighting a path to the future. Bucolic dreams always lead to existential contemplations which tantalise heart and mind as rural revelations question our urban existence near the coast.
All photos taken with Chamonix 045F1 View Camera, with Goerz Dagor 10 3/4″ and Gundlach Radar Extreme W.A. Anastigmat f16 6.5×8.5″lenses, on Fomapan 100 film, and developed in a mix of Xtol(1.3)+RO9(1.160).
Waterfall Creek meanders quietly through stands of salmon coloured angophoras, white scribbly gums and gymea lilies with their towering red flowers in spring, before dropping twice over the sandstone escarpment at National Falls to the rainforest far below.
Late in the afternoon shadows descend quickly under the escarpment, while on the plateau, by chance the sun picks out a tree or lily to highlight with its rays before falling beneath the horizon in the west.
Looking east from the edge, I imagine the early morning glow bathing the sandstone cliffs and falls, as I peer under its shining steps into the gloom.
Fading light only deepens the vertiginous illusion that I too might fall like water to the sun.
Photos taken with Chamonix 045F1 View Camera, Goerz Celor 7 inch f/4.5 (top photo) and Gundlach 5×8 Korona Anastigmat f/6.3 lenses, on Ilford Delta 100 film, and developed in RO9(1.50).
“Nothing ever happened – Not even this ”
From beneath the trees in the canyon below came the occasional sound of laughter. Through the leaves, glimpses of Bixby Creek glistened with silver beneath the deep blue sky. It didn’t really matter to me that the secret world in the canyon could not be seen. I knew this place. “Leaves suddenly go skittering in the wind and into the creek, then floating rapidly down the creek towards the sea, making me feel a nameless horror even then of “Oh my God, we’re all being swept away to sea no matter what we know or say or do.””
Kerouac would always fill my visions of the canyon. In the distance I could hear the crashing roar of waves and knew his words hadn’t been washed away. The bridge spans memories of isolation and feelings of hopelessness lying underneath. I felt breathless.
Inscribed in the wall at the back of the Old Monterey Gaol is a peace sign. No one ever escaped from here, except in their minds. The grille must have made the air within feel dank and lifeless. Who carved the graffitti, who suffered within?
For a little over hundred years the Old Monterey Gaol held prisoners. How long would the date 1854 carved so boldly in the lintel over the entrance remain, in contrast to the peace sign at the rear. Not all visions of isolation lead to hopelessness but sometimes we can be encouraged and reminded of peace.
Lying in my hospital bed healing, on the hill between Monterey and Carmel, I looked out at the trees and saw them come alive. In the leaves and branches I could see faces. Perhaps these were the spirits of the place, or of those who had not left yet from its dreaming. It caused me neither fear or horror, but instead peace.
From my home in the other side of the Pacific, I now yearn to look south once more towards Point Lobos and Big Sur from this place of enchantment. I had not been washed away, and my life taken on the tide.
Perhaps nothing ever really happened…not even this.
All photos taken with Chamonix o45F1 View Camera, using Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 150mm and Goerz Dagor 10 3/4″ lenses, on Delta 100 and Aerochrome.
Early light from behind the cracks in the curtains woke me in our motel room. I jumped out of bed to see clear skies beckoning. Not a precious moment could be wasted. The forecast was good, and storms were not expected until late afternoon. We could leave Mt Shasta and reach Crater Lake before lunch.
We drove northward into Oregon on roads that were mostly deserted. The valley around Fort Klamath was silent. Here and there were empty old barns. Houses and cabins seemed to be closed for winter with driveways deep in snow. The only life I saw was a pair of fish swimming in a crystal clear stream in a world of their own.
It was not until we reached Crater Lake that we saw a few other people. I took a photo and then moved around the rim to where the views were steeper and clearer. Clouds were starting to move in from the west bringing a change. Suddenly what portended an ill wind to me hit. It was freezing cold, carrying ice particles that were hurled like many thousands of tiny spears. Melody sheltered while I finished my photo stepping gingerly not to lose my footing in the ice covered snow.
Hastening off the mountain, we soon turned east taking back roads across high desert country to Christmas Valley hoping to outrun the weather. We were glad when we got there to see the only gas station for many miles, refueled, and stocked up on a few drinks and snacks.
Nightfall came when we reached Burns. The streets were mostly devoid of traffic and people. We checked into the Silver Spur Motel on the far side of town at the end of main street. Only $44 dollars a night, free wifi, queen sized beds and most importantly, heating. The surrounding country was still covered in snow, but patches looked swampy where it had begun to melt.
We had dinner at the Mexican bar and dinner back down Nth Broadway Ave. It had a only few customers. In spite of the recent siege at Malheur, there was no evidence of law enforcement or media remaining present in the town. Most motels and restaurants were empty. The circus had left this distant place to follow other stories. It was encouraging to hear the locals checking in with each other, asking whether they were doing okay. Back at the motel I received an unwelcome email from a former employer and would spend several sleepless night worrying. I started to feel breathless and unwell.
The next morning grey clouds hung low in the sky, the light was soft with a tinge of orange on the mountains to the east. In the distance Steens Mountain stood white and resolute. Reaching the pass and vales near Stinkingwater Creek the emptiness spread out before us. We stopped briefly to admire its beauty and momentarily feel the solitude. It would be a long way to Vale with its streetscapes of murals celebrating the Oregon trail and the path taken by pioneers to distant places.
We had last crossed the Oregon trail several years ago at Montpellier in Idaho from where it is a long way down the Snake River Valley and then beside the Malheur River to Vale, and even further to Burns or Christmas Valley. On the wall outside the Vale Public Library is a mural depicting pioneers enjoying the nearby Malheur River, resting and breaking their long journey with water and pastures for their beasts. The route most certainly was tough heading west from Vale along the Malheur into the high desert. Above the library entrance there is a quote from a pioneer woman which for me captures the essence of enduring such a long lonely trail into desolation:
“I must keep writing to remember who I am.”
All photos taken with Chamonix 045F1, Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 150mm and Goerz Dagor 10 3/4″ lenses, on Delta 100 film and developed in a mix of Xtol and RO9.
“Won’t you keep us from all harm
Wonderful redwood tree” – Van Morrison
It is hard not to imagine a journey through northern California, Oregon, Monterey, the Big Sur coast, and San Francisco without considering the influence of historical and cultural topographies. There are many possible routes: from the pioneers of the Oregon trail, to the paths of Kerouac and the Beats, modernist photographers such as the Westons or Adams, and musicians of the 60’s and 70’s that celebrated these places in their lyrics, influencing our consciousness.
I hadn’t expected however that in Orgeon and northern California there would be such strong legacies and remembrances of the depression programs of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Friends insisted that we should travel to Mt Hood and see the Timberline lodge with its incredible architecture, artworks, and tribute to job creation at a time of such economic need.
Driving down the Oregon coast we crossed several bridges which owed their construction to the vision of FDR, and in the redwoods at Prairie Creek his influence in conservation and tree planting programs is still celebrated. The broader community effort to preserve and save the redwood forests of northern California nearly 100 years ago today seems remarkable, yet today when we visit the USA it is the parks, forests and wilderness that attract us, and motivate others to conservation elsewhere in the world.
These quiet forests, with majestic groves deep within are places of incredible beauty and peace. Walking through Stout Grove I placed my hand on a redwood, felt the bark with my palm, and acknowledged my small age next to its. We worry about the things that might make us, or our age and nations great, yet some of these trees have witnessed much of recorded human history, and many have lived since at least the invention of the printing press. Their almost infinite presence gives us hope that we can live through harm, find hope and healing.
All photos taken with Chamonix 045F1, Rodenstock Apo-Sironar-S 150mm, on Delta 100 and developed in a mix of Xtol(1.3)+RO9(1.160).