Aust and the Severn Bridge

The introspection of the last couple of weeks, has emboldened me to think about capturing some new photography, partly because I am worried about exhausting the Iceland images (though in truth I am a long way, even towards the end of the course, of finding the perfect realisation of these images), but also because I feel with the defining of my Quiet Earth aesthetic I am able to find new subjects to explore that can embody this aesthetic.

Since moving to Newport in May I have become quietly fascinated by the many anonymous industrial buildings that loom over the motorway as I drive into Bristol every day. From the Celtic Manor hotel, subtly reminiscent of Stephen King’s Overlook in The Shining, to The Severn Bridge, to the gas works, factories and industrial complexes of Newport and Portbury Docks. These distant towering non-landmarks have always intrigued me – an aspect of my work that surfaced in the water tower series I completed in the summer. These structures represent a very different proposition to the images I captured in Iceland, but I feel a constant low-level itch to explore them, even if only to dismiss them and I draw up a loose plan to capture as many of them as possible over the upcoming weeks.

This begins with a trip out to Aust and the foot of the “old” Severn Bridge, primarily to capture images of the old motorway services building that can be seen looking out over the cliffs as you cross into England.

I’m not sure what fascinates me so much about this building, perhaps the distinctive modernist architecture in such an unusual and location, harking back to a simpler and more elegant period of motor travel (and so evocative of the type of images capture so mundanely in Martin Parr’s boring postcards).

Capturing the services proves to be one of the more challenging shots to date and involves us trekking up and down a freezing and windy Severn Bridge walkway in vain to find the framing I want for the building. When I find myself doing this, I feel immediately at odds with the way I want to be working with the camera. I stop being an impartial observer, Ruscha’s “everyman” and instead become too involved in composition, fighting to control the lens rather than allowing it to present its bipartisan take on light and shadow with only minimal direction.

Eventually I have a selection of shots I am happy with, and also capture some interesting images of the bridge itself (although I already know that these are too iconic and architectural in nature to ever be that interesting). In hindsight though it is only as we return to the car, chilled and windswept, walking across and empty carpark that I find and image that captivates. As is often the case in these situations, the camera complies almost immediately to capture the shot that I know is there. A deserted wasteland of a parking lot, punctuated with elegantly sculpturally lampposts against a dramatic blue sky. It’s not the first or the last time that the intended subject of a shoot is abandoned for the accidental, the casually observed, the invisible.

This week’s renewed foray into photographing new images has made me analyse in more depth the process of shooting with the pinhole lens, highlighting a few of the challenges and accidental rewards of working with the pinhole SLR…

Though it differs from lens adaptation to adaptation essentially all of the SLR variants I’ve found place the pinhole roughly the same distance from the sensor in the camera, creating a focal depth roughly equivalent to a 50-55mm lens. Obviously with a fixed focal depth, finding the perfect framing for a shot is incredibly challenging, moving forward or back even a few feet can dramatically change the framing of the shot, scale and aspect, combined with the fact that the pinhole renders the viewfinder virtually useless, such that you are effectively shooting blind and the challenge of finding the right shot can seem exasperating. At the same time the fact that the pinhole “sees” totally differently is ultimately the thing I find so endlessly fascinating and rewarding about it. Random shots, poorly framed or from the wrong position, that bear no resemblance to the shot I wanted can suddenly open up an aspect or possibility in the subject that I had never even entertained. As I capture more and more images, I am developing gut feeling for when I might see something other through the pinhole lens, but that feeling is in no way reliable, more often it is the chance shot, the accidental and the unconsidered, the grabbed, unframed, also rans that transform in Lightroom and again when taken into the print room.

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