Bude’s rocky shore

Sea caves, shipwrecks and the rocky shore starting at Roses cafe, Crooklets beach, Bude. I’ve run this workshop at Sandymouth a couple of times in the past but have always started from the cafe there; this time as it’s winter I started in Bude. Roses cafe is an ideal starting place, opening at 10 AM and surving good coffee. Sue and Rob, taking part in the workshop, both had plenty of questions and open minds with very different needs. One had a DSL, the other a compact camera. Both had adventurous spirits and a love of the outdoors and of the coast.?

After what seems like a year of rain and a mild Christmas today was a gloriously bright sunny Sunday. We trecked north along the beach from Bude towards Northcott mouth. Studying the geology of the magnificent cliffs, with contorted rocks, with artists eyes. I introduced them to scenes with high contrast deep shadows and bright highlights. The human eyes and brain can see detail in all of these places but the camera has a limit to what it can record. I demonstrated this limit, but in a positive way, by allowing some shadow areas to go very dark or black lacking detail, but drawing attention to well lit areas within a composition. We continued to photograph what the sea had revealed on the beach as we walked north. Spending a little of our time photographing a small natural rock arch over rock pool. 1 mile north of Bude is what’s left of the Belem. This 2000 ton steamer was wrecked in dense fog in 1917. Various parts including the boiler and firebox are still visible.?

Meninchurch point lies just on the cliff side of this wreck and in this headland is a great cave which was our journey’s goal. We made our way through the great boulders at this cave’s entrance and scrambled up to the back rock wall.The cave looked splendid, full of wonderful forms including what are clearly the ripples of an old beach seen in the vertical rock face on one side of us. However, it did not look at its best as it was very dry inside, the tide having left three hours previously which made the interior quite dull, flat and grey. But it was a good place as a teaching exercise, shooting into the light and having to prevent flair from flattening the shadow areas of the interior. Our presence in the cave, attracted a family with young children and dog to come exploring too. I’d like to think our being there had encouraged a family to come exploring where without us they may not have had the confidence. The photograph on the left long and thin, was made using the iPhone is panoramic mode. The photograph at the top was made using the auto stitch app. After the photo shoot we went back to the cafe downloaded images and I demonstrated some enhancements in photo shop. These included processing a raw image using photoshops software, combining images together, cropping, and generally making the images look there best with very subtle alteration.

?Looking back over the day, it is often the unexpected things that participants gain the most from: Sue now has a ‘working’ tripod and Rob can confidently used his camera in the manual mode.

“Thanks for a really interesting and instructive day! Thank you again, the day has made me realise where my interest really lies and has prevented me spending money on things I can do without!” – Sue Lane

Midnight Again!

Mike Bentley and I were out again at midnight on a 3/4 moon, fuelled by the contemporary jazz of Phronesis who had just played at the Beaver in Appledore (and on CD in Mike’s car). The night is a tremendous time to made pictures, just to be in that dreamworld is phenomenal; even though the temperature had dropped to 3 degrees there was a warm glow to be felt from that cold moon. The dream started as we walked along the road to Sandymere Beach and a herd of horses came the other way; one after the other with coats on for warmth, they seemed to pass like ghosts, hardly noticing our presence. Longer exposures brought star trails this night and the addition of a large white, slow moving cloud, gave us the magic we’d hoped for. My tip for the day/night is to buy some reflective or transparent tape for a tripod leg because I got into a bit of a panic trying to find my camera at the end of an 8 minute exposure and started running into the surf of the incoming tide. Fortunately I snapped out of it before I got too wet. the camera and tripod were high and dry, well just!

Royal West of England Academy

I have had two photographs selected for
The Open Photography Exhibition at The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. They have been selected from 1700 entries from across the South West. The Exhibition opens on the 20th February and runs until 5th April.


It?s been a while since my last post. Most of September and the whole of October were spent in the States, accompanying Sadie Green on her Winston Churchill Travel Award where I documented her journey of discovery tracing the export of North Devon pottery from the 17th and 18th centuries. I was also representing Bideford Bay Creatives in Manteo NC supported in part by a Networking Artists Network go-and-see award; developing a relationship between Bideford and her twin town Manteo through the arts. Whilst there I was posting to the

One of the similarities of both towns is their geographic settings as naturally sheltered harbours. Bideford 3 miles up from the Atlantic Ocean on the tidal River Torridge and Manteo on an island in the shallow Roanoke Sound 5 miles west from the thin, fragile, Outer Banks spit than shields it from the other end of the Atlantic Ocean. My photographic work in North Devon has been primarily in the sea caves along the rocky shoreline. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is 100 miles+ of sand, called, like our North Devon coast ?The Graveyard of the Atlantic?. Both places have this unenviable title because of the 100s of wrecked ships on NC?s treacherous sand bars and our rocky reefs.

Global Warming, Climate Change and Sea Level Rise with the expected greater frequency and magnitude of storms will only add to the graveyard. The irony is that it makes great pictures. Whilst in North Carolina I spent many a late afternoon walking the Atlantic beaches and the closest to Manteo’s was at Nags Head; here wooden houses, now condemned for living, seem to have been built on the beach. Whether this is a sign of climate change or of Man?s stupidity or both is unclear, but as is often the case with buildings they look their best just before they die.

A note on the photographs: The last 2 images in this post were taken by the light of a full moon and distant street lighting. Exposures were 1 minute long.

Teaching and Learning

I?ve just had 2 very busy days teaching, but what joy it is simply being physically tired rather than mentally drained.

This was a two-day residential at Beaford Arts Centre, teaching 12-14 year olds photography. It?s part of a programme that Beaford puts on for ?gifted and talented? pupils. Caroline Preston, who runs the Beaford Education Programme, and I led the course.

We started with a group exercise matching digital camera terms with symbols; this was a way of breaking the ice as the ten children were from all over Devon, some of them knowing no one else on the course. They did surprisingly well with only one matching pair the wrong way around. We use these symbols all of the time and quickly get used to what they do or represent but forget what they stand for.

Next we all converted one of the bedrooms into a giant pinhole camera. Three of the pupils blacked out the windows as I spent some time with individuals and their cameras making sure the set-up was optimised for biggest size and best quality and, looking towards the evening?s exercise, whether they were able to make a long exposure of 1 second or longer. With a large square hole, approx 4cm across we could see a very out-of-focus image on the wall. Caroline had a great idea to tape sheets of drawing paper onto the walls. I then demonstrated how an aperture works by gradually making the large hole smaller and smaller; the image on the walls became darker but also more in focus. As our eyes adjusted to the dark, after about 5 minutes, we were able to see the outside world, up-side-down, on the walls, floor and ceiling of the bedroom. The children found interesting parts and started to draw what they saw onto the paper using charcoal sticks. It was impossible to ?see? what you had drawn so there was a certain amount of faith involved in believing the image would be there once the light was turned on. I talked camera obscura, Aristotle (who wrote about this phenomenon 2,500+ years ago) and related it as best I could to its use to artists prior to the invention of photography. I also took a whole lot of 1 minute long exposures capturing the image and blurred artists in colour ? the image to those inside the ?camera? looked black and white because the ?rods? were being used in our eyes instead of the ?cones?.

When the light was turned on I was astonished at the masterpiece that had appeared on the walls; an up-side-down sketch of the church, trees and walls that made up the external view, were all there seamlessly drawn on the paper taped to the walls.

We had been given the opportunity to paste life-sized ?joiner? images onto a stark metal container that sat outside at the back of Greenwarren House (which houses Beaford Arts). This is related to the constructed images I do myself through, amongst other themes, the cave images of the North Devon Coast. I started teaching the making of full-sized joiners of people when I was working in a school on Tucson AZ where the only technology I could rely on was a black and white printer and some small digital cameras. The pupils split into groups of 3 or 4 and came up with ideas of how they, individually, would like to be seen on the container?s walls. Some wanted to play with scale and perspective, one fancied the idea of levitation and others thought of hanging from the roof or doing a handstand against the side. I gave some technical and artistic advice to help make the images work and they were off creating their art.

The photographs taken were quickly downloaded and printed out as contact sheets so that small joiner images could be made as a template to see if the life-sized one would work. At least half of the children retook their photographs after this stage, some of them making a number of sets to make sure one of them would be to their liking. Once finalised these were printed off on a black & white printer each photograph being a full A4 page in size. The white edges were trimmed and quite some time was spent joining the separate pages together with masking tape.

Once it was dark, the evening of the first day was dedicated to ?painting with light?. We started off indoors, in a controlled space where everyone could try photographing the same lighting technique, like hooping a coloured torch around on a string or drawing around a body, giving someone wings etc. the children soon got the hang of it and were leaving their cameras on self timer and making various light patterns and shapes all at once. We then went outside, Caroline and I had a few ideas for images but they were hardly needed as the group of pupils came up with idea after idea and were allowed to run with them. Around 10.30pm we lit the blackened interior rooms of the house with various swirling colours and photographed it from the garden; after this we set about writing ?Beaford Arts? as we just had enough participants for the letters. This image is a combination of both ideas exposed for 1 minute each and combined in Photoshop. We got back indoors at 11pm and wound down to 11.30pm doing a little editing and enhancing of the images produced. The morning of day two was spent finishing off the joiners then using wallpaper paste to fix them to the container. This process was very forgiving as many an artwork fell apart at the last minute to be rescued with glue on the wall of the container. The collective result was awesome and hopefully, after the joiners are varnished, will last for at least the rest of the year.

For the rest of the day the ten children were split into two groups. One learned about traditional photography, made famous at Beaford by James Ravilious, through making photograms in the temporary darkroom. The other group enhanced and edited their night photographs and learned various digital imaging techniques. They then swapped.

Parents arrived at 4pm and were treated to a tour of the inside of the pinhole camera with charcoal sketches, slideshows of images on the children?s laptops, drying photograms, two exhibitions, one of James Ravilious? work and one of my work, and the container outside full of joiners of the children.