Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Big Cameras & Dark Forests

Morning shipmates - whilst I don't normally go for the throat with titles, I thought this one appropriate, however to it I will add Big Cameras & Dark Forests (A Tale Of Terror)!
Oh yes. Sheer panicky terror, underwritten with the overwhelming feeling of there being something outwith my experience.
Regular readers (Howdy!) will know I have a strong affinity with caravans. For the uninitiated in British holidaying, the caravan and the holiday caravan (nee home) are totally different things. The former is a device towed behind your vehicle and parked up wherever you can find a decent campsite, and if you can't find one of those then a friendly bit of land somewhere. It's a sobering experience, but one I feel everyone should have the opportunity to try at least once in life. The Holiday Caravan or Holiday Home, is a static caravan on a site. These things have changed vastly in the last 15 or so years, going from thin-walled breezy barns, with a cosy 'us vs the outdoors' feeling about them, to modern palaces. Seriously - there are some very fine campsites out there with modern Holiday Homes in them that are like small palaces . . central heating, small en-suites, satellite tv, free wi-fi . . basically enough to satisfy your every holiday need. I can heartily recommend them as, if you choose your site wisely, they can provide a solid base for a touring holiday. You don't have to worry about packing up and packing down, you can spread yourself out and rise as early or late as you wish. In other words they're relaxing . . bloody relaxing.

Here's a wee film I made. The rain was real.

My tale of terror occured one wet and windy October stay in such a caravan (wot? a caravan in October? are you mad??). The site - Glentrool Holiday Park at Bargrennan near Newton Stewart in God's Own County - Dumfries And Galloway. Situated on the edge of the Galloway Forest Park, it's a really decent, well maintained and friendly site where we have enjoyed a number of excellent holidays. Allied to this it is in a Dark Sky Area, so the night skies (when it isn't raining) are extraordinary. Mix in the feeling that you are experiencing Scotland somewhat as it was in the 1970's (Galloway can be like that) and you have a recipe for delight.
Of course, this being FB I can't go far without mentioning photography . . and it is from my indulgence in this wonderful hobby that my Tale Of Terror springs.
It had been raining for a couple of days, and not just light showers either, but on and on, which does restrict one somewhat. Allied to this it was the start of October, so the nights were fair drawing in and it was getting pretty dark, pretty early, but that was mere chiffchaff for your intrepid photographer . . oh no . . I am made of sterner stuff . . true grit and all that.
I'd recc'ed White Cairn a couple of days before - it had involved lots of tramping through forest paths with exceptionally soggy boots, trousers soaked to the thigh; of sodden jackets and even having to use the AW cover on my LowePro Nova camera bag . . now that's bad! 
I found it eventually, and discovered that I could have quite easily reached it had I used the path network from Glentrool village . . but then I'm thick like that . . if there's a hard way of doing something, I'll find it.
I was taken aback by the sheer loneliness of the place. Despite being surrounded by modern planting, in my mind I clearly saw it back in time. White Cairn is approximately 3000 years old and it feels it. The small clearing where it resides holds a serious presence, but on my initial discovery of it, I was blissfully unaware of that. I just thought it was beautiful and awe-inspiring and I really wanted to photograph it with a 5x4 camera. I wandered back home, and knew I had to return.
A couple of days later found us back home from our jaunts early, so, seeing as it seemed to have stopped raining, we had our tea and I grabbed the Wista and Gitzo and headed out, deciding I would try and photograph a few forest scenes too before I got to White Cairn.
I should add that it wasn't more than half a mile away from our caravan as the crow flew. So not far - not an epic journey physically, but definitely epic in atmosphere.
Despite an end to the rain, the day was still drear and not very inviting to photography at all, but I thought I'd take my chances - I hadn't got much of the holiday left and didn't want to risk not being able to photograph it at all.

Boring techy camera bit:

I will take a little aside here and say that a lightweight wooden field camera (like the venerable Wista DX) is a thing of supreme joy from the point of view of haulage. Jack Dykynga uses one for long trips and I feel that says a lot as he could pick what he likes. I get away with mounting mine on 1980's Gitzo Series 2 Reporter. It was a reasonable purchase at £120 with a Gitzo Pan and Tilt head and is without a doubt one of the finest most stable tripods I have used. It's easy to maintain, it doesn't weigh a huge amount, and above all else it is incredibly stable. I've used it in really heavy duty windy conditions and the resulting negatives have been absolutely fine. Mine is a G224, so if you can find one, snap it up - you can still get the spares too.
With my Wista I use the following three lenses:
1980's Schneider Symmar-S - 150mm f5.6
Mid-1960's Schneider Angulon - 90mm f6.8
Late-50's Kodak Ektar - 203mm f7.7
The Symmar is the heaviest, but it is a fine lens for most applications. The Ektar I didn't have at the time of this escapade, but it is as sharp wide-open as stopped down. The 90mm Angulon just covers 5x4, but is a fine little lens and manages to impart atmosphere to photographs in a way which I am yet to understand.
Back to the Wista - whilst I would love the likes of an Ebony, not just from the point of view that it is a lovely camera, but also from the point of view of its appeal as a stunning object of great craftsmanship, the little Wista can really hold its own. It does have a certain charm and is the sort of camera that you don't have to worry too much about. I've seen people complain about the stability of the standards, but they lock down beautifully and I must admit I love mine. 

Anyway . . onwards!

So there I was, semi-burdened, heading off into the still light, but slowly darkening forest. 
I found my way quite easily and following the track as it took off through a mass of heavily-planted trees I felt it would be as good a place as any to make some photographs. Just to prove my decision right, the clouds cleared for a bit and I was regaled with a clearish sky. It was  actually a good few stops lighter, so I stopped by a burn I'd spotted previously and made two exposures using the 90mm Angulon. 
The ground glass looked good, so I felt that maybe the photographs would too.

Forest 1
Wista DX, 90mm Angulon, TMX 400 in HC110

Forest 2
Wista DX, 90mm Angulon, TMX 400 in HC110

I think the wee Angulon has captured that sense of a forest's stillness. 
The meeting of the three waters in particular struck me as very much a peculiar thing . . . there was a small rummel of sound as the water quietly made its way off into the darkness and I had the feeling of intruding on one of Natures' hidden processes. 
All was quiet apart from a couple of dogs yapping away in Glentrool Village some quarter of a mile away. I was very much alone and it felt it. Had the trees been native Scots trees rather than just another modern pine forest, I think the feeling of being disassociated from time would have been complete, because that is what I felt. 
I was using 'modern' technology (OK . . the process is over 100 years old, but you know what I mean) to capture the scene and I was wearing modern clothing, but I could just have easily been standing there in bare feet and burlap, or from an even earlier time - all animal skins and a wooden bow. 
Time meant little to me and it seeped into my bones.
It was so very peaceful and I succumbed to it. 
I don't know about you LF photographers out there, but when I am using the big boy's camera I become totally absorbed and lose track of time, which didn't help in this case. I dreamed, I was slow, I finished off at a leisurely pace, and, filled with that sense of peace and the slipping of time, I packed my camera away, collapsed the tripod and strolled on to White Cairn.
Coming out of the trees' cover I was struck by the gloam and just how totally alone I was. I knew that it would be easy to take a wrong turn on the way back so I marked where I came out of the trees, got my bearings again (though this is hard when the only horizon is trees) and continued.
Arriving at the clearing of the Cairn I suddenly realised that time was against me. I circled the tomb in the stillness and tried to get an idea of a decent composition.
It was really hard to do this because I knew I couldn't be disrespectful to the tomb. Yeah I could have got the tripod and the 90mm Angulon and got right in close to the stones, but then it wouldn't have felt right, and besides, some weird sixth sense was tickling my subconscious saying, 'Just don't even think about it'. 
I made one exposure, which didn't work at all, so moved around a bit more, and took the photograph below.

White Cairn
Wista DX, 150mm Symmar-S, TMX 400 in HC110

It's OK. Nothing special though. I am not sure whether I captured the atmosphere of the place or not.
I had to used the 150mm Symmar-S, because, as I have already said, there was no way I was going to disrespect this resting place.
As the shutter stayed open and I counted off the exposure, I instantly became aware of two things.
Firstly the sun had set, completely. The darkness was very apparent. It emphasised just how far removed I was from the modern world.
The second thing, would, in normal circumstances be considered fanciful. I was deeply aware of a presence that wished me to be gone. 
There, I've said it. 
No. I can at times be acutely aware of atmospheres and such things, and the Cairn had spoken: 
The command, because it was one, took root in my core and filled my mind: 
I cut short my exposure, and rapidly, with shaking hands and my breath becoming visible in the chilled air, inserted the dark slide and removed the film holder, packed it away with the others, removed my cable release, attached lens cap, collapsed the camera, unscrewed the camera from the tripod, packed the camera away in my rucksack, zipped it up, did a quick double check that I had left nothing, collapsed the legs on the tripod, slung my rucksack onto my back, and with one final, hasty glance, picked up my tripod and ran.
Running was the only solution because whatever presence was there, really did wish to be alone. 
I, a mere puny modern human being had no place at the site.  
No matter my affinity with stone-age man, it wasn't enough. 
I was an unwelcome guest.
I never run. It just isn't something I do. But I had to. Complete panic filled me. I legged it out of the clearing and along a forestry Land Rover track, to the point I had marked that cut off under the trees. 
It was at this point I paused and terror pummeled my subconscious. The 'path' which was more a run of flattened rough grass and disturbed pine needles, was lost in a complete darkness. A primal fear of the unknown clung to those trees and I felt that once I entered them, I would not exit.
I could stay on the Landie track, but where would that leave me - these things have a habit of running for miles in directions you would never consider.
Caught between a rock and a hard place and the awareness that whatever stalked the clearing had now made its way free and was following me, I took one deep breath and headed into the trees.
I stumbled, I peered, I stopped and checked, and the deeper in I got, the more I realised that the presence of the Cairn suffused the whole area. It was a deep and powerful feeling that emanated from the quiet earth. 
Fear of the unknown gripped my vitals.
Halting in an almost complete darkness with my heart hammering in my ears I tried to calm myself, but it wasn't working. 
And then I heard it. 
The quiet rummel of water moving in the silence. The meeting of waters. The place of my photograph. It was nearby. 
I cautiously moved forward, using my tripod like a blind man would use his stick. I couldn't afford to fall over . . . the 'thing' behind me might well be upon me before I knew it.
And then I was splashing forward and through; beyond, distantly, the trees denseness gave way to lighter patches where they ended and I knew that I'd be able to get out. 
The last hundred metres I took as fast as I dared, and suddenly I was out and onto another path, a more familiar marked one, and I knew in the dusky overcast night that I would easily be able to follow my tracks home. 
The presence left me as quickly as I left the trees and I fancied in my head that whatever it was had toyed with me, for I was aware of a subconscious deep laughter, at me, the foolish 'modern' man.
I made my way back down onto the main road and walked back to the caravan at quite a pace, because I suddenly realised that my panic would be as nothing to my familys', had I been 'missing' in the darkness of the lonely miles of the Galloway Forest Park.
Soaked and bewildered, emanating steam and relief, I have never been so glad to see an electric light in my entire life.
And that's it friends - one of life's wee adventures.
In hindsight, maybe I could have hunkered down in the trees and over-nighted it, however I don't think my heart would have been able to stand it. 
Conversely, I could of course have headed back to the tomb and crawled inside, for it is quiet and peaceful and quite dry, and let the aeons of time strip my 'self' from my bones and given my soul to whatever spirit bides there . . .
But then again . . . 

If you have found this interesting, please feel free to follow up with some more reading!
Going through some of the links below you realise that there might well have been activity on the site dating back to the late Mesolithic (7000 to 5000 BC). When you think about it and see how much this site has been disturbed in modern times, I think that whatever presence is there, just wishes for peace.
Gods bless and thanks for reading.