Monday, March 02, 2015

New Lands, Sleeping Bags And Big Cameras Part Four (Go On . . Pull The Trigger Now)

Well folks - the Karavan Khronickles is back!
Wot's that Sheephouse? I hear you cry
Blimey - haven't you been paying attention? 
Oh, you haven't have you. You dozed off didn't you (and I don't blame you actually, because I did too . . . and I was writing it). 
If you want to bore yourself rigid, you can read the lead-up to this one here, here and here.

This Khronickle though is a little different (and you had better be wearing a stout pair of rubber pants, because the tale I am about to tell is faintly** hair-raising . . and if you aren't particularly scared, then it's OK to take the pants off and pass them onto someone else, just remember to give them some talcum powder too - they can get awful squeaky as we well know). 
** Oh go on then . . . it isn't remotely hair-raising in the slightest

Anyway, as a famous man once said 'Enough o' me shite . . onwards!'
Right, as you'll no doubt now know, I spent a week on holiday, making 5x4 photographs . . . 20 of them. 
Fortunately for me, there's was little lugging of gear for miles . . I was able to stroll out in my wellies and have the camera set up in under 20 minutes - this was pure luxury
And as you can maybe see from the two stitched digi-things below, I was lucky with the lie of the land - this was a two minute walk from where we were staying.

Yes I know they don't fit the frames . . but they were too small otherwise

In the top photograph, you see the uprise of land with trees on it at the left-hand side? That was my destination, and whilst there I encountered something, how shall we say, unusual
The second photograph is what it was like on the top of that piece of land - certainly its loveliness gives little away to the depth of feeling that lurked in the surrounding tonsure of ancient woodland..
Now if you're looking closely (and of a curious mind like me) you might be thinking there is something rather strange about this parcel of land. It isn't obvious from the wide-angled nature of the stitches, however it is entirely walled off from the surrounding country with proper dry-stane walls of approximately 200-odd year old heritage.
Doesn't mean anything to you sitting in a Starbucks with all the world has to offer at your fingertips?
Thought not, and understandable, well let me explain: despite the fact that the rest of the surrounding farmland is lush and well-cultivated, this piece of land has been blocked off. It's a no-go area and it is very unusual these days to find total wildness. Land is too precious, farmers like to have it farmed.
What you can see in the first panorama is a true mix of ancient bog and wood, and I would say little unchanged (obviously apart from growth and die-back) for millenia - the trees are small and grubby, stunted by poor soil and the bog itself is a mish-mash of proper peat and ancient tree roots. I suppose that is maybe why it hasn't been upgraded. However, its isolation picqued my curiosity and made me want to explore. 
The land rises from right to left in what the Scots call a 'shank' . . yep . .a leg. And it's like that, a leg of land heading upwards. 
So suitably prepared for adventure with a Wista and all my gear I set off to ascend via The Shank, however my travail was stopped dead pretty quickly by the sheer amount of difficult walking - gorse and dense trees, stones and boggy bits - in fact it was so dense that I stopped, turned back and skirted the walls instead.
Anyway, after a short, steady climb up through a mix of Oak and Apple and Alder and Beech I made it to the top. 
Now, according to my memorised map, this might have been the remnants of a Norman Motte, however it wasn't - for a start I was way off in my reading of the land and it was way too large. And secondly, it just didn't feel right.
I'm not sure whether you've stood on top of a Motte, but they are pretty much devoid of feeling - all history is gone, bar the massed earth of the footings. They are interesting places, but you can't get a true feel for the history of a place from them (at least that is my experience) - but this was different.
I place a lot of value on feelings and especially so in the countryside. My inner countryman comes to life and keeps me right and on the top, I was thrilled by a sense of peace and wonder, however that wasn't all - there was something tickling at my subconscious that I was initially entirely unaware of. 
The light was falling to a proper gloam, but it was a beautiful evening and very clear. I surveyed the top, thought about making some photographs, dropped my rucksack and tripod, scouted around a bit more and set up. 
There was still a reasonable amount of sun behind my back and I felt that I could capture some of the very real atmosphere that I was feeling. 
With camera set up and a suitable tree selected, image composed, light acceptable,  I paused for a moment from my pottering and tinkering.
And that was when it hit me.
If I could have voiced it, it would have said this:

Now I know you're out there scoffing and stuff, but to my inner countryman it was a real command, enjoined with a feeling like I was being watched.
My hackles arose and I felt (from that bit of land you can see in the second photograph on the left hand side and to the right of the tree) a very definite 'presence'. 
That's the only way I can describe it. 
And I wasn't welcome.
I fumbled, inserted my film holder, called myself stupid and started to make an exposure, only to realise that I hadn't closed the shutter and was exposing the film whilst removing the darkslide! 
I HAVE NEVER EVER DONE THIS (not even after the time I nearly killed myself lugging a Sinar up a Munro). 
I always double check everything
Ergo, something had unnerved me. Not just unnerved me, but had downright made me break out in a bit of a sweat. 
I cursed, closed the slide again, reversed it and made a proper exposure and then, collecting myself and my stuff made off with haste into the oncoming twilight with my camera still affixed to the tripod.
The stupid thing was that I still had to photograph though, so I searched for somewhere as photogenic but with less weirding.
The thing is, no matter how much I searched, the feeling still came with me. 
You know when you feel like you are being watched? that was how I was feeling, and the more the gloam settled the worse it got. 
Frank Herbert's Bene Gersserit saying 'Fear Is The Mind Killer' came to me . . . I tried to talk myself out of my funk, but after surveying a massed collapse of ancient dried trees, and desperately trying to find the correct angle and then feeling it again, I settled to fate, took my camera off the tripod packed everything away as fast as possible and headed downhill as quickly as I could.
Reaching the bog at the bottom of the hill, I set up again and tried to make another photograph - you can see the shite results here (it's the fourth contact print down).
There was a real sense of time being erased in that bog - if a mounted horseman carrying a short sword had galloped up, I wouldn't have been surprised.
Panicking a bit more and stumbling off from the bog, I knew had one more chance to make a photograph that day, so in near darkness and using a small torch to check my focus (honest) I set up by a wall, composed (with extreme difficulty), took a meter reading, was astonished at the reciprocity characteristics and exposed for as long as I could (1020 seconds - 17 minutes to you and me was the corrected exposure - No Way Hosepipe, I thought . . so I opened up the lens and made it about 5 or 6 mins. Luck wasn't with me though - it wasn't nearly enough (and even selenium toning the negative hasn't raised the highs above their deep, dark roots) - the hundred or so sheep that were watching me must have been laughing all the way to their troughs.
As a crescent moon arose and the night settled in proper, I made my apologies (for trespass) and packed up with a quiver in my hands (no, not a quiver of arrows y'berk), thoroughly bristling hackles and exited as quickly as possible, only slowing may pace as I got into the caravan park . . but even then I didn't really want it to be known which van we were in . . .
Oh I know, you are laughing quietly to yourself . . but you know what . .when I lived in the middle of nowhere, some nights you could sleep with your curtains and windows open . . other nights you battened down the hatches and didn't look out till morning - the countryside can be a very weird place, but then again, inside my head is weirder still . . .


Anyway, holidays finished, back home and reviewing the results. I did the processing, did the stitching and had a bloody good think. That think has taken months actually, but I've come to a sort of conclusion.
You see in the second stitched photo, what you are seeing is a flattened hill top, with a circling of trees around the edges, Alder, Crab Apple and Oak. The top of the hill has at least two springs. (that I was aware of - they weren't rinkling tinkling ones either but big solid invisible ones - you knew they were there though).
You probably don't get where I am going, but the varieties of trees alone (and there were many and very old) suggested something to me.
Now I've thought about this (and I am not going to voice my absolute conclusion in public) there was a very definite feeling to the place that was both uncanny and protective, unfriendly and yet tolerant. It toyed with me. It rejected me with power, and yet when I returned during daylight the day after, I felt welcome. Well, not entirely welcome, but tolerated.
What ever presence I had felt was still there, but dozing . . that's the only way I can put it.
I was able to enter the grove from where I had felt something and make some photographs and as I explored the area and gave thanks for it's overwhelming peace and feelings of security (! really), I felt accepted and at one with the Earth Spirit.
There . . . done it now.
How is that for flying against rationale and reason?
Sounds fanciful?
Sounds like New Age Shite?
In a world where everything is known, where everyone is connected?
Fanciful notions from a middle-aged man desperate for quieter times?
You know what? the stone-age man in me says "Ug!"
We know what we felt - it was older than anything and demanded our full attention and awareness . . .
And we weren't the first - the trees and walls and land told that story. There was something here that I felt sure had drawn people other than myself over the centuries.
Having given it a good long thunk, our reverence remains unashamedly unabashed.
We're shamelessly unapologetic, so get over it.
(That's a lot of un's isn't it!)


And so the KK's comes to an end - to be honest folks, I have struggled to print the photos from that week - that has been a major delay in finishing this series off.
I can't figure why either - they're fairly decent negatives . . . OK, the pics aren't brilliant, but they (to my eyes) seem to have captured some of the atmosphere from that wonderful time.
I think the problem has been my ongoing love love/find difficult relationship with the 5x4 negative.
Printed at 10x8 it just doesn't look right - I daresay it would at 11x14 and larger, but nope - my standard size (10x8) just doesn't quite cut the mustard . . so to that end, I ended up contact printing everything on old Agfa MCC of approximately 5x8 size (a torn-in-half sheet of 10x8) and you know what? It fit. they work as contact prints.
They are funky, tatty, physical objects that invite handling and close viewing (they are small after all). they're archivally toned in Selenium too, so all I need is some sleeves to sort them out nicely.
Below is how they look and then cropped-in images to enlarge things a bit.
Hope you like them.

OK - in hindsight I think I would use a little liquid lightning just to tickle up the highs . . . and if I could actually print as large as my enlarger can print (it's a DeVere 504, so can print really huge, but unfortunately I can't - no sink for trays, I just have them on small shelves, so 9.5x12" is my maximum!) I would print a fceckin massive print of the last one. That was made (as were all these images) with my Super Angulon f8 - it is an incredible lens, however just a tad dim on the olde GG, but failing eyesight is another story. 
Anyhow, to my eyes at least, it has captured the atmosphere of that late Autumn evening, as the gloam was falling on a special Scottish place, and the berk behind the camera found himself in a state of rising panic.

Well, that's it - you've done well.
Next time, less reading, more photos . . promise . . and yer Uncle Sheephouse says to remember to write to Aunty Bee and to keep taking the tablets.


  1. At last, the final gripping episode. Somehow, I'd anticipated tales of shipwreck in the Red Room. But instead of that, we get M R James.
    Or is it the last? Now you've been introduced, will you be recognised by the "entity" (whatever it may be)? You might find the next trip feels different. Sensing tolerance or indifference might be the key. Very odd.
    Can't comment on your own feelings. Some places do seem different in indefinable ways, but not to everybody. If you can do it, it might be worth trying to capture the inner Sheephouse when you return. Something more than simply recording how things look.
    I have no idea at all how pictures would accomplish this, but it seems worth doing.
    Or at least contemplating...
    I like the images. Pity you can't manage to see them bigger. I find that 10x8 often seems too literal or everyday, perhaps because it's such a common size. and the common-ness of the size rubs off on the image. Does this make sense? I find that contact size looks good and then about 11x14 (or A3, as we say) ring a bell with me. I like to see the image with a decent white margin of useless paper all around, too.

  2. Thanks David - I'd go back in a flash - you know when you connect with a place? It grabbed my soul.

    I'll try some 9.5x12's on those and see what happens.
    10x8's work fine on 35mm though . . .

  3. The inner Sheephouse? Better let Ally know to look the rubber gloves out...

    The Carachrons have been a great read, Phil. I've been spooked like that in the wilder areas as well. Good to know, though, that you're still in touch with your spidey senses.

    Your contacts look very nice, too. I like the second one as it has a sense of movement about it with the swirly tree trunks. So 5x4 is big enough for a contact after all?

  4. Well strangely 5x4 works better as a contact I think . . but that could all change . . I dunno . . I like these as contacts anyway . . . bonkers really

  5. My favourite photo is the second one. The trees look a bit spirit-y with their trunks waving about in all directions.
    Korea also has many ancient sites and trees that have been used in shamanistic rites for generations. Sometimes the site is still in use and sometimes it's just a small stone Buddha that's been sitting alone in the corner of a field for the past 1500 years. Some of those places are peaceful (especially the Buddhist sites) and others feel heavy with history and folklore. I've never felt voices say anything to me, even when I do feel spirits hanging about. I usually feel . . . ignored. I think that's better than being spoke to, actually.

  6. Thanks marcus - it's an uncanny place and has defeated me trying to revisit it TWICE - I think I was onto something, but you never know.

    A small Buddha in a field for 1500 years sounds like my sort of thing, and as for the spirits, well you never know what might happen!



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