We are back from our summer travels. This year we chose Portugal. We used to holiday in the Algrave often, when the children were small, but hadn’t been back in 11 years. I was afraid we’d find it much changed. Certainly, the Algrave is very much discovered. It already was back in 2002 and the spread of tourism that was marching inexorably West from Faro has reached a little further now. But the extreme South Western tip, at Sagres, still retains its off-beat, surfing vibe, and the wild West coast beaches are just as glorious as I remembered. This is one of my favourite sunset spots, Praia do Castelejo.
I can finally explain why Focused Moments has been so quiet lately. It’s been a long time in the planning but this week my business partner, Tony Antoniou, and I launched our new venture, f11 Workshops.
We are going to be leading photography workshops and tours in Surrey and West Sussex. The photographer is spoilt for choice when it comes to workshops in some of the UK’s more famous beauty spots, like the Jurassic Coast in Dorset, the Lake District, or the Scottish Highlands, but there are few tours elsewhere. Yet there are rewarding locations everywhere if you know where to look. I am really looking forward to introducing other photographers to some of my favourite local places.
Taking small groups of 6-8 maximum, we aim to tread lightly in our chosen locations, leaving nothing behind and taking nothing away but our photographs and some great memories.
I’ll be blogging about our tours as they happen. Plus, now that the business is up and running, I should be able to get back to regular posting, and reading. In the meantime, if you have time, please visit our website. I’d love to know what you think. We are also on Facebook and Twitter.
A week ago, I heard via my shooting buddy, Jen that there was a field of wild poppies on the South Downs, about an hour and a half away from here. The trip was more than rewarded. Perched high up on the South Downs overlooking the Solent, the poppies basked in the evening sun. We stood in that field for more than three hours and it felt like minutes.
We have a few varieties of field poppies in this country. Poppy fields that spring up on fallow ground tend mostly to comprise the common poppy, papaver rheas. The prickly poppy, papaver argemone, has smaller flowers and prefers lighter, sandy soils. The rough poppy, papaver hybridum, is rarer, but its habitat is the chalky soils of the South Downs. I must confess that I didn’t inspect the individual flowers very closely but looking at my pictures, the poppies we stood among were mostly common poppies.
An individual poppy flower lasts only one day but a single plant can produce as many as 400 flowers. That’s a lot of poppies. I would guess ‘our’ field was only about half way through its flowering life – there were plenty of seed heads but also plenty of buds yet to open.
Another name for the common poppy is the corn rose. Ceres, the Roman goddess of corn was depicted wearing a wreath of common poppies. Poppies used to be a common sight in cornfields but selective herbicides and other modern farming practices have made this rarer. They do still pop up on land left fallow, but not in the same place two years running, which keeps landscape photographers on their toes!
Of course, this year the poppy is very topical, with the WW1 centenary. These tough little plants, whose seeds needs rough handling to germinate, became the emblem of remembrance because they grew in such abundance on the disturbed soil of the battlefields. I must confess, however, that standing surrounded by the flowers as they nodded gently in the evening breeze, war and death couldn’t have been further from my mind.
Mad Patsy said, he said to me,
That every morning he could see
An angel walking on the sky;
Across the sunny skies of morn
He threw great handfuls far and nigh
Of poppy seed among the corn;
And then, he said, the angels run
To see the poppies in the sun.
A poppy is a devil weed,
I said to him – he disagreed;
He said the devil had no hand
In spreading flowers tall and fair
Through corn and rye and meadow land,
by garth and barrow everywhere:
The devil has not any flower,
But only money in his power.
And then he stretched out in the sun
And rolled upon his back for fun:
He kicked his legs and roared for joy
Because the sun was shining down:
He said he was a little boy
And would not work for any clown:
He ran and laughed behind a bee,
And danced for very ecstasy.
- James Stephens In the poppy field
Some may remember that last June I found a wild poppy field nearby and went a bit mad photographing it. As is the nature of natural poppy fields, it is not there this year, the land having been rotated back to crops. However, thanks to the photographers’ network, I have found another, rather further afield but, as last night’s visit confirmed, completely worth the trip. More to follow!
This gallery contains 14 photos.
Originally posted on Surrey Heath Residents Blog:
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After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
― Aldous Huxley
Today’s Writing 101 prompt is to write about the three most important songs in your life. Well, true to my track record so far, I am not going to do that! For one thing, I find it impossible to choose just three songs. But I will say something about music more generally. Music is a big part of our family life. Both my children play piano to a high standard and they each have a second instrument, trumpet for my son and clarinet for my daughter. (She also plays the didgeridoo!) My daughter composes and recently she and a friend won a contest with a song they wrote and performed.
Not surprisingly for a photographer, I am a very visual person. I have no musical talent whatsoever but have often thought that of all creative endeavours, music is one of the most powerful in its ability to affect one on a visceral level. Darwin argued that music came before speech, and that feels right to me.
Now that I have two myself, I have been reminded that teenagers need music with the urgency of a biological imperative. Separate them from it for too long (say, more than five minutes) and they become quite incapable of coherent function. How and why, as we age, we become less dependent on music is beyond my ken. But when I rehear an old favourite song, after a long absence, I realise that music can still move me. It has the power more than any other thing to cut through the baggage of adult life and remind me what it was like to be that essential, earthy thing that is a teenager. I hope it always will.
Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.
― Maya Angelou
I recently had to give an interview in which I was asked to name my favourite landscape location. I found it difficult to answer as I tend to be focused on wherever I am with my camera at any given moment. However, one place popped into my head unbidden. Anyone who has been around here long enough will not be surprised that I thought of La Corbière.
Guarding the extreme Western edge of Jersey, one of the British Channel Islands, this lighthouse has well and truly captured my imagination.
We have been to Jersey three times during the last two years and during each visit I have devoted evenings to this one place. There is something about the way the lonely, white lighthouse sits out at sea, precariously perched on Jersey’s characteristic red rock, that stirs the soul.
It has so many moods. Sometimes, it is wild and windswept, spray beaten and inaccessible. At others it is almost serene, especially at low tide when reflected in the still pool at its base.
On one occasion, during my only Autumnal visit so far, low clouds dispersed the setting sun, crowning the lighthouse with rays.
For the photographer, La Corbière offers so many possibilities. When the tide is out, a causeway is revealed, making perfect lead-in lines. Interesting rocks and pools create endless compositional opportunities and ensure that even if there are other photographers about, there’s plenty of space for everyone.
When the tide is in, higher and wider views can be had from the cliff top. Even in high summer, there is a good chance of having the lighthouse to oneself, or perhaps just sharing it with one other photographer and maybe a romantic couple watching the sunset.
There is one mood I have yet to witness, however. Each time we have been there, the weather has been fairly mild. I have yet to see the lighthouse brave a proper storm. To capture a mighty wave crashing over the tower would really be something. I will just have to keep going back!
In a rash moment I recently signed up for WordPress’s Writing 101. Writing, on a photography blog? Yes, I did wonder if I knew what I was doing. I suppose I wanted to get back to why I started this blog in the first place. It wasn’t just to share photographs; I had Flickr and 500px for that. When I started Focused Moments, back in April 2012, I was in the middle of my MA. Perhaps the blog was a way of creating my own original(ish) content when I was otherwise immersed in other people’s words. (As my subject was Victorian Literature, there were a great many words!)
Over time, however, Focused Moments inexorably tended towards a photo-a-day kind of blog. Before more touchy readers protest, I am not suggesting for a moment that there is anything wrong with that sort of blog, just that it’s not what I intended. With Writing 101, which began yesterday, there are daily prompts. The first one was to free write for 20 minutes. Well, I didn’t feel like free writing about photography. That prompt seems, to me, more appropriate to the creation of fiction. So I have taken comfort in the challenge’s statement that we can be as free as we like in our interpretation of each prompt, and I have ignored it completely! Instead, I have thought about beginnings.
It must be fairly obvious to anyone who is kind enough to stop by here from time to time that I like landscape photography. For me, setting up somewhere and waiting for the light is a beautiful, and healing experience. But I am not really a morning person, so most of my imagery is made at the end of the day. However, last Friday Pete and I managed to get up for dawn. At this time of year and at these latitudes, that is no mean feat. Our alarms went off at 4am, and I can tell you that, as we were blearily dressing and mainlining caffeine, the planned adventure suddenly seemed far less appealing.
Once we were outside, however, all that changed. There wasn’t much of a sunrise, but it didn’t matter. We had the beach to ourselves. A hush hung over the morning, broken only by the swoosh of the waves and the haunting cry of oyster catchers. Homer’s ‘rosy fingered dawn’ delicately coloured the sky as a solitary fishing smack chugged out of the bay. I could understand why many landscape photographers prefer this subtle time of day to the more spectacular sunset. As my children grow, and need me less, one small but significant compensation is that opportunities to get out for daybreak will grow. The beginning of a new phase in life will involve seeing more of the beginning of each new day. There’s a certain poetry in that.
To have made a beginning is half of the business.
The child of the morning, rosy-fingered dawn, appeared.
On Thursday, Pete and I enjoyed a six hour walk on the vast, low-tide beach of Saundersfoot Bay, returning via the Coastal Path along the cliffs. Although the sky was overcast and it rained intermittently, I could see why Pembrokeshire is celebrated for its light. I wanted to capture the almost-sliver of the diffused light on the sluggish sea.
My first post from Wales was all about colour, although even there I nudged the saturation and vibrancy sliders to the left, because the colours in the RAW file were almost too rich to be believed! More and more, these days, I find myself wanting to desaturate images. For some beautiful images that exemplify sliding to the left, try Asmita Kapadia’s website.
We’re just back from a short trip to Wales. I have a lot of images to upload but thought I’d start with the most recent, from last night. We found a super sunset spot for Lilly, our camper van, looking over Freshwater West beach, Pembrokeshire. I was so busy looking West that I almost didn’t notice a rainbow appearing behind us.
It just got better and better as the setting sun turned the clouds pink. By the end, I’d had a good soaking (well, you can’t have rainbows without rain) and I was very glad of my camera’s weather seals. We loved what we saw of Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire and have already agreed to go back as soon as we can.
By the way, the small triangular structure in the first shot is a seaweed drying hut. More on that anon.