That lighthouse, again and again

Jersey, Channel Islands

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.

La Corbiere, Jersey, Channel Islands

Guarding the extreme Western edge of Jersey, one of the British Channel Islands, this lighthouse has well and truly captured my imagination.

Jersey, Channel Islands

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.

Jersey, Channel Islands

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.

Jersey, La Corbiere

On one occasion, during my only Autumnal visit so far, low clouds dispersed the setting sun, crowning the lighthouse with rays.

Jersey, Channel Islands

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.

Jersey, Channel Islands

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.

Jersey, Channel Islands

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!

Jersey, Channel Island

Last rays

La Corbière, Jersey
Of the many photographs I took at La Corbiere, on Jersey, this summer, this is probably my favourite. I can’t begin to convey adequately how it felt to be there listening to the waves and waiting for the light. When the sun peeked through the clouds just before dipping below the horizon, it was glorious.

Beautiful Jersey

Jersey
Another shot of my lighthouse muse, La Corbière on Jersey in the Channel Islands. Better compositions are to be had on the rocks below but high tides coincided with sunset during my recent trip so I had to make do with a higher vantage point. The long exposure time needed for the low light has softened and muted the waves. You will just have to take my word for it that they were crashing onto the rocks below and I would have been inundated had I stayed down there. On the upside, I enjoyed seeing how different the same composition could look at the same time on successive days.

Keeping it simple

lighthouse

Golden light at La Corbiere, Jersey.

Most photographers I know are always developing their art, changing and adapting to new subjects and new moods.  They also tend to change in the way they see images, and this feeds into new images they make.   When aesthetic changes are experienced by a large enough number of image-makers, they become fashion.  Thus, a couple of years ago, in landscape work, so-called High Dynamic Range, or HDR, images were all the rage.  Done subtly, HDR simply means properly exposing an image so you have detail in the shadows and the highlights, something that with few exceptions has always been a minimum standard for landscape work.  The trouble with the HDR fashion as it emerged towards the end of the last decade was that the effect was exaggerated until the image came to look surreal.  For me, many HDR images started to be about displaying the technique rather than the landscape as it was revealed by the light prevailing when the image was taken.  Yet it is easy to see how this happened.

lighthouse

Blue hour, La Corbiere

The power of photoshop, and HDR plug-ins like Photomatix, is seductive.  It is so easy to keep on editing, always seeking more impact, way beyond the point when perhaps, in the cold light of the next day, one should have stopped.  I have done this myself, egged on by sites like Flickr and 500px where the ‘success’ of an image depends on its being immediately striking rather than any lasting appeal.  Of late, however, I find myself seeking a more subdued aesthetic, one that I hope is truer to the moment as I experienced it when I took the image in the first place.  These images of my lighthouse muse, La Corbière, are the case in point; simple, minimally-edited captures of brief moments when the light seemed to connect with the landscape in a way that pleased my eye.  They are not clever and they will not win any awards but I begin to find myself more satisfied with this sort of image than any other.

lighthouse

Of course, as with any fashion, there eventually has to be a backlash, and the HDR pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way.  So, perhaps in my love of the understated I am just another victim of fashion’s vagaries…  Has your approach to image-making, or image-appreciation, changed recently?  I would love to hear your thoughts.

Jacob’s Ladder

Jersey

“Crepuscular rays are rays of sunlight that appear to radiate from a single point in the sky, specifically, where the sun is. These rays, which stream through gaps in clouds (particularly stratocumulus) or between other objects, are columns of sunlit air separated by darker cloud-shadowed regions. The name comes from their frequent occurrences during crepuscular hours (those around dawn and dusk), when the contrasts between light and dark are the most obvious. Crepuscular comes from the Latin word “crepusculum”, meaning twilight.”  – Wikipedia

Jersey

Not surprisingly, perhaps, this spectacular meteorological phenomenon has often been connected with spiritual beliefs.  It is known colloquially as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, referring to Jacob’s dream of seeing a ladder to heaven in Genesis.  The ‘ladder’ also has significance in Islam which revers Jacob as a prophet. It has inspired spiritual leaders of all faiths.

“God is the Sun and when His rays fall upon your heart, not impeded by the clouds of egoism, the lotus blooms and the petals unfold.” – Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Jersey

The movie Jacob’s Ladder (1990) starring Tim Robbins tells the story of a vietnam veteran haunted by visions.  The story deals with questions about life and death, heaven and hell, and the film’s promotional poster shows a staircase spiralling out from Robbins’s face, like rays of sunlight.

Jacob's Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder is also a song written by Bruce and John Hornsby first recorded by Huey Lewis and the News.  In the song, a fan dancer rejects evangelism in favour of a step by step, one day at a time, progression through life:

 All I want from tomorrow is to get it better than today
Step by step, one by one, higher and higher
Step by step, one by one, climbing Jacob’s ladder 

Sunset, St. Ouen's Beach