In a time where disruption seems to be the order of the day in life, a city becomes chaotic.
Recently, my antidote for chaos has been to find places where I can go slow, down my city living tools, and use my camera to capture more elegant and leisurely ideas.
Landscapes loom up in my mind, and more and more I yearn for open spaces.
Horses are slow, then fast. They know when to stop. They are leisurely, and can be elegant a lot of the time.
I took my camera down to Gross-Ziethen, former East Germany — just outside the city of Berlin. My intention was to capture some of the beautiful German landscapes.
It was a hot day, so I emulated the pace of a horse in the sun. Then, I began to notice things.
The first impressions come when you leave the train station at Rudow. The last sounds of a hissing train, the short connecting bus journey that takes you into the countryside. Then a broad area of dry farm land, and in the distance the city of Berlin recedes into a silhouette.
I was moved by the sight, the city seen from a distance, made me want to get off the bus, and take a shot.
I didn’t want to miss the fields of Gross-Ziethen, a small village that developed into a town over the years since the Fall of the Wall.
The town has changed over the thirty years since I last went there, so I asked a young woman sitting in the next seat, “Where should I get off?”, I told her I wanted to photograph the countryside. She had no idea where the best place to get off the bus was, she wanted to be helpful, but smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
I looked out the window, saw horses in a field, and took a chance at the next bus stop.
I love horses. I’ve ridden them, all types of ’em, spirited, not so spirited, and the down-right lazy sods of horses that wanted nothing more than to get back to munching hay.
I’ve walked with horses across fields at night, in the dark. A large herd of Welsh Cobs closing in around me, I could hear them, smell them, and hear them snorting the night air. It was a moonless night in the English countryside.
Horses are friendly, curious animals. When you can’t see them, but feel everything about the horse, it is a beautiful experience to walk with them. As if walking amongst good spirits.
It’s advisable to know that horses are in the field before trying this; if you wander back from the pub late at night, walk the country mile, then get the crazy idea to enter a dark field and walk with the horses. You might discover that the field you chose contains not horses, but an Angus Bull. That’s a different story.
After spending everyday in the city, where ears are forced to be the foremost sensory tool, I found my ears redundant, and my eyes sharpened. I looked, saw, and searched every nook and cranny of the landscape.
In the city, your ears are battered by noise, and feet are connected by the vibrations of underground trains.
In the countryside, walking feels soft, grass brushes against your legs, and you are alone in a broad space where the breeze carries the smell of plant life, and the sound of birds is a welcome song to the ears.
As soon as I saw this motif below, it grabbed my attention. A strong feeling of concentration kicked-in, I saw there was an interesting composition to photograph.
The bright middle ground is horizontally framed by shadows, the strongest shadow is in the foreground.
The sky is pale, and doesn’t offer anything heavy enough to contribute to framing the small area in the middle ground. The tree line does that job.
Framing landscape photographs is more difficult than street shots. Street photography is full with ready made props and structures. Landscape is wild and flowing, the trees obey the wind, and the grass too, the shadows drift like waves across the open spaces. It takes time to get your mojo going.
It is challenging, but I wanted to make the wisps of grass in the foreground important in the photo. I find motifs like this, that are essentially delicate, intriguing.
One way to test a photograph for its “usefulness”, is to square off a part of it with your two hands interlocked, creating a small square hole to look through. Stand back, look at a section of the photo, or view, through the gap that you create, and ask yourself if it stands up alone, without the rest of the composition. You’ll see that it works — or that it is a meaningless part of a photo.
I love black and white. It allows for a broader dynamic range of tones, and that’s a lot of what photography is about. Range can help you make those little details stand out, highlights pop, and it gives shadow meaning. But I wanted to think in colour today.
To think in colour, I have to summon images of the old masters. Mostly painters who knew their colour palettes. Colour is complex. In photography, it has always been a contentious issue about whether it works or doesn’t.
The garish splodge of Kodak colours, to the sweeping, blending, digital tones of modern processing software — they all claim to have cracked the colour problem. The key is, that we must believe it too.
If they have cracked the colour code, then not many photographers want it.
Mostly, a photographer will do what painters have done for centuries, choose the key-tone as their middle tone, then work outwards from there to create an artistic, and believable version of reality. The mind is a wondrous thing, it’ll accept all types of ideas about what a real-world photo looks like.
If I use colour, I tend towards toning down. The countryside is green, then a bit more green with a splash of yellow ochre, a smidgen of English red, mixtures of flake white, and cool blue tones make the whole deal difficult to control.
The greens are fiery green, across to yellow green, Verde middle, and on and on, I wish I could get a grip of those greens, but nature has its ideas, and I have mine.
Controlling colour is the task. I stopped to think about the above photo of a tree stump, before clicking the shutter. I always work manual settings, that way I control the outcome; I don’t want factory settings, or average good light, or any of that sort of thing.
I want my shot, how I see it. Manual allows me to accentuate the forms and tones that are important to me. My thinking does acrobats around the triad of light — and I enjoy it. That’s what it’s all about.
As I walked along a dusty path, I saw the tree stump ahead of me. I stepped closer, and I could see the composition forming in my mind, the faded grassy colours. A few clumps of leaves, and the whitish stripe of the track created angled ideas to set off the broken tree stump, slim, but full of knots and reflections. Like a marker for somebody to watch out for. It seemed important in the middle of this landscape.
Breeze in the Grass.
I like titles that make you think. Cryptic titles used to stop people in their tracks, make them wonder and ask questions.
Unfortunately, these days we need to write titles that are literal, or prompt readers to click. Something that a search engine can get its algorithm around.
So the photo below, is called Breeze in the Grass — otherwise, I would call it, Poem in the Grass, I might call it “City Landscape II”. That would baffle people.
Sometimes a title should baffle people — make ’em think about it for a while.
I love the way grass and heather move in the wind, and I haven’t had enough opportunity to investigate it deeply. The wind in the fields, the wind at sea, it can create astonishing effects, both wondrous and dangerous.
When I was a child, I would run through the heather knowing that various reptiles might be sunbathing in it. It didn’t stop me, and occasionally, I came across a basking viper, or a grass snake. I saw lizards leap, and scurry away as I ran.
I remember the sound of the wind in the trees, day and night. Like the wind sweeping across the ocean that creates fear in a sailor, I lay in my bed as a child, and listened to the wind in the trees, a crack in the darkness, limbs falling to the forest floor.
I headed back to the road, passed the horses again, and watched a young girl riding an Island pony. A small animal that many people mistake for a Shetland Pony, but it’s not. It’s a robust, powerful animal. Islanders have ridden them for centuries for transport and hunting.
The girl sat well, back straight, balanced in the saddle, she looked bored, so did the horse.
They walked in circles, and the girl looked between the pony’s ears as she had been told to by the instructor. “Watch the horse’s head, control where he goes, sit up, shoulders back and push your hips forwards into the saddle.”
The girl sneered, then looked over her shoulder and smiled at her instructor. The riding instructor looked hot and impatient as she laid a lunge and whip on a trailer.
I went home with a smile and a few shots in my hunting bag.