Sunday, 13 June 2010

On Brown Clee

A few years ago we had an autumn half-term break in Shropshire, partly because we needed to be near to my partner's parents, who were in a desperate state of decline. We stayed on the slopes of a hill known as Brown Clee, and I felt a tremendous affinity with the landscape.

I was still shooting a lot of film, then, and ended up with a set of images which I was pleased with, but which had no natural home in any of my other work. They stand alone, as "holiday snaps" so often do (unless, of course, holiday snaps are all the photographs you ever make). Recently I remembered them, and resolved to do something with them.

Scans of 120 negatives are enormous, even done on a flatbed: at 300 dpi, these images measure 26" x 21", roughly equivalent to a 50 megapixel camera. I have to say, for a long time I thought this was the way to go, i.e to use film in medium-format cameras, but to scan it and manipulate and print the result digitally. Laziness, a desire for instant results, and a calculation of how much the weekly "dev and contact" of several 120 films was costing me (between £750 and £1500 p.a.) meant I gave up on this, but I would still recommend it to anyone as an alternative route to quality. I used primarily a Fuji GS-645 and an old folding Agfa Isolette II. These Brown Clee pictures were all made with the Agfa.

Please excuse the deliberately "retro" look and feel... It matches the mood of that week and the location and the autumnal weather. All of the subtlety and separation in the darker tones is lost in these JPEGs, but -- on glossy Epson premium paper -- believe me, they look magnificent.


Frank Harkin said...


Two great photos. I love the atmosphere.

Martin H. said...

I agree with Frank. Very nicely done.

Mike C. said...

Frank -- your name is very familiar, were you at UEA in 76/77?


Frank Harkin said...

Mike, no. I have been across the Irish Sea many times to visit but not to work or go to Uni.


Paul C. said...

Nice pictures. How about making a book of your Brown Clee work?

Mike C. said...


It would never work -- the dark tones only separate out properly on prints, and the combination of monochrome and dark register does not play to Blurb's strengths.

Of course, tri- or quad-tone printing would nail it, but I don't think Mr. Nazraeli or Mr. Steidl read this blog...

However, if and when I finally fork out for a pigment printer I may start offering prints for sale.


Gavin McL said...

I do like these, though like Bron I'm not sure about the vignette, I thought at first you'd taken it from under a railway arch. Have you seen Brian Mays book about stereographic photography? It's strange how some photos in it look quite weak when viewed "straight" but gain something when viewed thro' a viewer I have an old viewer with a chipped lens and a few sterograms and a well shot stereogram does draw you in.
A question which links up with Mauro's comments on Koudelka's book on Italy. When do you stop being a snap shooter and become a "photographer"?

Mike C. said...

I tried to get hold of a copy of the Mays book (oddly, I can hear "Bohemian Rhapsody" coming from the front room as I write this -- my daughter is watching "Glee") but it was sold out very quickly.

When does one become a "photographer"? That's an odd question... When does one become a "painter" or a "poet"? I suppose the only honest answer is "When you can put that in your passport under 'Occupation'" ...


Gavin McL said...

Perhaps photographer was the wrong word. You've talked often about how important it is to you to spend time photographing somewhere and you feel you move beyond taking snapshots - what changes?

Mike C. said...


OK, I'd normally dodge this one, but here's an answer. If I go on too much, or get pompous, just ignore me!

It's just like writing. A lot of people want reassurance that they are "really" writers before they commit, but in the end "a writer is a person who writes". Whether someone is a good or a bad writer is a different matter.

So, "a photographer is a person who photographs" -- that is, someone who uses a camera every day or most days, simply because they have a hunger for what the world looks like when it has been photographed by them.

I have been a photographer of that sort since about 1985, though I've used a camera since I was about seven. It's only in the past few years, though, that anyone has paid any attention to what I do, although I had put on some solo exhibitions (which I arranged myself) and contributed to open submission exhibitions before that.

If my work is in some respects unusual, it has to be said that I'm a strange person, who's done some strange things in his life, has some unusual views and -- above all -- has an unusually high level of "reflexive self-criticism". Most creative people are "all of the above".

That "reflexive self criticism" is the key. You have to have (or learn) that restless urge to improve, coupled with a truly ruthless eye for why your work is not as good as it could be.

Despite being quite busy at work, and having to do some heavy-duty emotional and practical domestic support at the moment, I have sat up to 1 am or later several nights in the last week to edit the "Boundary Elements" book -- not because I had to (I doubt I'll sell more than three copies), but because I wanted to.

Sustaining that level of commitment over a decade or so is what, eventually, makes the difference. It's like writing those first three novels or 100 poems that never get published -- it's that notorious "10,000 hours"!


Bronislaus Janulis said...


Very good, your last comment. As my brother said to me; "the new millenium has not been good to our family" ... I have actually started serious art stuff more, lately, as the unremittingly bad news continues; as I think, a reaction to a steady stream of s__t. "Keep on trukin ..."

Gavin McL said...


I don't often get the chance to sit down and comment at the moment, so sorry for the delay in answering.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question - and it wasn't pompous.


What I was trying to ask was about why you feel differently about the photographs you take at Brown Clee compared to those that make up the series you took at Mottisfont Abbey for example (which I am fond of, though I have yet to push the blurb button). This may not make sense - No answer required

All the best