Sunday, 2 February 2014

Valley of Fire

As I'm sure you know, proper photographers resist photographing sunsets, on pain of expulsion from the Proper Photographers League.  I set out my views on the subject very early on in this blog (Sunsets at Dawn) and have not changed my mind since.  Of course, I can enjoy a good sunset in the same way as I enjoy, say, a good meal.  However, unlike many, I don't feel a compulsion to record either of them with a camera.*

What I can't resist is magic.  And light, as all proper photographers know, is what magic is all about.

For a few years at Easter we rented a particularly congenial farmhouse near Llandegly in mid-Wales, halfway up a hill and down a long, private lane.  It had recently been restored, and so well-appointed it had more mod cons than we have at home, with a yard and a large barn with a table-tennis table. Why, if you leaned backwards out of an upstairs window, you could even get a mobile phone signal.

At Llwynburvach, April 2009

The barn had a slightly surreal double aspect, in that on one side a large door opened onto the farmhouse yard but, on the opposite side, another door opened directly onto a grassy field full of grazing sheep.  If your ping-pong ball bobbled out through the gap under the field-side door, you had to open it, step out into the field, and retrieve the ball from between the legs of an astonished sheep. It was like moving between parallel universes.

The magic was what happened at sunset.  Yes, in the west, the sun went down with the usual hill-country bravura display of reds, yellows and peculiar greeny-blues, dramatic clouds, scrolling credits, et cetera, et cetera.  Very pretty.  But in the east, facing away from the showy pyrotechnics, an adjacent valley would fill with mist, and then appear to ignite, bathed in a fiery glow, quite unlike anything I've seen anywhere else.  From the same bedroom window that gave the mobile signal, I photographed this spectacle many times.

For whatever reason, I'd always passed over those frames before.  Sunset aversion, probably.  But, perhaps because that farmhouse has now gone back into residential use and we will not get to rent it again, they caught my eye this time when scanning over the backfiles, and I found one that I particularly liked, with grazing sheep seen though a screen of ashes and oaks, oblivious to the apocalypse blazing in the background.

* When we ate out in Brighton the other weekend,  I was amused to watch an adjacent table of prosperous-looking types, all assiduously and utterly unselfconsciously photographing every course of their meal with their iPhones.  Actually, their corner of an especially dimly-lit restaurant was so dark that they were also using a glowing iPhone screen as a torch with which to read the menu. 


Unknown said...

The first rule of the Non-Proper Photographers League: there are no rules.

As a committed member of the Non-Proper Photographers League I've taken lots of sunset pictures and I've often found the best sunset picture is 180° from where you'd think it would be; that is facing east. In fact I've found it's a good habit to always turn around and look behind, not just at sunset time. Of course this makes observers think you are a little crazy, but then you are.

Mike C. said...

No, no, the first rule of the Non-Proper Photographers League is that you do not talk about the Non-Proper Photographers League!

(Or was that the Dead Poets Society?)