ARCHIVE 580 – THE CHAPTER HOUSE STEPS (MONO)

 

 


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The Chapter House Steps in Wells Cathedral, Somerset; 7 Jan 2005.

I have to hold my hand up here and at once acknowledge that this photo has already been taken by hundreds of other photographers – just search for these steps on Google if you don’t believe me; an early (perhaps the first?) photo of these stairs was taken in 1900, by Frederick Henry Evans.

Near the top right of this photo, the steps can be seen turning right into the Chapter House. Straight ahead, through the illuminated doorway, is the bridge that allowed the clergy to come directly into the cathedral from their lodgings, rather than having to be exposed to worldly temptations by mixing with the townspeople.

See how the edges of the steps have been worn down by the tramp of countless feet over the centuries.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: tripod-mounted OM-4 with 21mm Zuiko lens; Agfa Scala monochrome slide film, rated at 400 ISO.

March 2015 update: three things come to mind.  First, I like this image but don’t really think its “my kind of picture”.  Yes, its a beautiful and historic place, the image has nice tones and there are the worn steps to emphasise just how old this place is.  But, that said, its still just a record of an architectural interior, and I’m not sure that shakes my tree.

Second, it was taken on a now discontinued film that I used to regard as being one of the greatest casualties of the Digital Revolution – it started life as an Agfa Scala black and white slide.  Nearly all of my photography in those days used colour slides (aka transparencies), which I used to give slideshows on a Leica projector – and it was so good to be able to include mono shots along with the far more ubiquitous colour.  And Scala was a rough and tough film – rated at 400 ISO, it could be push processed to 1600 or 3200 ISO – and I was in my dark and moody, monochrome element!

However, I used to regard this wonderful film as a great loss – but now find that scanned versions offer far less potential for digital manipulation than full colour, raw files.  Most digital cameras can of course capture black and white images straight off but, particularly if substantial post-capture editing is anticipated – as it is in all of my mono photography – then shooting in full colour raw and then converting to mono is the way to go.

And, lastly, today is a minor anniversary, because this picture was taken with an Olympus OM-4 film SLR that I bought second hand on this day 12 years ago, as a means of getting back into photography once more.  Olympus OM film cameras and lenses were absolutely something else – light, compact and with excellent mechanical and optical quality.  I shot film, mostly as slides (transparencies), which was a great discipline – but in 2009 very abruptly changed to digital – since when I have never shot another frame of film.  The advent of digital photography has certainly been the single most important event in my “photographic life”, because it provides such vast scope for creativity.

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ARCHIVE: LOOKING AT CARS 5 – SPORTS CAR IN WELLS

 

 


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Sports car in Wells, Somerset; 28 June 2009.

An abstract of red, silver and black. The plain red of the door shows the reflected image of the curb and pavement, and the silver door handle points towards another silver fitting near top center in the frame.

The slight gap between the door and the car’s body makes a strong feature dipping steeply left, which contrasts with the the dark and curving reflections of the running board’s structures in the door, which dip steeply right.

The Looking at Cars series: looking back through the nine years of the FATman Photos archives (and some new images too), I’m posting pictures of cars in various contexts and styles.  Earlier Looking at Cars posts are here: 1 (with context); 2 3 4 .

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.
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SOMERSET LEVELS AT 400 – TIME FOR A LITTLE LOOKING BACK …

 

400 POSTS

Well, my 400th post about the Somerset Levels.  This feels like something of a milestone.  Questions arise.  What are the Levels?  What are they to me?  And why do I continue to visit and photograph them?

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And rather than post a new image, here are some pictures from my earliest Somerset Levels posts, eight years or so ago – I hope you like them.  Click onto them to open larger versions in separate windows.  LOL! >>> and two of them concern food >>> well, this is FATman Photos ……

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1 – The view eastwards along the North Drain from the Jack’s Drove bridge on Tealham Moor; 17 Sept 2010.  Early morning mists are starting to be dissolved by the rising sun, just after 7am.  I walked on up Jack’s Drove to the low bridge, which is a favourite place of mine – and this scene was unfolding to the east.  Canon G11 Powershot; 140mm; Silver Efex Pro.

WHAT ARE THE SOMERSET LEVELS?

In summary: the Levels are fens and wet lowlands that cover around 650 sq. km. of the county of Somerset.  In the UK, they are second in extent only to the fens of East Anglia.  They have only relatively recently been reclaimed from the lakes and marshes that formerly covered the area, and they have a rich history going back to Neolithic, Roman and Anglo-Saxon times.

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There is a good general source of reference here .

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And the link to my first Levels post – on 21 May 2011 – is here .   It also has much background information.

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2 – The Chapter House Steps in Wells Cathedral, Somerset; 7 Jan 2005.   Near the top right of this photo, the steps can be seen turning right into the Chapter House.  Straight ahead, through the illuminated doorway, is the bridge that allowed the clergy to come directly into the cathedral from their lodgings, rather than having to be exposed to worldly temptations by mixing with the townspeople.  Olympus OM-4; 21mm; Agfa Scala monochrome slide film, rated at 400 ISO.

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THOUGHTS

I was brought up on the edge of the Levels and cycled on their welcoming flatnesses as a kid – and then left my native Somerset for a long time, much of which was spent abroad.  And it was 25 years ago, in 1994, after my return to England, that I started visiting the Levels regularly once more – mostly for birdwatching but, increasingly, for photography.  I’m something of a loner, and this trait is increasing as I approach my 70th year – my psychological friend thinks I’m happy with my own company and, for me, photography is something mostly done toute seule – wandering with a camera, not straining things or anything, but just looking at anything and everything.

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And the Levels, at least the parts that I visit – between the Mendip Hills to the north and the Polden Hills to the south –  are wonderful for this.  There are never that many people around and, quite often, there are only quite muted, natural sounds – running water, the wind, birds, cows.  The Levels have a great simplicity, they have nothing to prove; in an age increasingly dominated by the relentless onslaught of hype, image, buzzwords and the mass media, I see the Levels as a great antidote to all of this rush and increasing complexity, a great antidote to the pace of modern life.

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You might say that I’m getting back to Nature and I suppose I am, but it must be stressed that the Levels are not a natural landscape, they are an artificial, drained and farmed landscape. They certainly contain natural creatures – willows, skylarks, roe deer and (xxxxx!!!) horseflies to name a few, but that is not the same as being totally natural places – but then, in the Anthropocene (google it!), very few places remain actually “untouched”.

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3 – Meadow at Allermoor Farm, on Aller Moor, south of Wedmore; 24 May 2009.  The meadow itself is a pale, yellow-green haze – a friend said that she could almost smell the air scented by the thousands of blossoms.  The sunlit branches of the tree, just starting to come into leaf, seem to be reaching out over all of this late spring colour.  Nikon D700; 300mm; 400 ISO.

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4 – A busy morning in the kitchen at Sweets Tea Rooms, on the Blakeway between Bleak Farm and Turnpike House, on Westhay Moor; 25 July 2009.   Note the still warm rock cakes on the tray-  absolutely delicious!  There are three tearooms in this area and this is the one I know best – friendly owners, excellent, simple food and drink, toilets, parking – and an intriguing Peat & Science Museum in the adjoining building.  Nikon D700; 24mm; 1600 ISO.

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5 – Irate bull, Westhay Moor Drove, northwest of Lower Godney, in the Brue Valley; 28 Oct 2009.  This bull was in a field along Westhay Moor Drove and, as I walked along the drove towards it, I could see at once that he resented my presence.  As a first show of strength, he did what I’ve seen large animals like Eland and Buffalo do many times in Kenya – he turned sideways on to show me just how big he was.  He didn’t have any trouble impressing me.  His hind quarters were lean and strong, in the peak of physical condition and,  if he had his way, I knew that those powerful hind quarters would soon be driving his front end ferociously towards me – and his front end was an enormous, bludgeoning battering ram of bone and muscle, that would be guided on its course by two, very irate eyes.  However, feeling halfway secure – mainly because he and I were separated by a fence, a gate and a water-filled ditch (albeit the gate was only secured by a single rope), I continued along the drove and drew up level with him, whereupon he advanced right up to the gate, giving me the most malevolent of glares.  Not being able to resist the photo – and also being not a little out of my head – I knelt down in front of him and focused on his right eye to get this shot.  He kept pushing the gate but the rope held firm – and I’m still here to tell the story.  I like this picture.  His whole mien radiates malevolent bad temper, right on the edge of unstoppable violence.  His right eye is sharp, as is all the wonderfully tangled hair on his face, and I have rarely seen a glare of such malevolence.  Nikon D700; 400mm; 800 ISO.

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6 – A Cottage Special served up in the Cottage Café, Burnham-On-Sea, Somerset; 29 Apr 2010. Though I’m prone to slightly high cholesterol, I’m a complete sucker for a full English breakfast, as long as its not too greasy. I don’t eat many of them but they are amongst my favourite meals, with the taste combination of bacon, eggs and grilled tomatoes often being more than I can possibly put into words. This particular breakfast was a slight disappointment because the beans had been poured over the fried bread, demolishing much of the latter’s superb taste and, especially, texture. But just look at the locally made sausages, the slightly blackened tomatoes …. the black pudding …two eggs …. the lean rashers ….…. DO I EAT IT OR GET DOWN AND MAKE LOVE TO IT!!!???  The Cottage Café’s breakfasts are in general superb, possibly due to all of the ingredients being fried together in same large frying pan, which makes everything extremely flavoursome. Since we first started going there over a year ago, this eatery has moved up market – so what used to be the Belly Buster has now re-invented itself as the Cottage Special!  And, quite apart from all that gastronomic gush, I like this as a picture.  Canon PowerShot G11; 400 ISO.

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7 – Pollarded Willow in the mist, Tadham-Tealham Moor; 8 Aug 2003.  Originally in colour, I’ve reduced this image to low contrast and misty monochrome, so that it more resembles a pencil drawing than a photograph.  Olympus OM-4; Fuji Velvia 50 colour slide; Silver Efex Pro.
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ARCHIVE 420 – PARKED CAR 5

 

 


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Sports car, Wells, Somerset; 1 May 2005.

Ninety degree anticlockwise rotation moves the wheel to the bottom right of the shot, with the door handle, bodywork and shadow now forming strong features dipping steeply left.

The wonderful yellow of the car’s body produces strong contrast between the silver and black wheel and the other picture elements.

There are earlier images in this Parked Car series here: 1 2 3 4 .

Technique: F6 with 80-200 Nikkor lens.  Fuji Provia 400 colour slide film push processed to 800 ISO.

UPDATE 2015: there was a time when I photographed quite a few of these automotive abstracts – this one was done 10 years ago –  but they’ve gone somewhat off my radar these days.  But I still like this image, I still see it as I did then, as an artificial object with deep inherent beauty – and I wonder if, were I to be processing this shot now, whether I’d be tempted to try and “clean” the small amounts of dirt off the bodywork at upper right.

UPDATE 2019: one from an arty(!) period way back: push processed colour slide film – Fuji Provia 400, my go-to film, a really good all rounder, wonderful quality at 400 ISO, but pushable to 3200 and even 6400 ISO  –  and paired with the last of Nikon’s professional film SLRs, the F6.

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ARCHIVE 318 – CATHEDRAL (MONO)

 

 


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The West Front of Wells Cathedral, Somerset; 17 Sept 2009.

I’m at home in Somerset – I’m Somerset born and bred – and one of the good things about now living in Bristol is that its within quite easy reach of Wells, Glastonbury and Bath, all places that I’m very fond of.

I like Wells in particular for its antiquity and its small and very accessible size, for its absolutely glorious cathedral – and of course for its vicinity to the Somerset Levels – for me it is the gateway to the Levels.  I often visit Wells, and am never less than thrilled by the cathedral’s West Front, as seen from the large green out in front of it.   This towering, cliff-like face of the cathedral was originally painted in bright colours, to further impress the populace with their god’s majesty and beauty – a TV reconstruction of it as it originally was, hundreds of years ago, was simply stupefying.

One day I was standing down at the foot of this stupendous cliff of masonry, holding the F6 with the 12-24 attached and set at 12mm – and I clearly remember putting the camera to my eye and looking up – and being sent reeling by the epic vision above me!  This is the picture you see here.  There are absolutely no thoughts about correcting the converging verticals  – they make the shot, giving the effect of this powerful, stupendous, towering  mass of masonry reaching up into the heavens.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: F6 with Sigma 12-24 lens at 12mm (122 degrees field of view); Ilford Delta 3200 black and white film rated at 6400 ISO.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 229 – IN THE PARK BESIDE THE PALACE

 

 

In the park beside the palace
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While acknowledging  that sharpness and detail have a place in many, many images, I am also certain that blur and lack of focus can be equally important.

Lynn Wohlers at bluebrightly recently posted some great unfocused images from her local woods, and very kindly cited images of mine as her inspiration.  In my reply, I mentioned a blurred image that I’d recently taken but had not yet posted – and Lynn’s post has got me moving to post it.  Here it is – a tree in a public park beside the Bishop’s Palace in Wells, Somerset.

And while I’m putting out a Somerset Levels post, I must mention the famous Glastonbury Festival, the UK’s premier music festival, which is blasting away in full swing right now down near Wells, and ending this evening.  What a vast and truly wonderful event, just knowing that its going on really does me good! >>> and my favourites this year, by a long way, have to be Florence And The Machine – wow! what music, and that lady can really move and sing!

6 June 2015; D800 with 70-300 Nikkor at 300mm; 500 ISO; Color Efex Pro 4.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 228 – SEATS OF THE FAITHFUL (MONO)

 

 

Seats of the faithful
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Seats for the congregation, Wells Cathedral; 6 June 2015.

Here I’m doing something I almost never do, which is using a 50mm prime lens.  Because it is (more or less) equivalent to the viewing angle of the human eye (on full frame cameras), it used to be known as a standard lens and was sold as such on all new 35mm camera bodies.  But the ways in which I “see” the world, that is the ways in which I make images from what I see around me, really shy away from this focal length. 

At the wide angle end of things on full frame, I’m happier with 21mm or less, even 24mm doesn’t seem quite low enough – and I can remember the days when 24mm was considered quite radical and hard to handle – how times have changed!  Telephotowise, I’m anywhere above 100mm – but especially at 300mm which, with 6x magnification, really seems to be how I view most things with image potential.  And 105mm must also get a mention – its wonderful for portraits.

Click onto the image to see a larger version in a separate window.

D800 with 50mm Nikkor; 1600 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Dramatic preset.
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PEOPLE 208 – RALPH OF SHREWSBURY (MONO)

 

 

Ralph of Shrewsbury
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Ralph of Shrewsbury (1329-1363), reclining on his tomb in Wells Cathedral, Somerset; 6 June 2015.

Looking at this photograph again this morning, just before posting it, I suppose it might initially appear frightening, with the viewer recognising some of the elements of a human face while being shocked by the apparent mutilations inflicted upon it.  I don’t usually photograph statues or other artworks (and I include graffiti as artworks) because they are the creations of others and I see little value in replicating others’ creativity.  I suppose I feel that such things speak for themselves.  But I visited Wells Cathedral specifically for this purpose the other day and, well, I’ll just see where things go from here.

This effigy was carved in the soft mineral alabaster, a form of gypsum, which has left it open to abuse (or should that be “use”?) by writers of graffiti over hundreds of years.  There are names and dates from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but the defacing is thought to have started in the sixteenth century, when this tomb was moved from a protected location in the cathedral to its present easily accessible site – see details here.

This was an eminent man, a Chancellor of the University of Oxford, and then Bishop of Bath and Wells, with his headquarters here in this cathedral.  But looking at this I am reminded of the words of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) on the futility of human endeavour:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

These words are part of a poem thought to reflect on the discovery of a great pharaoh’s shattered statue in the deserts of Egypt.  Ozymandias, the king of all kings, is telling those kings that, great and all powerful though he is, all of his mighty works have amounted to nothing – and that their works will surely do the same.  Absolutely right!  The sole exception being of course FATman Photos, which will be around until at least last Thursday fortnight …

D800 with 50mm Nikkor used in DX format to provide 75mm; f1.4; 800 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the High Contrast Harsh preset.
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ARCHIVE 133 – THE CHAPTER HOUSE STEPS (MONO)

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The Chapter House steps.

The Chapter House Steps in Wells Cathedral, Somerset; 7 Jan 2005.

I have to hold my hand up here and at once acknowledge that this photo has already been taken by hundreds of other photographers – just search for these steps on Google if you don’t believe me; an early (perhaps the first?) photo of these stairs was taken in 1900, by Frederick Henry Evans.

Near the top right of this photo, the steps can be seen turning right into the Chapter House. Straight ahead, through the illuminated doorway, is the bridge that allowed the clergy to come directly into the cathedral from their lodgings, rather than having to be exposed to worldly temptations by mixing with the townspeople.

See how the edges of the steps have been worn down by the tramp of countless feet over the centuries.

Tripod-mounted OM-4 with 21mm Zuiko; Agfa Scala monochrome slide, rated at 400 ISO.

March 2015 update: three things come to mind.  First, I like this image but don’t really think its “my kind of picture”.  Yes, its a beautiful and historic place, the image has nice tones and there are the worn steps to emphasise just how old this place is.  But, that said, its still just a record of an architectural interior, and I’m not sure that shakes my tree.

Second, it was taken on a now discontinued film that I used to regard as being one of the greatest casualties of the Digital Revolution – it started life as an Agfa Scala black and white slide.  Nearly all of my photography in those days used colour slides (aka transparencies), which I used to give slideshows on a Leica projector – and it was so good to be able to include mono shots along with the far more ubiquitous colour.  And Scala was a rough and tough film – rated at 400 ISO, it could be push processed to 1600 or 3200 ISO – and I was in my dark and moody, monochrome element!

However, I used to regard this wonderful film as a great loss – but now find that scanned versions offer far less potential for digital manipulation than full colour, raw files.  Most digital cameras can of course capture black and white images straight off but, particularly if substantial post-capture editing is anticipated – as it is in all of my mono photography – then shooting in full colour raw and then converting to mono is the way to go.

And, lastly, today is a minor anniversary, because this picture was taken with an Olympus OM-4 film SLR that I bought second hand on this day 12 years ago, as a means of getting back into photography once more.  Olympus OM film cameras and lenses were absolutely something else – light, compact and with excellent mechanical and optical quality.  I shot film, mostly as slides (transparencies), which was a great discipline – but in 2009 very abruptly changed to digital – since when I have never shot another frame of film.  The advent of digital photography has certainly been the single most important event in my “photographic life”, because it provides such vast scope for creativity.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 146 – GUNNERA … AS FAR AS I KNOW, ANYWAY … (MONO + COLOUR)

 

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Gunnera, a large and prickly plant – looking rather like rhubarb I suppose – beside the moat around the Bishop’s Palace, in Wells; 18 Apr 2014.

I’m going out on a limb here (no pun intended!) as my knowledge of plants is very far from substantial and, having called this Gunnera,  there is the very real chance that one of You Botanicals Out There will know better.  So, putting out the post … and going into a foetal crouch … now …

Wells is a beautiful little place with a long, long history.  Named after the vast amounts of fresh water that pour out from underground there, it has probably been inhabited in some form or other since prehistoric times, and they may be evidence of its use as a religious site since Roman times.  I have no great love for ecclesiastical architecture, but the West Front of the cathedral, viewed from the large green out in front of it, has to be one of the West Country’s most striking sights, certainly, for me, right up there with Stonehenge and Avebury.  It is a simply stupendous cliff of masonry, and you can see it in one of my earlier posts, here.

So, strolling around the moat that surrounds the Bishop’s Palace, a favourite walk of our’s, keeping an eye out for the kingfisher (and rats!) that we sometimes see here, and passing this great plant, snug and secure behind a fence, in its waterside location.

D700 with 70-300 Nikkor at 300mm; 400 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Low Key 1 preset and restoring some colour.
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