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A Joyful Photowalk in Wells

As a creative photographer I am constantly seeking out new inspiration to develop my photography. A recent encounter at an RPS (Royal Photographic Society) Visual Arts meeting led me to going on a photowalk in Wells, Somerset, with the excellent Rose Atkinson. Rose describes her own work as:

"Painterly images capturing subtle fleeting effects of light and atmosphere inspired by the early 20th century impressionists; to bold colours and modernist abstract expression, my work blurs the lines between photography and the artist's canvas" using "my camera freely and spontaneously much like an artist uses a paintbrush, to express what my senses feel in the moment of seeing".

Rose was awarded an Associateship in Visual Art photography by the Royal Photographic Society in 2022 with her series entitled "Essence of Wells", in which she used ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) very subtly. Rose's ICM technique retains some detail of the fine architecture and the people visiting, yet invokes the timelessness of this historic place of worship.

Rose's approach both appealed to and intrigued me, as did the location: Wells. I had not been there before, so it fitted with my desire to try out new places. Wells is the smallest free-standing city in the UK and has a beautiful Gothic cathedral, built between 1175 and 1490.

Rose proved to be an excellent photowalk guide, full of useful advice that built upon my existing understanding of ICM and pushed me out of my semi-auto comfort zone! We started with a walk along the moat of the Bishop's Palace,

The reflections on the water caught my eye, and with Rose's advice in my ears, I played around with shutter speeds, exposure and movements. I also tried out a new technique - dragging the sky down into the picture to get a foggy effect:

I was encouraged to try out some people-photography, incorporating my walking pace and some slight camera movement to get a very fluid effect. I began to see why Rose describes her work as blurring the lines between photography and the artist's canvas.

We then moved on into the cathedral - which is breathtaking. The magnificent stained-glass, including the original 14th century Jesse window; the Scissor Arches that support the 125ft tower; and the famous Wells clock, made in 1390, which is the second oldest clock mechanism in Britain in its original condition and in use; the heaviest cathedral bells in the world; the 300 hundred sculptures on the west front........ so many treasures to admire that combine to attract thousands of visitors each year.

The first impression for me as I stepped into the nave was the combination of space and light created by the tall columns and arches and the luminous colour of the yellow Doulting stone. I reflected on the impact this building must have had on those medieval worshipers, the wonder and awe it would have ignited.

In trying to capture all of these impressions, I followed Rose's advice to look for the light and use just small movements:

I soon realised it would be tricky to get photos without any people in them, so I found ways to incorporate them, appreciating that their presence added to the sense of the scale of the place:

The trickiest element was coping with the shafts of light coming in through the windows and the lights on the wall, which lead to distracting streaks of white and a lot of frustration!

We moved on and played around with in-camera multiple exposures, something that I have just started to explore., which again lead to many disappointing images. But I reassured myself, that was the purpose of going on this photowalk - to try new approaches and to benefit from the advice of a more experienced photographer. There is always an implementation dip to overcome when you try something new, and it is important not just to go back into what is familiar and has worked for you in the past.

All too often, we go somewhere new and feel under pressure to get as many amazing photos as possible, not knowing when or if we would get another chance. One thing that helped me during this photowalk was knowing that as I was staying in Wells overnight (a birthday treat!) I would be able to revisit the cathedral again the next morning.

And it was so worthwhile. The light was different, coming in at a different angle, and so I focussed more on the stained glass windows. Initially I found it tricky to get the right exposure, but with a bit of trial and error, I started to catch the colour, the shapes and the incoming light, as in this image:

I experimented with other movements, and started to think about sets of images:

And consciously looked for other places where the light was falling, here on an installation of ribbons:

I was absorbed in this experimentation, genuinely excited and inspired by trying out new approaches in a venue new to me. I remembered the disappointing multiple exposures from the day before and had another go:

There are some positives to these images in that they do capture different aspects of the place within one image, and each one is a unique insight, but my technique needs a lot more work!

And. finally, this one makes the blog. Despite saying earlier that I was trying to avoid the white streaks of light, sometimes the element you are trying to avoid actually becomes the central feature. I like the sharp, abstract lines of light, with a trace of the stained glass colours, set against the soft curved lines of the aches behind.

Thank you Rose for your encouragement and generosity in sharing your expertise. I can heartily recommend The Art of Blur photowalks in Wells!!

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