Torrents in Topsham
I belong to a lovely local U3A photography group. Each month we each contribute three images on a theme. Over the past few years, I have found it has been really helpful in developing my technical knowledge about photography, having to create an image to a brief and thinking about the audience, what they would appreciate. But just as important is being able to share the joys and challenges of photography, the stories and memories evoked by our images, in a safe and non-judgmental space.
And this week we had the chance to meet up for a photo-walk in a local town. After the weeks of drought of course it was raining when I arrived. Not just a little dampening but torrents of thundery rain coming from huge dark clouds. A few of the group had naturally dived into a coffee shop, others sheltered under a canopy.
And me? I sat in the car. And thought, what am I doing here?
At the first glimpse of the sun I emerged and walked to the riverbank. Oh, the tide was out, a lot boats stranded in browny-grey mud. Not the colourful reflections I had hoped to capture. The light was constantly changing as the clouds raced across the sun, and the wind buffeted my long lens. Again, what am I doing here?
I took a few record shots and then stopped, put on the lens cap and just walked. The air was fresh, blowing up the river from Exmouth. The light was now dancing on the ripples of the incoming tide. I watched the birds feeding on the waterline, conscious of the latest warnings of avian flu in the area, and acknowledging how fragile the ecosystem is. So hard to shake off the climate gloom and the rising anger of humanity's failure to act.
I find it so difficult to be creative when in such a negative frame of mind. I know that some photographers can use the climate crisis as a stimulus to create great work, turning the anger into calls for action through their images: there are some amazing images on this site https://expertphotography.com/environmental-photographers/
But here I am in Topsham. In the rain. Looking at the mud. No inspiration.
How tempting was that coffee shop! As I walked I recalled an email I had quickly read in the dentist's waiting room earlier that morning from the photographer Lee Aspland on his work Mindful Photography for Troubled Times. Take a look https://leeaspland.com/
I stopped by the marshes and looked out to the sea. And Lee would have asked "Why?"
What did I notice? What was I feeling? Stay in the moment. Let the emotions surface, acknowledge them. I was feeling grey, lost, alone, buffeted, weary.
And then Lee would have said take out the camera and capture what has caught my attention in that emotional state. And this was the result, one of a series as I captured of the grasses blowing in the wind with the light in the background sparkling on the river. And despite the weather and the despair. I found some joy in those moments of focus.
After a welcome break in the pub with the rest of the group, my spirits lifted by the conversation and the company, I decided to stay for a while and see what other possibilities emerged. By now there was more sun and the tide was higher, so more water to catch the light. And the light was lush and I played around with different shutter speeds and filters to get the effect I was after:
Clouds ready to burst with rain, the rising tideline with the feeding birds, that mix of brown and grey.
And when the shower finished the quality of the light as the sun emerged from the clouds gave a Turneresque feel to the scene in front of me.
Using a longer lens and an ND filter gave me the scope for longer shutter speeds. Absorbed in playing with different movements I found my mood lightening as I followed the sparkles dancing on the water.
This set of images is nothing like the fantasy of colourful boats reflecting in beautiful still blue waters that I had envisioned when the photowalk was suggested. But nonetheless they do capture the essence of the place that I experienced. I have learnt that it is unwise to walk away from a seemingly unpromising scene. Give it time, follow your intuition and respond to your impulse, and, as ever, chase the light! Oh, and spend time with friends.