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evoking the river spirit

I'm about to share a new series of images that has taken a while to see light of day but, as we all know, the past couple of years have been bumpy to say the least. The work feels very personal for a number of reasons, perhaps compounded by the fact that until such time as I dig back into the hard drive, it will be the last series to come from my 10 year relationship with a small corner of the River Dove in the Peak District.

Some images are indelibly stamped in our memories with time and place, and circumstance.

Little was normal in November 2020, but I was determined to escape for an hour or two. The UK was in its second lockdown, but it was my birthday and a short walk from home with my camera didn’t seem too much to ask for. There wasn’t much else I could do. It was damp and misty, and I went with my macro lens in search of a little mental escapism. Mist, missed, fenced in, locked down… word play gave me a narrative to the morning.

There’s a tree by the river, an alder, with a near horizontal main branch. I’ve often looked at the polypody ferns that have made it their home and thought that there is an image there; somewhere.

This time round there are small webs woven, dotted with dew and glistening in the river light, and these draw me in. At f/2.8 everything else is thrown out of focus.

I like the way that it softens the hard edges that the world has grown.

From camera, the files are very green and I prefer a cream toned version. In some there is no web apparent, no trap laid, but the shapes formed by leaves and stems appeal. and even without movement, there is some sense of nature's energy. I could be lying on a forest floor instead of looking at a miniature world 2 metres up. Perhaps this is where the river spirits - the Ondine - live.

Ondines, or undines, appear in European folklore as fairy-like creatures. This water nymph becomes human when she falls in love with a man, but is doomed to die if he is unfaithful to her. Derived from the Greek figures known as Nereids, attendants of the sea god Poseidon, Ondine was first mentioned in the writings of the Swiss author Paracelsus, who put forth his theory that there are spirits called “undines” who inhabit the element of water.

Two of the images have found their way as limited edition prints on fine art paper to the Longitude Gallery in Clitheroe.

One of the two also featured in an enjoyable discussion I had with Valda Bailey about how we come to name our images as part of 'Eye to Eye' for U.S. based online literary magazine Monologging. I confess I've since used both of my titles for the two prints I've released!


I can also see the series making for a handmade book, printed on Japanese paper, or similar. I shall have to dust off my folder.

Just as I'm considering the which and the how of it, and beginning to sequence the images, I dip into my email box and decide to catch up with a couple. One of them is CUPOTY’s latest newsletter and I unexpectedly find a discussion there about the merits of the contact sheet which is, for me and at this time, on point. Generally I’m working with images from a number of visits, but here I have a sequence from a single outing, and it prompts me to put them back into time sequence, prepare my own contact sheet and consider how I worked the subject. There are a very few numerical gaps where I must have previously deleted obvious 'duds', but it’s really rather fascinating to return to the morning, and the place, and to see how things came to be. I’m going to consider what I can learn from it before I progress to printing what I currently think are my preferred images ready for sequencing. Thank you Tracy! Meanwhile, I wonder what my Ondine contact sheet tells you about how my mind works?

Ondine series contact sheet
Ondine series contact sheet

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