Seeing with New Eyes

My two visits to the town of Tavira at the eastern end of Portugal’s Algarve lie roughly equidistant around the mid-point of a photographic epiphany. In the shadows of 2010, the town’s colour and pattern caught my eye; my images were detailed but faithful recordings. Perhaps, looking back, the most significant aspect was that I started to use the square format that my new LX-5 afforded me. My histogram remained relatively flat but by mid 2012 activity levels had increased significantly as the water’s dynamic changed my photography, and in turn me.

Returning this February, I was uncertain how or even if I would be inspired to make images. I didn’t know if my current enquiries into subject and photographer movement would bear fruit in a built up environment. I was relaxed about this; abstention, failure even, did not concern me. (But not so much that I could bring myself to travel light and leave the dSLR at home. So it would be two takes, but with two different cameras.)

Last year, as part of a social media challenge, Deborah Hughes said a few kind words about me and asked me to write about a contemporary artist who had helped to illuminate my personal vision. I was away at the time, and never really caught up with the train now leaving.…. but I was also a little stumped. In the past it would have been easy to answer: as a teenager – Ansel Adams; later on – Joe Cornish and David Ward. But latterly the river has been my muse and my teacher, and other things have (and continue to) come from the hours spent watching its motion and the permission she gave me to experiment. For the first year of our relationship this was my focus; the water and the light on and within it my inspiration. I didn’t think that was the answer Deborah was looking for.

That continued but taking stock for what became Take Me to the River exposed, or perhaps reminded me, that this obsession was not mine alone, and my blinkers opened a little.

In researching interviewees for On Landscape, I look for the individual. I may admire their work, but have no wish to imitate - I have become comfortable in my own skin as a photographer. So when Deborah asked, I could think of someone whose work I admired but, as I had no desire to even attempt imitation…..? You’ll know her by reputation and possibly in person - despite her natural modesty she has rightly achieved prominence: Valda Bailey was an easy choice for my first OL interview. And it’s quite possible that even her print room floor sweepings look good.

I’ve recently had to answer another question about inspiration for an interview for the Peak District Artisan’s blog , so I chose Valda. I composed my answers before we went away, and perhaps in a way a little bit of it stuck in my subconscious. So as I looked out across the rooftops from my hotel in Tavira, the answer lay before me. Roofs, chimneys, windows; repeated, echoes. This theme, which had first caught my attention just over 5 years previously, and perhaps a little of Valda’s fairy dust helped my eyes find their solution. In layers. Em camadas. Time and history, old and new, form and pattern, colour and shape – all offered the possibility of a more dynamic and creative way of interpreting the built features which, however I looked at them, stubbornly refused to move.

Stubbornly Refused to Move

Sett on a Red Seat
I didn’t expect much of this, but once I started I found it strangely addictive. The small display on the LCD whispered seductively, but I doubted once I returned home to large view that anything worthy would come of it. That perhaps is the lure, the bait – the next one just might be a masterpiece! I say this firmly tongue in cheek. And accidental or not, who would really grumble?

So I have to credit Valda for the little spark that lit my imagination and gave me another way of seeing, and a lot of enjoyment trying. I don’t think my fellow walkers really understood – they saw me with the camera, but I don’t think explaining that I was making ‘layered images’ meant much to them. (And tripping the shutter as both they and I moved probably meant even less.)

I included things that in the past I would have done my best to exclude from the frame: road signs, litter bins and red seats. Portuguese setts and the splashes of a fountain gave me texture. Church towers, trees and lighting columns grew sideways. And in looking back at the images, especially those that mix the exuberance of plants with man’s rigid lines, it occurred to me that I had entered Valda’s garden, and played awhile.

Towards the right of my histogram, any highlights remain clipped, there’s further work to be done, but a new line of enquiry has opened up. I have a particular application in mind and time will tell if it bears fruit.

So Deborah, you belatedly have one answer; I’ll have to work on the remaining four. Don’t wait up for me.

If you'd like to see more of my images from Tavira, you'll find them here
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