Northumberland in mono …

… by now these images should show hints of springtime colour but Northumberland, for the most part, remains determinedly black and white.  To quote Joan Didion, we live entirely by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.  Put simply, March, and now the beginnings of April, do not fit my narrative line.  I have put 498 miles on the Yamaha since January 1st and squeezed five rounds of golf between the snow showers. Every mile and every fairway I have been clobbered up to the nines with multiple layers and thermals.  Enough is enough – let’s skip spring and go straight to summer:

Sandhoe in the snow

Snow and frozen puddle – on the road to Fawcett Hill

Afternoon light, Beaufront Woodhead

Up the hill to Beaufront Woodhead

Under March skies

The wrong line

St John’s, Whitfield

Misty morning, Beaufront Woodhead

Misty morning, Beaufront Woodhead

Hexham in heavy rain

Stublick Chimney

Towards Branchend

To emphasise the point, these last two images were taken today, 1st April. I was on the way to Allendale Golf Club to take part in the first competition of the year – it soon became evident this was not a practical proposition. I turned around 😦

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Winter-misted Hills

Beyond our neighbours’ frosted washing lines,
Their silvered slates and chimney-pots,
Our borderland begins …
Make what you can of it, for no one knows
What story’s told by winter-misted hills.

Douglas Dunn – Northlight 1988

Fawcett Hill

Looking west from Fawcett Hill

Towards Beaufront Woodhead from Fawcett Hill

No way through to Beaufront Hill Head

Cabin crazy

This is the sort of thing that I find interesting, particularly when I have been cooped up for too long.  Anyone who uses a Fuji X camera appreciates the remarkable jpegs it is capable of producing straight out of the box.  However, as a ‘serious’ photographer, I feel obliged to shoot in RAW to provide maximum scope for adjustment – change to exposure, recovery of highlights, adjusting shadows etc etc, the possibilities are endless.  Consequently, I spend happy hours post-processing an image to the point where sometimes it is almost as good as the film simulated jpeg produced by the camera.

There are other options – Photoshop Camera RAW camera calibration contains all of the film simulation profiles which, at the click of a mouse, supposedly provide immediate conversion to the preferred profile – except that, even to this amateur eye, they don’t look as good as those produced in camera.

Enter Fujifilm’s X RAW Studio – I don’t know if this approach is unique to Fuji but it seems a very neat solution. This isn’t just another RAW processor, instead it enables access to the image processor inside the camera.  Consequently, what you get is exactly what Fuji intended; not only that, it is non-destructive so you can generate as many film simulated versions as you like, all from the same original RAW file i.e. if you are shooting RAW + a simulated JPEG, you are not constrained to one version of the JPEG.  There are detailed explanations of the set up and conversion process on Youtube – this is a good one.

If my ramblings are clear as mud, perhaps this will make more sense – this is the same image – shot in RAW and Acros + Red filter JPEG and these are four versions of the same image with four different Fuji film simulations:

  • Top left is Vivid/Velvia with strong grain;
  • Top right is Acros+Yellow filter with strong grain;
  • Bottom left is Sepia with no grain;
  • Bottom right is Classic Chrome with no grain.

Not only are these none destructive edits to the original RAW file, the subsequent JPEG edits are also preserved in *.FP1 files so they can be reloaded and amended further.  All of this done with the convenience of a large monitor, rather than peering into the camera’s LCD.

How often I will use X Raw Studio I am unsure, given that I am already post-processing with Photoshop CC, ON1 2018 RAW and occasionally ON1 B&W (this remains a very effective mono engine even though replaced many releases ago).  Nevertheless, it is good to know the option exists.

Anyway enough of that.  The reason I am going cabin crazy is down to the endless hours in front of this screen.  The Siberian snow has now been replaced by a dull wet slushy thaw and I can find no enthusiasm to go outside – unlike the previous few days.  This has been the weather in and around Hexham:

Our under-used postbox – we haven’t seen a post person in days.

Egger from Oakwood – on a smartphone – too weighed down with shopping, even for the diminutive X100F.

The view from Hexham Bridge using a smartphone – as above.

The road down to Hexham

A flock of sheep ane behind, a Flock of Seagulls

Dead Man’s Fair

Winter has returned with a vengeance.  Ever since Michael Fish and the great storm of 1987, the Met Office and the BBC et al have taken to issuing a variety of coloured weather warnings and individually naming every balmy breeze that blows in from the Atlantic. Much like out-of-date motorway hazard displays, the effect on the population is that we believe less and less and are totally unprepared when something genuine turns up.  The Boy Who Cried Wolf should be compulsory reading.

On this occasion I am not complaining, I love the snow.  Over the winter I have been scheming how to get back to the Lofoten Islands but, as it turns out, the Lofoten weather has come to Hexham.  Some of this ever-present desire to head for Scandinavia has been enhanced by my reading of Peter Davidson’s, The Idea of North.  This learned, encyclopaedic work is full of gems.  Housman’s A Shropshire Lad is deservedly renowned but I had never come across this extract from his Last Poems.  Some poetry has the power to get under the skin:

In midnights of November,
When Dead Man’s Fair is nigh,
And danger in the valley,
And anger in the sky,

Around the huddling homesteads
The leafless timber roars,
And the dead call the dying
And finger at the doors.

To quote Davidson, Dead Man’s Fair is the crucial phrase and its original meaning is specific – the last fair of the year at Church Stretton was held when winter weather made the homeward journey dangerous.  But the phrase moves out from its local English meaning to the idea of the first days of November as the point where the divisions (or defences) between the living and the dead are at there most abraded – All Soul’s Day, le jour des morts.  It acquires both the meaning of the annual time of the dead but also an extraordinary momentary implication of a fair attended only by the dead.  This implication is as disquieting as the heterodox medieval idea of the compagnie des morts, the lonely company of the dead passing in the dark on the winter roads:

Lonely roads behind the castle

Looking north east

Looking east across the field

From the road to Fawcett Hill

These images were taken yesterday, since then the weather across Northumberland has deteriorated – the first is the usual time-lapse across the field and the second is various views from indoors – the best place to be 🙂

Hummed Low …

The green truck hummed low
Oh, we took only back roads
We drove miles of country
We saw an old barn burning
Skies were a light blue
All the billboards read untrue
I read them, each one
We passed by the thousands
Was a full sun and I knew
That up rose a bright moon
Casting shadows like dancing sparrows

It is my Blip birthday today 🙂 – 1460 entries and four years on Blip.  In some respects it has got in the way of blogging on WordPress, the constant daily quest for a new image.  The upside is the incentive to use a camera everyday while the quality of images across the site provide a constant source of inspiration.  In some respects it has enhanced my enthusiasm for photography while feeding my sometimes obsessive-compulsive tendencies.  In celebration, these are a few images taken recently – at this time of year and in this weather, I probably would not have bothered but for Blip:

On Windermere, from Waterhead

The view from Stock Ghyll Lane, Ambleside

More from Stock Ghyll Lane – inspired by John Martin 😉

The longhorn dreaming of sunlit prairies.

Fawcett Hill on a snowy day

A bend in the North Tyne between Barrasford and Chollerton.

The loneliness of the long distance golfer – Tyne Green, Hexham

The light has gone

A blizzard blowing in

Sunrise

In the winter, the sun rises over a row of larch trees, the same ones that shed their needles in autumn and turn the lanes orange.  Their shadows stretch across the full length of our adjacent field until the rising sun clears their tops. By late November and early December the sun’s appearance coincides with mine so I am more likely to capture its arrival.  From down here, the sun doesn’t seem to change but the skies it lights up are different everyday.  These were taken a few days apart:

It don’t snow here …

it stays pretty green.  Except this year it has and it doesn’t.  These last few days, winter arrived early in Northumberland and elsewhere across the UK.  It never used to snow much in Cheshire either, except in the long winter of 1963 ‘when it felt like the world would freeze, with John F. Kennedy and the Beatles’.  I remember rare nights in the 1950s, staring out at the dim glow of gas street lamps as they lit up huge flakes falling out of the dark night. The rarity made it even more special.  Nothing changes the world quite so dramatically.

If we get no more snow this winter then we will still have had more than the last couple of years which have been monotonously grey and wet.  The British like nothing more than to discuss the weather, perhaps because we get so much of it.  Even the trees shiver …

Snow gets me out, or at least it gets me out with a modicum more enthusiasm than when it is simply cold and wet. We have lived nearby these country lanes for more than twenty years so I have taken countless images of the same things and many have appeared on this blog. The challenge comes from seeing things differently – modern RAW processors provide endless possibilities for variation.  These were all taken on the same short walk to Sandhoe postbox – Saturday 2nd December 2017:

… the north side of Beaufront Castle.

… the north side of Beaufront Castle

… the dead of winter

… Sandhoe postbox

Oh the bitter winds are coming in
And I’m already missing the summer
Stockholm’s cold but I’ve been told
I was born to endure this kind of weather