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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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 🙂

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:

The bells, the bells …

There has been a church on the site of Hexham Abbey for more than 1,300 years, since Queen Etheldreda made a grant of lands to Wilfrid, Bishop of York c.674. Beneath the floor of the nave, the crypt of Wilfrid’s Saxon church is still intact.  A steep stair leads down into a dimly lit chamber where inscriptions show that many of the stones used to build the crypt came from the old Roman fort at Corbridge, 3 miles to the east.

Look up, rather than down, and there is a series of galleried walkways around the south and east transepts. Those on the south are accessed by a small wooden door to the right of the broad gallery at the top of the night stairs, a flight of 35 stone steps rising from the south transept.  Through the door, a very narrow steep spiral staircase leads to the first gallery – heading along the gallery another set of spiral steps leads to the ringing chamber.  Above that, yet more narrow steps lead to the bell chamber.  This is the domain of the Hexham Abbey Guild of Bell Ringers.

The Ringing Chamber, Hexham Abbey

John the bellringer explaining the mechanics of the Hexham bells.

The T Lester 1742 D# Bell mid-ring – the oldest of the ten bells.

The view from the southern gallery

The lack of head height and the narrow stairs confirms what we all know – that we are significantly bigger than our ancestors, some more than others.  And, this provides the perfect excuse to include my favourite clip from In Bruges 🙂 :

You don’t need a weatherman …

climate (n.)
late 14c., “horizontal zone of the earth,” Scottish, from Old French climat “region, part of the earth,” from Latin clima (genitive climatis) “region; slope of the Earth,” from Greek klima “region, zone,” literally “an inclination, slope,” thus “slope of the Earth from equator to pole,” from root of klinein “to slope, to lean,” from PIE root *klei- “to lean” (see lean (v.)).

Whatever the climate might or might not be doing, in these parts, it has certainly been changeable.  From bright, cold March sun through heavy snow, to biblical rain and out the other side to hints of summer, we have had it all these last seven days:

… bitter March landscape

… high water

… lonesome highway

… winter returns

… beneath Hexham Bridge

… bring me sunshine

Here comes the sun …

Sunrises and sunsets are a photographic cliché but this doesn’t stop me rushing for the camera every time I see one.  If they occurred with the infrequency of the northern lights it would stop us in our tracks.

We are fortunately placed, with a near uninterrupted view of the sun rising across the high ground above the Tyne Valley.  These images were taken a short time apart – above the valley the mist has burned off to a gin clear day while down in Hexham, there is fog on the Tyne.  If you look closely to the right of the video, you can see the fog bank shifting along the valley – these time-lapse videos have a certain sameness but I admit to compulsive habits and this is just one of them:

... across the field at Beaufront Woodhead

Fog on the Tyne ... Fog on the Green ...