Tag Archives: slow

The Walk to Work

28 Dec

Walking is better than cycling if you want to see the world and think.  The pace of walking fits with the speed of thought.  It takes me about 50 minutes to walk around the River Severn, through Longden Coleham, and along cycle paths (an old railway line) and finally across fields.  I love to do this in all seasons, and particularly during the dark mornings and evenings in November and December when there is a quiet atmosphere of anticipation of the coming festive season.

Things catch my eye and it is rare that I get to work with the result that I have had a good, methodical think through a particular problem or subject.  But it is great for letting the mind float free, alighting on objects, each sight distrupts the thought pattern but might just send my ideas in a new, revelatory direction.

During the early Summer, I planned to take photos of things that caught my eye and I began to ponder on how we see the world – our state of being.  Perception, conception, meaning and reality.  How do we interpret what we see, and what is reality.  Before I know it we could be into the depths of Wittgenstein.  There are numerous texts on the subject by artists and philosophers and scientists, so I am not saying anything wildly original here, but think about it.  What do you see? 

Our experience is not really like a continual film, but a series of snapshots, sometimes blurred.  We look, process, look, process, think, focus, think, look, process, refocus, think, look, process, look again, process, think… perception and conception.

I realised that the series of photos I took one day would almost certainly be different to the next and the next.  Snapshots would be influenced by mood, weather, thoughts, noises, smells, time of day, other people, wildlife, movement, recent and past memories and much more.  Our interpretation of a particular view is determined by our memory of past experience, and is largely an abstract construct before we actually consider what our eyes are taking in at that specific moment.  So even if by some miracle another person walked the route and took photos of exactly the same things, it couldn’t be for exactly the same reasons, and interpreted the same way.  And that’s before we even begin to consider the photographic image selection, framing, the capture itself taking account of light conditions, camera settings etc and the post-editing processes.  No two people could possibly see the same route however short, in the same way.

This calls for an experiment sometime – to get two, or preferably several more, people to walk a route, take photos, perhaps within 5 minutes of each other, then on different days, at different times, over a long period.  Then compare.

The decision to take a photo is influenced by so many factors, depending on the objective.  Sometimes it is such a fine line between stopping, considering, framing, releasing the shutter and continuing, or just saving the effort and leaving the image in mind only.  With digital cameras there is almost no effort, no waste, so the line is even finer.

So where am I going with this?  We cannot relate to the same thing in the same way, our individual life experiences are isolated and interconnected at the same time.  We’re heading into the fundamentals of photography and what it can reveal to us about the photographer.

On one morning in June, I set out to take photos of what my eyes alighted on – not everything, or I might never have arrived – but what I judged to be of a “certain” significance.  The camera battery gave up just short of my destination, and I took some 94 photos.  Inevitably there was an element of  selection/exclusion in what I shot.  I tried not to spend long with composition or thinking about the shot, and I used the camera zoom only where I considered that this represented my selective focusing on an object.  Similarly I only cropped an image in post production if this represented what I was looking at better.   I did very little manipulation of the image except to balance tones and colour. 

To avoid further selectivity, I have not discarded any of the images and so here is my walk to work on 17th June 2013.  Of course, I didn’t think much during the walk that day except about taking photos, so like with any scientific experiment, the intervention of conducting the experiment changes the conditions in which the experiment is conducted … but anyway:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Coton Hill Allotments – Winding down

5 May

My last visit to the allotments to take photographs was on 26th October 2012.  I didn’t manage to get to the site during most of the harvesting season, but there was still much produce still in evidence.  Some of the winter crops, like leeks and sprouts were also well under way.

It was also good to see that at least one of the bee hives in the neighbouring field had been salvaged.  The bee colony had not been in great condition but hopefully it will thrive.

It was a cool damp day, but the Autumn colours of the leaves were particularly vibrant this year.  Colourful chard leaves also brought some brightness to an otherwise quite sombre day.  There were plenty of mushrooms around in the adjacent fields.

Some people were hard at work just starting out on preparing their plot and putting up fencing ready for next year.

Coton Hill Allotments – it was all worth it

3 May

By 21st July, the site looked fully established.  Another 15 plots had been created and were being prepared, albeit quite late in the growing season.  It was quite astonishing how mature the allotments appeared, as if they had been ongoing for some years.  There was a general relaxed air of satisfaction about the place.

Most of the plots already had plenty of vegetable produce.  One lady was watering her magnificent crop of cabbages and she allowed me to take her portrait with them, albeit that our conversation was somewhat limited by our different languages.

It was quite a warm balmy late afternoon, and it was just the time I had imagined way back when the project started – a late summer’s afternoon when one could relax after working on the plot, have a drink and may be enjoy a barbecue.  I could see that one or two folk had already tried out this particular blissful experience, but there were no barbecues on the day during my visit, so I missed out on that photo opportunity unfortunately.


Coton Hill Allotments – Summer?

24 Jun

It was a beautiful warm sunny morning when I visited in May.  After the warm weather in March, its been mainly wet and unsettled.  But there’s always a plus side for allotmenteers, as that means we don’t have to keep visiting the plot just to water the plants.

For me two of the key signifiers of an allotment are sheds and bean pole supports.  And they are certainly well and truly established at Coton Hill.  I’m fascinated by the character and care that goes into these constructions.

Most of the plots look immaculately well tended, whilst some begin to show signs of the torment of the owners’ struggle against weeds.  But I was delighted to see radishes being harvested in abundance.

Learning to Wait

11 Oct

“Something understood” on BBC Radio4 at 6am on a Sunday morning is a great way to start the day, a gentle exercise for the mind with an eclectic mix of music.  It is possibly even the media highlight of the week.  A few weeks ago the topic was “Learning to Wait”, and it featured readings from Carl Honore’s “In praise of Slow”, already mentioned in this blog, and also Milan Kundera’s “Slowness” – a book I must read again. 

The latter contains a discussion about our love affair with the car and how the quest for speed has isolated us from any appreciation of the very real and physical exertion necessary to run faster.  I suppose I would add to the debate that, walking is the ultimate conclusion when it is accepted that one will get there in the end, and there is much to be enjoyed along the way, that can only be appreciated when walking.

The programme also asserted that the term “indolence” is misunderstood as meaning lazy, when really it simply means the very sensible objective of avoiding exertion.  I can go along with that, since one of my guiding mottos is “any fool can be uncomfortable”.  Something I actually don’t live up to very well.

With that in mind, I diverged from my normal route to buy the Sunday paper, to take in a brief walk along some paths through Copthorne, Beck’s Field and along the River to Frankwell, emerging again atSt George’s Streetand Providence Row.  The walk by the river was particularly beautiful in the early morning sunshine (putting aside the heady aroma of Himalayan Balsam and dog excrement), with the distant sound of work beginning on setting up the Shrewsbury Folk Festival in the agricultural showground.  Returning around Frankwell roundabout, I passed a rather anguished and dishevelled woman, sitting on a bench, possibly recovering from a heavy Saturday night, and then I saw a (slightly less dishevelled) man sleeping in his car.  It crossed my mind that our respective perceptions of the morning could be so different.  My walk had helped to ease many of the stresses and frustrations with life that had built up.

Of course, I could be misreading the situation: the woman may have just returned from a brisk 5 mile run, and the man may have just been having a snooze whilst waiting to collect his aged mother en route to church.  And let’s hope that was the case.

Hurry up and slow down

29 Mar Grille

Motivation in much of my art work stems from a strong belief in trying to minimise impact on the environment, and in taking a global perspective but also noticing the wealth of details all around.   Understanding situations and taking in the view takes time.

 The environmental crises in the world will not be wholly “solved” by technology, although technology will no doubt have a significant role in our adaptation to changes.  What is needed is a radical cultural shift away from an accelerating way of life driven by the expectation of continuously growing economies and the seduction of new gadgetry with ever shorter useful life. 

 What we need to do is slow down, stop even, look around, breathe in and live in the present.  And keep doing that until we notice our surroundings, and learn to love them again.  This is not a radically new concept, and there are plenty of other people saying the same thing, but not so many acting on it.  The Slow Movement is well established, and Carl Honore’s “In Praise of Slow” is a great read, challenging the “cult of speed”.

 By environmental crises I mean climate change, water stress, reduction in biodiversity and shortages in food, energy and other natural resources.  These are all exacerbated by human population growth.  The treatment of the symptoms is just papering over the cracks until the dam really bursts and wipes us out.  And this is a chartered civil engineer talking.

 The behavioural changes needed to counteract environmental disaster on a global scale are colossal, and the secondary impacts of these changes will be unimaginable.  But the changes at an individual level, are relatively simple and could in theory happen over a short period of time.  In reality, such change, if it happens at all, will almost certainly take a long time.  Even from a personal perspective, I am all too easily sucked into the mindless whirlpool of modern life, dominated by technology – after all, what am I doing now but tapping away on a computer, wondering what is on the TV?

 But I am trying.  I know that my daughter Eliza, won’t be the cute little toddler she is for long, soon she will be off to school and then a teenager.  Her months of being a baby whizzed by in a blur of sleepless nights (these have not gone entirely) and days fluctuating between joy and frustration.  So I am acutely aware that I need to treasure these moments, good and bad, and to experience them in the moment. 

 The need to slow down and regain contact with the natural environment was the theme of the Cloud Space installation, produced by the Cloud Gallery artists’ collective for the Greenhouse Shropshire exhibition in 2008.  As a member collaborator with the Cloud Gallery, I became convinced at that time that the simple activity of walking, sometimes stopping and using our senses could play a significant role in changing people’s perspective on life.

 This is an extract from the Cloud Space statement:

 “Global warming is just one symptom of human consumption.  In the relentless drive for wealth and success, many people lead a frenzied existence with narrowed-down vision and minds caught up in an almost virtual world of electronica. 

 This installation and the associated walk allow people a moment to refocus our thoughts and regain awareness of the “here and now”.  In these spaces, we can appreciate the passing of time and see the detail and distinctiveness of the place around us.  It is a time to use all our senses, to experience being in our own bodies in this place, and consider that “being” is as important as “doing”.”

 A selection of my photos that were included in the event is shown below.  Each is a detail that might ordinarily have passed me by, but which struck my attention once I had slowed down to the pace of thought.  For that short passage of time, almost every detail seemed to present itself as a potential subject.



Stay hear

Stay hear

For the Blind

For the Blind