Lou (Who I will now refer to as ‘Dusty Lou’) expressed her love of such ‘dusty’ themed pictures and paintings, which brought back a recent, as well as a far distant memory flooding back…
I was awe-struck upon seeing my first real painting as a young child at Preston Park museum, the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. Since that day I have had a fascination for ‘action’ paintings and artwork. At the time of viewing I asked why [the scene] was painted, and not photographed, which raised a laugh from my Dad; he explained camera’s had not been invented at the time. This confused me somewhat, as I had watched silent black and white movies with Charlie Chaplin gently falling about… No one was older than Charlie Chaplin?
‘Charge of the Light Brigade’
Obviously there was the most basic camera around at the time, though they were incapable of capturing such a volatile moving charge. Though they did capture the result of what the ‘Light Brigade’ endured, through a still shot taken some time after the action.
In an attempt to draw out my artistic inner self, I have tried and dabbled with drawing and painting, using charcoal, pencil, oils as well as watercolour. After many hours and years of painful expressions, aching lower back, tears of frustration, and ‘Van Gough’ style tantrums, the result has always been the same; an absolute waste of time and money, the artistic demon refused to be drawn out. Watching a true ‘artist’ who is able to flow and place their interpretation of a subject to canvas, leaves me feeling like I have watched an illusionist; it also makes me want to scream with frustration, and ask “How? How, on God’s green earth did you do that”!
Which leads me onto past history, without breaking protocol…
One morning many years ago. I, along with five other Marines, were selected to attend a covert surveillance/photography course (think sniper with a Pentax SLR). The experience of which, I could (and will probably/eventually) write into a story for a book. ‘The beast in me’ had been tempted out; it was a glorious moment that I recall to this day, an artistic interest of sorts had revealed itself.
My ‘active’ work entailed covert military Op’s, mainly outdoors for long periods, some times in atrocious conditions using dug out hides, or laid half-submerged in babbling brooks in mid winter (covered in black neoprene from head to toe) watching the serious bad guys from ‘across the water’. After which, hours of solitude in my own darkroom, observing and working to my own rules, and because every one thought photography was a dark art (developing and printing actually was back then) I was left to my own devices to the frustration of my Boss, a Royal Marine Lt (if your reading this ‘Paul H’, you have my most sincere apologies). The result of such covert work, created a chain reaction that in turn produced some great effective Counter Terrorism results. I was hooked, the down side was that after eighteen months I had to leave the dark art, and return to the routine of a RM Commando Unit. Photography then became far too expensive to enjoy.
That was until the arrival of the digital camera, and the world suddenly changed from monochrome to colour! Life began again when I splashed out and bought my first, of several cameras.
Only those of a certain age will understand the feeling of liberty that the digital age has brought about; I still have two rolls of film in my fridge that requires developing, each time I reach for the milk I make a mental note that it should be done!
(A quick show of hand’s from those who still have a 35mm roll in a drawer or a box lying around the house)! I thought so; it’s not just me. As usual I digress…Vague memories of the ‘Gnome’ and ‘Devere’ enlarger are almost mystical. The tainted smell of developer and fixer on hands and clothing are just a memory, their time has long since ceased to be. The digital age opened Pandora’s box.
For Coffeypot & Navy Davy…
The enlarger’s I mentioned are two types of photographic machine that use exposed & developed film, which is placed within a lens system. Using controlled light conditions, the resulting image is projected onto a single piece of ‘Kenthene’ print paper for light activation. The machines are not for the use on male appendage… (beat you to it)
*I need not wax lyrical over the variety of digital systems that are now available, or how simple they are to use. Each with the capability of creating countless thousands of images inexpensively, all without the use of messy chemicals and machines whose names produced schoolgirl giggles (*why; because I have just done so, and yes we did giggle like schoolgirls when the ‘enlarger’ was introduced to the course, it’s a man thing)…
Just recently I asked friends what they would like as a late wedding gift. They mentioned a copy of a photograph I had taken, as the colours, as well as the subject, matched a scheme within their home. The resulting image was transferred to a large canvas print, framed within a piece of polished oak taken from a fallen tree within the scene. It looks better than I describe, and I did feel a little awkward giving it as a gift as it felt as though I was cheating over what a true artist could produce. (Doffing my cap at the true artists among you).
Extension to the Dit…
Two years ago, well before dawn broke (on one of my numerous adventures), I walked to the summit of Roseberry Topping on the North Yorkshire Moors, to watch the sunrise from the sea. Setting off at the base there was a slight chill breeze that turned into a gusting wind as I climbed higher along the twisting worn trail. As I reached the highest point of the Topping, the wind was blowing a hooligan (40 mph); I settled down in the lee of one of the rock outcrops, upon which I caught sight of a fellow walker, who had also taken cover. It was too noisy to speak above the pitch of the gale, so I simply gave him the thumb up gesture of ‘OK’, from which I received a smile and a nod.
Settling in and down below cover, I took refuge and broke out one of my flask’s of tea, followed by a heavily laden cold bacon sandwich; just as the sun went from pre-dawn into early sunrise. Reaching for my pocket Sony camera I crawled to the edge of my vantage point, capturing the morning’s burst of energy as it glowed over the far distant white caps out at sea. All was well with the world as I settled back into my cubby hole; though I did ponder over the thought that “those who do not participate in the delights of pork, are indeed missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures”! Studying my surroundings, I noticed that my fellow walker did not appear to be a ‘happy chappy’, indeed he looked absolutely windswept, battered and forlorn. As I did not receive a thumb down earlier I presumed his lot was not a happy one, but at least an adequate and acceptable one (oh how I hoped he wasn’t a potential jumper, as several had done so in past years)!
It has always been a habit of mine to over pack on hot drinks and foodstuff, so I was quite happy to sit and take in the distant view from my calm spy-hole for a while longer; ready to block and tackle the unhappy one’s attempt at flight, should it be required. Eventually, having taken my fill, I considered my return route options.
Whilst re-packing my small Bergan ‘unhappy chappy’ motioned to me; once I was fully booted and spurred I wandered over to his spot, taking hit after hit from the punching buffering gale, and noticed that he had a large canvas satchel stuffed behind him, with what looked like a small collapsible easel strapped to it, along with other bits and pieces of paraphernalia?
‘Windblown man’ was not dressed for the great outdoors; his old tweed jacket with the collar turned up, worn over a thick brown woolen jumper, matched his faded brown corduroy trousers. He was either, the old school ‘Matterhorn’ adventurer type, or simply a teacher separated from his class of pupils? His attire sufficed on this warmish early morning, but only just… Unprepared outdoors walkers are a blight on society, who often put others at risk through their stupidity. What added insult to injury was the fact he was wearing heavy leather brogue shoes.
And then I noticed the lapel badge on his jacket; this was no ordinary great outdoors adventurer, or a teacher separated from his group! This was a ‘Fellow of the Royal Academy of Arts’! An elderly angel had transcended from above, and the powerful gale had temporarily grounded him. My inwards growl subsided to pure admiration, as I unceremoniously parked my backside down next to him, thus cutting the ‘Tyson-esque’ air punches dead. After going through the good morning courtesies, we got down to the nitty-gritty, as well as the whys and where for’ of his dilemma.
In a nutshell’ the ‘Fellow’ had wished to capture the pastel colours and shades presented by the dawns rising sun, and hadn’t taken that morning’s wind calculation into account (at 930 feet above sea level)? That morning as he arrived at the summit, the wind started picking up from a soft gust that switched into a battering hooligan. Unable to set up his easel and watercolours, he decided to wait it out. A bad calculation, as the wind was destined to hit 60 to 70 mph by lunchtime, of which I explained.
As we discussed the situation I offered, then insisted, that he take my spare flask of hot tea, and then went one step further and offered him my back up bacon sandwich, which he again politely declined (phew), though I insisted he took half, of which he did (ohhh)! Followed by a banana and a large chocolate caramel wafer. Having drunk and ate our fill it was decided that I would carry his large satchel, as well as the ’monkeys & parrots’ strapped to the outside; allowing him to walk down hill in front of me, as I could take the main buffering from the nor’easter gale.
My main concern was that the small 120-pound wiry frame of the ‘Fellow’ inside his jacket, would act as a sail and blow him from the track, and over the edge (I had seen more meat on a jockey’s whip at York races, my morning snack must have been a two-day feast for him)! Gradually and gingerly he made his way down wards as I acted as his back stop; en-route we deterred a young couple carrying a small child in a back knapsack from walking up! Unprepared outdoors walkers are a blight on society, etc, etc. Having reached the base safely, we then walked back to the car park discussing the merits of painting over photography. We eventually shook hands and parted company.
Over the last year or so the ‘Fellow’ and I have bumped into each other several times both socially, as well as accidentally whilst wandering around the Yorkshire Moors. At his request I did mail him my collection of photographs taken from that wind-swept morning, who knows if they were of any use? But through the marvel of modern-day digital imagery, at least I achieved my aim, which I often rib him about.
He always has the last laugh though, and does laugh longest, as he is the true artist and painter with a thousand years of history supporting him.
However; the time previously spent burning money as well as brain cells at my attempt at art, have not been wasted. The same principles are required when formulating the subject using ‘old school photography’; they work even better with digital photography, as the principles also be brought to play when editing the image on a ‘puter’ screen.
A question for ‘Dusty Lou’! Are clouds as difficult as dust to capture on canvas?