Them Hills

I am now obsessed with the photographic possibilities of the Peak District National Park and maybe, eventually, other forms of local landscape too. Today I decided to go and check out some of the sites (on my mountain bike) and re-aquatint myself with the mood of this often dramatic setting. Starting from Prestbury headed off over to Bollington, then on to the attractively quaint and secluded hamlet of Pot Shrigley where I stopped to take some pictures before heading off in the general direction of Kettleshulme, this is when the real climbing starts. From Shrigley, it is literally a knee busting, thigh wrenching climb up to Bakerstonedale (but it gets tougher..Much tougher!) but this is where the views start to become interesting and merit contemplation, the air quality up here is very nourishing too and it was good to see lots of other cyclists on the route, most riding more appropriate touring bikes. You become aware of just how haunting, surreal, and abstract, this landscape can be and particularly in bright late afternoon autumn light. Hillocks are toped with mature trees their skewed wind formed canopies assuming Dali-esk shapes, in other places lines of Scots pines and deciduous trees run up genuinely vertiginous hill sides over looking patch work valleys intersected by dry stone walls and hedgerows, the characteristic form of the Peak District. I managed to get as far as Charles Head after some really serious climbing! This point is about 1070 feet above sea level and affords some fantastic long range views, though not quite as impressive as those from Teggs Nose and Shutlingsloe. The return journey was an exhilarating high speed free wheel job for most of the way until Bollington.

This kind of landscape is very difficult to photograph creatively and particularly in panoramic composition. The main problem being the almost ever-present UV haze or murk that obscures the horizon or even relatively close middle distances. This is where my obsession with the use of infra red B&W film for landscape work comes into its own as this will yield a well defined image to infinity and all in a strange low contrast granular texture. Infra red can be wonderfully intriguing because it can bring out unseen detail and textures in the landscape. The image is impressed upon the film entirely by invisible light reflected from the subject, which makes the end print feel all the more mysterious. However, there are a number of draw backs with IR photography which have to be over come such as the use of a try pod even for short exposures as you need to pre compose the shot with the IR filter off the camera. The filters tend to block all visible light, or at least all wavelengths shorter than 900nM so it's a bit like looking through a very dark red welders visor. The other thing is getting used to the focal point offset, though most lenses have an IR focus mark and of course you have to keep the film and camera as cool as possible. This approach as ever complies with a desire to denature and "mystify" the subject and thus enhancing qualities of abstraction. So many of the sites I have seen today would yield to this treatment resulting in haunting dream like images, particularly those giant distorted trees. IR film also records dead wood in a different way to living flora which opens up a range of interesting possibilities where man made objects in the landscape are concerned.

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