Nov 192013
 

Col Du Peyresourde, L’Alpe D’Huez, Sa Calobra, Stelvio can only mean one thing to some: Le Tour de France — the famed cycle race established in 1903.

Michael Blann (a keen cyclist himself) has a passion for Le Tour, so much so that he’s set himself the challenge of documenting the stunning course.

Printing Michael’s work has been a real pleasure, so I recently asked him to talk me through the series:

“The idea for doing a project based on European mountains and their roads has been simmering for some time and I guess is rooted in my formative years riding a bicycle and watching the Grand Tours (of cycling). For me, there’s always been something very mythical about mountains and when I’m there I always feel a sense of excitement mixed with serenity. The challenge they present to cyclists adds a very primeval dimension of man overcoming mountain. They are always painful experiences but equally rewarding.

Col Du Peyresourde by Michael Blann

Col Du Peyresourde

“So I guess I came to the project wanting to portray these mountains as something more than just rocks. I wanted to show their character, the way they are defined by their roads and man-made structures, the vegetation, the way they change through the seasons. But I also wanted to put this into the context of cycling, after all, many of these mountains have been given mythical status through cycling. L’Alpe D’Huez wouldn’t have the same notoriety if Le Tour hadn’t passed over it in 1986 when Bernhard Hinault and Greg Lemond resolved their differences and rode the climb together with a clear lead over the rest of the peloton.

Col Du Peyresourde by Michael Blann

Col Du Peyresourde

“For me, I wanted to capture the permanence of mountains, their scale and sheer presence. It was important to shoot them through all times of the day and seasons. The contrast from winter when just a faint impression in the snow shows the line of the road set against the spectacle of a race in mid summer was very appealing. I also kept coming back to the idea that a cycle race is no more than a travelling circus that visits for the day and is then gone again, leaving the mountain behind. There’s the notion that the mountains are the constant that provide the platform for these dramas to play out.

Sa Calobra by Michael Blann

Sa Calobra

Stelvio by Michael Blann

Stelvio

“This line of thought dictated my approach as I wanted the work to have a quietness about it that showed a certain homage towards mountains. Pulling back from any human elements whether it is the roads or fans lining the race route was important, as it showed everything in context. People became insignificant in the grand scheme of things and scale became a strong thread throughout.

“This also dictated the equipment I chose to shoot on — a Hasselblad H4D-50. Like the old 10×8 cameras, I wanted to capture all the detail and fidelity to ensure nothing was lost when the images were enlarged. Great care is needed at the size as all the faults and imperfections become more apparent and it offers less leeway for error. For this reason I teamed up with Jack Lowe to help ensure a great result through the printing process.

“With the initial phase of shooting completed I am now embarking on the winter shots, much of which will be shot from a helicopter. The project will culminate in an exhibition and coffee table book in the autumn of 2014.”

Stelvio Hairpin by Michael Blann

Stelvio Hairpin

On a Technical Note…

I’m not generally one to have ‘camera conversations’ but you can imagine that I’m often asked about the best camera files from which to make the finest prints.

For years, in partial answer to that question, I’ve banged on about the fact that more pixels don’t necessarily result in a better file — pixel size plays a huge part in the signal-to-noise ratio battle, for instance.

In addition, any photographer will tell you that the following statement is high on the list of insults:

That’s a great photograph — you must have an amazing camera!

(I have some great replies but more on that another time…)

That said, I thought you might be interested to know that Michael’s files from his Hasselblad H4D-50 were among the best I’ve ever seen (and please note that I’m by no means associating that with his great photographic skills!).

I loved poring over the details lurking in just about every corner.

A quick conversation on Twitter confirmed a general consensus that this camera is fast-becoming a modern classic…

Finally, here’s an example to illustrate my point — first a full-frame image and then a crop showing the file at 75% (not 100% as it then became so close that it was hard to see where the crop had come from!):

Ventoux by Michael Blann

Ventoux

Ventoux by Michael Blann

Ventoux — crop showing detail from the image above at 75% from Michael’s Hasselblad H4D-50 camera…

Oct 092013
 

It’s always a treat when I can be involved in a body of work over a long period of time, seeing its progression and printing the resulting exhibition.

I’ve worked with Damien Wootten for many years now — nine, in fact. During that time, he’s visited several North East locations repeatedly for the last eight years to form the series, Coastal Retreats.

Coastal Retreats, Caravan by Damien Wootten

Mainly working in and around Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Damien’s immersion in the area really shines through.

As he describes:

“At times everyone needs somewhere to retreat to, and I’m sure — like many — my destination seems to be the coast, and being a photographer it seems inevitable that I take my camera with me. I’m very familiar with the North East coast of England and parts of it are deserted, wild and beautiful — but it is the more ordinary, everyday and less attractive areas that interest me more photographically.”

Coastal Retreats, Family by Damien Wootten

Local Family, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Northumberland

Damien continues:

“I have never questioned too deeply why I have chosen these locations to work in and accepted it as an impulse and a need. Hopefully these images have something more to give than just to show the surface of things and offer something worthwhile and contemplative to say about our place within our landscape. These coastal areas seem to symbolise that – where the man-made reaches the edge of things. This is where the natural environment takes over, restraining human encroachment.”

Coastal Retreats, Man by Damien Wootten

I love the Northernness of ‘Coastal Retreats’, a feeling that I’m sure prevails as a result of Damien living in the area along with his seemingly unconditional persistence!

Anyone who lives in the wild and woolly North East will know exactly what it feels like to stand in many of the scenes Damien’s captured, not least a biting one such as this:

Coastal Retreats, Snow Sea by Damien Wootten

Printing this series has been a true pleasure — I hope all those who manage to see the show between 12th October and 2nd February at the Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland enjoy it as much as I have.

The photographs are all 40x40cm Archival Pigment Prints on 60x60cm Museo Silver Rag 300gsm using HP Vivera Pigment Ink.

Apr 172012
 

Julian Calverley shooting his North Northwest Beginnings series on Skye using his Alpa camera fitted with a Phase One IQ180 digital backI’ve written many words on these pages and elsewhere about the work of Julian Calverley — it’s a true pleasure to now be introducing you to his imminent show at Gallery 1066.

We first worked together in October 2010, which I wrote about at the time.

Since then, Julian and I have made many more prints together as his success in the world of edition printing gathers momentum.

Working with Julian is a real opportunity for us both to revel in the current capabilities of digital photographic practice. You may remember that he works with one of the finest cameras around, made by Alpa of Switzerland, which he currently uses in conjunction with the very latest in single capture technology — the Phase One IQ180.

This is an 80 megapixel digital back, which produces a 16bit single capture of around 450MB — when making many of the large prints for Julian, I often have to reduce the files produced from this camera!

Print Detail from Julian Calverley's North Northwest Beginnings edition prints

Detail from Archival Pigment Print | HP Vivera Ink, Hahnemühle Bamboo 290gsm

Print Detail from Julian Calverley's North Northwest Beginnings edition prints
Detail from Archival Pigment Print | HP Vivera Ink, Hahnemühle Bamboo 290gsm
Print Detail from Julian Calverley's North Northwest Beginnings edition prints

Detail from Archival Pigment Print | HP Vivera Ink, Hahnemühle Bamboo 290gsm

Print Detail from Julian Calverley's North Northwest Beginnings edition prints

Detail from Archival Pigment Print | HP Vivera Ink, Hahnemühle Bamboo 290gsm

Julian’s background is described at Edition Prints:

“Julian Calverley has been creating imagery in one form or another since he was old enough to hold a paint brush.

“Born in Hertfordshire in 1964, he very quickly demonstrated a love and natural talent for drawing and painting, in particular watercolour landscape work.

“After a brief and uninspiring spell at art college, Julian realised it was the mix of photography and traditional darkroom skills that would allow him to express himself most effectively.

“The next few years saw experience gained with various studios and in 1988, at 24 years old, Julian set up his first studio and darkroom.

“He now divides his time between personal and assigned work, his attentions mainly focussed on capturing landscapes in their various atmospheric conditions.”

Julian Calverley signs and embosses his North Northwest Beginnings edition prints

Each print is signed and embossed by Julian...

Julian Calverley signs and embosses his North Northwest Beginnings edition prints

I really enjoy how the exemplary workflow from start to finish sings through the final prints. As written on the Edition Prints Process page:

“The finished pieces command a theatrical air; so wonderfully crafted, as if each facet to the image has been summoned into place at the click of a finger.”

Wayne Ford has also written a wonderful blog post on Julian’s work entitled, The Theatrical Sonnets of the British Landscape Photographer Julian Calverley.

If you haven’t seen Wayne’s blog yet, do pay it a visit — he has nurtured it into the ultimate photography archive.

I don’t often get to see the prints I make in their final destination, so I can’t wait to make the journey south next week to Baldock and see the framed pieces on the wall.

The show runs from 20th April to 3rd May, full details are listed here.

Print Detail from Julian Calverley's North Northwest Beginnings edition prints

Detail from Archival Pigment Print | HP Vivera Ink, Hahnemühle Bamboo 290gsm

Print Detail from Julian Calverley's North Northwest Beginnings edition prints

Detail from Archival Pigment Print | HP Vivera Ink, Hahnemühle Bamboo 290gsm

Julian Calverley shooting his North Northwest Beginnings series on Skye using his Alpa camera fitted with a Phase One IQ180 digital back

Julian at work, complete with his famous storm umbrella!

Jan 232012
 

Last night, I received a phone call from my Aurora-chasing friend, Reed Ingram Weir.

Apparently, the facts and figures were all pointing to a stellar show by The Northern Lights.

If I was to finally witness this natural phenomenon, now would be the time to jump in the car and make the sixty five mile journey north on the A1.

It would have been all too easy to settle in for the night on a Sunday evening but I was soon experiencing an intense urge to make the trip.

Aware that digital cameras can pick up early signs of the Aurora much more easily than the human eye, I quickly nipped to the top of the house to photograph the Northern sky.

The giveaway green haze hovering above the Newcastle horizon convinced me that it was time to go and meet Reed on the Holy Island causeway:

aurora borealis, northern lights, newcastle upon tyne, north east england

No apologies for the coarse quality of this hurried photograph, it was the moment I knew I had to drive North!

I grabbed a friend who I knew would also cherish the experience, though neither of us could ever have been prepared for the scene that greeted us.

Nearing the turn-off for Holy Island, the sky had become alive with huge columns of light, folding and weaving like waves of fabric.

Words can barely describe the emotion that overcame me — it was all I could do to keep the car on the road with such a spectacle taking place in the cold air above us.

Vast slabs of vertical green light gave the Northumberland night sky an epic cathedral-like appearance and all for a fleeting fifteen minutes or so…

As we arrived on the dark causeway, I must confess to feeling a little jittery.

The light show was beginning to fade already but it still looked sensational as it receded.  I managed to capture these images while the performance played out:

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

Gentle scenes from the Holy Island causeway as we arrived...

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

Vertical shafts of light began to appear once more...

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

...and the sky appeared to fold and crease like fabric above the glow of Berwick upon Tweed.

In all honesty, the intensity of green captured by my camera surprised me.  However, it seemed to match up with the photographs of others.

When watching this beautiful show, I didn’t see green, I saw a bluey-silvery-grey. I thought that reciprocity failure might have come into play, so I tried some very short exposures.

Yes, the images were very under-exposed but the green colour still prevailed.  Even the ‘quick and dirty’ capture made at ISO 3200 (the image at the top of this post) immediately showed the Aurora-green piercing through the urban haze.

It seems that more intense displays further north, in and around locations such as Tromsø, literally drench the surroundings in a glorious green light.

Thankfully, at times, we were able to see the green for ourselves during pinpricks of higher intensity.

Indeed, as we were arriving, I’ve already mentioned the great slabs of green light standing tall like huge, futuristic, architectural pillars in the sky.

So, this sparked a further spine-tingling question in my mind: When the intensity levels of the Aurora are reduced further South, why is that we observe a bluey-silvery-grey colour, yet we point a digital camera at the Aurora and the intense green prevails?

Is the camera able to render information that we cannot perceive at these lower intensities?  I’m sure there will be answers to this but I simply enjoyed pondering them while standing in that icy cold theatre.

I expect Professor Brian Cox would know the answer. If you know, feel free to enlighten us by leaving a comment in the box at the end of this post!

And so, the curtain gradually fell on the performance. The graceful, pulsing light faded away yet still lingered, maintaining a hold on us and making it very difficult to set off home.

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

The performance draws to a close with one last needle of brilliant light.

And let’s not forget the beautiful sky to the South, so dense that Orion (often obvious at this time of year) is almost lost among its neighbours:

night sky, stars, orion, northumberland, holy island, north east england

Looking South, the stunning Northumberland night sky with Orion standing tall in the centre of the image.

Some say that viewing the Aurora Borealis is life-changing.

Would I agree? Yes, without a doubt.

I haven’t been able to shake the experiences of last night from my mind, not that I’ve wanted to.

Furthermore, it’s taken me most of the day in grabbed moments here and there to attempt to put those experiences into words.

I’m still not sure that I’ve succeeded.

As I put my boys to bed this evening, I peered North from the window once more. Nothing.

The Aurora Borealis was gone for the moment but I shall never look at the sky in the same way again, day or night.

Keen followers of this blog and my Twitter feed will know that I am very keen on the video clip below, the Aurora Borealis and Australis as seen from the International Space Station.

It seems appropriate to sign off from this post by leaving you with this beautiful footage…

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

Jun 142011
 

Following on from my post last Friday, I thought you might like a glimpse into some prints I am making for Julian Calverley’s portfolio.

You can see further images from Julian’s new body of work by visiting his superb blog

 

Julian Calverley People in Landscape Landowner

Julian Calverley | Landowner

Julian Calverley People in Landscape Landowner

Detail from Archival Pigment Print | HP Vivera Ink and Hahnemühle Bamboo 290gsm

Julian Calverley People in Landscape Landowner

Detail from Archival Pigment Print | HP Vivera Ink and Hahnemühle Bamboo 290gsm

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