The intimidating valley sides of Glencoe, Scotland, form the backdrop to ten seconds in the life of my younger son, wrapped up warm on a blustery, rainy day.
Last weekend — what with it being the summer holidays an’ all — I thought it would be fun to concoct an impromptu camping/photography expedition to Scotland with my younger son.
Stocked with food, chemicals and 110 year old cameras, we headed north from our home in Newcastle upon Tyne.
We had a ball, wild camping in Neena with wondrous sights aplenty…
Thankfully, I had the foresight to pack insect nets and repellent; I’m all too aware of how the Scottish midge can turn a perfectly nice time into a humid, swarming trauma.
Sure enough, having settled down to make some photographs beside the stunning River Etive, clouds of the interminable bug descended as I poured my second plate.
At one point, I looked down at my gloved hands and I couldn’t see them — they’d literally come alive with a swarm of midges, looking like some kind of organic techno prop from a sci-fi movie.
It was time for a sharp exit but I had to finish making the plate before we could pack away and move on…
Pouring the 10×12″ Tintype, I was doing my best to keep the little critters from flying into the collodion.
Then it dawned on me — if I simply let them ‘do their thing’ I’d be making full use of this photographic process.
I’ve written before about capturing the weather in a glass plate. Now, I’d not only be creating a unique one-off photograph on metal, I’d also be capturing another important facet of the Scottish landscape — the midge!
Into the collodion they flew, ready for a lovely soak in a bath of silver nitrate. And so, it came to be that a handful of midges died in the name of art.
Now, to think of more ways to reduce their numbers…
For more recent work, check out the Gallery.
Two weeks ago, Julian Calverley invited me on an impromptu visit to the Isle of Skye, a stunningly beautiful wilderness in the far north of Scotland.
I’ve known Julian for a long time, I’ve made his edition prints for years. Now, I was presented with a new treat — to capture him in one of his favourite stomping grounds for a new book being released later in the year.
I could only seize the chance and, thus, the Ambrotype above was made.
Whilst working with wet plate collodion, I’ve come to adore and embrace the fact that everything within a plate tells a story.
Experienced collodionists are able to pore over a plate and know where things went well and where they went wrong, what worked and what didn’t.
For example, the waviness to the left of the photograph? That’s the wind at Elgol trying to have a say, blowing my collodion as I poured it onto the glass in the dawn breeze.
Not only have I recorded Julian working with his camera, I’ve also captured the weather.
So many elements of that early morning are now immortalised with a piece of glass and a box of chemicals. That’s beautiful to me. I love it.
Working on location with this process can be physically gruelling as there’s simply so much paraphernalia. It’s a labour of love and you soon find out why there aren’t many people working on location in this way.
However, the rewards for all those efforts are wonderful and even just one or two great plates make it all worthwhile.
Online, it’s impossible to relay the experience of viewing an Ambrotype in the flesh.
As I’ve mentioned before, they carry entrancing three-dimensional qualities — almost holographic — leaving me with a sense that I’ve captured a slice of time, that I’ve actually created some kind of time capsule.
In short, the plates are unique, unreproducible and irreplaceable.
Wet Plate Gallery
The eagle-eyed will have spotted that I’ve now created a Wet Plate Gallery in the menu bar at the top of the page.
Take a look to see some of my favourite plates so far. Watch this space for more soon and, remember, there’s no substitute for seeing them in the flesh…
Almost as far North as you can possibly journey within the bounds of England lies Berwick upon Tweed, nestled just a couple of miles from the Scottish border.
On Saturday, I made the 65 mile rail journey north with a friend to see Paul Kenny’s latest show open at The Berwick Watchtower.
As we wandered the streets of this garrison town, the sensations we experienced were odd and uneasy, enough for us to discuss it regularly throughout the day…
On the face of it, Berwick is pretty. However, it doesn’t take too long to sense a melancholy and fatigue hanging over the town.
There are small pockets where this isn’t the case but, overall, Berwick certainly appears to be a very northern outpost burdened with a tangible raw edge, perhaps the bleeding edge of the ongoing economic crisis.
Buildings look tired with many high street shops closing or, indeed, closed down. Local estate agents, too, seem awash with property for sale.
There is, however, plenty to admire as some of the architecture is stunning, not least the beautifully named Royal Border Bridge — a vital artery carrying the East Coast Mainline, connecting this remote town at high speed with the rest of the country.
To my mind, Berwick’s outpost feel is largely due to its geography, eclectic history and confused identity where, in the modern era, one can still be left wondering, “Is Berwick Scottish or English?”
Embroiled in bitter, bloody border wars for so many years, it’s hard to know.
Technically, Berwick is English after the most recent capture in 1482 but that’s not always been the case.
In fact, it was even recently pondered whether or not Berwick was technically at war with Russia after it was ‘left out’ of the conclusion to the Crimean War in the 1856 Treaty of Paris!
Perhaps you can now begin to see why I describe an eclectic history?
Not helping matters, Berwick Rangers FC remains the only English football club in the land to compete in the Scottish Football League.
All-in-all, an unconventional day out and one to get the cogs turning.
Paul’s show, of course, look resplendent — his Seaworks so appropriately on display at the coast.
Ultimately, though, it was time to journey home and leave this very northern outpost behind, carrying plenty of feelings to digest and thoughts to ponder about this quirky nation of ours…
There’s something about the sea, isn’t there? Something stirring and primordial; to gaze out to the distant horizon is so many things to so many people.
Solace, hope, comfort, adventure and inspiration all spring to mind.
How many times have you driven along a coastline and seen people of all ages taking a stroll or simply sitting on a bench, looking so relaxed in a trance-like state as they stare wistfully towards the horizon?
How many times have you done just that yourself?
The draw of the sea is strong within my soul. At the moment, it’s not fully nurtured. I miss being among the waves and long to return to my love of sea kayaking some time soon.
Way back when, my father enjoyed a spell in the Merchant Navy and was also a deep sea diver in the North Sea.
Indeed, we spent the first few years of my life living on a beautiful old boat, so I’m sure these are just some of the clues that point to why I love the watery stuff so much.
A while back, I was invited to make a photograph on the theme of emotion for an NSPCC charity auction being held at the The Old Truman Brewery in London.
My choice of subject? To return to my birth town, Aberdeen, and photograph the sea…
— My First Photo Book
The cover image still holds the same attraction to me now as it did then…
On the institution of the BBC’s Shipping Forecast, David Chandler writes in the foreword:
“The forecast stirs our residual contact with the sublime, our fading sense of epic scenarios, places where great, life-threatening forces are continually unleashed and where nature’s vengeful power always hovers over the horizon.”
Stirring words that certainly tap into my psyche, capturing the essence of what I still love about Power’s body of work.
— The Sea Collection
As you might imagine, I’ve made many nautical photographs over the years.
You can browse and purchase my Archival Pigment Prints of the sea by clicking here.
Each print is made, signed and embossed by me, shipped to your door to provide a new window through which to wistfully gaze…
— Further Inspiration
Here’s a short film that I’ve always loved, Dark Side of the Lens, and one I’m sure you’ll enjoy too:
“Subtle glimpses of magic others might pass by…something worth remembering with a photograph or a scar.” — Dark Side of the Lens
— The RNLI, Saving Lives at Sea
A final word…
You might well have guessed by now that my favourite charity is the RNLI.
As an island nation, the dedicated volunteers around our coastline are vital to ensuring the safety of those at sea for whatever reason.
I’ve been a fan of them since I was a boy. I loved this clip they posted of the Plymouth Lifeboat heading out on a shout in a Storm Force 10 gale at the back end of last year.