One Night Stand

Bleary-eyed this morning, I buttered the bread for my boys’ packed lunches.

Like the porridge pot on the hob, Radio 4’s Today programme bubbled away in the background.

Maybe you heard it? Evan Davies was talking over the phone to a reporter about the largest Northern Lights display in England for ten years.

Once again, Evan had missed seeing it — cloud cover or something…

“So, do you think there’ll be a repeat performance tonight, or was it more of a one night stand?” asked Evan.

“No. It was certainly more of a one night stand!” the reporter replied.

If I hadn’t have been there for that particular one night stand (to use their words), I’d have been kicking myself…

— Strange Day

In hindsight, yesterday was a strange day; a day loaded with noteworthy events and coincidences.

Two years ago, I wrote about my first sighting of the Northern Lights, a post that I recently published on these pages.

Grasping a lead from my Aurora-chasing friend, Reed Ingram Weir, I’d headed up to the wilds of Northumberland to be greeted by wondrous sights.

He made a beautiful photograph of the event, one that still makes the news today.

I made the edition prints of it for him and, as a memento, Reed kindly gifted one to me, which I stowed in my plan chest at the time for safe-keeping.

Yesterday, over 700 days later, I stumbled across the print and spent a moment marvelling at it all over again. I took it straight down to Bruce (the framer downstairs from my studio) so I could hang it on my studio wall.

At that point, I wasn’t to know about the events to follow that very evening.

— Achy Eyeballs

Last night, as ever, I had a few domestic commitments. I combined them with a small trip to the supermarket.

Now, I’m a pretty driven chap and sometimes, when I have an idea that I want to pursue, it consumes me like a hunger.

At times, I can find it a little tricky to slow my mind down and relax. Sometimes, I even feel the adrenalin gently building up, creating a dull ache behind my eyes.

The usual cure is to go for a run or walk the dog to break those chemicals down and restore order.

As I wondered around the supermarket last night I felt distinctly odd — really energised and excited. My eyes were aching like mad with just this kind of adrenalin surge.

I couldn’t work it out — all my current ideas are well underway and in-hand. 😉

I got home, sat at the kitchen table and tried to massage my eyes better. A long dog walk was surely on the cards.

Briefly, it popped into my head that this was exactly how I felt two years ago with all that extreme solar activity. The thought was enough for me to get my phone out and look at the geomagnetic data that we monitor on these occasions, published by the Tromsø Geophysical Observatory.

I couldn’t believe my aching eyes.

Tromsø Geophysical Observatory

I started navigating to the keypad to call Reed and see if he’d noticed too.

He beat me to it and his name flashed up on my screen. I answered the call.

“Reed, I know what this is about.”

“Yes, Jack, I’m standing outside my own home looking at the Aurora!”

The decision was made. Within 40 minutes, I’d rallied four friends from my Aurora List and that was it, we were blasting up the A1 once more.

— Never Say Never

By 11pm, we arrived at my favourite vantage point, high up over the coast with a huge view of the northern sky.

Without the moon, the night sky was very dark and truly extraordinary. We admired the constellations and marvelled at Jupiter’s moons through our binoculars.

And, yes, the Northern Lights were there as a bright mercurial blue — gently pulsing like the light of a sleeping Mac.

However, there was no sensational structure at that stage. The architectural grandeur I’d witnessed two years ago was missing.

My friends, though, had now seen the Northern Lights for the first time, albeit on the third time of asking.

They were happy and all was good. So, at 12:45am, it was time to head home. It was a school night after all.

At this stage, it’s true that I was a little disappointed. I’d now made my third 130 mile round trip without much luck since my emotional first experience in 2012.

As we sped home through the cold, cutting air, I gradually heard words like bright and stronger being voiced in the back of the car.

I glanced in my rear view mirror and — wow — the Aurora seemed to be coming alive in a whole new way.

I pulled over into the nearest layby and we stepped out of the car into a whole new level of cold.

The night freight rumbled by us at close quarters. We constantly had to look away from the bright headlights to shield our eyes and protect our precious night vision.

Then at 1:01am sharp — as the icy air frisked us for skin — the show began.

Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights, Northumberland, North East England

The characteristic needles of light sprung out of nowhere, not as strongly as 2012 but there nonetheless…

Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights, Northumberland, North East England

The folding, fabric-like movement was just about discernible…

Accompanied by our ground-level oohs and aahs, the silent spectacle eventually faded and retreated north once more.

Retreated north until the next time — another occasion, like this, when I hope we’ll be able to say that we were there

Chasing Shadows

We find ourselves in the midst of an extremely topical Northern Lights season once again, with comparisons potentially being made to The Great Solar Storm of 1859.

Aurora Borealis, Great Solar Storm of 1859, Boulogne Pier, Northern Lights

‘The Aurora Borealis, seen from the pier, Boulogne’, an etching I found on eBay a while back made around the time of The Great Solar Storm of 1859…

If that were to happen again, it would surely look pretty but it would also wreak havoc in a world that now relies so heavily on an electronic infrastructure.

As I was reminded last night, chasing the Aurora Borealis can be hard work — sometimes like chasing shadows rather than fantastical laser light shows.

The lure of glorious rewards keeps me motivated but, as hope fizzled out once again in the small hours, I’m glad I appreciated my beginner’s luck chasing the Aurora in 2012.

Here’s are the words I wrote at the time on another site o’ mine

 

Holy Aurora! The Northern Lights Venture South

[23rd January 2012]

 

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

A faint green haze above the city, 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

…the sky then 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

The stunning Northumberland night sky with Orion in the centre.

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.

I love this 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…

My Own Perfect Landscape

I’ve been looking forward to writing about Cambois (pronounced Kammus) for a long time now — in particular, introducing you to the photograph featured in this post.

A small Northumbrian coastal village born from the mining industry in 1862, Cambois is a wild, bizarre location.

Like many before me, I initially journeyed there to see the wind turbines mounted on the breakwater, as well as those planted out to sea.

The turbines were impressive enough and made lovely photographs but you’ve seen one turbine and you’ve seen them all, right?

On turning round to drive back home, I was overwhelmed by the scene that unravelled before me as I saw the same location but, this time, from the other direction.

Cambois, Northumberland, UK, Photography by Jack Lowe

Cambois (pronounced ‘Kammus’)

Stepping out from the car, my memory tells me that I was rubbing my eyes in disbelief but, in all honesty, that probably didn’t happen.

The scene looked splendid but wasn’t quite right for the kind of photograph I would like to make.  Some secret sauce was required.

The necessary approach was obvious to me, a neat tip to all landscape photographers that has made the difference to so many of my landscapes…

What is that secret sauce?  A step-ladder!

In this instance, those extra few feet gave me the elevation required to distinguish the elements of this landscape that, as a fan of infrastructure, holds everything for me — community, industry, power, road, rail, sea and air.

So many fundamental facets of modern living all featuring in one photograph, my own perfect landscape.

An Historical Document

To me, this photograph now has an added dimension, as the scene cannot be captured in the same way again.

A few years ago, on a frosty December morning, I drove back to the area to witness and photograph the demolition of Blyth Power Station’s four famous chimneys.

It was a moving, spectacular event and one that made my photograph of Cambois a particularly special and unique record of the area; a true moment in time.

Demolition of Blyth Power Station, Northumberland, UK, Photography by Jack Lowe

The demolition of Blyth Power Station’s chimneys, the backdrop to my photograph.

The Print

Shot on 5×4 negative film, I still enjoy poring over the details of Cambois

High Resolution File Detail of Cambois, Photography by Jack Lowe

A hole in a roof with Blyth Power Station looming in the background…

High Resolution File Detail of Cambois, Photography by Jack Lowe

The tracks wind their way to the aluminium smelter further along the coast…

High Resolution File Detail of Cambois, Photography by Jack Lowe

To the left, a lone figure stands in the distance on the jetty (a detail I only noticed after scanning the film)…

High Resolution File Detail of Cambois, Photography by Jack Lowe

The heavy plates bolting the tracks to their respective sleepers…

Printed signed, numbered and embossed by me, this release measures 12×8″ on 20×16″ paper.

Visit my Northumberland Print Collection to buy this print directly from this site (despite appearances, a PayPal account is not required to complete transactions).

Recently remastered for availability on this site, I was delighted that print No.1 sold within moments.

Signed and numbered print of Cambois, Photography by Jack Lowe

Signed, numbered and embossed print of Cambois by Jack Lowe

A Final Aside…

Paul Kenny spotted this postcard of the Cambois miners’ banner for me, which I now often show beside my print as a nod to the heritage of this small mining community…

Framed Postcard of Cambois and Bates Miners' Banner