February 2020

Whixall Moss

It was a mild Christmas this year with the foliage keeping more autumnal colours and gradations of brown hue. I took the chance to visit a couple of my favourite locations in my home county of Shropshire, Whixall Moss and Carding Mill Valley, along with one just across the border into north Wales that I'll be writing about in the next few posts. They're all quite different locations, the moss is sunken and flat making it hard to draw subjects, the hills are vast and rolling whilst the waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr is an obvious subject where the challenge is to find more creativity than a stock shot.

Whixall moss is quite near where I grew up and I never actually visited it properly until the last couple of years. Previously the nearest I'd got was visits to the now defunct car scrapyard, Furbers, completely overlooking the natural beauty of the surroundings. Its a vast sodden peat bog, a site of national scientific interest that Natural England now manage, but its history was extraction of the peat for fuel and also as a rifle range in World War I. Visually its a stunning landscape, particularly in the autumn and winter with the subdued greens, browns and oranges, but there are not many obvious photographic subjects. Trees are sprawling and its hard to isolate particular things to focus on. Inspired somewhat by a recent book I acquired called "Nature's Chaos" with text describing Chaos theory and photographs by Eliot Porter, I decided to seek out images with the colours and texture of the landscape at their forefront rather than a punchy and obvious subject.

Although I never stopped shooting colour, I have shot much less in recent years and typically its been an after thought to me shooting black and white, if I used it at all. I often found colour often an unwelcome distraction and I felt it was easier me to be creative without it. The Eliot Porter book has helped give me a fresh perspective, as also has a book called "Earth Forms" by Stephen Strom that I found most interesting. He is an astromer who turned his attention to the terrestrial landscapes around him in the southwest United States. His landscapes show the chaos of shubs scattering the eathy hills that at first glance appear to be more works of abstract art than an image of a landscape. His use of a telephoto lens to compress the landscape works to abstract the chaos to some appearance of regularity but the longer your eyes dwell on the image you are drawn to the chaos in the detail. Colour is crucial for achieving this effect as the texture of a monochrome image would not provide the same complexity to explore.

There is beauty in the mundane and capturing these helped me to start thinking about how to observe this more critically. The subtle pallette of Portra 400 helps and on a technical note using Negative Lab Pro to invert the raw negative scan to the colours you see here is a huge improvement from the basic colours you get straight out of Epson or Vue Scan. One of the reasons I think I'd never felt too good about colour negative film was the inconsistent colours I'd get when scanning myself, so this tool seems great.