I’ve just back from a week’s skiing with a new clutch of images that I am slowly working through. However, this panel of four was taken in a previous year.
Skiing is a very dynamic sport – athletic, fast-paced, aggressive in the way a slope is attacked, but also graceful. Watching a skier execute turns with the sun behind him demonstrates something of the skill that we have to learn to be competent skiers. Each turn kicks up snow that hangs in the air, backlit by the sun.
The series of four images above spans two seconds during which the skier changes direction twice. Using continuous focus, capture was not too difficult. Processing was harder. You would think that four images taken in a narrow arc so rapidly would all have exactly the same exposure and could easily be batch processed. Not so: there were subtle differences that needed correcting and I’m still not entirely happy with the results. But they do show the athletic, just-in-control, attacking style of this skier.
Click on the image for an enlarged view.
When I first started visiting the Alps fifty-five years ago, much of the photography that was on view in shop windows and on postcards was in black and white. The images had a starkness about them, the absence of colour suggested cold, and monochrome simplified the MountainScape above the snow line into blacks and white. Colour often seemed an intrusion. I never lost that love of Monochrome, and although I always shoot in colour these days, there is always a thrill in converting images to monochrome.
The image above is of the classic Aiguille du Midi arête featuring skiers descending it before stepping into skis and embarking on the Vallee Blanche ski-run, reckoned to be the greatest off-piste ski-run in the Alps. A few minutes later I was descending that arête. To view my blog entry about skiing the Vallee Blanche click here.
I am not a great lover of including people in landscapes: they are often an unwelcome intrusion, but when it comes to photography in the high Alps, then the inclusion of fellow skiers or mountaineers adds information. Their presence gives a sense of scale, an awareness of the hostility of the environment, or sometimes simply what we – as mountaineers – look like when we set out on a high climb in the early hours of daylight. Climbers in this image are setting out to climb the Breithorn, an easy 4,000 metre peak: roped up and well prepared, as we always should be when we set out on a climb.
A couple of days after Christmas I re-visited this classic view of the Seven Sisters cliffs with my son. This must be the third or fourth year in a row that we have used a fine day just after Christmas day to have a good walk together. This view has been photographed, painted, and published as a Postcard, Poster or Illustration countless times and still it grabs my attention. In the foreground are the old Coastguard cottages, the beach (extreme left) is Cuckmere Haven, and from there the Seven Sisters stretch into the distance. The furthest dip in the line of the cliffs is Birling Gap.
This headline image doesn’t scream ‘nice day’. It’s all a bit grey, but for once we got the weather spot-on. As usual we were late setting off for the one-hour drive to the parking area on Seaford Head, where we munched our way through sandwiches. By then it was already 2.30pm with about an hour and a half of daylight left. But what a glorious ninety minutes of light we had ahead of us.
The sun made an appearance, and the views out to sea were superb. The soft light of a wintry sun really does result in some glorious images. We walked along the cliffs away from Seven Sisters towards the town of Seaford – a walk I’ve never done before. The compressed view of the cliffs from the classic site doesn’t really give a good impression of the length of this particular piece of coastline; but as we walked the views back to the cliffs really opened out and we started to get a far better impression.
The sky was magnificent too.
The light started to change all too soon and as we turned round just on the edge of the drop into Seaford, the light warmed up and what I would call an Alpine Glow slowly turned the white cliffs to gold. The Alpine Glow, as it’s known, is a familiar sight in the Alps when the snow-capped peaks are lit up by the setting sun, but I’ve never experienced that effect on an English landscape quite as good as this.
This was a special day. January is not a month renowned for special days, and since then the sun has been conspicuous by its absence. The days have been dull and grey. It’s the season when we want to hibernate. I took a two week break from WordPress which seems to have stretched into a whole month. Once you stop blogging, it isn’t easy to get started again! I’ve not achieved a great deal this month apart from printing a lot of B&W images and preparing entries into club competitions and for a forthcoming club exhibition.
Snow softens the Alpine landscape, smoothing out the wrinkles, concealing the ugliness of bare ground. In the alps, the deeper the snow the more is concealed.
This is the last few yards of the Fee glacier above Saas Fee in the Valais Alps in winter. In summer the ice is bereft of snow, the bare skeleton of the glacier revealed: stark, jagged shards, collapsed ice towers. In a word – chaos.
Now, as the snows of winter re-accumulate, the outlines of the glacial remains are softened and the spaces filled in. Ultimately the cavernous space may be completely snowed-over. Unrecognisable. And with each freeze/thaw cycle the surface becomes a carapace: rock hard. When spring arrives, for a time the carapace will remain; in places forming snow bridges that will bear the weight of a skier or mountaineer. But beware, as the air warms and the snow softens, the snow bridges will begin to melt. Early summer is the most dangerous time of year to cross a glacier. Crevasses lurk, unseen. So easy to step on what you consider to be safe ground and suddenly sink through the surface to waist height.
Enough of that! Don’t want to give you all nightmares. The Holiday season is about to start. So – my best wishes to all of you reading this, whether you are people of faith or not. Enjoy the break. A time to be with family and friends, and to welcome in another year. A year that feels more uncertain than any I can remember over here in the UK. Parliament has paused, the papers for the first time in months are without the daily carnage that is Brexit. It will start all over again far too soon.
See you next year!
The area around Victoria in Central London has been a rich source of new images this year. On my regular trips to London, if I have the time, I take a walk around the area searching out images. Each day brings something new and one learns how critical the light is to images. There are days when this huge building looks drab, and days when it positively sings. And an image can make a world of difference to that day.
Click on the image to see the enlargement – it really does make a difference.
Winter and shorter hours of daylight brings benefits, one is more time indoors to catch up on some long overdue processing, particularly B&W conversions.
The three images in this post go back quite a few years, two of them to 2013 and one even further to 2010. They all show the line of descent off the Weissmies, a popular 4000 metre peak above the Saas valley in the Valais Alps. All three images were taken with a telephoto lens from Hohsaas, easily reached by uplifts from Saas Grund.
In the Alps, black and white photography simplifies the mountain-scape and climbers are reduced to mere dots in the vastness of the mountains. Click on the images to see an enlargement to discover the mountaineers.
The route takes a dramatic line through an area of ice cliffs and crevasses before reaching a lower plateau.
Once on the lower plateau, the route skirts a heavily crevassed area to reach rocks (out of picture, leftwards) and the point at which rope and crampons can be removed and the remaining descent then continues on easy rocky paths.
The floor will do nicely as a place to chill out, take a break, talk with friends. The floor is free, you don’t have to buy a drink or food to use this space. This is Tate Britain in London – the vast central space where often there are major installations but at other times it is just a space to relax in. No-one is going to ask you to get up and move on.
I spotted this little group of young people. Two in deep conversation, and two additional peripheral figures. They may be all part of a larger group: some choosing to chat, others preferring to be quietly by themselves, or elsewhere in the gallery.
I was attracted by the ‘arrangement’. A triangle of figures, plus one – that ‘one’ facing away. The composition creates an inevitable tension; it asks questions with no definitive answer.