Saturday, 8 June 2013

Day 159 : a grand day out!

Today was a jaunt that had been eagerly anticipated since January. I seem to recall I'd seen the details for Robert Canis workshops in the photography holidays booklet, possible with B&W photography magazine. I’d scribbled down some details and pondered that we could probably fill his whole Dungeness workshop. I threw the idea out there and got the agreement and Robert was happy to select another date that we could all attend together. We selected a mutually agreeable day, eventually, in March. The week we were due to go there was a sudden realisation that it would finish late, was on a Sunday and hence a “school night” and that this was far from desirable. There was much consternation that I'd organise such an affair thus but in the end Mother Nature intervened and the sudden flurry of bad weather again made everyone nervous that we'd be stranded in the snow AND on a school night, so we postponed.
Then all we has to pick was a new date and clearly, not a Sunday. This was momentous. When we finally agreed a new date that worked for the majority, we lost a few of our original group, including a much needed driver, and had to find some new intrepid photographers to join us in June. After literally hundreds of messages back and forth, confirming, re-confirming, changing minds, not reading the itinerary and hence making plans for the same night - doh, Stone Roses concerts, birthday plans, possible other commitments, we somehow got seven photographers and a dog to Dungeness at almost the same time on the same day. Really that was an achievement in itself, the photography was bound to be the easy bit!
Firstly we rendezvoused at the Pilot Inn to catch up and re-fuel for the machinations ahead. The Pilot Inn turned out to have an unusual interpretation of ’dog friendly’, in that “yes, we’re dog friendly but they're not allowed inside!” Hmmm, anyone see the problem here?
Firstly there was some dog sitting outside, it was really too windy to eat out there so we took it in turns, then DJ retired to the car for a little whilst we finished our desserts, I don't think he was that excited about the blustery conditions either. DJ is so well behaved everywhere, he shouldn't have to abide by the rules of lesser dogs. He’ll happily curl up under a table in a pub for hours whilst we eat, drink, debate, photograph. As long as he's close by LB, he's one happy pup. He now also has his new cohabitee AOL (we’ve all worked out who's living with who in this scenario) so if either leave, to go the bar etcetera, he has a momentary concern but remains still happily ensconced in a cosy spot. I will admit if you introduce fireworks to any occasion he does act in an extraordinary fashion trying to immediately discover a safe haven no matter how preposterous! But we are not expecting fireworks today or indeed, snow so everything should be alright!
After apparently a very fine steak for some, fish or vegetarian for the rest, a snooze for DJ, we were fortified enough to kick-off the photography bit.
Dungeness is really a curious place on many levels, it’s a desert, UK’s only desert. It is home to Europe’s largest stretch of shingle beach, France is only 27 miles away (we were sure we could see France but possibly we were looking in the wrong direction!). The nuclear power station (and the now defunct older nuclear power station) have been responsible for keeping some of the surrounding area and waters unnaturally ’warm’ so they attract a wide variety of bird life, flora and fauna. The beach has featured in a plethora of TV dramas and movies. The desolate, seemingly post-apocalyptic landscape is dotted with abandoned boats, rusting winching machines, dilapidated fishermen's huts, the general detritus of tangled nets, fraying ropes, burnished with use iron tracks with no destination. It is a photographers’ paradise and has been oft photographed from every angle, and today we’re planning to discover a few more.
Robert meets us where we will leave the cars and walk onto the shingle. He has bought various images he’s taken here on previous occasions to suggest some likely spots and angles, he talks us through some useful knowledge, a bit of hyper focal distance stuff and inspires us to get going. Luckily seven photographers (oh and a dog with his own doggie-cam) have entirely different ideas on what we like to photograph. DJ gets unduly excited about a dead fish head he finds, each to his own! AL likes shooting stuff through stuff (technical term there!), whereas FM is drawn to the tangled fraying ropes and old nets strewn about on the ground. I’m loving the boats, but attaching my close up filters I'm instantly drawn to the vivid orange nets being animated by the squally wind against the blue, blue sky. And then looking down the splintery old railway sleepers and rusty tracks catch my eye.
We all pick different viewpoints on the boats. AOR walks down towards the waters edge and can hence look up to a stunning, dramatic shot of one of the sun-tinged abandoned vessels. Our crazy Swede CJ takes a gorgeous, imposing shot of one of the boats and photographers in silhouette as the sun sets. Spanish JP finds me some interesting shells for some further close-ups.
After the sun has gone down on us we brave the cold, as the teeth-chattering temperatures I suggested we all prepare for descend upon us, and we have anticipated this in a variety of (mostly inadequate) ways, myself included. But I'm enormously grateful I did at least pack a very cosy hat, silk gloves that I can still operate my camera with, and a not very covering bright fuchsia pashmina which wants to snake above my head in the wind, not really doing its job! We attempt to stay warm by experimenting with flash guns bouncing off the decaying machinery and boats. Spanish JP grabs a few candids of the chilly snappers, thankfully recording for posterity what I'd look like in a wind tunnel! We’re waiting for it to get properly dark for some light painting.
The plan is that we line our tripods up with one the picturesque ramshackle boats in the foreground and behind the power station which is handily illuminated. Robert takes a powerful 2 million candle (though I didn't actually count) torch and ’paints’ the light of the boat’s frame whilst we leave our shutters open for 20, 30 odd seconds to capture the light-kissed form. The effects were rather startling and beautiful and each of us captured a slightly different take. For one of my shots a pink cloud appeared above the power station, and by the next attempt it had gone. It’s true - I do see the pink in everything!
We had an awesome day of photography, learnt lots, thanks to Robert, I’ll concede it was beyond nippy but when I'd warm up I had some striking shots to show for my efforts. Where shall we go next?

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