A light bulb moment

Bird / land no. 15 - crows
Bird / land no. 15 – crows

Earlier on this year I may have mentioned that I had been awarded an Arts Council of Wales grant to create new work for an exhibition in summer 2015.  Receiving the grant was exciting but the hard part was yet to come – yes, actually doing the work – but bit by bit, piece by piece, it is coming together.

For many years I photographed landscapes while at same time only watching birds. It partly went back to an earlier stage in my life when I spent a period of time working on and off for bird conservation bodies. During these years I spent months at a time in exotic parts of the UK, either surveying upland birds or protecting rare species at the nest site. In neither situation was I able to photograph the object of my interest. It just wasn’t possible, and I kept the camera to one side for the landscapes. But a few years ago I began to put my two interests together. There are many fabulous bird photographers around and I knew that it would take me many years to build up my skills to their leveI, if I were ever able to do it at all. But what I did have, I felt, was an awareness of the landscapes the birds inhabit which some of the photographers seemed to miss. That was the direction I decided to take.

The arts establishment is not known for its interest in wildlife. Many individual painters, photographers and sculptors (for example) are passionate about nature but there seems to be an unspoken agreement that it is not a subject worthy of the serious artist. So in theory it was probably an uphill battle for me to convince the Arts Council that my project was worthy of support. One needs to dress one’s ideas up a little to convince them of their value, so an exhibition of single images would probably not be sufficient. I came up with an idea which was not cutting edge but seemed genuinely innovative. This was to present the images in groups of three or more – triptychs if you like – linked by species, location or aesthetic qualities. Each individual image would be panoramic format. It also might have helped that I already had a good exhibiting track record achieved with minimal Arts Council support. Whatever, they went for it.

So an exhibition of 35 “pieces” would need something like 100 separate images; each one, ideally, worthy in its own right of being exhibited, and able to be linked to two others in some way or another. Ambitious or what! To be honest the amount of funding I received was in no way adequate for the time and expenses I have already spent on the project, not to mention the next six months, but it keeps the wolf from the door. By now I’m well on the way towards completing the work, and I have hundreds of images potentially suitable for use. Sometimes it’s possible to visit one location and come away with a set of images that are subtly different but similar enough to be shown together, and this can work very well. But in most cases the biggest problem is grouping individual images which may have been taken in widely different locations.

Not being specifically relevant to Wales, this project has allowed me to travel to some fabulous locations elsewhere in the UK and on the continent. But – rather appropriate for the time of year, I think – my most recent attempts have been very close to home. I’m only about five miles as the red kite flies from the Bwlch Nant-yr-arian feeding station. Here, at two o’clock every day, 10 kilograms of waste meat chunks are deposited by the side of a lake for the accumulated gathering of kites and crows. It is rather an overwhelming spectacle for the photographer, with well over a hundred kites present every day. Most people would eventually come up with some stunning close-ups of individual birds sweeping down to grab some food, or carrying a piece away to eat elsewhere. But that didn’t fit my brief, so I walked some distance away from the lake and gained some altitude. I’m still not quite sure how I’m going to tackle the kites but on one visit I noticed a dead conifer trunk nearby which served as a regular perching place for crows to observe the proceedings. It was just one of those light bulb moments! It was not what I originally had in mind but by visiting the same spot several times I came away with several suitable images and earlier this afternoon I put five of them together. While this may not be the finished article it was a real buzz to see how well they worked as a set!

What do you think?

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