Nine and a half years later.

Back in 2011 I was exploring the country taking photographs for a book – Wales at Waters Edge – about the Welsh coastline. It wasn’t landscape, or wildlife, or documentary; rather a combination of all three. It took me a long while to realise it, but what I was doing was creating a natural and social history of the coast of Wales. On 2nd July I found myself in Tenby and discovered that there was a sandcastle-building contest on South Beach that afternoon. It sounded like a good photo opportunity.

So I duly turned up and took a series of photographs of the event. As it happened none of them was used in the book and most have long since been deleted. But a more interesting idea was forming in my imagination – to come back after the contest was over as the tide was rising. I thought a series of images of disintegrating sandcastles might illustrate sea-level rise and the consequences of global warming. So I returned to the beach about six in the evening – armed with my tripod – for some long exposures. It was deserted and the waves were beginning to lap around the first row of sandcastles. I quickly selected one, set up the tripod, and took a series of images as it collapsed. Focal length was set at 50 mm and exposures ranged between 1.6 and 4 seconds at about f11. I must have been using a neutral density filter as it was still broad daylight. I ended up with 35 images taken over a period of 11 minutes.

They then sat on my hard drive for nine and a half years! But in January I discovered that the Mid-Wales Art Gallery (near Caersws) was inviting entries for an open exhibition on the subject of global warming. I went back to my Tenby long exposures, selected ten of them with a view to making a sequence and began processing them. I made a whole series of minor changes to them all in an attempt to standardise the colour saturation, and cropped them all square. I sent a preliminary set to the gallery, who approved the idea, and suggested that I should have them printed on aluminium. Although this is an expensive medium to print on it avoids the need for framing.

I found a printing company online who do aluminium prints and provide layouts for dropping images into, including a 3 x 3 grid. Arguably a horizontal or vertical strip of single images might make the message clearer but the square format is much easier to deal with for both me and the gallery. I’ve just sent the work away for printing.

The exhibition will be at Mid Wales Arts, Caersws, Powys; provisionally from April 2nd > May 17th. Tel: 01686 688369

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Bird/land rides again

Bird/land is showing again this summer, at Plas Brondanw, between Penrhyndeudraeth and Beddgelert in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park.

Set in a stunning location, Plas Brondanw was the home of the late Clough Williams Ellis – creator of Portmeirion,  the surreal Italian-style village on the Dwyryd estuary. The gardens at Plas Brondanw have been open to the public for many years but this is the first year the house has opened its doors. It is a very different venue to those at Machynlleth and Aberystwyth. Each room contains maybe 6 or 8 works, punctuated by windows which overlook the gardens and the surrounding landscape. But I think they work well there.

The official opening is on Sunday 30th – details above – and I will be giving a talk on Sunday August 13th, at 2.30 pm. Places for both events genuinely are limited. Opening hours for the exhibition are Wednesday to Sunday, 10.30 am until 4 pm. The exhibition closes on August 28th.

Edit: In the first paragraph I wrote that Plas Brondanw is in the heart of the National Park. It certainly feels as if it is, but in fact it’s on its edge. North and east of Porthmadog the National Park boundary diverts inland to exclude the village of Penrhyndeudraeth and the low-lying farmland drained when the Cob (the causeway to Porthmadog) was built just over two hundred years ago. One can only imagine the exquisite beauty of the area before it was drained. Even now at big spring tides on still days the mountains are reflected beautifully in the flooded Glaslyn River. And who knows, in these times of sea-level rise and “managed retreat” the day could come again when this land is fully tidal again.


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Bird/land opens at Aberystwyth Arts Centre


These are exciting times as my exhibition Bird/land opens at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. It’s in the Photography Gallery (Gallery 2) on the top floor and is showing until August 27th. Opening hours are as follows:

Monday – Saturday 8 am > 11 pm; Sunday 12 noon > 8 pm; Free entry.

It’s an expanded version of the original exhibition, with eight new small single images and nine new triptychs. I must say it looks very tasteful in there. So if you’re in mid-Wales in the next couple months do drop in and have a look around!

I’ll be giving a talk in the Arts Centre’s cinema at 5.30 pm on Thursday July 14th. Entry is free of charge.

For a sneak preview of the work, go to my website and click on the Bird/land gallery, or click on this link.


For background to the exhibition click here to link to my Blog.


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Final thoughts on Bird/land…..for now……..

Mallard (from Bird/land)
Mallard (from Bird/land)

Well, Bird/land closed just over a month ago and I have to say in many respects it was a success. Feedback was excellent; visitors were particularly complimentary about how different the work was to anything that I had previously done.  Print sales were also very good  and much better than I was expecting. As a result I have just sent a cheque for £140 to the RSPB towards reconstruction of their hides at Snettisham in Norfolk. I had hoped to make multiple visits to Snettisham during the course of the project to photograph the countless thousands of waders which congregate there but a storm surge of December 2013 destroyed the hides. So my small contribution will benefit conservation generally and bird photographers in particular.

What has been disappointing is the almost complete lack of coverage I have received in the press and the photographic media in particular. I suppose the exhibition did fall between two stools – not really bird photography, and not landscape either – so it was difficult to categorise. And, of course, it was in a small town in mid-Wales and who could even pronounce its name? But not for the first time have I believed that there is a prejudice amongst the English media about all things Welsh.

All is not yet lost, however. I have agreed to display some of the work at RSPB Ynyshir, my local reserve, next spring. And on a much larger scale the whole exhibition will be shown at Aberystwyth Arts Centre for two months next summer. I am hoping to be able to expand it to fill the larger photographic gallery there but that will be subject to receiving further funding from the Arts Council of Wales. So watch this space for further information about dates, etc.

The image above is one of only two singles in the exhibition. It has sold really well and only one remains at the time of writing. How I wish I’d offered an edition of ten or more instead of just six! It is so difficult to know how to sell photographs. Over the summer I noticed an exhibition of really rather average black-and-white landscapes in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, in an edition of 295. Only in the photographer’s wildest dreams would anywhere near that number be sold. A short edition would, I hoped, create a feeling of exclusivity around the work, and thus increase sales. But I think I may have misjudged it. Just one of the lessons I have learned over the last few months!


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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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