Hebden Bridge in Sepia 27th March 2015

“Black and White Photography” – a journal that I enjoy regularly – printed an interview with Bruce Perry, a very experienced and well established landscape and travel photographer. He has fairly recently been working in black and white, and makes this comment about what he has found. “I think a lot of beginners push up the contrast and they think it looks really exciting, but you learn as you go along that that kind of image is quite hard to look at for more than a couple of minutes. It becomes quite fatiguing, everything is shouting at you”.

I found that really interesting. We seem to be in a photographic age which has discovered the contrast slider, and has developed an infatuation with “HDR”, and images with “impact”. That of course is quite unfair, although it does seem that it’s images with those “in your face” kind of qualities that win competitions! The half dozen or so of Perry’s images published along with the interview make it clear that he certainly subscribes to a different philosophy. (Can one subscribe to a philosophy? – you know what I mean!). His grasp of composition is clear to see, and the care that has gone into each exposure is easy to guess at. They don’t have impact, but they do exert a subtle pressure to “come in and look around”, to examine, ponder and reflect. That’s a visual process that takes time of course, and maybe that will limit their appeal in the “popular” market.

We decided to go to Hebden Bridge, which is a one time mill town in Calderdale that has become something of a tourist centre based on the tourism industry generated by the Rochdale Canal. As we discovered, there’s a fair amount of new building, but the core of the town is original West Yorkshire, sometimes with the architectural confidence that was built on the success of the woollen industry, fed and nourished by the rail, road and canal links that run up and down Calderdale.

In my mind this was always going to be a “black and white” shoot, and so it turned out, but I had Bruce Percy’s comments very much echoing around as I looked for images, and again when it came to processing the images in Lightroom. So I played with ‘contrast’ and ‘clarity’ and felt increasingly unhappy with the “feisty” images that I was developing of these old stone buildings. I tried various options, finally settling on the “sepia” preset that Lightroom offers, deciding that it was too strong, and toning it down into a preset of my very own, cunningly called “Light Sepia”. In the end I’ve simply applied that preset to the whole collection, and quite like the result. I find the toned b&w to be quite restful and easy on the eye, and it does, to my mind, seem appropriate to the tone and colour of the place, albeit on a cloudy and thus fairly flat lit day. It does have an immediate sense of nostalgia as a “look”, and that also seems to fit with the place, which has a clear sense of its own past, even if sometimes it feels a touch uneasy about its present!

Here’s a selection …….

I’ve kept this last image separate; it’s very much my favourite of the day.

The composition is exactly as came from the camera, it hasn’t been cropped at all. My eye was caught first of all by the canal boats rudder and my initial thought was to zoom in tight on that. I widened the shot though to draw in the drainpipe! This may seem a very curious thing to have done, but I think that the two items introduce a collection of angles that is quite interesting. The pipe is vertical and off it come the horizontals of the wall and the water line. The slope of the rudder head sort of connects with the slope of the stairs in the background, and all that angularity is softened by the oval of the plant growing over the wall.

Basically I like the shape and enjoy wandering around inside the image, wondering where the doors lead and so on. I think the Bruce Perry idea works here in that to wind up contrast etc to make an impact would thrust one away rather than draw one in. Sorry if that reads a touch “arty farty” ….. but it works for me!

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