I’ve written, both on this web journal and in a couple of magazine articles, that I’ve started what is, arguably, my first ‘photographic project’. I say ‘arguably’ since I’d really have to insert the adjective ‘serious’ in there somewhere to make it absolutely true.
Non-serious projects include putting together a couple of Blurb books of images from my first two years making landscape photographs, as well as ‘ghost-writing’ a Blurb book for a certain poodle of note, a project which has itself led to a yet-to-be-written, follow-on book documenting the very same poodle’s remarkable Munro-bagging efforts in Scotland.
Ignoring these writing services for small, but über-fit, dogs, however, this page contains my work-in-progress on a project which came into being as the result of a short walk on some hills local to where I live. The Howgill Fells are a distinct, and distinctive, little range immediately to the east of the M6 motorway between junctions 37 and 38, and named after the hamlet of Howgill, to their south-west, rather than the small, very pretty town of Sedbergh, which sits at their southern tip.
A brief description of the Howgill Fells
Without going into the detailed geomorphology of the range, suffice it to say that they are effectively older than the Yorkshire Dales and have an entirely different character; they also differ from the Lake District hills to their west. Whereas the Dales are mostly defined by rolling, pretty limestone landscapes, and the Lakeland peaks are sharp and craggy, the dominant appearance of the Howgills is of a series of smoothly rounded hills covered in scrubby grass and heather. They perhaps don’t sound too exciting, but they’re certainly interesting and different.
Critically, at least in terms of this project, the Howgills are, once you venture above the immediate surroundings of the villages which encircle them, entirely devoid of walls and agricultural buildings. It’s relatively difficult to photograph anything resembling a wide view in either the Dales or the Lakes without featuring a wall, or even a barn; in the Howgills, they rarely intrude, making the landscape at least appear to be far less cultivated than that of the better-known, farming-formed areas surrounding them.
My motivation: what is the point of doing a ‘photographic project’?
‘Photographic projects’ are a concept I’ve been reading about in photography articles in recent months. The idea is essentially to define a unifying theme to bind a set of photographs together, whether that be:
- a particular type of photograph,
- a particular type of subject,
- a specific area,
- or any other feature you can think of which constitutes a common theme, including something as apparently simple as photographing the same subject over a defined period of time.
The benefits of this may be numerous, but for me the principle ones I hope to achieve are:
- I think it will be good to have something with a defined scope on which to focus my attention. I sometimes find that, whilst I want to go out and make photographs, the wide choice of where to go and what type of thing to do leads to indecision, prevarication, and lack of direction. It seems to me that setting out with an objective to make a certain number of images, based on a theme, should help in cutting out this repeated lack of direction. If I’m wondering “where shall I go today, and what shall I use as a subject” I can now fall back on making new images of my chosen theme.
- Laying out a time-based project, with an end-point, should provide actual motivation, in that I will need to get on with it!
- At the end of the project, assuming that all goes well, I will have a collection of images which should stand together as something which can be used in a book, an exhibition, or simply as a portfolio. This seems to me to constitute a real end result, rather than simply making individually interesting photographs. It’s nice to complete things – well, it is for me – and if something starts off with a defined set of criteria for completion, there’s more chance of actually getting to the “it’s finished; now what next?” point
Why choose the Howgils?
So, having, read about the idea and thought that it could help my development as a photographer, I was looking for something to call a project, something on which to concentrate my attention and provide the motivation for repeated visits and thorough exploration, and this relatively quiet and under-appreciated set of hills, with their long valleys and interlocking spurs seemed an ideal choice.
I’d walked on these hills before. Over a decade ago, I spent a long weekend at a holiday cottage in Sedbergh, celebrating my ’33 1/3 birthday’ with some friends, and we did one walk to the small top directly above the town. Since then, despite having moved to live less than half an hour’s drive from Sedbergh soon after that first walk, I’d not been back.
Then, on a walk in April 2011 to revisit the area, I immediately noticed how different this tiny massif is, and it struck me as a good candidate for a project. Perhaps the Three Peaks area of the Dales, would have been a more obvious subject – in fact, it definitely would have been! – but, to put a deliberately fine point on it, that’s been done a few times already! A shame, since Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and Whernside would have provided a project I could do entirely on foot; unfortunately, I just hadn’t felt inspired to choose that option.
In contrast, the Howgill Fells have some wonderful surface textures and very pleasing, geometric features; they seemed to me to offer the opportunity to attempt to be creative. They’re also, it seems, relatively un-photographed, lack the Dales’ abundance of brightly coloured walkers, and consist of what I think is an unusual set of shapes.
The project: definition and scope
My objective in this project is to produce images of the primary features of the range and to give an impression of its nature and character, both in the form of ‘intimate landscapes’ and using broader images. My time criterion is to cover the hills over approximately a year – certainly, I intend to produce images across all four seasons and select those which best show the changing nature of the hills. (This assumes that they have a changing nature, of course; needless to say, I’m hoping for some snow this winter!).
Originally I thought that I’d do this in precisely twelve images, but I may relax that self-imposed rule when putting together the final set of photographs for the project. I already have several which I’m pleased with, and I suspect that, once I’ve photographed the fells across all four seasons, twelve may not be enough. Then again, it’s a small area with much repetition, so perhaps the ‘final cut’ can be restricted to the dozen I envisaged. At the moment, I still have autumn and winter to go, so I don’t yet know how many potential images I’ll eventually have.
The images so far
No doubt I shall attempt to link the final selection of images together in a narrative when I complete the project. For the time being, the following are those I’ve made to date which I consider to be candidates for inclusion. They’re in no particular order as yet, but I shall progressively update this page as new photographs are added to the short-list, prior to the final edit and possible creation of something physical and book-like.
An early morning view towards the Lake District fells (commended in the Landscape Photographer of the Year, 2011 competition and displayed as a print at the National Theatre exhition.)
A detail of the upper part of Cautley Spout.
Cautley Spout – top to bottom: the whole 198m. of England’s highest cascade waterfall.
A fell side resembling the whole Howgills range, but on a dramatically smaller scale.
A section of the upper cascades of Cautley Spout
The northerly, central valley, which cannot be seen from any road that I’m aware of.
This was very much still summer, in terms of the date, but unseasonal dampness had led to much water and to the ferns beginning to turn.
The upper end of the Cautley Spout valley, showing Cautley Crags, the only significant, glacially-formed feature in the range.
I’ve described some of my experiences photographing the Howgill Fells in earlier posts. In order of relevance…
- Locations for photography: the Howgill Fells
- Musings on: using technology to pre-visualise images
- Musings on: Google Earth visualisation (and the need to pay more attention!)
- Musings on: ‘recognition’, inspiration and creativity
For more information on what makes the Howgills geologically distinct, the Yorkshire Dales National Park web site has an excellent article about their geological and cultural history (the southern third of the range is still within the national park, the Howgills having been partly in the West Riding of Yorkshire and partly in Westmorland until the county boundary changes consigned them to the new county of Cumbria in 1974).
A couple of requests for advice…
- A long shot, this one, but if you happen to know of any interesting bits of the Howgills which I may not have found – especially any small or hidden features – and are willing to share the knowledge, I’d be delighted to hear from you!
- Also, what do you think is a suitable number of images to include in a ‘project’ of this sort? As I said above, I originally thought twelve, but the range has, I believe, the potential for more than that. Is there an ideal size, from the perspective of a viewer?
I’m new to this, so any guidance or opinion will be gratefully received and much appreciated. Thanks!