Sunday, March 01, 2009

Hebden, plotted and pieced.

Still pondering the conundrum of on the one hand embracing Hopkins' all-encompassing aesthetic of accepting all the works of man and their trappings and paraphernalia, 'their gear and tackle and trim', all the bits-and-pieces nature of the way things are, and on the other the desire to erase and eliminate all the electricity cables, cars, traffic cones, wheely bins and other lumps of contemporary tat that get in the way of a nice view.

This was never more brought home than in editing these photos of Hebden Bridge.

Hebden is saved form being the Totnes-of-the-North by its industrial heritage, the workaday, sooty-edged grittiness that remains from that. (We lived near Totnes in Devon for a year or so, couldn't stand it, but that's another story...).

It's up-and-down hilliness and old stones,

its vertical stepping and terracing and consequent confounding of the laws of perspective

the ruggedness of the surrounding hills and old farms and parishes,

and the flow of water, natural and channelled, through it, the many and varied structures that span it,

all make it picturesque, for sure. Yet , despite its apparently largely incoming population of more middle class outsiders, artists, professionals, creative and adventurous people seeking a somewhat alternative lifestyle - overused to the point of redundant though that expression is -there are many ways inwhich it retains the appearance of a hard-edged northern town, rather down on its post-industrial luck.

Which is also picturesque, in its own way. Which brings one to the question of retro charm.

I was aware when I put together the first 'gear and tackle' post, that there was a distinction between the preserved and cherished artefacts of former working days, in this case from Sidney's Powerhouse museum or the Star ferries in Hongkong, and the more unconscious patterns and interest found in the conteporary trappings of work and trade. Once something becomes old, or exotic (the stencilled Chinese characters beside the pliers immediately created a strangeness for me which caught the eye and imagination), it is on its way to being a thing of beauty. So in old sepia photos of towns and buildings, as someone pointed out, the untidy old wires and posts are part of the charm. This is at odds, of course, with our equation of youth with beauty in human beings, and our desire for acquisition of ever newer objects of technology. I'm sure there's much more to be said on this subject, and it probably has been, how the past acquires beauty in its passing, while the messy, garish, broken and piecemeal reminder of living, contemporary humanity wearies our spirits.

Part of the problem too seems to lie in not mixng your aesthetics. You could make a good picture of an interlacing cat's cradle of wires, the weathered wood of the post, the blue glass resisters, or of the patterns and motifs and colours of a car park full of cars, or the shiny reflecting surfaces of new cars in a showroom. You could quite possibly find interest in a hypnotic repeating rhythms of an arrangement of traffic cones. (I defy anyone to find beauty, pied or otherwise, in wheely bins; the cylindrical older fashioned plastic bins in the alley picture above are beginning to take on retro charm by comparison, though better if they were galvanised metal, with the heavy lids, that gave the dustmen hernias...) But if you're trying to take pictures of a pretty, quaint or otherwise attractive town or village, replete with a charming consistency of vernacular architecture, those lumps and lines of plastic and metal just jarr.

That's partly why I don't do many postcard pictures. I've no objection at all to the postcard/chocolate box aesthetic, after all, however one chooses to make a picture, one is always framing, selecting, editing, making something artificial, but I think perhaps it works better using paint, where one can colour and soften and delete and rearrange to one's heart's content, or at least the kind of skillful photo-editing software I don't have the brains or patience to master.

Tall Girl and I sometimes recall the time when the Town Architect (the father of another schoolfriend) came to talk to us at school. He exhorted us to look up, above the people and cars, the garish uniformity of the chainstore shop fronts and take in the building line, which should, if it is a good one, above all contain variety, different angles, unevenness, assymetry.

So that's what I've tried to do. I've cropped these pictures quite drastically to pick out the points of interest, and exclude the clutter, as you can see below, though now I look at it, I rather like the old man and the 'no entry' sign...

I rather hope by doing so, by making pictures of odd and uneven shape which ignore all the Golden Means and Rules of Thirds and the rest, I've done something to offset the loss of integrity and denial of truth involved, and made something counter, spare and strange in itself.


Roderick Robinson said...

Saltaire, Haworth, Hebden Bridge - it's as if you're tracking me down, discovering the reasons that drove me from the North and forced me South, then West then East. In another twenty years you'll be passing through Pittsburgh, Kingston-upon-Thames and Hereford and you'll have the complete chapter of my discontents. Sorry, that's unbearably egotistical.

I disagree about wheelie bins. They have their extramural uses albeit comic rather than aesthetic. Hereford was dithering about providing them but held back on the basis that old ladies might fall into them. I was editing a community magazine at the time and said this was a vicious calumny on old ladies. I got my wife to draw such bin, lid slightly raised, two eyes peering out. Good jeering stuff.

As to converting urban dross into blog-gold you've done it successfully many times. What's much harder is some sort of artistic co-existence between rubbish and a pretty background. In the end the instincts for that sort of thing have political rather than aesthetic roots.

Bee said...

Lucy - I liked how you illustrated your theme by showing two pictures -- one edited to maintain a certain kind of content, and one not. And in the case of your photographs, they were both quite pleasing . . . although, of course, this is not always the case.

This is such a fine and interesting essay, and unfortunately, like BB, I am also going to be rather egocentric . . . because I can't restrain myself from mentioning that I came to your site to link to your first thoughts on this topic! Of course, it was even more wonderful to discover our mental confluence in terms of this more recent post! (I've just been posting on how the camera sees things that we do not . . .)

Zhoen said...

I usually do the same with my photos, excluding the new clashing clutter, ugly SUVs and power lines. Sometimes not, though.

Anonymous said...

Interesting and well-done photos, Lucy as always along with your ever thoughful words that I do identify with! Don't we all edit our photos when we want to present a certain view just as editors do with words? Great comments too.

christopher said...

It's a remarkable thing to try to grasp the reality of having lived there from the picturesque backdrops, cropped or not. These pictures are so completely not the States, not even Canada that I can't get the sense of daily life. You would have to crop the streets out, and in some then the buildings for me to think the countryside not foreign but some chunk of my back yard.

I try to imagine living on the island, big enough to sort of not know it for an island, but even there...You see, living in Portland in the Willamette Valley, we get marine air much of the time, but sometimes not, and then we share weather with places further inland when that flow reverses itself. So we know in our bones that this is continental.
We are far enough from the ocean to be far from the ocean.

But you Brits on your home turf have to drive carefully north and south to maintain the idea that you can travel truly long distances without ending at the shore. This changes things, to never be free of that.

And there is so much more. I have to go to the east coast to really feel history. Here on the west coast it is thin, only a couple hundred years, so well have we erased the First Nations. I have lived in Bangladesh so I know that other places feel other ways.

Anil P said...

Something no longer there will evoke curiosity, and hence fascination. Maybe the longing for things past has to do with a certain weariness with things present.

Passing time rounds the edges of experiences, often making them alluring.

Unknown said...

When it comes to the cropping/selecting the inevitable "ugly" intrusive bits, i find that i often cannot appreciate the pictures i've taken until time has passed and given me some distance from the freshness of my experience...when i no longer expect the pictures to illustrate it fully. Then i'm able to accept and value the photograph for its perspective.

Sheila said...

Wow, there is much here to think about. I love Mr. Hopkins providing the framework for it all. :-) I used to crop photos in the darkroom....many long years ago. I still haven't learned to use any digital ways of doing it, so my photos either have the gear and tackle or don't, just depending on how I am able to take the shot. Wires annoy me more than just about anything.

When I lived in Florence, we often commented that you couldn't get a good daytime panorama anywhere because there was always a crane somewhere, some building in need of restoration. If not for the cranes, the buildings wouldn't last. But what an ugliness to support such beauty!

I think even gear and tackle used to be designed with more of an eye to beauty, not just function.

(Haven't done any scientific research on that, just a hunch.)

Roderick Robinson said...

Christopher: It's a nice thought Brits having to drive N - S to get the impression of a longish journey. Here in rural Herefordshire we do it differently: many country roads are narrow, winding and troughed-in with high hedges. Even the most reckless drivers don't exceed 40 mph. So the journeys last longer.

Ashby-de-la-Zouch, apart from its Frenchy name, is famous (ie, the fact turns up in pub quizzes) for being the town furthest away from any British coastline - about 75 miles.

Rouchswalwe said...

Wonderfully thought-provoking images and text ... "lumps of contemporary tat" got me remembering that when I lived in western Japan, it was all somehow photo-worthy. My Japanese friends would say with shock, "you took a picture of THAT! Why?" Here on home turf, I find myself cropping and editing to a greater extent.

Anonymous said...

Oh I am so glad you went to W.Yorks. I love Hebden Bridge and it was lovely to see the photos. You have convinced me I must go up there for a weekend. I still have friends who live in Wilsden so I could easily do so.

Now I am not a photographer. But I love old photos. But the bits that are interesting (to me) in those are often those bits on the periphery (the ugly bits?) - the advertising hordings showing old products long gone, or the old cars or bits of rubbish on the floor or what people passing by are wearing, or signs that say shillings. That kind of thing. So I tend to keep my photos as snapshots with everything still in - well actually ususually I miss bits off (people's heads generally). I am a terrible photographer.

apprentice said...

It's a bit like being a mini film maker having to get up at dawn to miss the traffic etc.

You've really captured the place, which is pretty alien to me too, I'm always amazed at how Scottish the buildings become just over the border.

Avus said...

I must admit to using "artistic licence" far more since I transferred to digital (and Paintshop Pro) from 35mm.

After all, an artist paints his own impression of a scene, so why not my own impression of ditto via Paintshop Pro?

herhimnbryn said...

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by 'signage', telling me what to buy, where to go, where not to go, but leaving it in some photographs ( like yours with the old man) can add to the piece.

Have never been to Hebdon, but now have a 'feel' of the place from your images.

At school we were visited by a local historian who said (like your school visitor) that we should look up and so, after all these years I still do.

Michelle said...

Lucy, your 'photo essays' are such a treat, no matter what they're about. The photographs are a visual feast creating new worlds for me.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Wonderful, simply wonderful. Saw you over at Bee Drunken's and came to see what things are like at your place.

I like it here.