I have decided to document the paths and lanes around where I live. I live in Saint George, Bristol, or possibly Crews Hole, depending on who writes the address, or which map you look at. Our flat is a few hundred meters from the River Avon, though despite our ellevated vantage point, the river cannot be seen, though its route is clearly visible as it wends its way downstream.
It is, however, just possible to see Crews Hole Road [sic – the lack of apostrophe in ‘Crews’ is not my doing]. We can also just spot the peaked roof of the recently-reopened Bull Inn, just beyond the cliff-clinging Buddleia plants that edges the flats’ carpark.
The aims of this project (at this point of time, leastways) is (1) to document some of the hidden, and not so hidden, routeways of the area; and (2) to learn how to get the most out of my oft-neglected Nikon F65 SLR (film) camera.
So some more detail. First, the paths and lanes. There is quite a variety of walkways roundabouts this steep valley slope. There are the roadways that plummet straight down the hill, the narrow paths cutting between houses and past backs of gardens. There’s Trooper’s Hill nature reserve with gravel-surfaced paths through the heather, and the tarmac’d River Avon path. Some trails are overgrown and unused, such as the path that starts at the end of our car park, and there are rat-runs through pavement-less narrow lanes, unnerving for walkers who find themselves facing a suped-up Mitsubishi, or impatient van driver.
Second: my camera. I have owned the camera for about 8 years. For a good few years it’s been mothballed, collecting dust in the spare room. I recently got a copy of Natural-Light Photography by Ansel Adams (1952: 1971, Morgan & Morgan: New York) from Bristol Central Library. It’s pretty technical, recommending all sorts of light meters, and discussing the merits and demerits of various, and largely obselete, film types; but depsite that, it is the philosophical approach to natural light photography (a term that refers to not only outdoor shots, but the process of photography that does not use specialist lighting equipment) that is inspiring.
I intend to use a single film per routeway. This means about 36 shots each time – so I will have to think carefully about every photograph. I documented a path today and used about 2-and-a-half films! Using a digital compact camera has certainly made me lazy about photos, with its vast memory and instant results. I look forward to slowing things down, to take my time; and from this, become more attentive of my local area.
There is another aspect to this approach which I hope will be useful. There will always be a lag between photographs taken, and photographs developed (barring converting the spare room into a darkroom). It means it is possible to write some notes about each path during or immediately after, perhaps with some research. But once the photographs are developed, it is hoped I will have a new perspective – perhaps something I missed during the excursion, or that ability to look at something in its fine, static detail.
Essentially, I envisage that the process will embody three key elements:
- Close observance and photo-framing during the walk
- Writing and considering my thoughts and feelings of that walk
- The close study of the returned photographs in all their pristine, and not so pristine, detail.