on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Two Days in the Clouds

Play Misty for Me

David Clapp

David Clapp

Non-award winning landscape, travel, architectural photographer and writer based in South Devon.

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In late November last year, whilst on a break from my foreign schedule, I headed off to Dartmoor, to photograph in some of the thickest fog I had seen in a long while. The unusual event saw visibility down to just a few metres, which was perfect to try out an intimate experiment, one which I thought I would borrow from the great minds of large format.

The recent resurgence for shooting trees and forests in ridiculous detail has always fascinated me. In an attempt for the group to depart from the played out sunrise / sunset cliché that plagues 35mm, it has arguably and unintentionally become a cliché of its own. Although the subject has gained popularity I feel it fails more often than it succeeds. While some create compelling images, both interesting and unusual in their construction, it seems all too easy for others to miss the dartboard entirely, yet still receive adoration and retain boys club credibility.

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It is here that I always feel the spin. Let's jump back 15 years to my days of auditioning HiFi interconnects with a HiFi news contributor. I was left feeling rather ignorant as I strained and struggled to grasp the almost invisible nuances. I can’t hear any difference in the bass extension, or a snappy livelier rhythm from two different brands unless one is silver and the other is bell wire. It was here that my respect for those who could appreciate started to fracture, as the word ‘placebo’ began to surface.

Large format often leaves me feeling brushed aside in a similarly transposed way - ‘You’re not evolved enough to appreciate our art.’ – I’ve been grasping for the secret fine art door handle for some time, but I’ve been out in the cold for so long that I’m unsure that my entrance even exists. When the misty movement began, I have to say I felt many had substituted the all important fundamental ingredient of ‘well thought out composition’ to revel in the impeccable detail, or was it the presentation that shrouded me from the truth.

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Thankfully and also perhaps sadly for large format, the internet strips things back to their roots. At 800 pixels I care for nothing other than composition, good light and careful processing. Yet as soon as I see the footer ‘Linhof’ or ‘Ebony’, I feel respectfully obliged to wear my all too vacant stare, nod in uncertain agreement and head inwards, looking for the magic ingredient that eludes me once again.

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Forest Madness

I remember my first attempt at shooting in Wistman's Wood some six years ago. I walked from Two Bridges up the valley in thick mist rubbing my hands with glee, only to find it had missed the woodland entirely. I sat despondently on a low branch for over an hour and slowly like an apparition it descended through the trees in short bursts. I remember wandering, clambering, slipping and striding my way around, feeling continually tricked as I attempted to unravel and decode.

The mist helps put forests into order, by adding much needed separation to an otherwise jumbled frenzy. As we move in three dimensions, our mind stitches our environment together into a sense of place. As soon as the camera comes out, perspective is flattened and with it the magic disappears.

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But in this instance, I can truly say I got lucky. This was without a doubt the thickest fog I have witnessed in a forest, in fact, it should be categorised as a cloud. In these conditions, details begin to fade after just a few metres and it's this magic that creates a new set of rules. I spent most of my time searching for images that afternoon being continually called onwards - surely I was missing something truly fundamental. The next time a possible composition appeared, I tried a longer focal length instead of marching towards disappointment.

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Switching Caps

I found another small section of forest that afternoon and I set up some rules. I kept envisaging a 5x4 mindset, so I pulled the handbrake and decided to make three images in just 20m. With nothing that much to work with, I decided to calm myself and let my vision open out into a more forgiving and experimental approach.

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After I discarded a number of pointless concepts I started to disassemble my commercial brain and look for subtlety. Curves and tones started to appear in the most bizarre of ways. I started to follow the loosest of lines and go with the flow, attempting to secure a more vague composition and I have to say it worked.

The images that followed were unusual; I wouldn’t call them particularly interesting but what they contain is a cohesion that I can't quite put my finger on. I am left feeling uncertain and I still feel uncertain, but perhaps like all art, it's never completed, it’s abandoned.

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I have to conclude that the line we draw through our creativity isn’t a line at all. In fact the line is so fuzzy I have resigned myself to the fact that it’s a zone and you are free to enter any time you wish. Do not expect to return to an adoring audience but perhaps disregard the need for one altogether. See if you can see - in fact, abandon your support mechanism entirely, try to look into something that transports you into something new.

Do I like putting messy forests in order? No, not particularly, but I am glad I ventured in as I found something I was not expecting, which can only be a good thing.


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