Cow Bag Bastard Bleeder

'The Trent: Summer House', Ben Dolman 2014 [4x5 Black & White]

When I was a child my mother sometimes called me a Cow Bag Bastard Bleeder when I was up to no good which to be fair was most of the time. Over the past two months I have started calling the English weather a Cow Bag Bastard Bleeder as it has impeded my photography in the landscape due to it being no good most of the time, apparently we just had the wettest January since records began. I normally prefer to work in the landscape during winter as the land reveals its structure and the light is gentle but this winter though mild it has been very wet and windy from a succession of storms and the light very changeable and unkind. I use large format cameras and I normally steer clear of windy conditions where the wind speed exceeds 10-15 mph and over the past two months I have done by my standards little in the way of new photography out in the field and have used the time instead for other elements on my MA course of study.

Just before Christmas on a day when it was not raining I went out to find a location where I could photograph the meeting of the Rivers Soar and Trent from a southerly position looking north so the sky is not rendered void when photographed, after half a day I could not find a route as all roads led to private land, I was denied access and passage, I will not trespass as I only want to work in a space that is open to all, the common land for common people. After deciding to give up for the time being the search for a path to the junction of the Rivers Soar and Trent I decided to take a detour and explore the surrounding area and see if there were other locations I could work in. The area I was exploring is dominated by the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, the lay of the land is divided by not only the rivers but also by a canal, railway and the A453 that cuts across the landscape from the M1 to Nottingham. The A453 is currently under going a major civil engineering project to make it into a dual carriage way, whole swathes of the landscape is being reshaped with massive cuttings and embankments, this would have been a good subject for a project if I had started documented the land before the earthworks commenced. Because of all the barriers in this landscape be they man-made or natural you come across little islands that feel slightly cut off, not abandoned but less developed, morphed in another time.

'The Trent: Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station'
, Ben Dolman 2014 [4x5 Black & White]

Just north east of the power station is the village of Thrumpton, a typical one lane English village that once serve a neighbouring manor and its estate, the village is pleasant and relatively underdeveloped. Following the lane you leave the village and come across a clearing next to the River Trent where there is a small trailer park to the right that leads into open fields. The landscape is not overtly very pastoral, there are some rough edges but there is a feely of tranquillity there, I had a good feeling about the place both visually and mentally, I felt free and at ease. Over the next couple of hours I scouted the area walking along the public footpath taking some quick reference photographs to muse over later to see if my first impressions would be lasting, to see if I had the urge and need to return.

'The Trent: Thrumpton - Reference 
Photograph', Ben Dolman 2014 [Digital]

After my MA assessment at the beginning of 2014 I felt the need to get and do some new work and I looked again at the photographs I had done at Thrumpton in the previous year and they still seemed to captivate me so I decided to return to the location but this time armed with my large format cameras and take my time and fully engage with the subject. When I returned to the location there had been severe flooding and storms and the river was in full flow reaching halfway up the high embankments and to the very edge of the access road, some of the tall mature trees along the river bank had also been blown down since my last visit with one blocking a vista I wanted to photograph. The weather conditions were not good on that day for large format photography, it was windy and the light was changing by the second but I decided to battle on holding onto the camera so it did not move in the wind, I just wanted to make a photograph no matter what.

'The Trent: Thrumpton - Reference Photograph 2013 and Flooded River 2014', Ben Dolman 2013 and 2014 [Digital and 4x5 Black & White]

'The Trent: Thrumpton - Reference Photograph 2013'
, Ben Dolman 2013 [Digital]

Another reason why I decided to photograph using large format film cameras such windy condition was that I only intended to use the film to test a new black and white film processing workflow and it did not matter if the photographs did not turn out. In the past I have used inversion tanks, tray processing and deep tanks to process my black and white film and although the results were OK they were not great and I was especially not happy with my 8x10 black and white negatives. The new workflow I tested was using my Jobo CPP2 processor with an expert drum that I normally use for my C-41 colour negative processing, using a rotary drum may seem a bit over the top for black and white film development but I was seeking perfection and perhaps my manual skills using deep tanks are not up to the task. After processing the films through the Jobo using Ilford chemistry I was blown away by the results, the negatives were perfect with no imperfections, marks or unevenness in development and drying, I used distilled water with photo flow to finish of the films which again maybe over kill but here in the Midlands the water is hard and smells of chlorine.

Happy with my new large format black and white film development workflow I scanned the film and I was pleasantly surprise by the resulting images, the wind which had been a nuance while I was trying to make the photographs added another dimension to the photographs. The dynamics of the wind and its effect on the subject was made more evident due to the long exposures I was using, the long exposure was due to a combination of a small aperture [f64] for a large depth of field and the use of Ilford Delta 100 film, my favourite black and white film for landscape photography as it reveals great detail with little grain. I got the usual effects that happens to water when you do a long exposure, a smoothing out of the ripples and milky like quality that is a bit of a cliché in landscape photography but I will live with it here. What most intrigued me was the outer fine tree branches, some are in focus and some are blurred as they moved in the wind over the long exposure, the wind was not constant but moved in eddies. Normally if an element of the photograph is blurred I would reject it as I sought a perfect abstraction in time but in this work I enjoyed the uncertainty of the moment, a moment in time where some parts of the scene are fix others not. This changeability within a moment can only be achieved with a long exposure, my typical exposure for film at f45 to f64 was a second which may not seem long but seen against 1/250th of second hand held shoot on a digital camera with it’s massive iso range a second could be seen as an eternity.

'The Trent: Thrumpton - Tree'
, Ben Dolman 2014 [4x5 Black & White]

'The Trent: Thrumpton - Flooded River'
, Ben Dolman 2014 [Digital and 10x8 Black & White]

Over the final part of my MA I shall be revisiting this location as already in the past three visits the place has changed physically through weather and flooding, I guess it is my new muse, one found by accident.

Now all that is in my way to finishing my work for the MA is that cow bag bastard bleeding weather.

'The Trent: Thrumpton - Broken Tree'
, Ben Dolman 2014 [8x10 Black & White]

'The Trent: Thrumpton - Three Trees'
, Ben Dolman 2014 [4x5 Black & White]