A Place Set Aside

Ode to Hido, Ben Dolman 2016

Recently my photographic output has taken a nose drive due to poor weather over the winter in the UK so I have decided to start sourcing local locations to work in, places to go at short notice and try and do some work when there is a pause in the conveyer belt of storms crossing from the Atlantic.



After much pondering I decided to investigate some of the 32 nature reserves dotted across Leicestershire and Rutland that are run by the local Wildlife Trust. The nature reserves are a mixture of different habitats, some are reclaimed land from past industrial activity whilst others are reserved for their special wildlife and flora interest. The sites are managed for educational as well as recreational purposes which is a delight to see allowing children and adults the opportunity to learn and observe nature at close quarters, but that is not what initially drew me to these locations. What I was interested in was possible unhindered accessibility to the landscape, a modern common land if you will and I also was drawn to the idea of a 'feigned' wilderness.

The nature reserves can be busy which is good thing but I prefer quieter moments when I am working, I like the solitude. If you visit a nature reserve mid week it is usually empty or if you choose a reserve that does not allow access to dogs they tend to be quieter even at weekends during the winter. Over the years doing landscape photography where ever I am in the countryside no matter how remote a dog walker always appears, the are a bit like chewing gum - everywhere. The sites are an artifice, they are not a true wilderness which we have not truly witness in England since before the iron age, all our landscape to some extent has been shaped by humans be it agriculture, forestry, mining, industry, transportation and now recreation which have degrees of impact in shaping the land and nature. The sites are called nature reserves but I refer to them as islands of tranquility, humble little specks of land surrounded by the hubris of the atomised modern world and seemly unrelenting narcissism that western society seems to have succumbed to. The very humility and modesty of the spaces is very appealing in seeking out some kind visual delight from the scrubland, the old mine workings or the abandoned railway line. There is nothing grand at first glance in these nature reserves, they seem to inhibit something other to that of the large national and public parks or the old landed estates run by the national trust with their Capability Brown sweeping landscapes but nevertheless there is an  majesty in the landscape, one that is slightly obscured and requires a degree of patient and deeper observation to unearth hidden treasures.

So far I have only visited four of the nature reserves and I will endeavour to explore the other nature reserves over the coming year, the only regret I have at the moment is I wish I had started earlier as winter is coming to a close and the reserves will become busy and the rawness of the landscape will soon diminish as they become covered in green lush vegetation. The two sets of photographs in this posting are from Dimminsdale which has a disused limestone quarry to the south of the village and an iron quarry near the village of Holwell.

The first set of photographs are of the laundry pool near Dimminsdale that originate from a series of experiments I have been doing with a Cooke triple converter lens [focal range 311, 476 and 646mm] to see how it captures a difficult subject of the trees reflected in the pool in poor winter light conditions.

The Laundry Pool - Dimminsdale, Ben Dolman 2016 - 8x10 BW Cooke Lens 311mm

The Laundry Pool - Dimminsdale, Ben Dolman 2016 - 8x10 BW Cooke Lens 476mm

The Laundry Pool - Dimminsdale, Ben Dolman 2016 - 8x10 BW Cooke Lens 646mm

I have not had the chance to developed all the 8x10 negatives but hopefully over the next month these photographs will be posted on the blog but in the meantime I have some reference digital photographs to give a sense of place. The jury is still out if the photographs will make the cut but I am enjoying myself, but beyond the image making these nature reserves need to be expanded, they are not just important for nature but also for the human soul, and for me the more wilder and less managed they are the better.

The photographs below have the working title 'rustland' referencing the iron ore that once was quarried at Browns Hill, the iron ore is still present in the water, at the edges of the streams you see a yellow deposit and in the standing water the iron content is quite vivid.

Standing water next to the mineral line

Mineral Line - Rustland, Ben Dolman 2016

Avenue - Rustland, Ben Dolman 2016

Coppice - Rustland, Ben Dolman 2016

Pig Sty - Rustland, Ben Dolman 2016

Gully - Rustland, Ben Dolman 2016

Brown's Hill Quarry, Ben Dolman 2016

Whilst surveying the Holwell nature reserve I kept on coming across the remnants of fires, looking at the remnants great care seems to have been taken in the making of the fires and the piles of ashes reminded me of pyres, their presence having ritualistic overtones that filled my imagination as I journeyed through the landscape.

Pyres, Ben Dolman 2016