The making of ‘In a dark wood’


My starting point for this set of images was technical. I had seen some beautiful photography made by in-camera multiple exposure. This is something that can be done in a number of cameras. Some of my early experiments were done using a small but elegant camera, the Fujifilm X-100F. This is a fixed lens mirrorless camera with a full frame equivalent focal length of 35mm.

The image above was shot at a local pool, the same location used in the St Mary’s Pool Gallery of images. Technically, the initial shots were straightforward. Having established the correct exposure, I set the camera to Multiple Exposure mode and composed the shot to include both the trees and their reflections.

At this point the camera asks you if you want to proceed to the second shot. If not, you can delete the first and start again. When you proceed to the second shot, you are able to see though the first image in the electronic viewfinder or on the rear screen. This enables you to line up precisely for your second shot. When you have taken it you are again given the opportunity to go ahead or return to the first image.

For the second image I turned the camera upside down so that the trees lined up with their reflections in the water and vice-versa. This produced the following image:

After that it was all down to post-production work in Lightroom ®.

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With a bigger and more complex camera, the Canon EOS 5D mk IV, it is possible to blend more than two images and two control the way in which the shots are blended in-camera. This is an experimental approach that has its ups and downs. The first ME image I made using the Mark IV was this:

At this point I began to realise that I was making images of a kind I had never made before, and that I was entering an area where I was no longer in full control of what was going on. I could accept or reject what the camera came up with, and the resulting image was the product of certain choices I had made before releasing the shutter. But things were going on that I couldn’t fully control.

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I found myself making more and more tree images, and reflecting on this I came to realise that there was something here that was particularly appealing.

I love trees but I find forests dark and scary places. So the image that the poet Dante uses at the beginning of The Divine Comedy instantly appeals to me. He describes himself at the beginning what we might now call a midlife crisis:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of this way of life of ours,
I ended up  in a dark wood
Where the straight path was lost.

I recognize this description of being tangled up in the complications of life very well: the sense that there is no way out – every exit seems to be blocked off or confused.  With hope and faith you come through it: there are glimpses of brightness, even signs of a route through, and you keep going. As Rilke said, you should not keep worrying about not finding answers, but focus on ‘living the questions now’ and ‘then perhaps some day far in the future you will gradually…live your way into the answer.’

I thought it might be possible to produce landscape images that reflected this mixture of feelings. Fortunately, at the same time I became interested in the work of a number of photographers who are exploring the use of deliberate camera movement and multiple exposure techniques to produce impressionistic and abstracted images. In particular, I looked at the work of Valda Bailey, Chris Friel, and Doug Chinnery.

As the work progressed I found myself seeking out locations which could loosely be associated with the themes and images of Dante’s lines. The opening suggests that what happened to him was earth-shattering:

There were dark sunsets:

threatening sunrises:

but always the writer (and photographer) sought the path:

You can see the whole Gallery here:

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