Can You Photograph Silence?
Recently my wife -who runs an artisan handmade soap and eco printing company called Oakwood Soaperie– and I were lucky enough to attend a four-day creative residency staying in the Pole Barn Bothy at Wild Northumbrian Tipis and Yurts. My plan for the four days was to explore the local woodlands, in particular, the older broadleaf sections of Sidwood during the hours either side of daybreak. I didn’t go with any photographic expectations as I wanted to see what direction my feelings steered me in.
Walking into the woods on the first morning I was accompanied by a single sound, the eerie screeching of a hidden barn owl. Soon this stopped and I was struck by the absolute silence. I stopped walking; nothing. No distant traffic, no birds -It was late summer so the dawn chorus was none existant-, no wind, just my breathing in the soft pre-dawn mist; I could have been the only creature on earth. I thought how do I represent silence; an absence of sound that can’t be seen with a visual medium like photography? I spent the first two and a half mornings chasing this thought and produced sixteen finished images. Did I photograph silence? I’ll leave that to the viewer to decide. I am however confident I photographed the peace, calm and stillness of mind that only time spent with nature can provide. You may notice a photograph of the sun glinting off Tarset Burn in there which of course was not silent; it was so beautiful that I felt the need to include it in this collection of photographs. View the full series of images by clicking here.
Heavy rain changed my plans for the final morning and a half. Why a half? The rain kept me in bed past my planned start time on day three so I missed the pre-dawn hours; this turned out to be fortunate as just as the sun broke through the cloud and trees I walked passed Tarset Burn. The Burn was swollen and fast flowing; the water an impenetrable black with peat staining from the surrounding hills. Where this dark water broke and frothed over submerged rocks it produced a whisky warm brown foam, beautifully accentuated by the warm first light. I confess I have a love of long exposures of water, it’s a cliche at times but I can’t help myself. The landscape is so static; water so fluid, I’m drawn to using it to inject a representation of movement into a still image. The first photograph brought Turner’s Stormy sea with Blazing wreck to mind, it also reminded me of the colours of the land sections of Kerr Ashmore’s modern impressionist landscapes. I knew where the rest of my time would be spent. Finding compositions for this kind of shot is hard so I tend to defocus the lens and look through the viewfinder looking for shapes and patterns in the water, when I find something interesting I’ll focus to the desired level -photographs don’t always need to be sharp- and estimate an exposure time which will give the amount of movement I want. There are no hard and fast rules for this except it’s more often than not longer than half a second and rarely longer than five. The longer the exposure the less texture you will see in the finished exposure and I know I wanted texture in these shots so they’re all exposures between half and two and a half seconds. View the full series of images by clicking here.