12 x 12 Challenge 04

Having decided against doing the last 12 x 12 Challenge I was determined to do this one, but the brief threw me a bit:

Take what you believe will be the final series of photographs before you die.
— Nick Brandt

Certainly wide scope for interpretation here, from the literal to the symbolic.  Geoff’s contribution was to suggest a series of pictures showing a luscious meal slowly disappearing from the plate, followed by a picture of a hangman’s noose!

I pondered two approaches to it.  One was to ask myself what I would most like to photograph – ie, if I looked back at the end of life, what would have had great meaning for me? – and the other was to show something that symbolised life itself – brief and transient.  I asked myself what I’d want to photograph if they were the last photographs I could ever take, and the answer was the sea.  That simply wasn’t going to be practical, however, so I had to think again.

I go on photographing the skies from my window because they’re just too amazing not to.  Although it feels like doing more of the same, and what I really wanted from these challenges was to do something a little different, clouds do work well to symbolise a life – there for a short while, often glorious, sometimes ordinary, but each one different.

On a couple of occasions recently, there have been an unusual number of jet trails, and these too, could represent the journey through life.  They are what remains of a real journey and the ‘memory’ of the plane’s passing hangs in the sky for a while before fading to nothing, as people live on in the memories of others, the trail becoming fainter as the years go past.

So these are my five photos for this challenge.  I struggled a bit to find a way of making them hang together as a set.  I wanted a sequence that roughly corresponded to the fading of the light, but as they were all taken on different evenings in different conditions, I wasn’t sure how to arrange them.  Eventually I decided on this – the two ‘blue’ shots at the beginning, gold in the middle, followed by the two orange/pink/blue images.  At each end and in the middle are the images with branches, while the two inbetween are just sky, but these two have jet trails while the others don’t.  It gave the whole a satisfying symmetry.  The final image has a quietness that I rather like compared to the drama of the others and seemed to make a fitting end-piece.

Clouds over Newark

Clouds with jet trails

Sunset clouds with jet trail

Darkness falls


Why I haven’t been out much, lately

Sky over Newark

In the last month, our Airbnb bookings have really taken off.  We’re in the middle, right now, of more than a fortnight’s worth of back to back bookings and that, plus my casual job in the local libraries, has taken up so much of my time and attention that this week’s blog post is only just scraping into what is still, technically, this week.

I’ve never done so much bed changing, house cleaning, and laundry.  I’ve never waited for so many people to turn up at the door, rarely arriving anywhere close to the time that they say they will.  I’ve never set so many breakfast tables or bought so much bread and toilet paper.  But it’s been good – everyone who’s stayed so far has been lovely, it’s been interesting to meet and talk to so many people, and it’s producing a goodly amount of much needed income.  The guest before the current ones also presented us with a freshly-caught trout, which was great but led to some consternation about which of us was going to gut it.

Out of all the people who’ve booked, there’s only been one awkward customer and he hasn’t even arrived yet.  He’s booked in next week for five days, made the booking several days ago, and has been bombarding me with messages ever since.  First off he wanted to know exactly how far we were from his place of work.  This seemed to me like something he could have worked out for himself, but I duly found the website for his workplace, got the postcode, entered both postcodes into Google maps, hit Directions, got the info, and sent it back to him.  Then he wanted to know if he could have a discount for a longish stay, so we took a bit off the usual fee.  To do this, I had to send him a Special Offer, and he then wanted to know every step of the process – answer: I don’t know because no-one’s ever sent me one – and could he pay with this card or that card, and what did he have to click on, etc, etc – answer: click Accept and try following the instructions.

After he did this and booked, the next message I got asked how he could cancel and what the terms and conditions were.  Not that he wanted to cancel, he pointed out, but he wanted to know.  I didn’t say that perhaps it would have been a good idea to check this out before he booked.  I suggested he clicked on the clearly marked link on our listing, where it says Cancellation: Moderate, which would take him straight to what he wanted to know.

Then it was: could he cook his lunch and dinner in our kitchen? – he’d bring his own implements.  Answer: No – because it clearly states in our listing that it’s light use of the kitchen only and not for serious cooking.  I suggested various takeaways close by.  OK, he said, could he put a week’s worth of frozen meals in our freezer?  I gave him a yes on this one, because although our freezer is very small it’s fairly empty at the moment and I was getting tired of saying no.

After that it was: could he drop off his luggage early in the morning before he went to work, and if he couldn’t do that, could he bring it the night before and leave it here.  Answer: No – because I’d already made it a condition of taking the booking that he couldn’t check in till after 5.30pm as we had other guests staying, I was going to be out for most of the day, and Geoff will be out the whole day into the evening. First thing in the morning I’ll be tending to our departing guests, running Geoff to the station, stripping the bed and getting the room and the house ready, and trying to get out the door and have the long and leisurely lunch with a friend that I had planned long before I knew he was coming.  I also had the feeling he wouldn’t turn up when he said he would (hardly anyone does) and would probably keep me talking and be hard to get out the door.

Every day brings a new request, and he hasn’t even arrived yet.  I’m rather dreading his stay.  I’ve turned it into a game now – we try to guess what the next request is going to be, becoming more and more outlandish as we rather hysterically try to out-think him.  Today I’m holding my breath because, so far, he hasn’t been in touch.

While all this has been going on, I’ve been offered more and more library work.  I’m very grateful for the work – it’s pleasant, not terribly badly paid, and the people are nice.  It’s just that I wouldn’t choose to do it if I didn’t have to.  Integrating the Airbnb commitments with the library commitments can sometimes be a major exercise in logistical planning.  Geoff is fantastic at doing lots of the practical stuff, like hoovering, but he doesn’t have the knack of making things look nice and dressing the room properly, so it has to me that does these things.  One or other of us also has to be in to receive them, which can be difficult when they turn up much earlier or several hours later than they say they will.

Anyway, this a very long and rambling excuse as to why I haven’t written anything this week, till now.  And I don’t have much to say this time.  Nor have I managed to get out and do any photography.  However, the skies as seen from my study window have been nothing short of spectacular, so I’m going to leave you with those.  I hope you enjoy.


Sky over Newark

Sky over Newark

Sunset sky trails over Newark

Sunset sky trails over Newark

Sunset sky trails over Newark


12 x 12 Challenge 01

Bird with telephone wires

I’ve never been terribly on the ball when it comes to doing photo challenges or entering competitions, or otherwise making the effort to put myself out there.  Last year I got interested in the 52 x 52 photo challenge, but the photos had to be taken during the week of the challenge – no archived ones allowed – and I knew I’d never get my act together enough to get something sorted in a week.  I might have managed it once or twice, but I know myself well enough to know that I would never keep it up.  It was a shame, because the challenges were good – well thought out and interesting, rather than just asking for photos on a theme.

This year, however, it’s a 12 x 12 which means that you get a whole month to come up with something, process it, and upload it to the Flickr group.  Now, that I can do – there’s a much bigger chance of it happening, anyway.  You’re allowed to upload up to five images for each challenge, which I also like as I prefer to work in series rather than one-offs.  The challenge was this:

Take a route you’re familiar with but have never photographed along and photograph someone or something every 100 or so steps.
– Vanessa Winship

I’ve never photographed in the street where I lived, so I thought a simple walk round the block would be the way to go, especially as I’d just written a post on that theme a few days ago.  I’d had a few thoughts about what might work, but mostly I wanted to allow whatever presented itself to become my subject.  I also didn’t want to produce random shots, but a small collection that would hang together in some way.

I’m a little obsessed with skies at the moment – I think looking into the sky has become my substitute for gazing out to sea – so I found myself looking up a lot, and every time I did I saw telephone wires. After a while, the gracefulness of the lines began to speak to me.  Initially I took lots of images where the tops of the telephone poles were included, because I thought these looked interesting due to the complex arrangement of lines where they joined the pole, but somehow these didn’t work so well.  I began experimenting with the framing, and decided in the end that very simple arrangements of lines with the sky behind them had a minimalism that was quite effective.  And of course, I had to do one with a tree.

I’m not sure that any one of these images holds enough interest on its own, but I do feel they work well as a set.  I’ve posted them on Flickr, and if you go to the album page you can see them all at once on the page:  This was my final selection of five – I took loads more, and I spent longer narrowing them down than I did taking them.

I didn’t use up much time on this at all – I was out walking for maybe half an hour at most – and it was surprisingly enjoyable.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the second challenge is – with a little voice in the back of my head going ‘please don’t let it be portraits’!


Sky with converging telephone lines

Sky with telephone lines

Tree with telephone lines

Dramatic sky with telephone lines

What the trees know

Tree branches with sunset behind

‘Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky’ – Kahlil Gibran

The spring skies outside my window never cease to astonish me.  In winter they were mostly white, pale grey, nothing to remark on or get excited about, but in other seasons they can take my breath away with their stunning beauty. As sophisticated and worldly photographers, we’re not supposed to love sunsets – that eternal cliche – but to turn to less obvious subjects, play it a little more cool.  But that’s the voice of cynicism speaking and anyone who doesn’t rejoice in the gobsmackingly gorgeous colours of the sky at dusk is surely lost to life’s simple pleasures.

Tree skeletons, too, are obsessing me.  Something about the complexity of the myriad overlapping branches and the challenge of framing them in a way that creates some kind of order out of their chaotic beauty, is behind it.  Something too, about the way they seem to reach into the sky, opening themselves up to it, not hiding themselves – as we might, as humans – because they’re bare and have temporarily lost the glory of their leaves.  Clothed in green they have a different sort of beauty, but this starkness is somehow more honest – they are able to show themselves as they are, knowing that what they are is enough, and to accept the gift of the sky’s light and warmth to enable them to flourish again.

We photograph ourselves, constantly – Minor White said that every photograph is a self-portrait.  Sometimes it isn’t until we write out our thoughts and feelings around what we photograph that we become aware of what it reflects to us, and we finally get the message.  The sky fulfills its purpose, which is simply to be the sky, and the trees flourish because of it.  The sky gives without expectation, and the tree receives without guilt.  The tree gives back to the sky by growing, its leaves pushing oxygen into the atmosphere.  It’s very simple, and quite perfect- the cycle of give and take, no keeping score, no feeling undeserving, no strings attached to the gift.  Why do we, as humans, complicate things so much?  Nature can teach us a lot about giving and receiving.

What do your photographs tell you?


Sunset with branches

sunset with branches

Sunset with branches

Sunset with branches

And finally, the palest sliver of a fingernail moon, almost lost in a pastel sky.

Fingernail moon


I have written before, in many and various places, how confined I feel living where I do.  My home is dark, partly because it just is, and partly because there are so many houses here, efficiently stashed together into terraces to take up minimal space,  and between the houses are mean, narrow little streets where the light struggles to make its way in.  A small slice of sky is all there is.

Often I long for sky, wide open expanses of it.  When I drive to Thanet, where the land is flat and the sky goes on forever, my heart begins to lift and flutter, my breathing slows, and something in me unwinds.  And I don’t even like the place that much – it just has a lot of sky.

Where I grew up, in Scotland, we have a lot more space than we do here in south-east England and a lot of it’s pretty empty if you don’t count the sheep.  I lived in a highly populated part of it but I spent a lot of time in the mountains and on the moors and coasts, feeling as if it was just me and the sky and endless, wonderful space.  I’ve never regretted leaving Scotland, but I do miss that sky.

The sky is this planet’s negative space – mostly empty, isn’t used for much in itself, but absolutely essential to make everything else feel right.

Linking to Mortal Muses, on negative space.