Re-Picturing The Picturesque

INTRODUCTION
The word picturesque has a close association with landscape and especially landscape photography. From “Kodak Moments” to designated roadside scenic views, we understand certain vantage points are “better” for viewing (and recording) the landscape. Many embedded fixtures of modern life, like the quality known as “picturesque,” we take for granted. It’s embedded in our modern visual culture – a part of our daily vernacular.The original picturesque definition was specific — “something suitable for a painting.”

STATEMENT
Researching origins of the picturesque, I found interesting parallels to the invention of photography itself. Surprisingly, the word picturesque was in common usage nearly a century before Daguerre or Talbot’s achievements to fix permanent imagery. How could one have pictures without cameras?

My answer would come from Reverend William Gilpin, who in 1770 would embark on his inaugural journey to experience and record “picturesque observations.” His 1782 publication, “Observations on the River Wye, and Several Parts of South Wales, relative chiefly to Picturesque Beauty,” formed the springboard for a cult of the Picturesque that dominated cultural debate and inspired a shift in aesthetic taste that would direct British sensibility to see landscapes as objects of sophistication and visual pleasure. The most interesting and obscure Picturesque tourist’s companion was known as a Claude Glass, named for popular French landscape painter Claude Lorraine. This simple convex mirror device was used to “take views” of the landscape over one’s shoulder… similar to a rear view mirror. This framing technique allowed instant Picturesque captures, if only for a fleeting moment. It was a complete and well-executed “picture.”

This impulse to make a ‘picture’ explains Talbot’s (poor) experience with a camera lucida and another rationale for photography’s invention. The desire to view and record a picturesque scene was widespread by the end of the Romantic period. Photography allowed a means to execute a faithful, but painstaking picture. I’d contend not even Polaroid’s 1950s “instant” pictures fully delivered the promise of a quick, personal, hand-made picture by photographic means. Finally, today’s mobile LCD screens deliver the closest equivalent of the Claude Glass’ landscape experience, but it took over two hundred years to evolve.

THE PROJECT
I executed a “re-photography” style survey of the prominent sites illustrated or mentioned in Gilpin’s Wye Valley tour, complete with an Internet-based journal (BLOG), new and old maps, photographs of Claude Glass views (as re-pictures), and a daily gallery of locations in the Wye region.

SUMMARY
I submit this modern update of the 18th Century travel guide as an inquiry into the effects of cultural taste over time and the new demands for visual tourism launched by the Picturesque aesthetic. By starting with Gilpin’s inaugural tour in the Wye River valley, I’m also documenting the effects of ‘picturing ‘the landscape as a means to develop “aesthetic capital” for a multitude of future cultural investments. Such investments would include local tourism, transportation infrastructure, landscape design, national identity, and (of course) photography.

 

Below is the Archived Blog & Comments in Chronological Order

SUNDAY, JUNE 26, 2005

Test #1


Trying to get a handle on blogging and trying to create text WITH photos….reminds me of learning Pagemaker in 1986.
COMMENTS
HArry said…

Darryl,

Looking forward to your posts. I’m taking a virtual vacation to England with a friend. When are you leaving?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005 1:38:00 PM

Darryl B. said…Our flight leaves Detroit on Tuesday, Sept. 20 and we set down the next morning in London, England. From Gatwick I’ll drive our rental car out west to Redbrook, in the middle of the lower section of the Wye River.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005 3:46:00 PM

 

 

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 02, 2005

I’ve wanted to start this journal with musings about the planning stage, and how I came to choose the project, and the similarities and differences between today and 1770. But this week wasn’t exactly going along with my plans as hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans and the horrific news reports began to pour in by the minute. It was impossible to keep my mind on the task at hand. Instead I busied myself with phone calls, scanning new images from 1838 just purchased on ebay, preparing for an interview for the local newspaper, and watching the gut-wrenching, tearful reports out of New Orleans.I awoke tonight (at 2 am) to the sound of gusting winds and the slapping noises of the window shade on the headboard. I suppose a little bit of Katrina had finally reached Michigan. I began to lie there thinking about the turn of events in New Orleans back in 1970 when my life path changed towards photography and away from a career in law. I had moved to New Orleans to live, work, and attend school in order to marry a New Orleans girl and study law at Tulane. I worked uptown in her family’s antique business and attended Tulane business school (accounting!) in the evening that first summer. I began to learn about the city and slowly became a resident. It was an indelible experience and is a part of who I am today.So….. I began to wonder what might have shaped Gilpin’s life in any similar way. He chose a life within the church, was interested in many areas concerning the arts, and wrote extensively. In my reading about Gilpin (Hussey, Barbier, Templeman, Andrews) I don’t recall much about his early days or decisions he might have made. I remember his father was and artist and a soldier and his brother was also artistic. I know he wrote both about gardens, prints and drawings earlier, before he began any of his tours. (As was the custom of the times, cultured, well-educated individuals visited country houses of the nobles and gentry, who would entertain guests with their art collections, antiquities, and gardens.) His first written venture into the area of aesthetics was his book, ‘A dialogue upon the gardens of the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Cobham, at Stow in Buckinghamshire, 1749,’ which would mark his place amongst other authors of visual culture of the time. It would be his later book‘An essay upon prints; containing remarks upon the principles of picturesque beauty, the different kinds of prints, and the characters of the most noted masters’ (whew!) which would establish his true position as an authority in matters concerning art (and landscape pictures.)
Two hundred years passed from Gilpin’s first Picturesque Tour and that summer I last lived in New Orleans, but I know both those events shaped each of our lives dramatically.
__________________________________________________The interview for the Flint Journal was exciting (for me at least) and I prepared for the photograph by constructing my latest and bestClaude Glass to date. It’s quite large and will no doubt provide many hand-cramps as I attempt to recreate the 18th century experience ofmaking pictures in the English and Welsh landscape. I had a bit offun with the photographer, Jane, as she continued to direct my face, body, hand, and Claude Glass to compose the required photograph.

POSTED BY DARRYL B. AT 3:04 AM

COMMENTS

Anonymous said…

Doing a search on craigslist for souces on how to volunteer brought me to several posts of missing persons as a result of Katrina, I cannot even imagine what they all must be going through.

On another note, the correlation between the changes in your life that led you to photography, and what may have come along in Gilpin’s life is a fitting start to your journal.

Sunday, September 04, 2005 9:02:00 PM

 Darryl B. said…

It’s often difficult to reconcile personal goals and ambitions in a world with such calamity swirling all around us. Yet if we choose to focus on possibilities in spite of whatever reality is afoot, the day to day is more bearable. I think possibly the most important task ahead is the rebuilding of the homes lost or virtually destroyed. I think Habitat for Humanity would be a good organization to consider.

Regarding Gilpin, I’m more and more convinced we badly need education in the humanities. Our culture lacks the ability to connect the arts or sciences with other disciplines and thus we live in a self-designed world of isolation. Higher education in previous times was for the privileged elite, so it seems we still have a job to do beyond providing broader access to advanced education. I’m humbled by the accounts from 18th century writers who quote the classics, along with contemporary scientific advancements all while seeking personal artistic acheivement. We’re lucky to be good at any one thing. In many ways the two times cannot be compared without this consideration. The current debate in my university is surrounding general education or what gen. ed. should look like in the new century. I think it should look a bit more like older models, but with a concern for the technolgy to access and make appropriate use of all the new information. The Internet is an incredible tool.

As I continue to extend myself (through this project) beyond the fine art world I’m so comfortably connected to I realize the myriad connections to so much, from geography to technology, social science, tourism, visual culture, social history, and language arts. It’s a bit daunting at times, but always rewarding. It has a strange calming effect to see and realize the many connections between our different ‘realities.’

Monday, September 05, 2005 2:18:00 PM

 

 gumphoto said…

just what I needed: another blog!

good luck with it

say, what is that next to the coffe cup? It looks like a camera, but the image is lit up. A pocket PC?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005 9:48:00 AM

 

Darryl B. said…

that’s an HO IPAQ rx3715. HP calls it a Pocket PC or Mobile Media Companion. I call it my digital Claude Glass. It is both camera, and Wi-Fi device. I can take “pictures” and send them (or share them on the WWW) through the air.

P.S. At first I thought you meant the pint of beer next to the coffee… 😉

Wednesday, September 07, 2005 5:17:00 PM

 

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2005

The need for a roof over one’s head while traveling is as old as time. What could be more basic than shelter other than food? (that’s next) The history of lodging is colorful and possibly sufficient to fill an entire online journal, but I won’t even scratch the surface with my comparisons of today and the 1700s. It is possbile, even probable, several of the establishments who catered to travelers and tourists in Gilpin’s time are still serving customers today. Only the staff has changed as have the prices and furnishings (we hope anyway).Historically the search for suitable lodging was largely relegated to modes of transportation. If one was walking, with your traveling gear on your back, then you have a much broader range of choices. If you arrived by coach or train the selections narrowed greatly and quite often were directed by the particular financial arrangements between establishments and the companies providing travel services. Really this isn’t very different from modern arrangements. Guidebooks (or published journals) often served as the primary source of information on any given area and have served travelers for the at least two centuries. During the Romantic period, hordes of tourists decended upon the Wye, the Lakes District, Northern Wales an the Scottish Highlands armed with copies of Gilpin’s (and other writers’) travel journals searching for Picturesque scenery and other pleasures. As the modes of travel improved, so did the variety of accomodations. Entrepreneurs like Thomas Cook (also a Baptist minister) began arranging escorted travel packages and a variety of other businesses would emerge to meet the growing demands of a traveling public. Printed guide books became common and by the end of the 19th century, one could find a good selection of materials to aid ones journeys. I have acquired several guidebooks from the early 20th century to today. Many of these (see images below) contain extensive advertising for lodging and others services of enterprises in the area.
Burrow’s Guide, 1905
Burrow’s Guide, full page ad
Ward Locke Guide, 1913
Ward Locke Guide, full page ad of hotel ratesToday your choices seem almost limitless between tourist bureaus, B&B collectives, and area tourism organizations. Add to this mix of choices the type of accomodation — hotel, inn, B&B with full English breakfast (my favorite), B&B modified American plan (no breakfast?), B&B modified European plan (pastry and coffee), self-catering, and caravan (trailer). This system is further aided (or perhaps complicated) by several rating systems. Many a website link from groups/organizations will link to individual establishment’s websites and some simply provide a minimal description. In today’s visual world the demand is for more and more pictures of the establishment and its facilities. In all, it can be a daunting task to choose from. Did I mention there are even web sites which host forums, where people post and share information about their favorite places and accomodations? It seems endless.After a long and exhausting search we settled on The Old Brewery B&B in Redbrook. It met our needs for a central location, easy access to roadways, an internet connection (wireless!!), and certain creature comforts and charm. Little did we know how interesting the place would actually be with its position directly upon the border of Wales and England… sleeping in Wales and dining in England every morning seemed pretty quaint. It also allowed us the knowledge and connections our friendly B&B owners, Christine and Dave, had made over the years they’d been working on the bulding and business.Today’s assortment of guide books (and personal guides like the Blue Badge guides) offer a very wide selection of interests, activities, and topics. From history, to geography, to architecture and gardens, and certainly sightseeing, we have a great amount of detail and opportunity to have our wishes and desires met while in almost any popular area.
 Of those available, I prefer those which tend to offer a hands-on approach to travel as most of the Wye area walking guides or those which cater to particular interests, such as frame timbered architecture.It’s all good, but perhaps there is just too much.

POSTED BY DARRYL B. AT 11:08 AM 0 COMMENTS 

As I prepare for the journey to the Wye River I am confronted with a variety of “problems” to solve before leaving home. Among these are issues of basic needs like money, transportation, lodging, food and appropriate clothing. Beyond these basics are some rather specific needs regarding my goals for the trip. These include photography, daily communication, reference materials and archives, books from and about the Picturesque period, and current maps and guides. My needs are certainly influenced by the goals, but not everything I will need to accomplish these are easily gathered together, even in today’s wired world.Looking at the state of travel in 1770 it would appear many of the same problems would need to be solved for an early tourist to maximize their travel experiences. I’d like to deal with just the basic needs today and provide a small glimpse into the travel regime of the Romantic period (and earlier).Let me start with money. The banking system in 1770 was quite different from today. Tourists depended on a couple of different methods for obtaining the funds needed, most usually letters of credit or bills of exchange. Diplomats and bankers were the most frequent connections for these instruments. Often travelers would gather at weekly receptions and transact some of the functions to continue on their journeys. These connections required the acquaintance of important or influential people and knowledge of their methods. Young men and women were often accompanied by an (older and wiser) advisor on the Grand Tour to help negotiate and introduce them into the local social scene. It was an informal, but well established network. I can’t imagine how I would fit into such a structure, but it would be much more difficult and unsafe to travel with enough money for an extended trip. The legendary highwayman was a fixture of both popular lore and reality.Banking today is rather different — from traveler’s checks and Western Union, to credit cards, ATM machines, and Internet banking, we have made considerable advancements. In my own lifetime I’ve witnessed the evolution of banking systems which allow for teller-less banking, from mail or night deposits to the now ubiquitous ATM machine. This invention has come to represent the most widespread access to money across most of the modern world. From service stations, to movie theaters, to street corners in every major city you can gain access to your money or an advance on a credit card (also an invention of the late 20th century). Exchange bureaus are in every major transportation center and you can even order online your travelers checks in most currencies or cash (awaiting your arrival at the terminal). You get to choose between paying a fee for the exchange, between 1-5%, paying a 1-3% fee for ATM use, a 17% cash advance or risk robbery or loss with cash, but you get to choose your access method and associated risks. I’m using a combination of the above, but it still requires extra effort to conserve money. I have to drive into Detroit to a Federal Reserve bank to get the necessary currency (British Pounds Sterling) without paying a whopping 3% fee (what robbery!) at the airport. I’ll spend three hours and twelve dollars in fuel to negotiate the deal. I remember another experience, in London, where I got cash from a machine while (whilst!) a young and sincere woman begged me for money, saying “please sir, I’m hungry” over and over and over. At the last moment, just as I reached for the bills protruding from the machine, she walked directly up to me, less than a foot from my face and repeated the mantra and blocked my easy exit. I was quite unnerved, but continued to explain I was not going to give her money, but would buy her food instead. My wife explained to me the folly of my actions as she drug me away from the scene with some appropriate force and I now will not withdraw money on a public street if at all possible. A letter of credit suddenly sounds so much more elegant!Before I forget, I need to say this journey is made possible largely due to two grants from the University of Michigan.

____________

Physical travel in the 18th century was either by foot, horse, coach, or (sometimes) chaise. If the trip was distant or on another land mass, a sailing vessel was required. Again arrangements for these required an experienced provider and some knowledge of what topography and weather lay ahead. The Grand Tour included huge mountains with dangerous paths that required the hiring of local guides to both direct the course and often carry the passengers. Many a story of loss occurred on this portion of the tours. Later in the Romantic period, walking or horse riding was a simple and effective way to travel, but only you were already within the general location, otherwise a coach or ‘steamer’ was most always needed. Photography inventor, William H. Fox-Talbot took a steamer from Bristol to Chepstow in 1830 and walked the sixteen miles up river towards Tintern Abbey and beyond. (thanks Larry Schaaf)

Traveling by coach had a long and often volatile history. Rough rides, muddy ditch adventures, long delays, robbers, and unruly or rude passengers proved the norm. Often the destination was seen as a relief from the awful coach trip.

The first railways entered the Wye Valley in the mid 1800s and would slowly change the character (and speed) of the travel. While the other, more plodding modes of travel were less sophisticated, but they had good points. Many travelers enjoyed the pace, exercise, and connection to the landscape afforded by walking or riding. Many accounts from the period testify to the pleasures of strolling through a scene and its delirious effect on the mind and soul. (more on railroads later)

I should mention the possibility of horse riding being problematic as well for the Romantic tourist. William Coombe’s satire of the Picturesque traveler and Rev. Gilpin, lampooned as Dr. Syntax and wonderfully illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson, provided a few glimpses into traveler by horse. Here Dr. Syntax causes a stir as his, recently purchased, blind horse crashes into a coach.

Getting to our current destination is pretty effortless, if one considers flying to be easy. I’ve not considered a long ocean voyage, but it was the only method available to the European bound tourist from North America before the late 1950s. Two weeks (or more) is just too long for me to be contained onboard any type of conveyance. Flying today is, of course, made more difficult by security concerns, but only the length of pre-boarding routines are affected greatly. Once in the sky, the movies, music, beverage and food service are designed to whittle away the hours and keep the passenger comfortable. Crying babies and high-school students going abroad for the first time, not withstanding, the airplane is generally a mild and good way to travel a great distance.

Now jet-lag is a completely different story and I have to be very concerned as I’m very susceptible to its effects. I’ve tried methods of rearranging daily schedule to mimic the time zone of my destination, melatonin, sleeping pills, and excessive drinking. Currently a combination of the first two works best for my needs. I need to be able to shoot on the first day to stay on my current schedule. It would be nice to sleep a little bit on the plane as we leave at 9 pm in the evening of the 20th and arrive at approximately 10 am at Gatwick Airport on the 21st of September. Time will tell.

Once on the ground in the U.K., I have several choices, but will rent an automobile instead of a taking a train or bus due to my need to get in and out of obscure areas of Wales and England bordering the Wye River. Having driven many times in England, I’m finally accustomed to the left-hand driving. But, the narrow roadways still give me quite an adrenaline rush. The cars are generally much, much smaller than in the USA, so (thankfully) I don’t have to negotiate tight turns, narrow (and shoulder-less) roads in a long or wide vehicle. Did I tell you gasoline runs around $8.00 per gallon? It’ll make you respect fuel efficiency if nothing else.

Many of the proposed site visits will only be accessible by foot, boat or canoe, or I guess I could ride a horse if I was so inclined… I’m not. So walking is probably the main part of our travels. The English have a long history of walking and anytime I’m told something is ___ minutes away by foot I tend to double that amount of time for my American feet. It’s humbling, but a real difference in our cultures. Rebecca Solnit’s book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking is an excellent treatment on the topic.

Continued later… more on Lodging, Food, and Clothing

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2005

Sorry if subscribers are getting multiple update messages today. I’ve been tweaking the format (learning curve thing again) and adding a bit of visual content… maps in particular.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2005

Food & ClothingI can’t really imagine what food and eating must have been like in 1770. Without refrigeration, food preparation was a bit trickier and the food tended to be more local. We have to remember one of the grand prizes of new world discoveries was spices. The food served was in need of these in order to overcome unpleasant tastes, like spoilage. Yuk.My first visit to England was during my first marriage’s honeymoon and we bought a package deal through American Express. While it at least wasn’t a trip consisting of a bus-load of retirees (I have nothing against old people… I am one), it did rather limit where we could stay. Both of us were sick with flu (and couldn’t get our money back unless we died) and felt rather compelled to eat some of the food for which we’d already paid. Our first meal was Beef Wellington or something that sounded English anyway and was dreadful — bleak wine selections, passable beer, though dessert was a clear winner. The next morning I drug myself out to breakfast and was greeted by a lavish display of eggs, sausages, mushrooms, breads, jams and marmalade, real butter, and several other concoctions I was uncertain of their origins (fish, fowl, mineral, or vegetable?). I was in heaven, ate like the true glutton I am and retreated to walk around the block a few times.The days passed, our health improved a little, and I consistently looked forward to breakfast which had become my main meal of the day. I began to grab light meals and snacks at pubs and drank (much better) beer and ale to fill me up during the day. It was an easy habit to acquire and reminded me of the military, when the best meal was always breakfast and I tended to drink a good deal back then too. Anyway, we journeyed up to Scotland and I prepared myself for the worst. I’d been led to believe the Scottish food was notoriously bad or dull. A friend of my wife’s had told us to try a local restaurant which featured a wider selection of food styles. Wider… try international! We tried the curries and began to not only feel better immediately, we could smell and taste normally again. Just what the doctor ordered. Maybe the Scottish ale was partially the cure, but I felt great the rest of the trip. I’d discovered the secret to the British palette — foods from the former colonies had found their way into the food scene and become the adventurous cuisine of choice.On latter trips we (my second wife and I) discovered the wonderful English grocery stores with all types of wonderfully fresh food. In Bath we shopped at Waitrose and elsewhere we’ve frequented Marks & Spencer. Truly as good or better than anything in the Midwest and rivaling food stores in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Dallas. In short, I tend to look forward to English foods, it just requires a little research, legwork, and ignoring old stereotypes of food.

It also seems to me pubs today are changing to more upscale eating establishments than previously; they too are more reflective of an international table. One can always find the standard pub staples such as fish and chips, Shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes!), and an occasional kidney pie, but one is also likely to see curry, Thai, or Spanish dishes as the special of the day.

I love to eat and am looking forward to our Redbrook B&B and the lovely breakfasts from Christine. I’ve acquired a new taste for blood sausage and always get to eat my wife’s portion. Only five more days….
___________________

Clothing in the early days of travel often required much more formal selections. Remembering the circles which enjoyed tourism were largely affluent and upper class, social gatherings were opportunities to display class, wealth, breeding, and flair. I’ve seen the clothingfrom Georgian England and am mesmerized by such adornments as diamond and ruby shoe buckles (for men) and the elaborate wigs, waistcoats, and accessories. Trunks of clothes were needed for extended trips like the Grand Tour. As tourism evolved and walking more and more became desirable and stylish, some of these customsaltered, but were not forgotten altogether. You could arrive by coach, carrying loads of personal adornments and niceties, and still go walking from your inn.

It seems that early 20th century walking was still fashionable, as evidenced in this ad for ladies undergarments in the 1913 Warde Locke Guide to the Wye. … nothing as annoying as corset steels snapping after a little exertion — indeed!

For this trip comfort and utility are paramount. While there are a few socially demanding occasions, such as dinner with new friends or a meeting in a university or museum, they require mostly a stylish jacket or sweater. For me, vests and cargo-capable pants are highly important as I’m traveling with many gadgets and I’d like to be able to find these when I need them.

I find there are many stores which cater to outdoorsmen and women, but unlike the USA these aren’t filled with guns, shells/bullets, stuffed trophy kills and decoys, but instead walking sticks, viewing optics, foul-weather gear, and a huge assortment of lightweight clothing and shoes. Shoes! Oh, I also have a shoe fixation and I look longingly at the soles and instep of many a lightweight walking or hiking shoe. Alas, I have very wide feet and find a few selections that I truly like or can easily afford. I probably have been shopping for shoes to take on this trip fives times and still haven’t found THE shoe for me. Luckily I like my Rockport “Guide” shoes — they’re comfortable, sturdy and a wee bit heavy. I’ll manage.

_______________________

Next up, all the equipment I have to carry and use for the tour.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2005

Traveling Light or What to Pack When Seeking the Picturesque?Travel today is mostly a foregone conclusion — we can arrange most aspects of any trip within a matter of minutes. Online travel information and booking mega-companies like Expedia and Travelosity, or traditional travel agencies, and the legacy travel packagers Thomas Cook or American Express can make travel planning nearly effortless. Regardless of the ease in making these arrangements, considering an extended stay in a foreign country our needs for day-to-day comfort and activities require some additional information and concern. Local customs, laws, roads, lodging conditions, weather, geography/topography, and language all usually require more information and expertise to navigate.Countless guidebooks attempt the task of providing background information and how to conduct daily sightseeing forays. Few general guides tell you what the actual location is like, specific weather conditions or how difficult the terrain might be to walk across, but instead provide generic suggestions for average needs. Few personal anecdotes are offered and readers often find the reality of the location at odds with the glowing and flowery descriptions.Travelers of the 18th century and later often had to rely upon personal accounts, usually journals written by prominent persons (Dafoe, Gilpin, Wordsworth, Martyn, etc.) for information concerning distant lands and landscapes. Between visits to local estates, the traveler usually wandered about with companions or a local civlian as a hired guide for the day. The Picturesque tourist also required knowledge concerning the topography and local history to enjoy the qualities of the landscapes. Additionally they carried an assortment of devices to record the scenery. These often included paper, drawing tools, brushes, watercolors, or optical aids like a Claude Glass. Gilpin thought the glass a novelty and preferred to render his landscapes by hand by drawing and later rendering in ink washes. His first journal, published in 1782, utilized the new technique of aquatint for his illustrations of the Wye Valley. Other less skilled individuals employed other optical aids, like a camera lucida or camera obscura (although this, even when deemed ‘portable,’ was quite bulky). Most written accounts chronicled some combination of drawing and viewing aids.To me, the Claude Glass requires the least skills and provides the most immediate experience of making pictures. My discovery of this technique proved a rather dramatic awakening to a past culture’s longing for creative skills and seeing the world in aesthetic terms. I was struck by the similarity to viewing images on the camera’s ground glass, viewfinder or today’s LCD screens. In fact, it was this connection — between the Claude Glass and my first digital camera, a Nikon 900, that propelled me to further investigate this period of time and its rich and complex social and cultural underpinnings. I realized the word picturesque wasn’t about photographic scenery, it was a mental construct of taste and refined sensibility. (more on the subject of the Claude Glass and its relationship to photography next time).

My specific needs for this trip became a little more complex once I decided to publish my account via a daily web-based journal, aka a BLOG. It seemed appropriate I speed up the process in a way relative to the entire evolution of just about everything else in our technology driven world. I should be contemporary with my process. This would include digital photography, wireless internet connectivity, portable data storage, portable computer(s), and lots of electrical power in the form of rechargeable batteries.

One of the challenges of the Wye region, still a somewhat rural area, was how to deliver a daily accounting of the tour. When I first began looking at the task I found there were fewer than eight internet cafes spread in the entire area containing Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire, Herefordshire, and Gwent. It’s a big area with little public access to these modern high-tech services. In the period of two years that number has grown to over fifty sites and continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Still the thought of hanging out in pubs, bars, coffee shops and restaurants every day and night seemed a nuisance. As I like to drink beer, it would be a real challenge to write daily blogs and not drink. I’m no Jack Kerouac; I can’t write and drink, not even a pint. ;-(

With some good luck and scouring the extensive lodgings listed on the Internet, we found the Old Brewery B&B which advertised Internet connection (wireless to boot). While we’ll visit our share of pubs and bars, I also know I can safely work from our “home” base.

With that settled, I began to assemble tools to satisfy the trip’s goals. Below is a list of what is being carried into the landscape on a daily basis, in no particular order:

Maps showing recreation and history sites
Guidebooks, old and current, of local attractions, lodging, services, and history
Boingo™ monthly voucher – for Internet cafes and “hotspots”
T-Mobile international cellular phone service
Canon 1Ds MarkII and 8 gigabyte of CompactFlash cards, with a CF reader (L)
Vosonic X2 80gb media companion (C)
“Backup” Camera – Agfa Super Isolette (D)
B&W filters for above (E)
Hakuba Carbon fiber tripod (H)
Hakuba Table top tripod with telescoping leg for monopod support (G)
Apple G4 12” laptop with wireless and Bluetooth (F)
Nightlight for laptop, suitable for airplane and bedroom (K)
HP IPAQ rx3715 Mobile Media Pocket_PC, with wireless and Bluetooth (my digital Claude Glass) (A)
Infrared keyboard for IPAQ (B)
Hard, crush-proof aluminum case for IPAQ
12 volt electrical converter (for 110 volt current) with cigarette lighter plug (I)
220 to 110 voltage converter
Electrical plug adaptors, British to USA
Claude Glass (J)


It’s pretty small when all collapsed.

I know, I know, big deal, real photographers carry the BIG gear when photographing the landscape.

William Henry Jackson and his assistant “Hypo”

COMMENTS
Darryl B. said…A reader commented, in person, they have been unable to place comments on the blog. If others have experienced the same (or other) problem, please email me directly. The link is the envelope icon.
thanks
DarrylSunday, September 18, 2005 12:54:00 PM

Anonymous said…You will have quite an array of equipment to choose from while you are there. Thank goodness things are a little more portable these days or you would be shleping everything around with a mule as did Jackson…seeing that photo made me laugh out loud.

Sunday, September 18, 2005 7:19:00 PM

Darryl B. said…Horses are still a viable option; with the price of gas (versus hay) it might be a much cheaper route too. But they’re much harder to park.

Monday, September 19, 2005 12:54:00 AM

 

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2005

Making Pictures, Then and NowIn 2002 as I prepared for a trip to England with a group of University students, I came across several references to the Picturesque style of landscape design and became intrigued by the usage (and meaning) of the word in a context disconnected (or so I thought at the time) to photographic pictures. I was looking at landscape parks such asStoweStourheadPrior Park, and a number of smaller urban parks in London that had been designed by Humphry Repton or Lancelot “Capability” Brown. Following this new tangent led me to the early or pre-Romantic period and its close association with Picturesque beauty and tourism. Many consider Gilpin’s Picturesque tour of the Wye in 1770 as the beginnings of tourism as we know it today — as a leisure pursuit.
Looking into this new form of social venture I discovered the tourist’s use of the Claude Glass, named for the 17th century French landscape painter, Claude Lorrain. Very little modern literature discusses this phenomena or how wide-spread was its usage. Well known (in its time) as both an artist’s tool and the tourists’ portable picture-in-a-frame, the Claude Glass was an immediate, but temporary hand-held picture. It’s use was probably made more common by the many journal accounts praising its effects. Most famously, Thomas Gray, well-known poet of Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard wrote to his friend Mason in 1769 (extracts from his daily journal)

“…From hence I got to the Parsonage a little before sunset & saw in my glass a picture, that if I could transmit (sic) to you & fix it in all the softness of its living colors, would fairly sell for a thousand pounds”.

Other more modern notices include a short essay by Rebecca Solnit, A Small Piece of Somewhere Else: The History of the Rearview Mirror; six or so pages in Geoffrey Batchen’s Burning With Desire: The Conception of Photography; also Each Wild Idea, and a recent publication by French author, Arnaud Maillet, The Claude Glass : Use and Meaning of the Black Mirror in Western Art. I was disappointed and delighted simultaneously by this last book. The disappointment came from its lack of any specific connection with photographic history (except the act of composition) and my delight came from the same thing — I still have plenty of unclaimed workspace on the Claude Glass! I’d contend it has been largely overshadowed in the history of photography by other optical devices, namely the camera obscura and the camera lucida. The cultural desire to create well-composed pictures was certainly a part of the interest in all things Picturesque, as evidenced in the many journals with drawings from the period. W. H Talbot and Sir John Herschel both executed drawings of landscape. In fact Talbot’s opinion of the camera lucida provided him with an additional incentive for fixing images in a more permanent form, with less demand for traditional drawing skills.Gray’s and Talbot’s wish was for a more permanent image; photography offered that, but with a fairly large investment in equipment, chemistry, and time. At best, the image was still several painstaking steps away from that moment when the magic shimmered on the glass surface. For the better part of its history photography has been touted as instantaneous, but the reality was most often a mild disappointment. This has also been one of the driving forces behind the continued evolution of inventions within the medium. George Eastman’s frustration with the chemically-complex nature of photography led him to first develop roll film, then a camera easy enough for a child to use, with the promise of “just push the button and we’ll (Eastman Kodak) do the rest.” Even Polaroid’s “instant film” processes took sixty seconds to deliver the goods.Today, probaly for the first time in photographic history, composition, exposure, and viewing are a seamless, unified event.
______________________________In my own experience with a wide variety of camera styles, from my childhood toy camera to my first digital camera, composing a view, scene, picture (…whatever) is a very basic creative act. Whether holding a Claude Glass, digital camera, camera phone or the latest pda, we make pictures by adhering to a set of visual conventions most people take for granted. To my thinking, we’ve just arrived at that point of fixing and transmitting that picture Gray viewed back in the fall of 1769.Here’s looking at looking.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2005

Day One – Leaving and ArrivingLeft Detroit Metro Airport on schedule at 9:40 p.m. Flight was pretty uneventful, a couple of little boys were running around the plane about 2 am until a couple of young men threatened them with bodily harm. Most folks slept, a few like Janet, read till the wee hours.We were awakened to the sounds of food carts clanging down the aisles by the flight crew serving breakfast. Not a full English breakfast in any way, shape, or form.
We arrived in London’s Gatwick airport and stood for about two hours in the immigration line. From that point on, from the luggage claim, to the rental car counter, there were no problems. We had nice weather once we cleared the greater London area heading west.We crossed the Severn and began to feel the lush warmth of the now familiar Welsh & England borderlands. The landscape becames increasingly hilly and wooded. We past Tintern Abbey and surveyed the site with anticipation. The consistent scaffolding is outside another section of the abbey. It seems with such old buildings, the need for restoration and/or repair is pretty constant.
We drove on past towards Redbrook, drove into our B&B, greeted first by Bella, the courtyard dog (Doberman Pinscher), then Christine our gracious host. Everything was in order — our room was ready, her husband Dave had left instructions on how to sign onto the wireless (WEP) network and we quickly changed clothes to return to Tintern.Gilpin thought Tintern Abbey too geometric to be Picturesque and mused it would be improved by toppling a part of the gable in order to create a more proper ruinous effect. Regardless of it’s lack of roughness, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in England. Romantic poets, artists, and an endless stream of tourists have made this a premier stop since the early 1700s.Once covered in Ivy (English, of course) until the first decade of the 20th century, when conservation efforts removed the clinging plant which was slowly destroying the mortar and thus the entire structure.
Today it’s pristine shape rises abruptly in a site just off the Wye River, complete with car and bus parking, gift shop, restaurants, and a hotel. It”s a busy place. I was a bit more aware of how steep the surrounding hills are and how more green everything is this time of year.
I got an image with the new Claude Glass.
We decided to drive around the area, arriving at Upper Wyndcliff. We took a short walk down a marked path and came upon the view of WIntours Leap. Named for a gentleman escaping the Parlimentarian forces of Cromwell (Roundheads) and finding no other outlet than a precipitous plunge off the steep cliffs into the Wye. We met a couple, a husband (and fellow photographer) Ray Mitchell and wife, Teresa (Terry), who while allowing a quick snap wished there were some locals available for the photograph… they’d only lived here forty-three years!
We began to feel the effects of jet-lag and began a slow return to the B&B, but first drove past St. Briavels and discovered several nice views plus a surprising new development cut into the thick woods.


We ate at the George Inn in St. Briavels and finally wound our way home down dark, narrow, steep and winding roads… even stopped to let a large herd of sheep pass safely on the roadway.

For a glimpse at other pictures from the first day, go to the galleries.

COMMENTS

John Pfahl said…

This project is working out so well!!! I feel like I am right back in the Wye Valley with you. On our trip years ago we stayed at a B&B on the main road in Tintern called “The Waters”, that had a tiny waterfall in the garden and a great view of Tintern Abbey from the bedroom window. I can’t wait to see your next missive.

Thursday, September 22, 2005 9:30:00 AM

photochick72 said…It’s good to know the project is going so smoothly and working out as planned, and meeting the locals, with one being a fellow photographer is a great way to find out about hidden areas to explore with your claude glass. Beautiful photograph you took with the new claude glass, I especially like the foreground with the fence leading your eye to the claude glass image.
The area being one of the most popular tourist attractions is easily understood after viewing the photographs you’ve taken.

Thursday, September 22, 2005 4:43:00 PM

Darryl B. said…Thanks, John. I thought of you today as we walked along some organised hiking trails… there were these strange lines of bright blue twine strung between branches and trees. It rather glowed in the dark forest and I thought about some of your images that played with visual versus spatial boundaries.

Also, check out the “picture windows” at Piercefield! I AM having you along on the trip… in more ways than one. It’s late here (11:50), and I can finally have a beer.

cheers
Darryl

Thursday, September 22, 2005 6:51:00 PM

Lindsey said…Hi Daryyl. I came across your blog while doing some research into Claude Glass. Can you tell me where you got the ‘new Claude Glass’ form pictured on your Day One gallery?
Many thanks

Monday, February 01, 2010 10:30:00 AM

Anonymous said…I made that CG from a sideview mirror of a 1996 Buick Riviera (I think) and an oval, wooden picture frame.

-Darryl B.

Monday, February 01, 2010 1:31:00 PM

 

 

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2005

Day Two – Walking along the lower Wye
Today started literally in a fog; early morning fog is rather typical in the river valley. As the sun began to break through it was pretty obvious it would be another fine day, weatherwise anyway.
After a fine breakfast we headed towards Chepstow and the start of our lower Wye quests.Chepstow, the city, is the site of a mighty castle at the Wye’s graceful merger with the Severn. The formidible structure is easily seen, mostly in bits and pieces from across the river in Tutshill or Sedbury, otherwise the bridge across the Wye is a passable, but possibily dangerous solitary clear viewpoint.We began our site selection by joining one of the many available public walking trails. Today’s trail is part of one of the longest in all of the UK, Offa’s Dyke Trail. Named for an ancient king, it separates southwest England and Wales via a long defunct earth-barrier against war-like neighbors. On the same order as Hadrian’s Wall or the Great Wall of China. It’s now a very popular and often used path for ramblers, dog-walkers, and tourists wanting to see some back-country.
Our main difficulty wasn’t finding the view, but finding an unobstructed one with the new houses and small developments …”Castle View” or “Wye View,” etc. With houses blocking almost every viewpoint, I decided to improvise. Similar to The original Re-Photography Project or Mark Klett’s recent Third View, some of the original views (or pictures) just aren’t possible. I shot a few of the new scenes from (I believe) earlier engravings and picture-postcard’s vantage points.

1905-1912 postcard view from Valentine & Sons

Next we visited Lancaut, a thin finger of land caught between a sharp bend in the Wye near Chepstow. There we found St. James church ruins. It’s believed the site has been in settlement since 625, but the church dates from the 1200s. The other feature in this area is Wintours Leap and a fine view across the riverbend to the Wyndcliff.

I got a rather nice Claude Glass image too.
As we drove out of the area I stopped to photograph the newish house atop Wintour’s Leap. What an amazing view.
We broke for lunch at the White Lion (Chepstow) and had my first real Welsh ale. It was ok, but I was too busy trying to get the Internet connection working to really notice. Oh joy of joys.Next came, for me, the highlight of the day — Piercefield Park (old spelling Persfeld). Once the single most important estate on the lower Wye River and a required stop for anyone of stature and high culture during the early (Romantic period) days of Picturesque tourism. With views of the estate created on both sides of the river, a massive landscape design, and a manor house the envy of all, Piercefield Park was the epitome of desire (and excess) of the English gentry. Owned and developed by Valentine Morris, the lands began to deteriorate after Morris was imprisoned for debts.
There were a few subsequent owners, but none with the ambition or vision of Morris. Purchased by the Chepstow Racecourse in the early 20th century, it is now a rambling ruin — possibly one to please an uninformed Picturesque tourist. I wonder how Gilpin, so fond of ruins, would receive the view today? I also wonder what depth of humility Morris might find to consider his creation’s current state of visual glory?
I had a marvelous afternoon peering in doorways and windows trying to find traces of past glory.Check out some of the other images from the day in Day Two Gallery.
COMMENTS

Anonymous said…

Things look great, amazing how little has changed, a new structure here and there.

What is the temperature like? I’m sure Gilpin recommended a certain time of year being more picturesque then others what were his ideas on seasonal change?

jcheek

Friday, September 23, 2005 9:32:00 AM

 

Darryl B. said…

Temperature is slightly cooler than Michigan, by about five to ten degrees. I think anyone in England wouldn’t consider much travel during the long rainy winters. Otherwise, summer is excellent, but I’ve been here in February, March, June, July, and September. February was horrid and March can be quite iffy. Of course, it rains frequently, so that is taken in stride by the locals as evidenced by all the rain gear you see for sale everywhere.

Fall color are just appearing, it would be spectacular in about three or four weeks. I’ll be back in the States ;-(

Saturday, September 24, 2005 12:50:00 PM

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2005

Day Three – Rainy Days and The Wye ValleyIt had to happen someday, it might as well be today. We started with rain and some light winds. We sat in the conservatory, eating our full English breakfast and listened to the sounds of rain on the glass roof.
We decided to visit Monmouth area today as most of the hilly hikes would be a muddy mess. Driving up to the naval monument and Admiral Nelson’s (hero of Trafalgar and the heir to credit for British supremacy on the seas) monument called the Kymin, we enjoyed a majestic aerial view of the valley below. We then descending into Monmouth, where the Monnow River joins the Wye beneath historic Monnow Bridge and stopped for a visit to the Nelson Museum.
We caught a brief refreshment at the The Vine Treen just as the sun began to peak through the clouds.Ok, maybe not so brief, we got the Internet connection to work and were half-way through with a new master gallery page for the trip.We headed towards Newland, as the sunshine continued to emerge until the sky and clouds formed a near perfect combination. We arrived at the churchyard and began to explore.
I had tried to execute a vertical Claude Glass back at Lancaut, but felt it a weak composition, so the vertical rise and theatrical skies seemed a good start. Time will tell, but I like it.
Next we sought out several traditional views of Redbrook. Of course, those were made before the railroads came to the Wye Valley. Now the old vantage points are blocked by a disused railway bridge and a passenger bridge between the village and the Bush Inn. Salmon were striking at prey, causing several gentle rings on the mirror surface of the gentle river.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2005

Day Four – Symonds Yat, New, Old and OddAlthough we had truly great weather today, we got a late start due to some technical issues and academic responsibilities. Nonetheless, we got out to the area known as Symonds Yat by late morning and embarked with one of only two commercially available river cruise companies for a short tour of the Wye. We rode with Kingfisher Cruises, a family-run company operating on the river for five generations.
Of course they mentioned the early inhabitants, and industrial revolution, and Gilpin, and the Picturesque. Today’s cruise was far shorter today than in 1770 due to changes in the river which prohibit large boat navigation on the Ross to Chepstow segment (the original Wye tour). Strangely, one of the sites on the cruise was Symonds Yat West, a newcomer tourist attraction site. Developed in the early 20th century, mainly aimed to service families, it boasts (?) a caravan park, arcade, casino, river cruises, Butterfly Zoo, and the “Amazing Hedge Puzzle.”
Without the availability of a full river trip, most of the traffic is from kayak, followed by canoe enthusiasts. Most visitors seeking the beauty of the area arrive by car or foot and either rent a small water-vessel or take any number of available trails through the area. Kayaks seem to have become a form of visual treat within themselves.
We chose the Doward hill route which passes by Seven Sisters Rocks (now improved by a campground, see picture below), King Arthur’s Cave (also below), the Great Doward and Lower Doward Hills, and is serviced by the cross-river Biblans foot bridge. We went in search of Dripping Wells, a site popular in the early 1900s, but no longer on any of the available maps, nor did local tourist bureaus have any information. I obtained information from a 1913 Ward-Locke travel guide I possess to identify the approximate area and got further (still general) info from our boat tour captain. Alas, the petrified and calcified formation remained elusive. We did find King Arthur’s Cave, which I believe was called Merlin’s Cave in Gilpin’s time. As we walked the three hours over the Great Doward Hill, we were mindfull of the warning signs of (recently and illegally released) ‘wild’ boars. We heard rustling in the brush on several occasions, but were always amused (and relieved) to find a happy squirrel admiring the two nuts in the forest.
Seven Sisters Rocks, then (1910) and now.

We returned to Symonds Yat East and saw a busy scene at the landing site of the traditional and historic hand-ferry between East and West Symonds Yat. The inns have exclusive rights to carry passengers across the river and no other entity may compete.I finish tonight (10 pm in my time zone) with a thought and question about the “picturesque.” As a person who grew up in a trailer park, I have a definite opinion about these modern housing units. In England, in particular Symonds Yat West, the caravan (trailer) park is available to all for weekly rentals. I made a well-composed Claude Glass image of this caravan park from an elevated viewpoint (so far so good), and now question if the other elements of a picture are more or less important than subject? Can you have a good and picturesque image, without a Picturesque subject?Check out the daily gallery, too.

POSTED BY DARRYL B. AT 5:06 PM


Other views in the Day Three Gallery.

COMMENTS

dapice.mike said…For info: It was called the DrOpping well: Lots on Google e.g.here is a great deal of arable farming so there is no shortage of stubble … It is worthwhile including a visit to the Dropping Wells SO551145 which are a … Other plants you might be fortunate enough to come across in the Doward ..Monday, January 11, 2010 3:11:00 PM

Anonymous said…Correction to spelling please, it should be the Biblin’s Bridge not the Biblans, I used to carry my pushbike over it every day back in about 1989, I lived on the Great Doward and worked in Monmouth, I used to cyle down the west side of the river to the Biblins Bridge then cross over to the east side, riding down the old railway track until it met up with Dixton road, and the to the Wye Bridge and crossing over into Monmouth town.
Before the Biblins Bridge was built there used to be a cable runway across the river by which trees were hauled across the river, I think possibly to then be taken to the sawmill that used to be next to the Wye Bridge at Monmouth, this shut down in the early 1990’s, most of it’s production at the time was making ~Pit Props for the Welsh coal mines, the reject pit props were a great source of fuel for my woodburner!

Sunday, April 17, 2011 8:08:00 PM

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2005

Day Five – The more things change the more they stay the sameWe spent the day mostly exploring two cities on the Wye River, appropriately named Ross-on-Wye and Hay-on-Wye. Ross was nearest and thus first up. We started the trek in a fashion similar to all boat-carried Picturesque tours from the past, looking forward to the first of many scenes on the river banks, Wilton Castle. It seems that Wilton has faced the fate of similar pieces of English heritage (no reference to the conservation group) in that they fall into private hands and are removed from public access. Nonetheless, the main enjoyment of Wilton, as a rather smallish ruin, was as a floating scene and that has certainly remained true today. We witnessed scores of canoeists and skulling teams gliding past the ivy covered monument… at least it’s still ivy covered!

The launching point for most of the Picturesque tours was Ross and one can still rent canoes there, but must be a member if you want to launch from the site of the previous boat house. This (below) is the traditional viewpoint for many a picture postcard of Ross; changes include the disappearance of the coracle-clad fishermen and addition of a new boat house, but little else has changes beyond foliage between the Francis Frith & Co. postcard and my shot from today.

A brief rain prompted a short snack break at the Royal Hotel before we left heading for Hay-on-Wye.
We took a back road and found ourselves reasonably close to Dore Abbey and proceeded to the ancient site of the abbey. The abbey site contains both the ruins of the original 1147 A.D. structure and a church restored in the 17th century. Many Picturesque journeys enjoyed both, but (of course) it was the ruins which fit most nicely within the ‘rules’ of Picturesque scenery.

The site is located in the Golden Valley, a beautiful hilly drive on any day, but we experienced intermittent rain, rainbows, and glowing sunshine. I simply could not resist taking a photograph of sheep.. as if they were a rare commodity in Wales or England. Sue me.
We arrived in Hay-on-Wye late in the afternoon and headed directly for the grand-daddy of used book stores, Castle Books. In fact, Hay-on-Wye boasts proudly as the world’s largest collection of used books and used book shops. Castle Books is indeed in an old castle and also home to a wide assortment of books, old prints, photographs, engravings, and many, many antiquarian and rare books. We spent the better part of two hours scouring dusty shelves and bins. I netted a nice Francis Frith & Co. photograph of Ross-on-Wye, that contained a nice surprise upon opening — another photograph of (ivy-covered) Goodrich Castle. We’ll visit there next week to see what has changed at Goodrich.
Check out the Day Five Gallery.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2005

Day Six – Rambling around the WyeWe decided to walk from above Goodrich (just south of Ross) to just below Yat Rock, an area of the Wye with many sharp bends. We spent the entire day walking; we only used the car to get us to a car park near Kerne’s Bridge beside the refurbished Wye Inn. The phrase that can only be used (in England) to describe how we feel at this moment is “knackered” (American is bone-tired) after our walks. The tradition of walking is old, revered, and popular in England. A very good read on the subject is Rebecca Solnit’s book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking. The book incidentally covers the Picturesque as a part of walking history. So today we became Ramblers, the English term for walkers upon the countryside. It would be difficult, I think, to find a section of the countryside where you weren’t crossing or seeing a marker for the myriad “public footpaths” as they are known. Many trails are further designated by specific historic or regional interests, such as Offa’s Dyke, Wye Valley Walk, or something similar. Our path was a normal footpath mostly, interseting and overlapping a “Wye Valley Walk.”Goodrich Castle, below Ross, is one of the grand views of the Wye according to many Picturesque journalists and was a stop Gilpin complimented with an illustration in his widely published journal. Since I first saw that image (below) I’ve been bothered by its compression of space, akin to the effect from a short-telephoto lens. This was, of course , impossible in 1770. In my readings I’d found Gilpin took a bit of artistic license with the scene in order to compose a Picturesque. Nonetheless, many a devotee of the Picturesque arrived, Gilpin’s journal in hand, and searched in vain for the correctly depicted view. I found more problems with the view as I stood on the river bank and observed the relationship of the castle to the hilltop from the Ross side, it doesn’t sit in that position until you’ve gone past and looked backward. No big deal, I just needed closure. It’s funny, but I’ve done the same thing with photographs… searching in vain for a view I wanted to experience for myself.

Front side
Back side

Some illustrators of the times were more accurate in their depiction.


As we walked back towards Goodrich, I noticed a weir and felt this was probably the spot where most boating tourists would disembark and walk towards the castle. Although about a quarter-mile from the castle’s closest river edge, the weir may have been used frequently as the original tour often included a visit to Goodrich Court.


This gradiose estate was reportedly demolished in the 1950s, yet I cannot find any conclusive information to explain the demise of this once grand house. We found a set of stone ruins near Goodrish near the original site of the Court, but this is wild speculation at best (Goodrich Castle is peaking beneath the tree). I’ve gotten anecdotal information that the house and grounds were a folly (English for fake structures, like a Hollywood set or fascade). More digging.


Next we headed for Coldwell Rocks, passing through Bishops Wood, Welsh Bicknor, and Lydbrook. These were all sites mentioned in Gilpin and other chroniclers of the scenery of the Wye. Walking is a funny thing, I find it’s a form of exercise disguised as an visual adventure. As evidence of this ‘observation’ the walk to Coldwell Rocks took a full two and one-half hours to walk out, but only one and one-half hours on the route back. The rationale is simple, unless you take a different route to return, the trip is always a reconsideration of a familiar territory and you simply walk faster, even if you’re tired.

Walking along a steep forest path, popping out to the edge to look for a new (and improved) view, I was reminded again of the Gilpin satire, Doctor Syntax, and his many misadventures searching for the Picturesque.


Especially his tumble into the water while sketching. (I picked up this print in Hay-on-Wye at a shop specializing in maps and topological drawings).


As we walked along the river, the sites we sought seemed to literally emerge from out of the heavily-wooded banks. Within a minute or two of leaving a public footpath to join a Wye Valley Walk, we saw the steeple of the Welsh Bicknor church.


Next we found a rather unusual monument site set alongside the riverside, a memorial for a drowned young man from 1804. A poem was written later by a toursist, Riobert Bloomfield, expounded on the tragedy. I t seems the horrified family members present at the time felt his death uneccesary, but they knew nothing of resuscitation techniques. Their anguish translated into a plea for support of a local church at Coldwell for a Humane Society technique for water-related trauma. The full front quote:

“Sacred to the memory of JOHN WHITEHEAD WARRE, who perished near this spot, whilst bathing in the river Wye, in sight of his afflicted parents, brother, and sister, on the 11th of September, 1804, in the sixteenth year of his age.

GOD’S WILL BE DONE,

“Who, in his mercy, hath granted consolation to the parents of the dear departed, in the reflection, that he possessed truth, innocence, filial piety, and fraternal affection, in the highest degree. That, but a few moments before he was called to a better life, he had (with a never to be forgotten piety) joined his family in joyful thanks to his Maker, for the restoration of his mother’s health. His parents, in justice to his amiable virtue, and excellent disposition, declare, that he was void of offence towards them. With humbled hearts they bow to the Almighty’s dispensation; trusting, through the mediation of his blessed Son, he will mercifully receive their child he so suddenly took to himself.”


We continued on towards Lydbrook and found the railway bridge, something absent in Gilpin’s day, now a walking path. We also found the local nature had made itself at home on the rotting wooden ties. Time continues to add that quality of roughness ( a Picturesque quality) to the geometric man-made shapes, now abandoned. The factory at this site is also abandoned and an interesting site in a very different way. I’d like to work on the images for another gallery, at another time.

We finally arrived at Coldwell Rocks and the sun broke through the clouds which had allowed for a gloomy light all day. Unfortunately for me, the photographer, the sun was low and shone directly into the lens, causing a low contrast effect. Saturation and contrast courtesy of Adobe Photoshop. Funny, it looks a bit like the hand-colored postcard image of Seven Sisters Rocks from the Detroit Publishing Company. (below mine)
As we left I attempted a Claude Glass view.
Check out the daily gallery for day six.
COMMENTS

John Pfahl said…Ah, Goodrich Castle! I made a re-photograph there trying to recreate a lovely Herschel camera lucida drawing in the Getty Collection. It was hard to find the exact viewpoint, because all the vegetation that was used so artfully in the drawing had been removed, leaving the walls naked. Turns out that Herschel must have situated himself in front of the main entrance right in front of where the ticket and souvenir booth is now. My photograph is dishwater plain and would have been helped by including the group of schoolchildren in red blazers who came by while I was not yet ready to take the picture. They were extraordinarily well-behaved and did not take notice of me and my camera at all. Their American counterparts would have been clustering around me asking to have their picture taken, while kicking over my tripod.Tuesday, September 27, 2005 9:03:00 AM

photochick72 said…John, that was a very funny comparison of the English schoolchildren vs. the American.

_______________________________________

I am interested in checking out Solnit’s book. Seems a fitting read for the experience you are having now with feeling so “knackered” while viewing the picturesque.

Did you walk up that very steep forest path with all your equipment?

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 11:46:00 PM

Darryl B. said…English children and dogs have excellent manners. I miss my dog, but there are many opportunities to meet, pet, and play with other dogs we meet on trails and in the pubs.
Alfie, a resident dog at the Ostrich Inn in Newland, is one of my favorites. He sat by me the other night and was rewarded with several morsels of sausage and pork. Dog on one side, fireplace on the other… could life get any better?

I have a backpack with a laptop computer, electrical chargers, guidebooks, Claude Glass, pda, keyboard. small tripod, and the Canon camera bag (flash, two lenses, and a few odds and ends. I really only notice it when I’m struggling to get it off to retrieve something or climbing up a narrow spiral staiircase within the castle ruins. It’s a tight fit.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 5:29:00 AM

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2005

Day Seven – Road (trip) to ruin(s)We started the day, again with really excellent weather, easing up on the rambling and instead decided to drive to several castle or priory ruins visited heavily on Picturesque tours. These included Flanesford Priory, Goodrich Castle, Raglan Castle, and Llanthony Priory. We also wanted to do some more looking around for Goodrich Court, since we would be directly behind its former site.Approaching Kerne Bridge, the Flanesford Priory ruins (?) are immediately to the west, incorporated into a large farm. It’s a rather nice and modern renovation as renovations go in England. According to my 1913 Warde-Locke Guide, the priory was founded in 1347 by the Black Friars Regular of St. Augustine. It also appraises the current farmhouse “notable as a remnant” and then later in the guide again “a scanty remain.” Confused? me too. I’m usually fine with most secondary usages as long as the building isn’t demolished or converted beyond recognition architecturally. Today, you be the judge.
Before driving around back to Goodrich Castle, we drove through Goodrich Village towards the site of former Goodrich Court. We entered a road which should have delivered us to the mansion’s remains, but we found ourselves staring at a field of turnips and potatoes. We retraced our path to the turnoff and entered another property named Goodrich Court Stables. We entered a courtyard and I immediately saw a man working underneath a modern shed roof attached to a red brick building of some age. He was Jon Edgar, a sculptor, living and working in the onetime stables of Goodrich Court… so far, so good. I asked about the circumstances surrounding its disappearance and Jon provided an account, supported by a book which he produced (it can’t get it any better, right?) We continued talking as I began to look around with a bit more scrutiny and realized the courtyard was filled with sculptures and I was suddenly brought to the realization I was looking at a living re-picturing opportunity. Jon agreed to a photograph and went about his work on an alabaster piece.
We then walked around the back of the stable to view some of the garden remains. The story goes something similar to other lost estates in the United Kingdom, the estate was too costly to maintain, a suitable charity was not found and it went to auction. The high bidder was a demolition company who used the stones from the buildings. An additional erasure came with the building of the A40 dual carriageway (highway in USA). I feel a little better with this knowledge, but do wish that Goodrich Court might have been around to see. Here’s a picture from the Warde-Locke Guide.
On to Goodrich Castle, the most formidable fortress on the Wye and a glorious hilltop vista of Wales and England. The site is now managed, as are many such historic structures, by English Heritage. This pioneering conservation group promotes conservation, heritage tourism, and education. The also produce a lavish set of guides, printed and audible, for those inclined to dig a little deeper. Personally, I love pictures and texts together. Perhaps I’m too simple, but I cannot bear to hear an actor’s voice describe what I’m looking at (or not looking at as may be the case) within historic sites. It’s too much like hearing a voice in your head, and we know what that means!


As we toured Goodrich a faint wall of rain approached and we soon were looking for the few rooms or hallways which afforded any cover. I anxiously awaited the tail-end of the storm anticipating some nice skies and crystal clear air. I wasn’t disappointed.

A short distance away lies Raglan Castle in Wales. A castle which I’ve found was popular with early photographers such as Roger Fenton and Francis Bedford. I’m fairly certain Francis Frith, or an employee of Francis Frith & Company, would also have taken images of the grand, towered facade. Here’s image number 12 in Frith’s Cameo Series of the Wye. (both below)

Raglan was a wonderful experience, the amount of remaining detail made clear the high style of living offered by the castle. Ornate fireplaces, huge windows, a kitchen Hilton (the Hotels) would envy, and generous courtyards completed the mental image of a prosperous mediaeval kingdom. This site is managed by Wales Heritage, which like English Heritage works to promote Welsh history through its advocacy. I was very impressed by the ruin, especially the moat.


Last on the day’s agenda was Llanthony Priory, now a hotel, farm, and site for pony trekking and hiking in the Black Mountains (a part of Brecon Beacons National Park.) Gilpin added this site to his second edition, although (to me) it is unclear if he actually made this trip. His second edition included another journal, from another traveler, but the text uses the first person style and is confusing if one reads the first edition. Such is the nature of many a tourist’s journal. I’m afraid this venture may suffer a similar fate. Traveling all day and writing and photo-editing all night leaves a little to be desired, but I’m not complaining. The days are wonderful, but exhausting. The evenings are relaxed (too relaxed sometimes after a big meal) and I try to recapture some of the feelings and thoughts I had during the day. The photographs are an excellent source of that inspiration. Coffee helps too.Nonetheless, Llanthony Priory and Valley are breathtaking places. We got a bit lost and most frustrated by not being at our destination as the light began to creep up the mountainsides; at one point I simply stopped the car and pointed my cameras out of the window and took this shot.
There were so many more, and so much better. Evening was coming on fast as we arrived at the Llanthony Priory Hotel parking lot. Walkers and their dogs were returning, couples arriving for dinner, as we scurried about trying to squeeze in a few shots with the tiny bit of light remaining. I would very much like to return, possibly on foot or maybe even on a horse.


I don’t know why I think sheep are so adorable.
Check out the Day Seven gallery.
COMMENTS

 Aubrey said…So you have a penchant for photographing sheep. Are sheep considered “picturesque”? Or is it really only in the eye of the beholder? I would believe that many people today would find the English landscape, with sheep, to be extremely picturesque. I know you’re doing a kind of then-now project, but would the sheep now be part of the definition today?I’m really enjoying your trip on this end as it’s a nice way to begin my day.Tuesday, September 27, 2005 9:17:00 PM

photochick72 said…I can’t believe you actually met someone who knew about the disapperance, gave you some info. and showed you a book, those are some really good odds there, maybe you should by a lotto ticket.

I too was amazed by the condition Raglan is in now, very much of the structure seems to be intact which would give the viewer much to imagine as you described.

I love that image of the sheep hiding out under the stones. I agree, they are very adorable.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005 11:30:00 PM

Darryl B. said…According to Gilpin’s hierarchy of (animal) things Picturesque, sheep were at the top, then cows, then horses. Two sheep aren’t as good as three “…two sheep cannot clump.” He mentions “sheep clinging to the river sides” on the section of river below Monmouth (which has to be near Redbrook, our B&B’s location) and I can attest they are still there, clinging and munching grass.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 4:29:00 AM

John Pfahl said…Yeah, I used to feel that way about acoustiguides, too –
until I took the one at Tintern Abbey. It was so beautifully done, it actually brought tears to my eyes when the monks started to sing while filing into the nave. Don’t miss it. The English are brilliant at this medium – combining information and atmosphere.

Hey, the more sheep the better.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 1:41:00 PM

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2005

Day Eight – Rain, more rain, and a short rantBasically, it rained most of the day and our day’s plans changed about midday. We started out walking along Offa’s Dyke Path towards Tintern Abbey to a spot known as The Devil’s Pulpit. Here a large rock stands upright in the upper valley, overlooking the abbey ruins and the Wye. From this vantage point the Devil was alleged to conduct sermons on Sundays during the regular mass going on below. What a quaint idea, equal-time for sinners! Regardless of the lore surrounding the rocky overlook, anyone standing there has one terrific view of the river valley, abbey, and village.

The sky was solidly cloudy and continued to darken as we headed back to the car. As we headed up towards St. Briavels for the descent to the valley road below, the rain began to softly fall. We decided to stop at the George Inn for a bite to eat and watched as the rain continued with with greater intensity and volume, winds whipping the trees outside the windows. We sat and watched, realizing this wasn’t a short afternoon sprinkle like we’ve seen several times during the past week. This was a real rain system and we had to adjust. Photographing during overcast days is one thing, rain isn’t something I consider a reasonable weather condition. Not my cup of tea.We decided to visit Hereford to see its cathedral and famous Chained Library. The story of the Cathedral is similar to many ancient religious structures throughout Europe, there was war and often a new religion followed. It was founded and built shortly after Edward the Confessor solved his difficulties with the son of the Duke of Mercia, or about 1110 A.D. Since then the cathedral has grown in various stages until today’s edifice was completed with the adddition of a permanent home for the library, complete with a nice visual display combining the library with the cathedral’s other great treasure, the Mappa Mundi or “Map of the World” from the 13th century. The exhibit was stylish and well layed-out and contained William Caxton’s bible, representing the first printing in England. This printing followed shortly after Gutenberg’s and represents a milestone in English history.The main rationale for our visit was the “Chained Library” which has holdings from the 8th through the 19th centuries, arranged and contained in a unique chain-lock system. A survivor of wars, disease, and time itself the library is unique in the world. We were very glad for the rain, as it allowed this unscheduled visit to Hereford and its available historic treasures.Upon arrival, we knew we were back in a large city as traffic was snarled for blocks, but we slipped into a car park close to the city centre and walked across the Wye on the old bridge. I snapped a quick shot of a river boat/house.
Upon realizing the library would close we hurried through the cathedral to the library building and were greeted by a gift shop, security cameras, and a cashier. We paid our £4.50 entry fee and walked towards the exhibit hall’s doors and saw the sign — the dreaded sign I’ve come to loathe on trips like this, the universal symbol of a war that rages in many artistic and historic sites the world over pitting the owners of private property against the rights of visual artists, particularly photographers
…NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED.

WARNING: BRIEF RANT ABOUT INSTITUTIONS FOLLOWS, IF YOU ARE INVOLVED IN HISTORIC COLLECTIONS, MUSEUMS, CHURCHS (WHO CHARGE ADMISSION), OR OTHERS PLEASE BE WARNED.

Really all I want to express is my frustration with the situation I found myself thrown into today, similar to many I’ve had elswhere with many different entities. If there is to be an exchange of ideas, like the world the Internet (or even independent journalism) may offer, it is quite unfortunate that photography isn’t permitted in such important sites. I paid an admission, saw (and enjoyed) the exhibit, but can only talk about it here due to the “copyright” restrictions which Hereford Cathedral feels obliged to protect. I can buy a nice postcard, but I can’t reproduce it. I can publish a photograph from my Ward-Lock guide of 1913 of the chained library.


I asked if the ban on photography was for protection of the materials — the harsh UV light from a flash or something else and was informed it was due to copyright. Now I’m the first person to protect the rights of individuals and companies thatcreate materials for their livelihood and their family, but a library (or museum or institute) which holds a priceless part of history should not hold a copyright, in my (less than) humble opinion. I would gladly pay a reasonable fee for the ability to photograph; I’d even sign an agreement. So, here’s my photograph of the Chained Library exhibit.


END OF RANT

We got a tea and got up our energy to explore the cathedral. I love old churches and like to walk around and see everything that has happened in the confines of these old buildings. There is an incredible amount of history in these old churches and I tend to lose all sense of my surroundings while I’m so engaged. With no similar religious experience to those contained here (attended a small, funky Southern Baptist church of very modest means), I take photographs of everything that seems different, weird, interesting, or just unusual… that’s everything folks. I’ll post a few of the more scenic images here, but I’ll add many more to the daily gallery.





As we left Hereford, we walked through an alley along the Wye, apparently part of the old city wall. We stopped to admire (?) the new development in the area; it’s sometimes hard to appreciate the commingling of the ancient, old, and new.


Check out the Daily Gallery.

COMMENTS
photochick72 said…What a shame you weren’t able to take photos and share with us the unique treasures that the “Chained Library” has in its collection. The image from your Ward-lock guide made me very curious and wish I could have seen more. I wasn’t aware that chaining books was a security system from the “middle ages to the eighteenth century (chained library website).” Very clever indeed. I imagine that books were quite valuable considering they must have been the main source for getting information, entertainment, and religious scripts.Friday, September 30, 2005 12:07:00 AM

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2005

Day Nine – Much ado about very littleWe began the day with good intentions — hike to Llandogo for a riverside view (like all those postcards), then a trip up to the 365 steps, and another view at the Eagle’s nest overlooking the Wye, Lancaut, Piercefield, and the Severn… it’s a big view. But I’m getting way ahead of myself.The day started as usual; after breakfast we headed down river to Brockweir and managed to find a car park close to a segment of the Wye Valley Walk and headed back upstream to get a photograph of the village of Llandogo. It’s a pretty village rolling up the sides of the valley and disappearing into the woods. A lot of the east bank (the English side) has little or no tree cover, so views are across meadows. As flat expanses, these meadows are a bit boring and I found myself looking for a foreground to minimize this flat space.I began to think about how painters solved this problem, or any other spatial problem they encounter while depicting a realistic landscape. Nothing seemed available until I spotted a small herd of cattle grazing up in the distance. “Oh great,” I thought, “more rules from the picturesque days — cows or sheep or gnarly trees.” As I gave into my lazy inner-self and focused on the closest cow a large black helicopter roared by overhead. Now that was exciting!, but not so picturesque as the cows, so I shot both to cover the scene.



It’s still boring, even with the cows OR helicopter and I started thinking about the real object of this tour — the stability of the quality we know as the Picturesque. Seriously, we still use rules of composition like the thirds ( a very simple way to distribute sky or landscape in a picture), vanishing point perspectives (where the eye is naturally draw into the scene), and multiple, overlapping horizon lines to show depth. Who can deny these work? Who can break these rules successfully, time after time, and still engage a viewer? And what came first, the picture or the lens? (Ask David Hockney, because I’m less interested in that question than I am in) what happened when photographs became a viable alternative to depict space and compete with painting?

For argument sake, I pose a question: What would photography have looked like if the Impressionists were the dominant painting/pictorial style in 1839? (I know the Impressionists were responding to both photography and the speeding up of everything in their social lives, but this is hypothetical) Would we have seen a style of photographic landscape similar to the Pictorialists or would photography have stayed with the hyper-realistic form?

I think about this when I see landscape work which breaks away from the tradition of skies glowing over the land, or dramatic perspectives, or whatever the compositional rule. I’ve recently been introduced to such work by a photographer named Pete Davis, who as luck would have it, lives and teaches in Wales. We drove over to Newport and met Pete today. With a generosity rare today, he introduced his school, program, and excellent facilities at the Newport School of Art, Media and Design at the University of Wales at Newport, in Caerleon. His recent work — landscapes of places telling their own stories, has evolved beyond the picturesque, and seems to not require many of the old formal rules of composition. It’s a fresh view of the land, ancient as it might be in years. Look at WildwoodVermont, and Strata Florida.

So again, what if the Abstract Expressionists had been active when Talbot labored to fix an image at Lacock Abbey in 1835? Would he have dribbled emulsion over the paper and proceeded to photograph a window? What might Ansel Adams have done with Yosemite, if Mondrian and the De Stijl group were the reigning kings of the art world when Daguerre perfected Niépce’s process? Maybe these are silly questions, but I’m always looking to the “why” of things we usually accept before moving on to current topics. I guess I’ll continue to be stuck in the past, searching for the connection(s) between the Picturesque and photography.

Meanwhile back at the Wye Valley…

After spending time away from the tour to visit Newport, we decided to return to our plans for the day and rushed to the lower valley and managed to squeeze the remaining shots in, but only by cheating on the 365 steps. Since we actually climbed all 365 steps previously, we felt there must be some sort of club membership which we could use as our “get out of a difficult hike pass.” We drove to the top of (Upper) Wyndcliff, walked up a short distance to the Eagles Nest, a short 235 fairly easy steps from my car door and took a nice Claude Glass view showing two views simultaneously. We then proceeding down to the Lower Wyndcliff car park and walked up to the beginning of the 365 steps and made some other views. Cheating, ok maybe, but you get the picture. ;-}


I received a note from our new friend, Ray Mitchell, who as an instructor and photographer for the Army Apprentices College in Chepstow photographed “…the boys from the building classes (who) helped on the project of the 365 steps.” as part of their education as Regiment Engineers. The original steps were part of the picturesque walks created for the Piercefield Park landscape design, visited by Gilpin in 1770 as did many later Romantic tourists. In this constructed panoramic it’s possible to see the Wye, the Severn, the Tintern Road, Piercefiled Park ruins, the finger of land known as Lancaut, and Wintour’s Leap.



We finished up at dark and made our way back to the B&B stopping off at The Florence Inn for a nice evening meal. The Inn is on the Tintern Road and overlooks the Wye. It’s amazing to me what can be done so easily with a digital camera with adjustable ISO settings, just amazing.


Check out the daily gallery, with an extra Claude Glass shot for Fred Marsh in Columbus.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30, 2005

Day Ten – Smaller is often betterThe day started slowly, with a very late night (scheduled maintenance by Blogger set me back an hour) and some heavy, wet weather greeting us before breakfast. We decided to make the best of several locations near which have only received brief notices in early journals. Of course many of the sites once grand are now ruins or completely obliterated from sight, while others have grown in prominence and popularity. The two examples from today’s travels include sites mentioned by Gilpin an another more recently made popular as the tourism trade continues to develop and extend its reach into more and more locations. Part of this reach is underwritten by interest in history/heritage and its preservation. Groups like English Heritage, Welsh Heritage, and The National Trust are all concerned with the preservation, promotion, and advancement of historically important and significant properties in the U.K. I can’t really speak from authority regarding the whole of tourism or its study, but I can remember the significant impact of David Lowenthal’s writings on the subject, especially his work entitled The Past is a Foreign Country on a great deal of my thinking on the subject. One of his premises, is that everything becomes valuable with age, and we regard things only briefly experienced in childhood as almost holy grails of our adult pursuits. Just consider the retro-design craze, especially those classic cars designs.Okay, enough of the theory. We went to Skenfrith, a village complete with castle, ancient church, and small village with pretty little cottages, each with unique flower gardens. A small place with a big visual impact. I also decided to experiment with compositions, ignoring my ingrained tendency to compose first and think later. I also wanted to avoid skies or purposefully proportioned skies.
It was fun.



The church in Skenfrith, St. Bridget’s, provided plenty of exciting new imagery. With some rather obvious harvest references, the church seemd very connected to the local population’s life and needs. I felt like I was trying to unraveled coded messages with my eyes and camera.


The castle was pretty much what one would expect, with some nice added buildings which now also seem to be headed into a pleasant decay. A nice new Claude Glass was also managed.


Later we headed towards Monmouth to view the castle where Henry V was born. Gilpin mentions this castle grudgingly in his 1770 tour as a castle once the home to a great King, now a home for “fatting ducks.” Today the castle is combined into a two-for-one deal with the Monmouth Regimental Engineers Museum placed well off the main drag in town. New development is underway next door, so the site is even more inconspicuous…although no fat ducks were observed on our visit.
As we left the city we stopped to buy flowers for our hostess and found another color delight inside the shop. This experience, plus our mid-afternoon cream tea & snack were nice respites for the day. We were weary from the late nights and long days. The change of pace was just the ticket to end the week.
Check out Day Ten gallery.Also, look for a special video edition this weekend. It should provide a few insights into the trip which might not be apparent through the daily texts.
COMMENTS
photochick72 said…I wonder why the unidentified castle remains is not open for viewing pleasure? And how has it been this long without someone knowing the history behind the mysterious remains? Just thinking out loud rhetorically.Saturday, October 01, 2005 10:32:00 AM

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 01, 2005

Day Eleven – The high and the low, a study in contrastsWe purposefully saved the village of Symonds Yat for last of the original Picturesque tour sites. The village is divided by the river itself into an east and west version. The carriageway signs make this distinction by creating two different exit ramps. What one might think upon first arriving today is that one is new and the other is quite old, but this is incorrect. Both sides have existed for many, many years and travel between them has long been accomplished by the traditional hand ferry. The big difference is that the west side has now been developed commercially further upriver as a much more commercial tourist destination dating back to the first decade of the 20th century. This is what appears to the newcomer as Symonds Yat West because it is the first area seen once off the highway. Remaining with this natural assumption, the contrast between these two sides is as immense as the geological formation of its namesake.First Symonds Yat is known for the Yat Rock, a towering formation rising 230 feet above the river. This is reached from the east side of the river and hosts several trails along Coldwell Rocks and also several observation decks to look down the river valley. The view from Yat Rock is THE view of the river, appearing on most promotional materials printed and a wide variety of commercial ventures, including Wye Valley Brewery.

This side of the river is also the major canoe and kayaking site, probably due to the nearby rapids. At the lower position of the east side are several old hotels, inns, rental cottages, and pubs including the Royal Hotel, The Wye Rapids, and Scaracen’s Head. Most of the arriving visitors are looking for an afternoon of walking, river sports, eating and drinking, and generally an outdoor stay. The old railway has been turned over to leisurely walking paths and the Kingfisher cruises continue their tours unchanged for the last fifty years.


In stark contrast, Symonds Yat West first appears on a low, flat part of the riverside, below the old village on the west bank. You’re immediately faced with choices between the Butterfly Zoo, Hedge Puzzle, or Leisure Park.The Leisure Park is a large business containing a car park, food mall, casino, arcade, outdoor gardens, outdoor playground, amusement rides, river cruises, canoe and kayak rentals, and a caravan park with campground. The dizzying array of color, forms, and signs found here are again hugely different from its sister downriver.

The new part of the west side dates from around 1910 and was developed to satisfy the needs of families on holiday, now arriving by car, rail, and bus. The Ward-Lock guide I’ve used so heavily to mark changes to the area is full of the information necessary to make an efficient and enjoyable visit for both adult and younger visitors. It’s to my thinking a micro-history of tourism in the Wye Valley. It a fitting image to end this series, the Leisure Park even offers its own version of a Claude Glass view from an adandoned carousel horse doing double-duty as a tour ride.
Even in its brief history, this area of Symonds Yat West has produced a few ruins of its own. Several enterprises have come and gone, some arrangements for transport have failed, and a good deal of the property lies in some form of disuse. It time, all may become as the older more unchanged other half.

At this point all of the original sites of Gilpin’s original tour have been visited, although not all have appeared here as images. Many villages were named in passing and don’t rise to the same level of mention as though of Picturesque qualities.In the next couple of days as we end the tour, we’ll try to visit a few more which were added into his journal during his second edition, those of the area from Ross to the river’s source.

Check out Day Eleven gallery.

And now for something completely different…Somehow we managed to find a few spare moments for some light-hearted laughs and a quickie home movie or two.If (that’s a big if) you have sufficient bandwidth to download and play movies, you might enjoy these fairly short two video clips from our recent trips about the countryside. Otherwise ignore these files as they are very, very large. (22 seconds and 44 seconds)Rambling in the forest

and

Driving with Mr. D

COMMENTS

 fijigal said…cute… very cute… so, was the car manual or auto?Sunday, October 02, 2005 1:49:00 PM

Blogger Darryl B. said…Are you kidding, automatic is the only thing safe for me to drive. On our very first trip to the UK, I rented a manual transmission and found myself grabbing the door knob everytime I needed to shift… which was quite often.

I can’t wait to return the car, there are smallish scrapes on three out of four corners.

Sunday, October 02, 2005 3:15:00 PM

Anonymous John Pfahl said…I still have nightmares about driving in England. I never brought a rental car back without a missing or damaged Claude glass ( rear-view mirror) and lots of scrapes along the sides. I have learned to take out the full comprehensive insurance, even though it costs an arm and a leg. I also have learned to tape an arrow pointing left on the inside of my front windshield, so that in a confusing emergency, I always know which side of the road to go to. The arrow perplexes the natives, but it works like a dream – not a nightmare.

Monday, October 03, 2005 8:39:00 AM

Blogger jenn said…This is great….your grandchildren really enjoyed seeing and hearing you!

Monday, October 03, 2005 9:49:00 AM

Blogger photochick72 said…That was really fun to watch, loved the circus music you added to the rambling movie bit, very cute.

Monday, October 03, 2005 10:31:00 AM

Blogger Darryl B. said…Ha, the grandchildren were lucky Grandma cleaned up the driver’s language.

It was fun being able to include the music from the opening credits of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. That’s Sousza’s Liberty Bell March.

Tomorrow we’ll do something fun to bring a little closure… stay tuned.

Monday, October 03, 2005 7:37:00 PM

Blogger Aubrey said…Funny enough, when I heard the opening music for Monty Python, I thought a knight would be coming out of the shrubbery…

I am so very glad I am not the one driving. It was harrowing enough being on the coach and going down those very narrow roads.

Take care.

Monday, October 03, 2005 9:31:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said…Thank god your not driving one of those hometown 70’s Buicks. A good chunk of cold blue steel from Michigan would be left in various locals along the way. But one thing for sure …..you wouldn’t have to back up.

Cheek

Thursday, October 06, 2005 1:53:00 AM

Blogger Darryl B. said…Ha ha, aren’t many full-size cars around these parts. An occasional Land Rover, not like the American version where drivers drive around a mud puddle, these are pretty serious and most often found on farms.

I’m driving a Ford Focus, and its ok, but those lovely Audi and Mercedes keep buzzing past me on the M1 and M4 motorways. English motorways seems quite a lot like the German autobahn. Not many people ever stay in the “fast lane.”

Funny thing, there are more Morris Minis in Fenton, Michigan than I’ve seen in England. What’s up with that? Also, there are at least five versions of Honda here we don’t have in the states… A four door station wagon Civic, an Accord turbo diesel, a “Jazz” mini-mini van, A Honda HRV (a mini SUV), and sports car I only saw once. The HRV was wonderful as was the Civic and the Accord. Why don’t we have these cars in the USA?

Thursday, October 06, 2005 11:36:00 AM

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 02, 2005

Day Twelve – Out westAs we’ve finished the Wye River tour there are still sites included in the additional journal from edition two which are interesting and certainly were considered and visited by subsequent travelers seeking the Picturesque. Of these, we’ve managed to see Llanthony, Crickhowell, Raglan, Abergavenny, the Black Mountains, Skenfrith, Hay-on-Wye, and Newport. There are always others, many which we will sadly be unable to visit this trip. Perhaps a sequel or some form of spinoff? After all, Gilpin wrote eight travel journals.Today we revisited Chepstow to see the Chepstow Racecourse which hosts a Sunday market in the parking lot. With the ruins of Piercefield Park in the near background and Wyndcliff in the distance. The scene is another small saga of the vagaries and effects of time and taste. I bought two cheap watches, since my expensive watch’s band continues to break at the most inopportune times. I also got a great deal on socks, so now I don’t need to wash any for the rest of the trip.
Afterwards, we headed back to the Black Mountains, driving back up the Wye Valley along with a very obvious glut of tourists driving through the early fall colors on a gorgeous afternoon. We decided to retry our luck with Llanthony Priory since we now had a good map of the area.Our last trip through Abergavenny was greeted by a rain that rather seemed to be thrown, spit, or slung and not simply dropping to earth. Sheets of droplets would appear from out of nowhere and smack the car, followed by a dry spell only to be repeated over and over. The wind was equally intermittent, not to mention the sunlight. Today was clear and crisp, except for the single cloud which parked over Llanthony for the better part of two hours.


We walked around the Priory (and hotel, farm, and stables) looking for interesting scenes, waiting for the sunshine to return. A variety of opportunities presented themselves including a pet gray parrot, horse-play, and the pub within the converted part of the priory ruins.


The drive home was probably the best in terms of light, sun dodging in and out of long, low clouds that we’d seen. We arrived back in Monmouth in time for dinner at The Punch House situated on the market square where statues of Henry V and Charles Rolls were erected outside the market hall. The sun was just past setting and I silhouetted Rolls figure against the constant flow of traffic through the town centre.
As the trip is now complete, I have several pieces of the Picturesque’s history to consider before heading off to examine various photographic and other documents in British institutions. These include the conception of space as a flexible medium, perspective points as a indication of cultural events or thinking, and possibly a look at surface texture and detail as a point for photography’s departure from historical Picturesque rules. These are all just thinking-out-loud, but I’ve done of lot of thinking in silence and needed to blurt out a snippet or two to get the ball rolling.Check out Day Twelve gallery.
COMMENTS
 photochick72 said…The day certainly gave you some interesting and fun images to photograph. We all know that opportunities like that don’t come our way very often.Has the correlation between what was once viewed as the picturesque during Gilpin’s time, to how we view it today, made a difference in what you have come to appreciate about the aesthetic qualities one normally considers to be picturesque?Monday, October 03, 2005 1:05:00 AM

MONDAY, OCTOBER 03, 2005

Day Thirteen – Another study of pictures and more (photo) contrastsWith our Wye site visits complete and a dreadful weather day, we headed off to meet up with some faculty members of the Swansea Institute and CLASI (Centre for Lens Based Arts at Swansea Institute). They’ve moved into nice new facilities, but they are late a few weeks in the construction and classes started today. Impromptu signage was the order of the day. I met first with Andy Penaluna, a researcher of historical retouching technologies and our gentle guide for the day, next was Andrea Liggins, the dean and a kindred photographer interested in the history of landscape photography, then an introduction to Karen Ingham, also interested in landscapes, a web-mistress, senior lecturer, and researcher. Next to be introduced wasMark Cocks, who heads up the BA in photography program, and does research and exhibition. We toured the facilities and saw painters working to finish the darkroom print rooms, carpenters finishing trim work, and an assortment of other construction tasks being performed in a chaos of activity. The new building is a fantastic addition to a bustling institute and a city by the sea (Bay of Bristol).The contrast of ideas, location and direction between these two schools we visited in Wales might be as great as any within the medium. Theory and practice are equally important in both, yet the sense I come away with is Swansea Institute looks AT photography, while the Newport School of Art program looks WITH photography. I tend to shift between both, but it is a struggle. This is a contrast of vast proportion if you subscribe to one or the other, yet it wonderfully describes the state of the art in today’s culture. To consider the growing digital consciousness driving photo technology and the current state of fine art photography (with its love affair with scale, detail, and cool visual delivery of our world), who can know where to begin or end thinking about the medium? I’m currently struggling with the same dilemma within this very project.What’s important to discuss? …perhaps the record vs. the recorder, or the medium vs. the mediated, or the landscape vs. the picture? Who can lay claim to the original landscape which wasn’t an invention of a cultural model, based on previous cultural inheritance? Who can render the true nature of a landscape as it’s seen, felt, or experienced? Isn’t failure or success of the above in one way or another dependent on our critical perspective? Should we despair the Gilpin rendering of Raglan Castle due to its distortion of space? (see below) When we respond to a travel brochure are we to blame the photographer or designer when our experience on holiday falls somewhat short? Could we find fault with Yosemite Valley if it pales compared to the Ansel Adams calendar image we hang on the wall?

Gilpin’s rendering

Shot with a 135mm telephoto lens,
Sugarloaf is still further away than Gilpin’s view

What I’ve found in investigating the nature of pictures, in the time before photography, is their authors took some liberties with space, color, nature, texture, viewer position, and just about anything else imaginable in a piece of art. Viewers who demanded veracity from those pictures were sure to be disappointed, just as modern tourists are often underwhelmed by actual locations compared to the grand scenic imagery glossing a brochure’s surface. But really, what’s happening is ignorance — of the medium and the processes of transmitting imagery. Media literacy would be a specific area of study I’d propose become standard fare for all education levels. In my own ignorance, I was surprised to discover the Picturesque period and its important links to landscape design, appreciation, and rendering. My own education led to a discovery about the medium’s history. Specifically, photography didn’t create the desire to make pictures, it was already a fixture of the culture some fifty years before photography”s invention. Even the act of making ‘pictures’ was already established practice for those trained in the proper aesthetics.

So, if we choose to believe the image in the mirror, movie, magazine, or museum, who’s the worse for it, if we all know the difference between the picture and the thing itself?

We’ll be visiting a photography festival in Hereford tomorrow and then be packing for our departure. I’ll continue to post some images and musings about photography for another week, but the daily gallery will probably be discontinued.

Thanks to all the visitors and readers. Good viewing and picture-making to all.

One photo from Swansea, from Mumbles towards Port Talbot.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 04, 2005

Day Fourteen – A closing act and a nice exhibition to bootSlow day, mostly spent walking around Hereford after viewing the Hereford Photography Festival. It’s an annual event and the largest in the country. The images we saw at the Courtyard venue were quite nice. I especially was moved by and drawn into the “Welcome to the Hotel Africa” series by Simon Norfolk. It was big, beautiful, and disturbing. I spent many minutes looking at the details and thinking about the text Simon had provided.
Hereford is an old city and contains a lot of excellent examples of its heritage, all mixed together with the new shops and architecture into a large modern city.
We returned home to pack and have a final dinner in the Wye Valley before heading off tomorrow. In a purely tourist moment we decided to commemorate the trip, as tourists before, with a picture. Like this stereo card of the Wye, we wanted it to be something special. So, here for the first time in photographic history is a digital, stereo, Claude Glass, self-portrait, executed in two countries simultaneously.So Janet and I are off to London and Bradford respectfully; she’s headed back to Michigan and I’m headed for a look at the Royal Photographic Society archive at the National Museum of Photography, Film, and Television.