It ‘s not often I give a nod towards celebrating Valentine’s Day …. the commercialisation that has developed around it is not to my taste. But this year we all seem to be feeling the fragility of life, and the importance of our close relationships. So I’ve been shooting some heart-shaped images. Here using the miniature bench I found recently.
There’s something haunting about this image that appeals to me. The bench, sitting in the sunshine surrounded by nothing but shadows is poignant. And my mind made a link with the current major news event – a massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria. The complete devastation of entire towns and cities – and the plight of those homeless ‘lucky’ survivors lost in a world of rubble.
February begins quietly here – there is little sense of winter progressing as we used to experience it. Yes there is some snow, but it rarely lasts more than a day and is never as deep as we were used to! The weather pattern seems to be warmer, wetter and windier!
Snow is one of the real beauties of winter. The landscape can be drab here, with fields of raw ploughed earth waiting for the Spring sowing. A bright white is transformative.
At its best the snow can enhance the muted green and browns of the winter garden, and create a misty distance of half obscured trees across the howe, creating mystery as well as beauty.
Both of those shots were taken on February 6th – so to keep the timeline for the early part of the month, let’s take a look at the state of play across the UK with Covid 19. The UK is now dominated by the Omicron variant, which is quite alarmingly transmissible, and has spread so quickly it has taken the experts and the politicians by surprise. Hospitalisation and deaths are not as high, due in part (probably a major part) to levels of double and triple vaccinations. But the high levels of infection mean that more and more people are away from work, self-isolating. And that impacts on every part of the functioning of society. The approach to this situation has varied, with Scotland and Wales both keeping as many ‘mitigations’ as possible in place, especially regarding mask-wearing and behaviour in crowded indoor spaces and large outdoor events. The English government has been keen to lift as many restrictions as possible, encouraging a return to office work, abandoning mask wearing, and freeing social and school situations from Covid mitigations. It is all a matter of ‘self selection’ now, and individual freedom of choice. And the countrywide map for Feb. 5th clearly shows the impact of the different approaches!
The lighter the colour, the lower the rate of both infection and transmission. Personally the impact of Omicron has been to return Mike and I to stricter self-isolation, and upgrading our masks from n95 to n99 (FFP2 to FFP3). Outings are almost exclusively for shopping trips, early in the morning when the shops are reasonably empty of customers! Storm Arwen has curtailed our usual patterns of exercise, as most of the places we visit to walk and take photographs are closed due to the storm damage of last November/December. And they will probably remain closed for most of the year! This is making big problems for us both, as two years of the pandemic has had an impact on our general health and our muscles and general stamina.
Our outings are mainly shopping trips, and I do tend to shoot through the car windscreen as we drive along, whatever the weather! Here I merged several shots to add the sense of speed.
And when the weather is too bad to tempt me outdoors with some cameras, I can record the view through the windows. Here I was shooting with an iPhone. A typically grey and sunless day. As the snow hit the window it melted, adding a nicely cold and wet feeling to the scene. There have been so many days with the same leaden grey skies this February! It does make the world indoors much more appealing!
I’ve begun collecting some wonderful miniature vases by Yuta Segawa – hand-thrown, and so very small. I’ve spent plenty of time shooting them. The smallest of flowers will set off their delicacy!
This is the tiniest one I have, and pure white. With a few dried hydrangea flowers it seems to float. And I do search out flowers from the local supermarket ……
….. they brighten the house, and lift the mood, glowing in the occasional winter sunshine. These yellow tulips remind me that Spring will return … maybe soon?
When I buy flowers I tend to hang on to them, and gradually as the blossoms fade I find a few that still look fresh. So smaller and smaller vases are used until, like this, a small maple syrup jar suffices to show them off!
February began with snow. The deep freeze that ended January moved into the heaviest and most prolonged snow that we’ve seen for several years. I’ve got photos from when we moved here in the 1990s, and we regularly had a foot of snow, or more, each winter. Now we lament that all we get is a small snowfall that melts overnight! So far this winter we have experienced prolonged freezes, gales, hailstorms and finally by mid February most of Aberdeenshire was snowed in and paralysed for several days! It made for a mainly indoor month, with outside photography limited to the garden!
The frost and snow added a sparkle to everything in the garden. Even these hydrangea flower heads I haven’t cut can glow in the winter! And the bad weather did bring us some unexpected visitors – blew them into our garden!
Fieldfares took refuge in our garden. We rarely see fieldfares, but a small group visited our garden and enjoyed the cotoneaster berries from our hedge. They must have resumed their flight south to warmer places to overwinter, as they are gone now! We hope that they will make a regular stop-over here. Towards the middle of the month the weather got seriously bad, and the village, indeed most of the entire county, was snowed in by Storm Darcy. We have thousands of miles of roads in Aberdeenshire, many of them small rural roads, and single track. So many local farmers have snow clearing equipment that they can attach to tractors, and help to clear the roads. For us there was an additional anxiety, as the storm hit just as we were due to go for our first Covid vaccination!
The vaccine roll-out in Scotland has picked up speed during February. By the end of the month about 30% of our population have received their first jag. And our turn came as the snow fell! We had to cancel, and try again when the snow began to melt, and the traffic began to move again!
Even after the worst of the snow had been cleared, it made for a treacherous journey! The round trip of over 30 miles was quite daunting. Initially we went to check out the location of the centre, and the availability of parking. Once there, we enquired, and were so relieved to discover that they could vaccinate us then – they had the information about our snowed-in cancellation. We were only a few days late! So we only needed to drive through the slush and meltwater once.
The garden was slow to release its snowy grip – areas of the garden were buried deep as the high winds had blown the powdery snow into drifts. Here an azalea bush was almost completely covered. And as I had a folder full of snow images, and nowhere to go – I played in Photoshop making snow abstracts!
So – as the white month draws to a close, it is time once again to look back over the photographic images I posted on Flickr, before moving on to the new month of March.
At the beginning of February I was angry about the vulnerable position of Scotland.
We had been lied to by the UK government during the Independence referendum of 2014. The government strategy became known as “Project Fear” – deliberate lies intended to scare Scottish voters into voting to remain within the UK. Two of the strongest fear tactics were that we would have to leave the EU, and also would not be able to use Sterling as our currency. How ironic that 2 years later there was the UK referendum about leaving the EU. Over 60% of Scots voted to remain in the EU, which gives a hint of how many Scots probably voted to remain in the UK in order to remain in the EU! Now, 2 years later England is dragging Scotland out of the EU! What irony!!
So my focus was on discovering how damaging this is going to be for Scotland. The first thing that struck me was that the plans for problems importing and exporting goods would hit the food supply chain. A lot of fresh fruit and vegetables come from Spain and other EU countries. And hold-ups of any kind could make us especially vulnerable. Most imports come through ports in the south of England – and in the north of Scotland we are 600+ miles away, and close to the end of the supply chain. We are likely to be relegated to the bottom of the heap! Interesting times lie ahead!
Then my attention was drawn to events in China. There had been the occasional story coming out about a new virus strain hitting the city of Wuhan (capital of Central China’s Hubei province). I’d never heard of it before! Soon it was to become a focus for us all!
There had been rumours of a new SARS-like virus at the start of the year, and in early January there were mentions by the WHO of a mysterious strain of pneumonia. Blips on my personal radar! By mid January China imposed aggressive containment measures in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus. But international travel had already started spreading it. Jan 30th the World Health Organisation declares a “public health emergency of international concern” a designation reserved for extraordinary health issues that threaten to spread internationally. I started to follow events with a little more awareness and concern ….. but China is a long way away! Stories moved to quarantined cruise ships, stranded off shore and refused docking. And the name we are so familiar with now (COVID-19) was given to the virus – which was proving to be quite deadly to some infected people.
But life continued as normal here in northern Scotland. And the highlights of my month were mainly centred round my photographic work, and illustrated by my monthly Flickr collage …….
We have had rare visits by a sparrowhawk in the past – usually sheltering from a storm, and once to eat a catch in peace. But this winter we’ve seen it more often, though just pausing in its hunt. We guessed that it was attracted by the large numbers of small birds that we feed through the winter. But it never stayed long enough for me to get a lens trained on it. This day it landed on the back rockery, and stayed for a long time. It was sunny, but blowing a gale too, so at first we expected it to fly away quickly. But no – it stayed very still, just looking around. Needless to say the small birds vanished! I managed to take quite a few shots, and have put two together in this image. It finally flew off, and we are back to seeing just a fleeting visit as it settles on a trellis where we hang the bird feeders.
This month I added a new lens to my collection! I collect old Russian Helios lenses from the 1960s and 70s. I have 2 Helios 44-2 and this is very close, being a 44-M. It was sent very kindly by a Flickr friend Jesse1dog and this is my first test shoot! The still life is part of my study of Formalism in Photography, and the photographic work of Jan Groover. More of this coming later!
Recently I’ve been experimenting with Photoshop to find a way to add reflections to an existing image. I’ve seen some lovely flower images on Flickr where the image has been enhanced beautifully by the appearance of floating in/on water. The online tutorial I’ve used is on Photoshop Essentials It is quite complex and uses a Displacement PSD file.
I found I had to use a very small (for me) image in order to get the ripples to show up at all. I am still working on finding a way I really like!