This season, I submitted a small selection of photographs and an even smaller poem to the National Trust's Spring Nature Diary.
Writes of Spring is a crowd-sourced collection of creative work curated by Dr Pippa Marland, as part of the extensive Land Lines research project at the University of Leeds.
Public submissions began on the first day of spring in 2020, coinciding with the national lockdown to diminish the infection rate of Covid-19.
This very much limited the scope of nature photography to my small garden and the reach of a singular walk, permitted each day for exercise.
Fortunately, I have a small wooded region near to my home in North Leeds, providing some opportunity to snap a few images of blossoming branches and busy insects.
The weather at this time was also extraordinarily clear and bright - something many have attributed to the diminished air traffic during the crisis.
At this point, my time was limited. Loitering around taking laboriously-staged shots was strictly prohibited too. So, I armed myself with my trusty Olympus OM-2 SP plus a simple Zuiko 50mm f\1.8 lens, and nothing else.
In the back of the camera was a bulk-loaded, 12-shot roll of Rollei Retro 80S, one of my favourite 35mm films which I've reviewed recently. It's high contrast, fine grained and a slightly red sensitive film, which is perfect for nature studies and landscapes.
As 80S is also a reasonably slow film for handheld work, I shot with the 50mm lens wide open, which offers a dreamy and shallow depth of field to close up studies.
For some of the macro work, I also freelensed; essentially removing the lens and shooting through the front element to the rear. This by no means assures tack-sharp images, but again affords some hazy intimacy and abstract style to close up studies.
I processed the roll that same evening in reliable Rodinal 1+25, starting with one minute of agitation and two gentle inversions each minute for 8 minutes.
In order to submit the images in good time, the digitals were scanned directly from the negatives.
As far as poetry goes, I've always enjoyed the romantic work of Wordsworth, particularly The Prelude as it's accessible and not frustratingly oblique; the poet does all the work for you, which is ideal as I'm a very lazy reader.
So, my accompanying written piece isn't much. Far from the sublime. But it's also a small exercise in brevity, like all my writing — bursting with all the purple prose and emotional range of a Dalek.
Lapsed frozen stems
once brittle and bald,
tenders green gems;
new life from the old.
Several of my pictures were later used to illustrate an extensive interview with Dr Marland, who felt the stark mono contrasts in the images helped reflect the mood of our time.
There is no doubt that spring provides an unstoppable optimism, despite being shrouded by the dark cloud of Covid-19. Life finds a way.
You can read the full interview on the Land Lines website.
Download the full Writes of Spring nature diary as a PDF.
I'm just getting used to my new exposure...
Instructing film photography, developing and printing in the darkroom.