THE STORY BEHIND GONE ARE THE GLORY DAYS

Wheal Coates Mine, UK

GONE ARE THE GLORY DAYS: HOW DID I DO IT, AND WHY? HERE’S THE STORY BEHIND THE ART!

Cornwall is very close to my heart, a place I immediately fell in love with since my first visit, years ago. One of the things that characterises Cornwall, and one you can’t ignore when interpreting this region’s spectacular landscapes, is the area’s mining past. “Gone Are the Glory Days” is one of the most powerful images of industrial archaeology I created in Cornwall. In this article, I’ll tell you all about the idea behind the image, as well as what it took to create it, both artistically and technically speaking. Above all, this article is about the passion driving me, the force that makes me go out day after day chasing that elusive, perfect image.

“Decades upon decades of engine noises, people shouting, metal clanging, fighting against the sound of the crashing waves and howling wind. Smoke, clouds, mist mixed with the smells of the sea, of burning coal, of people’s sweat.

Cohorts of men making a hard living stripping tin ore from 600 feet under the sea worked on the mine during its glory days. Then, men went, the engines stopped, the ocean claimed back the tunnels.

Gone are the glory days, all that is left is the echo of men’s sounds and machine noises, slowly silenced by the howling winds and the crashing waves.”

GETTING THERE
In November 2019, I flew from Paris to London, after spending over one month on the road photographing the coasts of Atlantic Spain, the Dolomites, Cinque Terre & Tuscany and finally Normandy & Brittany. A few hours’ drive brought me from London to Cornwall, where I dedicated ten days to photograph the region’s incredible seascapes before flying to Iceland, for the last two weeks on the road in 2019. Accessing the location isn’t particularly hard, it takes just a stroll from the National Trust’s parking lot to arrive at the engine pictured here. Photographing it, on the other hand, can be made difficult by the strong waves crashing right under it and creating a constant flow of salty mist that needs to be kept out of your lens’, or filter’s, surface. On one stormy day, the weather conditions looked right to create the image I had been working on in mind since my previous visit, about one year before. It took me one year and many visits, but finally this looked like the right time: full of anticipation, I picked up my camera, my tripod and my rainproof jacket, and off I went.

EXAMINING THE LOCATION & COMPOSING
Arriving on location, as I always do, I started by walking the scene. Climbing above and under the path, I found the vantage point that best worked for me with the day’s conditions. On this November day, the wind was driving the clouds fast above my head, creating what I previsualized as a crown of converging lines above the engine, once long exposed. So, I decided to create a composition based on diagonal, converging lines pointing at the old engine, using both the path and the long-exposed clouds I envisioned in my mind’s eye as leading lines into the image.

Rain was on and off and the wind was blowing hard, forcing me to suspend and resume operations quite a few times. I waited for the moment when the rain would stop and the lower clouds would be lightened up by the sun peaking in between the cloud coverage behind me, thus creating a line pointing at the engine and strengthening my composition, and I took my shot.

Wheal Coates Mine, Cornwall (United Kingdom, 2019)

PASSION AT WORK: THE WHY AND THE HOW BEHIND MY B&W FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY
There’s nothing like black & white photography, for me. It is timeless, powerful and expressive, and I believe it to be the best medium to reveal the true nature of the planet’s landscapes through my photographic interpretations. Black & white landscape photography is a lifelong passion for me and it’s what I most love doing. Over a decade of love and dedication working with black & white photography’s composition and post-processing are what makes my black & white Fine Art photography unique.

Removing colour from a photograph is an incredibly powerful process in terms of the expressive possibilities it opens, one that requires a completely different approach to seeing the world around us. It brings photography to another level, requiring a craftsmanship in the field, an attention to composition and an ability for abstract seeing, that colour photography doesn’t necessarily need. For me, the decision is made long before pressing the shutter; when a landscape is revealing its monochromatic nature to inspire me, I just can’t help it but let go of the colours.

Processing my black & white work, I first prepare my RAW file for conversion following a dedicated workflow, completely different from my colour work. Then, I convert them to black & white via DxO Silver Efex Pro, using my own processes and presets. One thing I always found lacking in most black & white photography, both film and digital, is the treatment of mid-tones, which are normally flat and lacking depth. During my film days, to create my images I used a self-mixed, Pyro-based developer that rendered a truly amazing tonal range. For my digital work, during the last decade I developed my own Silver Efex presets to recreate the deep, rich tones that I loved on film.

THE AESTHETICS BEHIND SHUTTER SPEED
Controlling our shutter speed and using different exposure times, carefully selected according to each shooting situation, is one of the most powerful tools we can use to create our photographic interpretations. This is even truer for black & white photography, where you cannot rely on flashy colours to create interest.

For this particular photograph, I needed my shutter speed to do mostly one thing, transforming the racing clouds into lines strengthening my composition, while keeping texture and shape in the clouds themselves. In particular, I needed it to create – using the lower, lightened-up clouds – a line of whiter clouds pointing at the engine. After looking at the clouds’ movement, my experience told me that too long an exposure would have resulted in losing all textures and shapes in the clouds, turning them into a shapeless slab of grey. So, I decided for a shutter speed of just above one minute.

FILTERS
When I am working in the field, I like to create images that are as close to the final image as possible, and I’d rather get everything right in camera rather than spending hours fixing things in post-processing. To that end, filters are fundamental for me. In particular, for this image I used a polariser, a mild Grad ND to slightly darken the top of the sky, and finally an ND filter to bring the exposure down to 102 seconds, an exposure time that worked perfectly to create the effect I envisioned.

BRING IT HOME!
For NFT lovers, “Gone Are the Glory Days” is available as 1/1 edition NFT on MakersPlace, following the link here: GONE ARE THE GLORY DAYS.

CREATE YOUR OWN
Join us for one of my CORNWALL PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS to create your own amazing photographs of Wheal Coates Mine and many more Cornish locations while learning all I know about Fine Art landscape photography. Attendance limited to just THREE people!

Conrwall Photography Workshop

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