Archive for December, 2011

Combe Gibbet

This evening after some spontaneous clearing out I decided to go on an equally spontaneous road trek to Combe. It’s located near to the village of Inkpen in Berkshire and is supposedly around a forty minute trip from where I live.

However I managed to get there in re cord time due to the roads and the winding lanes being pretty much empty and fortunately happened upon the exact spot I wanted to be in right before the sun disappeared.

Combe is famous for its Gibbet – a gallows-type structure from which the dead bodies of executed criminals were hung on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. In earlier times, up to the late 17th century, live gibbeting also took place, in which the criminal was placed alive in a metal cage and left to die of thirst.

In the Bronze Ages people used communal ‘long barrows’ to bury their dead and one still exists directly beneath the Gibbet at Combe. Both male and female bodies of the dead may have been left in the open to be reduced to skeletons before being collected and buried. In many cases the corpses were carefully assembled with the head to the south, men facing east, women facing west.

Today, it stands as a hill overlooking Berkshire Valleys and the village of Inkpen below. To the left lies Hungerford and its possible in good light, to see that far. However this evening with the sun quickly disappearing and the wind chill that must have been at least below 0 degrees it wasn’t a time to stand around in!

The hill in Combe is also home to what is known as The Merville Battery – It was the model testing ground for the original Merville Battery which was actually a German gun site. The Battle of the Merville Battery (Bit of a mouthful I know!) took place in 1944 as part of the Normandy Landings. Before hand, the 9th Parachute Battalion was taken to Berkshire – to the site I’ve photographed here – where seven engineers had reconstructed the battery site in order for them to practice the layouts and land. Today on Combe, the memorial plaque marks those who fought and those who practiced in the hills to save their country.

Today it was a quiet place – quiet in terms of there was a lack of man made sound. The wind was strong and noisy and there was the odd call of a Buzzard to be heard but generally it was a place for reflection – and the chance to photograph!

It additionally provided the chance to shoot the moon without the interference of light pollution. Although I do wish I’d taken my tripod and made a proper shot of it. All in all, the hour or so spent getting there, shooting and coming home was worth it for the results. Spontaneous treks are fantastic!

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I’ve always had a fascination with those Hidden Eye pictures. The ones where you can draw your eyes into the image to pull out a hidden pattern, shape or object within. Usually it formulates from clusters of whatever the picture is made up of, so even when you see the answer it’s hard to envisage what you should really be looking for. Some can do it, some can’t. Either way – fascinating stuff. So when I’m out with my camera I barely ever look straight ahead of me. My eyes spend little time focusing on the level of my height of vision. Instead I work hard in seeing above and below. Reflections are part of the fascination, images where they shouldn’t be. Looking down and seeing the sky above lying there on a forest floor is actually magical when you think about it. So that’s why today instead of shooting endless pictures of trees in the Woods, I pointed my camera down and shot them in the puddles. It’s not as crazy as it sounds…read on.

I positioned my camera using the basis of only four puddles. They are actually few and far between at the moment which is unusual in England at this time of year since we are either buried under snow or sloshing our way through rainy fields and paths. It was difficult from the onset, having only four vantage points to work with and I imagined that I would get a couple of abstract shots and that would be it.

I found though that kneeling, lying (yes lying!) and hanging OVER the puddles prompted a different outlook each time and the more I leaned – the more I saw of the forest above nestled neatly in the reflection of the water.  But it was something that the camera was less keen to pick up on. Selective focus rebuffed the idea of delving into a  puddle and picking out the reflection. Instead it opted for picking out the murky depths and leaves, bits that I admit I didn’t even notice until I was peering through the view finder and had it highlighted for me.

Seeing outside of the confines of reality is something I am keen to understand and pursue further. This doesn’t mean delving into all kinds of weird and wonderful, but instead noticing what’s in front of me but picking out its detail from all kinds of other ways. For years now, I have had a strong relationship with Photography but there has always been that underlying urge to capture concept and surrealism. Pushing the boundaries and stopping in the middle of the street to stare at something that nobody else sees. Look at that puddle! Really only gets odd looks and the sort of ‘back away slowly’ action from people around. There aren’t enough of us who take a moment to see a bit further. In the relative world, isn’t it fascinating that we can look down  and see what’s happening above without seeing it?

After all though, today was really about just a puddle…wasn’t it….!



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