Archive for December, 2008




I took this photo the first winter we lived in this house and know all the stories behind the minor details, none of which are worth telling to others, but all of which have a personal significance.  A case of the particular in the universal.  In a few more weeks there will be two more trees perched on the woodpile, and between now and then I expect to be fully engaged with three over-excited children, a glass or two of something good, and ridiculous amounts of traditional food from two separate cultures.  

May all your holidays be equally full of punctum.


cemetery of other men’s bastards let
wane and peter out
because I am jealous of the Muse’s fornications
and over timid to be a cuckold!


Meanwhile you
have raised a sufficient family of versicles;
like you in the main.

Basil Bunting, On Reading X’s collected works



Sally Gall, Quadrant.



David Burdeney, Mercator’s Projection



Mike Smith, Gray, Tennessee







Mike Chisholm is a man obsessed, and the Twiglog salutes him.  He is well-practiced in the English art of self-deprecation, but no amount of wry humour can mask his deep-rooted and serious fascination with water.  Not the portentous water of crashing ocean waves, mighty waterfalls or chocolate box alpine lakes, but with the moods and ever-shifting subtleties of small watercourses and their surroundings.



It probably helps that he lives and works not far from my parents’ house in the south of England, and that the streams and aquifers he loves are the same ones I paddled in as a child, but there is more to it than that.  Chisholm’s observation is of the long term kind, built up over many years and yet still fresh enough to be able to see the unique in the familiar and to pay attention when seeing the same place for the ten thousandth time.

It certainly helps that his photographs have a wonderfully attractive, abstract quality.  There is a simultaneous sense of shapes and colours in two dimensions, and a series of layers and collapsed-together image planes in three.  Given the complexity of the scene, and the camera’s mad insistence on seeing all things equally, the coherence of the finished presented photographs is a wonder.  I suspect that his long term commitment to a few well-loved places is one root cause of this coherence.



He recently started a blog, Idiotic-hat (  Anyone who can combine morphic resonance and Kelvin vortex atoms in a single post has to be doing something right.

J.M.W. Turner – Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory), The Tate Gallery, London

These days, science and aesthetics are commonly supposed to have an antagonistic relationship, but two hundred years ago they were less professionalised and their boundaries more fluid.  Then, a writer like Goethe could publish a scientifically well-regarded treatise on colour vision, and Thomas Young could combine fundamental physics with deciphering the Rosetta Stone.  Today, young artists seem to be actively discouraged from thinking in any way that could be called rigorous, and popular science has become a pale offshoot of the cult of celebrity biography.


Colour juxtapositions and edge effects from Goethe’s Farbenlehre

There is, I suppose a certain schadenfreude in seeing a well-known photographic artist offer a signature series of ‘fractal’ photographs which have nothing whatsoever to do with fractal geometry, but mostly I end up with the sad conclusion that all artists really want from science are a few bauble-like soundbites to pad out their conceptual statements.  I scream inwardly every time I read the photographic world’s oft-repeated dogma that Berenice Abbott “wasted her talent” on scientific illustration.  Sadly, most scientists are no better: art in science tends to take the form of adding a canonical stamp of approval to the introductory part of a lecture or article.


Berenice AbbotCycloid, from her science photographs

The idea that scientists already have all the answers has somehow lodged in the public consciousness, reinforced by science in the news and on television programs which inevitably takes the form of brainy boffins handing down tablets of wisdom.  What seems to have been lost from popular and artistic conceptions of science is the link between observation and the unknown, and the understanding that much new science originates from the visual or intuitive discovery of previously unsuspected symmetries or systematic behaviours.  Botanising, that is, the art of wandering undirected but alert while trusting to serendipidity, has been lumped with taxonomy as the scientific equivalent of antiquarianism or stamp collecting – a mildly interesting but tragically non-analytic poor cousin form of activity.  There is little interest in what happens before the answer is arrived at, much less the practicing scientists’ truest delight: the process by which you come to realise that a question exists to be answered.


Colour juxtaposions à la Gaud-Gray

So as an antidote, I offer an article that describes some of the ideas floating around in my head about colour, and colour theory, and colour perception.  This is not an analysis, much less a synthesis, and it is not meant as a manifesto or a prescription.  It is rather a collation of the things I feel and know about colours and and how they relate to each other, and to standard theories of the physiology and psychology of colour perception.

Secondary Primaries

The article was inspired by an interest in tricolour photography, and the enthusiastic adoption of the technique among a mostly French group which includes Henri Gaud, Philippe Do, Colombe Levi and several others.  They, and especially Henri, deserve any credit for the actual work involved here, my contribution is to stand on their shoulders and peer off into the foggy distance.

Henri has posted a French translation of the article on his Trichromie blog, see here: Primaires Secondaires.  Many thanks to him, and to Marc Genevrier for the translation.

From Wild Things XVI: Indian Brook

My own preoccupation with undergrowth and weeds grew out of a desire to show the natural world as I encountered it, rather than as it was being sold to me in the mainstream media and the photographic press.  When I started I was naturally isolated by the sheer practicalities of finding space to photograph in the cramped odd corners of my life.  Later, I decided to avoid too much exposure to other photographers because I felt strongly that my biggest problem was a tendency to take photographs because they looked like photographs.  I wasn’t looking at the world as it was, but rather waiting for a predetermined photograph to come along so that I could capture it.  I spent a long time groping my way out of a lazily-learned behaviour and eventually arrived, somewhat pleased with myself, at a point where I thought I had something uniquely my own.

Then I discovered Friedlander’s landscapes, and Ray Metzkers, and older work from Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Frederick Sommer.  I also found that many other contemporary but less canonical photographers were also grubbing about in the underwood, sometimes for well-articulated conceptual reasons, but among those that resonated most strongly, just because they found the places to be visually fascinating.  The largest surprise was how many of those I found had backgrounds very similar to my own.  I half thought of calling this blog’s “Twigographer” category “Middle-aged Expat Englishmen Who Photograph Undergrowth”, but that seemed unfair to the middle-aged expat English women, and in any case it was too long for the sidebar.  I can’t believe that every single one of us spent our childhood leisure hours mucking about in neglected coppices and golf course gorse stands, but perhaps we did.


From Wild Things XI: Indian Brook

I don’t know how old John Brownlow is, but he’s an expat Englishman who photographs undergrowth.  Some of his photographs have a similar narrow field of view to my own, but it is his marvellously constructed panoramas that really excite me, not least because I know from experience how hard it is to maintain any sense of coherence in wide angle views of this sort of subject.  There is a touch of the sublime in Brownlow’s work, but no bombast, and an overall sense of composition which balances the parts and the whole beautifully.  He also occasionally uses colour, which is rare among any of the twigographers I have come across, and obviously speaks to my own interests directly.


From Wild Things I

Brownlow’s photographs are spread somewhat haphazardly across his website and his Flickr stream.  If you can live with the incredibly annoying Flickr interface the best way to take a comprehensive survey is to browse the “Wild Things” sets there.  The galleries on his website are easier to navigate, but you’ll miss some recent work.  Wherever you browse, Brownlow has been generous with his file sizes, so I recommend taking the trouble to look at the large images.  These sorts of photos work best at a particular size which is rarely as small as a blog or Flickr placeholder.  The formal and tonal relationships need the correct amount of room to breath and express themselves, and in the sweet spot the detail becomes an accent rather than a distracting mess, so I recommend finding a large monitor and treating yourself to the full resolution pics.