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The swans of Exeter

The swans of Exeter
Mute swans (Cygnus olor) congregate under Cricklepit Bridge

Mute swans (Cygnus olor) congregate under Cricklepit Bridge

One of the advantages of living on a boat is that you get to see a lot of aquatic life go past. Exeter is famous for its mute swans (Cygnus olor) with congregate in large numbers on both the River Exe and the Exeter Ship Canal. The swans have become very used to the tourists and locals strolling along the river and canal side in the centre of town, so much so they even nest next to the footpath in the heart of town. At this time of year pairs of swans can be seen cruising around guarding clutches of fluffy grey signets. The adults will shepherd the signets along, occasionally pulling bits of weed off the botton for the youngstesr to feed on, or paddling furiously with their webbed feet to stir up weed in the shallows for them.

Mute swan cygnet (Cygnus olor) only a few days or weeks old.

Mute swan cygnet (Cygnus olor) only a few days or weeks old.

Mute swan cygnets (Cygnus olor) feeding in shallows.

Mute swan cygnets (Cygnus olor) feeding in shallows.

Mute swan cygnets (Cygnus olor) swimming.

Mute swan cygnets (Cygnus olor) swimming.

A pair of mute swan (Cygnus olor) cygnets swimming, Exeter Ship Canal.

A pair of mute swan (Cygnus olor) cygnets swimming, Exeter Ship Canal.

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Boats and wind and winter skies

Boats and wind and winter skies

We’ve just had around ten days of stormy weather here in southwest UK; a series of deep lows have driven rain-laden westerlies out of the Atlantic and up the English Channel. I’ve spent this time trying to effect repairs on my deck between squalls, while winds howl through the rigging. Trying to pour molten pitch into leaky seams between planks, each seam rather less than quarter of an inch wide, in a force eight gale is somewhat akin to attempting to juggle ping-pong balls whilst standing in the downdraft of a helicopter. A stream of bubbling pitch carefully aimed at a newly raked out seam will unexpectedly slew sideways to decorate my newly sealed deck with a long string of tarry sine waves. I spend the next ten minutes scraping off rapidly solidifying pitch, then retire to my laptop as the next squall arrives. Days like this can make me long for the blue skies of summer. When trying to work outdoors on the water, winter offers relatively few advantages. It does offer others though. Whilst sun-kissed beaches and clear blue skies look pretty, I generally prefer my landscapes to look dramatic. Dark skies and storm clouds with shafts of sunlight breaking though are, to me, intrinsically more interesting. Very often the look of a landscape will change dramatically in seconds as cloud cover waltzes light and shade across the terrain. It’s the opportunity to capture these ephemeral patterns that makes me climb out of bed early on winter mornings, pile camera gear into the cab of my old Landrover and try to make it to my selected vantage point in time for sunrise. Okay, sometimes it does; and sometimes I’ll hit the ‘snooze’ button on my alarm, turn over and reassure myself there’ll be other mornings like this.

Landscape photography is one of the few areas where I still on occasion use film. In terms of workflow and cleanness of image 35mm film no longer compares with current DSLRs (to be brutal, spatial resolution, signal to noise ratio and even the old weakness of dynamic range are all better on good DSLRs than 35mm film equivalents), but there is something about producing images by initiating and influencing a chemical reaction on a medium you can touch and feel that has a magical quality about it. I no longer process my own film; cutting, mounting and scanning slides is enough of a chore. Yet exposing images on film still feels closer to the spirit of Louise and Auguste Lumiere’s autochromes or Hurley’s Paget Plates than allowing photons to kick electrons up the energy escalator in layers of silicon.

Given the wintry weather we (in the UK) are experiencing at the moment, I thought a local winter scene would be an appropriate image of the week. This one was taken a couple of years ago, on a chilly November afternoon on the Exeter canal near where it joins the Exe Estuary. The sun was getting fairly low and boat hulls were shining brightly against the dark water. It was very still, and where the canal widened to allow vessels to moor alongside, just in front of the first lock (the Turf Lock) a perfect mirror image of the moored boats reflected of the water. It may have rained later that day but I’m really not sure. It’s the moment I remember.
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