Gibbet Hill stands smack in the middle between Portsmouth and London. It’s the second-highest hill in the county of Surrey, and the last thing you need if you’re building a road between these two important cities. But a road was needed, and the first one went right over the top. Not great for horse-drawn carriages, and a bit of a notorious ambush point for highwayman and brigands. So in 1826 a new road was built, and this one swept around the hill and along the rim of The Devil’s Punchbowl, a large natural amphitheatre and beauty spot.
I first heard the name Devil’s Punchbowl years ago, through listening to traffic reports on the radio. As the only single-lane section of the A3, it was an infamous blackspot and the blight of commuters. Something had to be done, and in 2011 the Hindhead Tunnel was opened. This 1.14 mile engineering masterpiece bored straight through the hill. Great news for commuters. But even better news for conservationists, as it allowed the old road above to be reclaimed by nature.
The old A3 ran right through Devil’s Punchbowl and Hindhead Common, splitting them apart. Now however, no such barrier exists. Grazing of the heathland by commoners ceased around the mid-1900s, and this allowed the spread of birch and bracken over the heather. But this invasion is now being reversed by a programme of active reclamation. Exmoor ponies graze the common, helping to restore and maintain these areas, and if you’re lucky you might just spot them. I’ve been lucky. And although they’re wild, they’re also friendly and rather curious. Of course, it helps if you have a couple of carrots to hand.
Exmoor Ponies Hindhead Common / Yashica Mat 124G / Kodak Tri-X / Semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1+99 for 60 mins
Note: Output on Short Stories is hardly prolific at the best of times. This website is where I keep the photos of things that I’m up to and things I like to document. But sometimes I’m just not up to much. Or if I am, they might not be the sort of things I should be photographing and sharing. But it’s going to be even quieter round here for the next month or so. As my latest work project reaches its peak, I’ll be embarking on a longer than usual period of travelling. But I will be taking a camera. And I may even get the chance to use it.
Sunny days are rare around here this time of year. But on clear winter mornings when the sun is low in the sky, light pours into the living room for a couple of hours. Bertie’s lit up here by a slice of sunlight. He likes to sit on the back of the sofa, keeping lookout through the window. It’s not that he’s some fierce guard dog; he is, after all, a spaniel. It’s more that he’s watching for the next person to come and give him the love and attention he knows he deserves.
Bertie at 8 months / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Color Film
It’s not strictly true to say the SX-70 Sonar gives you no exposure information; a red light comes on in the viewfinder if there’s not enough light for a hand-held shot. Polaroid called this the ‘Use Flash Or Tripod Indicator’, but in terms of guidance, that’s your lot. All you know is you’re getting an aperture between f/8 and f/74, and a shutter speed anywhere from 1/180 to 14 seconds. I imagine the metering is a simple centre-weighted or average setup, but who knows?
As Watson sat in a small patch of sunlight, I had no idea if this shot would work, and I even forgot to look for the red light. At over two quid a pop, I really should be more careful. But hey, sometimes I have a good feeling and like to go with my hunch. Like that time I put £50 on Hilary to win. Or when I convinced everyone I knew to buy a hoverboard, just before the UK Government banned them on both roads and pavements. Yeah, so sue me.
Watson The Cat / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Color Film
When it comes to walking, if I had to make a choice between an overcast summer’s day and a bright but chilly winter’s day, I’d chose light over warmth every time. As for the dogs, I don’t think they really care.
This was a five or six-mile walk that took us across Pound Common and other parts of the South Downs. I took my Nikon F100 with me. It’s pretty much become my standard 35mm camera these days. That’s partly because of the Nikkor 35mm AF-D lens I use. It’s super-sharp and contrasty and has a close focus under ten inches. And 35mm is a great all-round focal length. A little bit wider than standard to get a bit more stuff in, but not so wide that it makes shots of people look like they’re being sucked into the vortex.
I’m in search of the perfect 35mm 100 ISO film at the moment. Tmax 100 has been my go-to slow film for many years, but I thought I’d remind myself what some of the others can do. Ilford FP4 is certainly not as fine-grained as Tmax, but it’s no slouch either. I’ve also gone back to using HC-110 as a developer as there’s still half a bottle under the sink that I’ve had for ages. I’ve been mainly using it for the occasional stand developing of medium format film, but it’s a good all-rounder. It also seems to have an incredible shelf-life; I’ve had this bottle opened for at least six or seven years. I decanted it into glass wine bottle and I use a Vacu Vin to extract the air. The perfect gift for the film photographer and boozer in your life.
As all Sunday walks should, this one ended up in the pub. Unfortunately, I’m doing Dry January at the moment, and although this isn’t as bad as I thought it might be, I’m definitely looking forward to Off Your Face February.
West Sussex including Pound Common / Nikon F100 / Ilford FP4 / Developed in Kodak HC-110 1+31
OK, so it probably looks like Bertie and Coco spend most of their time loafing about. But the truth is, this is the best chance I’ve got of a getting something in focus. I’ve got a stack of photos that consist of little more than a blurred tail leaving the scene.
I’ve been shooting a few rolls of HP5 lately, after years of mainly using Kodak 400 speed films. The contrast is a bit more subdued, and as such I had some good results on New Year’s Eve pushing it a couple of stops.
These ones didn’t come out too bad either. I think Bertie was rather pleased with his tonality, but Coco just rolled over on her back and wanted her tummy tickled. I sometimes feel she’s not taking it seriously.
Bertie (with added Coco) the working cocker spaniel puppy at 7 months / Nikon F100 / Ilford HP5 / Developed in HC-110 1+31