New girlfriend, work, travel, jazz gigs, breaking up with girlfriend, gym, travel, new girlfriend, politics, work, boxing, breaking up with girlfriend. These are just some of the trivialities over the last 12 months that have cut in to my available time for doing the more important things in life. Like wandering round old cemeteries.
At 500 acres, Brookwood was the largest cemetery in the world when it opened in 1854, and it’s still the UK’s largest today. I’m really lucky in that it’s just a short drive from me, but best of all is that its occupants give me just the right level of social interaction I’m looking for at the moment.
If I lived on the equator then I’d see the sun 90° overhead at noon. But in the UK, even at the height of summer it only reaches around 60°, and in winter doesn’t even make 20°. The cemetery’s filled with hundreds of very tall trees that the sun doesn’t have a hope of peaking over at this time of year. It’s a challenge to find areas where the sun can break through. But where it does, you get those long raking shadows I’m rather fond of.
Smack bang in the centre of the cemetery lies the Saint Edward Shrine Church. This and the buildings beyond belong to the Saint Edward Brotherhood, a small Orthodox Christian monastery that was formed in 1982 to care for the Church in which the sacred relics of Saint Edward the Martyr are enshrined. Edward was the eldest son of King Edgar the Peaceful, but was not his father’s acknowledged heir. On Edgar’s death in the year 975 the leadership of England was contested, with some supporting Edward’s claim to be king and others supporting his younger nephew Harry. Edward was eventually chosen as king, after which Harry went on to marry an American television actress, Lady Megan of Markle.
The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.
~ William Cowper
I see a great deal of discussion online about people’s techniques for shooting film and the way in which they experiment. A lot of stuff is along the lines of “Yeah I know FP4 is rated at 125, but I’m shooting it at 71.5 iso and then dropping it in bucket of developer for a week that I made myself out of organic unicorn fur and lard.” It does sometimes seem that the experimentation is more important than actually creating pleasing pictures. And that’s absolutely fine of course, because we should all just be doing what we enjoy.
Most of my own experimentation these days is with darkroom printing, but that’s only because I still don’t know what I’m doing. But when it comes to developing film, I’ve spent many years whittling down the films and developers I use in order to produce consistent and predictable results. For example, with medium format it’s always FP4 and Tri-X stand developed in Rodinal. It consistently gives me results I‘m happy with. But with the recent renaissance in traditional photography that I don’t think many people saw coming, and with new emulsions coming to the market and old ones reborn, maybe now’s the time for me to be a bit more adventurous again.
I was rummaging through the film box in my fridge and found two rolls of Delta 100 that had just slipped past it expiry date. Developed with some D76 that really needed to be used up, and I’m happy with the results. Oh yeah, I’m really starting to mix things up a bit now. Crazy, eh?
Right, I’m off to round up a few unicorns.
I could give half a dozen geeky reasons why I tend to stand develop my medium format films in Rodinal, but they’d all be lies. Ultimately it’s just because I’m lazy.
- Drop the film in the tank
- Crash on the couch and watch an episode of totalitarian fly-on-the-wall documentary The Handmaid’s Tale, just so I know what to expect
- Stop, fix, wash, dry
However, the last roll of FP4 I developed this way seemed to have a lot more grain than is typical, and just as I was pondering whether I’d done something differently, I came across the remains of a bottle of Kodak HC-110 under the sink. Like Rodinal, HC-110 tends to live forever in its undiluted form and would probably even survive a nuclear holocaust. Which may well prove to be useful, given current events. I’d previously given it a go with a few 35mm films and not been too keen on the results, but I thought it was worth trying on the roll of 120 FP4 I shot last weekend on my trip back to the area I grew up in.
Ely is a small market town about 80 miles north east of London. Not only is it famous for the fact that I went to school there, but it also boasts one of the most magnificent cathedrals in England, dating back to the 11th century. My school always had strong links with the Cathedral, and as such I was required to attend services three times a week. I’m sorry to say it didn’t make me a better person. Under His Eye.
A couple of unusual things happened this weekend. Firstly, the weather forecasters predicted two full days of complete sunshine and a temperature of 21C. In London. In early April. The second strange thing was that this absurd prediction actually came true. Normally during such a weekend I might typically have driven down to the coast, or maybe spent some time cycling in the park. But a few recent events have conspired to suck some of the energy and enthusiasm out of me. So instead I unfolded my handwritten list of Cemeteries I Haven’t Yet Visited, closed my eyes, and randomly prodded the paper.
West Norwood Cemetery is a 40 acre site in south east London, so for me that’s a 30 minute train ride up to central London, followed by a further 15 minutes out through the other side. It’s one of The Magnificent Seven, the group of private cemeteries that were established in the 19th century to deal with overcrowding at the various parish cemeteries. It’s not the first of the seven I’ve visited.
The cemetery had its first burials in 1837, and although all the plots are now taken, the crematorium is still active and you can have your ashes stashed in the columbarium. It holds London’s finest collection of sepulchral monuments, has 69 listed structures, and is on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. It’s a peaceful place.
All of these were shot with an orange filter, most of them them with the wonderful (but hefty) Mamiya Sekor C F/2.8 45mm lens (35mm equivlant=28mm). I semi-stand developed them (one gentle inversion at the half-way mark) in a 1+99 dilution of Rodinal for 60 minutes. I find this gives a really nice level of bite without being too grainy. On these sunny, cloudless days I don’t bother with the onboard meter. I just use sunny 16, allow an extra stop of light to compensate for the filter, and then it’s just 1/125 & F/11 or permutations thereof all the way.
Film: Ilford FP4
Process: Developed in Rodinal 1+99 for 60 minutes
The Crematorium; still in use today
After a hour or so of wandering round, I found a shady spot to eat the sandwich I had brought with me, and was thinking about catching the train home. That’s when it occurred to me that a couple of stops and about ten minutes further down the line was Crystal Palace Park.
I’d forgotten how nice Crystal Palace Station is, and at the risk of being mistaken for a train geek, I took a quick snap. To be honest, when you spend a sunny Saturday hanging round a cemetery, people thinking you’re a train spotter is the least of your worries.
Wikipedia describes Crystal Palace Park as a Victorian pleasure park, which I think is a lovely turn of phrase. The district of Crystal Palace takes its name from the building –The Crystal Palace – in which the Great Exhibition of 1851 was held. Yet the exhibition wasn’t held in Crystal Palace; it was held in Hyde Park in central London. Confused? Don’t be.
The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (phew) was conceived as a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. It was an attempt to show the rest of the world how Britain was a clear leader in industry, and in the process stick two fingers up to the French after their highly successful Industrial Exposition of 1844. Plus ça change. After the exhibition, between 1852 and 1855, the park was created as a home for the relocated and rebuilt Crystal Palace, but tragically the building was destroyed by fire in 1936, leaving just the few remnants you can see from the photos.
That’s the Crystal Palace TV Transmitter in the background. 719 feet and the fifth tallest structure in London.
There’s plenty to see and do in the park. The boating lake. A maze. The famous Crystal Palace Dinosaurs – a series of extinct (and often inaccurate) animal sculptures that date from 1852. But it was the sphinxes that really drew me here on this day. It was about twelve years ago now, on my only previous visit to the park, that I sat beneath them holding the hand of a pretty red-headed girl with a kind heart. I’ve no idea what’s happened in her life since then, but a few years back I was surprised to be told she now lives just a couple of miles away from me. I keep that little bit of information wrapped up and tucked away at the back of my mind, but occasionally I take it out, just to see how it feels.
There are six sphinxes in all , and they’ve been there ever since the site was moved from central London in the 1850s. What surprised me however, is that they are now in much better condition than when I last saw them. And as you clearly can’t see from the photo, they’ve been painted terracotta. I’ve since found out they were restored last year, and analysis has shown that they were regularly painted up until about 1900, after which they gradually started to fall in to disrepair.
This dude was happy to ham it up for the camera.
And in the middle of the park, at the sports centre, they were playing beach volleyball. I took the photo just so I can tell people that I did indeed have a lovely day at the seaside, and no, I didn’t waste a glorious weekend wallowing in nostalgia and gravestones..