Tuesday, 29 December 2009

to the hills

...an apt post for today before we drive up to Kishorn and climb some of the Coulin Forest hills. This image by Laurie Clark is very close to my heart, and as such, is pinned to the inside of my front door so that I see it every time I leave my home. Luckily, with the orientation of the door, the arrow conveniently points North!

Monday, 28 December 2009


Lesley Punton, Inversion
Silverpoint and gesso on paper, 2008,

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Friday, 18 December 2009

teach yourself to fly part 2

I was given a gift of a flight in a glider some time ago. I fully expected to be simply sitting in the aircraft, just coming along for the ride, taking photgraphs and enjoying the experience. I was wholly unprepared to actually fly the thing myself. In the end, this is what happened, with my instructor only taking control 5 or 6 metres before landing (and he said he almost let me do that too). I've always had a secret wish to get a pilot's licence but as I doubt I ever will, perhaps this is the nearest I will come. I flew at the gliding centre near Loch Leven on a summer evening after work last year. It was touch and go as to whether it would go ahead as the weather wasn't great (spots of rain were falling, and any more would have meant it would have been cancelled) but in the end we got the all clear and a tow plane took us up to 2000ft and, on command, I pulled the lever to release us from the tow rope. I'd like to say I could remember the sensation of silently gliding through the air, but in all honesty, I was concentrating hard on making the aircraft move gently and smoothly in it's turns, nudging the plane to the left, levelling and so on, and was getting a feel for the rudder and the pedals for most of the 25 minute flight. It wasn't silent either - sure there was no engine roar, but the sound of the wind rushing by was noisier than I'd expected. It was a fantastic experience though, and I'm glad I flew the plane myself. I'd love to do it again, and hopefully take some more photographs. Despite my camera being strapped to my wrist, I only managed to take a picture in the cockpit before take off, and one of the glider before I'd even got in! Great fun, and thoroughly recommended.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

a cold wild camp

On Saturday night, having driven through thick fog, we camped at this spot - 56°51'18.53"N, 5°20'41.36"W (the joys of google earth in working such information out!) hoping to get an early start before climbing Gulvain the next day. At camp, it was a cold clear night that went down to -6 or -7 (at least) and the trees glittered with hoar frost illuminated by the shifting beam of my headtorch. This is a short video clip made that night (the quality is better when viewed directly from the Vimeo link).

There were some fantastic shooting stars in the sky too; it turns out that this was the Geminid meteor shower which reached it's peak on 13th & 14th Dec.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


Our Christmas card for this year is back from the printers...

It depicts a snow covered direction indicator pointing to other Alpine peaks at Les Grands Montets, Chamonix. (photo taken by Jim Hamlyn)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Sunday, 6 December 2009

experiments and observations on different kinds of air**

The forthcoming exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham of the work of João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva should be worth seeing. I was hugely impressed by them in Venice earlier in the year in their show experiments and observations on different kinds of air. In amongst the usual lagoon of mediocrity that can be found in Venice, João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva in the Portugese Pavillion showed a series of short silent 16mm & 35mm films that held the viewer with a quiet beauty and poetry not found anywhere else in the national pavillions this year.

(Their films are) "the study of singular phenomena in an effort to understand the world, the affection of a scientific methodology, and the understanding of poetry as a possible means of capturing an only partially discernable world...

João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva.
3 Suns, 2009, 16mm film, colour, no sound, 0’50’’

...Through their films and experiments, João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva also invoke this hypothesis of other metaphysical abysms with a rather particular sense of humour. Recognising the failure of approximations of the real, they unpeel scientific absurdities to trace new laws in poetry. An adventure in "pataphysics" that presents what may be considered the greatest of all failures: the failure of the ego and its imprisonment, the impossibility of direct access to truth and a mocking and hallucinatory search, whose end is perceivably unreachable." (Natxo Checa)

**A title drawing on the work of the British chemist, physicist and theologian Joseph Priestley (1733-1804). He carried out experiments with electricity and air and for the first time isolated oxygen in a gaseous state. 

On the Movement of the Fried Egg and Other Astronomical Bodies will be on show at the Icon Gallery between 3rd February – 21 March 2010

Friday, 4 December 2009

the rephotographic survey

I was considering the link between the images of the fog bow (28th November post) and the earlier post of Timothy H O'Sullivan's image, "Fissure Vent at Steamboat Springs" and started to think of his image above, Rock Formations, Pyramid Lake, Nevada 1867, in connection with the images of the cloud inversion on Ben More last weekend. The rock formations rising from the surface of the lake reminded me of the way the hills burst through from the layer of low lying cloud. I've since then been informed that the location had been part of Mark Klett's rephotographic survey in 1979. In that image (below), the lake has dramatically dried out, and this seems to be a shocking and surprising change over such a relatively short time.


...that is until you see the 2000 revisitation by Klett (below). In this image, the water has partially returned, so there's more rising and falling in the water levels than one would perhaps have imagined. It's easy to look at the first two and assume there's a catastrophic connection with desertification, global warming, etc, but it may well be that this is more normal for Pyramid Lake than at first appears. Derby Dam was constructed in 1903, so it's likely there has been some man made influence in the change in the water level. Another likely cause is the diversion of the Truckee River for irrigation in the early 20th century, and which has reduced inflow such that nowadays, it is rarely sufficient for the spawning of the Tui Chub and the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, both now endangered species. Nevertheless, the final image does show that the situation is more ambiguous than we may perhaps think.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

cloud inversion & fogbow on Ben More

The mountain weather forecast suggested that perhaps the only good place to go today would be somewhere in the West Highlands, but south of Lochaber. We've climbed every Munro in Scotland south of Fort William, so Jim & I, unusually, decided to climb one we'd been up before, and ended up climbing Ben More (the Crianlarich one). This paid off as we found ourselves in a wonderful cloud inversion, saw our brocken spectre, and walked up to the col into a fog bow, (also known as a fog dog, cloud bow or white rainbow).

I've seen partial cloud inversions before, but they've been where I've been sandwiched between a high and a low layer of cloud, or have been above low lying mist in valleys, but this was my first bona fide cloud inversion with brilliant blue skies above, the cloud encircling the mountain. What a fantastic thing to experience. The battery on my camera had died, so all these photographs have been taken by Jim.


Thursday, 26 November 2009

fissure vent - steamboat springs

This has long been one of my favourite photographs and was taken by Timothy H O'Sullivan in 1867 of the fissure vent in Steamboat Springs, Washoe, Nevada. I've always been attracted to mist, cloud, vapour - almost like a shorthand for impermanence and insubstantiality - and this has grown for me in recent years through my interest in walking and climbing where I regularly find myself walking into the cloud base with visibility often reduced to just a few metres. In this photograph, the faint form of a person can just be seen emerging from behind the  steam vent; and the cleft in the earth where steam escapes serves as a visible reminder of the mass below our feet, to the presence of molten rock, to metals, and to the living breathing organism that is the earth.

Timoth H. O'Sullivan : Fissure Vent of Steamboat Springs, 1867, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Albumen silver print from a glass negative. 

This is another less well known image by O'Sullivan from the same location.

Timothy H. O'Sullivan, 1867

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

cake found on Schiehallion...

Found on Schiehallion the night we made the pinhole camera images - a solstice offering from another group of walkers.. (Schiehallion's colloquially known as the fairy hill).

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Crusoe & Friday

Lesley Punton "Crusoe & Friday : Robinson Crusoe"
2009, from the Lightships series, A6 B&W postcards

Monday, 23 November 2009


Lesley Punton "Castorp : The Magic Mountain"
2009, from the Lightships series, A6 B&W postcard

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Marlow & Kurtz

Lesley Punton "Marlow & Kurtz : Heart of Darkness"
2009, from the Lightships series, A6 duotone postcards

Saturday, 21 November 2009

the white ribbon

I went to see this film by Michael Haneke at the GFT last night. It was winner of the Palme D'Or at Cannes this year, and definitely worth seeing if you get the chance. Stylistically, it takes it's cue from the photographs of August Sander, and is incredibly beautifully made. For Haneke, the film is about "the origin of every type of terrorism, be it of a political or religious nature."

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

James Nasmyth & August Strindberg

James Nasmyth, the Scottish inventor and engineer, was obsessed with all things lunar. He built his own telescope to view the moon, and, in order to illustrate the book The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite (1885), he created these amazing images. Unfortunately, photography couldn't itself actually record it's surface when he made these images, so Nasmyth instead created wonderful plaster models based upon his observations through his telescope and photographed them in the moon's place. A crater on the moon is named after him.


Meanwhile in 1893, August Strindberg, the Swedish playwright, during a bout of writers block and existential crisis, turned to photography. Attempting to photographically capture the night sky in works he called celesteographs, instead of placing his film in a camera, he simply left the film to be exposed to the night on windowsills, on the ground, and sometimes bathed in developer (Strindberg apparently distrusted the distortion of lenses, and whilst he had made a few rudimentary pinhole cameras, by now had decided to abandon the camera altogether). Although believing the results to be images of stars and constellations, in reality, he had recorded the marks of dust and chemical stains accrued during exposure and the inexact development of late 19th century photographic technique. Nonetheless, the resultant images retain a connection to the original idea, to the 'witnessing' of an event, a measure of time depicted in alchemical transformation.

I think I like this divergence from the scientific that both these non-artist makers employed. There's something in the way that the forms of both abandoned the limitations that science and technology afforded them at the time (whether deliberate or not), and moved towards a notional description of place that is perhaps 'truer' than the one that could, in reality, have been achieved through more 'correct' means.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Joe Deal

It seems that the Roger Fenton image from 13th Nov is one of those images that has inspired a few "remakes". Here's one by Joe Deal, one of the photographers associated with the New Topographics group.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

la jonction

La Jonction is the spectacular meeting place of the Glacier des Bossons and the Glacier de Taconnez on the Massif de Mt Blanc, and this was my first experience of standing upon a glacier. Being the meeting point of two glaciers, this is a heavily crevassed jumble, with creaking ice and occasional falling seracs. The Gite a Balmat, a mere howff amongst some large boulders, is reached just minutes before you reach La Jonction and it was here that, in 1786, Jacques Balmat and Doctor Gabriel Paccard bivvied overnight before making their successful first ascent of Mt Blanc, the view of which dominates the scene beyond.

Looking down a crevasse on La Jonction, July 2007, Photograph courtesy of Jim Hamlyn

Friday, 13 November 2009

homage to Roger Fenton

Lesley Punton, Homage to Roger Fenton: Boules, Silver Gelatin Print, 1997
I've never ever shown this photograph. It was simply made as a bit of fun when I was on a residency in 1997 in Gallivare, in Swedish Lappland, North of the arctic circle - the farthest North I'd ever been. At that time, I'd been making 5x4 format black & white images where I'd photographed quarries, scrub land, boulder fields etc in an attempt to find a space that somehow resembled the surface of the moon. Spending time with a disparate group of artists from (mainly) Scandanavia, we often played boules and, being in the habit of looking at the ground and thinking of ideas surrounding wastelands/wilderness/deserts, I was struck by the resemblance that the fall of the boules in one particular game had to Roger Fenton's seminal photograph valley of the shadow of death depicting the aftermath of a battle in the Crimean War with cannonballs strewn over the ground. Like Fenton, I staged it again whan all the players had left (though in my case they had all gone inside for tea!).

Roger Fenton, Valley of the shadow of death, 1855, Getty Museum

Monday, 9 November 2009

farthest north

In relation to the earlier post regarding a walk up Schiehallion and our bivvy on the summit on the summer solstice 2009, I thought I should post some images from an earlier journey. 

On June 24th 2008, at 12.05am, Jim and I made a walk up Ben Hope, Scotland’s most northerly mountain over 3000ft, with the aim of finding (because of it’s elevation) a place on this island where the sun didn’t set. Of course, it turned out that the sun did indeed set, but in the two hours in which we climbed to reach the summit, we didn’t find recourse to use head-torches and the sun only just dipped below the horizon. “Maximum black” was at around 1am, but still there was sufficient light to be able to safely keep our footing. Dawn came at around 3am and, after an extremely cold hour on the summit, we walked down as colour began to penetrate the ground below us.

looking North East from the summit at 2.00am
trig point inside shelter cairn facing South
looking East towards the moon

Sunday, 8 November 2009

first snow

the first snows of the 2009 winter walking season, on the summit of Beinn Nan Aighenan, Sunday November 8th.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

a 5 day journey

Robert Macfarlane again, this time every night this week on Radio 3 in a series entitled the essay - a 5 day journey "walking the length of the South Downs, exploring its chalk path and its ghosts".

The BBC's blurb is thus:

Walking the Hampshire miles of the South Downs, in monsoon rain and sunshine, Robert reflects on the relationship between paths and stories, and how old paths were imagined in 19th-and early 20th-century England as ghostly spaces of time-warp and spectres. He considers how paths might be thought of as sculptures, a kind of democratic art form; and he meets a man who has been on the road for seven years, since the death of his wife.

Walking the Downs on the Sussex-Hampshire border, Robert explores poet Edward Thomas' love affair with paths and tracks. For 20 years, Thomas walked what he called 'the long white roads' and 'frail tracks' of England's chalk country. Then in 1916, he enlisted and was sent as an officer to the chalk landscape of Arras in Northern France, with its far more dangerous paths. He was killed on Easter Monday, 1917.

Crossing from Bramber Bank to Kingston Down, in the company of writer Rod Mengham, Robert considers the Australian Aborigine concept of the songline, whereby walking, wayfaring, singing and folk memory become aligned. He explores some of the ways that landscapes can be sung into being - or 'en-chanted' - and embarrasses a number of passers-by with his own performances.

The Downs have often prompted dreams of flight. Reaching the Cuckmere Valley and the Seven Sisters, Robert re-imagines the life of artist Eric Ravilious, who was fascinated by the 'pure design' of the South Downs - their paths, ridges and light. Ravilious's passion for aerial landscapes eventually led him northwards, to Norway and Iceland. He disappeared off the coast of Iceland in September 1942 while on a rescue flight.  

Walking the final miles of the South Downs with artist Chris Drury, Robert explores the sometimes eerie relationship between walking, collecting and creation. Vladimir Nabokov, Iris Murdoch, Hugh MacDiarmid, Bruce Chatwin and Drury's own land-art sculptures feature, as does the life and death of Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in the Sussex Ouse having slipped a single, heavy flint into her pocket.

Monday, 2 November 2009

A Wilder Vein

 I haven't read this yet (though I'm sure I will), but I thought Robert McFarlane's foreward to A Wilder Vein summed up so well one of the core reasons I'm so interested in Landscape.

"Repeatedly, these writers return to the idea that cognition is site-specific, or motion-sensitive: that we think differently in different landscapes. And therefore, more radically, that certain thoughts might be possible only in certain places, such that when we lose those places, we are losing kinds of imagination as well."

Friday, 18 September 2009


Lesley Punton : Duration, 2009, Diptych, oil on wood and gesso & silverpoint on wood.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Topographies and Tales

This is me in a still from a video installation shown at Render, in Ontario, Canada recently...

My friend Alice has finished a film entitled Topographies and Tales she's been working on for a few years now, filming in Canada and Scotland.

The Proboscis website says:

A film by Alice Angus and Joyce Majiski using music, oral recordings, drawing, animation and storytelling to playfully unearth local and personal stories, memories and myths against a picture of how concepts of space and environment are shaped by ideas of belonging and home. A personal exploration of the intimate way people form relationships with their environments, Topographies and Tales takes a journey through the myths and perceptions the filmmakers encountered on their travels in the west of Scotland and the Yukon.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Fire watch towers

I found these vintage images via a link from BLDGBLOG and think they're pretty interesting. They come from an archive of images collated by the US Forestry Service. The towers, once ubiquitous in forests around the US attracted all sorts of people looking for solitude, from hermits, to housewives, to students. Buildings whose sole purpose was for it's occupants to view landscape from!



Monday, 6 July 2009

Summer solstice bivvy on the summit of Schiehallion

As a summer solstice walk on the 21st June, Jim & I decided to climb Schiehallion with a view to bivvying on the summit, making a long exposure pinhole photograph on 5x4 film recording the duration of the night (there were around five hours of darkness). We set off and got to the top around 10pm just as the light was beginning to fade, but still having plenty of time to set up "camp" on the only sheltered area of the boulder field, and figure out where to make the images. In the end, we opted to have one camera point roughly towards north, and another in a southerly direction. There was an extremely strong cold wind blowing, so the cameras were supported by little piles of stones - camera cairns!

The wooden pinhole camera is in the bottom left hand corner of this image.

...and this was a cardboard camera which we nestled in amongst the summit cairn itself. The perspective and distortion of the image is rather misleading.

We'd rather assumed we'd have the summit to ourselves, but clearly others had also thought of walking on the solstice too so at 1am were awoken by two walkers passing close by along the ridge. They found a spot maybe 50m away from us, but in the cold wind, and without sleeping bags, froze and left as soon as the dawn came.

Schiehallion's isolated position and regular shape led it to be selected by Charles Mason for a ground-breaking experiment to estimate the mass of the earth in 1774. The deflection of a pendulum by the mass of the mountain provided an estimate of the mean density of the Earth, from which its mass and a value for Newton's Gravitational constant G could be deduced. Mason turned down a commission to carry out the work and it was instead coordinated by Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne. He was assisted in the task by mathematician Charles Hutton, who devised a graphical system to represent large volumes of surveyed heights, later known as contour lines, which we now all use on our OS maps.

Ours was another act of measurement, but this time of light and duration.

Image made from the pinhole camera facing North

Image made from the pinhole camera facing South

We seem to be making a bit of a regular thing of walking at the pivotal points of the years cycles of light and dark.