Saturday, 25 December 2010

Sgurr an Tuill Bhàin, Rock of the White Flood.

Walking on the summit ridge, descending Slioch, looking towards Sgurr an Tuill Bhan, Dec 2008

Monday, 13 December 2010

gemenids 2010

Tonight is the annual peak of the Gemenid meteor shower, a real rival to August's Perseid shower and predicted to be the best display of "shooting stars" this year. A crescent moon will dull the intensity only until it sets after midnight, so it's best to view them after then. Look towards the constellation Gemini (hence the name Gemenids) to see these relatively slowly moving meteors. The radiant - the point from which the meteors appear to originate, is close to the bright star Castor in Gemini. Here in Scotland, the sky's currently clear so it could be an amazing night to view them.

This time last year, I posted from a freezing (-7 degree) wild camping trip, having climbed Gulvain, and remember watching this great shower in a remote spot in the Highlands away from the light pollution of the city.

cold camping last year...

There's also a lunar eclipse due just before dawn on the 21st December, though the conditions in the UK aren't optimal for viewing it as, at mid-eclipse at 8.16am, the moon will have virtually set and the sky brightening as the sun rises. The moon begins to enter the shadow of the earth at 5.29am when the moon is just under 30 degrees above the horizon. Slowly, the left hand side of the moon will darken until at 7.41am it will be within the umbral shadow.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

mer de glace

L Punton, approaching storm, Mer de Glace, July 2007
..without knowing where to spot them, one perhaps would not realise that there is actually a group of people out on the ice in the middle of the picture who are on an alpine skills course to learn how to traverse glaciers and to get out of crevasses. The sense of scale is entirely deceptive.

detail of above showing location of walkers.
A few minutes later, the entire valley would be filled with cloud hugging the glacier, heavy rain and powerful winds.

See also my previous post on Ruskin's photographs of the mer de glace to see how much the great sea of ice has shrunk.

Friday, 10 December 2010

waxwing winter

Seen from my kitchen window, the same tree as in the last post, a few days later, and now host to a flock of waxwings. These unusual birds have been sighted often this winter with the berry crop in Scandinavia failing, forcing them to travel further afield.

postscript: thanks to Celine for pointing me towards this great piece of HD video footage.

Monday, 6 December 2010


servings: 6
2 cups beef jerky, shredded
1 cup dried berries
6 tbsp tallow (beef fat), melted
combine all ingredients and form into 6 patties.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

born mountaineers

Research by Geoffrey King and Geoff Bailey in the new scientist suggests that humans are ideally suited to mountainous terrain. As a species we're unable to run fast, so wide open plains are not conducive to the survival of humans. But by inhabiting irregular terrain such as mountains and valleys with our ability to scramble and clamber, human beings holds a definite advantage. "Humans are adapted for complex topography" says King. Research also holds that we have tended to cluster around rougher tectonically active landscapes. When Bailey and King superimposed the locations of human fossil sites throughout Africa with satellite images that show the roughness of the land, they found that they lined up neatly.

Friday, 3 December 2010


An amazing satellite image of the UK just now, with snow covering the country.

Saturday, 13 November 2010


Ed Ruscha says of one of his earliest artworks...

"I hitchhiked throughout the South in the early 1950's. Coming across a town in Tennessee called Sweetwater, I remember swimming in an unattended pool by the side of the road. Later, I went to art school in Los Angeles and studied Abstract Expresionism and painted pictures of towns I had hitchhiked through, like Dublin, Georgia; Vicksburg, Mississippi; and most memorable of all, Sweetwater, Tennessee."

Ed Ruscha, Sweetwater, 1959, ink & oil on canvas, 60x48", inadvertently destroyed.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

fond remembrance of places

Thinking of Ravilious, I'm reminded of a trip I made to Barra to visit a close friend who was staying in the croft house that was owned by Ravilious' old friend, the designer and artist Peggy Angus. Ravilious didn't visit Barra as far as I'm aware, but made much work at Peggy's other house "Furlongs" on the South Downs.

Eric Ravilious - Furlongs
exterior of Furlongs
I think familiar, well loved places are of great importance to a great many artists, particularly those concerned with landscape, and it seems that Furlongs was one such place for Ravilious.

I'd never been to Barra before. We arrived at Peggy's house at twilight off the surprisingly long ferry journey from Oban, cycling along the single track road just being able to make out the house in the fading light, to find my friend in a magically evocative place lit by candles and the light from a log fire, cooking on a portable gas stove, and surrounded by years of accumulated objects of interest gathered by Peggy. It's a primitive space (Jim and I slept on an extremely smoky platform above the "kitchen" area), and not one for those looking for luxury (indeed, it's not much more luxurious than many a bothy) but it's spartan qualities are made up for with an abundance of character. The house is just as she left it before she died, and is still used by the family for holidays (my friend is close to the family). Unfortunately I didn't take any decent pictures of the house, but I do understand how places become closely linked with the creation of artworks, and have had similar experiences with places I've become intimately acquainted with over the years in Scotland.

There's a house in the West coast that, due to the generosity of an aunt and uncle, I was able to regularly visit throughout the 1990's and early 2000's, and where I made much of my first photographic work. In part, it's joys stemmed from a simple escape from the city. The place itself, with no road access - the easiest way to reach it was by rowing across the loch - a place where time and the pace of life seemed to slow down, where there was no TV, telephone, (and latterly, mobile reception) encouraged a reflectiveness that nourished my creativity. I visited usually around three times per year, most often bringing friends, but also sometimes visited alone. This was probably the only place  where I've gone a whole week without uttering a word to another human and experienced real solitude, bar hearing a voice on the radio.

L Punton, where deer sleep, silver gelatin print, 1996

Back in Barra, we climbed the island's highest hill, the relatively small Heaval, enjoying the view around the island down to Castlebay, a view presumably familiar to Peggy Angus and to those that would have
regularly come to visit.

view from the summit of Heaval, Barra

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Samuel Palmer

Samuel Palmer - Shepherds under a full moon
An odd piece here, by an artist who clearly influenced the likes of Piper and Nash. Samuel Palmer (1805-1881) is someone whom, again, I have probably overlooked over the years. This work, like the piece in the previous post on Nash, is a rather bizarre, and to me, work that quite ahead of it's time.

Paul Nash - landscape of the vernal equinox

Paul Nash, Landscape of the vernal equinox, oil on canvas, 1934
Sir Roy Strong's "Genius of British Art" on channel 4 the other night looking at landscape, reminded me how fine Paul Nash's paintings were. There's a tradition of English pastoralism and abstraction that I find particularly interesting now (and which I overlooked as a young art student) with painters such as John Piper, Eric Ravillious, and especially Nash that I think warrant more of my attention.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

darker than dark

Interesting article here on the darkest man-made material. The material, a thin coating comprised of low-density arrays of loosely vertically-aligned carbon nanotubes, absorbs more than 99.9 percent of light.
full article here:

Friday, 1 October 2010

zodiacal light - the false dawn

Thanks to Jane for sharing this. In thinking about the faint amount of light that allows you to discern form in the darkness in my previous post depicting the night-time profiles of mountains, this phenomena  seems an interesting addition.

"Zodiacal light is a faint, roughly triangular, whitish glow seen in the night sky which appears to extend up from the vicinity of the sun along the ecliptic or zodiac. Caused by sunlight scattered by space dust in the zodiacal cloud, it is so faint that either moonlight or light pollution renders it invisible. The zodiacal light decreases in intensity with distance from the Sun, but on very dark nights it has been observed in a band completely around the ecliptic. In fact, the zodiacal light covers the entire sky, being responsible for 60% of the total skylight on a moonless night. There is also a very faint, but still slightly increased, oval glow directly opposite the Sun which is known as the gegenschein." (Wikipedia)

Zodiakallicht - Etienne Leopold Trouvelot

Sunday, 26 September 2010

midnight mountains

Stob Coire Easin, graphite on paper, L Punton, 2010

Beinn Eighe, graphite on paper, L Punton 2010

Ben Cruachan, Graphite on Paper, L Punton, 2010

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

a new life

Angus Owen Punton Hamlyn was born on the 10th September after a long, but natural, labour. With the best birthing partner (and father) imaginable in Jim, and wonderful midwifes at the Princess Royal (Rebecca, we owe you so much), our lives will never be quite the same again.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


L Punton,  "Origin", graphite on paper, 2010


L Punton, graphite on paper, 2010

language of displacement

Hamish Brown points out in his book documenting the first non stop walk of all the Munro's, that in Scotland, despite the variety of words meaning mountain (there's Stob, Sgurr, Stac, Stuc, Carn, Cairn, Cruach, Meall, Mheall, Maol, Mam, Monadh, Druim, Beinn, Ben, Bidean, Binnean, etc), and all the "peaks of the hind" and 'hills of the goat" and other hills descriptive of the land and wildlife found upon them, there is no hill with the Gaelic name for sheep, since they came later - when Gaelic itself was being evicted!

An Teallach, July 2008


In an article in the New York Times, I recently heard about how there can be linguistic variance in how people experience space within different cultures. Western culture is egocentric with our perception of the environment around us viewed relative to our own bodily position in the world. Some cultures however utilise geography to explain their experiences. Put simply, we tend to describe space through left and right, forward and backwards, which is always dependent upon where we stand in relation to an object (turn around, and what was left will become right) whereas, in the Australian aboriginal tongue, Guugu Yimithirr, from north Queensland, the people refer to directions via North, South, etc and not in relation to themselves.

Quite apart from the rather pleasant thought that non egocentric cultures even exist, the development of language that explicitly recognises space in wider terms results in some extremely interesting consequences. The people speaking Guugu Yimithirr, since their everyday experiences are founded upon a broader awareness of the relationships between places, and have learned from an early age to be continually aware of the cardinal directions of things, have a seemingly superhuman navigational ability. They continually and unconsciously know the relative position of a given thing/place etc and are able to navigate without compass or map in mist, on featureless terrain and appear to have an in-built compass. 

An analogy used in the article was that for you or I, if we were to enter a hotel where every room was decorated out in the same way, all the rooms would to all intents appear the same, regardless of the direction the room faced. For a Guugu Yimithirr speaker, a room on one side of a corridor would appear in marked contrast to the opposite door, where everything would be perceived in completely different orientation.

When recounting a story, the Guugu Yimithirr teller gesticulates towards actual directions; if he/she were to retell the story facing in a different direction, the gestures would still point to the same geographical direction regardless of their change in position.

Even more remarkable is that if you or I were to point towards our chest, we would be understood to be referring to ourselves. For the speakers of Guugu Yimithirr, they are simply pointing in the direction that runs through their own body.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Sunday, 22 August 2010

revisiting An Caisteal

After my revisiting Strontian post recently, I thought about those other places I've repeatedly found myself in over time, places of regular pilgrimage or simply habitual return, and I thought about how I've found myself making the "same" photograph on the summit of An Caisteal, a Munro near Crianlairich. I've climbed this hill 7 times now, and by the 5th time, realised I'd begun to make roughly the same summit photograph, looking in the same direction towards Beinn Chabhair and the Arrochar Alps, the weather conditions the main variant between them. Once this realisation had been made, I resolved to continue to make more images on subsequent walks up the mountain.

Co-incidentally, I visited a few exhibitions in Edinburgh yesterday and was also struck by the interesting Alexander & Susan Maris show at Stills, where Alexander Maris also returned to and remade photographs from places he'd visited in his past, also often in mountainous, wild terrain. I think there's something akin to my own process here, something altogether more intimate, more biographical, than that found in Mark Klett's formalised re-photographic survey.

Here are the images I made on An Caisteal. There may well have been more images had I been carrying a camera on the first climbs, though I seem to remember only having a low grade mobile phone camera with me on those occasions, and which I rarely used.





Clearly from the images, I've a fondness for climbing it in the snow. Perhaps it's familiarity and close proximity to home make it a good winter hill for me when the daylight hours are short, though I recollect the earlier ascents were in fine warm weather and took in neighboring Beinn a' Chroin too.

Re-creation as recreation.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

strength through joy...?

Looking for some images of the cliffs at Rügen (in order to see images of the famous chalk cliffs Caspar David Friedrich painted but which partially collapsed in a landslide a few years ago), instead, I somehow found myself looking at an altogether different spectacle of the sublime. Built by Hitler as part of the Strength Through Joy programme (basically, a kind of National Socialist leisure industry wing - which also brought us the VW Beetle), Prora was a 4.5km long hotel (one continuous structure) in which all the rooms had a sea view, providing accommodation for 20,000 people on the Baltic Sea. It's also known as the "Colossus of Rügen, and it's extraordinary to think of a "holiday camp" built on such an imposing, daunting scale. Butlin's x 100!

arial view of Prora

Built between 1936 and 1939, it was designed to provide affordable holidays for the average worker, but with the onset of war, construction stopped. The eight housing blocks, the theatre and cinema stayed as empty shells, and the swimming pools and festival hall never materialised. 
During the Allied bombing campaign, many people from Hamburg took refuge in one of the housing blocks, and later refugees from the east of Germany were housed there. By the end of the war, these buildings served to house female auxiliary personnel for the Luftwaffe.

These images by Vegar Moen show the building and it's environs in 2001.

After the war, Rügen ended up in the Russian sector and Prora became a top-secret army base, a virtual university of warfare, where Warsaw Pact troops rehearsed for a Third World War. The holiday camp that Hitler built became a hi-tech military training camp, where Soviet soldiers played wargames to prepare for the apocalypse to come. Out of bounds to locals, Prora disappeared from East German maps. A wild wood grew up around it, hiding it from the sea.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


Samuel Beckett claimed that this painting, two men contemplating the moon, was his inspiration for Waiting for Godot.

He subsequently said that this image, man and woman contemplating the moon was his inspiration, but they are so similar, that clearly the influence was strong.

Both paintings are in the Nationalgalerie, Berlin, and both are identical in size at 34x44cm.

Friday, 13 August 2010


The Perseids meteor shower reached it's peak on Thursday night/Friday morning, though there's still a couple of days more in which to see them. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Perseus. The thin, crescent moon will be out of the way early, setting the stage for a potentially spectacular show. For best viewing, look to the northeast after midnight.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

revisiting Strontian

Some years ago, I made a series of black and white images on 5x4 polaroid of the lead mines by Strontian in Lochaber, Scotland. Initially inspired by a desire to revisit a place from childhood that I felt was like the surface of the moon, I went back and, unusually, wasn't disappointed by the emotions it generated. The place was, indeed, just as I remembered it, and my childhood recollections somehow remained intact. (Re-visitation is often a disappointment, and something I think I normally approach with caution). The images were from a wider series where I was interested in this idea of recreating or finding a space to act as a surrogate for the lunar landscape, a place both barren yet beautiful, and I made images in quarries, others at the base of the chalk cliffs at Beachy Head on the south coast of England, more still in Swedish Lappland, and finally, in the old lead mines of Strontian.
Strontian, July 2010

It's a curious thing to go to Strontian and try to find out more about the history of the mines, and of the place where the element Strontium was discovered. Considering the element was named after the village, they tend not to make much of this fact. The tourist information office "used to have some leaflets, but they're out of print now".
Strontium was recognized as distinct from barium in 1790 by Adair Crawford in a mineral sample from one of the lead mines  and the metal first isolated by Sir Humphry Davy in 1808. I was always aware of this metallic quality to the ground there, mainly through my memories of hunting for bits of lead in the rocks strewn around these predominantly opencast mines (though a number of deep shafts are still visible and dangerous), and this idea of a magnetic, or chemical "pull" always fascinated me.
So on our recent trip north, I decided to show Jim the location where I originally made these photographs. Last time I was here (it must have been around 1997/8), I carried a 5x4 camera, heavy duty tripod, double dark slides and ordinary 5x4 film, dark cloth, changing bag, polaroid type 55 film and holder, a clearing bucket containing in the region of 1 litre of sodium sulphite solution (I was living in London at the time and had come a long way, so wanted to see the results there and then) as well as the usual walking gear/paraphenalia. This time we had a small digital camera.
I easily found the locations of some of the original images, and together Jim and I recreated those images loosely from memory. The originals are large scale silver gelatin prints, so I need to find them to re-photograph them, but in the meantime, this post shows two of those images made last week.
 Strontian, July 2010

Monday, 19 July 2010

nest building

It seems appropriate to be thinking of building nests right now (7 and a half weeks to go!) so I thought I'd post these images of nests created by bowerbirds. They're from National Geographic, and the images are by Tim Laman. They're quite extraordinary constructions which can really only be described as 'home decoration'. I would like to point out that in this species though, it's the male that likes to arrange the soft furnishings!

..I think I have a special fondness for this one with two cans of coke and some sweetie wrappers attempting to lure the female to his pad.