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So on our recent trip north, I decided to show Jim the location where I originally made these photographs.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

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