BEAUTY AND GUILT



The region in which I live, the far north of the ancient (and now modern) Aquitaine, is so beautiful that I quite often feel guilty for not appreciating it more. 

Admittedly I have lived in beautiful places for the greater part of my life: Cornwall, Devon, Malta, Bermuda, California, the coast of Kent, La France Profonde. But even when the places have been less than conventionally beautiful -- Plymouth, Birmingham, Bristol and (yes, perhaps) the coast of Kent -- there has still been more beauty about than I can really do justice to. It's just a question of seeing it.

Photographers are often attracted to decline and decay. Why not? What else, after all, is the attraction of cherry blossom? Beauty is often fleeting; and so, by extension, is life itself. So let us grab beauty while we can. Truth is beauty, and beauty, truth.

What, though, is beauty? My two previous Pictures for the Day were dolls, mannequins and decapitated teddy bears. The mill above, perhaps 20 miles/ 30 km from where I live, is much more conventionally beautiful; and a lot less ephemeral.

But is it really less ephemeral? This was taken in the summer. It will look different in winter. But it is there in every season, and has been for (at a guess) 200 years. Is it really less beautiful in winter? If so, why? Perhaps there is more joy in spring or summer, or even autumn, than in winter. But winter carries the promise of spring. What more joy can there be than hope?

Compositionally or aesthetically it is conventional in the extreme. I have  shamelessly used clich├ęs: the mill "on the thirds", "framing" with the river-bank and trees, an essentially "triangular" composition with the mill as the apex and the near river-bank as the base, vignetting (at least tonally; I didn't need to burn the edges). "Weeping" trees are irredeemably picturesque...

And yet it works. Chocolate-boxy, yes. But why do pictures end up on chocolate boxes? Because they appeal to something in an awful lot of people. Yes, it's pretty close to a 1950s "Swans and Sunsets" shot. So? Is that necessarily bad? It's the visual equivalent of comfort food: stuff that makes us feel good, even if it isn't really all that brilliant.

There's a mixture of reflections (tranquillity) and ripples (movement). Despite the clouds, the sky is basically blue, and the mill is sunlit (I had to wait a few minutes). The blue is clearer in the reflection than in the sky. That's fine too. We know that the mill is unlikely to go away. That's good, because continuity is good. Of course we need change, but we also need what the I Ching calls "the long enduring".

As with the previous two Pictures for the Day, the camera and lens really don't matter too much; and once again, it's a Nikon Df and a 55/2.8 Micro Nikkor. I find it easier to use a prime lens and to choose the right place to stand, rather than zooming from a fixed viewpoint. But that's just me. Always ask yourself if , when you're not happy with a picture, whether the problem is with you or your equipment. 

When I was younger, I used to hate the "equipment doesn't matter" argument. I used to think, "It's all very well for you, but you've got really good kit. All I've got is what I can afford." And yet, 50 years on, here I am with the same kit I started with: a 55mm lens on 24x36mm. I'm learning. I hope. 

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Words and picture copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2017