Learning and the passage of time

Felixstowe docks at dawn

Just about 5 years ago next week I walked, if not bounced, through the doors of University Campus Suffolk to start the degree course I ought to have started in 1973. I have spoken about this before and the fact that I could not have produced the degree project I made in 2014 in 1976 when I ought by rights to have been making one.

One of the lessons I learned in 1973 was that I had taken my eye off the ball but those who know me well enough know that balls and eyes do not necessarily go well together with me but if anything, I have always picked myself up after stumbling and stumbled on further.

I stumbled into early surveillance photography as a Civil servant having turned down the opportunity  to be trained as a photography technician. I had wanted to be the photographer, not a technician but guess what, that is something else I learned along the way. The creative process of making an image takes place in the 6 inches between my ears. That is where I visualise, dream if you like ( my primary school headmistress once wrote on my report “Thomas lives in a world of his own” – how perceptive of her) what it is I want to capture and portray. That said, and it is no mean feat dreaming up images in one’s head and then making them come to life, a good percentage of the the time and effort in making pictures relies on a high degree of technical ‘know how’. How short-sighted was I to turn down John Mills’ offer of being trained as one of his technicians?

That is all water under the bridge and I am a firm believer in the fact that life is full of sliding doors and one of those opened as I stumbled through it, there, something familiar going on – pattern emerging here, and found myself signed up for an Honours in Photography. Had it not been for the Coalition Government setting a tripwire for me and countless others I would not have been picking myself up wondering what to do with a draconian period of austerity. I’m not big on dusting, ask Mrs O, but there I was dusting myself down and starting over again.

As an early adopter of digital photography, and more recently a born again analogue photographer, I embraced the making of panorama images as part of my early digital experimentation and then left it behind but then less than 4 weeks ago I was asked to help out the now University of Suffolk with images that portrayed Suffolk that needed to fill two spaces 1.6 metres high  by 11.9 and 8.1 metres long. The subject matter was down to me but time was tight.

One thing I was certain of was that I had never envisaged filling a space like this  and was effectively a beginner. I am an Agile practitioner by trade (one of my many trades) so I applied my self to this tight project in an Agile way and set off on the same day to scope the project and produce some outline images so that I could iteratively get closer to what was required. I very quickly learned about how much I had forgotten about panorama making from the early noughties and then had to set myself a fair bit of research and questioning time to address my shortcomings. Only last week in the Guardian did Tim Lott eloquently articulate this point “University, particularly in the humanities, is, or should be, a door into doubt, not a leap into “knowledge””. I had no doubt there were questions about making this new work and that I would learn something.

Hard work, burning the candle at both ends, rising before dawn and being on site before sunrise and until after sunset some days brought home the bacon. Two images that I made for this commission are now on the wall in the newly refurbished Atrium building at University of Suffolk.

The original images are posted here. The work on the wall has come out darker than it should be but another lesson learned is that the artist should be as close as possible to other professionals engaged in their workflow. Sadly this could not be. It is a lesson learned but I am also thankful for being given the opportunity to re-craft a skill that I had parked. It has re-ignited a desire to capture even more sunrises, something I never tire of seeing.

Ortwell Bridge sunshine and stubble in the fields
The longest post-tensioned box girder bridge in North Western Europe

The final image of this bridge is 11.9 metres wide and only the middle third is printed to fit the 1.6m high space. It has to be reprinted.

Felixstowe docks at dawn
August Bank Holiday morning 2016 – Felixstowe from Shotley


One of 27 panoramic images made in the hour before sunrise on August Bank Holiday Monday 2016. The print on the wall is redder and darker than this and again the middle third is all that fills the space at 8.1 metres wide.

Having UOS hang this work as features of their newly branded Atrium is almost like another graduation for me and I’ve learned so much in the past 4 weeks plus whetted my appetite for more.

I’ll post installation images once the re-print is sorted.

I doubt I’ll ever stop stumbling or learning.



4 thoughts on “Learning and the passage of time”

    1. Thanks Kevin,
      Panorama images are very much a Marmite type thing but I like Marmite and as long as I keep the panoramas to the right scale I doubt I’ll tire of them.

    1. Thanks Keith,
      It was a hectic few weeks with everything else going on with my other activities. I’d like to see them printed smaller on dibond say 2 metres long but where would I find a wall for them. The detail even at the size they are in UoS is something but a bit smaller and they would have the razor sharpness afforded by the Nikon D810 and 24-70 combo. I shot these with a Lee Filters ND Grad .6 to keep the sky and pull the shadows.
      I’ll be considering some of these for our next Docklands show whenever that may be.

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