One Square Mile
I live in a small village in Norfolk, an area with only a few houses and a population of less than 100. Indeed one square mile more than covers the inhabited part of the village.
As you will see from my contact sheets, I started off this project taking pictures of houses, horses in fields and other mundane aspects of the area, but I was intrigued by the abandoned farm buildings at the end of my road. Despite walking past them many times over the year or so that I have lived here, I had never looked inside.
So taking my camera I gingerly moved aside some of the multitude of vegetation that had taken over the buildings and gained access to the secret world within.
As this is the winter, with the sun close to the horizon, there was little light which meant slow exposures and large apertures, never a good situation due to camera movement and minimum depth of field. Also when the sun finally came out there was a massive contrast between the shafts of light which flooded through the missing tiles and the shady areas of the buildings.
Due to lack of time, I had to return the next day to complete my shoot. Over the two days I used three lenses, my ‘standard’ 17-50mm zoom lens, a cheap 55-200mm zoom and my 80-400mm zoom to get close-ups. In practice, none of the shots taken with the latter lens ended up in my selection.
Once I had transferred the images to my computer, I realised that some of the images had too great a dynamic range, so I decided to apply some contrast correction to try and get detail out of the shadows.
My normal approach is to convert the raw files to 16-bit Tiff files with minimum contrast then adjust in Photoshop to get the final result. The contrast correction that I applied consisted of a second layer added to the image, inverted to become negative, softened with Guassian blur, then blended with the soft light option. This works well, but in this case it resulted in excessive colour noise in the shadows, so it was then that I tried converting the image to monochrome.
Having done that I decided that in fact the monochrome images were a better match to the subject than the original colour shots. In particular, converting to monochrome emphasised the shapes rather than the rather dull winter colours. The colours were a distraction as they tended to draw the eye towards the foliage rather than the walls of the building, so I decided to convert all of the images to monochrome. This I did by adding a saturation reduction layer which enabled me to adjust the contrast and view the result in monochrome.
Finally another layer to adjust the histogram then flatten and save.
Of the 12 photos which I selected, I have ordered them as a walk through the building. The first shot shows the building entrance and the shape of the fallen roof and guttering tends to draw your eye in through the gate.
The second and third shots show the external views of the barns from inside the now overgrown courtyard,
whilst the fourth image shows the clutter underneath the overhang. I’m not totally convinced about this shot, but I’ve kept it in as it shows the winter sunlight coming through the holes in the roof.
The next two shots show the entrance to the main barn. I particularly like the picture with the sign ‘chemicals’ on one door. I took some photographs of this sign on it’s own, but I felt it was a bit odd in isolation, so never selected it.
Within the barn this ancient light-bulb was still hanging from the ceiling, which I thought was quite a poignant reminder of when the barn was still in use, this photo also shows the sky and trees in the background through the now broken roof. I also thought that the shape of the downpipe from the now collapsed roof was a symbol of the decay all around me.
The gate is the way through into the other courtyard. Although the gate draws you through I did feel that it lacks a focal point on the other side. I decided to focus on what was through the gate rather than on the gate itself. The overgrown gate and window of the next shot show the way that nature is taking back the land from man.
The shot of the broken door of another barn indicates how the site has been ignored since it’s last use whilst the plant pot shows that someone had cared for it at one time. The pile of abandoned barbed wire makes me feel that the buildings were left with work still undone.
What would I do differently if I were to do this project again? First, I would consider doing something to help the dynamic range in the shots. Perhaps using a flash with a softbox (something that I don’t have) to lighten the darker areas and keep the contrast ratio in check. If I were in a conventional building I would consider bounce flash, but of course within these barns there is no reflective ceiling to bounce the flash.
Also I would take a tripod for the longer exposures, so I can get a better depth of field when I want. All the shots taken above were hand-held, and so, even with stabilised lenses, there were some shots that I could not get due to the low level of light. On the other hand, with wind blowing through the gaps in the walls and floor, some objects may not be stable enough for long exposures without blurring. Physically getting through the overgrown foliage to access the barns might also be a problem with a tripod.