Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Gawthorpe Hall and Charlotte Bronte

As a big Bronte Sisters fan I am on a mission to gradually visit and photograph all the places of connection with the sisters, both with their life and their work. Living in West Yorkshire where the sisters lived and wrote, I consider myself very lucky to be in a position to do so. It also makes for a special pleasure of marrying two loves of mine - the one for photography and the one for the great literary sisters.
The weekend of 8th and 9th October was reserved for a trip to Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire. The Kay-Shuttleworth family who lived at the Hall in the 19th century came to hear about Charlotte Bronte, who was becoming a well known author, and invited her to stay, which she did on a couple of occasions.

Gawthorpe Hall is a beautiful, early 17th century Elizabethan mansion, and is the last stop on the Bronte Way - a 43 mile long footpath that starts at Oakwell Hall near Birstall. Charlotte described Gawthorpe as "grey, stately and picturesque, a model of old English architecture".
On the Saturday it was mainly cloudy and overcast so I thought I'd take advantage of that sort of lighting to create a desaturated, "vintage wash" effect photograph of the Hall.

It did brighten up towards the end of the day and there was even some late sunshine around, however short-lived. The two ladies lingered in the grounds for a long time clearly enjoying each other's company and pleasant evening. Up until fairly recently I would spot out any people in my photos of this kind, but then I realized that you can actually use people to an advantage.

This is a view of Gawthorpe from the east. In 1849 Sir James Kay-Shuttleworth commissioned the architect Charles Barry, a personal friend, to undertake a major restoration and improvement of the Hall, including redesigning the grounds. Barry worked exclusively in an Elizabethan style, intending any new work to enhance the old.

The Drawing Room. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the Hall, so here is a photo courtesy of Gawthorpe Hall. When Charlotte visited the Kay-Shuttleworths for a first time in March 1850, she sat on the green sofa just visible in the photo "enjoying the dialogues (perhaps I should rather say monologues, for I listened far more than I talked) by the fireside". Charlotte was so very shy that it does not come as surprise when she says she didn't talk much. Her hosts were the heiress Janet Shuttleworth and her husband Dr James Phillips Kay whom she married in 1842. Sir James Kay Shuttleworth is the celebrated Victorian educationalist, now regarded as the founder of public education in England.

West entrance to the grounds. Autumn had arrived at Gawthorpe Hall. I was delighted to have got some autumn shots from the visit too.

The pretty gate of another entrance to the grounds - by the steps past the Estate Building.

The North Parterre. Charles Barry's 19th century radial parterre, with its shaped stone kerbs, gravel paths and stone parapet spiked with obelisks, has largely survived intact.

The ornamental flower beds are planted with blocks of golden privet, edged with dwarf purple-leaved berberis and punctuated with dots of common privet.

It was a glorious autumn Sunday morning; the Hall had not opened its doors for the day yet, but there were already quite a few people around soaking in the beautiful ambiance of the place.
Charlotte Bronte visited Gawthorpe for a second time with her husband, the Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls, in January 1855 . She was eager to have a stroll around the grounds, and seemed to have caught a chill there. Her health seriously deteriorated afterwards, and, sadly and tragically, she died two months later.

On either end of the parterre terrace there are armorial stone seats of Elizabethan style designed by Barry's son Edward. They looked lovely in the autumnal surroundings.

The Great Barn situated in the Estate Yard. It may be hard to believe, but this spectacular aisled barn of 1603-5 is larger than the Hall itself, and is the largest aisled threshing barn in Europe. The barn is an important survival of a type uncommon in Lancashire. Aisled barns provided much greater width than the normal cruck-framed barn in order to accommodate cattle and farm equipment in addition to enormous quantities of grain, straw and animal feed. Today its interior is a versatile space for events.

The Coach House. It was built in 1870 onto a corner of the Great Barn. Its architectural features suggest a military Gothic style which is not otherwise seen at Gawthorpe. It is now used as a tearoom.

The west side of the Hall and the passageway toward the Lancashire County Council offices. The LCC manages the property on a day to day basis. A passing figure of an elderly man in a suit fits in well with the setting.

Behind the Estate Building there is a charming little picnic area. It was a lovely, mild and sunny, autumn morning, and all the tables were taken by people enjoying the last of agreeable weather.

Along the stone walls of the picnic area there were some delightful autumn blooms. I sneaked around the occupied tables to take a few shots.

Despite its awe-inspiring beauty Gawthorpe Hall is little known today, probably because of its location on the edge of industrial Lancashire, better known for its mills and factories than historic houses. It has belonged to the National Trust since 1970.
There are a couple of more things that must be mentioned when talking about Gawthorpe: it has a fine collection of 17th century portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery to represent family members who once populated the Hall.
And it has an amazing worldwide textile collection on display, created by the last family resident at Gawthorpe, Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth.
There is a temporary exhibition space too, currently occupied by a very interesting "Literary Lions" Exhibition that explores Charlotte Bronte's visits to Gawthorpe and her relationship with the Kay-Shuttleworths. This exhibition is part of this year's bicentenary celebrations of Charlotte's birthday, and finishes on the 6th November.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Autumn Strawberries

At the beginning of this summer I bought a red hanging basket with a strawberry plant in it from the local Aldi. There were only leaves and a couple of tiny pink flowers on the plant. I thought it was something different to hang on the garden fence and was looking forward to seeing how the plant evolves. Well, it has been flowering and producing sweet and juicy strawberries all along. At the end of September I was surprised to see it was still going strong with new strawberries springing up. I decided it was high time I took some photos.
I had a choice of taking some macro shots of the fruit hanging from the basket, or cutting up a few stems for a still life image. Not being a huge fan of macro photography I opted for the latter. I feel still life work gives me more scope and flexibility in creating an interesting image. I found my vintage wine bottle, put the stems inside and arranged them so the strawberries form an appealing composition and the single pink flower faces the camera. For a touch of autumn feel I placed a couple of withered and dried fruits on the table in front of the bottle.

I wanted to team up the red of strawberries with some interesting colour background, so I went for a grey background which I then turned into teal blue in postprocessing. I have recently been drawn to the still life work by Delph Devos. Delph has been my Flickr contact for a long time and more recently a Facebook friend too. I particularly love her dark still lifes, and the dreamy, soft haze her subjects seem to disappear into. The low key tones of my image were inspired by Delph's work, but for my own work I chose a bit more contrast and clarity.
I am quite happy this rather unusual autumn still life came about; and in the last moment too, as I am sure very soon there will be no more strawberries.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Haidi, My Niece & Portrait Photography

It has been many years since I last did some portrait photography. The reason for that is not that I am not interested, but the fact that there is very few possibly willing and suitable models around me. Majority of people don't like being photographed, or if you do persuade them and manage to actually do a shoot with them, they just appear stiff and uncomfortable in photos no matter how much you tried to put them at ease. Well, not my niece Haidi! She sees modelling as fun and challenge, and is so natural and easy to work with. In not so distant past I photographed Haidi three times. Being a yoga teacher she wanted me to take photos of herself in some yoga poses. You can see my favourite pics from that shoot here. When I was in Zagreb back in May Haidi asked me to take photos at one of her yoga workshops. Then, soon afterwards, she visited me with her boyfriend Bruno here in Leeds, and we grabbed one afternoon for a little indoor photo session.


This is quite a heavy crop from a three quarter length portrait shot. I avoid severe crops and always try to compose my image in the viewfinder, but here I ended up with a shot I didn't like and wanted to salvage somehow. I noticed that I actually really liked Haidi's face, and the fact that even though she is looking down all her facial features including her lips are nicely visible. I was also pleased with the softness and creamy tone of her skin I managed to get in postprocessing. All in all, the shot that I nearly discarded and deleted became one of my favourite images in the end.

If you are taking photos of a person I feel you have to do at least a couple of straightforward head and shoulder shots. Haidi was on holiday while staying with me and decided not to wear any make up for the whole duration of her stay. I was really pleased as I wanted her as natural as possible. I did, ever so slightly, though, enhance the beautiful blue colour of her eyes in this image.

We bought the dress earlier that day without actually planning to buy any new clothes for the shoot. But the dress was perfect for the sort of pics we were going to create and was "screaming" at us to buy it. This is one of the first shots I took, and Haidi was already confident and relaxed in front of the camera.

This pose was Haidi's idea. She asked me if I had a toy she could hold and I immediately thought of my Winnie the Pooh teddy bear. He was just about the right size and of a suitable look.

A quick moment of respite, relaxation or simply daydreaming .........

I like the resigned, a bit sad facial expression here, and thought a dreamy processing would do it justice.

Another high key edit. Haidi didn't need a lot of instructions as to posing; she would stir up sentiments in her mind and spontaneously change her countenance. I see a lot of verve in this shot.

Perhaps this image looks a bit far fetched, but I had to satisfy my need for a bit of creative experimenting. I do like its painterly look and the beautiful sleeping face.

This image and the one below are the sort of images I first had in mind for the photo shoot. I love these romantic, story telling portraits. The expectant look on my model's face is perfect.....

...........and so is the one of curious admiration in this image.

It is such a shame that Haidi and I live so far apart. If we lived closer to each other I trust we would create some extraordinary portraits - her with her talent for modelling and natural beauty and me with my desire to learn, improve and produce some stunning portraiture.
As my images show, what I am interested in when it comes to portrait photography is celebrating natural beauty; conveying emotions and telling a story; creating striking mood and atmosphere, and perpetuating those fleeting moments.

I would like to mention a few photographers whose work I greatly admire, derive inspiration from, and from whom I hope to learn. By sheer accident they are all women photographers. However, the first portrait photographer whose work I fell in love with was a man - Robert Mapplethorpe.

Nikaa - I have been admiring Nikaa's work for a long time. I am particularly attracted to her soft, romantic and dreamy presentation, "faceless" models and her inclusion of flowers.

Rosie Hardy - an amazing and very versatile photographer. She always has a model ready at hand and never needs to look for one - she does selfportraits. Her ideas are original and flowing at an incredible pace. Her photoshop knowledge and skills are very admirable too.

Ewa Cwikla - I came across Ewa recently and was immediately taken by her interesting but natural models photographed both indoors and outdoors. There is a lovely vintage/past times feel to many of her images, and I love her tendency towards low key processing.

Carolyn Mendelsohn - a Yorkshire award winning photographer based not far from me, Carolyn won me over with her ordinary people portraits, beautifully shot and processed through tasteful use of actions in Photoshop. They are simple portraits yet very impactive, each telling a story.

Jessica Drossin - I have bought a lot of postprocessing material from the very creative and resourceful Jessica, and I intend to make further purchases from her wonderful store. As to her photography, I love the remote locations, beautiful light and marvellous postprocessing.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Giddings and Some Other Rooms of Ponden Hall

I love interiors and I love to photograph what I love, so that is why I always take pictures of places I stay at. Those photos are just as important to me as all the ones I take outdoors, especially when you stay somewhere special like Ponden Hall. Ponden was originally a large farmhouse built in the 17th century. It has many connections with the famous literary Bronte sisters regarding both their lives and works.

This is an old and so far my favourite photo of the front of Ponden. I shared it before and I'm posting it again as I couldn't blog about Ponden without including an outside photo of the building.

I had previously stayed in the amazing Earnshaw room and I blogged about it here. This time I stayed in the lovely and cosy ground floor Giddings room. It is situated immediately to the left of the front door and overlooks the courtyard. You can see its beautiful original mullioned windows in the photo above.

I always wanted to photograph the blue painted entrance hall with its stone flag floor, leather and wood seater and all the bags hanging above it. The door frame of the Giddings room is just visible behind the bags on the right.

The room was named after the first person who slept in it since the present owners, Julie and Steve lived in the house. The interesting thing is that the previous owners also named the room after the first person to sleep there while they had the house.
I arrived about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. It had rained all day, so there was no chance of going for a walk. I thought I'd make use of the wet weather time to photograph my room.

I love the beautiful mullioned window with a stone sill. It was a must to take a few shots of, and the fact it was raining outside inspired me even more. I found the three candles and the little framed picture of Ponden on top of the dresser and placed them on the sill for a photo. I used a rain texture overlay in post processing to enhance the mood of a rainy day.
As to the little picture of Ponden Hall, there is a nice, rather sweet story behind it. One day Julie and Steve received a letter from a man who lives in the neighbouring Lancashire. He told them his late parents used to go courting in the Ponden Hall area, and that he'd found the picture while clearing through their belongings. He didn't know who painted it, but sent it through the post to Julie and Steve. I think it was very kind of him to go to the trouble to do that.

My beautiful and very comfortable sleigh bed. I had a couple of very good night's sleep in it.

The two books I was reading - "Thornfield Hall" by Jane Stubbs and the little book of walks in the Bronte Country I took everywhere with me.

Lovely wooden furniture..... and one of the ceiling beams just showing. I like the green colour of the walls very much. I would have chosen that colour myself.

A few of my belongings made the room my own for a precious couple of days.

This is a part of the main Hall at Ponden. The huge oak table is where breakfast is served every morning......

........and where various other activities take place. I loved gazing at the mullioned windows and the charming garden beyond.

This is the little hall upstairs with the doors to the two other rooms you can stay in at Ponden Hall, and the library. The door in this image is the door to the Earnshaw room.

The other room is the Heaton Room, an enormous family room with a four poster bed and two single beds.

The room is named after the Heatons who first built the house in the 17th century and were its occupants till the end of 19th century. They were cloth merchants and manufactured cloth at the nearby Ponden Mill they owned too.

The Heaton room was used as a weaving room in the first place, and had subsequently had other uses. Today it is a stunning stately room with 18th century period features and, thanks to Julie and Steve, you can stay in it.

The lovely rocking horse sitting in front of the south window is Victorian and is called Cromwell. Julie and Steve bought it at an auction in Doncaster as a present from the late grandmother. It is named Cromwell because of Oliver Cromwell's connections with Ponden. He supposedly came to the nearby village of Stanbury, and the story goes that the Heatons heard he was looking for a property to commandeer, so they covered the house with the bracken from the moors in order to make it impossible to spot from the village.

I love this simple photo with the beautiful light streaming in from the north window, the old blackboard sign above the fireplace and the red sofa throws hanging off the backs of the armchairs. Behind the door is the Peat Loft, originally built and designed by the Heatons to take peat upstairs and cows downstairs so the heat would rise and dry the peat. Today the Peat Loft is a beautiful converted self contained annex with all the amenities of a luxurious holiday cottage.

The library at Ponden Hall was reputedly the largest and finest library in West Yorkshire at the beginning of the 19th century. A catalogue still exists. It is known that Emily and Branwell Bronte visited and read here, and it is highly likely that Charlotte and Anne did too.

On the opposite wall there are original library panels (not my photo). When the last of the Heatons died in 1989, much of the Hall's furniture was sold at auction and the books from the library were allegedly sold in the market in Keighley. What didn't sell was torn up and used for vegetable wrappings!! No one knows what happened to the Shakespeare First Folio, one of the world's most sought after rare books, that the library contained.

Ponden Hall is a truly wonderful place with a fascinating history and amazing spirit. There are many interesting and captivating stories and anecdotes concerning not only the past but more recent times down to the present too. If you are in the position or ever will be to do so, you can either stay here or just go for one of Julie's brilliant Tour and Teas. In either case you will be in for an experience that will never leave your thoughts.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Ponden Hall to Ponden Kirk, Bronte Country I

The other weekend I returned to the wonderful Ponden Hall, my favourite place to stay in the Bronte Country. This time my intention was to explore the dramatic countryside around Ponden and locations linked to Emily Bronte's novel "Wuthering Heights". I was particularly keen on seeing Ponden Kirk, a large rock high up on Stanbury Moor, the place Emily chose for Cathy and Heathcliffe to meet in the novel.
It was a mainly cloudy, but dry day with the sun only very occasionally trying to break through the rather thick clouds. After a hearty English breakfast cooked by lovely Julie, the landlady at Ponden Hall, I set off by myself on the long planned 4.5 mile walk. I felt pure excitement and just a little bit of trepidation at the prospect of being alone on the top of wild and windswept moorland area as yet unknown to me.

I headed north-west of Ponden, along a rural track flanked with one or two farms.

The sun was trying to push through some menacing clouds creating beautiful light and painting the sky moody blue-grey .

Looking back towards the hamlet of Ponden....

.........I often turn around on my walks and look back at the scenery behind me not wanting to possibly miss any good shoots around me.

One of the stunning views over Ponden reservoir which Ponden Hall overlooks sitting high above it.

I soon turned up a different track leading to the moor, the reservoir still in sight.

Beautiful views across the Worth Valley accompanied me a good part of my way. I liked how the sheep was framed here by the dry stone wall.

The entrance to the moor and what is called "Ponden Slack" with a distant farm and a lone tree. The isolated farmhouse was very photogenic and pretty, and it was a good subject for my photography as well as orientation landmark.

Another breathtaking view of the Worth Valley.

I got close to the distant farmhouse and its lone tree.....

........they were a perfect theme for a bit of creative play in Photoshop with my Jessica Drossin's Macabre Sky overlays.

Love to see Yorkshire dry stone walls in any condition they can possible appear. They are always such a lovely feature to use in landscape photography.

Looking down over the Worth Valley in some rather atmospheric circumstances.

Ponden reservoir with moorland heather in the foreground. I was a bit disappointed to find that heather had already gone over more or less. Last year at this time it was still at its best. I'm going to make sure I come in the middle of August next year. I so love the moors when heather is in full bloom.

Approaching Stanbury Moor and Ponden Kirk area, the biggest point of interest on the walk.

Ponden Kirk or Penistone Crag as Emily Bronte named it in her "Wuthering Heights" novel. It is a large block of gritstone which in the past was thought to have magical properties. At the base there is a hole just big enough for an adult to climb through. Emily described it as a Fairy Cave. There are a few local legends about the hole, and one of them has it that if a couple crawl through the hole together they would die if they don't marry within a year, or they would commit suicide and haunt the rock together if either married someone else.

Beautiful stream with its little peaty weir. The stream merges with Ponden Beck which flows all the way from Ponden Reservoir.

A view of the beautiful, very picturesque Ponden Clough, a narrow gorge with steep sides and the stream running through it.

This is also the area where The Crow Hill Bog burst in 1824. Huge amounts of rain caused the soil to slide, and mud and water erupted into a devastating tidal wave. The Bronte children Emily, Ann and Branwell happened to be walking on the moor with their two family servants on the day, and they ran for shelter to the nearby Ponden Hall. It was a horrifying natural disaster that left a long lasting effects on their young lives.

Here the circular walk leads you over the stream and up an escarpment. However, there is no bridge over the stream which makes the crossing rather difficult. I found one spot where I could possibly jump across the water, but the rock I'd have to do it from was very slippy and the grass on the other side wet and possibly very boggy underneath. The map told me there was another difficult stream crossing soon after this one. I decided not to go any further on this occasion; I really enjoyed my walk so far and I didn't want to do anything that could possibly spoil it. I turned around and started walking back the same route I came.

I had to take a few more shots of Ponden Kirk as I stood in very good vantage point to photograph it from a distance. I liked the heather framing the rock in the foreground.

This is one of my favourite shots of the day with Ponden Kirk just visible on the left. The image conveys nicely the wild bleakness and remoteness of the location, and the light was kind enough to get detail in the sky and rich colours in my photo.

On my way back the sun was coming out and there was some lovely light over the Worth Valley.

Back in Ponden the sailing club members were out at the water's edge of the reservoir with their colourful boats and equipment.

And there was a warm and idyllic calm over the water. It is hard to believe that just minutes after I took this shot it started pouring with rain, so I quickly strode up the hill, the short distance to the Hall and cosiness of my room. I was so lucky it didn't rain sooner, while I was still on the moor (I was prepared though, you have to be!).

Back in my room I put the kettle on and thought what a great walk it was getting to know the part of the countryside the Bronte sisters knew well and were inspired by. And now I am inspired by it, and by them being inspired by it!! The following day I walked back to Ponden Kirk, this time the other side - via Buckley Green and Stanbury Moor. I will write about that walk soon. My next post will be about the lovely room I stayed in at Ponden Hall - The Giddings Room.