RIP – My favourite local view.
I have any number of “favourite views”. You’ll probably know them all if you follow this blog. Some have appeared several times.
In the Italian Dolomites, it’s the classic view of the three north faces of the iconic Tre Cime di Lavaredo. In the Chamonix area, it’s the Mer de Glace from Le Signal, especially on a day with an interesting sky. Photographing Venice, it’s the island church of San Georgio Maggiore. These views have nothing in common, except that I’ve been fortunate to be able to shoot them often, in excellent conditions, and they have become good friends.
Closer to home, photographing the River Medway, which runs only a few minutes walk from where I live, has been a mainstay of my recreational photography through the last ten years or so. I take a walk by my local stretch of the river almost every day that I’m at home. During the Covid years, that has meant almost literally every day.
I don’t ever remember “falling out of love” with one of my favourite views. “Familiarity” has never “bred contempt”, as the old saying goes. Quite the opposite: seeing familiar sights often and in differing weather and light conditions, different seasonal colours etc, has deepened my attachments. I’ve hardly ever voluntarily passed up an opportunity to photograph these favourites. Well, there was the day I hauled a big medium format film outfit and tripod from Chamonix up to Le Signal in gorgeous weather, but left all my film for the day on the breakfast table in the apartment, and only discovered this on arrival. I was forced just to stand and stare then!
On the majority of my Medway walks, I pass a beautiful big old oak tree which grows right on the edge of the opposite bank of the river from the path. About thirty metres on from it is a curious brick and concrete feature that would accommodate a small boat, but doesn’t. There’s then a wooded area, mostly comprising willows, birches and oaks. Because I was seeing it so often, this had become the favourite of my favourite views. Naturally, its the header photo to this episode of my blog.
On the day I took that shot, I could see, before getting my camera out, that I had a view that looked quite like something John Constable could have painted. This became a bit of a theme with me for a while, particularly around the time of my exhibition “Watching The River Flow”, in November 2016. I even fantasised about what some of my other views of the Medway might have looked like, had Constable painted them. This led me to the accidental discovery that, as a young man, he had actually sketched naval ships on the Medway, near Chatham docks. Sadly, no evidence has emerged that he ever ventured further upstream.
Fast forward about 200 years, and there was Storm Eunice, on 18 February 2022. Thankfully this – the only “Red” weather warning I can recall in Kent – spared the lovely oak tree mentioned a few paragraphs ago. It’s the left-most tree in both photos here. However, Eunice was much less kind to many of its near neighbours. The scene across the river on the morning of the next day was of the kind of devastation I’ve not seen inflicted on a piece of woodland since the notorious storm of October 1987*. I waited a few days for decent enough weather to photograph it. Willow tree trunks have been split vertically. Huge boughs have been shaken to the ground. Mature trees have been smashed or just pushed over by the weather’s irresistible hand. My favourite favourite view has pretty much been rendered unrecognisable.
The Environment Agency may eventually deal with much of the debris that landed in or close to the river. The rest is on a piece of land nobody seems to care for these days. It might regenerate, and one day might even hold a stand of photogenic trees. But not in my lifetime.
“Nothing’s for ever” is one of my occasional mantras to help come to terms with loss. That “Constable” view will remain with me for now.
(*That storm caught us all by surprise, you’ll perhaps remember, so it never got a red warning.)