The first time I visited Lacock Abbey was with on a university trip. Being the photography geek that I am I’m still excited to see the place where the photographic negative was invented, and secretly keep an eye out of the views around the house, eager to spot something documented in his early experiments that still remains today – nearly 180 years later.
Our ride to Lacock was an incredibly pretty, flat and relaxed one – following the first sustrans cycle track ever built between Bristol and Bath, and onwards through Bradford Upon Avon. It we’re honest, we hadn’t planned to travel much beyond Bath along the cycle track, but the miles flew by and we figured we’d rather do a few more miles on the canal tow paths than a shorter direct route involving hills and cars. It was a good decision. After a good splashing of muddy puddles and some rattled wrists (the road section seemed so so smooth afterwards!) we rolled into the village of Lacock. We were met by the lovely and welcoming staff, pitched our tents, and went to the pub for a meal – it was our last venue of the tour, after all!
Next morning, we breakfasted on cheese and bread along with some of the fallen damsons from the nearby tree. Lovely stuff! We were tempted to try to apples, but remembered they were cooking apples and so thought better of it. Once we got packed we retrieved the bikes from the barn when disaster struck – after more than 300 puncture free miles, one of the trailers wheels was deflated, with a suspect thorn later found. Just before I’d thought we’d been lucky to complete the tour without a single puncture..We wheeled our way to the front of Lacock Abbey – this is where in the 1830s William Henry Fox Talbot would have been experimenting with his ‘mousetrap’ cameras as his wife called them – simple cameras not to unlike our own (only much smaller!).
‘How charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to imprint themselves durable and remain fixed upon the paper! And why should it not be possible?’
Why indeed! Talbot was determined to try to capture the image he could see in his model obscuras as if it were the ‘pencil of nature’. During the 1830s he cracked it by using paper coated with silver iodide, and the Pencil Of Nature became the title of the first photographic publication in 1844 which illustrated his process and included examples. The earliest surviving negative made by Talbot is of a window in the Abbey, called the Oriel window, and this was to be the our first subject of the day too.
Next we began to invite the visitors to step inside, and it was really great to have a mix of people eager to learn about Fox Talbot’s process, our obscura, and how they all link to today’s technology. It was interesting to hear about one chaps work that involved studying the eyes of animals – apparently, the first eyes were also pinhole like in structure – something I hadn’t really though about before. Anyway! Here are some of the pictures we took. The light was fantastic and the setting well suited.
After we’d packed up, I had just enough time to look around the photography museum and gallery (currently showing some of Bernard Shaw’s work). They had an impressive range of cameras, and I had to laugh to see the cameras I still use most regularly in a museum and confined to our past!
The exhibition does well to show Talbot’s contribution to the development of photography, and the setting of Lacock is the perfect backdrop to thinking back to those times. I’m glad our last visit on tour was so enjoyable, and thanks again to the staff for hosting us.
The ride into Bristol is a very pleasant one – I had vague memories of beautiful, quiet, flat roads from when I did the Lejog with Otesha last year, but looking at the route ahead I couldn’t remember any landmarks at all. As luck would happen, we soon stumbled across it and began to remember the way we took – running alongside the Mendips (another great AONB we’re saving for another tour!), criss crossing the M5 and bombing along the quiet, cycle lanes into Bristol.
We were lucky to be staying with a friend (cheers Lizzie!) in Stokes Croft, Bristol and were very warmly welcomed. We were just around the corner from The Bristol Bike Project, our venue for the next day. We have been offered a space as part of the excellent Bristol Bike Festival, coming up this month, and so it seemed the perfect place to get some bike related images just for that exhibition.
The Bristol Bike Project (recent winner of the Observer Ethical Winner awards) is an inspirational place to many people new to cycling and a great mixing place of many others who are mad about it. We set up the camera in the workshop, and began to build a makeshift studio that would form a backdrop to shoot portraits of the different users expected that day. Gathering enough light is always an issue when shooting inside, and just as in a normal photographic studio – we needed more light. Luckily, James had just the thing and fetched a super bright light to illuminate, and temporarily blind our subjects. Just the job. We used the bike stands to hold not only the bikes, but the lights (2 more were lent to use by the PRSC – cheers!) and backdrop too – it seemed to me a very fitting studio set up!
We began shooting..
I was excited to visit the CCANW – Centre for Contemporary Art and the Natural World at Haldon Forest, just outside Exeter. There are lots of bike tracks around there too, so with bikes, forest and art it seemed a very worthwhile place to visit. It was the first trip out for Iona who is joining us for the rest of the tour – Louise was off doing an epic 12 hour bicycle race (Pinhole Pedallers are only allowed time off for cycle related events) and so we set off. Although I knew Haldon Forest was on Haldon Hill, I had thought that by some cunning weaving along Exeter’s back lanes we”d be able to take the sting out of the climb. It didn’t really work, and its steepness was a real struggle but we made it in good time and began looking for a place to set up. Whilst walking around the forest, spaces in the trees often surrender great views in all directions, but nowhere had a clear space large enough for the camera and so we thought we’d try something different and set up in the central hub.
At one stage the camera was full of people, and one excited kid was running in circles eager to see what everyone was enjoying inside. The view in the camera was a good change from landscapes as it had lots of movement from the trees and the bikes.
I was really glad to visit the David Nash exhibition at CCANW and see a whole mix of ages cycling and enjoying the trails at Haldon. Leisure is a good way to help people see the wider benefit and potential of cycling and so I think places like this are always worth supporting. Go see!
After the peace and quiet of the Tamar Valley we were excited to hear about a space run by Fotonow in the centre of Plymouth. I wondered how the camera would handle the lower light levels and what the people of Plymouth would make of it!
We caught a very heavy downpour Saturday morning, drenching us through and leaving a puddle in the gallery. The camera just fit, and after being welcomed by Donna we started to invite the first Plymouthians inside. Once inside people found it ‘amazing’ ‘magical’ and the portraits we shot were some of my favourite yet. The backdrop was a market stall whose goods (wigs, platform shoes, cuddly toys and neon t shirts) made a vivid backdrop, the people themselves wore bright colours that seemed even richer after the grey skies we’ve had before. It was great speaking to locals and hearing their views on everything and anything, the camera sparked all sorts of conversations!
Thank you to Donna & Jason for making us very welcome, and also to Fotonow for hosting us! There is soon to be an exhibition of our images set up in the gallery, so check back soon for more details!