Sixth Greenwich Annuale

Percheron dray horses with a girl from the Perche region of France (i.e. a Percheronne)
Percheronne with Percherons

The London Independent Photography (LIP) Greenwich group is holding its Sixth Annuale exhibition from 8 – 22 August at The Greenwich Gallery , Linear House, Peyton Place, London SE10 8RS. The private view is tonight from 6.20 pm – 8.30 pm and is open to all. I will be exhibiting my photo ‘Percheronne’.  It was taken in the Perche region of France (Basse Normandie, or Lower Normandy) where I spent a year in a cottage in Eperrais, a tiny village between Mortagne and Belleme.

Le Perche

Percherons are magnificent dray or cart horses and were once used as war horses. A Percheronne would be a female Percheron, but also a girl or woman from the Perche region.

The Perche region is famous for its mushrooms and also its salami sausages (saucisse sèche). There’s wonderful cider and organic cider vinegar to be had, too. The forests have wild deer and mostly maiden (i.e. straight, not coppiced or pollarded) trees (oak and beech). One oak, the Chêne de l’Ecole, is 42 metres high and is nearly 350 years old.  Most oaks of this age in Britain are pollards, with their gnarled fat trunks, so it was a surprise to me to see a very old but slim tree.

Chêne de l'Ecole, 350 year-old maiden oak
Chêne de l’Ecole, 350 year-old maiden oak

The forests and woodland in this part of France are managed very much as they used to be in Britain 200 or more years ago.  The forests are used for hunting game,  for mushrooms and for long, straight timber.  Elsewhere there are private coppice woods used to produce small lengths of wood for fencing, broom handles, firewood, etc.

Pinhole photograph of coppice wood with standard trees at Clinchamps in the Perche
Pinhole photograph of coppice wood with standard trees at Clinchamps in the Perche

In most coppice woods in Britain, like parts of Epping Forest, the trees haven’t been cut back (coppiced) for over a hundred years, so the ‘poles’, which would have been harvested every 15 years or so have grown into mature trees, sometimes in a circle around what used to be the stump of the original tree (see post on the Hornbeam in Highgate Wood).

When I came across the coppice wood in a little village called Clinchamps, with coppice stools mixed with maiden trees, I felt I was seeing a textbook version of the traditional coppice woodland described by Oliver Rackham in his book, Woodlands, but mostly disappeared from Britain.

Hibiscus

HIbiscus siriacus
HIbiscus syriacus

Hibiscus syriacus doesn’t originally come from Syria, but eastern Asia, probably China and Korea.  It’s been in bloom in our garden and others around here in northwest London  for the past few days. So popular with gardeners it might better be called Hibiscus suburbus. But I love it when our bush flowers as it goes from green leaves and pregnant buds to a mass of white and pink-tinged flowers almost overnight. And at last the bush is taking on a more natural form after the downstairs neighbour,  in love with his power tools and a  rectilinear decking aesthetic,  took a chain saw to it two years ago and made it into a box of twigs on a stalk. LIke a square lollipop. Since they left, I’ve been able to prune it and shape it by hand using secateurs and an eye for shape rather than any real knowledge of what I am doing.

Hornbeam

Old Hornbeam coppice, Highgate Wood
Old Hornbeam coppice, Highgate Wood – this is one tree, the ‘trunks’ growing from a now buried stump

Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus, also known as iron wood, or yoke elm because the wood is so hard it can’t be worked easily. It was mainly used for ox yokes, cogs and cartwheels. The grown-out coppice stools like this one in Highgate wood would also have been used for firewood or charcoal, as it burns slowly and brightly ‘like a candle’.  It was used for the tall, dense hedges of the original maze in Hampton Court, although these have since been replaced.

The poet John Clare was fond of hornbeam, which is one of the principal trees in Epping Forest, where he spent four years in the High Beach asylum, from 1837-1841, suffering from severe depression. He was allowed considerable freedom to walk in the forest and, indeed, in July 1841  walked out of the asylum and followed the Great York Road  until he reached his home in Northborough, 80 miles away, four days later. That year, while at High Beach, he wrote  Child Harold, mentioning the hornbeam:

How beautiful this hill of fern swells on.
So beautiful the chapel peeps between
The hornbeams with its simple bell – alone
I wander here, hid in a palace green.

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Seeing the hornbeams, I was reminded of a three-trunked hornbeam in the Bois de Vincennes, just east of Paris, in whose shade for seven years, every Saturday morning, I learned tai chi with my friend and teacher Li Gui Sheng and fellow student and friend Claude.

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Every Saturday that is, until, in a few hours after midnight on 26 December 1999, a hurricane blew down the forest. Miraculously ‘our’ tree was spared, though it took us several hours to find it amid the tangled mess of fallen trunks. About a year later we cleared a space beneath the tree again, now sporting a mass of side shoots from its trunk in an all-out fight for survival. But it wasn’t the same. The squirrels had gone, replaced by pheasants, now the forest was more like heathland or scrub. And the dog walker who had shouted after “Whisky” and “Frisky”, as we fought invisible opponents in slow motion, had found another route.

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Shoes

There are almost no charity shops in Paris, so people who want to pass on a pair of shoes often leave them in the street for someone to take. These shoes are photographed exactly as I found them. This series is part of a larger project called Paris Traces on abandoned objects in the streets of Paris.  See also my post for 27 July 2010 , here.

Urban Photography Summer School 2012

Designed for photographers, artists and urbanists whose work addresses notions of urban space and culture the international Summer School provides a highly intensive two week practical and theoretical training in key aspects of urban visual practice. The course aims to offer participants a wide range of relevant skills resulting in the production of a photography portfolio drawn from London’s urban environments combined with a collective final exhibition.
The programme has been developed in collaboration with Urban Encounters and the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR). The course will be taught by tutors from Goldsmith’s Sociology Department and the international MA in Photography and Urban Cultures. The programme draws on the advanced theoretical, research and practical image-making specialisms of key practitioners in the field. Summer School tutors include: Paul Halliday (MA in Photography and Urban Cultures Convener), Beatriz Véliz Argueta (Coordinator/Goldsmiths), Les Back (Goldsmiths), Caroline Knowles (CUCR Director), Mandy Lee Jandrell (Goldsmiths), Peter Coles (Oxford/ Goldsmiths), Alex Rhys-Taylor (Goldsmiths), Manuel Vazquez (Goldsmiths), Michael Wayne Plant (Goldsmiths), Laura Cuch (Goldsmiths) and Jasmine Cheng (Goldsmiths).

The programme will explore how the practice of urban image making informs the development of a reflexive and critical research perspective and will include assignments and guided fieldtrips focusing on (1) urban landscape, (2) street photography and (3) material objects.

Application deadline: June 3rd, 2011
For more information: www.gold.ac.uk/cucr/summer%20school/

Trees

Canivaux

The French word <canivaux> means the gutter. In Paris, every day, street sweepers (wielding lurid green plastic versions of the witch’s ‘besom’ broom)  block off the gutters near to drains using carefully crafted mini dams made of rolled up carpet tied with string. They turn on the water from a hydrant further up the street and let the water sluice all the trash down towards the ‘dam’. They then turn off the water and scoop up the rubbish into their carts. I began photographing first the exotic rolled up carpet-dams, then the content of the gutters themselves. The ‘odd one out’ in this series is the pink ball, washed up on a beach in Thailand… This was the image that started me thinking of photographing  found (or abandoned) objects in the streets of Paris – unexpected objects out of their original context.  The series is part of my work on abandoned objects in Paris, called Paris Traces.

Human / Nature

Meditations on the relationships between humans and the rest of the natural world

(read more here)