I’ve always liked the widescreen format for photographs and think it goes back to searching for wildlife as a child in Kenya. Our father taught us to scan left to right so that any slight movement in the distance is picked up. I also remember seeing ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ at a dingy cinema in Nakuru, Kenya and being blown away by the vast aspect ratio that meant I had to pan my head from left to right to see the all the action across the screen. The wide-open plains of Kenya were the perfect place to practice my cinematic scanning, it’s how I see the world.
Making panoramas by stitching together multiple images is nothing new but as I’m often process lead when starting a new project I started to look for a reason to make large, high resolution panoramas that could be printed perfectly sharp and clear at any width up to 10 metres or more. I wanted to go back to those exhilarating first moments of seeing. I found a reasonably priced panoramic tripod head to help with correcting for parallax and headed out one winter evening to Pett Level beach near Winchelsea to put theory into practice. The internet is full of clear descriptions of parallax and the techniques for shooting multi-row panoramas but there’s a simple explanation. Do a thumbs up at full stretch in front of your face and aim your thumb at an object with one eye closed. Switch to the other eye and then back again and it appears that either your thumb or the background is moving. Correcting for parallax with the single ‘eye’ that is a camera lens compensates for this. Conditions weren’t ideal as there were few clouds and as I rotated the camera in calibrated stages the exposure varied enormously across the scene. Settings for each shot must be the same to successfully stitch the images together in Photoshop. Just as I was about to head home, I spotted the moon rising up behind the Dungeness power station in the distance and by now the evening light had evened out. I set up quickly, worked out I’d shoot 3 rows of 7 frames each, all rows starting and ending at the same point but each row set at a different elevation. Back home I merged the 21 frames into a large single image, and this was the result. It’s not great but it was all the proof I needed. I quickly learnt that each image would need to overlap the others around it by 30%-40%, that using a full-frame high resolution digital camera would result in massive files and that I’d need a beast of a computer to cope with the bigger images.
Pett Level in East Sussex is more than just a dog walkers paradise at low tide. Once the sea is dragged out by the moon’s tidal force the silt and sand is littered with the ghostly remains of a 5,000-year-old forest. Further up the beach there are dinosaur footprints preserved in rocks and for those who know what to look for, an assortment of fossils. It’s a living, constantly changing archive.
Making photographs of this landscape reveals the evidence of time and history and the scars of human intervention. It’s a narrative that’s rewritten every minute of every day and no two days are the same. Add to the mix the fine line between what’s nature and what’s a possession or a piece of property and it’s clear that the landscape is an intrinsic part of human culture – we shape it, it shapes us.
This is an ongoing project and more images will be added in the future.