1.Session on 23rd January 2020 tracing the Bronze Age Bell Barrows on Horsell Common
A separate area of the Common which used to be a whole, bisected by tracks, but is now divided by main roads. It could be easy to miss the Barrows if the signpost wasn’t there in its car park. Quite near to Basingstoke Canal, although that wouldn’t be there in the Bronze Age of course. Even knowing the history of the Common it’s hard to think way back to when this area was fertile enough to attract these Bronze Age people who probably travelled from Wessex. H. G. Wells doesn’t refer to them, but I wonder if he noticed the mounds as he cycled past and whether this put the notion of a Martian spaceship arising from the earth.
24 images of which 15 selected as a first edit after processing through Adobe Camera RAW. I noticed the moss growing on trees; the sculptural aspect of the small trees clinging to the earth; pale grasses growing on the approaches to the Barrows and the tracks over them. I’ve kept wondering how they survived; maybe because they’re built on land not deemed ‘useable’ in the past, unless there was also some superstition about them which I haven’t found out about yet. What’s also interesting to me is that the Barrows are across the road from where the Muslim Burial Ground was built – completed in 1917 and so not there when H.G. Wells lived in Woking – but a reminder of the contribution made by around three million Indian service personnel who fought alongside the Allied troops during the First and Second World Wars. All of which adds weight to the description of Woking as a ‘cemetery town’.
2.Session on 29th January 2020 on Horsell Common
In the afternoon there was some sun to brighten this dull day so I thought it would be a good time to go to catch the late afternoon light. I spent two hours on the Common and it was just going dark when I left. I had some problems with the dynamic range due to the sun shining through the pine trees but hoped to level this out when editing. The silver birch trees were quite striking at that time of day. As the sun became lower I noticed how it warmed the colour of the sand. I knew there was a sarsen stone on one of the main paths and ,when I couldn’t immediately find it, asked a lady walking her dog if she knew if the stone was further down towards the other car park. She was puzzled, so I explained what it was and said I knew it was there because I’d taken photographs of it a few years ago. The lady said that she’d been walking her dog here for years but had never seen such a stone and would now look out for it. I carried on walking and there it was opposite the side of the small lake. I had always thought it must be a marker stone and had once been sure that it had some inscriptions on it; perhaps noting place distances but I must have dreamt that. It’s smaller than I remembered but there’s something solid about its weathered sides leaning with age as it is.
I also remembered how when we first went on the Common thirty years ago we got lost because it’s easy to lose direction there at first especially amongst the pine trees, plus there are so many different paths through them which can all tend to look the same. In fact, we even bought a compass but found we didn’t need it after a few days and were able to give directions to other walkers who had got lost.
The Horsell Common Preservation Society has done a lot of work in bringing the Common back to more of the heathland than it had been and encouraging heather and grasses to grow back so, as I was walking, I was imagining that this might be a little closer to what it might have looked like when H.G. Wells cycled or walked through it and wondering what he might have observed that made him think of Mars/Martians. The Sandpit, of course, although the colour is yellowy rather than red; trees as barriers to escape; fallen tree trunks almost like prehistoric creatures; skeletal clumps of silver birch trees; low light shining on the silver birch trees as if being lit up by rays from something descending; creeping tree roots like tentacles and twisted roots of old trees entwined around each other.
Initial processing in Camera RAW
103 photographs from this session processed in Adobe camera Raw using the same process – lens correction to remove Chromatic Aberration and enable Profile Corrections; into Transform to straighten if necessary; back into the main panel to look at highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. Adobe Raw now has a ‘dehaze’ function which is kinder than ‘clarity’, brings some colour back to skies if highlights have been reduced and brightens colours slightly. I felt reassured that I had some reasonable images. The next step is to discard the ones that aren’t good enough to consider – too much dynamic range, lost shadows, highlights too bright, choosing between similar images to find the best composition. I rejected four of them – three because highlights were bleached out on pale silver birch trunks to the extent that they could not be recovered. – the low early evening sun was too bright on them against the darker pines and I just couldn’t get the balance right which was a shame because the shadows against the light trees would have had the kind of effect I was looking for which was the sense of something looming.. The other two because the shadows were too dark. This left me with 99 images some of which were slightly different viewpoints of the same scene, so I had choices to make. The first edit left me with 92 images little difference but this was because I needed to take a closer look at some of the similar images to remove slight vignetting on a few or crop very slightly. With so many trees around it’s hard to avoid having stray ends of branches creeping into the top of images but they can also appear like tentacles.
Left me with 51 images, some still similar but I could work with that. Contact sheets below.
3.Session on 5th February 2020 on Horsell Common
I had been thinking for a while that it would be good if I could include some misty images as a metaphor for time past. There was some fog this morning so off I went. Not as satisfactory as I’d hoped because the fog lifted quickly. I thought about the fact that there are older houses on the edges of the Common so thought to include some. The main problem was the modern features and it was tricky to compose in such a way to exclude these, particularly with some many trees getting in the way of the view anyway. I hadn’t been entirely satisfied with choice available of the Sandpit images and the sun was lying better this time of day so more taken to give me a wider choice. However, I was also aware of being strict with myself and not taking some photographs because, I told myself, “You already have several like this”. The result was 22 images. 12 chosen for further consideration.