About five years ago I was a landscape photographer trapped in the grey confines of London, always ready to lament the fact that I couldn’t get out to the countryside as much as I’d like. I had quite a nice park on my doorstep, but in terms of artistic inspiration it seemed entirely barren.
I’m glad to say that in the course of those five years, I’ve moved. I now live amongst beautiful green hills, gardens and forests. On nearby slopes, climbing beans rise into the summer skies over a landscape full of trees, rivers and the distinguished spire of a brick-red castle.
As an artist I’ve discovered just how dramatic, picturesque and even wild south London can be and also how few people ever see it at its best. When I spend time here I realise that south London is one of the great beauty spots in the country, far more green than grey and a place to escape to rather than from.
It’s no longer a challenge to find ways of depicting this beauty, but more of a mission to do what doesn’t seem to have been done before, at least with photography.
Each one of the following locations presents a different facet of southLondon’s beauty, as well as evidence of its history. I’ve returned frequently to each one to show some of the extreme visual contrasts that the passage of a year brings.
If I’m successful, I hope my pictures will help others appreciate how exciting it can be to watch the Dulwich landscape on a good day, our great buildings and trees painted with the same soft atmospheric light that artists have admired for centuries.
Dulwich (and Sydenham Hill) Wood is the last remaining tract of the Great North Wood which once covered much of south London. The abandoned railway track that divides the two parts is a remnant of the High Level Line to Crystal Palace, built to carry visitors to the ambitious new attraction at Sydenham.
Cox’s Walk Bridge, which crosses the track was the location of Camille Pissarro’s painting of Lordship Lane Station. What he saw as a clear, open hillside is now deep in the tangle of the woods, giving an unusually vivid sense of the timescale over which woodland can regenerate.
For somewhere so close to central London, its amazing how wild and secluded these woods are, full of wildlife and with the true character of ancient woodland.
I hope this photograph isn’t a source of too much sadness. Dulwich Park still has many great features, but the Divided Circle was a favourite of mine, not as much as an isolated sculpture but as an intrinsic part of the landscape that had nothing but aesthetics to explain its presence. Its verdigris seemed to compliment every other colour in the park, and in the rain it had a lustrous solidity that accentuated the delicacy of the overhanging birches.
I caught a glimpse of these allotments just over a year ago, and although they are not open for visitors, I knew immediately that they would be one of the most visually interesting local places. I obtained permission to photograph here, but am keen to respect the plot holders’ privacy and concerns about intrusion, so haven’t given details of the exact location. I think this is one of the best viewpoints for seeing Dulwich in the wider landscape, and yet with its rural character it’s another world from the urban expanse beneath it.
The great landmark here (below) is Dulwich College, which on many mornings emerges from the mist like a Gothic castle. As described elsewhere on Dulwich OnView, the clock tower was modeled on a Venetian Campanile which appears in Canaletto’s The Stonemasons’s Yard.
Dulwich is a sea of green trees, out of which only the occasional spire emerges, adding a little angular contrast to the rounded shapes of the land. The city beyond is lost in the haze, its glass towers gleaming only faintly through the river’s veil of mist, and the din of its traffic unable to traverse the considerable distance. Instead, the sounds of blackbirds, woodpeckers and bees fill the air, ready to calm the nerves of anyone who feels tired of London and chooses to explore their home rather than escape from it.
My photographs are made using quite antiquated technology, a simple film camera and no colour filters or other special effects. I do work hard to see the best of the weather though, and constantly study the relationships between clouds, light and the air’s clarity.
When I’m not out photographing, I spend a lot of time trying translate the original image into a good print, which is another challenge altogether. My project on Brockwell Park was the subject of two successful exhibitions last year and this year my south London photographs, including the Dulwich allotments have appeared in both the Landscape Photographer of the Year and the International Garden Photographer of the Year exhibitions. When I’m not photographing or printing, I play the piano in the South London Jazz Orchestra.