Photographing the Dulwich landscape

Dulwich Landscape with Painted Evening Mist

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.

The Beauty of the Fog

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.

Sweet Peas and Onions in Summer Twilight

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 Wood

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.

Life in the Great North Wood

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.

Secret Glade after Autumn Rain

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.

Light of Spring

Dulwich Park

Birches in Snow with Divided Circle

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.

The Allotments

Guardian of the Great North Wood

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 Evening Watch

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.

Dulwich College in Spring Evening Mist

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.

You can see more of my south London photographs on my website: www.maxarush.com. Any enquiries: info@maxarush.com.


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6 Comments

  1. Julian Beecroft 27 Apr 2012

    Great article. Lovely photographs, particularly the allotments.

  2. stevie Henden 27 Apr 2012

    I absolutely love these pics, Dulwich Wood is one of my favourite places on the planet and you have captured its magic.
    Great stuff and thanks for posting on here.

  3. Ingrid 29 Apr 2012

    What beautiful photos. How lucky we Dulwich residents are to live close to such beauty.

  4. Beryl Chandler 30 Apr 2012

    Beautiful and provocative.

  5. Pia Helena Ormerod 2 May 2012

    Such hauntingingly beautiful photographs of Dulwich in all seasons. So glad we could share them via Dulwich on View.

  6. Trevor Moore 2 May 2012

    Stunning pictures. We are having a small exhibition about Two Forms (Divided Circle) at the Dulwich Park Fair on 20 May. The marquee will be on the site from which it was stolen. Would you be willing to let us include a copy of the image shown in this article?

    Thanks

    Trevor – Dulwich Park Friends – call 07967 000546

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