Getting up early on a saturday isn’t usually my idea of fun, I like to laze about with catch up television and cups of tea until mid morning, but today I made an exception. I love taking pictures. I take them everywhere and of anything. I like to capture places, objects and people continuing to go about whatever they are doing. I don’t see the point in moving things around or making people pose in photographs because the picture then doesn’t depict the moment it was taken in. I would never necessarily attach the word ‘photography’ to this hobby of mine. I just bumble about and take photos as I go. ‘Photography’ is expensive lenses, knowing what macro is and being able to use dropbox. Certainly not me. But today I decided to take a chance on a student notice at college and take part in a photography project.
College took a minibus of five students, including myself, up to Ebbw Vale in Wales. This is somewhere that I had never even heard of before and had previously misread in the email as ‘Elbow Vail’. When we set off the sun was shining but as we crossed the Welsh border we found that snow was falling thick and fast. We gathered at a coffee shop where I met L from UCAN for the first time. She was a lovely lady, who very patiently explained to me what ‘Aperture’ is and how I can use it to my advantage in photographs. She also very kindly sorted out my camera which used to have a tendency of overexerting itself on the zoom button. The snow was still coming down when we left the cafe to start taking pictures.
The first place we went to was a small Owl Sanctuary at the top of a steep hill. There were two tiny wooden buildings- one with small animals in and the other with birds. Lai was very pleased to see the owl, but the pale coloured bird wasn’t so stricken with her and made a horribly loud screech. At first I was pretty nervous about taking photos. I knew that was the whole purpose of the trip but I wasn’t sure what everyone else was doing and didn’t want to seem like I was going overkill or, to another extreme, like I couldn’t be bothered. I soon settled in though, and continued my usual happy snapping of the things that I can sort of see and in the general direction of things I would like to. There was a slightly bizarre moment when the man working at the sanctuary mistook my polite ‘hello’ smile for an ‘I would like to hold an owl’ smile. I had unwittingly had the glove put on my hand and before my discomfort could be made known there was an owl walking on me. I was nervous and protested as politely as I could but he was now convinced I wanted to stroke the owl with my other hand also. Luckily at this point I was rescued by a member of staff who reiterated my point about not really wanting a large bird to sit on me and I was duly de-owled. The other building had degus, guinea pigs, smaller birds and a tortoise in. I preferred these to the owls because they all looked very sweet and I could imagine children visiting and spending ages watching them.
The weather turned into rain and icy winds. I was glad that I had brought my thick coat but I was still frozen. We all got back into the bus and went down to a small lake with a bridge. On a patch of waterlogged grass was a chilling set of stone statues. One of them was a huge boxing glove which in the rain cupped a small pool of water. The others were of babies and cherubs with terrifying pupil-less eyes and their skin mottled by the weather. These creepy statues reminded me of the children in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. No one in the group knew the relevance of these statues, but I think that made them endearing in a way. It was almost as if they had placed themselves there because it was so hard to imagine the rationality behind someone picking them. I began to think up stories and meanings behind them, particularly about the sinister toddler who’s hands I imagined to have either rotted away in the welsh weather or to have always been congenitally absent. I imagined him fighting away a sleek abstract sculpture that had been originally chosen to compliment the lake, bending the metal and sending it sliding into the blackness below the water’s surface. Once the battle had been won I pictured the other statues slowly creeping into place to join the terrifying toddler; where they would remain as relics of an event that no one was aware of. I do love art that lets you think up such strange ideas.
When we had become too cold to push down the shutters of our cameras we headed back to college. I had a lovely day despite the weather and I am so glad it was so far from the stoney faced camera clutching that I feared.