The Billing A long-term (and on-going) photography project

The "Billing" is the name of a hilltop clump of trees in Rawdon, Leeds close to Leeds-Bradford airport. Leeds Trinity University, where I taught for 25 years, is a few miles away.

Soon after buying my first digital camera (in about 2003) I began taking a series of photos of Rawdon Billing. From the outset I conceived a plan to photograph it from various perspectives and in a variety of light and weather conditions. Part of my inspiration came from the great Mt. Fuji sequences by Hokusai and Hiroshige (and the recent photographic sequence by Chris Steele-Perkins). But I really I was simply determined to use the project to teach myself more about the difficult art of landscape photography.

"Difficult"? Well, you can't rearrange distant trees or adjust the angle of the light. Minor adjustments to your image sometimes require moving oneself considerable distances.

Because this area is criss-crossed by an elaborate network of public footpaths and bridleways, I knew that I would be able to walk up to the Billing from a variety of angles. I planned not only to photograph it from a distance but also to walk the hill and take advantage of the views offered from the Billing itself.

A view FROM near the top of the hill, about 50 yards short of the Billing itself.

Bayton Lane (in the picture below) is not suited to walkers. For long stretches it offers nowhere to get away from the passing cars (which tend to travel at some speed). The rough road below leads to a viewpoint at the back of Leeds-Bradford airport. This is one of just two places along Bayton Lane where one can park-up.

Turn off to a view point overlooking Leeds-Bradford airport
Sign indicating a public footpath (near the left edge of the picture)

From some of the most promising perspectives the setting sun can present a real challenge, especially through the winter months. A challenge? It seemed the best thing was to face that challenge head on...

A series of artefacts or effects caused by the sun (just out of frame to the right) shining almost directly into the lens (and bouncing around between its various elements).
Public footpath. The hilltop can be approached from almost every angle.

The following photo grid contains a set of photos from just one, rather leisurely, walk to the top of the Billing.

[For any photo grid, click on any image to see full-size images]

Of course, some sides of the hill are steeper than others.
B&W images are a good way of focusing on texture, form and composition

About paintings my father used to say that what he liked was a picture you could walk into. The phrase has stuck with me. A pronounced relationship between foreground and the distant background (or skyline) helps suggest a 3-D vision.

Walk this way...

Snowfall is quite a rare event in Leeds these days. So when it did snow, my first thought was of getting out toward the Billing. If it snows again in winter 2017, I will hope return to walk to top, perhaps even to cross right across it.

One of these days I am going to put a really large print of this on my living room wall.

Above and below: different approaches to composition, making the most of sweeping curves and isolating lines.

The first two images in the following grid are views FROM the Billing looking away in different directions. The next two images show the Billing, but rather obscured by the trees between.

Appoaching the Billing

I am sure you can see that the photo above has been filtered through Instagram in order to produce the square image below.

PAUL NASH

Paul Nash (1889-1946) was British surrealist and landscape artist some of whose work I have known since encountering them in the encyclopaedias of my childhood. In 2006 I was first alerted to the fact that Nash had from very early on in his life a strong preoccupation with trees and before the First World War he had painted -- again and again -- clumps of trees on two adjacent Oxfordshire hills: the Wittenham Clumps.

PAUL NASH (writing in his autobiography about his first drawing expedition in September 1912): "I had come out to get a drawing of the Clumps. I wanted an image of them which would express what they meant to me. I realised that I might well make a dozen drawings and still find new aspects to portray… As I began to draw, I warmed to my task. For the first time, perhaps, I was tasting fully the savour of my own pursuit. The life of a landscape painter."

In January 2017 I was lucky enough to visit the very comprehensive Paul Nash retrospective at Tate Britain. I was amazed at the breadth and diversity of his work and intrigued to see how much of his life had been governed by ideas, processes and approaches that he assimilated from his association with Surrealism. In fact, it was reading his explanation of his method and approach that had the most powerful impact on me.

In his autobiography, Outline, (published in 1949), he wrote:

"There are places, just as there are people and objects and works of art, whose relationship of parts creates a mystery, an enchantment, which cannot be analysed."

Over more than I decade I have visited the Billing often alone but also with Ann (1954-2012) and Sara (1956-2015) and with many other people. When I pull together a photobook of my photographs on and of the Billing, I will have to work out whether to include photos of them and will have to decide whether I write something about the part each played in getting me walking over that part of the countryside.

Feb 4, 2017

I took a walk to the top of the billing in glorious, warm Winter sunshine this afternoon. The button below will link you to my photographic record of the walk.

Your comments are welcome.

Lloyd Spencer, Leeds 2017

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