Just a Winter's Day Not far from home

It was a sunny Winter's day and I was making my way to the old quarry part of Otley Chevin Park. I stopped to take some photos by the roadside. I was thinking about Paul Nash, whose big retrospective exhibition I had recently seen at Tate Modern in London.

Nash was a landscape painter, inspired by the pre-Raphaelites and William Blake, who embraced his Englishness yet was at the forefront of promoting modernism in Britain. Not only did he organise the 1936 International Surrealist exhibition in the Burlington Arcade, London but, in his writings, he consistently draws on surrealist ideas.

A 'found object' that I (almost literally) stumbled upon: a broken pane of glass lying in the grass

So there I was thinking of Nash's ability to invest the most bucolic scenes with a hint of sinster surrealism. I wondered if any of my photos might be imbued with a similar sense.

Below is a scene I spied that showed some possibilites...

What would Nash have made of this scene? - especially of the piece of wood standing sentinel?

The photos below are quite straightforward. I am not upholding them as examples of surrealism. But I the treatment I have given them may suggest what a painter with a surrealist sensibility might have found interesting in the scene.

Documents for that might serve as the starting point for a painting?

Perhaps a different treatment will offer a better sense of what was going on in my head as I surveyed this scene...

I was wandering about that yard the other side of the gate. I meant to come back to this perspective to see if I could make that lump of wood more of a "personage", as Nash termed any object or person with which - even fleetingly - became "preoccupied". But I never did get back to complete these explorations. Instead as I looked back over the fence this is what I saw...

An old man in a cloth cap and with a walking stick walking past down the road.

Why was this so unexpected? Well, look at the photo below. There is no pavement. The photo captured a moment when the road was clear but it is a busy road, down which cars race at some speed. It is not unusual to see walkers in the English countryside but they tend to be on one of the many designated public footpaths and avoid the roads if at all possible. I had thought myself completely alone (apart from the passing cars).

In the photo above, the bottom right is the exact spot where this gent was, when I captured the photo below...

Walking along the road. Facing the oncoming traffic. And stepping off the road whenever a car approached. And they were very frequent.
It was lovely to have a short chat. I was so impressed, inspired.

I am sorry that I did not get the name of this admirable gent. I did give him my card. And he did explain that he walked three-and-a-half miles every day and that he lived over in Rawdon. And, of course, we talked a bit about the weather. And a little about safety...

There is so little space alongside the road. And it was pretty muddy.

Every time a car came by the gent stepped off the road onto the muddy ground just off the tarmac. We spoke briefly but I did not want to hold him up. He was a determined walker. And I did not want to endanger anyone by walking alongside.

We couldn't walk side by side, so conversation was difficult
At least at the intersection we could exchange a few words.
What a pleasure to meet you, sir.
Fare well!

There he goes. With my very best wishes going after him. What a surprise! What an admirable fellow. Go well. Keep healthy. And watch out for those speeding cars.

So there you have it. An encounter, not surreal, but totally surprising, unexpected...

Lloyd Spencer

February 4th, 2017

P.S. My encounter with the admirable walker made such an impression that I forgot to go back to my explorations around the gate, the log and the farmyard. Nothing for it but to go back, which I did - the next day.

It was a darker, colder Winter's day. I did struggle to get the kind of photo that I had begun to visualize. But it is very likely that someone going through that gate will move the log completely. And that wooden stump was really what preoccupied me. I was looking for a way to take its portrait, to turn it into what Nash would call a "personage".

I had to return the next day to get this photo

The day before, Saturday (Feb, 4th), I was amazed to encounter someone walking this awkward stretch of road. On Sunday (Feb, 5th) I returned to continue my encounter with that tree stump and to photograph it in an environment into which it did not quite fit. Then - just as I was packing up to go home - I spied another figure approaching. I had to ask him about his journey. Lucas (below) was walking from a friend he had been visiting in Otley to his home in Headingley (roughly 10 miles). I was impressed. And as I, too, live in Headingley, I was delighted to be able to offer Lucas a lift and to give him my card so that he might get to read this page too.

I learnt that this well-dressed lad was called Lucas and his walk home was more than ten miles. I gave him a lift.

Postscript: Lucas (in the last picture above) followed up and emailed me. And then we bumped into one another on the street near where I live. Happy chance.

Created By
Lloyd Spencer

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