Thursday Special

This week Paula encourages us to consider the differences between taking a landscape or portrait format. What factors make you decide which way to go? Is it the lens on your camera that forces you into a particular format, or are you making a more conscious decision about what it is you want to portray and what is the best way to do that? 

These two images are of the haunting bronze sculpture that I have featured before in black and white. The close-up landscape version(s) were deliberate compositions to focus on the detail of the women and children as they wait for their husbands and fathers to return from sea.The decision to take a portrait shot was based purely on the desire to capture the entire sculpture and show exactly how small these figures actually are.

I tend to take most of my photos in the landscape mode unless I am photographing something particularly tall like a building or a tree. Of course with editing software it is easy to change any photo into any size afterwards, so it is not always necessary to make the decision at the point of clicking the shutter. I think the most important decision you should make when taking that shot is whether you have thought about what it is you are trying to capture and have you considered carefully that this is the best composition. That helps you take a great shot rather than several mediocre ones when you simply ‘hope for the best’.

I am interested to hear your thoughts.

Just Back From…. South Devon

I booked a week away in south Devon in December when it was cold and dark and I needed something to look forward to in the spring months. We have always taken a spring break since we got together and as a teacher the Easter holidays were the first chance to get away. Even after leaving teaching the habit has stuck with us. In recent years we would return to the West Country and carry out research into where we would like to live. Now of course we have moved down to Cornwall so we can enjoy spring here without going very far.

Dartmouth

One of my projects is to visit every county in England (and possibly Wales and Scotland), preferably to stay a few days, but at least to have driven through other than on a motorway. So for these ‘at home’ breaks (I refuse to use the word staycation), I look for somewhere where I haven’t been.

South Devon is only a couple of hours drive from us and a region I haven’t been to since I was 12 years old and on holiday in Buckfastleigh with my parents and dog. It was the year when we were supposed to be having a week in Devon and a week in London, but the car broke down shortly after Exeter and we found ourselves spending extra time in Devon. I do remember an amazing farmhouse breakfast where we stayed overnight and also stopping off at Stonehenge and running around the stones (you could do that in those days), but I recall absolutely nothing about London! My mother had a friend living in Orpington, then in the Kent countryside, now just another part of the Greater London sprawl.

Anyway, I digress. I booked a week in a National Trust cottage on the estate of Coleton Fishacre on one side of the Dart river. I thought it would make a nice base until I realised that to get anywhere you have to deal with the conurbation of the English Riviera towns of Torbay. Or pay the extortionate sum of £9.50 or £8.50 (depending on which ferry you take), to cross the river over to Dartmouth. But it turned out OK. The cottage was well-equipped even if a little chilly in the kitchen, and the garden to which it was attached (albeit down a fairly steep driveway) was gorgeous, as too the 1930s Art Deco period house.

It also turned out to be the early Spring Bank holiday, a fact that had escaped me, which meant that certain nearby towns like Brixham and Totnes had roads closed over the weekend for the spring celebrations. We saw a lot of pirates roaming the streets in Brixham!

Torbay

We didn’t make it to all the places I had in mind, but we did get to a few and the Devon countryside is a delight with all those rolling hills and red soil, though perhaps not such a delight to walk up.

Looking North-west from Berry Reserve to Exmouth and Lyme Regis (right)

Staying close by on the first day, we walked down to the Daymark, a 25 metre high navigational aid built in 1864 that can be seen from miles around. We were going to continue to Froward Point, where the Brownstone Battery, a coastal defence during WWII was built. There are a number of buildings in the site and anyone interested in military history would enjoy this. We on the other hand realised that the steeply sloping track down to the point would make coming back difficult and walking along the coastal path on the edge of the cliffs, is not an option, so reluctantly we turned back.

The Daymark

The view across Start Bay was amazing. We could see Blackpool Sands and Slapton Sands in the distance and the Start Point lighthouse.

Close by was another National Trust property, the former holiday home of Agatha Christie so we popped over there that afternoon to have a walk through the extensive woodland gardens and a nosy around the house. There are several ways to approach the property – by steam train and ferry, but if you want to use your car you must book a space first.

Greenway

Berry Head Nature Reserve north of Brixham is another location of a former gun battery used during WWII and also the site of a Napoleonic Fort built to defend Torbay from the French, and was once an iron age fort. There are still some ruins and ramparts at the north and south fort and the Napoleonic Fort Guardhouse 1802, a Grade 2 listed building, is now a lovely visitor centre and cafe. We had a lovely walk around the nature reserve and then attempted to visit Brixham, but found it impossible to park there so decided to nip over to Dartmouth instead where we had a great (but not cheap) fish and chip dinner at Rockfish with a view over the river to Kingswear.

Berry Head Reserve

Talking of Kingswear, we fell lucky on our first evening as we drove into the town hoping to find somewhere to eat and passed a tiny cafe which does steak and mussels on a Wednesday evening. Taking a chance we went in and ordered the steak. It took a while to arrive (it is run by one woman), but was absolutely delicious and two steaks with all the trimmings plus a bottle of not too bad red wine came to less than £40.  You get the best photos of Dartmouth from Kingswear and vice versa. And I hadn’t realised just how remote and how small Dartmouth actually is.

Pretty Kingswear

Another trip took us to Buckfast Abbey and the Dartington Hall gardens. The only expense was £1 to park at Dartington Hall, and then £10 for excellent coffees and cakes as we sheltered from the rain after visiting the gardens.

Buckfast Abbey

Our final day took us across the Dart and along the coast south towards Bigbury Bay in South Hams. We stopped off at Slapton Sands¹, a two-mile shingle beach that separates the sea from the freshwater nature reserve of Slapton Ley on Start Bay. This bay in the English Channel lies between the River Dart’s estuary and Start Point.  And from here you could see the Daymark over on the far headland. Continuing slowly through several small and winding villages and the town of Kingsbridge, we eventually arrived at South Milton sands only to find the beach cafe had already closed for the day!

This is beginning to become a habit. Oh, well, we didn’t really need a Devonshire Tea, although a strong coffee would have been nice after driving along those hair-raising narrow lanes with very few passing places to reach the beach. And why is it that other drivers always seem to expect me to reverse? Especially the ones in the monster BMWs or Range Rovers.

We had an early dinner booked back near Blackpool Sands at the Laughing Monk in Strete so after a stroll along the beach we retraced our drive stopping in Torcross to take a closer look at a Sherman tank and memorial.

Slapton Ley Nature Reserve

We had a delicious fishy meal at the Laughing Monk and then returned to Dartmouth to wait for the lower ferry to take us back across the Dart and to our home for the final night. Next time I must visit Dartmoor which loomed in the background for much of our time down in Devon. And I also think I am beginning to prefer staying in a town or village so we can walk to a pub or restaurant for dinner. 

¹Slapton Sands has a very moving story attached to it. In 1943, the beach was taken over by the allied forces to use as a rehearsal area for the D-Day Landings. Unfortunately, a combination of live ammunition and poor visibility resulted in the deaths of 749 American servicemen. You can visit a stone monument which was set in place on Slapton Sands to commemorate the ill-fated ‘Operation Tiger’, along with a Sherman Tank at nearby Torcross.

Sherman Tank

WPC: Reflecting

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all…

~ Joni Mitchell

The Pin Mill, Lily Pond Approach at Bodnant Gardens, Conwy

Before being re-erected at Bodnant in the 1930’s, the building was originally put together in 1730 as a picnic house or shooting lodge, or it is thought it may have been used as a garden house. Later, the building was used as a factory for making dressmaking pins with two furnaces for that purpose inside the building.

WPC: Reflecting

Black and White Sunday: Imperfect

An imperfect photo? Surely not o_O However the subject of this image was seriously flawed.

Thursday September 15th 2016: We deliberately meandered along the foggy shores of the Firth of Forth on our way to Edinburgh with the purpose of stopping in North Berwick and having seafood chowder or lobster bisque for lunch from the well-known Lobster Shack.

Mouths watering in anticipation we made our damp way to the harbour and then saw that the shutters were down. Gutted! Closed except for weekends.

Please visit Paula to see other representations of this week’s challenge.

The Monastery Treasures: Monastery of Pedralbes.

Back to the lovely monastery  of Pedralbes in Barcelona, which is a delightful place to visit and includes an exhibition of the Monastery Treasures. The founder of the monastery, Queen Elisenda of Montcada, created a convent of great spiritual and cultural importance. Her wealth, and that of the women who entered the convent, who had a high social background, brought valuable contributions to its assets.

…presents a unique collection of works of art, furniture, and secular and liturgical objects from the monastery treasure, built up, conserved and restored over the centuries by the Poor Clare community.

All of the paintings in this factitious altarpiece are the work of artists active in Catalonia during the first half of the 16th century.

Factitious Altarpiece of Saint Magdalene. 1540-1560

The upper elements of the piece below are panels of a triptych, in which the side panels were the doors.

Factitious altarpiece acquired by the abbess Sister Teresa de Cardona 1540-1560
Mother of God. end of 15th century

The most notable piece of this factitious set is the Virgin with the child in a landscape (bottom right), which may be attributed to Joachim Patinir and his workshop.

Factitious altarpiece of the cell of St John the Baptist. 1540-1560
Sculpture of St John (unknown artist) Mid 16th century

Towards the end of the 15th century the monastery entered a period of reforms driven by Ferdinand II of Aragon. Life in the cloistered community became stricter. At the same time the importation of Flemish artwork into Catalonia took place as close trade relations were formed between the Spanish and northern Europe.

Factitious altarpiece bearing the Rocaberti family coat of arms

The most significant piece of this factitious work is the Announcement (top left)  which may be attributed to an unknown Flemish artist known as the Master of the Legend of Saint Catherine. The domestic interiors are reminiscent of the Jan van Eyck models that Van der Weyden had reproduced.

The Announcement
Saint Apollonia, unknown artist

‘Factitious’ altarpieces combine pictorial and occasionally, sculptural sections of different provenance and styles. So we find Spanish and Flemish works side by side. The tableaus have often been trimmed to size to fit into the new structure. They were generally made in the mid-sixteenth century and inspiration for their manufacture may have come from the classicist architecture at the time. Three of them preserve the heraldry of the nuns who paid for their production or owned them.

Altarpiece of St Peter 1570-1585

Of a similar format to the factitious pieces of Pedralbes, this is a unitary collection. Its paintings may be attributed to the Catalan artist Joan Mates.

Virgin with the Child and an Angel 1530-1550

The two central figures derive from a model by Jan Gossaert while the added angel and landscape is an idea from Pieter Coecke van Aelst.

Altarpiece of the Adoration of the Kings 1475

A factitious triptych with doors added to the central relief. A work of art from the Italian Renaissance was exceptional. The relief which feature the Adoration of the Kings but with an Announcement to the shepherds in the background, is made from the characteristic glazed terracotta of the Florentine workshop of the Della Robbia family.

Adoration of the Kings
Diptych of the Mother of God, the Milk-Giver and the Pity of Christ c1500s

This diptych is one of the characteristic formats of “devotional painting” of the former Low Countries. The unknown painter probably had a workshop in which such paintings were almost mass-produced, exploiting models tracing back indirectly to the works of Rogier van der Weyden.

Sagrada Familia – Holy Family with the young St John

The descriptive tendency and open window in the background point to a Nordic artist of discreet quality with knowledge of Italian Renaissance as regards typologies and body language.

Epiphany Altarpiece 1533-1536

The sculptures in the niches of this altarpiece may have been lost in the Spanish Civil War. The relief of the Epiphany comes from the workshop of Damia Forment. The coat of arms links this to Sister Teresa de Cardona who was the first cousin of King Ferdinand II.

By the beginning of the seventeenth century the community in Pedralbes had witnessed a gradual but relentless decline in their income. Subsidies from King Phillip II and aid from the Council of the One Hundred assisted them in building the infirmary and renewing their cloisters. The Catalan Revolt of 1640 worsened their position as did the 18th century War of the Spanish Succession. At the end of that century further royal donations came to their assistance and helped to renovate and improve the building and the liturgical ornamentations. Despite the precarious financial situations the nuns would not renounce the maintenance and renewal of their liturgical adornments and some interesting works of art were purchased during this time.

Please visit the website of the monastery to find more about this exhibition.