LAKE LIGHT - The Lake District Photography of Dave Butcher
If you want to find a copy through secondhand bookshops quote: ISBN 978-0-9555627-0-9
For this, my third book, the subject had to be the Lake District. A place I have spent many enjoyable days and weeks over the years, accompanied from the start, in the early 1970’s, by the guide books of Alfred Wainwright and Ordnance Survey Tourist maps which I bought as needed, or as I could afford them. Along with the Peak District, this was where I learnt to safely walk the hills while working for Unilever Research as a lab technician at the Frythe laboratories in Welwyn in the early 1970’s. There were lots of camping trips, memorable visits to pubs, my first backpacking trip in 1972 (2 days around Eskdale and Wasdale) and a memorable crossing of the Lakes as part of Wainwright’s coast-to-coast walk in 1978, the year I moved on from Unilever to do a PhD at Cambridge. The book is somewhat arbitrarily divided into 3 sections and has a circular arrangement of pictures, starting in the north, going down the west side and finishing with the south and east.
Each section includes one of the three large mountains, Skiddaw, Scafell Pike and Helvellyn and other than that they fit around the photographs that I wanted to include here.
I have worked exclusively in black and white since the late 1990's, a legacy of working for Ilford until 2002, manufacturer of the FP4 film and Multigrade papers that I use. For all of my photography I use medium format Mamiya film cameras and have done since 1986, in fact I sold my Nikon 35mm camera equipment in the early 1990’s to buy a lens for my Mamiya 6 camera. Some technical details are included for each photograph in a table at the back of this book so you can see which camera and film was used and the date it was taken.
An article on the use of digital cameras for black and white landscape photography is included, since I know from the many courses that I run that this is what the majority of people now use. Most digital cameras have a number of unnecessary functions which can confuse to start with so I have tried to explain how to use those that will help most when taking landscapes in black and white. You can always learn how to use others once you understand the basics. If you are new to digital photography or would just like to progress, I hope it helps.
The majority of the book images (roughly three out of every four) were taken within the last 10 years but the oldest image dates back to a magical day on Striding Edge and Helvellyn in December 1984. We walked up through the clouds to clear blue skies above Striding Edge being mesmerised by seeing, for the first time, Brocken Spectres (shadows on clouds below) and Glories (circular rainbow around the Brocken Spectre) displayed all morning. A real day to remember! The images used for this book are from scans of prints or negatives and they are then edited in Photoshop CS3 to roughly match what a darkroom print would look like. Each image has a detailed caption to help you visit the location and even find my tripod holes if you are a photographer. A map with the location of each photograph has also been included to assist you in this aim.
Selecting the images was enjoyable but not an easy task. The final set was chosen from a short list of over 200. If your favourite view didn’t make it into this book maybe it will be in volume 2! Quite a few of the images which did not make it into the book are now on my web site www.davebutcher.co.uk so have a look here too.
During the 2 years leading up to the publication of this book my wife Jan and I made several trips to the Lakes and had lots of mixed weather, which always makes for interesting and dramatic lighting. A few blue sky days are always welcome but there is nothing like changeable weather to make for striking black and white photographs. There is usually a pub to retire to if the rain or snow becomes unbearable or seems to be set in for a few hours!
The book project also took us to some previously unvisited parts of the Lake District. I must admit to having a bias towards the high mountains but after all of these years it was still able to produce a few surprises on the coast and lower hills. A number of these are included in Lake Light and I hope you enjoy seeing the photographs as much as I enjoyed taking them and producing the images for this book. introduction
Dave Butcher, December 2009
Foreword by Joe Cornish
The geological origin of the Lake District is turbulent, volcanic, ancient. Multiple glacial cycles, and the high-energy weathering associated with its westerly maritime position have sculpted England’s most dramatic and mountainous landscape. Some might say, England’s only mountainous landscape. The fell tops may appear similar to the Scottish Highlands, but the valleys that divide them remind us that this region is quintessentially English. Once heavily mined and quarried for its mineral wealth, it is now occupied by a bucolic combination of hill farms, pretty villages, holiday homes and exceptional native woodland. The Lake District defines our idea of the picturesque.
It is largely this unique scenic appeal that makes the Lakes an outstandingly popular destination. This popularity is good for business. People come, looking, looking, quite literally, by the million (fifteen million or so in a typical year). So employment and prosperity flows directly from the beauty of the landscape. Many people in such a restricted space with relatively few roads can cause its own problems; traffic jams in the towns, and on the main routes between them are a serious problem in holiday periods. Yet in that immutable law of the great outdoors, as soon as the visitor sheds the cocoon of the car and moves more than five hundred metres from the car park onto the hill, the crowds melt away.
I have been visiting the Lake District for three decades, and realise I still know it only superficially. Its tortuous geology gives rise to great complexity and variety. A myriad of paths and routes make for pleasant walking, and to find every path and every view here would be the work of a lifetime. As well as a lot of paths it has an abundance of weather. The floods that devastated Cockermouth and Workington in November 2009 were exceptional, but local Cumbrians bore the disaster with characteristic stoicism and good humour. After all, they are a great deal more used to rain than most of us; the lakes do not fill the region’s valleys by accident.
Like poets and artists of earlier generations, photographers are inevitably drawn here by the outstanding scenery. Yet the weather can make the task of taking pictures challenging. The best photographers are able to ride the challenge, to have patience, and to take advantage of the region’s elusive light. Although it has a wealth of colour, this is a landscape that lends itself to black and white photography, as Dave Butcher’s images so eloquently illustrate. Light and shade expressed in the silvery greyscale of a black and white photograph unifies the land and the sky, bringing harmony to disparate colours and textures. Looking at a great black and white photograph of the Lake District conveys a sense of timelessness and distillation, as if these are all the tones we need for a real understanding.
Of course, there is more to black and white photography than merely taking out the colour. Years of experience are required to develop the vision that recognises the most effective tonal relationships, and a sense of design, of balance, rhythm, energy and light are, if anything, even more critical than in colour photography. Dave Butcher remains a committed film photographer, and a genuine expert of traditional darkroom processes. Today there are a hundred different ways to arrive at a black and white print via the digital workflow. Yet if it ain’t broke, why fix it? The quality of an outstanding silver gelatine print is still a unique photographic experience.
This devotion to classical methods has served him well. Using simple, high quality medium format cameras, he is undistracted by technical concerns and is able to focus all his attention on the light and the landscape, and to continue a process of documentation and interpretation he began many years ago.
As we enjoy this Lake District portfolio we realise that this is an exceptionally fit and agile photographer for whom long walks and high exposed summits and ridges are the stuff of life. Dave Butcher is a man truly at home in the landscape, whose pictures speak of a real personal connection with nature. I can think of no better way to be.