Wordsworth lived in the Lake District, bestowing it with a literary-tourist value making the area even more famed and interesting. Many people visit, not to go romping in the mountains, but to wander the valleys, towns, and tourist spots, like Wordsworth’s cottage. He was a nature mystic, seeking to ‘read’ the natural lanscape for romantic and metaphysical value. He regarded poetry as similar to nature, by touching all living things and inspiring and delighting them – if you like poetry, that is. He said that “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility”, and in this respect photography can be regarded as a poetic art. For Wordsworth, an experience triggered a transcendent moment, an instance of the sublime, the senses are overwhelmed by this experience; the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” leaving him incapable of articulating the beauty, and only when this is “recollected in tranquility” can he craft the words by which to express it.
On a mild Spring day, before the Winter snows had completely melted, I was encouraged by a little morning sunshine. It’s the most exhilarating thing, a blue sky and a snow covered mountain landscape. I’ve experienced it to perfection just two or three times, and each occasion is etched into my memory as a day of great happiness. You climb up away from your mundane life, away from the city, and discover not only a vast and beautiful terrain where you are free to wander, but a panorama with a sparkling white mantle. One occasion remains particularly poignant, not only because it was unexpected and epic (the last 2 exhausting hours were in stumbling darkness), but also because of all times for it to happen, the film in my camera had not been installed in the wind-on mechanism. Two years later I’m considerably more reconciled to this because a) the pictures would not have been of any great quality on my old Pentax, and b) because I’ve had a few days since then, not so pristine, but nonetheless helping me realise that some of the impact derived from the fact that it was a very novel, initiatory experience. I’m no longer a virgin, and the first time was the best.
There is also, I’ve come to realise, a different kind of pleasure in more sombre snowy days. Because when I arrived at the Langdale valley, the day started to deteriorate and the cloud was more durable and permanent. I’d intended on a substantial trek accepting the fact that the last 2 hours were likely to be in darkness, as a worthwhile end to an unusually beautiful day. But it became very likely, as the sun disappeared, that it was not such a day as I’d been hoping for. I therefore decided not so much on ‘a walk’, which for me means an extensive circular route, but a ‘ramble’, which for me is a shorter trek which does not have to be circular: you go there, you come back, and you accept that the fun of achieving it is qualitatively different. So it was not what I’d planned, and actually became more of a photographic excursion than a walking one. I knew that the Three Tarns area at the top of the track, at the head of the Langdale Valley, was a scenic and interesting spot. In terms of ‘walking fun’ I wanted to see the view to the Scafells, and their snowy covering. But the day had become so sombre and overcast, I almost decided not to bother going up to the top. In fact I decided to do so for the simple reason of giving me some satisfaction, by reaching the top. I’m not usually inspired by that kind of motivation, being more aesthetic than athletic or sporting; but it would be nice to see the Scafells again, gaze across and recall other times, other walks, and despite the gloom that particular view is one of the most impressive in the whole of the Lakes.
Up to that point the day had been unusually mild, but once on the ridge in the Three Tarns area it was bitterly wintry and I was not properly prepared. I probably could have walked along the ridge (Plan A) if I’d kept moving and generating warmth, but it would have been slightly unwise. As I rested at Three Tarns I had to stamp my feet, drink all my hot tea, cover up, zip up, and shelter from the wind which was unendurable. But with these precautions, calmly noting that my fingers were seriously hurting and needed to be warmed, and remembering that early symtoms of hypothermia are fatigue and not feeling cold despite the situation – I was able to stay at Three Tarns for an hour, sheltering behind rocks and waiting for some illumination. This was photographic stalking: in a beautiful area I love, not romping through it, but waiting for a photo oportunity.
All of which is my ‘emotion recollected in tranquility’ – and in warmth, as I sit at my computer. The drama is not conveyed in these pictures and despite the snow and ice, one of the most difficult subjects to convey is cold. What appears to be a leisurely composition on a pleasant day may in fact be a rapid attempt to snap a great picture in desperate conditions. The sun was close to setting at this point, which has two photographic considerations: the light, what there is of it, has a beautiful warm coloration; and its horizontal trajectory emphasises shadows, and form. For just a few minutes, there was a small amount of hazy sunshine which was nonetheless sufficient to enliven the shapes and colours of what was – I’d quickly realised – a place of great photographic interest. Not a sunny blue sky day but for a short time a rather harrowing one; a re-visit to a familiar area I’ve crossed over many times, but never in these conditions, and some brief illumination allowing me to make the best of it. The result? None of that emotion recollected in tranquility is expressed here – it’s impossible to do that – but I hope these pictures do convey drama, and interest, and beauty, expressing the more bleak aspect of Lakeland which is nonetheless aesthetic and rewarding in unexpected ways. For me, the photographer, this is wonderfully poetic.