The tree is up in the living room, there’s a fire roaring in the grate and strictly come dancing is on the telly. It must be that time of year again. There’s something reasurring about a big holiday festival this time of year. There’s nothing like it for slowing down and taking stock of the past year (more of that next time). It’s also the time of year I like to give a big thankyou to all those people who have supported me in their various ways throughout the past year, and look forward to forging new partnerships in the coming year.
Every year I do a crimbo card for the select few just for this purpose. Each year I try to do something while not blatantly Christmassy but seasonal, and frequently echoes something I particularly enjoyed doing over the past year. Back in 1997 the Independent ran a 3/4 page article on some of my cards (I remember underneath was a preview of a show by an up-coming artist called Martin Creed – I wonder what became of him?…).
It’s not a new idea and certainly not an original one. I’m not sure where I first got the idea from to do an annual piece, but plenty of artists and designers do their own every year. There was a section in Thomas Heatherwick’s V&A show this year all about his own cards – each a thing of beauty.
For the first dozen or so years’ my cards were hand-printed in the darkroom and either hand-coloured, chemically toned or printed on liquid photographic emulsion on random paper.
this one speaks for itself – again this was done in a wet darkroom and not in photoshop.
More recent images have been more colourful:
The year before was red too – shot just outside my back door one January.
It’s not always snow – this one on a frosty sunbiggin tarn in the Eden Valley
This one a montage in the Yorkshire Dales (again, done the hard way without photoshop).
This year I had been looking forward to doing something large and spectacular for the cards, however as the year moved on I still hadn’t got the technology working how I wanted it to, so that idea will have to wait another year. So at the last minute, after doing some frantic head scratching I figured I could do something white.
We’d had a bit of snow early on in December, but that had largely caught me out and I spent most of it working out how best to get up my track and get work done, than thinking creatively with it. With a change n the weather, there was forecast a couple of freezing nights with some early mist or fog. What I was hoping for was that wonderful thing when the overnight moisture freezes on every surface turning the landscape a cryslaine white. I would then create a piece made from hundreds of white balloons – much like the red piece I’d done earlier in Sweden, and shoot it low with a disappearing perspective in the background – maybe a track or even a sheep path. Something quite still and quiet. Maybe a little surreal, like a Storm Thorgerson album cover type thing.
A quick trip over to Darlington netted a hundred or so balloons – I’m sorry if you were after any that day, but I bought the last from every shop and market stall that had any. As the planned shot would be done at first light, and I’d have to move fast as the frost can melt quickly if the sun comes out, I spent the night before blowing up all the balloons. It wasn’t until the morning that I realised I couldn’t fit them all in the car, so had to make do with a much smaller piece.
However, despite all my planning and preparation, the weather didn’t do what I’d hoped it would, instead there was a light frost up i the hills above an inversion cloud just below. Ordinarily this would be quite stunning, but the cloud was rising fast and the inversion wasn’t stable enough.
My only hope was to get a nice bit of atmospheric moorland disappearing into the murk and cloud so I headed up to the Cumbria / Durham border in Teesdale.
The North Pennines are a severe border. The western side influenced by the wet Atlantic weather fronts, to the east the much drier but colder north sea systems. And so right on top of the border on the Teesdale side, the snow was still lying thick and white over large swathes of wilderness landscape. Where the rain had thawed and washed the snow away in Cumbria days before, the eastern side had remained dry and cold, the snow now frozen solid and the sky as clear as a bell and bright blue.
I must have spent a good couple of hours walking across that frozen wasteland shooting hundreds of pictures. The snow was so solid in parts I could position everything with ease as I left no footprints.
And so, here it is.
A study in white.