Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Cumbria in Photographs by Steve Pipe. Amberley. £16.99
Over fifteen million people visit the Lake District every year. Itís a fair bet that the vast majority of these visitors take photographs. Itís easy enough to imagine that at least one hundred million photographs will be taken of the Lake District every year. And of those photographs a large number will show the various lakes taken from the same place or will be familiar shots of a familiar tourist spot. With only one hundred and twenty pictures to print, how does a photographer do something different, interesting? Something that arrests the weary eye.
Steve Pipe has had a go. Heís gone far and wide. His subject is Cumbria. Thereís a photo of Dent station, the highest station still operating in England, with its red and white Victorian gaslamps and the rails curving away into the fells. Thereís the vast trench of High Cup Nick beneath a clear sky, the steep cliffs that edge each side and the fierce gradients of the scree slopes that descend in a sharp V to the small stream that threads the valley bottom.
Thereís the curving line of the Flying Scotsman as it stretches across the striding arches of Arten Gill Viaduct and thereís the arching branch of a tree that shelters the bright pink doorway of Little Salkeld Mill.
Thereís the dunes fringed with windswept vegetation at Sandscales Haws and thereís the ribbed sands at Duddon almost on fire beneath the most golden of sunsets.
The sailor boy with his telescope in Whitehaven Harbour is caught in silhouette against the palest light of an evening sky. The hexagonal walls of the Walney Island Lighthouse are sharply shadowed in the bright light off the sea. An old fishing boat, brown and blue and white with a bright red funnel, rests on the green algae that covers the sands below Askham pier. At Milnthorpe Sands a single curve of blue, a deserted pool in the wide sands, is echoed by the distant horizon of the Lakeland Hills.
Everywhere, there is so much to see and see in a new way, that is fresh and new and far removed from the accustomed views.
And when he does turn to the familiar, to the old favourites, the scenes that have been snapped by Everyman and his dog, Steve does something quite different. Thereís a photograph of Windermere at night Ė the pale lights of the shore painting the water and everywhere else deepening shades of sepia and burnt umber Ė a picture that might have been executed by the brush of JMW Turner himself.
And a photograph of those famous bluebells at Rannerdale is transformed by the intense yellow of a sun that is on the very point of disappearing below the horizon. The bluebells are a carpet of bluey-grey outshone by the gorse made golden by the setting sun.
The Slater Bridge in Little Langdale has become an abstract of blues and greys and browns and yellows, almost a pattern of geometrical shapes. A view down St Johnís in the Vale is made interesting by the lines of two roads that curve into the valley. The frozen fells above Thirlmere and the billowing white clouds are reflected perfectly in the cold waters of the reservoir on a crisp winterís day. Skiddaw rises in a golden light as though emerging above a forest drowning in a cloud inversion.
In one photograph Steve dramatizes the wonderful spectacle of the ancient stones at Castlerigg as they stand as though in a mysterious light beneath the stars of the Milky Way and in another he turns his camera towards the skies to capture the infinite majesty of the galaxy in Cumbriaís dark skies.
Steve Pipeís photographs of Cumbria offer a challenge for all those other fifteen million visitors, who come to marvel at the beauty of our Cumbrian landscape, to see things with fresh eyes.