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Downward Skies

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Photographs of the River Test made at Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire
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  • D O W N W A R D S K I E SThe River Test at Mottisfont Abbey

    M I K E C H I S H O L M

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    the River Test at Mottisfont Abbey

    photographs byM I K E C H I S H O L M

    Shepherd's Crown Books2 0 0 8

  • All images copyright 2008 Mike Chisholm

    ISBN 978-0-9544273-7-5

    Shepherd's Crown BooksSouthampton SO16 6QRUnited KingdomEmail: [email protected]

    For Gemma, Tom, and Ellen.

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    Oft' in her glass the musing shepherd spiesThe headlong mountains and the downward skies,The watry landskip of the pendant woods,And absent trees that tremble in the floods;In the clear azure gleam the flocks are seen,And floating forests paint the waves with green.

    Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Windsor-Forest

  • AS EVERYONE KNOWS, you cannot step into the same river twice (at least, according toHeraclitus). A river is the embodiment of the flow of constant change in which we live our lives.However, a camera is one means of catching moments from this flux, and a photographic sequenceenables us to put some of these captured moments side by side for comparison. Moreover, if yourevisit the same, different river many times you can probably learn a lot more by paying attentionto its hundred "same differences", than by visiting a hundred rivers in different places. Thesephotographs were all taken on repeated visits to the stretch of the River Test that runs through thegrounds of Mottisfont Abbey, a National Trust property near Romsey in Hampshire, England.

    In 2001 I bought an Agfa Isolette folding camera dating from the 1950s, with the intention ofsimplifying my approach to photography, and exploring the aesthetic possibilities of "cheap"optics. However, my intentions changed when I saw the contact sheet of my first roll of film,exposed during a spring afternoon walk by the River Test at Mottisfont. The Solinar lens was sharpand bright, and the pictures had an attractive warmth and depth. It was as if place and camera hadembraced, and I returned the next week to see whether the experience would be repeated.

    I have revisited Mottisfont very many times since 2001, focussing my attention on the river, andusually photographing with the Agfa camera. I gradually acquired something of an anglerspatience and eye for the water, and got to know the river as a landscape, and a little of the habits ofthe famous local trout. I showed the National Trust estate manager my work, and he kindly allowedme access to the grounds during the closed winter season, so that I could get to know the river inits bleaker moods. In 2003 I held an exhibition in the Abbey (The Colour of the Water), whichshowed an early version of this series.

    Several people pointed out a Japanese quality to these images and, as it happened, I had along-standing interest in serial verse forms, such as sonnet sequences and Japanese renga chains.The spirit of certain haiku seemed to match what I was trying to do with my photographs, and thecircular "haiku" texts have accompanied these pictures from the beginning. Those used in thisbook are my adaptations of poems by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), Uejima Onitsura (1660-1738),Yosa Buson (1716-1783), Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) and Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902).

    Mike Chisholm, 2008

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