Colchester, 23 January 2016
The blog has taken a back seat recently. Of course there was Christmas – my first in a new household, with 17 at our dinner table – New Year and my birthday all in a rush; wonderful company, great meals and long country dog walks and musical parties and so on, but not a time of the year that is conducive to getting any work done.
Happily some previous work formed a surprise Christmas gift for the man who was the subject of it, thanks to the generosity of one of my clients, Graham Cowie, of Project Propeller fame. So it was that Bill Viollet found himself signing the depiction we had devised of his escape from a burning Lancaster at Mailly-le-Camp in 1944. (Picture courtesy of Graham.)
And I have been re-organising my office around having my son here: so you might get Joe – actor, designer and illustrator – answering the phone at Eason Media rather than me. Again, a pleasant turn of events but also disruptive.
I am told I am deluding myself when I imagine there was a golden age during which I just made pictures and somehow all the household stuff and travelling and relentless admin either did not exist or somehow took care of itself (ok, maybe just did not get done).
Still, I have managed to produce some pictures: various Vulcan images which seem to be highly popular, including a couple of B1 variants in anti-flash white paint.
Building an image
The Vulcan image at the head of this article, which I call "And finally", is a composite like most of my work and as usual has a bit of a story to it.
The background was photographed in Lincolnshire late in November 2014 after a visit to the BBMF at RAF Coningsby and to Avro Lancaster Just Jane in her hangar at the East Kirkby Aviation Heritage Centre. The sun and the rest of the landscape were photographed a few minutes apart in locations a few miles apart, and blended later.
As an aside: when I saw it up close the sun had two dark marks on its face. I thought at first they were "dust bunnies" – blemishes resulting from dust on the camera's digital sensor. When I looked more closely still, I realised they were sunspots. A bit of research online revealed that I had by chance photographed some unusually flamboyant solar activity. The trouble is, they looked like blemishes, so I removed them for the purposes of my picture.
The Avro Vulcan – XH558, the last flying example of its type – was photographed passing over a field in Essex, not far from my home. I did not have time on the day to get to Clacton Airshow but thankfully the Vulcan's operators had published a map of their intended route.
Distinctive smoke plume
I figured that if I headed over towards Ardleigh Reservoir, north east of Colchester, I had a reasonable chance of seeing it passing by. At the allotted hour, alerted by their Twitter feed, I did indeed see a puff of dark smoke off to the north east followed by that unmistakable delta shape turning to an arrow in profile, low over the flat landscape, about half a mile to the east.
I then stood around for a while, checking and re-checking the camera settings, photographing a hovering bird of prey and a circling light aircraft, chatting with car drivers who slowed to ask why a man with a fancy, monopod gimbal-mounted long lens was loitering in the corner of a nondescript field (one of whom guessed correctly and wished me luck).
Finally, another smudge of smoke on the far horizon and a dark dot that became steadily bigger – and I realised with a sudden rush of excitement that XH558 was not only on its way back but was heading straight for me. With a purposeful but steady roar the huge airframe sailed majestically almost directly overhead. Fantastic!
I made a series of pictures – not without difficulty because it was closer than I had anticipated and low enough to fill the Nikon's viewfinder through the 600mm lens. These included several as the sleek shape with its distinctive exhaust trail headed away to the north. It is one of those that I realised was at the perfect height and angle to take pride of place in my Lincolnshire sunset. Given how many people have since bought a print, I think I got it just right.
From a completely different era comes my depiction of that rare bird, the Westland Whirlwind - a single-seat, twin-engine RAF fighter-bomber that saw service from 1940 to 1943 but never in the large numbers originally envisaged for it, suffering as it did from a lack of development and being constantly superseded by other aircraft that were just better in every niche it might have occupied.
Only two squadrons were equipped: 263, and the one shown in my depiction, 137. Among its pilots was a Canadian: Arthur 'Art' Gaston Brunet, one of whose relatives asked me if I had any Whirlwind pictures. I do now!
Talking of back seats: you might recall I was treated to a flight in a vintage Tiger Moth biplane last autumn. It was huge fun. I have a video to treasure as a memento, shot on small cameras strapped to the wing struts.
Needless to say they do not stretch to an air-to-air photo of your flight – so I had always had it in my mind's eye to make one, and finally I have got around to it. This gave me the chance to pull on some WWII pilot gear and go solo, in the back seat, into the bargain. I hope this picture might strike a chord with anyone else who has had the same opportunity.
A striking feature of the Tiger Moth – especially so when you consider it was a basic trainer – is that the forward visibility is very limited unless you hang your head over the side.
My own road map for the year has some very exciting personal developments in it – and a string of picture plans stretching out to the horizon.
To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.