‘Violent Color’ by Kat Kingsley-Hughes (Flickr)
Whenever I think about photographing Parys Mountain, my mind is always infused with the expectation of color.
The metal minerals leaching out of the rocks in this ancient coppermine create a mind-bending range of fabulous hues. So I prepare myself for a riot of color!
But every time I arrive at Parys Mountain and begin walking through this landscape, I am invariably shocked, not only by the color of the place, but by my own reaction to the space as a whole. The island of Anglesey is such a small place! And Parys Mountain is one small part of that small island and the very existence of this impossibly vast space casts my perception into a vortex of logic-defying shapes and distances, rendered in a skin of eye-popping color and surreal peculiarity.
At once I am transported through time to being a small child, standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, marvelling at such a vast, incredible space. Of course I had read the guide books and seen photographs so knew what to expect at the end of my family’s trans-American journey. But, experiencing the place was another matter! Decades later, the experience is still etched into my mind. That day as I watched the landscape change with the fading light and the awed daytime hush of a solar eclipse, I lost a button from my favourite sweater over the side of the canyon, and for the first time in my life I realised that this object was unlikely to be recovered by anyone ever again. As I stood there, alarmed by the sudden darkness, I felt dizzy and sick. I became suddenly existentially aware of the great chasm at my feet, the vast distances before me, the incomprehensible expanse of geological time that had created this marvel of sediment and erosion, and the unlikelihood that my little red button would ever be seen by human eye again.
That feeling was burned into my memory, and it is this emotion that washes over me like a dizzying tidal wave, every time I venture into the Parys Mountain site. Like a microcosm of my childhood journey, Parys Mountain never ceases to blow my mind.
Like the distorted mirrors at a funfair, its bright incongruous colors dance unfathomably before me. I am tricked by the strange shapes and mounds of discarded rocks that seem to mimic yet are almost an exact opposite of the Grand Canyon, where nature has carved out shapes from vast slabs of rock; Parys Mountain was carved by man. Yet the greatest distortion is in its strange combination of color and space that somehow appear vast, creating a continual visual confusion of distance and logic, making the eye dance and the focus contort.
This feeling was what I wanted to capture!!
In order to recreate this off-kilter sense in my photograph ‘Violent Color’, I set out to reverse the logic of distance and definition, and instead force the eye to search for a focal point. I had seen many tilt-shift landscape photos that appeared to make large expanses appear small, creating a sense of toytown spaces with the forced perspective of a model village.
In order to try to recreate what happens when I stand at the edge of this vast-nonvast space, I wanted to reverse this effect and make the relatively small instead appear vast.
Without a tilt-shift lens at my disposal however, I needed to create this effect in post.
To begin with I set out to take a photo that was pretty much front to back sharp focus. I chose to take the photo at F13, primarily because it was a windy day and, as I was using my camera hand-held, a photo at F22 would need too long an exposure to avoid camera shake.
With the shot in the can, I then created the tilt shift effect in Adobe Lightroom by superimposing two graduated filters, pulled in from opposite sides at the top and bottom of the picture to alter brightness, contrast and, most importantly, sharpness in order to create a sense of opposing levels of blur, and leave a plane of sharpness which draws in and confuses the eye.
‘Violent Color’ shot was my first attempt at this. I will go back to Parys Mountain and have another go, hopefully next time with a tilt shift lens.
In the meantime, I am pleased with my photo as it says what I wanted it to say: that it is as strange and confusing for me to stand on the edge at Parys Mountain, as it was for a child standing on tiptoes on the edge of that vast geological wonder, her eyes searching the chasm for one last sight of a lost button and feeling all the pressures of time and space suddenly upon her.