Arbor Low (F&D)

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An aerial view of Arbor Low taken from a kite camera. © Jim Knowles. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
The sacrifices we photographers make.

I first visited the prehistoric henge site of Arbor Low, Derbyshire, in April 1981.
That visit was inspired by none other than being on holiday close by, in Monyash, and a life-long interest in such places stemming from the days when I was fascinated by all things ancient and mysterious – I still am, actually.

The visit was perhaps a little frivolous (see pic right) and was certainly not made with the intention of photographing it to any large degree. In fact, when searching out the negatives to accompany this article, I was surprised to find that I only made a handful of images: an ‘establishing shot’, a couple of general views, and detailed views of just two stones. All were shot on 35mm black & white Tri-X film, probably on my Nikon FM.

One of Edwin Smith’s photos from Arbor Low, made on his visit in 1967. He certainly visited the site on at least two occasions. Image ©RIBApix
My early (1981) version of the same stone; before I had seen the Edwin Smith image.

As an aside, one the stones selected in 1981 for ‘individual attention’ was the very same stone that Edwin Smith photographed in 1967 (or perhaps 1956), an image that I was later to print from his original negative when assisting his widow Olive Cook. It is perhaps a particularly ‘photogenic’ stone, but I certainly had no knowledge of the Edwin Smith version when I made that image in 1981. My angle of approach to it is very similar to Smith, but the light – and my interpretation – differs somewhat. More about this image on my Real Photographs site.
Smith’s photograph was included in his 1984 monograph Edwin Smith: Photographs 1935-1971.

Edwin Smith’s 1967 photograph of a stone from Arbor Low. His darkroom trick of placing a coin on the paper to create a fake sun disc is clearly apparent, as is his use of ferricyanide bleach to lighten the bank behind the stone.
My 2003 photograph of the other single stone photographed by Edwin Smith in 1967.

In 2003 I photographed the same stone again, along with another favoured by Smith in 1967 (see right) which was later used in his book ‘England’, published in 1971, the year he sadly died. It’s an interesting image because it is clearly manipulated to include a rather fake-looking sun disc, an artifice Smith was to use on many occasions. His technique was to lay a small coin on the photographic paper whilst exposing it under the enlarger. In this image he has also used ferricyanide bleach to lighten the bank behind the stone, and possibly lightened the stone also by ‘dodging’ under the enlarger. There was almost as much manipulation possible back in the early days of photography as there is now, at least my sun disks are the real thing though!

All of my early black & white photos are included in the gallery above, but the remaining photos are all from two trips made in recent years, in 2003 and 2011. On both these occasions I only photographed it on digital. In September 2003, it was with the first ‘semi-professional’ 6MP Nikon DSLR, the D100; in April 2011 with a 12MP Nikon D700.

Revisiting the D100 images made me realise how good that early camera was. Of course, not a patch on the D700, or indeed my current D800, but good for its time.

[Aerial view courtesy Jim Knowles © All rights reserved.]