This is the introduction to my book Cambridge Mists, and I hope it will give you some insight into me and my work ...
To see a World in a grain of sand
I love these words by William Blake. They remind me of the times I have rediscovered a sense of wonder and of oneness with the world around me. Often these times come when I am out taking photographs, when somehow the intensity of my concentration seems to transcend limits and boundaries. My photography is essentially solitary; an opportunity for me to go out and commune with the world. I become completely absorbed in the process of seeing, searching all the time for that vignette which, caught on film, can with integrity convey something of the mood of the whole, whilst yet being complete in itself. When such appears in my viewfinder, I feel a thrill of joy and gratitude, and it is with a sense of reverence that I release the shutter.
It was some thirty years ago, at the age of around twelve, that I developed my passion for photography. I lived in Brighton then, and my elder brother had just bought a second-hand enlarger. I well remember those first images as they materialised under the warm glow of the safelight, starting as the merest ghost on the paper, gradually gathering form and depth as the developer did its work.
My camera was a basic fixed-lens type with no metering, and I treasured it. I had cycled to a copse of trees high on the downs just outside the town. Lying under the trees, looking up through the viewfinder, I framed an image of trees and sky and cloud. The print was such a success that my brother commented that Id never make another as good. My other creation from that first darkroom session was of an old-fashioned signpost which stood near the copse, and which I printed to appear disembodied against a sea of white; a symbol of the mysterious paths which lay before me in my life.
Through my teenage years, photography was a refuge and a solace to me. I would spend hours patrolling the sea front promenades in search of likely images, or lurking in the shadows of the night-time fairground. Curiously, though, the idea of studying photography, or of its being my career never really occurred to me. Photography was such a deeply private activity, so intimately entwined with my personal growth and development, that I did not want to open it up to anyone else.
I moved to Cambridge about twenty years ago, to work in computer-aided design. Needless to say, I was soon taking photographs, and some of those in this book date back to these days. At the time, however, I had no intentions of trying to sell my photographs. This came later, and as a consequence of a tragic event; the death of my baby son in 1984. To raise money for research into cot death, my wife Jenny began to sell needlepoint pictures in local craft-markets, and I added a few of my photographs to her stall. Somewhat to my surprise, people bought them, so I added more. With the passing years, both the photograph collection and the craft-business grew and grew, until in 1991, with Jenny wanting to do a full-time teaching course, I finally let go of the computing job to give myself more time for our growing family, and for photography.
From the photographs in this book, you might suppose that Cambridge is continually beset with fog and snow. In reality these are rare, but having the good fortune to live here, I can make the most of them when they do arise. I love the way they change the landscape into something mysterious and unexpected, hiding and transforming familiar landmarks, adding new and unexpected textures and tones, often imparting a serene simplicity to the scene.
On foggy days, there is sometimes an sublime moment as the sun begins to break through, and the mist takes on a brilliant pearly luminescence against which shapes stand out stark in tones fading with distance from black to the faintest grey. Fog seems peculiarly appropriate to the colleges, echoing their sense of timeless mystery, conjuring up ghosts of past generations who walked their halls and have long since returned to the dust.
In recent years, I have developed an enthusiasm for the use of infrared film, and quite a few of the pictures in this book feature its use. It seems to give its best results in spring sunshine, which is gratifying for me, since it's a welcome change from traipsing out in the cold and damp! It is an exciting medium to work with, often yielding delightfully soft, ethereal images, but also capable of really hard, punchy results. Every picture is an adventure; being blind to infrared light, I never know quite what will show up on the print. Skies can be spectacular, with brilliant white clouds gleaming against a velvet black, whilst young leaves often take on an exquisite pale translucency, and stonework may acquire a peculiarly metallic lustre. Wonderful stuff.
My darkroom is a bit like a womb for me. I go in, shut the door, and there I am, safe and warm, under the gentle glow of the safelights, in my own world. Often I listen to tapes - maybe some early Melanie or Joni Mitchell, or perhaps Enya or Mary Black, or the sounds of whales and dolphins. A special favourite is a spoken version of Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet". His philosophy that "Work is love made visible" is one I try to live by. For each new picture, it takes me many hours in the darkroom to get a print I'm satisfied with, and if I begin to get impatient, this is a wonderful reminder that it is more important to take joy in what I'm doing, than to rush to get it finished.
I could not finish this introduction without paying tribute to the many people who over the years have bought photographs from my craft stall, and who have given me immense encouragement through their enthusiasm and appreciation for my work. Without you, I very much doubt that this book, or the photographs it contains, would ever have come into being.
Derek Langley January 1998