BY CARSTEN KRIEGER
It had become a bit of a tradition for me to make an image on the days of spring and autumn equinox and summer and winter solstice. This year was no different and I was out on the morning of the 20th March to capture the sunrise. What happened in the weeks after this morning was however quite different to how I had planned the first half of 2020.
The words Coronavirus and Covid-19 had been swirling around for a while but until the 27th March they had just been another news headline. On that day Ireland was put in complete lockdown and I found myself effectively out of work and unable to move further than 2 kilometres away from my home.
After the first shock had passed I decided to take advantage of the circumstances and the unusually good weather and start a visual Covid-19 diary which would get me out of the house and keep me both busy and somewhat sane. I am lucky that I live in a rather scenic part of Ireland, on a small peninsula on the west coast with the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the estuary of the Shannon, Ireland’s longest river, to the south. Along with the dramatic scenery also comes a wonderful and varied fauna and flora which is particularly interesting to watch in spring and so my Covid-19 diary soon became a dedicated nature diary.
Some three weeks into the lockdown and with no end in sight (by that time all workshops scheduled for the year had been cancelled and my publishers had put current and possible future contracts on hold) I decided to make a proper project out of my daily outings. The idea wasn’t particularly new or revolutionary but ever since Jim Brandenburg’s ‘Chased by the Light’ and ‘Looking for the Summer’ I was intrigued to document my own backyard day by day throughout the different seasons but I never found the time. Now I had plenty of time and so the idea for ‘Silent Spring’, a nature journey from the spring equinox to the summer solstice, was born. The title for the project was a simple acknowledgement that the world had gone quiet this spring, the lack of tour buses and tourists in general was very obvious, and it was also a little homage to Rachel Carson’s work and her book of the same title.
After checking my archives I found enough reasonably good material to cover the days between the spring equinox and the beginning of my lockdown diary and so my ‘Silent Spring’ journey could begin properly. I decided to not set myself any photographic limits or restrictions and also didn’t plan my daily shoots. All I did was pick an area to explore for the day and start walking. The rest was left to fate. Here was where the Olympus system came in very handy. Because I didn’t know if I would end up shooting landscapes or if I would photograph wildflowers or birds, I needed to carry focal length from wide angle to telephoto. In Micro 4/3 terms these were focal length from 12mm to 300mm and so I ended up carrying two zoom lenses, two fixed focal lengths, including a macro lens, two camera bodies and the usual bits and pieces like cable release, filters and tripod. One of the bodies (the OM-D E-M1 Mark II) was permanently attached to the M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F4 IS PRO to be ready for surprise appearances by birds and other wildlife, the other body (a OM-D E-M5 Mark III) I used for slower paced landscape and macro photography.
Because of the size and weight of the system all gear did fit into a medium sized backpack I could carry for hours without the need of a chiropractor afterwards.
The weeks went on, the weather stayed dry and settled for the most part (unusual for Ireland and probably the first signs of new, climate change induced weather patterns) and I enjoyed myself immensely. No brief, no deadlines, just pure photography, like back in the day when I didn’t need to make a living from it. Unfortunately, but not entirely unexpected, the joy didn’t last. Wet and windy weather returned (which made getting good photo opportunities a bit more difficult), the lockdown ended eventually (and with it the realities and tasks of a normal daily life returned) and exhaustion kicked in. Shooting on a daily basis for an assignment usually lasts for a week or two but rarely longer and after that you can take a few days break. Keeping up daily shoots for three months eventually started to take its toll, I felt tired and creatively exhausted, and a few times I was very close to giving up and just spend a lazy day on the sofa. Thankfully my stubbornness to finish what I started always got the better of me. I have to admit though that pressing the shutter for the last time on 20th June was a relief. Especially because this evening brought the project to a fitting end. After some 24 hours of torrential rain the skies cleared just in time on the evening of solstice day to allow for some colour in the sky.
In retrospect these three months were one of the best times I ever had. I rediscovered the simple joy of photography and although some of the images are just about presentable and normally would have found their way into the digital bin, I am proud of the overall outcome which reminds me that photography doesn’t always have to be technically perfect or appealing to the social media masses. Photography is a very personal thing and ‘Silent Spring’ is as personal as it gets.
The e-book as available from Amazon UK and www.irelandsnaturestories.com