Tanneries were once widespread, producing leather goods for local use and trade. In these days of mass production demand for traditional oak tanned leather has reduced meaning therre are few tanneries left.
J & FJ Baker in Colyton, East Devon is one such surviving tannery. Tanning has gone on at this site back to the middle ages, and there is a wonderfully organic collection of buildings of various periods and styles there. I was lucky enough to have a look round in the company of Paul Glendell who has an exhibition of his tannery photographs at RAMM where I work. My colleague Tom organised our outing and Ian came along too.
It’s bigger than I expected and a mix of old and new. Specific areas of the site are dedicated to different parts of the process. The process takes the raw hairy hides through dyeing to finishing and ready for making into shoes, saddlery and other goods.
The smell is noticeable but not overpowering by any means. The Exe estuary at low tide on a summer’s day is more pungent according to my nose!
Time is the thing
Like many traditional processes oak tanning is a slow one. From creating the tanning liquor from dried oak bark to soaking the hides in different vats of liquor it all takes time which adds quality and cost of course.
Is it a timeless process though? Yes and no in my view. It is strongly traditional in its techniques but modern machinery is used to make production easier. Not tradition for tradition’s sake then but living heritage in the core of the process being dyeing hides with oak bark liquors in vats.
Ancient and modern
One of the pleasures of our tour was seeing machinery from different times. There were wooden and metal dyeing drums to enjoy. Sadly I did not get a photo of the wooden water wheel that is still in use as it is enclosed.
At the modern end of things were two flattening machines. Once a 19th Century model from Merseyside and another very recent one from Italy where they is still a large leather industry.
Want to see more?
Pop along to Paul’s exhibition while it is on in Exeter over Spring 2013.
My own photos are on Flickr as usual
Wet or dry?
Some days it can be bright but showery. The wet can make you tempted not to take photographs but if it’s bright don’t give up!
On a bright cloudy day the cloud acts as a giant diffuser. This creates a very even light, which varies from soft to even depending on cloud cover and time of day.
Make it work for you
This type of light is great for detailed shots. If you’ve ever found an image spoiled by too much contrast forcing you to copse between shadow or highlight detail you’ll appreciate the advantage of diffused light.
I suggest details because the even light allows the viewer to explore your image easily and see detail clearly. Especially with outdoor subjects there is enough light to create some relief so objects don’t look flat.
So grab a brolley, a waterproof camera cover and pop out between the showers!
More features, more fun
The Hueless mono photography app for the iPhone had a recent update. It does have some extra tweaks added and they are useful. I did have to check out the help to make sure I was getting the best out of them.
Meanwhile in the field
I do find using Hueless good because the level of control makes me pause before pressing the shutter. And considered shots are often better than grabbed ones! A nice new feature is that you can save presets to make grabbed shots easier.
Still highly recommend giving Hueless a go if you have an iPhone and haven’t tried it.
Mono in camera
Reading Black and White Photography I found an article on iPhone apps for mono photography.
One stood out as it allows black and white composition in phone camera. It’s called Hueless and is on the app store.
What’s it like?
Easy to use but backed up with help and a website for anyone a bit stumped. It include a contrast gradient in live view and all the classic black and white filters.
It saves to your Film Roll so is backed up by Apple’s cloud service. It also means you are limited to the iPhone’s editing features. It can share via email, Twitter and Instagram. I’d like to see Flickr and Facebook added to this list.
The latest update include a toggle between exposure and contrast slider. There is also an essential set everything back to zero option!