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Sunrise - thick ground fog on Old Marsh Road, homage to Claude Monet ground fog Old Marsh Road,

Sunrise, homage to Claude Monet. Thick ground fog on Old Marsh Road © Roff Smith image used with permission

Roff Smith in the East Sussex landscape

Some people have welcomed Lockdown, others have found lack of contact with people debilitating, some have found different ways of coping day to day, others have embraced it and discovered new strengths. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths spoke to photographer Roff Smith about how he has kept sane while following his love of  photography and the landscape.

Writer, photographer, cyclist Roff Smith –  I don’t know which category he would put first – would normally be travelling the world as writer and photographer. However, for a year he has been literally landlocked. Not someone to sit on his backside and bemoan his fate, he took up his bicycle, camera and cycled into the East Sussex countryside.

He has a very distinct affinity with light. I realise that photography is all about light, but he consciously seeks it out. And that means early rising to catch the sunrise and sunset at the blue hour, the time that brings out the soft, pastel hues of light; the 20 minutes or so before sunrise or the equivalent after sunset. The timing is critical and goes very fast. There are no second chances.

Nighthawk, Omega Studio

Nighthawk, Tribute to Edward Hopper. Omega Studio © Roff Smith image used with permission

One of Roff’s heroes is the artist Edward Hopper. He does not think those paintings are about loneliness but about aloneness, solitude, quietude. After a few attempts he captured in homage to Edward Hopper in Omega Studio corner shop. In a similar tone, his project is one man and his bike – or one man – alone  in the landscape.

And he has learned a lot. Roff does as much research as possible into the weather, state of the tides, sunrise, phase of the moon then decides the day before his exact location. Not vaguely, precisely. There is no time for a recce and time is of the essence. He sets off sometimes as early as 3.30 a.m., he plots exactly where he needs to be in relation to the light, the vegetation, how close or how far from the camera. He might do a few practice shots and then knowing how long it takes to get into position he sets the timer and hopes he captures the image he has in his mind’s eye. “People have said ‘it must be very calm and quiet out there at that time.’ It might be, but I am anything but”. It is a time of high tension, the light changes by the second there might be a dawn chorus but around him there is a chorus of expletives.

Snow Moon © Roff Smith image used with permission

After a while he was becoming a little despondent, he evidently loves what he does, but with no business outlets “what was I doing it for”. He started an instagram account and the follow on has been astounding. He offered some of his images to the New York Times and things changed from there. They ran two stories about his East Sussex explorations and suddenly his Instagram account exploded – to the extent that they suspended his account. Not once, but twice. People were asking for prints of his images, demands for interviews have come from America to Australia, a film about him is to be made locally. His photo stories are now in demand.

An important revelation to Roff is that he doesn’t have to travel the world to find adventure and the exotic. It’s all around and about, all you need to do is look. “I find I have lost interest in travelling abroad. I look forward to riding out to the marshes, I have discovered I do not need to find the romance of different places; I can see a boiling red African sun rising in the marshes or  envisage the marsh reed grasses as those of the Serengetti. I don’t have to have a passport, go to airports, take long flights. I can sleep in my own bed every night. The romance of different places is all here.”

Marsh Mists, Red Sun © Roff Smith image used with permission

During this fallow work period he has also written a children’s book based on stories he originally told his daughters. The protagonist is an idiot savant snowman Nuni, made of magic snow who becomes a member of the family, thinks laterally and is a know-it-all who is not always right. It was created as an educational character, gently giving life skills to his  kids. The book now needs to find an agent and a publisher. … Watch this space.

Roff Smith Website and  Instagram @roffsmith

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Posted 18:27 Wednesday, Apr 21, 2021 In: Photography

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