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Valley of Lights, Todmorden

After severe flooding hit the Calder Valley twice in rapid succession this summer, the local communities reacted brilliantly to this devastating challenge. Businesses and individuals pulled together, demonstrating the indefatigable local spirit and individual outlook which characterises the upper valley, bringing together neighbours and strangers alike.

With many residential and commercial properties affected for months by the floods, it’s been a tough year, and collectively the area deserved a reason to celebrate their achievements since… and let their hair down. Fast forward six months and cue the Valley of Lights; a unique initiative spearheaded by Totally Locally, supported by Calderdale Council and creatively led by Handmade Parade. Embracing the pool of talent, enthusiasm and skill of hundreds of artists, performers, producers, retailers and members of the public, it’s an event spread over ten days in the three towns worst affected by the flooding here – Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd.

Designed to celebrate the Upper Calder Valley; its people, its creativity, its uniqueness and its hundreds of small businesses, it combined community initiatives with a series of spectacular performances, outdoor markets and displays. It’s a gloriously welcome way to usher in the start of the Christmas period, and the switch on of the lights in each town.

It was Tod’s turn first on Saturday 24th November, and as luck would have it, the heavens opened just before the start of the celebrations. Ironic considering the heavy rain in the summer. However folk round here are hardy and won’t easily turn down the excuse for a celebration and performance… especially one designed to showcase their triumph over the natural elements. Besides, we do parades and parties well around here, such as the Pollination Parade early this year.

After the Christmas Lights switch on, performers and musicians led a Lantern Parade around the town, before a spectacular fire finale in at the Rose Street / Bramsche Square site. Tod Market stayed open late, with both regulars and local artist makers selling their wares, encouraging shoppers to spend their pounds close to home. Musicians and street performers weaved among the heaving crowds, raising smiles and spirits through the rain.

Meanwhile there was a spectacular wharfside flotilla along Fielden Wharf on the Rochdale Canal, featuring lit-up inflatables by Spacecadets (you can view some panoramas of their work from Preston in 2006 and the Lowry, Salford in 2007 respectively). Live music was performed by Daniel Weaver from an open narrowboat: you can just spot him through the crowds during the timelapse video above.

Friends and food clients alike, local food heroes Porcus and the Bear Café set up stall to warm the hearts (and bellies) of the brave souls who ventured out in the rain. I set up my trusty GoPro and recorded a (very soggy) timelapse video of Porcus serving up their homemade rare breed sausages, while I tried out my new DSLR in wet weather conditions. All in all it was damp but delightful night, perfectly showcasing the diversity and distinctiveness of the local area, and making people rightly proud of what they have and hold dear!

Straight to plate: large panoramic prints of the Bear Café’s kitchen

Click/tap the image above to view a panoramic 360° view of the scene in your browser.

I recently installed a permanent series of four large format prints in the Bear Café in Todmorden. It was a great commission; combining my passion for local food and photography, crafting a detailed and distinctive view behind the scenes in the kitchen.

Four panel panoramic print in the Bear Cafe, Todmorden

The initial brief was to deliver an artwork which would achieve two things: showcase some of their local suppliers and producers, and better inform customers that all the food is prepared on the premises.

Both are central to their business… the Bear is passionate about using local, sustainable produce wherever possible, and has long been affiliated with initiatives like Incredible Edible Todmorden. They’re also proud of how their dishes are produced on the premises, but as the kitchen is two floors away from the dining area, customers are often unaware of this. The client had previously seen my work so was onboard with the idea of using a high resolution 360° panoramic print, so we could capture the detail and experience of the kitchen fully.

Like any shoot, proper planning was key. I shot an initial test panorama during a recce a week beforehand: this allowed us to consider the positioning of products and people, and then we used a printout to mark up areas to address. As we always had a large, detailed print in mind, one of the key things to bear in mind was that we wanted an even distribution of points of interest throughout the scene. The client was keen to emphasise the importance of the teamwork and skills of the whole staff, so we planned their positioning.

Four panel panoramic print in the Bear Cafe, Todmorden

We were keen to use bright natural sunlight streaming through the kitchen window to beautifully illuminate the fresh produce on display, so worked out the optimum shoot time for direct light. The team at the Bear ensured the space was organised, and added a lick of paint to the walls, making sure even a working environment would look at its best, while still staying true to its purpose. I’ll always explain to clients that a quick wipe-down or tidy-up in real life can save hours in post production… and the real-world effects last for longer too!

Chef Scott and manager Rhian added lots of little touches and details to the scene to reflect the personalities in the business… from Scott’s homemade kimchi in jars and stickers of seminal Manchester club nights on storage containers, through to the signature wooden bear who normally sits on the bar upstairs. See if you can spot them all…

After the shoot I processed the panorama, working at higher resolution than normal, and then tested several different projections to portray the whole 360° of the kitchen with as little distortion as possible. In the end I chose four square prints, each covering 90°, and prepared the final images for print.

The detailed fine art printing and mounting was by CPS Digital in Manchester. They did a great job. The installation, before opening hours, was fun… and the final work closely resembled the mockups we’d envisaged. Looks great, can be seen from the street outside, and it’s been provoking discussion and interest since it went onto the walls.

Exterior view of the Bear Cafe Bar in Todmorden

Thanks to all at the Bear for their help, co-operation, patience and enthusiasm. Read below the jump for more technical photographic info…

Four panel panoramic print in the Bear Cafe, Todmorden Read more