Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Mouse Hole, Mousehole, Cornwall

Finished constructed photograph of Mouse Hole 2014
I first got to know about the Mouse Hole Cave when researching the Beaford Old Archive in 2009 Looking for an image to use in an early Ghost Card for an exhibition I had been commissioned to make work for. I had known Mousehole, the village, pronounced ‘mowsull’ since childhood holidays in Cornwall; it had the quaint harbour and lots of cats. I had never questioned it’s name or come across the footpath which left the village on the giveaway Cave Lane. I discovered it for myself for the first time in June 2010. It had struck me as a man-made cave, some kind of mine, which hadn’t seen the sea for a number of years.

Francis Frith 1908
The old footpath sign carried a fitting scratched statement ‘Not To Beach’; and that had been all I needed to find this place. Its interior was very dry with evidence of youthful parties and a lush green fern covered entrance. I made some photographs with the intention of stitching them together in the winter, but those images stayed unstitched until now! Maybe I had felt at the time that the resulting image in my minds-eye wasn’t going to fit in with the sea cave images I was working on As well as the image in the Beaford Archive, collected by James Ravilious, I found that other photographers had documented it in the past. Francis Frith had been here in 1908 and 1927. I’m sure there were also Victorian and Edwardian photographers also making their way to this place when there was a metal ladder set in the cliff and the path was accessible without almost crawling through the undergrowth. 
Francis Frith 1908
Francis Frith 1927

This would have been a major attraction to the tourists back then and the trail from village to cave would have even been accessible to ladies and gentlemen in their flowing dresses and suits. My visit to the Mouse Hole in April 2014 was after a winter of record high rainfall and gale after gale coming in from the south west. This cave would have taken the full force of the weather fronts and huge waves. The storms had cleansed Mouse Hole from years of growth from land based plants and of the litter and detritus left from years of neglect from its visitors and from the high tides which had also left their mark. This was a profoundly different cave than the one seen four years earlier, but I expect this is a continual cycle, probably also witnessed by Frith and other returning pilgrims back then.
April is also a time for seabirds to nest and this time the entrance way was alive with kittiwakes leaving and returning to their precipitous homes. This with the blue sky was a major part of my memory of the cave in 2014, whereas the white overcast sky of 2010 had helped me concentrate on its tropical entrance. Time was against me as I was constricted to public transport to get me back from Penzance to St Ives, and this after the hike back into town; but sometimes this can focus the mind. The resulting image is a combination of iPhone and Olympus Pen. The image was quickly made with my iPhone including 17 frames of the entrance focusing of the kittiwakes in flight. The interior of the cave was then quickly made with the micro 4/3rds camera mounted on a tripod. Speed was also important here because the ceiling was continually dripping and it was only luck that all of the frames were made without a splat of water on the UV filter. Fortunately this cave is so large, tall and wide mouthed, that interior lighting was almost even, there being 1 stop exposure difference between the entrance and the ring of images deeper into the cavern. And only 2 stops difference from the outside exposure of sea, sky and birds.
Finished constructed photograph of Mouse Hole 2010
Post processing was started almost immediately with an iPhone image created in the AutoStich app; but it was clear from the start that it would be a difficult image to stitch. The iPhone frames were stitched together in Photoshop later in the day and a selection of the ‘bird’ frames were combined to reinforce my memory of the place. The camera frames were stitched a couple of days later and then the two formats were combined together to make a finished image that can be printed up to 1 metre squared.
With this new image I went in search of the folder containing all of the photographs from the Cornwall trip in 2010. These images made on my Olympus dslr were combined in a similar way and make an image of a similar size. But comparable in so many other ways which makes both images more interesting and a great record of this wonderful place.
Stitched iPhone images of Mouse Hole 2014

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