Originally published in my April 2015 issue of Off the Easel
Before leaving England on our 2008 trip, I was determined to see the Rollright Stones. After all, many visitors describe this as an eerie site, and the King’s Men Stone Circle was where my husband’s photography mentor was pulled down by an unseen force.
An internet search will yield you a bumper crop of folklore and interesting stories about this site. I confess an additional appeal for me was that this megalithic site was the shooting location for the Tom Baker Doctor Who episode The Stones of Blood. How could we resist working the Rollrights into our itinerary before heading back to London for the return flight?
The Rollright Stones are actually comprised of three sites. Joining the late Neolithic King’s Men stone circle are the Neolithic dolmen called The Whispering Knights, and The King Stone monolith dating from the middle Bronze Age. Since we were not pulled down in the stone circle, I surmise we were welcomed by the guardians of the location. As I circumnavigated the circle — legend says that you cannot count the stones since you will get a different number each time — I was struck by the unusual, contorted and weathered appearance of each limestone form. The stones truly looked as though they were the frozen spirits of various totem animals and ancestors.
As I came to one stone in particular, I was drawn to the nearly circular opening within the limestone. Compelled to look through the hole as if it was a frith divination tube from Irish and Scottish tradition1, I found my message in the limited depth of field inherent in human vision. I was reminded that if you look at the stone, that is what is in sharp focus to the exclusion of the hazy background, whereas if you focus on the fields beyond, the texture of the stone becomes soft. To me this was a metaphor: what you focus on is what you see, both literally and figuratively. If you look for the positive aspects in your life, you will find them, but if you look for the negative attributes, you will see only that and no longer notice the good things in your life.
I photographed the stone focusing both ways, using the low light on this cloudy late afternoon to my advantage and exploiting limited depth of field with my camera. After printing a reference photograph of the stone the way it actually appears (as seen on the viewer’s left of the diptych), I flipped the other version with the landscape in focus using photo editing software before printing. Once I had both reference photographs in hand, I played with cropping the proportions and the location of the intersection between them until I arrived at a pleasing orientation.
To echo the concept of sight, I wanted an arrangement reminiscent of eyes or a mask. I folded the two reference photos along the guidelines I had drawn, but when I placed the two sides together, I discovered something quite amazing — at the intersection between the two photographs a perfectly formed swallowtail butterfly appeared at the very top edge of the stone! When painting this, I only had to clarify the bottom forked edge of the hind wing; the butterfly shape was clearly there. Had I cropped and joined the photos in any other way it would have gone undiscovered. When unplanned events like this happen during my creative process, I delight in such synchronicities.
All the best, and Namaste,
1 The frith divination seeing tube was formed with one’s hands, and was particularly employed to located someone or something who was lost. The origin of this augury is attributed to St Brigit or St Mary.