Chapter 1: “My” wind farm

Frost at Dun Law (iPhone 4, 645Pro app)

Frost at Dun Law (iPhone 4, 645Pro app)

May 2013

It goes without saying that this is not really my wind farm! However, in the sense that this wind farm is quite close to me and represents something to me, it is mine. I went there twice in two days to make photographs; it was January, the snow had almost completely gone, but it was bitterly cold on both days. On the second day I was there for dawn, and experienced the most fantastic fog that shrouded everything in a velvet blanket for several hours until the little sunlight there was had burnt it off. This only added to the magic!

Dun Law is a wind farm that straddles one of the roads that leads to my current home city of Edinburgh from the south, the A68. For several years now, these wind turbines have communicated something very basic to me, and that is home. When travelling from the south, seeing these structures on either side of the road, standing there as giant silent sentries guarding the passage north, I know that I am not that far away from home. No matter how tired I might be after a long journey, they energise me sufficiently to keep driving in the knowledge that I no longer have far to go. They are welcoming windmills that connect to childhood memories of travelling, as I described in the Introduction.

Looking across to Dun Law East Wind Farm (Ilford FP4+, Chamonix 4x5, 180mm)

Looking across to Dun Law East Wind Farm (Ilford FP4+, Chamonix 4×5, 180mm)

Of course, they are not silent. When standing close by they make a sound, but from the road, driving along, there is no sound from the turbines. They simply stand there, motionless apart from the blades turning in the wind, looking out over the road from both sides.

Dun Law West (Fuji Provia 400X, Mamiya 645, 80mm)

Dun Law West (Fuji Provia 400X, Mamiya 645, 80mm)

Of course, even aside from the blades, they are not motionless either, though they do not move about on the ground. This will become apparent in a forthcoming chapter.

Strangely enough, considering the comments I made in the Introduction, for me, until I went to photograph them, these turbines had no connection to what it is that they make: electricity, which is why I thought of them as windmills, rather than wind turbines. Their role as guardians, sentries, watchers, took away from their function as producers of… well, anything, never mind electricity.

Dun Law in the fog  (Ilford FP4+, Chamonix 4x5, 180mm)

Dun Law in the fog (Ilford FP4+, Chamonix 4×5, 180mm)

Given my emotional connection to Dun Law, it seemed only appropriate that it should be the first wind farm I visited. In reflecting on how I saw the turbines, I wanted to make sure that for myself, at least, I would find a way to photograph the connection to electricity generation.  This, after all, is their function, even though my emotional connection to them was about movement, travel, and homecoming.

Dun Law West Wind Farm (Ilford FP4+, Chamonix 4x5, 180mm)

Dun Law West Wind Farm (Ilford FP4+, Chamonix 4×5, 180mm)

To my astonishment, I saw that all the way along the eastern side of Dun Law West wind farm there were pylons and cables. I have no idea if these are carrying electricity generated at Dun Law (I suspect not), but I am sure they have long been there – and yet for all the times I had driven along the A68, I had never noticed them. These massive steel structures with their thick dark wires stretching out over the hills like the strands of a huge spider’s web criss-crossing the country according to maps and diagrams of which I know nothing… I had never noticed them. They had faded into the background, even though they are in the foreground when seen from the road – the only perspective I had ever had on this wind farm before walking amongst the turbines in January.

The valley on leaving Dun Law West Wind Farm (iPhone 4, 645Pro app)

The valley on leaving Dun Law West Wind Farm (iPhone 4, 645Pro app)

And so I end this first chapter asking myself questions: what made me see the turbines (as windmills…!) but not the pylons? What made me see the turning blades, but not the thick wires? Is it that the ubiquity of pylons and cabling helps me to ignore them, whereas wind turbines in wind farms are still a more unusual sight? I know that many people object to pylons too (eg Highlands before Pylons), but in general wind farms appear to generate even more vociferous objections. Perhaps I will begin to find some answers to these and other questions in the coming chapters.

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Go to next chapter.


6 thoughts on “Chapter 1: “My” wind farm

  1. Stef

    I really like this, Michael! I am also one of those people who look in awe at the “silent” beauty of the windmills by the side of the motorways to Edinburgh. I see them as flowers, sunflowers or windflowers… That turn with the wind instead of the sun! There is also an old actual windmill right outside my door, on the Fife coastal path between Pittenweem and St Monans. It never moves… It makes no bread anymore, but it sits beautifully on the dunes and is a sort of beacon to go to and sit under in the sun. Exactly what we did yesterday – peaceful and quiet. Anyway, love the pictures a LOT.

    1. Michael Marten Post author

      Thank you very much, Stef. I know that windmill, and it is one I had wondered about making time to photograph at some point.
      As for “windflowers” – have you been looking at drafts of future postings or notes of photographs I am making?! More to be revealed soon…! 😉

  2. Rob Hudson

    Hello Michael,

    It seems almost wrong to be saying much at all so ’early’ in the non-project/exploration or whatever the correct term I should be using here. But I will anyway! 🙂

    Firstly I love the romantic associations you have with windmills, that was both unexpected and delightfully human. I’m not entirely sure I feel the same way about them though – these are giant industrial triffid windmills bestriding the land as if it was theirs to conquer. Legoland they ain’t! But the sheer scale is important, it’s the difference between a chocolate box cottage and The Shard. It’s that scale and the almost alien qualities of their perfect shining steel and paint, that makes them feel too modern and intrusive to my notion of the ideal landscape. Actually I’m much more ambiguous about them than any of the above statements might lead you to believe, I think of them as a regrettably necessary, rather than desirable element of the modern landscape. Equally I understand and respect that this is your personal exploration of wind farming and the little personal touches – the photographs of the simple delights of food lend it an insight into you the man, which is perhaps as unexpected as it is heartwarming. And I will equally accept that we tend not to notice most pylons in most places, although I have seen them in contexts that I find startlingly inappropriate. It could well be that, from a distance at least, I/we/all of us will become more accustomed to them over time.

    (Of course I’m using ’conquer’ knowingly here as there are issues of ownership and exploitation that I have a funny feeling you’ll be getting around to sooner or later!)

    I’m not entirely sure what issues you have with the word ’project’ here incidentally, I think that requires further explanation. I have to admit I use it fairly unthinkingly as a direct substitution for series or exploration and development of ideas and ways of seeing. But then I’m no hard headed academic with ’semantic’ objections to these things! 😉

    As for the photos; I’ve already mentioned the food, so as for the photos of the windmills and their environment; I’m going to to have to admit that they impress me for their quietly, gentle filmic qualities, it’s almost a memory something of the past, a projection of the soul you may not have considered. Yet they are clear eyed and open hearted and (maybe?) open minded too? Maybe the fog will soon lift and we shall see more clearly then?

    I was really looking forward to this post and I’ve not been disappointed. For one it is definitely your personality here and your personal reflections. I’ll be looking forward to more and the way you see further issues surrounding them.

    1. Michael Marten Post author

      Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments. I’m glad these beginnings speak to you.
      Yes, I think size is an issue, and you’ll have seen that I have a forthcoming chapter looking at that, in what I hope is an interesting way. I also pointed to this issue in a short blog posting today that referenced your comment here. (I’ll pick up on the “project” question in a blog posting sometime soon, I think.)
      Of course, conquering and ownership and exploitation and so on will feature. And “conquering” is a key term here: I may use your “bestriding the land” phrase, as that is how these wind turbines are often seen by people. I don’t want to say too much about future postings yet (not least as they may change!), but perhaps less surprisingly than the inclusion of bread, my draft text on this topic currently includes a certain level of theological engagement: after all, Gen 1:28 has been misused by those seeking to destroy the environment for their own gain for a long time, and these kinds of questions are “home turf” for me! But land ownership is important as well.
      I very much appreciate your comments on the photos themselves. I really wanted these ones to be seen in this kind of way: they are memories of countless journeys that I have taken, and so the fog was an important part of that. You can’t imagine how pleased I was when out there on a freezing January morning to be enveloped in this dense fog (it was so dense I could barely see to focus, however, which was a problem: doing so on the ground glass of the large format camera, when every breath condensed on the glass making the image even more blurred, was a challenge to say the least!).
      I hope you’ll find future postings as stimulating as these first two.

  3. Mike Green

    I’m looking forward to seeing future chapters of this unnamed thing on the theme of wind turbines, Michael. I shall refrain from commenting on the text of the two sections so far, but I’m sure I shall later. With respect to the images you’ve created for this post, however, they’re really very impressive, especially the fourth and fifth ones. I do think wind turbines can be rather beautiful and these images certainly tend that way (it’s the wider context of removing pre-turbine beauty which I am more ‘concerned’ about and will probably comment on later).


    1. Michael Marten Post author

      Thank you, Mike. I’m glad you like the images.
      I have responded to your comment on my blog about the wider context, and I hope that as the chapters proceed, there will be further interesting discussions.


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