Orwell’s England Number Twenty One: The smell of the earth after a shower

(To read about the project have a look at this page / Click on the image to see a detailed view)

Subject: The smell of the earth after a shower

Location: Around Hertfordshire, various

I decided to go beyond a simple photograph for this one. I had planned to hold a wide-angled lens right to the floor in the minutes after a cloud burst to capture the clarity of the air next to the earth, but early on in April I watched a few time lapse videos and that gave me an idea.

By any measure we’ve just had a wonderful April. After the long grey monotony of winter the snows in March seemed to shake up the atmosphere. Throughout April in the south of England we’ve had the most brilliant see-saw weather: heavy rain , bright sunshine, dark clouds scudding by, bright blue mornings and vivid crimson evenings.

The 12 April did it. I was sitting at my writing desk as the clouds rattled overhead. From time to time they would burst spectacularly, flooding the streets with water.

It was clearly the day to capture the twenty first of Orwell’s annual associations – the smell of the earth after a shower. And being very busy I decided that I’d poke my camera out of our upstairs window on a tripod, set its intervalometer (a gadget that allows you to take sequential photographs for any length of time) going and hope for the best.

Six hours later I went upstairs and after the rigmarole of stitching 2,400 photographs together on my poor laptop, I was pretty impressed with the results. Running at 25 frames per second you could see the sky alive with drama: clouds forming and falling, shadows and sunlight falling alternately on the pavement and the sun creeping down toward the horizon – luckily our house faces to the west.

I spent the next day or two adding a little more footage in the local park and put it all together to a beautiful piece of music written by a pianist called Alan Baker.

It’s a change from the photographs, and I think it coveys Orwell’s idea of the smell of the earth after a shower well enough to be included in the project. I’m also glad it gives it a bit of variety – because, after all, that’s what April’s weather is all about.

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