John Hailstone: Willows of Wallingford – a creative story

Tuesday evening talk 8 September 2020:


John took us through his creative process using the way he created his exhibition “Willows of Wallingford” which was held at St Peters church in Wallingford in April 2018.


He said that his creative approach follows that of Ansel Adams’ in terms of: first observation, then visualisation and finally realisation. But, as Adams observed, before you start you need to have the ‘desire’ to photograph something. John has played around with Adams formula as it is ‘linear’ when creativity is anything but ‘linear’. He encompassing the observation-visualisation-realisation formula within the notion of ‘inspiration’, basically applying ‘inspiration’ at every level. He also added a ‘declaration’ at the end of each step. For declaration read ‘decision’ such as ‘I will carry on with this’ or ‘I won’t continue’ etc.


Trying to pin down a creative process is a tough task and John admitted it ended up being very fuzzy, more like electrons whizzing around protons and neutrons than any clear pathway. Fortunately, we did not get onto the state of being of Schrödinger’s cat…


John made the creative process much more tangible when he explained how his Willows of Wallingford came about in what he termed ‘Gear and Idea’. John has had a project of photographing the trees of Wallingford Castle Meadows for some time and a few years ago he bought a new camera, a Canon 5DS. He played around with the settings for in-camera multiple exposures and started trying it out on the trees of Castle Meadows. He discovered that willows were consistently a good match for multiple exposures.


His technique was to walk around the tree keeping the same focus on one part of the tree and blending the, generally, nine exposures in camera. He said that to him the final images were a distillation of the tree and its environment, something he called the ‘spirit’ of the tree. John then showed the 15 examples of his ‘spirit’ photographs which were all given a single word name that reflected that ‘spirit’. All very impressively impressionistic and something akin to Renoir.


John then took us on to his live music photography which are mainly black and white due to the way music events are lit using magenta coloured lights. For John they ruin the chance of shooting in colour as it ruins people’s faces. He gets ‘access all areas’ at Bunk Fest which means he does get very good ‘behind the scenes’ shots.


John ended his presentation with recommendations of two books: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and Letting go of the camera by Brooks Jensen and two You Tube videos: A powerful way to unleash your natural creativity by Tim Harford and Your elusive creative genius by Elizabeth Gilbert. He also recommended two websites: and


John’s own website is

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