A leisurely walk in the woods on a snowy day led photographer Rina Devine to discover a winter wonderland in Greater Manchester, and snap the perfect postcard of the white-blanketed countryside around a village and its steeple, framed by bare tree branches, a rustic fence, on which a red robin landed just on time to provide a charming splash of colour.
The robin was what first attracted my attention, so I set up my tripod quickly to snap it on the vast background, fretting it would fly away, but it was in no hurry and just perched on the picket for a while, singing,” Rina says. Indeed, the only perk missing from this Christmas card quaint tableau is sound, but if you watch closely, you may almost hear the birdsong carrying your best season’s greetings to your family and friends through the icy air.
Rina reminisces about her childhood in Coatbridge, Scotland, when at the first sight of flakes, kids would wrap up warm and shoot out for a snowball fight or a sledge ride: “Later, when I had kids of my own, once it snowed so much that we were knee-deep in it. The best feeling was returning home after taking them to school in the dark winter mornings, and just sitting in front of the fireplace. Sometimes we were snowed in and couldn’t get to the baker’s, so we had to bake bread at home.”
A former store owner who sold everything from groceries to tombstones, she relocated to Gibraltar 14 years ago and joined the Photographic Society just to challenge herself to ‘something new’. She attended their beginners’ course and – hey presto! – she became an award-winning photographer, producing some of her favourite photos such as Stairway and Watching Gibraltar’s Identity Disappear, campaigning for the conservation of the Old Town’s unique character.
She participated in the GBC’s special program Wise Eyes on the Road, produced by Luis Ruiz in 2017, documenting her and four other local photographers’ ten-day voyage across the Atlas Mountains and to the Sahara desert. Needleless to say, this venture generated a great selection of full-colour and monochrome vast landscapes and intense portraits from a land of stark light, briefly exhibited at the Gibraltar Art Gallery on Cannon Lane.
Rina’s got a keen eye for artistic composition and special effects, both with still life and creative stunts like the inventive Staple City: this recreates the illusion of New-York-like moonscape by piling and aligning metal staples of different sizes and length along a small puddle on a black background. “I stirred the water with a toothpick, and photographed a print inside the water to add the river effect and play with reflection, then edited and merged in Photoshop.”
Her still life is both luxuriant and delicate, picking on the luster that vegetables like bell peppers and tomatoes allow, with the Mediterranean twist of fresh basil leaves and fragrant garlic, whose chiaroscuro in the foreground brings the flavor together well, fit for a Mediterranean lifestyle advert.
Flowers are captured in full bloom, but more often they are picked when already touched by a hint of decadence, as Rina feels the poetry of withering is a metaphor for life’s transient beauty. “I love getting close to the subject, using macro; the world in small is wondrous to appreciate.” Roses, sunflowers, lilies and sunflowers, yellow poppies, often textured for added drama, in soft hues on the backdrop of china cups brimming with tea, make elegant Edwardian greeting cards and posters.
As she grew confident with the camera, Rina’s interest shifted to Gibraltar’s heritage, which she wants to document in detail “before it fades away”, so she is an avid visitor to the Northern Defences’ tunnels – where she uses long exposure for images, and light painting, a technique that relies on torchlight in dark places. Digitally retouched and highlighted, the photos turn out to be nothing short of a good old ghost story.
A keen eye for texture and architectural detail in the Upper Town’s every nook and cranny characterises Rina’s most iconic production, focusing on wrought-iron balconies, staircases, louvered shutters, wooden doors, lampposts and tiles – the more they’re riddled with flaky paint, rust and chipped steps the more her fancy is tickled. She wanders about alleys and ramps, peeps in open portals and passages, explores inner patios and secret gardens, where she sets up her tripod and transposes into pixels the mood that she feels to be Gibraltar’s very essence. Shots are artistically retouched with Photoshop, as she loves adding layered textures to them, to extol their temperament and bring out hidden facets.
Her favourite palette seems to converge to pastels, giving some of her cityscapes the colourised old photo effect, while sometimes she simply opts for monochrome, when geometry or shape and not colour is the main subject matter. When a detail is manipulated, multiplied and rearranged into abstract composition, it is magnified to take centre stage and morph from its practical function, as a car manifold for example, to objet d’art.
Her favourite photo remains the one she snapped in Seville on a foggy night: “It was winter, and quite nippy, but I stood in a cobbled alley enveloped in mist for a long while, waiting for someone to walk by under the eerie streetlight,” she says. Her efforts were rewarded by a couple, whose silhouettes are projected like a hologram at vanishing point, and provide the darkest spot in a scarcely lit composition where highlights are sprinkled around the damp surfaces, creating a surreal hard-boiled detective book-cover or movie-poster effect.
On the wave of the interest that her unique perspective on Gibraltar has raised within the local ‘shutter-happy’ community, Rina set up her cottage industry a few years back, and now she sells her prints at the Artisans’ Market in Casemates on Saturdays and Ocean Village on Sundays. “All my souvenirs are locally produced, as I manufacture at home prints, postcards, greeting cards, mugs, coasters, plates, jigsaw puzzles, fridge magnets and CD clocks. They feature my own artwork and can be customised with inspirational phrases or dedications,” she says. Her photos can also be printed on canvas for the true painting look. “I like to use coarse canvas, because it adds texture and the retro feel.”
Rina’s souvenirs are available at the Gibraltar Museum and Heritage Trust shops, and her stall will be at the Boulevard’s Christmas Market throughout December. Rina’s portfolio can be viewed and advanced orders placed on her website RinaDevinePhotography.co.uk.