ANDY SANDS at PARK STREET – Thursday 26th November. 2020 By Dave Hipperson

Date Published 
Sat 28 Nov 2020

I have been in Andy Sand’s kitchen. It’s something out of the 22nd Century and that’s before he assembles the colossal concoction of gismos and gadgetry he finds necessary to take his macro photography to another level. By his own admission it all went this way with the advent of simplified photo-stacking. Well I say simplified. Before that Andy’s images were just a bit suprising. Now they are quite astonishing. Originally the stacking was actually done in the cameras. In Andy’s case his OM-D EMk II and later using the two or three improved marques which came out quite quickly after. Now his set-up is dauntingly formidable.

However first he explained to us how he took advantage of the dry, sunny and most of all, calm weather in the Spring of this year. His enforced absence from his Chiswick shop gave him more time to explore his Brickett Wood locality every morning searching for interesting specimens to photograph. A lot like any of us could have done and some did. His typical routine involving getting up at 3am and taking various levels of apparatus with him. The excruciatingly early hour ensuring he was undisturbed and that his prey would still be waking up and therefore quite soporific. Often images could be taken hand held thanks to these Olympus camera’s high degree of stability compensation. If all else failed, actually in the field, he might gently rustle the branches of promising trees and gather the descending insects and bugs in a net and take them off home to photograph. He was quick to point out that he would always bring them back to where he found them afterwards including their off-spring were they away long enough to pro-create. What a naturalist!

Not that his own garden didn’t hold plenty of its own spenders. He has thousands of insect nesting tubes and also attracts copious quantities of various moth species in a special trap every night. This alone gives him plenty of subjects to study and often these creatures will give him access to their entire life cycle through mating, egg laying and then back to being caterpillars, pupating and finally giving life to another moth. We know he does this as he showed us lots of photographs of every stage!

His outdoor exploits this year have included the discovery of a fly he had never seen before and there can’t be many of them. Andy had to ask an ‘expert’ what it was called. They didn’t know either and contacted the Ministry. They recognised it and were most alarmed as it was something from South America that is known to attack the digestive systems of cattle. A few weeks later Andy popped back to see if he could find it again and was horrified to find huge tracks of land roped off and the local landowner fuming that an idiot had reported some stupid fly in his field and the Ministry of Agg. Food & Fish had been down on him! Andy admitted nothing and quietly departed.

An entire part of his presentation was given over to his early morning trips into the wild where the minute droplets of dew on the tiny creatures were individually so sharp that they enlarged well enough to refract detail from the surroundings. Macro photography at its most outstanding apart from the fact that it wasn’t. The most astounding was still to come and it was “Slime Mould.”

Now unless you had been there you would not have believed anyone could make a dissertation on Slime Mould interesting let alone amusing. He explained that Slime Mould wasn’t a Fungus like mushrooms, it was a eukaryotic organism. What was most clear was that it was minute. So minute as to be easily missed by the average eye. The pieces he showed us ranged from the comparative large 3mm high to sometimes less than 1mm. As with his insect and bug shots he was fluent in exactly what each one was called and spoke of them with the same confidence that an ordinary person might refer to countries of the World or the length of lenses. Just as if they were day to day objects. For him of course they are which became doubly creepy when on the screen they resembled huge looking trees. Understandably these images were not taken in situ.

He brings pieces of bark home with the mould on and even breeds some of his own in tanks. After that the photographic procedure is complex. The camera with various tube attachments and something resembling a microscope on the end allows 30 – 40 time life size magnification. The focus stacking can then run into literally hundreds of exposures for every finished image! Stacks taken by way of his vernier controlled screw threaded rack which allows movement of the camera in single microns! (A micron being one thousandth of a millimetre.) Understandably everything is locked down tight with straps, clamps and weights and he has to use his kitchen as it’s the only room in the house with a solid concrete floor and hence less likely to be subjected to local vibrations.

However such care is still not enough. These super macro session of his have to take place late at night – which must go ever so well with the 3am starts, possibly he doesn’t ever actually sleep? However the reason for the time of night is simply that by then the house is silent and no one is bashing about shaking it, as despite the concrete floor such innocuous vibration is enough to ruin the definition. Yes, this photography is so sensitive that such tiny movements as that will notice. So all is well until the local Subaru boy racer roars past at 1am with his foot on the throttle in 2nd gear! You’ve guessed it, now he gets the road closed off before he starts. Well not quite actually but he has thankfully put one such idiot off by getting a neighbour (a police man) to wave him down and threaten him with a ticket for too noisy an exhaust.

By this time in Andy’s talk Rod and Maggie Fricker who live across the road from him must have been becoming increasingly nervous about so much as slamming a door in their house after lights out and even I am being more careful now and I live 5 miles away! He has in effect invented a visual equivalent of Richter scale measurement! Next time you hear of an earthquake in Birmingham give poor old Andy a thought and hope he wasn’t just setting up another wonderful shot to have it ruined.

As if these tales of the extraordinary lengths he is prepared to go through were not enough he finished off with an astonishing image of a complex mould array including some strands of fibre that looked to all extent like bracing wires. Heaven knows what diameter they were – a human hair would have looked like rope beside them. Andy is thinking of using it as his Christmas card this year. Well why not?

Little wonder more people joined us for this talk by Andy than had Zoomed in so far this season. He comes up with a different idea every time. To continue this trend one can only presume that next year he will come gowned up with mask staring into a microscope at a petri dish and showing us intriguing images of single cell organisms the quality of which could only be rivalled by photographs of deep space taken by the Hubble telescope. It’s a high bar but its simply got to happen.