Monthly Archives: August 2009

Did you miss me?

The scoop, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Right back from holidays and back into the stride of things with a picture taken a couple of days ago. Our grand plans to go camping in Pembrokeshire were dashed by paucity of camp sites and overarching threat of rain (and lots of it). As a fall-back position we went to London for four days thanks to the wonders of the family rail card (£26 has never been better spent) and the ridiculous cheapness of (I mean – great accommodation in central London for 27.50 a night (pp) including breakfast). So instead of pictures of the lovely Pembrokeshire coastline I instead got lots of pictures of our capital city.

Although I took loads of pictures of the kids and famous landmarks this image really stands out for me as probably the best (although more will follow). My son, who is 8 and therefore obsessed with war, wanted to see HMS Belfast which is moored on the Thames near Tower Bridge. Wife and daughter wanted to go to the Tower of London nearby so it seemed like a good compromise… However, on leaving the tube at Tower Hill I realised that we were on the wrong side of the river for the Belfast so we had to walk across Tower Bridge and along the opposite bank to get to it, which was how I saw this marvellous modern building.

I have not blogged many building/architecture photos so far but this one has turned out so well that I am tempted to do more. The colours are great and the reflections work really well. Also the clouds help to break the composition. At the foot of these buildings is a free open-air theatre space called The Scoop that was showing performances of a production of Jason & The Argonauts, which we unfortunately missed. There is so much free stuff to do in London that we actually had a really good time (although Tate Modern baffled the little uns).

I think this may be one of my best pictures so far, please let me know what you think.


On holiday

Pond flower, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Hello all. I am on holiday this week with the family so the blog will probably lie dormant for a few days. Sorry! The plan was to go camping in Pembrokeshire but with the weather forecast not looking too good (yep, more pissing rain!) it looks like we may have to make other plans.

In the meantime here is a simple image that I took this weekend at a local pond. I hope that you like it despite its simplicity. Back soon!

Lightning tree

Lightning tree, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

I haven’t posted a black and white image for a while so here you go. I was recently asked by a friend at work to produce some test images for use in presentations to illustrate abstract themes or topics. One of the the concepts that needed illustrating was ‘branching’ (don’t ask me what it means!) so this seemed a bit of a no-brainer. I pass this tree every day on my way to work. It stands in a field just outside Wilmslow and is to all intents and purposes dead… an ex-tree if you will.

I thought it would look good in high contrast black and white and so it proved (or at least I like it). I am actually really pleased to be asked to do this… enough people at work now know about my hobby and some read the blog and comment on my pictures. To be asked to do this is a bit of a step forward. Now I know it’s not paid work (and that the company is getting stock artwork it does not have to pay for) but it is a chance to use my brain and try and come up with images that match themes. This is what I need. It is good training and having a brief means that you have to think about what you are going to do and plan the shoot accordingly.

Response to the images I took on five broad one-word themes were pretty good (although they could just be humouring me), but to be honest I am just glad to have an assignment that has tested me and asked for something original. Please let me know what you think.

A rambling blog post

Dry stone wall, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Evening all. First off many apologies for not updating the blog for so long. Several things conspired against me… some good (a weekend spent with a very old friend on an infrequent trip to these shores) and some bad (this week is my busiest week of the year at work. So I have not had much chance to get out and take any photographs. So many apologies also for today’s picture… It is not a new one as I have not had the chance to take any but it is releatively recent. Also, it’s an image that has received some good feedback on a amateur photography website that I frequent (nothing mucky mind).

It’ another landscape (yawn) but I think it’s one of my nicer ones. I also think it helps to show that my HDR skills are getting a little bit better. When you first experiement with HDR its hard to resist the temptation to turn the dial up to 11. And although I like my HDR images I think that quite a few of them could do with toning down. Grass is not that green and clouds are not always bruised and purple. So in other words, I have decided to use HDR sparingly and when I do use it try and so something subtle that improves on the standard 2D image. This is what I was attempting to do here. I have also revisited the horse and sheep image from a previous blog post (see Flikr) and hopefully improved it.

Over the weekend my friend (who does read the blog) tried to convince me that I should focus on flower images as these are the pictures of mine that he really likes. He also said that great things beckoned… although that was after several pints and two large double whiskeys. The truth is that although I like all photography but do seem drawn to landscapes and macro work. Still this blog will hopefully see me get to grips with some other techniques (I want to do some nightime images after experimenting with the camera’s bulb mode – which enables incredibly long exposure times).

I think I’m just rambling now… anyhow as of Friday this week (21st August) I am going to be on holiday so won’t be able to update the blog. That said I will be taking lots of pictures. Sorry this post is all over the place blame tiredness and the fact that I am still at work

Welcome to the house of fun?

Chester races funhouse, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

When is it, do you think, that you first really start to appreciate music and its power to move you? One of my first memories is David Bowie singing Starman on Top if the Pops in stack heels and a catsuit and I remember thinking that this was something exciting. Similarly, I remember seeing Roxy Music performing Virginia Plain on the same programme and thinking that Brian Eno must come from another planet. I cannot play a note myself but have always loved listening to music and going to concerts. Of course over the years my tastes have changed and mutated. I sort of regret my New Romantic phase (if only for the wedge haircut and pixie boots combination) but I think my young teenage years were blighted by the fact that I was too young for punk and the new wave explosion.

I think my musical taste deepened the most whilst at University in the late 80s… It is hear that my love of The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order (and by extension Joy Division), Elvis Costello and the Attractions really developed and I began to formulate an idea of what type of music I thought really liked; and yes, it was mostly miserable and shoegazy stuff.

But, as you get older, tastes continually change. I used to agree with Morrissey that ‘reggae is vile’ but now I really love it. Country music was considered beyond contempt and almost a joke but now Johnny Cash is a God to me along with Wilco, Uncle Tupelo and Ryan Adams. I also now really love Motown and Northern Soul and am firmly of the opinion that ‘Heaven Must Have Sent You’ by The Elgins is perhaps the most perfect 3-minute pop record ever released. Is it because that as you get older you are less concerned about your peers might think? Is it just that good music is good music despite everything? As much as I dislike Take That I can appreciate that ‘Back For Good’ is actually a pretty damn good song (even if I do prefer the cover versions by McAlmont & Butler and The Wedding Present to the original song). Current favourites are US band The National who deserve to be much bigger than they are and low-key UK indie band The Wave Pictures, one of those bands that you discover and cherish hoping that they never break into the mainstream.

There are some areas that my musical taste has not widened into. I still don’t really get classical music, hate manufactured pop (with the exception of The Monkees who I actually rank above The Beatles) and am left confused by dance music/drum and base, etc. I guess I am more of a lyrics man.

So, why am I banging on about music? Well the title of the blog was obvious given the subject of today’s picture. Madness have been looming large recently as my 8-year old son is making his first tentative steps towards developing his own musical identity. Current favourites are Madness and Blur (House of Fun and Song2 being currently played to death). It’s funny how kids’ musical tastes (well sons at least) is dictated by their dads – my son has friends whose favourite bands are Rainbow, AC/DC, Led Zep and Rush – but I try not to dictate. That said the moment he says he wants to listen The Wedding Present will be one of the proudest days of my life.

Anyway on to the picture. Some images were just made for HDR. This image has actually been tweaked very little – something this colourful and in your face needs toning down if anything. To me this looks like anything but fun and if anything I find it pretty creepy… not helped by the fact that one of the clowns looks like Mr Jelly from BBC2’s ‘Psychoville’. I have a friend that has always been scared of clowns, dating back to when Charlie Caroli terrified youngsters on his children’s’ TV show in the 70s. It’s taken a while, and Stephen King helped, but I am coming around to his way of thinking…

Comments, either on the photo or my appalling taste in music are welcome. Adios

Free running in the UK

Hello readers. A more light-hearted post today, and a picture that makes me laugh. It was taken last Sunday in Watergate Street in Chester. At the moment, my home city is a cultural wasteland – the only city centre cinema has been sold for redvelopment and boarded up, as has the city’s only theatre The Gateway. We were promised a 21st century arts centre but then the credit crunch kicked in and thus we are left with empty (and, in some cases, levelled) buildings and cranes that never seem to move. To be honest it’s a bit of a disgrace. Sure, Liverpool and Manchester are within easy reach but the lack of local culture is slowly sucking the life out of the city. My better half comes from Bolton, a Lancashire milltown that would find it hard to compete in the tourism market against Chester; yet Bolton has a truly world-class theatre in The Octagon and I have seen some cracking productions there.

However, all is not lost. An organisation called ‘Chester Performs’ has stepped into the breach ( Their stated aim is to ‘drive the development of the performing arts in and around Chester… projects are made and presented overwhelmingly by local artists and individuals’.

Slowly, through events like ‘Up the Wall’ and ‘Screen Deva’ (which screens new and classic films in unusual and pertinent city locations), they have brought a bit of cultural life back to the streets using hundreds of local artists and school children. Their efforts cannot be commended highly enough.

An annual happening is the ‘Roam The Rows’ event which utilizes Chester’s unique Tudor shopping galleries (The Rows in local parlance) to present local art and performance. It’s on every Sunday in August (and Saturday 29th) from 11.30-3.00. This weekend featured a demonstration of ‘free running’ or ‘parkour’ in French. I have no idea who these young lads were but their skill and agility was a joy to behold. These guys were performing jumps, somersaults and tumbles in mid air on what was effectvely a cobbled street. How they manage to not dash their brains out is a mystery.

So, anyway here is a picture of one of the free runners in mid somersault, The concentration required is really evident on his face. I think it’s a pretty good image, let me know what you think.

A grand day out at Beeston castle

Ramparts, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Lots of opportunities this weekend to get out with the camera! Now this may seem heartless given that I have a young family but let me explain. Saturday was my daughter’s 7th birthday and she was having a party, meticulously planned to the nth degree, and we were expecting up to 14 7-year-old girls to descend on our house for craft activities, dancing to High School Musical/Hannah Montana/Abba (delete as appropriate). One key part of her plan was that her 8-year-old brother was not be there following the pool party debacle of the year before where he had taken his role of life guard a tad too seriously. And, before you ask, it was a paddling pool.

So I was tasked with taking son out for the afternoon while wife and grandma wrangled the tweenies. Seeing that Beeston castle in Cheshire had a ‘Gladiators and Warriors’ event going on we headed there as I thought it would be right up his street, and so it proved what with lots of fighting gladiators and marching Romans. In between combat sessions we walked up to the castle itself.

Beeston castle is known locally as the ‘Castle of the Rock’ and the climb to the top of its rocky promontory yields incredible views over eight counties, from the Pennines to the Welsh mountains (on a clear day, which it was, you can see Liverpool Cathedral and Jodrell Bank radio telescope). Legend also has it that Beeston still guards King Richard II’s lost treasure although no-one has ever found it. The castle itself was begun in 1225 and has more than 40 acres of woodland trails to navigate.

I took this picture just before taking the bridge to enter the castle itself and you can make out the Cheshire plain and the Welsh mountains beyond. Unfortunately, not much of the castle is left but it is worth it for the views alone.

Heading back down the hill we spent the rest of the afternoon watching several suspiciously overweight gladiators being despatched, much to my son’s excitement (photo can be seen on Flickr titled ‘Gladiatori’). Hope you like the picture and comments are welcome. Thanks!

Banksy: Artist or vandal?

Banksy rat, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Now before I even start this post I should say up front that I don’t even know whether the picture of a rat in my image is by the famous, yet elusive, street artist known as Banksy. To me it certainly looks like his work as featured in his marvellous book ‘Wall and Piece’. Also, a quick Google image search suggests that it is indeed his work.

This picture was taken in Liverpool in July and I suppose is a counterpoint to my previous post about how the city is being transformed. In that post I stated that you don’t have to walk very far from the newly transformed Liverpool to find the Liverpool I remember from when I lived there in the late 80s. The rat is certainly in keeping with the building on which is painted (stencilled?) and as the building is up for sale and redevelopment continues one wonders how long will it be there?

Of course you could argue that the rat is probably worth more money now that the building on which it is painted. Would any developers see this as an investment? Or could the building be demolished whilst at the same time preserving the wall as piece of art in its own right. I must admit that the title of this post is probably a little bit Daily Mail (in that they probably see Banksy as a vandal). I, however, am firmly on the artist side of the argument and I find Banksy’s work to be funny, audacious and thought-provoking in a way that is missing from a lot of modern art. The fact that the press have gone to such great pains to ‘unmask’ him, and the chutzpah by which he has semi-successfully managed to elude them, also adds to the mystery. Although he has now moved on to exhibiting successfully in galleries (his recent exhibition in Bristol was smuggled in under cover of darkness with most of the gallery staff completely unaware that it was happening) I like the ephemeral nature of Banksy’s street art. Many of his works have already been destroyed or painted over. As a photographer I have at least captured his art at a fixed point in time (as have many others).

Last time I was in Covent Garden, London, I saw a market stall holder who was basically making money selling mounted and framed photographs of Banksy to tourists. I wonder what he would make of such an enterprise. Would he give a toss? It’s something I would ask him if I could. Anyhow, here’s my photo of someone else’s piece of art.

As you can probably tell this is another HDR image which really brings out the detail of the static elements (the rat, the red paint on the wall). I was not intending the car to be in the shot but it drove through as the timer was counting down and in the end didn’t turn out too badly. I have had to retouch the car a bit in Photoshop to repair some elements (HDR is not good for moving objects – although I have recently discovered a good cheat that will make life easier) but all in all I think it works and the movement of the car is a good counterpoint to the static buildings. Also, I like the fact that the rat appears to be watching the car as it passes.

Hope you like it. Today’s picture was a conscious effort to get away from the flowers and landscapes

This brave oerhanging firmament…

Horse and sheep
OK, I’ll come out and say it up front. I am really proud of this photograph. So much so that I have entered it for a competition with the theme of ‘Nature’. It was taken last week on the hills around Bollington and I nearly didn’t take it al all. I was pootling about in my lunch hour practising my landscape composition when I saw this horse standing right on the horizon line with a great sky behind it. I had to park the car a couple of hundred yards a way and walk back along a single-track road (somewhat dangerously) and set the tripod up on a dry stone wall. It took me a while to set up the shot and just as I pressed the self-timer (Top tip for landscapes: avoid actually pressing the shutter button whenever you can) two sheep wandered into frame, one of them looking right at me as the camera was beeping. Unbelievably they both stopped as the picture (or pictures as this is a HDR image) were taken.

After getting home and processing the image I couldn’t believe how well it turned out and I hope you agree. The title of this post comes from ‘Hamlet’ and/or ‘Withnail and I’ (cheap attempt to direct Googlers to the blog) and refers to the sky but I suppose the author that most comes to mind when I look at this picture is Thomas Hardy (pretentious, moi?). I’ll explain – I have only read two novels by Thomas Hardy, two novels that I had to read for my English ‘O’ level and ‘A’ level, respectively. These were ‘The Trumpet Major’ and ‘Return of the Native’. Now, I hated both these books (primarily because our teacher chose them over ‘1984’ and ‘Catch22’) with a passion but this picture puts me in mind of Hardy’s rural wildernesses, particularly the heath in ‘Return of the Native’. Thankfully, my landscape is not populated with ‘hilarious’ rustic characters.

Now, people often tell me that I should give Hardy another chance and that being forced to read something is never a good way to appreciate an author. Maybe they are right, after all Polanski’s Tess is a favourite film and I also ‘enjoyed’, for want of a better word, Michael Winterbottom’s film of ‘Jude’ (The Oscure) played magnificently by a scowling Christopher Ecclestone. However, having gone on to read both ‘1984’ and ‘Catch22’ for my own pleasure I can’t help but still feel some animosity towards Hardy. Who knows, perhaps if the situation had been reversed I would be here professing my hatred of Orwell and Heller. Grudgingly, I am willing to give Hardy the benefit of the doubt, so if anyone would like to suggest where to start…

Comments as always are welcome both on the photograph and my ham-fisted attempts to equate myself with a giant of English literature.

Splash of colour

One of the most difficult things about writing a blog (I am finding at least) is keeping it pertinent and interesting. I am not sure that my field of reference for this blog is too narrow – too much technical information and it will become boring (if it isn’t already) and the longer it goes on the less I will be able to write about my subject – photograpy – without repeating myself. In other words, maybe I should occasionally blog about the other things that interest me and use my photographs for illustrative purposes only?

I have posted a series of random thoughts on one of the other pages of my blog. These initially appeared on facebook as an answer to a viral meme that was doing the rounds. At the time I got quite a good response as I tried to be totally honest. If you have read them you will probably glean that my other passions include cinema, music and football (I support Liverpool FC but please don’t hold this against me if you don’t). People that know me will tell you that I had only a passing interest in football until I went to university in Liverpool circa 1986 and it was here that I was bitten by the bug. In terms of cinema, I am a big fan of British genre cinema of the 50s, 60s and 70s. During this period British cinema could compete with the rest of the world on its own terms (Hammer films even won the Queens Award for Industry). Bascially, if a film has Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee or Donald Pleasence in then I am happy; I also love the b&w kitchen sink dramas of the 1960s, my favourite being Lindsay Anderson’s ‘This Sporting Life’.

A few posts ago I floated the idea of readers suggesting themes for the blog (or photographs on the blog) but this didn’t really take off. Maybe you are all too shy? But I think that I do need a bit of direction and a bit of a challenge . It’s all very well me posting the images that I like and trying to weave a loose narrative around it but I think if I was actually set a task (an assignment if you will) then I might actually have to think about what I am doing.

I have noticed that my stats on Flickr are picking up so hopefully this is being driven by readers of the blog interested in seeing some of my other images. Today’s picture is something cheery to start the new week. I am reliably informed that it is an anenome but what I know about gardening and flowers could be written on the back of an envelope. Maybe that is the next challenge – actually finding out what the hell I am photographing? Hope you like the picture and please feel free to suggest subjects and themes that you would like to test me with… otherwise you might just end up with more flowers and landscapes.

I have entered three more photography competitions this weekend so fingers crossed! I have also had a request to do something a bit more avant garde involving photography for a musician I know – I’ll hopefully post the results here.