Monthly Archives: March 2010

My great grandfather the hero

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A bit of an unusual blog post today and although it is illustrated with photographs it is not really about photography but about family history, specifically my great grandfather George Ellis Nelson. When I was a child I remember my dad telling me stories about how his grandfather had fought in the Great 1914-1918 War and also that all his medals could be seen in the Cheshire Regiment military museum. Indeed, I have a vague recollection of going to see said medals in a display draw some time in the late 1970s. In my head I imagined him in the trenches of the Somme, but I never really thought much more about it.

My son, whose middle name is George, in honour of my grandfather and great grandfather, is 9 years old and is at an age when all things to do with war fascinate him. I put this down to his love of Terry Deary’s Horrible History books and the simple fact that he is a boy. Whilst he is interested in the historical wars, i.e. World Wars 1 and 2 (especially tanks and aircraft) he gets somewhat anxious about the ‘real’ current war in Afghanistan and the conflict in Iraq. On a recent trip to the cinema they showed the trailer to Iraq war film ‘The Green Zone’, which resulted in my son hiding his eyes and telling me to let him know when it was over. It seems to me that the war in Afghanistan is too real, too current; added to this he attends a primary school that has quite a few children whose parents are currently serving overseas.

Recently my son went to the military museum in Chester with my his granddad to see the aforementioned medals (we have also recently been to the RAF museum at Cosford and the U-Boat Experience at the Woodside Ferry terminal in Birkenhead, so you can see the level of interest one small boy can have about war). They came back with all sorts of information about my great grandfather some of which came as a great surprise.

George Ellis Nelson enlisted in the Cheshire Regiment in 1903 and after completing his training joined the 2nd Battalion, then based in India. In 1913, he returned to the 1st Battalion in Ireland. After the start of the Great War he joined the 7th battalion and went with it to Palestine. This came as a surprise to me as I had previously assumed that he fought in France and Belgium. ‘Palestine’ on this occasion is shorthand for the modern countries of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. It was a widespread theatre of war against the Turkish army war that was initially centred on the strategically important Suez Canal, linking the Red and the Mediterranean Seas. In 1917 an offensive was launched that took British troops, and my great grandfather, into the Holy Land and Syria. Palestine became the second largest theatre of war after the Western Front.

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The 1ST Battle of Gaza took place on the 26th and 27th March 1917 and it was here that my great grandfather distinguished himself. The regimental war diary of the 7th battalion of the Cheshire regiment reads:

‘26th March 1917. 01.30. Battalion paraded for night march with brigade… Arrived at Wadi Ghuzzi at 05.30. There was a heavy mist hanging over the Wadi at this hour and remained for about 2 hours. The brigade was pushed on at about 08.30. Arrived at rendezvous at about 12.00 when the brigade (less the 7th Cheshires [my great grandfather’s battalion]) was sent forward to attack.7th Battalion Cheshire Regiment was detailed to Divisional Reserve. At about 15.30, orders were received to advance to attack an objective being pointed out to the commanding officer. The starting point was 4-500x from the enemy’s position which was on the right of Ali El Muntar. The battalion advanced in 4 lines of platoons, A company leading. When about 1400x from the enemy’s trenches all companies extended… Two companies advanced straight to the objective without a halt and the CO established his headquarters at the citadel in Ali El Muntar at 16.30. Dispatches were sent…’

Now this all sounds very commonplace and matter of fact but this short entry in the war diary marks the point at which my great grandfather won the D.S.O. (distinguished service order), a military honour one below the Victoria Cross. According to the Long, Long Trail website (www.1914-1918.net) the DSO is:

‘A high award for meritorious or distinguished service rather than an act of gallantry, although in many cases during 1914-1918 it is not easy to discriminate between these two reasons for granting an award; in fact in some cases it appears that a D.S.O. was awarded when perhaps a full recommendation for a VC could not be justified or corroborated… it was unusual for a DSO to be awarded to an officer with a rank below Major. The recipient was allowed to use the initials D.S.O. after their name.’

Digging a little deeper you can find the actual citation:

“At a critical moment when our advance was held up, he [Captain G.E. Nelson] collected sufficient men to move forward and straighten the line. By his fine example and disregard for danger under heavy fire he eventually led this line, which was composed of seven different units into the enemy’s position”

So, there you have it. My ancestor was a bona fide war hero, which makes me very proud. Captain Nelson left Palestine in 1918 and left the regiment to return to civilian duties and for a short period was on the recruiting staff at Chester. After the war, he was the landlord of a succession of pubs including The Baltic Fleet in Liverpool and The Cherry Orchard in Boughton, Chester. His obituary in the regimental history states that:

“in later years he had the misfortune to have to undergo operations resulting in the amputation of both legs, the last operation took place in 1957. In spite of this misfortune he remained happy and cheerful to the end.

And, that I am afraid is all I know about him. There are no pictures and hardly any personal effects as he left everything to his second wife who was estranged from the rest of the family and for many years has been painted as the villain of the piece; certainly it was her that sold my great grandfather’s medals to the military museum in Chester.

The one artefact that we do have from him and which is in the possession of my father is the subject of today’s picture. It is a military field compass dated 1915 that almost certainly went with him to Palestine. It is the only tangible object that my family has that belonged to Captain Nelson.

I know so little about him apart from what is written above, most of which is gleaned from some photocopies that the military museum kindly did for my father. I have no idea of what sort of a man he was – another family story suggests that his first wife, my great grandmother died in mysterious circumstances but this is probably more to do with the animosity towards the second wife – but I do know that he fought for his country and acquitted himself admirably. My son is thrilled about this and the compass is an object that he never gets tired of looking at. I do wonder what he would have made of his family as it is now; being a military man he probably would not appreciate my thoughts on the Iraq war. However, I do think that no matter what the reasons are for going to war we should always support the men and women who put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis.

The pictures of the young men being repatriated from Afghanistan and the corteges passing through Wooton Bassett serve as a reminder of the sacrifice that those in the armed forces are making and the danger they put themselves in. Almost 93 years ago to the day my great grandfather led his men to attack an enemy position in Gaza. This blog post is my way of saying thank you and that I, and his great great grandson, will never forget him.

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Yes I know it’s the same picture but…

Mark’s Waterfall, originally uploaded by eastofnorth.

Before you ask, no I haven’t gone mad. This is the same picture as my previous post but different. I received a contact via Flickr from friend and Bollington photographer Katherine Lewis asking if I minded if she had a go at processing the photo in a slightly different way. And this is the result! Whereas my original had saturated colours Katherine has sensibly focused on the waterfall itself and toned down the surrounding elements. Also she has successfully cleaned up all the distraction from the bottom right corner. It’s the same photograph but different which is fine by me as I like them both.

This sort of thing is very subjective as I think I prefer the deeper colours of my original, but at the same time Katherine’s re-jig has a much better tonal quality, is a lot more focused and has really brought the falls themselves to life. I’d be interested to here opinions as to which you prefer, and no I won’t be offended.

This whole exercise has again highlighted the need for some more training, specifically in PhotoShop, as I am currently just dabbling… Of course this could again open up the debate about the manipulation of digital images and whether it is somehow cheating. Again, I can only point out that in the days before digital photographers would work in the lab/darkroom with chemicals to get the look and feel they wanted. The digital darkroom is just quicker and easier and a vital tool in the amateur photographers armoury.

I’d like to thank Katherine for giving me a different take on my photograph and for again highlighting that I a have a lot to learn. So I won’t be changing the blog title just yet.


Another bloody landscape…

Ingersley falls

Yeah, OK, I know. All those fine words about branching out and trying something different and adding strings to my bow, etc etc. I make no apologies, purely because this photograph, in my opinion is amongst the best that I have taken. It distils what I have learned over the past year in terms of composition, setting the right aperture, etc, etc. Taken on my lunchtime walk 2 days ago in Ingersley vale, a place I had no idea existed until a friend at work (thanks Louise!) suggested I walk up there because it was ‘quite nice’. I like this picture because I seem to have got the water just right and the colours are pretty amazing and, well, I think it looks beautiful. You may disagree. Waterfall pictures are a staple of landscape photography after all, but for me this is a checkpoint. I now know that I can do this and this is a good thing.

To get to the waterfall I had to walk past an abandoned mill building, where I also took quite a lot of photographs so I will probably be following up this landscape with something urban, rotten and decaying and, well. ‘street’. Not that I know what that means exactly. Further to the last post I was thinking of late what draws me to landscapes. Anyone that knows me will know that I am primarily a ‘glass half empty person’; the music I like could probably be pigeon-holed as depressing although I occasionally exhibit signs of happiness by listening to Motown and Northern Soul records [As an aside it is my contention that The Elgins’ ‘Heaven Must Have Sent You’ is the finest 3 minutes of music ever committed to vinyl*]

I do feel an affinity to the British landscape. It focuses the mind. It’s hard to be depressed about the minutiae of real life in the face of such beauty. In a couple of weeks time I am heading up the Lakes and hope to put all the skills I have learned over the last year to some good use.

Tonight I have had to play the tough father with my 9-year-old son who now ‘hates me’ because I had to have words with him for not listening to a word that his mother (and me) says. And yes, before you ask, I was exactly the same. As your kids get older you have to get used to them saying that they hate you or ‘it’s not fair’ on a semi-regular basis; at the same time when they don’t hate you you’re the best mum/dad [delete as applicable] in the world. It’s a minefield, yet it’s all about pushing the boundaries of authority and testing the limits. By the morning it will all be forgotten but it doesn’t stop you from feeling like an almighty shit. At 9, it’s only going to get worse [and when your 9-year-old is already nearly as tall as you, there are obviously tough times ahead] but I wouldn’t miss the journey for the world.

I am aware that I spend too much time on my photography, which is why I am here typing away at midnight updating the blog and telling you my innermost thoughts; but there are not enough hours in the day. I really want to make a go of this. What I have achieved so far is heartening but I still have responsibilities to my family and their upkeep. It’s a fine line. Full-time work and photography as a hobby are difficult to juggle (and I get amazing support from friends and family. When I produce a picture like this it almost seems worth it…).

Comments welcome as always. More pictures of the Ingersley waterfall here:

*Ask your parents

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White Nancy revisited

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Another photo from my current expeditions out of the office at lunchtime from last week. White Nancy has featured in a previous post from many moons ago but I find it strangely compelling and I make no apologies for revisiting it here. Of course I am also aware that I may be running out of things to photograph in my 30 minute slot. I am also beginning to think about what sort of photographer I am. I am drawn to landscapes and wide open spaces but I think this is primarily due to the lenses I have at my disposal. Still working towards that macro lens and also need to get a really decent telephoto so I can give wildlife photography a proper go ie wildlife that is actually wild and not in my garden or local parks. Most photographers DO specialise – landscapes, wildlife, portraits, sport, reportage – and it certainly seems that landscape is the direction in which I’m heading. I find this interesting because I love people, both meeting old friends and new connections; however, I am drawn to wide open spaces and solitude and the simple beauty of what is in front of us. Perhaps (who am I kidding with this element of ‘I don’t know), then the photography is a means of escaping from real life for brief periods of time? Taking a photograph such as this, alone atop Kerridge hill is for me a really pleasurable experience. As well as capturing the moment it gives me precious time to think, to de-stress before heading back to the office and to realize that work is a means to an end.

I don’t want to get to all New Agey (as at heart I’m a miserablist) but I do find the natural world as the closest I can get to achieving a feeling of the big picture. I am not a religious person and I suppose the point I am trying to make is best summed up by Douglas Adams, writer of ‘The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

Now I know that many people will disagree and I don’t want to start any arguments. I have many friends with strong religious beliefs and I would not think of trying to persuade them out of them. Sure, I have had heated debates but we are still friends.

So, if it is to be landscapes then I should perhaps think about occasionally introducing you to types of photography that are maybe not (currently) my forte. I had an unsolicited e-mail contact this week from Melissa who works on Rentokil’s blog (yes I never knew they had one either). She direct me to a post featuring an interview with science photographer David Spears http://www.rentokil.com/blog/shooting-insects-for-science/. The post has some really great images and tips for macro photographers, which I intend to think on and follow once I finally get that macro lens. In the meantime David’s photographs are truly stunning. If I am interested in the wider world, then he is focussing on a smaller, inner world that is far more alien and just as intriguing. There is as much beauty in his picture of a flea than there is in any landscape you would care to mention.

Summing up then – I have to go it’s Mother’s Day and the kids are itching to wake up their mother with a cup of tea and presents despite her desire to stay in bed – this post is a companion piece to the last post about the world being essentially a beautiful place despite what we, as humans, are going to it. It will abide long after we have gone.

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It’s that most wonderful time of the year…

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… and by that I don’t mean Christmas. What I do mean is that the nights are finally drawing out and it looks as if Spring may finally be on its way. In a previous post I stated that I needed to take more pictures and, in the spirit of this new mindset, this is one of the first results. I usually take the camera to work with me anyhow but I figured if I get out for half an hour each day and take 5-10 pictures whilst walking for 30 minutes it will do both my fitness and my photography no end of good. I have also decided to be proactive with regards to opportunities that present themselves during the day. So, with this in mind I went for a little walk yesterday lunchtime around the town of Bollington in Cheshire where I work. During the course of this perambulation I took some pictures that I was pretty happy with:

This would normally have done me for the day but, finishing work at 5.30 and on my drive home I saw the most beautiful sunset. Thankfully, I decided to stop the car and take some pictures as the sun disappeared over the horizon. The light was amazing, there was hardly a cloud in the sky (where the sun was at least) but also there was this jagged band of cloud that seemed to stop mid-sky for no apparent reason. As the sun sank lower and the colours deepened the clouds took on this wonderful pink-tinged hue. In other words, I was really glad I stopped the car and took the time to take a few pictures. The window of opportunity was slight (5 minutes at most) but this being the magic hour, coupled with the fact that the coming of Spring means that I am now leaving work just as dusk falls, meant that I was able to get some great pictures of the Cheshire sunset:

As I have said before, Winter can be great for photography (witness my Crosby pictures) but the medium, by definition, is dependent on light  and there is more of it in the Spring, Summer and early Autumn months. As the days get longer there will hopefully be more opportunity to take pictures, which can only be a good thing.

Of course an image such as this only goes to remind us of our own insignificance. After a day at work to be presented with this sight on the way home served as a reminder that the day job is a means to an end. At the end of the day, we live in a world of wonder; if we only took the time to stop and marvel at what’s in front of us (tens of cars drove past me when I took these pictures without a second glance) I personally think that the world, and our lives would be enriched and the world would seem a better place. I have been deprived of music in the car of late (iPod with red ring of death) and listening to Radio4 and Radio5 (if only 6Music was on an FM band!) has proved to be a depressing experience with constant coverage of Afghanistan, murderers stalking facebook, political skulduggery, etc, etc). In my opinion, the majority of people that you meet on a daily basis are honest, normal people like ourselves (although the occasional wanker does intrude). The world is a beautiful place people, lets look after it, and ourselves and each other.

As you can see I have wandered off yet again. It’s late and I should be in bed. Hope you like the pictures. Please comment if you feel the need.

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Hipstamatic

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This is going to be a rather unusual blog post but please bear with me. Unusual in that I have abandoned the SLR but also will appear to endorse a particular product. Apologies in advance but I have so much fun playing with said product that I felt I should blog about it. All I can say is that I have no vested interest.

Not sure how many of you have an iPhone but I am sure you are all familiar with the ads that seem to be ubiquitous; ads that share the mantra: ‘you want x. There’s an app for that’. Now the technophiles amongst you will know that the camera on the iPhone is pretty rubbish. I have no idea what the pixel count is but its poor. There are far more impressive camera phones out there; but wait, some genius has made the iPhone’s shitty camera work to it’s advantage. The app in question is called ‘Hipstamatic’ and, in basic terms, what it does is allow you to take pictures with your iPhone that look like they were taken with a crappy 50s/60s/70s instamatic camera. In other words you can take a photo with your iPhone that then has scratches, lens flair, blemishes etc added lovingly to it. But there’s more – you can choose different lenses, different film stocks, different flash effects and the results, although low resolution, are quirky, retro cool, fun and, damn it, pretty good.

I’ve not had the application long but today had the first real opportunity to play around with it. This picture is of a vase in our house (it used to belong to my wife’s grandmother and we rescued it from the house clearance after she passed away). It’s a cheap imitation vase that is cracked in several places but it has great sentimental value. Messing about with Hipstamatic this afternoon I took this photo of the vase on the coffee table in our lounge and this is the result. And this is what I am talking about and why Hipstamatic is such a fun application. It is seemingly impossible to take a picture that does not look like a document form 40 or 50 years ago. Of course, this sort of fun application is going to have limited appeal or usefulness for a pro photographer but for me it’s something that can be used for when you need that retro feel or to lift a subject that is intrinsically dull. You may disagree and think that this picture and this post proves otherwise but I have had real fun today playing around with it. Some of my other efforts are in the gallery below. All I can say is that, going forward, after I have taken pictures with my SLR I will also be rattling off a few shots with Hipstamatic. I have a feeling that this application will become huge (and by definition over used) but at the moment it’s a great way to take interesting photographs with the iPhone’s low-res camera.

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The morning after the night before

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Morning all. Don’t usually blog on a Saturday but since I have been very slothful this week with regards to blog posts (blame work) and since last night was the official ‘viewing’ of my first exhibition I thought a quick update might be in order. First, I would like to thank everyone who came last night to the offices of Didsbury Life in Burton Road, Manchester! Second, I really appreciate all the nice comments about my pictures. I admit I was a bit nervous going into it but was soon put at ease (although the copious amounts of red wine helped). Third, thanks to all the people who couldn’t make it but who took the time to wish me luck. The evening went very well (but again that might have been the wine). There was some genuine interest in my pictures and I enjoyed chatting about my ‘work’ more than I thought I would. I also might have convinced quite a few people to invest in an SLR and a wide-angle lens.

So what lesson have I learned from last night? Mainly that I need to have more confidence in my own abilities (following a two-pronged life coaching from two Helens) and to keep doing what I’m going with regards to the blog and taking more photographs. I am really hoping that contacts forged recently will help me step up to the next level and enable me to place my photography on a more commercial footing. My first ever blog post was titled ‘from small acorns’ and when I look back at how things have moved on in less than a year it really surprises me. If you had told me this time last year that I would be where I am now I would have laughed in your face. But here I am, still an amateur photographer but an amateur photographer that has seen his pictures exhibited and done a commercial photo shoot.

In other news, this post has been added using ‘Windows Live Writer’ a program that I didn’t ask for but appeared in the latest update to Windows7. It links directly to the blog and means that I can type in the blog posts as if I was using a word processing program and drag, drop and resize the pictures (rather than importing them from Flickr (hence why today’s picture is a decent size. Early signs suggest that it will make updating the blog even easier, so I will have no excuses for not updating. Also it means that I can add more than one picture to the blog posts like this:

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I can also do cool things like adding a photo album of some the pictures that I took on the same day in the same location like this

The pictures were taken in Bollington, Cheshire and are of an empty church in the village; at least I think it’s empty – the doors are locked securely and there is no sign of recent activity. Comments as always are welcome, particularly on the new layout features…

And finally, in case you are really interested I can insert a map to show where the pictures were taken:

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Dream a little dream…

DREAM, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

After the foray into agit prop last post it’s back to the world of photography for the first blog post of March [as an aside my last post failed to rally the masses as it looks like 6Music is to close]. I have recently come to the conclusion that I need to take more photographs, buoyed by recent developments in my life photography wise I should probably be doing all I can to improve my technique and widen my fields of ‘expertise’. This is difficult at the moment given the full time job, dark nights and awful weather but thankfully Spring will soon be upon us. Spring and Autumn are probably the best seasons photography wise, although Winter can be great if snow puts in a performance. It’s not that I don’t like Summer, it’s just that harsh sunlight brings a new series of problems that need combating. That said though it’s the best time of the year for stunning sunsets.

I am aware that I am waffling and contradicting myself again, so apologies. Last weekend was not ideal for taking pictures – dull, overcast, rain – but in the spirit of doing more I headed out (as you do) to an reclaimed industrial wasteland near St Helens. ‘Why,’ I hear you shout with incredulity ‘would you want to that?’; well the answer is today’s photograph…

A couple of weeks ago, as you remember, I stayed in the Hard Days Night hotel in Liverpool. Amongst the usual array of toursity bumpf in the room was a leaflet on Dream, a sculpture by Jaume Plensa on re-claimed ground near St Helens. Why, hadn’t I heard of this? After all St Helens is less than half an hour away? It looked impressive in an angel-of-the-north type way. Shouldn’t the installation of a giant sculpture of a head have received more coverage? If it did then it must have passed me by for until I read about in that hotel bedroom I had never heard of Dream.

The sculpture is very easy to find (if you have a satnav at least) and dominates the skyline [Again, why is it not more widely known]. It’s a short walk uphill from a pub car park to the sculpture itself and all I can say is that it is well worth a visit. The head is of a young woman with her eyes closed but it’s dimensions are as you see it here (i.e. the head is tall and thin and appears stretched to the naked eye). Of course, as you walk around it you get entirely different perspectives. Oh and it is HUGE.

Whilst I was there I encountered lots of other people, although surprisingly I was the only photographer not using a camera phone. Given the overcast sky the pictures weren’t great and I intend to go back when the weather improves. This image has been tone-mapped slightly to give the clouds a bit more depth but I think it’s quite impressive. The piece itself is quite beautifully serene and contemplative and it was good to get away from the mad whirl of recent events, if only for a couple of hours.

This week has started badly. More tyre blow outs (back wheels this time). Really stressful week at work. All building to the official ‘opening’ of my small exhibition in Didsbury on Friday evening which I must admit to being a bit nervous about [recurring dream about people pointing and laughing not a good sign]. On a better note, the photos from the tapas bar shoot have been well received, the website is under construction and should be up and running soon with a gallery of my photos (at which point I will share a link).

Anyway, that’s enough for today. If you ever find yourself near St Helen’s go see Dream. It really is very impressive.