Monthly Archives: May 2010

Look around you

Roman bridges 3, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Last weekend I had a couple of hours free to take some photographs and was trying to think of where I could go to get some pictures that was reasonably near my house and could be combined with a visit to see my parents. In the end I decided to see if I could find the ‘Three Roman Bridges’ that are very near my parent’s home in Rowton, near Chester. Now, I spent a good part of my life in this house, admittedly my teenage years, and although I often heard people talk about walking up the the Roman bridges I had never been to see them myself. Put this down to laziness, disinterest, teenage ideas that fresh air and walking were things that only ‘old’ people did. Anyway, for whatever reason I had never been, even though they were on my doorstep so to speak.

First up I should state that debate still rages as to whether they are Roman are not. Certainly, they stand on the Cheshire stretch of Roman road Watling Street but their age can only be accurately dated back to the 1600s. Before that that it gets a bit fuzzy. However, whilst I was photographing them a local resident insisted that they were far older and are actually Anglo Saxon. Whichever way you look at it they are old. One of them, the one pictured here, still crosses the river Gowy whilst the other two stand adrift – whatever water they once traversed has long been diverted.

As a photographer most of the photo opportunities available to me are local and unfortunately Cheshire is incredibly flat. That’s not to say that the Cheshire countryside isn’t lovely – it is – it just doesn’t hold the scenic pull of The Lakes or the Highlands of Scotland or the Northumberland and Pembrokeshire coasts. I’m not complaining, it’s where I live and I love it, but my major photography expeditions require planning, understanding from the family and usually time off work. In addition, my home city of Chester is one of the most photographed in the UK after London and York and it is sometimes hard to get a different take on it (the resent snow helped no end in this respect).

I suppose what I am trying to say in this blog, and probably not very well, is that you will be surprised what you can find on your doorstep if you look around. The UK as a country is steeped in history and I think that as a nation we often overlook the great things that we have. Things that are proper old, Stonehenge for example or the 100s of castles that dot our landscape, surround us and yet we take them for granted. Tourists from relatively new countries marvel at our ancient heritage and people come to live in the UK specifically for its historical riches. I am forever amazed that in 2010 we can still unearth hordes of Saxon gold…

Chester is a Roman walled city, specifically built to counter the Celtic hordes that resided in what we now call Wales. As such I have been bombarded with information about the Romans from primary school. We even have an amphitheatre (although only half of it is currently visible, plans are now in place to excavate the other half once the disused convent that sits on top of it has been demolished). And then there is the Norman cathedral, the Tudor shopping gallerias, the civil war connections (Charles I watched the battle of Rowton Moor from the city walls and Chester was besieged by Cromwell’s New Model Army). Added together, all these influences go some way to explain why I ended up studying history and why I am now so interested in photographing it.

So there you go. It’s amazing the local history you can find on your doorstep if you just go and look. The teenage me should have got out more


Walking the dog(s)

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First up I should probably come clean. These aren’t my dogs. I don’t own a dog and I never have owned a dog. At  this moment in time we have four chickens and 1 guinea pig. We used to have a fish and a rabbit but they recently shuffled off this mortal coil (the rabbit is officially living a life of luxury in the the allotments down to road, gorging itself on carrots; the truth is closer to my last blog post). I do not come from an animal family and, given that the UK is often portrayed as a nation of animal lovers, this has always been a constant source of embarrassment. Over the years people have said to me ‘what do you mean, you’ve never had a pet’ but its true. Actually, I lie we did have a goldfish from the fair but it died after two days.

Since I have never had a pet  I find it difficult to connect to people that do. I have friends who love their cats like children; I once had a work colleague who mourned the death of her cat for 4 days and was unable to come to work. At this point I should point out that I don’t intend to scoff or pour scorn here; I understand totally how people can become attached to the animals that they have raised and nurtured, but because its an experience that I never had I feel out of the loop. Cats to me are aloof. Dogs are smelly and stupid. Rabbits are suicidal (or at least the two my children have owned were). Guinea pigs are pointless. Fish even more so. This is all down to me and my deprived upbringing. My brother and I were never allowed pets; I assume because of the cost, the upkeep, the cleaning. My mum always said that she did not want animals in the house (even though as she had a dog when younger, a Highland Terrier called Rex who makes the odd appearance on old black and white family photos).

Of course, my children have always clamoured for pets from a very young age and whilst I appreciate that its a great way to teach them about mortality I still have to admit that I would rather they weren’t there. However, we now have chickens, one of which – a blackrock for those that are interested – is officially ‘mine’. Now, I don’t consider the chickens to be pets. First, they are useful ( 4 eggs every other day at the moment), quiet, self-sufficient, reasonably low maintenance. I actually wanted to blog a picture of the chickens en residence but was unable to get one that I really liked; despite spending half an hour in the chicken pen trying. For some bizarre reason I have bonded with the chickens and I have no idea why. They are not attractive, or cuddly or loyal. Maybe, I’m a farmer at heart 🙂 Or maybe their lack of neediness makes chickens the perfect animals to keep. Whatever it is the eggs are marvellous, particularly in omelette form.

And today’s picture? A long walk on a Sunday afternoon in the Cheshire countryside brought me to the ‘Roman Bridges’ over the river Gowy, near Waverton. These two were just sat in the water waiting for their owners who were obviously somewhere back along the footpath. I like this picture because it makes me laugh and foe no other reason. It almost makes me wish I had a dog. Almost…

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Ducks and mortality

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Yet again I must apologise for the lack of a blog update for a while and since the last one was a bit of a downer then you may well have thought that I was going to pack it in. In my defence I am struggling with a cold/virus type thing and hay fever (tree and rape seed pollen apparently) and have not really had the energy, nor indeed the inclination, to update the blog. And of course there is work too. When ill I am what is known as a ‘presentee’ rather than an absentee; unless I physically can’t get out of bed I struggle in cold and all, thereby increasing the chances of infecting my colleagues. Why? I’m not sure; it’s part of my nature. I don’t like letting people down and, more importantly, I don’t like losing control. To be honest I probably worry too much about work, just as when a child I worried too much about school. Incidentally, when at secondary school (1979-1986) I never missed a day of school through illness or any other reason and my parents still have the letter from the head teacher to prove my ‘extraordinary achievement’. This too filters in to why I tend to go to work ill, part of it is sense of duty, part of it is fear that something will go wrong or that control will be lost. I am more than aware than this makes me sound quite odd and I can’t really explain it other than it’s just the way I am. I have worked with people in the past who insist that 10 sick days a year is their statutory right and will take all of them during the course of the year (usually on a Monday of Friday). I wish I had the chutzpah to do this but sense of duty always gets the better of me.

So where, is this going and how does it feed in to today’s picture? I have an idea but you will have to bear with me and it may end up being a bit maudlin again, so apologies in advance. This picture was taken last week, right outside the front door of my office (we are based on a canal in an old Victorian mill); a duck had built its nest right outside the office and last week all (or rather all but two) of her eggs hatched. Of course this prompted much awwwing and cooing amongst me and my colleagues and I was urged to take some photographs to share with our colleagues in the London office (thereby proving how lovely and provincial our Cheshire-based idyll was to the wage slaves in That London). The photos came out really well and I have to admit I enjoyed taking them. Whilst sitting outside at lunchtime I watched the progression of mother and ducklings from nest to canal side to canal and captured this fantastic journey from beginning to end. I was amazed at how the 10 ducklings went from newly hatched to swimming in a matter of hours. However, it is now 5 days on and the number of ducklings is now down to five. I have no idea what has happened to the rest of them; I am sure that there are a whole number of predators that see a newly hatched duck as a quick and easy source of food. This is what Werner Herzog calls ‘the overwhelming indifference of nature’ in his amazing film ‘Grizzly Man’ (do see it if you haven’t already). As humans we have a tendency to project human qualities onto animals, qualities that simply do not exist. Nature is red in both tooth and claw and the sweet nature of this picture belies the fact that half of the ducklings pictured are now no longer with us. Cute as the picture may be, the reality is harsh and in nature only the fittest survive.

Of course this applies to us humans too. Thomas Hobbes in his political tract Leviathan states that life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’ and most of the time I agree with him. I am at a time of life (42) where I am well into what is known as middle age. Yet I don’t really feel any different to the way I did when I was 18. I have matured (well a bit at least) but deep down inside I feel EXACTLY the same. Speaking to my parents I have realised that as we get older this doesn’t change. For most of us (touch wood) the mind remains sharp but the flesh becomes week and I am increasingly drawn towards how it must feel to be in your 70s or 80s yet still feel the same as you did as when you are in your prime. As you get older your sense of your own mortality gets deeper. I have always been a ‘glass half empty’ kind of person and would even go to far as to say that I have an innate mistrust of people who are too happy. Now I’m not sure that this is entirely healthy; thankfully I have never suffered from depression but I do find myself drawn to an internal questioning of my own mortality. The photography is almost a manifestation of this. A desire to capture moments in eternity, a sense that time is running out (however slowly) and as eloquently put in ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ that we need to ‘get busy living or get busy dying’. There was a documentary on BBC Radio4 recently that highlighted the desire amongst people of my age to suddenly turn to something creative. I have friends who have formed a band, my wife has taken up sewing. It’s a sudden realisation that our careers have reached their natural progression, that there are more things in life than climbing the greasy career ladder.

Other things have fed into this. Foremost is having children. I can’t believe my son is almost 10 and am living with the sure knowledge that in a few years time he will be taller than I am. In addition, a good friend of mine from school died relatively recently from lung cancer at the age of 38. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of him, even though we had grown apart over the years; yet still I am drawn to that brief golden period between the ages of 18 and 21 when he was my one of my best friends. Despite what you might think after reading this post (and if you have got this far then well done) I am not a naturally depressive person. I will admit to liking miserable music, I’m a fan of dark Swedish crime thrillers but I am generally happy most of the time (honest) – although some of my friends may beg to differ. However, I will freely admit that I am scared of dying and that I do not want this to happen anytime soon. Yet I am a time when my parents are in their 70s and their future worries me. I can’t go upstairs without making ‘going upstairs’ noises. I have my hair cut short to avoid the fact that the receding temples at the front are racing to meet up with the bald patch at the back. I’m currently running again after several months of apathy but after every run my knees ache. Basically, I’m like Jeff Goldblum in ‘The Fly’; bits of me are falling off and packing up and this makes me angry at the natural progression of time.

Speaking of ‘The Fly’, I used to love horror films, and still do to a certain extent, but I do find them increasingly difficult and more horrific to watch – again I think this feeds in to getting older. When young we can watch horror films and laugh in the face of whatever bogeyman is the monster du jour; in middle age I am firmly identifying with protagonists and victims and how they feel when faced with impending doom.

Reading back I think that this has probably been my most personal blog post to date. And I can’t believe that a picture of ducklings has led to all this. If you find it maudlin and depressing then I’m sorry but it genuinely isn’t supposed to be. It’s my way of saying that I love life and that my photography is a way of expressing this.

Things to remember:

  • As you grow older you feel exactly the same in your head as you always did; once you realise this it becomes easier to decide what you want to do with your life.
  • Be creative – be it singing, dancing, playing a musical instrument, painting, poetry, acting, photography. Creativity is innate. Find something that you enjoy and embrace it; always remembering that it is the enjoyment that is the thing and not the proficiency.
  • Rage against the dying of the light. You get one shot at life. Make mistakes, and learn from them.
  • Keep in touch with the people that matter to you, even if it’s only via the magic of the Internet. The social media revolution has put me back in touch with many old friends that I am genuinely happy to have found again. Many of whom will hopefully relate with all that I have written above.
  • There is more to life than your working hours and if you live to work then you are doing it wrong.
  • Enjoy yourself; it’s later than you think.

Once again I have rambled for England and you may have noticed that I tend to blog off the top of my head and occasionally not on the topic of photography. Comments on any of the above are welcome as are comments on the photograph (if you can bury the information that I have imparted about the fate of its subjects).

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On reflection

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May already. Where does all the time go? I started writing this blog last May. I know this because the first picture I ever posted was of my daughter at the fair that accompanies the first race meeting of the year. The fair rolled into town last week so it looks as if a year of blogging has passed already. And what have we learned? Well not much actually.

I have got better as a photographer, as hopefully this image proves, and which was the whole point of writing this blog in the first place. I have pretty much decided that I like landscape photography more than say portraits or wildlife or sports photography, but then again a lot of that is due to the purchase of a super wide angle lens last October – who knows, if I ever replace my broken telephoto lens with a decent one I may decide otherwise. I have dabbled in HDR, improved my PhotoShop skills (but still not enough to be proficient), had a small exhibition (still on in the offices of Didsbury Life, Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester), made loads of new friends and contacts via this blog and Twitter, done a couple of commercial photo shoots that have seen me embarking on a steep learning curve and also realised that there are an awful lot of very talented amateur photographers out there. Also, I have made the front page of the WordPress site as a ‘freshly pressed’ blog of note.

So, all in all a good year? I think so. Certainly, if you had told me any of the above this time last year I probably would have laughed in your face. A friend of mine today wrote on her blog that she had realized that although she enjoys photography it was never going to become the thing that drove her; in fact she went so far to say that she had been trying to emulate what I have been trying to achieve via this blog but had come to the conclusion that life was too short. To be honest, I kind of agree with her (and besides if I had her talent with words I would be concentrating on writing as much as possible); photography has to a certain extent dominated my life for the last couple of years or so, but so have lots of other interests and hobbies that have since fallen by the wayside. This feels like the one for me, the one thing that I am actually OK at, after all I’m no writer, singer, dancer or entertainer. But at the same time I realise that it affects my family, it affects my own mood (I get angsty if I haven’t taken any photos for a while) and, truth be told, it sometimes affects my health – you can’t stay up as late as I do sometimes processing photographs on a continual basis without it affecting your eye sight, tiredness levels and ability to function normally.

I really do believe that if you want something you have to put in the hours, which is what I have been trying to do. But with a full time job, a limited amount of photo opportunities and family commitments, this has been difficult. At the moment, processing all the photographs from the Lake District has taken its toll and I am feeling a bit jaded. In part this is due to the fact that this is a really good set of photos and I’m depressed that real life has kicked in again and the next photo opportunity is a long way off. Also, I am really pissed off that one of my key lenses is broken and I can’t afford to buy a new one at the moment. Similarly, my IPod has died and my car needs new brake pads. Lifetime has been piling up again…

I don’t want to sound down because I’m really not (honest). It has been an amazing year writing this blog. The highs have been incredibly high (4000+ readers of my blog on one day following making the front page of WordPress) and the lows incredibly low (back down to ~100 readers just a couple of days later). I suppose this post is born of frustration… I would like to do more but just can’t and this realization has hit me quite hard. I need to prioritize and stop dreaming of a new career that probably is never going to happen. I need to enjoy my photography for what it is, a fulfilling and rewarding hobby, and not obsess and stress about opinion or whether I can sell any of my images. In other words I need to slow down and let real life gain control again. To relax.

But then I look at this picture. And I’m proud of it. And I think its pretty darn good. And it links directly into a memory of stillness and happiness and doing something that I really love. And I want to go back there now at a different time of day – early morning or early evening – and capture the dark blues and purples that you only get at those times of day. And this makes me realize that I love photography for all the reasons I have been expounding on for the last year or so. It touches something inside me, capturing the moment, creating beauty out of reflected sunlight. This blog should really only serve as a means for me to share my photos with you and to get your feedback so I can improve. And if, in the process, I pick up some new admirers or the odd person that might like once of my pictures on their wall then that is really rather good.

Sorry the rambling nature of this post and the glumness that maybe (?) pervades it. I have read it back and thought about deleting some passages before all the friends that motivate me can shout at me again. I am trying to be positive AND realistic about the future and any pessimism basically stems from the fact that I am a ‘glass half empty, kind of guy. You may have already noticed that I like The Smiths.

In the meantime I’ve opened an Etsy shop (as I believe I may have mentioned) which you can find here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/Zardoz67. If you think any of my blogs posts would make a nice piece of wall art then let me know and I’ll add it to the shop. Still early days (i.e. no sales) but plenty of interest plus a contact from someone who has asked for a price to print the ‘breaking waves’ picture at a size of 1,6 metres which is HUGE. Even if this comes to nothing I’m tempted to print it just to see what it looks like.

So 1 year on. Lots achieved. Lots still to do. Could do better but ending on a set of pictures of which I am immensely proud and of which you will be seeing more. This picture by the way is Buttermere in Cumbria, quite the most beautiful, tranquil place I have ever been in this country (the UK). It’s beauty and clarity speaks for itself; hopefully my blog does the same but hampered by being filtered through the mindset of a grizzled 42-year old with a healthy dose of self-doubt. At least I didn’t mention politics…

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