Monthly Archives: January 2011

Green door, what’s that secret your keeping…?

Green door spot  

Very, very quick blog post tonight just to keep up my commitments… As my wife has just said to me ‘what’s that supposed to be? A picture of a bin and some urban decay?’ and I suppose she is right. As I said in yesterday’s blog post I live in a picturesque tourist city of Roman walls and Tudor buildings. Like other major tourist cities – London and York, for example – Chester has been photographed to death from every angle. So on Sunday, on a walk into town to the 24 hour chemist to get some flu remedy for the still afflicted, I thought I’d take some photographs that were not typical tourist. Of course all cities have their seamier side if you know where to look and despite its thriving tourism my home city is in the middle of a crisis at the moment – the cinema is empty, as is the theatre; closed to make way for a development that was victim of the credit crunch and even now is only slowly coming back to life. Areas of the city have been demolished to make way for new buildings that never came.

On my walk into town (only 10-15 minutes) I passed this doorway on the main road and it caught my interest. Yes it may be ‘a bin with some urban decay’ but I liked the peeling paint and the eroded brick work. Again I have used the dreaded spot colour here, the use of which is still very much a ‘jury is still out’ scenario. I have worked up several iterations of the same photo. One all colour, one pure black and white (see below) and probably against my better judgement it’s the spot colour that I like the best…

Green door b&w Green door

What do you think? There may be more urban decay to come this week so apologies in advance. Sorry for the brevity of the post but today has been fraught in more ways than one and for reasons that are too numerous to go into. Let’s just say that after the day I’ve had urban decay suits my mood. Don’t know about you but I can’t wait for the sun to come out again.

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Games without frontiers

D-day

Something odd happened today. My son, aged 10, did not spend all day on the X-box or the Wii or his Nintendo DS. He did not ask to watch telly or to go on the computer. Instead he emerged from his bedroom with a box of dominos and some plastic soldiers that he then proceeded to play with for most of the day. As you can see, he had it in his head to recreate the D-day landings and this kept him amused for hours. This has left me heartened; after all this is something I used to do in those ancient days before computers. He has also started to spend his pocket money on Airfix kits…

We are told constantly that today’s kids are too reliant on technology and that they have forgotten how to play or at least how to think up play scenarios for themselves. I am not convinced that this is true. Sure, the technology is there but in my experience, with my kids at least, they tire of it pretty quickly. The things that hold their attention are toys and games that have been around for years – Monopoly, Chess, Lego – which I suppose explains why they have been around for years. Of course Lego is now more sophisticated than it was when I was a child – Lego Ninjas are the current must have incarnation – but its still Lego. Our house is full of it and if you have ever stood on a Lego brick with bare feet you can understand what a minefield it represents (not as painful as stepping on a 3-pin plug mind but close).

So this post is really a big hurrah for the power of the human mind and the ability to play inside our own heads. Soldiers + dominoes = the beaches of Normandy. Not a connection that I would have made but maybe 30-odd years ago I would have done the same.

As for the picture, its for images like this that the 50-mm prime (i.e. fixed focal length, no zoom) comes into its own. The 50-mm lens is pretty close approximation to the human eye so to get this picture I had to get right down on the floor. Opening the aperture up to f1.8 means that the depth of field is glorious – the focus was on the 2 soldiers at the front of the ‘landing craft’ and having the aperture wide open leads to  that wonderful fore- and background blur.

As for the blog title… You may have noticed the badge on the blog signalling my intention to post every day in 2011. By signing up for this I get a motivational e-mail or topic suggestion each day from WordPress. One of the suggestions was to give each post a title that would draw traffic to the blog. So here’s a big hello to all the Peter Gabriel fans…

Took some other photographs today and therefore have a few ideas as to where the blog may go next week (February!). Living in a tourist city that has been photographed to death I have tried to take some seamier, grittier, less obvious photographs so watch this space.

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It’s hip to be square

Square

As it’s the weekend and there is a bottle of wine with my name, not to mention some Mexican food, on it I shall be brief. Not really got much to say as it’s been a very busy and tiring day. My wife has flu so I have been wrangling children, building a chicken enclosure, washing the car, ferrying said children to and from various activities, etc. To be honest I’m knackered and trying desperately not to come down with whatever lurgee is lurking on every wipeable surface.

Calm had descended though as Primeval is on – the television programme du jour in the absence of Doctor Who. So, I’ve escaped upstairs… Was looking through the photos I took this week and decided to have a play around with this one. To be honest it wasn’t really going anywhere so I decided to crop it to a square 8” by 8” and suddenly it came into life. The original was a standard 12” by 8” and looked a bit, well empty. I’ve noticed that increasingly in galleries and interiors shops photographs are cropped to square and mounted in frames with large apertures. This focuses the eyes on the picture and the square format is unusual so it holds the interest. Also, it seems, square photographs work particularly well in black and white. I’ve sent this one to print and am hoping that once mounted in the right frame it will work really well as the picture itself has some good lead-in lines which will hopefully draw the eyes towards the horizon. The frozen canal adds a bit of texture and the sunrise has give the clouds a bit of lift.

Given that this picture was going square I decided to look for a companion for it, as the wall space I am looking at needs two pictures. In the end I settled for another water-based picture, again black and white, taken on the sea front at New Brighton just before Christmas.

New Brighton-287 square B&W

I like the lone figure in silhouette in the top left and the street lights that draw your eye in. Oh and the sea is pretty good too… So what do you think? Is it hip to be square? My son thinks its a ‘good photo’ and that’s all the praise I need.

Two more days and I’m 1/12th of the way to achieving my target. Still need to work out what I am going to do when I go on holiday and, more problematically, when I go to Glastonbury in June… Given past experiences getting a data signal is tricky but that’s some way off yet. I am thinking that the only way is to upload photos from my phone… Can’t believe I’m talking about June. Need to get through Feb, March, April and May first

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Close but no cigar

View from Dinas Bran

As you may remember, way back in September 2010, I entered the Great British Photograph competition which carried a prize of £5000. You may also remember that of 2000 photos entered to represent Cheshire in the competition I was lucky enough to have two shortlisted for the final ten; this in itself was quite an achievement. However, it seems that my luck has finally run out as the photograph going forward to represent Cheshire in the final 36 is not one of mine. The first of my photographs that were shortlisted is above and I don’t think that is one that I have blogged before; it was taken from Dinas Bran castle near Llangollen in North Wales looking down into the valley below (and to be honest I’m not sure why it was chosen to represent Cheshire). The second is my photograph of Chester Cathedral at dusk, which is one that has appeared on the blog but here it is again in case you missed it:

IMG_2274

To ne honest I think I entered better photos than this in the competition but these were not in the Cheshire category but in Cumbria and Northumberland. These did not even make the shortlist, which makes me think that the judges have chosen based on where the photographer resides rather than where the photograph was taken. I’m not bitter. I was delighted to get so far and as a result both these pictures were featured prominently in the January issue of Cheshire Life magazine.

The shortlisted photographs from each county are ‘eclectic’ to say the least and you can see the contenders, including the Cheshire finalist (‘Clarence Mill’ by Craig Hassell) here. There are some great photos here and some rather bizarre choices. I’ll leave it up to you decide which are which. My personal favourite is ‘Summer Frocks’ by Chris Gravett in the Bedfordshire category. I know Chris via Twitter and know that this image has indeed gone forward to the final 36 so wish him the very best of luck.

Better luck will hopefully be with me next time!

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Not playing out

Lime wood fields

I am a child of the 1970s. I was three in 1970 and so I am well versed in all the cultural touchstones that have seeped into national consciousness. Jon Pertwee is my Doctor Who. Wagon Wheels were bigger. Dog poo was white. We all rode around on Raleigh Choppers, eating spangles and went home to a tea of Findus crispy pancakes before watching Noddy Holder in his mirrored top hat on Top of the Pops. I remember my dad being on strike (he was an electrician, now a retired electrician) and power cuts. But most of all I remember playing out. All day, every day. In the school holidays, after school, weekends. It was expected. I was lucky in that the house I grew up in backed onto a playing field with swings, a climbing frame and a see-saw. My brother and I would go out in the morning, come back for lunch, and then go out again until it went dark.

Playing out meant football on the back field listening to the top 40 on a portable transistor radio; it meant cycling for miles to see how far we could get; it occasionally meant playing on the railway tracks and once, only once, it meant helping the fire brigade to put out a fire that we had started in the long dry grass on the railway embankment. Looking back, particularly at the long hot Summer of 1976 when I was 9, it was an idyllic golden time. I certainly don’t remember being frightened, or scared or worried. We occasionally got into fights and stone throwing with the boys literally on the wrong side of the tracks; my brother was once bitten by a stray dog, the tetanus injection that followed giving him a lifelong fear of needles. Nothing could stop us… Looking back their were brief glimpses of the adult world. A woman in a nearby street was ‘attacked’ in her home (it was many years later when we were much older that out mum told us what those inverted commas really meant).

But apart from that we walked to primary school on our own, came home at lunchtimes walked back to school. On thurdsay night (late night opening) I would walk down to the library, again on my own and stop at the offy (off licence) on the way back for a bottle of Corona (not a beer but a fizzy orange drink) and a Curly Wurly. I felt safe and was never in doubt of my safety.

At some point, everything changed. I can’t put my finger on when this was; it seems like more of a slow gradual process but certainly by the time I had my children they did NOT go out on the back field to play (even though there was one – the one pictured in today’s photograph). I often wonder about why this is? Why do I deny my children the freedoms that I had? Is the world really such a scarier place? We’re talking about the 1970s after all. The only conclusions I can draw is that the media and society’s’ attitudes changed beyond recognition in the intervening years. As attitudes changed, reports of kidnappings and disappearances became national stories, where previously they had been localised or maybe only spoken about in hushed terms by adults in private. Crimes against children have always been there (my mum was within a whisker of being a juror in the trial of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley) but new technologies made it easier for news to spread.

Slowly, over time, parents became scared to let their children play out. In the era of rolling 24-hour news parents like to keep their kids where they can see them and know they are safe. But is this damaging? Probably. My kids have always been driven everywhere, dropped off at school, at friends houses, at music lessons. Their outlook and opinion on their surroundings is diametrically opposed to my outlooks and opinions at the same age. I had a freedom that they do not. Of course I know was probably lucky but this meant that an awful lot of us were lucky. I am still close friends with quite a few people that I knew back then. When we meet we reminisce about what we got up to; yet all of us suffer from the same sense of panic when it comes to our own children. The world seems  more dangerous even though it probably isn’t; in fact kids are probably safer now than they ever were.

My son was 10 last week. He wants to start going to the local supermarket on his own to buy comics, sweets, etc. Of course he should do it. Yet I still have this nagging fear that tells me that he is still too young – despite the fact that when I was his age I would walk to our local library in the dark every Thursday night AND go to the local pub (because the off licence was part of the pub) to buy fizzy drink, crisps and chocolate. I know that I have to give him his independence and the fact that I am reluctant to probably says more about me than it does about the ‘broken Britain’ we are living in (wonderful piece of scaremongering by our current government) and the fact that my son is simply growing up and I have to let go at some point.

Comments as always are welcome.

Today’s photograph was taken yesterday on my way to work. I stopped the car because of the salmon pink sky as the son came up. I think its one of my better more recent efforts. It also works pretty well in black and white thanks to the silhouette of the sign…

Lime wood fields b&w

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Does he do requests?

Sheep

Can we have some hen shots?? My mum loves hens, I might buy a print. Or sheep. She likes those too…

When I started this mad idea about blogging every day I told you there would be bad days and this may be one of them. No disrespect to my friend Sophie who’s quote you can see above but she only as herself to blame. Notice how contrary I have been though… Regular readers will know that I do keep chickens but I have found them notoriously difficult to photograph as they are always moving, heads jerking constantly. Sheep on the other hand are a boon to the photographer as they stand perfectly still and stare at you; as do cows. So sheep it is. But not just any sheep. These are hard Lakeland Cumbrian sheep as you can tell by the way they are staring me down.

As the Housemartins so eloquently put it:

image Of course the Housemartins, good socialists that they were, where not singing about sheep but about commuters getting onto trains and the pointlessness of the rat race. It’s still a song I like and can relate to, despite being a wage slave and despite this blog being a desperate attempt to do something more creative, something with more value. It’s a young persons song about idealism and ‘sticking it to the man’ and lets face it we all need a bit of that no matter how old we are. A lot of people I know are turning their hands to the creative… I have other friends that have taken up photography, another who runs a craft group, several very good writers, people who write poetry. And yet all (or most) have day jobs to pay the mortgage and feed the family. Life seems to always urging me to look back rather than forward and that’s probably my problem in terms of the melancholy that quite often seeps into this blog. I do a lot of ‘if only I’d known that then’. Call it ‘mellow doubt’ as Teenage Fanclub would have it but there comes a point when you realise that some things are more important than work and money. When it hits you; once you suddenly realise that  in the great scheme of things a lot (most) of the things you do don’t matter; they aren’t important.

Sure I know I have to work but I’m not hung up on it like I was 10 years ago. I have nothing to prove and basically just want to spend more time doing the things I love with the people I love. Work is an enabler, not a driver. Remember, it’s sheep we’re up against.

And before you ask, yes I have taken a drink. This blog was going to be a picture and a quote about sheep from a very good, and very old (not in age but in the length of time she has known me) friend; as usual it’s turned into something else again. As it’s 11.45 I need to post and keep up the record. See you tomorrow… I think I took a good picture today. We will see…

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Bloggers’ block

Coniston

You hear about writers’ block all the time, that point at which no ideas will come no matter how hard you stare at the piece of paper; I also understand that artists and sculptors can also suffer from periods when the muse deserts them. Tonight I am suffering from a serious case of bloggers’ block. I have sat staring at a blank screen for the last 15 minutes not knowing what to write. The feeling is setting in that I may have overstretched myself by trying to update the blog every day as the opportunity for new pictures just isn’t there at the moment, thanks to the shitty weather. I fear than my run of fog-based images has come to an end so I am having to fall back on a picture from April 2010.

This is a picture that has eluded me for some time. It was taken last Easter on the banks of Coniston water very, very early in the morning and is one of a series of very similar pictures. I think the reason it has eluded me is that the moment at which I took it was such a perfect moment – one of those that I’ll take with me always – that the pictures have always somehow failed to capture it. I got up early to take some pictures of the lake and was having a rest when this swan glided up and stopped right in front of where I was sitting and just sat there. It was a moment of perfect calm and perfect stillness, almost an out-of-body experience. And then the swan stretched its wings, flapped and was gone. As I was taking landscapes I had the camera set up all wrong to capture the movement of its wings and the pictures where it was about to move off are just a white blur with a hint of swan. A missed opportunity. I would give my right arm to go back to that moment and have the camera set up correctly.

As a result of my anger and disappointment, and the blurring, these pictures have sat unprocessed for a while. So, in a moment of desperation regarding what to post tonight I thought I’d revisit them. This is the result. I have written before about sometimes just letting the dust settle on a set of pictures before going  back to them. Frustration can cloud your judgement. At the time I thought this picture and its companions were disappointing for all the reasons mentioned above. However going back I find that they almost match the ideal that I was looking for. If you look back at my very early posts – as I had recourse to do recently – you will see that at the beginning I had a tendency to maybe over process; and certainly my dalliance with HDR was a symptom of that.

This image has has very little done to it. A few tweaks here and there to correct exposure and colour; the horizon has been straightened. But it hasn’t turned out too badly. It was pictures like this, that I am proud of, that were supposed to provide the cornerstone of this blog so although it’s a bit of a cheat to go back I think its worth it, if only to prove to myself what I am capable of. I sort of think I’ve cheapened the blog a bit by posting every day as some of the pictures have just been filler to fit whatever rant or wistful reminiscence I was engaged in. What do you think? Maybe less is more? This is not me copping out (at least I think it isn’t) and I am heartened by the fact that one recent picture in particular that I ‘dashed off’, Victoria in the fog, has actually proved to be extremely popular.

After last night’s post it also seems that all of you agreed with me that the colour version was better, which is also heartening as it means my instinct was right. Cheers and thanks for reading

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Ghost town

Close encounter ghostly

I promise this will be the last of the fog pictures but given that it’s January and Winter I’m comforting myself with the thought that at least I’m giving you new pictures. Since the last few have been black and white images I thought I’d give you something in colour today. Also I’d like your opinion regarding whether this picture works or not. On the face of it, its not particularly inspiring and who knows maybe it isn’t. I’m 24 days in and scraping the barrel here. Be that as it may I really like this picture primarily for the different coloured halos around the street lighting. I also like the subtle colour reflected on the road surface and the hints of purple edging in by the slope of the mound in the top right.

However, I have also processed this image in black and white and this works too. But the two effects are completely different. The colour picture is more Close Encounters the black and white is more Sherlock Holmes.

Close encounter ghostly b&w

However, on this occasion I think I prefer the colour version. What do you think? Be honest, there is no right and wrong answer but I would be genuinely interested in finding out which you prefer. With this in mind I’ve set up an on-line poll so I would really appreciate it if you could let me know what you think here.

If this works I might try and introduce more polls in the future. It may be a useful tool as I am very often torn when processing photographs as to what route to go down and this would help no end. Plus, you never know it may help to freshen things up a bit if I am to update the blog on a daily basis. Don’t forget to vote and any comments are welcome also.

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Night and the city

Statue b&w

There have not been that many photographic opportunities this week that did not involve fog (you may have noticed). It seemed to hang around for days, barely lifting. As already said fog lends itself beautifully to non-colour photography be it standard black and white, sepia, infra red so I make no apologies for another black and white photograph. When the sun returns hopefully I’ll have more colour to play with… This picture was taken near the race course in Chester from the centre of a roundabout. It’s a long exposure of about 8 seconds, hence the ghost car in the bottom right. I liked the way the fog shrouded the street lighting and the statue on horseback.

Can’t believe that we are already on 23rd January and that this is my 23rd blog post of the year. Blogging something every day has been really hard with some days harder than others, especially weekends when all you want to do is relax. As an experiment though its going pretty well and traffic to the blog has increased 2-3-fold so I must be doing something right at least. It seems that when I have something to write, the words come easier than the photography and other times (like today) I try and use the photograph to make up for my lack of words.

This weekend has been all about the birthday sleepover and I will admit to being totally and utterly exhausted. Sleep finally descended at around 12.30am this morning and they were all up again at 5. Needless to say, my son is now safely tucked up in bed with barely a whimper of protest. So, the sawn of another week and some big decisions to make; chief amongst these is whether to put myself forward as a school governor. It’s something that I would really like to do but don’t want to if I can’t give it the time and energy it deserves… I’ll let you know what I decide and if I am able to come up with the 100 words needed to highlight my suitability. In other news my wife is pondering jumping into the abyss of social networking; perhaps she has read my previous blog post from Friday, the result of which has been another interesting offer to help with ideas mapping a book! It’s all go.

But its Sunday night, work in the morning and a bottle of Rioja open so goodbye for now. I’d just like to say a big thank you to each and everyone of you  that has read, commented, subscribed to or liked the blog of late. It’s really appreciated. Cheers

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Victoria in the fog

Victoria

Never posted a sepia photograph before and to be honest it’s not a photographic effect that I’m overly fond of but I thought it fitted here. A photograph of Queen Victoria in the fog outside the Crown Court in Chester taken on my son’s birthday – 19th January – on the way back to the car after a birthday meal. Short post tonight as today has been his party, which has meant Nerf gun battles, electric guitar, trip to the cinema to see The Green Hornet (which was far better than I was expecting), pizza, more Nerf gun battles, an episode of BlackAdder and, now, finally, hopefully bed (although I can still hear them giggling upstairs. In Victoria’s day children were seen and not heard. I refuse to comment further on the grounds that I may incriminate myself.

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