Monthly Archives: February 2011

There once was an ugly duckling…

swan

I have thousands of photographs; I am ashamed to admit that hardly any of them have ever been printed out, let alone framed. They stretch back to as early as 2005 and form a handy reminder of how far I have come. But, the thing is that some of these photos from way back are having a second lease of life, they keep niggling away at me in the back of my brain. In fact I am beginning to wonder if all the photographs that I have taken in the last 5 or 6 years are worthy of re-evaluation or re-appraisal. This is primarily because my digital darkroom skills have improved no end and there are things I know to do now (such as applying an unsharp mask) that I didn’t do then. I know how to fix exposures and apply filters to rescue images that I may well have dismissed out of hand in the past. Also, there are images that I was guilty of over-processing in the past that I now think would be best approached more subtly. My problem is that there are so many of them, most existing on several back-up discs.

Someone once said to me that there is no point in being a photographer if you are not going to print your pictures and hang them. There can be no doubt this is very true, but wall space at home is limited and most of my own personal favourites are framed and hanged already; furthermore, frames are expensive, even at places like IKEA, when you are buying in bulk.

I definitely do need to print and frame more of my pictures as whenever I do I am usually quite impressed with the results. The main reason why I currently don’t is that there are now so many of them that I would not know where to start; I am pretty disorganised and not particularly good at workflow (i.e. labelling and cataloguing my pictures so that I know exactly where a specific set of pictures is and where to find it). Yes there is software that will do this for me but I run out of space so often on various internal and external disc drives that I am constantly moving them about and the links get broken. Add to this the fact that my new camera, when shooting in RAW mode, takes images that have a huge file size (~25 MB per picture) and you can see how I am running out of space both in the virtual and physical worlds.

Choosing pictures to print and frame is also problematical for me as it is a very subjective exercise. When I had my exhibition last year, I chose 15 or so images that I was particularly proud of. Some of them sold but others were hardly commented on. Therefore I am very aware that I should not rely on my own judgement when choosing which pictures to print, frame and hang but ask the opinions of others who I trust and respect.

This blog illustrates the above point very well. Sometimes it comes very easy; other times it doesn’t. Several people have said that I may have taken on too much. Last night was a case in point. It was late on a Sunday afternoon and I had no idea what to write or what picture to use. In desperation I went for the image from Bamburgh beach, which is the very definition of one of the older images that I had passed over in search of greater glory. I was pretty pleased with it for an on-the-fly, quota-filling blog post. Yet, reaction to it has been very positive in terms of other bloggers liking it and on Twitter. As a result I am doing some prints…

I have come to realise that the biggest stumbling block in this entire set up is me. I am constantly surprised by the positive feedback and the support. Unfortunately, this stumbling block is a pretty big one to get round. Most people that know me very well would tell you that I am an extrovert; they would probably mention the fact that I rarely shut up, that I am opinionated and they would definitely mention the sarcasm (and probably the annoying laugh if truth be told). What they perhaps wouldn’t know, except very old and very close friends, is that this is a bit of an over-compensation mechanism. When I was younger, I was very shy and, to a certain extent I still am [surprising I know for some exhibitionist who is writing a blog about himself every day]. To this day, I hate using the phone, unless I know beforehand that the exact person I want to speak to is going to pick up at the other end; the thought of cold-calling someone that I have not met before is terrifying to me; ditto taking things back to shops, I just can’t do it. The rise of e-mail and social networking has been a boon to me, certainly in terms of complaining about bad service, etc. I would never be able to do it over the phone.

It’s a bit of an English thing. To not want to make a fuss. We tend to keep quiet even when situations arise that are frankly scandalous, for example that peculiarly British thing of putting up with awful meals and service and saying that they were ‘lovely’ to avoid a confrontation. Of course I realise that I am saying this through a prism of my own experiences. I know that this is a wide generalisation but I do feel very uneasy when people rightly complain about things; I usually want to leave the room. Everything I have achieved so far has been by happy accident and mostly via the medium of this blog; it has led to all sorts of wonderful things. But I now realise that I need to do more, to be more proactive. Building a website is fine but not if no-one knows about; stating that prints are available is not enough.

So what does this mean? Well, I need to raise some cash and pay someone to develop a proper, effective, professional website that looks better than mine currently does, shows the pictures off in their best light and enables interested parties to quickly order prints. This information is on my website but needs to be used and presented better. I also need to exhibit more and with this in mind have actually been proactive of late. Can’t say too much now as it may well be doomed to failure but I have at least finally realised that I need to do something positive. There are a couple of opportunities that I currently have my fingers crossed about, but I will never be that adept at shouting ‘look at me’ (no, really). So, on the day that product placement is made legal in UK television [another reason not to watch ITV], I have realized that a little self promotion might not necessarily be the slough of despond that I think it is. So, if you own a business in the North West and have some blank wall space to fill then please get in touch; I’d be delighted to get the chance to frame some more pictures.

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The cruel sea

storm clouds

Being British, as I am, I have a bit of an obsession about the weather. We all do. Mainly because it’s so unpredictable. Just as you think that Spring has finally arrived it then leaves again as if it has remembered that it has left the oven on at home. Regular Glastonbury goers will discuss the weather for months in advance; it has become a communal experience. Weather prediction websites are pored over, even though there is nothing we can do about it. A wet Glastonbury can be hellish – think the Somme with vegetarian food – whereas a hot Glastonbury also has its problems, namely peeling skin and sun stroke. Weather plays a big part in the life of this sceptered isle I call home.

It has to be said though that certain parts of the country are hardier than the rest of us. This picture was taken on Bamburgh beach in Northumberland. Last August. Yep, that’s British summertime distilled right there. Sitting on the horizon you can just about make out Holy Island. But wait, what’s that over to the left. Could it be that two people are actually making their way into the sea? One with a body board. When I was working on this image my wife suggested getting rid of the people to provide a straightforward seascape with foaming waves and angry clouds but I felt it better to leave them in. They add scale and context. They deserve praise and recognition for venturing into the North Sea under that sky. Despite it being August, I myself was wearing wellington boots, a fleece and a waterproof jacket. The thought of swimming never crossed my mind. But then I am not from the North East but the North West and it has to be said that they are hewn from sterner stuff. Maybe it’s conditioning? If you are forced into the North Sea enough as a child on regular occasions perhaps your resilience builds up; much like Grigori Rasputin made himself immune to arsenic poisoning by taking small doses himself at regular intervals so it is with the North Sea. Anyway, I think they deserved to be left in the picture.

And why am I banging on about the weather? Because today’s planned portrait shoot today starring yours truly was postponed due to the rain. It rained all morning. To be fair, this afternoon was brighter but by then the decision had been made to cancel. It’s going to be re-arranged for March, when hopefully Spring will have remembered to come back, and remembered to lock the door behind it.

This photo was originally a 12 x 8 standard size with much more beach and cloud. On cropping to a square though I felt that it got a little bit more claustrophobic which is what I was after. It’s another one of those pictures that I had forgotten about, so its nice to do something with it. The sea is lovely and green but its the angry clouds that make it. Believe it or not it rained soon after. Who’d have thought it?

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Wet playtime

Dice

Although it has brightened up as i write this (typical!) today has been for the most part pretty wet and miserable. The painting of the famous fence was postponed and so we have spent most of the day indoors playing board games; namely Monopoly and Cluedo. Is there anything quite so British as playing board games on a rainy weekend? To be honest, I’m just glad that this has meant the television and games consoles and computer being switched off, if only for a few hours. There’s nothing quite like a board game for destroying familial bonds though; my wife’s ruthless streak was laid bare as she demanded £1200 from an 8-year-old for landing on a hotel and made her cry. Yet the tables turned when she made a wrong prediction in Cluedo. The Dumbbells? Everyone knew it was Mrs White with the axe in the kitchen. Schoolgirl error. Nevertheless we have had lots of fun, lots of tea and several biscuits.

Nopoly

As you can probably tell these pictures we taken with a 50-mm prime (i.e. not zoom) lens with a really large aperture of f1.8 to get that depth of field. The 50-mm prime lens is a lens that every photographer should have in his/her armoury. Being a prime lens you have to physically move to get closer to the subject rather than zooming but it allows you to shoot at really fast speeds, which is great for indoors on a rainy day.

Tomorrow I am going to have my portrait taken for the project that I have mentioned previously that aims to bring together people in the North West who are using social networking/blogging to build awareness. Can’t say much about it at the moment as I don’t know what to expect. All I can say is that costumes and props are involved so I have the potential to make a complete idiot of myself. Once the portraits are done I may post one on the blog but only if they manage to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Still looking for that body double…

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Out and about

Let there be light 

Apologies for the brevity of this blog post as tonight is one of those rare occasions when I have a prior engagement. Anyhow, here is a picture from my recent foray into North Wales that I hope is good enough to stand on its own without me rambling away too much underneath it. It’s not perfect  given the harsh sunlight but I do think the camera flare does add a little something and makes the colours ‘pop’. Getting into the position to take this picture was pretty arduous and to be honest probably dangerous, so I am hoping that this is one of those occasions where its uniqueness helps it through. Enjoy your weekend, wherever you are! There is a curry with my name on it and the company of friends that I don’t see that often so I will see you tomorrow, hopefully with a little bit more to say.

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Dandelion and Word doc

fractal dandelion diffuse

I know some of the purists don’t like it when I experiment but given that this is a day in which I have booked tickets to see Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein it seemed only (un)natural to unleash my latest creation on you. Besides, you can’t blame me for this one (the blog post that is; the photograph is all mine brouhahahahaha [twirls moustache]). Being half term for schools this week my darling children had what is charmingly known as a ‘sleepover’ last night. This conjures up cosy images of pillow fights and midnight snacks but is actually hell on earth for parents. In my opinion sleepovers should be banned under the Geneva Convention. Last night’s, as they always do, ended with me threatening physical violence at midnight and led to today beginning at 6 am as they were all up and ‘not tired’. Today will end with whining and tantrums as yesterday catches up. To say that I am a bit tired and emotional as I write this would be an understatement.

Last night, as the sleepover was in full swing, I retired to my laboratory (i.e. the study) as I had no desire whatsoever to sit through How To Train Your Dragon for the nth time [it’s a great film but, you know, familiarity does indeed breed contempt; this explains how I can recite almost the whole of Finding Nemo verbatim]. I decided to mess about in Photoshop with a picture of a dandelion clock and this was the result. My wife said ‘you should blog that, it’s really nice’ so here we are. Blame my wife and her artistic temperament.

It is true though, that the posts in which I do attempt something a little different invariably lead to the most polarised comments. Speaking as someone who, in northern parlance, likes what he knows and knows what he likes this comes as no surprise. It seems to me that it’s part of our cultural make up to build things up and knock them down. I myself am a serial offender and can get outrageously snobby about anything and everything – books, films, music, etc.

As I have said before I think I have mellowed over the years and my horizons generally are a lot wider. But some things – like the boy and girl band phenomena – I just don’t get. I can appreciate the writer of a good pop tune and understand the idea that people like Cathy Dennis and Betty Boo and Nick Heyward have kept their careers going by writing pop hits; the problem I have is with the dullards that perform them via autotune. Yes, I am well aware that I am a old git ranting in the wilderness but when you come from an era when pop encompassed and embraced The Clash, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, The Jam, The Specials, The Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Undertones, Joy Division, etc, it’s hard to get excited about The Saturdays or Girls Aloud. I know that there was disposable pap back then as well, but my argument is that if they revived Top of The Pops now where would the edge be? Maybe in the UK’s rap and dub artists; but – as a middle-aged man with three sheds – that’s not a world I really inhabit. I am hoping that if one good thing comes out of the current government’s obsession with increasing youth unemployment it will be the return of anger and righteous indignation to pop music.

In terms of photography, people love/hate ‘this’ or say ‘that’ is passé and overused. Some adore black and white images, others don’t. I regularly express my indignation at photographs that I feel are shit despite the hundreds of comments (or sales in some cases) that are telling me otherwise. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. People have different tastes and if you like/hate what I post today, you may hate/like what I post tomorrow. My reasoning is that if I presented a landscape every day then it would make me (like Jack Torrance) a very dull boy. Ultimately, I’m just playing and due to my lack of any formal training these little experiments provide a useful learning platform for both success and heroic failure. Besides I generally think that this is a pretty good image that will look it’s best framed, which I might do. Once I have got some sleep.

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Four horses in search of a blog

four horses in a landscape

I’d rather have a goddam horse.  A horse is at least human, for God’s sake.  J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

I have never ridden a horse, that’s assuming that donkeys don’t count, which I’m pretty sure that they don’t. I know people that do ride and who speak of the exhilaration and the bonds formed between horse and rider. I on the other hand have reservations about making any animal shoulder the burden of my weight. That said I do like horses. They do appear to have intelligence and nobility about them, which many other domesticated animals – yes cows I am looking at you – don’t have. Cats do have that intelligence, but then we all know that cats are essentially playing the long game; when they strike it (and they will) it will be when we least expect it and it will be swift and merciless. I think that what Salinger is getting at in that quote is that we humans feel more affinity to horses than we do to even our very close primate cousins. It has been said that in the long journey from barbarism to so-called civilization wherever humans have left their foot print then the hoof print of the horse will be found beside it (apart from the moon, but that would be ridiculous). Genghis Khan understood the importance of horses and insisted that his troops cared for their mounts; without the horse, Khan and his offspring would never have been able to conquer and rule the lands that they did.

I think us humans hold horses in such high regard because they are essentially seen as hard working, be it as modes of transport or engines of industry. Without the horse, territories would not have been discovered, empires would not have been built and fields would not have been ploughed. The horse looms large in literature from the noble escapism of Black Beauty to the stoic endurance of Boxer in Orwell’s Animal Farm to Joey innocent animal shipped to the trenches in Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse. Indeed, in Animal Farm Orwell uses the trusty and hardworking Boxer to represent the whole of the Russian working classes. Pippi Longstocking in Astrid Lindgren’s book of the same name has contempt for all adults but reserves her fiercest ire for the most extreme cases, such as when a man ill-treats his horse. It is also no coincidence that Jonathon Swift (in the fourth book of Gulliver’s Travels which no-one ever reads) counterpoints the yobbish brutism of the all-too-human Yahoos with the Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent and cultured horses. Finally, in Peter Schaffer’s play Equus the actions of the stable-hand Alan Strang horrify us all the more because it is a crime against horses.

When I studied English literature for A-level as a teenager I fell in love with the poetry of Ted Hughes. I even went to see him ‘live’ at the Buxton Opera House. Our whole class went by coach to see the man read his poetry and it was mesmerizing. Lots has been written about Hughes and his relationships but in terms of his poetry I think he is untouchable. On the coach on the way to Buxton we discussed which poems we wanted him to ‘do’. The atmosphere really was akin to a rock concert (only without the tour-date T-shirts and the ‘no sleep till Buxton’ satin tour jackets). The poem I really wanted to hear was ‘The Horses’ and it remains a favourite to this day. Hughes ‘did’ it. You could have heard a pin drop.

The Horses by Ted Hughes

I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,

Not a leaf, not a bird –
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness

Till the moorline – blackening dregs of the brightening grey –
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:

Huge in the dense grey – ten together –
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,

with draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.

I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments

Of a grey silent world.

I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew’s tear turned its edge on the silence.

Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted

Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
Shook the gulf open, showed blue,

And the big planets hanging –
I turned

Stumbling in the fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,

And came to the horses.
There, still they stood,
But now steaming and glistening under the flow of light,

Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them

The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,

Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys in the red levelling rays –

In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place

Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing the curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.

Now, if you do a Google search for Hughes’ poems, or any poems or song lyrics for that matter, you can find them all on-line so I’m assuming that it’s OK to reproduce it here as long as usage is not commercial, which it isn’t, and the work is attributed, which it is. I am sure that someone will tell me if not.

As you can see, this another one of those blog posts where the words have been driven by the picture. It was taken from the top of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct looking down into the valley below using a 70-300mm zoom lens. I liked the idea of the horses set against this landscape. As well as the picture that heads today’s blog I also took some close ups from my lofty position. I think that they are beautiful creatures.

_MG_3467

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Clowns are evil

Clown

In my 43 years on this planet I have seen one dead body. That is in the flesh so to speak, and not via a news medium. It is a very vivid memory for me. I was maybe six or seven and was playing in the back garden of our modest 1960s new-build semi-detached house; the house I grew up in. Our next door neighbour was watering his garden, specifically his flower beds. I think I was on the orange monkey swing that hung from the eaves of the upstairs window. I remember the neighbour, who at the time seemed like a very old man (although he was probably only in his 50s) making a strange noise, clutching at his chest and falling to the ground. Headfirst into his flowers. The hose pipe kept going. There was then a few seconds of near silence, broken only by the gurgle of running water. Then there was screaming as the neighbours wife ran out into the garden.

I can remember running inside and my parents phoning an ambulance before going next door to help. I remember going upstairs and watching from the bedroom window as various neighbours tried to resuscitate the man on the ground before being told to move away from the window. What followed has prompted this blog post. One of our neighbours, a lady called Rose if I remember, offered my dad some tickets to the circus in order to get my brother and I out of the way. I have no idea how she got them. As a result, we were bundled in the car and went to the local Rugby club to see Billy Smart’s circus. I had never been to a circus before and have never been since. I can remember nothing about the circus at all; nothing that is apart from the clowns. They had a lasting effect on me. I knew they were supposed to be funny but they weren’t. I remember my dad sitting stony faced. I have always been uncomfortable at the ‘things going wrong’ style of comedy; it is for this that I have never got Laurel and Hardy and why ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em’ was a squirm-inducing  nightmare, despite my parents laughter suggesting otherwise. The clowns weren’t funny. I found them quite upsetting. And in my head they are always linked to the dead man lying in his own garden as the hose pipe carried on spilling water at his feet.

Since then I have never been comfortable with clowns. I am not coulrophobic (fear of clowns in case you were wondering) but nevertheless I don’t like them. After the childhood incident I was regularly terrified by Charlie Caroli on children’s television with his welcoming greeting of ‘Hello cheeldren’. Then there was Pennywise the clown in Stephen King’s ‘It’. More recently there has been Mr Jelly and Mr Jolly in Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s ‘Psychoville’. A clown also loomed large in Rob Brydon and Julia Davis’s superlative ‘Human Remains’. Having two children has meant that I have also seen my fair share of clowns at kid’s parties; most have been perfectly normal, genuine and funny individuals – one my children still remember because he shouted at them. So, I know I am not alone. Others feel the same. I know that this is an irrational thing. I know that’s its linked to the childhood memory described above. Once, a clown was on Radio4 bemoaning the fact that they had been saddled with this evil reputation when all they wanted to do was make people laugh. I believed him, but then I couldn’t see him. I suppose they also have the mythology of the ‘sad clown’ to contend with, the Pierrot. The idea that behind the big painted smile lies an unhappy past.

One of America’s most infamous serial killers, John Wayne Gacy (immortalised in song by Sufjan Stevens), used to entertain sick children at local hospitals dressed as a clown. And I think this is the crux of it. The sense that there is something else lurking behind the make-up. In terms of today’s photograph I took it at Glastonbury several years ago. I took it in the dark so the image was heavily grained and full of noise, not to mention out of focus. It was early in my journey to competency, before I knew about ISO and thought I could take pictures in the dark. The original picture is still not much cop but I decided to try and sharpen it up a bit. This didn’t work so I processed it using the fractalius plug-in. This was the result. It pretty much says everything in terms of supporting the words in today’s blog.

Apologies for the downbeat nature of today’s post but after all the landscapes I thought I’d try and do something a little different. Don’t have nightmares…

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Why I take photographs

Thurstaton

I have been really struggling today in terms of what to blog about. There is so much going on at the moment – multiple revolutions in the Middle East for example – that I feel unqualified to comment on them and certainly would not know where to start in terms of illustrating my thoughts on the chaos . In terms of posting every day I am now 52 days in and this is the first time that I have genuinely struggled and thought about packing the experiment in. To be honest, I can’t believe that I have gotten this far. I suppose I could just post a picture and be done with it, but that would be the easy option and since starting to write the blog the writing has become just as important as the pictures. As I have said before, I’ve never written a diary or attempted anything like this before. Maybe I would have had the Internet come a little earlier; it has certainly facilitated both my photography and my written musings. I have always enjoyed writing but lack the drive or dedication to write properly. I know people who have written/are writing novels and their drive and dedication never ceases to amaze me. I find sitting down in front of this screen every night to write something for the blog arduous at the best of times and I’m just rambling. To sit down knowing that I needed to write several thousand words and juggle plot and character development, etc would just fill me with fear and dread. I tried to write a short story once and had a really good idea for it. Three pages in I was really pleased with myself and then I stalled. I had no idea where to take it next. I think I’m better at abstract concepts/ideas and have a feeling that if I had any self confidence whatsoever that I would perhaps have been OK at advertising pitches or coming up with ‘high concept’ movie pictures. Perhaps in a parallel universe I am Don Draper [fictional] or Don Simpson [real – but Google him and his life read like fiction]?

In my hour of need I asked friends via a certain social networking site what I should write about. Thankfully, as my friends are witty, intelligent and lovely people I got lots of suggestions but one really struck me [take a bow Lisa]. The suggestion was this:

How about what drives the urge in you to create photos in the first place. You’ve passed it off as a midlife crisis thing, but it’s more than that – and why photography and not writing a book, or painting or forming a middle aged Dad Band.

What I liked about this was the suggestion that my photography was ‘more’ than just a midlife crisis. If you read the ‘about the author’ page that heads this blog then I do indeed state that picking up a camera was a midlife crisis. It certainly felt like that at the time as I had never owned a camera before other than a Kodak instamatic. The other examples I give – buying a motorcycle, forming a band, getting a tattoo – are things that friends of mine have done in their late 30s/early 40s. But why photography? To be entirely truthful as I have said above I don’t have the dedication or intelligence to write a book. Friends that do say that ‘books write themselves’ but I am not convinced. Painting was out too as I do not have an artistic bone in my body as my CSE grade 2 in art will attest. I’m pretty sure I could take up abstract art but I’m also pretty sure that my heart would not be in it. I have very funny ideas about abstract art. I think Mark Rothko with his oppressive blocks of colour was a genius but that Jackson Pollock was essentially talentless. Of course, its all subjective. As for forming a band; again I am just not musical. In fact I am tone deaf, can’t sing a note and was thrown out of the recorder group at school for not being able to play ‘There one was a windmill in old Amsterdam’.

Why photography indeed? First up. I had a very real desire to do something creative and so photography was the only option open to me [I did consider poetry but then gave that up as a bad mistake after reading Ted Hughes and Phillip Larkin for inspiration]. I also admit to being fascinated by the technology; when you have grown up in the era of sending 35-mm film to Boots for processing the world of digital photography is akin to alchemy. The fact that you can do on a computer what used to be done with chemicals in a dark room is amazing to me. What I like about the comment above is the assertion that my photography is more than I assert it to be. The inference there is that I must be quite good at it (although I’m sure my friend will correct me if that is not want she meant). When I had my small exhibition I struggled with the question ‘are you the artist’? and I have discussed this dilemma at length on an earlier blog. Am I an artist? I don’t think so. Am I photographer? Most definitely. Photography can be art but just because some people (most of them friends) have my pictures on the wall doesn’t mean I’m there quite yet. At the end of the day, it is after all the camera that puts in the hard work; sure I decide what to photograph and then try and drag a decent image out of what I have taken using my digital box of tricks. When I think of photography as art I think of Henri Cartier Bresson and Annie Liebowitz and  Robert Capa to name but three).

The real answer as to ‘why photography?’ is intangible. Like climbing a mountain ‘because its there’. I take photographs to capture a moment that has gone and will never come again. I take my best photographs when I am on my own. There is a thrill to being in a certain place at a certain time with no distraction and catching something in a split second that no-one else was there to witness. There is a further thrill to sharing it with people and getting feedback. The picture for today is an old one, taken on the mud flats at Thurstaton on the Wirral last February. I am hoping that it makes sense in light of everything that I have said above and it sort of encapsulates what I am trying to say. I like its clarity from the shells in the foreground to the small boat in the top right. I like the reflection and the ominous rain clouds that are moving in from the right. It takes me back to the moment I took it on a cold winters afternoon, knee deep in estuary mud. It’s an image that can’t be recreated. That’s why I take photographs.

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Messing about with boats

Boats

There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

OK. It’s Sunday night. We’ve all got work in the morning. Shall I just make it brief? Although what you’ll all be doing now that Lark Rise to Candleford (or LR to the C as my brother calls it) has finished I don’t know. Tonight is definitely going to be an early night as I am absolutely shattered. The building of the garden fence took most of weekend and I have to say that working all week in an office followed by two days manual labour is not really how I saw last week panning out. Given that it’s Sunday and I’m pretty sure that no-one will be reading this I thought I’d do something a bit more avant garde today. Usually, when I play around in Photoshop the response is less than enthusiastic but in the absence of any real training I quite often like to explore and mess about. And to paraphrase the above quote there’s nothing quite like messing about in Photoshop for a photographer.

This is a photograph I took of the marina that leads onto the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. I thought that the life rings in the foreground made for an interesting image and liked the lines that the narrow boats made into the distance. However, when I viewed it on the computer it was a bit washed out  and no amount of processing could lift it ; the sky in particular was overexposed. Knowing me I probably forgot to change the camera settings… I am trying to get better at this. When a camera has such a huge amount of functionality you really do have to plan each shot. Often though I will take a picture and then forget to change the settings back. Thankfully most cock ups can be put right in the digital darkroom.

So for this image I decided to make it simpler using one of Photoshop’s ‘Artistic’ filters. This was the result I liked best. I suppose you could argue for hours over whether a photograph made to look like a painting is still a photograph but as far as I’m concerned the only  thing that matters is whether it works or not. I hope this does but you may of course disagree, as many of my reader’s quite often do; its certainly an improvement on a not particularly impressive photograph but you’ll have to take my word for that. Comments welcome is anyone is around to read this. But if you are slumped in front of the TV, glass of wine in hand, trying to blot out the fact that work starts again tomorrow then I don’t blame you if you haven’t got the energy. I know exactly how you feel. Anyone know a good remedy for blisters?

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Self portrait-ish

Self portrait

I don’t like having my photograph taken. This is because I always look awful. What I see in the mirror never seems to translate into what I would deem to be a good picture of me. In my head I still blonde hair and cheekbones; in reality these have long gone. I know a lot of photographers like to take their own picture and put themselves in their work. I do not. So, I’m afraid that this is the closest you are going to get from me at least.

However, do not fear! I have agreed (in a moment of madness) to have my portrait taken by another photographer for a project documenting bloggers and social networkers in the North West of England. This might be happening as early as next week. Hopefully, they will be able to achieve the unachievable and make me look like Brad Pitt (or George Clooney at a push) and if they do I promise to post the results here – I might even ask them to do guest blog about the project and how/why they chose their victims/subjects. As it won’t be a photograph by me, but  of me, this seems like a logical move. I don’t hold out much hope but we can but dream. I am hoping that props may be involved – a hat perhaps or maybe even a body double. Either way, its very nice to be asked and I’m looking forward to taking part.

I have spent all day today building a fence with my dad after ours blew down in the wind; its been a bit blokey and a bit too much like hard work but I do have a sense of achievement  – I’m not very good at building stuff. And I got to weald a sledgehammer! Yet, this task is not quite finished and more manual labour is planned for tomorrow. This is not how I usually like to spend my weekends.I toyed with the idea of photographing the fence but I feel that this would try the patience of even my loyalist readers. So instead I thought I’d do my version of a self portrait. No doubt when you see what I actually look like you will understand why. Until tomorrow…

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