Monthly Archives: March 2011

What’s in a name?


England knows Lady Hamilton is a virgin. Poke my eye out and cut off my arm if I’m wrong. Attributed to Lord Horatio Nelson by Edmund Blackadder Butler to the Prince Regent

When I was growing up I didn’t really pay much notice to my surname; I’m not sure many of us do. After all its something you’re lumbered if. If you are given a dodgy first name you can always change it for your second name or even give yourself a new one. My uncle was christened Herbert but has always been Harry. Wouldn’t you have done the same? The first inkling I got that my surname was anything different from the norm was at school when people started to call me ‘Horatio’. Slowly I began to realise that I had a name that resonated with people. I was no Smith or Jones or Williams or Hughes [apologies to all that are], I was a Nelson. Of course, the only reason that my surname has any cachet at all is because it happens to be the same as a man that is held up to be one of the greatest Englishmen who ever lived; a man who, at sea at least, was the man who masterminded Napoleon’s defeat. And a man who was also a bit saucy if we are to believe all of what is written about him and Emma Hamilton. There are some, who shall remain nameless, who have suggested that this blog should be called Nelson’s Column. That particular London landmark (from whence this picture comes) has been another source of much rib-tickling humour throughout my life.

I have no idea if we are related anywhere along the bloodline, although it has been commented that Nelson’s death mask, which currently resides in the National Maritime Museum, looks uncannily like my brother. I often wonder if people called Churchill or Brunel or Dickens or Austen or Bronte feel the same connection to the glories of people they are almost certainly not related to. If it wasn’t for Horatio, my surname would just be just your average name. Whilst at school I was envious of those people who had ‘normal’ surnames and although Nelson isn’t particularly odd or even exciting history weighs heavily upon it. Once, whilst at school, I suffered an eye injury which meant having to wear an eye patch for 2 weeks. I can only hint at the hell that this became with my surname.

Now, I’m pretty pleased with it. It’s not a common surname by any stretch; 0.053% of the UK population are Nelsons, the majority of whom are in Lancashire and Yorkshire, but also (more interestingly) from Durham, Northumberland and Midlothian. But because of that guy in the picture it’s a name that lots of people are familiar with. I should just be grateful that I didn’t marry someone called Hardy.


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Gate Another photograph rescued from the depths of the backup and a photograph cropped to square from a much larger original image. As a photo blogger I have found that full-size portrait images (12” high by 8” wide) don’t lend themselves well to whichever WordPress theme I use, and believe me there are a lot of them. If you look back through the portrait images that I have posted then you will see what I mean; they are probably too big. Landscape images (i.e. in orientation rather than pictures of landscapes) work a lot better but for this current theme I am starting to thing that square is the way forward. In general I think the square format lends itself to black and white images really well, especially when framed with a thick white border.

Cropping to square has made this image a little bit more intimate. I have lost a lot of grass and sky but the lead-in to the image has improved.

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Still The title of an album by Joy Division and now the title of a blog post by me. Muse still not to be found tonight so I started trawling back through the back catalogue of photographs that currently reside on my back-up hard drive. Easter last year saw the family going away to the Lakes for a week (you may remember) and I took literally hundreds of pictures. Many of which have been not even looked at before, primarily because I never have the time and also because I fall into the trap of basing the photographs that I choose to process based on the thumbnail image. This is obviously a stupid thing to do as it meant that I opened this image for the first time this evening, nearly a year after it was taken.

It was taken at dusk, on a tripod and  as a long exposure, hence the glass-like flat surface of Coniston water here. In fact it was taken in conditions that were probably too dark – the colour original is pretty much purple in terms of colour. I have mentioned before that I always shoot in RAW format as this gives me more control in the digital darkroom after and, after much tweaking, this is what I came up with. Given the original was pretty much all one colour anyhow I decided to go for something a bit more sepia tinged for this picture and I think it works pretty well.

As it was a windy night there is movement in the reeds in the foreground, hence the blur, but not enough wind to disrupt the surface of the lake, which is why it has that lovely even sheen. Also, the lights are on in the house across the water; two pinpricks of light in the distance like eyes.

Again, its one of those pictures that immediately transports me back to the moment I took it. This jetty is where the Coniston steam ship stops on its way around the lake. It’s also one of those images where a square crop works in its favour. Although I have, if truth be told, struggled with blogging every day it has at least led me back to forgotten or abandoned images that reside in the darkest recesses of back up. I hope you like it.

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As regular readers know I am a perennial attendee of the Glastonbury festival. One of my lifetime ambitions is to attend the festival in a campervan, specifically a VW campervan. This is very unlikely to happen as they are so expensive to buy and even hiring one for Glastonbury is way beyond my means. I consider the VW campervan to be a design classic, which has a similar iconic pull to the Mini (which funnily enough is now also a German design classic). At home I have a campervan mug (Haynes manual), a desk tidy, and a key ring (pictured); my family frequently buy me campervan related items to compensate for the fact that I cannot afford a real one. In reality this makes my envy even worse. It’s the equivalent of Jim Bowen turning up at the end of bizarre 80s darts-based quiz show Bullseye and announcing ‘let’s have a look at what you would have won’. Incidentally, I can never remember a campervan being given as a prize on Bullseye but I do remember the couple that lived in a block of flats in land-locked Coventry who won a speedboat.

In my head, my retirement involves me touring the UK in a VW camper taking pictures. Whilst I am looking forward to retiring, it is looking increasingly likely that this will now be later rather than sooner. In addition there is also the awful realisation that retirement is just one step closer to my inevitable demise, so I am not ready for it quite yet. Nevertheless, owning a VW campervan remains a modest entry on my bucket list, so if anyone has one lying about that they no longer want then let me know.

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Poles apart

Poles apart

Another one of those images that I am not sure about. I think it’s got something but I am not quite sure what that something is. I find it very hard to judge my own pictures and those of other people. As my usual landscapes are pretty ‘safe’ this picture was my attempt at something a bit different and, dare I say it, arty. This is the sort of picture you see hanging in galleries or in Sunday supplements. And no, by that I don’t mean that I think its worthy of such attention. I just find that quite often I do see pictures like this one and wonder what I’m missing; it seems that pictures that are wilfully abstract or minimalist or on the surface don’t have much going on in them that get the accolades. Again, I am not pretending that this picture has depth either. There’s just something about it that niggles away at me; that it might actually work but how and why is lost to me. On the other hand it might just be rubbish. Anyhow, here it is. I’m sure you’ll let  me know if it works or not.

It was taken on Holy Island (Lindisfarne) at sunset on a cloudless day. All the colour was bleached out but I think I liked the long shadows. The poles mark the route that is safe to walk out to the island when the tide is out. And there are some figures making the walk back to the mainland about half way into the picture and slightly to the left. The rocks in the foreground give it a bit of a lunar landscape feel too.

Again, its been a bit of a struggle tonight. The words just wouldn’t come. Sometimes posting every day is a breeze and I have loads to say and sometimes its the most laborious task in the world. I do intend to keep it up but this is mostly out of stubborn bloody mindlessness than inspiration. In my defence though it is Sunday night. Hopefully, my muse will be back for the rest of the week and take me into April.

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Building castles in the sand


First, apologies for last night’s post. As one friend has said, it had to happen at some point and I’m surprised it hasn’t happened earlier. Blogging every day is proving much harder than I ever imagined. This is another picture from last weekend when I was attempting to teach some willing students how to use their camera. I know its another lighthouse picture but at least this time it is taking a back seat. I’m really posting this as I was set a challenge by another friend who took exception to my statement about never having the horizon in the middle of the photograph. He suggested adding ‘unless it works’ to the previous post (which I have) and argued that rules are meant to be broken as long as the picture works. I think he’s probably right. So here’s a response to that challenge – a picture with the horizon slap bang in the middle, which (I hope) works. But I’ll leave it up to you to decide that. The sandcastles pictured were not built by me but were left on the beach by a departing family. I took this picture to demonstrate how changing the size of the aperture (low f-stop number if you remember) can create wonderful depth of field. Also, I think the lighting is just right here, with the low sun bringing out some wonderful colours and shadows.

In other news, it looks like things might be picking up. I have been asked to photograph another wedding (my third) and also may have the opportunity to get some of my images in a magazine (which will remain nameless for now), apparently because the photos I took for a website are better than those taken by the ‘professional’ photographer sent by the magazine. All exciting stuff. I have also signed up with on-line artistic community Society9 and am testing the water re selling some prints here. Please do let me know if you want a particular image adding.

So, a lazy Saturday today. I was due to be marching in London against the government cuts but somehow things, namely a large hangover and several offers of Saturday evening entertainment, conspired against me. I feel guilty but as I am not actually a public sector worker (or even in a union) I thought it best that someone else took my place. Looking at the news footage, this might have been a wise decision. Last episode of The Killing tonight also; Saturdays will never be the same again. I am not sure why but of late my social life has come back after many years on non-existence. I’m not sure why this is but its very welcome. Only problem being that we are running out of babysitters. Anyway, hope you like the picture; I hope to move on from lighthouses now…

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Fallback Position

Columns b&w, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Sorry. Drunk. In a pub. And so anal (signed up to postaday) that I need to post. So, here is a picture I took. Apologies in advance.

A night at the theatre(ish)


Strange evening tonight. We went to our local multiplex cinema to see a live broadcast of Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein beamed direct from the National Theatre in London. It’s not something I’ve done before and to me it seemed a little strange doing to the cinema to watch a theatre production. Of course not living in That London it was an opportunity to see a production that is sold out and playing to packed houses after rave reviews. As an experience I was surprised at how like a theatre experience it was (as opposed to cinema). The audience was quiet, there was hardly any munching of popcorn, there was complete silence and no mobile phone activity. It’s certainly something that I would do again. Let’s face it, for us provincial types it’s probably our only chance of seeing some of the productions we only ever read about. Even if they do venture north it is undoubtedly with a different cast.

And the performance? Well, Benedict ‘Sherlock’ Cumberbatch and Johhny Lee ‘Sickboy’ Miller excel. This production is famous for the fact that the actors swap the roles of Victor Frankenstein/The Creature each night. The performance we saw was Cumberbatch as a very Cushing-like scientist and creator and Lee Miller as a surprisingly muscular yet sympathetic creature. I can’t help but think though that all the plaudits are for these two alone as the supporting cast is poor and the casting strange. The stage design is superb though and the music – by Underworld no less –  really impresses. I would recommend it but only for the tow lead performances which were mesmerising.

Say what you like about this blog but you definitely get an eclectic mix. And, if I need to explain the photograph then you really should get out more :-). Anyway must dash as its 5 to midnight and I don’t want to fail in the challenge through excessive verbiage. Its alive!

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On the beach

On the beach So after yesterday’s brush with marginal fame it’s back to what I do slightly better. I will come clean and say that I am not too sure about this picture but my wife really likes it and usually she has an eye for these things. It was taken last weekend when I was doing my ‘masterclass’ on a beach in North Wales as the sun went down on a warm spring day. Don’t get me wrong I do like it, particularly the blurred sand ripples in the foreground and the vague definition of the hills in the background. But what strikes me most about it is the colour. Believe it or not this is natural colour; although it looks like a sepia filter has been applied this is not the case. The sunlight at the end of the day coupled with the sand has given it this uniform look that works pretty well.

For me though, it’s all about the figures, particularly the couple heading home in the top left corner. One of the first things you are told as a budding landscape photographer is that you shouldn’t place the horizon in the middle of the photograph (unless it works of course) and I think this illustrates this more than I could with words. It would probably work the other way round with less beach and more sky just as well, or even cropped to a panoramic 12” x 6”, but if that horizon was slap bang in the middle of the picture it wouldn’t work at all.

Short post tonight as its late and I am running out of time to get this post in under the wire but I think the mixture of short and long posts works for this blog and I certainly seem to write more than most photoblogs out there; not sure if this is a good thing or not. See you tomorrow.

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A short interview with Tracey Thorn


They say you should never meet your heroes as you will more than likely be disappointed. My dad embarrassed me in front of Tom Baker once – in the bar of Theatre Clwyd, North Wales – following a performance of An Inspector Calls. At the time, I was wooing a potential girlfriend and aged 15 or 16. Going to the theatre was supposed to show how arty and bohemian I was. Somehow, I don’t think my dad shouting ‘He LOVED you when he was kid!’ at Tom Baker did my chances any good. However, the fourth Doctor Who was magnanimous in response. He simply smiled that big beaming smile, said ‘Of course he did’ and wandered off carrying a large glass of red wine. I’ve liked him that little bit more ever since. Last year I attended a small, intimate gig by Darren Hayman (once of Hefner) in the Godlee Observatory in Manchester after which he invited the entire audience to a nearby pub for an ‘aftershow party’ at which he proved to be as witty and genuine as I’d always hoped he was. The sad thing is that many reading this are probably unaware of his song-writing genius. To me he is famous but to others not, which is probably how he is able to remain so grounded.

After that I can count the number of ‘famous’ people that I have conversed with on one hand. I have briefly spoken to Jarvis Cocker in a Chinese restaurant in Manchester and have also spoken to I AM KLOOT’s John Bramwell when very drunk (and so was he). And that’s about it. There have been a few more brushes with celebrity but most of the pointing and gawping variety. Oh, and I was on The Weakest Link but I’m not sure Anne Robinson taking the piss out of your hair on national television counts. Besides, I never actually met her. She just turned up, asked the questions and fucked off. She didn’t even sign the cheque. I have stood in front of Dame Judi Dench in a queue but no words were exchanged. Also, I once saw Sean Connery outside the Grosvenor Hotel in Chester but nobody believed me (it later transpired that Connery was attending a clay pigeon shoot on the Duke of Westminster’s estate that weekend and was in Chester at the time).

Of course we now live in a world that is obsessed with celebrity and being famous is now a career choice amongst the young. You can be famous for being famous, a hellish mobius strip of a conundrum that I struggle to get my head around. I avoid the output of Simon Cowell like the plague, as I don’t really consider the ability to sing other people’s songs using an autotuner as a talent. This obsession with celebs is manifested in magazines like Hello and Heat and a multiverse of copycat publications. Social networking also feeds into the obsession too and you can now follow celebrities to your heart’s content via Twitter or become a fan of them via facebook.

Regular readers will know that I am big fan of social networking, especially Twitter; indeed, without it you would probably not be reading this now and the readership of this blog would comprise of my mum (not that she reads it). In a no-way-at-all-detailed analysis I think there are several echelons of celebrity on Twitter. There are those who are so famous that they employ PR minions to tweet for them (usually plugging themselves); there are those who actually do tweet themselves but keep a distance from those who follow them for fear of stalking; there are comedians – a lot of comedians – trying out new material or being witty whilst plugging their current shows; there are those who are so self unaware that their every tweet should have ‘which was nice’ added to the end, such is their disconnection from the lives of those that are following them (yes Michael Caine, I am looking at you). And then there are those rare few who don’t consider themselves famous or, dare I say, are as ‘normal’ as you and I. ‘Normal’ is probably the wrong choice of word. In fact I know it is but I can’t think of an alternative. What I mean is that there is a small band of artists, performers, musicians who get social networking and are just their own unassuming selves no matter how famous their followers think they are. These are people who reply to their followers, join in with conversations, retweet your tweets, follow you back, send personal messages, and refuse to countenance any suggestion that they are not like the rest of us despite the rest of us insisting that they are.

Getting back on track I follow quite a few of my heroes on Twitter. This has led me to believe that the sentence that opens the blog about never meeting your heroes should be appended with ‘or follow them on Twitter’. There’s nothing worse than finding out that someone you admire is actually a bit of an arse. Conversely though, there is nothing better than discovering that someone you admire is as brilliant as you always thought they were and who fall into that small band of unassuming celebrities mentioned above. In this category I would cite the actor and national-treasure-in-waiting David Morrissey, the children’s author Andy Stanton (author of the Mr Gum books – and if you have kids and haven’t read them why not) and the journalist and music writer Jude Rogers. And then there is Tracey Thorn.

I know that this is a long preamble and that what follows might disappoint but I wanted to put things into some sort of context first. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt (particularly recording together as Everything But The Girl) have soundtracked much of my formative years from the Cherry Red compilation Pillows & Prayers through to working with Massive Attack through to Tracey’s solo album of last year Love And It’s Opposite. Their song Apron Strings makes me cry (as mentioned in this post last week); their album Love Not Money is one of my great unrequited love albums as is Eden; Amplified Heart is a rarity – an album that my wife and I both love (this does not happen very often, if at all). Tracey’s voice has been described as mournful and that may be so (it may explain why I like her so much being something of a miserablist myself) but I think of it as the defining female voice of my generation, it has a quality that no other voice I know of has. Anyhow, you get the picture.

So, imagine my relief at finding that Tracey on Twitter was as funny and down to earth as I always hoped she would be. She is honest, self deprecating and laughs off any accusations of celebrity that are forced upon her. She tweets about her life and work and kids as we all do and with a refreshing lack of pretension; she is full of praise for those new female singers that she feels deserve it; she watches the X factor (which I don’t) and The Killing (which I do). And so, to finally get to the point. Last week a tweet went out asking anyone who writes a blog to send in six questions for Tracey and that the best ones would get a reply. I duly struggled to come up with six questions and sent them off. As this blog is primarily about my photography I thought about asking questions about what images inspired her but then I thought it would be better to ask questions that I would like to ask if we were to meet in person (even though I would probably clam up and end up asking what her favourite colour is). A few days passed and I forgot about it. Until last night. An e-mail came from Ben Watt (!) which said simply that ‘yours was one of the best set of questions we received. Here are Tracey’s answers’.

So here we are. A very short interview with one of my heroes…

Me. If you could give the world one piece of advice, what would it be?
Tracey. Pay attention to people who know more than you, not just people who make the most noise.

Me. If you could choose one of your personality traits to pass on to your children, what would it be?
Tracey. The ability to be contented.

Me. What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?
Tracey. A live performance.

Me. What is the best advice you’ve ever given and received?
Tracey. I once advised my two year old not to eat that bucket of mud, but sadly she ignored me. It was good advice, but good advice is not always taken. The best advice I ever received was from my Dad who told me cauliflowers are really hard to grow and probably not worth it.

Me. Do believe that people are inherently good or bad and how do you personally define "right" from "wrong”?
Tracey. Hmm, tricky one – I think I would err on the side of thinking people are mostly inherently good, or at least have the capacity to be so if it’s not thwarted. And my versions of right and wrong are certainly not particularly unusual, but based on a simple morality about not harming other people etc, being empathic, not being greedy.

Me. What do you consider your greatest regret and greatest achievement?
Tracey. I think my greatest regret is that I’m not more comfortable being a performer. I think I could have enjoyed my singing career more, and still be enjoying live performance, if I was just a more self-confident, more show-offy kind of person. My greatest achievement is probably having ever got up on a stage at all, given how terrifying it is to me.

And there you have it. Apologies to those who were expecting more after my excited social networking of last night. Obviously I have not taken the photograph used to head the blog but I was directed to a link where I could chose a suitable image and it occurred to me that it was probably best to use an approved image rather than go up in the loft and dig out some old vinyl to photograph. So there we have it, a break from the norm. Back to the photography tomorrow. It may all seem a little mundane after this brief foray into sleb journalism. But in the meantime I am heartened to know that sometimes heroes do live up to your expectations.

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