Category Archives: People

The knights are drawing in…

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I had it all planned… today’s photo was going to be current and I was going to attempt a review of sorts, which I still may do. This afternoon we had tickets to see the family play ‘Merlin and the Woods of Time’ at the open air theatre in Chester’s Grosvenor park and I intended to take some pictures for this evening’s blog. However, on arrival we were told that camera’s were not permitted. I have no problem with this, but it sort of scuppered the plans somewhat. Therefore to illustrate the blog I have had to go back to a picture taken at Warkworth castle in Northumberland and one that doesn’t really fit with the performance we saw this afternoon.

At this time of year you can’t move for medieval knights. It seems that ever castle – be in National Trust or English Heritage – is awash with volunteers dressed in armour. Indeed, Beeston castle, which is about 8 miles from where I live was having a 2-day medieval festival this weekend titled ‘Clash of the Knights’. And it’s not just knights… as a family we have seen Romans, Cavaliers, Roundheads, Highwaymen, Vikings, Gladiators, etc, etc. It has to be said as well that the various groups that dress up for the public and re-enact these golden periods of history (such as this knight pictured at Warkworth) take it very, very seriously.

This was not the case with ‘Merlin and the Woods of Time’. It’s probably the most spectacularly non-sensical and silly play I have seen in a long time. And its all the better for it. In fact, I loved it and so did the rest of the family. I’m not sure I can explain the plot – it did involve all the usual Arthurian characters but with a few more thrown in for good measure. And kazoos. Lots of kazoos. And time travel. And jousting commentators. Think Monty Python and Holy Grail – right down to Black Knight (and star of the show) Mordred losing his head at one point – and you are close. The cast are perfect and their are lots of laughs for both kids and adults. It is subtly smutty and yet exciting enough to hold the attention of the smallest of attentions. One running joke has a character speaking Welsh all the way through whilst the rest of the cast dismiss it as gibberish. The Welsh family sitting near us though roared with laughter and the fact that the Welsh speaker emerges as the heroine of the play (and the only sensible character) is commendable. A good time (and picnic) was had by all.

‘Merlin and the Woods of Time’ is running in conjunction with Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ with the same cast doing both plays on alternate days until the 21st August. Pictures from the actual productions can be found here. Highly recommended if you can avoid the rain…

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Dance!

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I don’t take many pictures of people and those that I have taken have been wedding photographs or performers at Glastonbury. I am yet to get into street photography, primarily because I find it difficult, not to mention rude. I know that if a stranger took a photo of me in the I’d want to know who they were and why they were taking it. Another thing I don’t understand about street photography is that it is drummed into you in books and magazines that when taking pictures of people you need to get permission or a release form or both, certainly if you intend to publish your image. Yet street photography is currently very in. But do street photographers seek permission for the candid intimate shots they capture? If not, what makes street photography different to portrait photography when it comes to permission etc.?

So, here is a rare picture from me of people. And since it is from a public performance then I think I am OK to use it. It’s from the mystery play of The Creation that was part of the recent Chester festival. The production featured children from local schools of all ages and the dancers here were from the Hammond School, which is Chester’s principal school for ballet, dance and the arts. I actually really like dancing in terms of going to a party, getting drunk and po-going to indie records but I have a very mixed response to dance as an art form. My wife loves the ballet whereas it leaves me cold – I am more of a words and pictures and music kind of person. Yet there I was in a tent in Glastonbury watching experimental Russian dance theatre, which I thoroughly enjoyed, even though it scared me to death.

I can however appreciate the talent, the athleticism and the beauty of dance in short bursts. The dancers in this photograph were portraying Adam and Eve in the mystery play and even a curmudgeonly old bit like me had to admit that the dancing on show from these two performers was superb.

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Wedding nerves

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It looks like I am nearing the end of the wedding photographs. That is I have culled and chopped and tweaked and agonised and then repeated the same actions all over again. I know that I am supplying too many but I think its up to the bride and groom to pick the ones that they discard. I am terrified that they won’t like them. Don’t get me wrong, some I am really pleased with – including this one, which I think manages to convey the nerves of the wait before leaving for the ceremony more than a picture of a face could. I won’t be blogging any of the other wedding photographs as it would not be fair but I felt that this one was suitably vague to give you a hint of what I have been up to whilst all the guest blogging was going on. I will let you know what feedback I get (if any). The nerves apply as much to me as they do the bride in the picture.

All told I am looking at about 450 colour images and I have converted about 300 of these to black and white. I have no idea if this is typical, but as I say I am certain this is probably too many. My wife has told me that I should brutally cull them down to no more than 100 and she is probably right but when you have been tasked to capture a whole day, from wedding make-up to the speeches I feel that my cautious strategy is better. In other words, its the old adage that if you throw enough mud at a wall some of it will stick. Fingers crossed for a positive reaction!

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The Crash of the Elysium

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Just back from Media City in Salford where the children have been to see a Doctor Who-themed show by critically acclaimed  theatre company Punchdrunk. It’s part of the Manchester International Festival, which seems to get bigger and better each year. Punchdrunk usually do theatre for adults and specialise in productions where the audience are walked through a scenario and take part in the action as it enfolds. The Crash of the Elysium is their first production for children – no adults allowed; the kids (aged 9-14) go off on their own to fight an alien menace. It was all very immersive stuff, starting off with a boring, stuffy exhibition about an old ship before all hell breaks lose, soldiers arrive and the children are whisked away to help The Doctor defeat the enemy and  retrieve the Tardis. Apparently, there were so many complaints from disgruntled adults that they have now put on some evening adult shows…

And the verdict? The best thing ever. And very very scary. The enemy revealed is one of the most frightening foes created for the show since it returned (Don’t blink) and the children were totally immersed in the excitement of it all. A letter from the Doctor at the end just sealed it. I took this photo with my phone before we went in (no cameras allowed).

As we waited for the adventure to end and the children to be returned we were able to read some of the feedback forms and it slowly dawned on me how much this old show, that I loved as a child, is still touching the lives of so many children now. Some of the feedback was so lovely – for many of the children The Doctor is real – with lots begging for a ride in the Tardis and many proclaiming that it was the best thing that had ever happened to them in their lives. Ever. Not bad for a show that is nearly 50 years old. And yes I did want to be in there with them.

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Back to basics

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Another guest post from a friend – I’m Sophie and I’ve know photographer Mark Nelson since about 1995, when we first worked together (I know he’ll be cringing at me calling him a photographer 😉 [yes that is right but I’m not going to argue with a guest blogger] ). We were partners in crime at two different publishers and ate a lot of McDonalds together. That’s me on the left. I like this shot because, apart from the fact that Mark took it and my daughter is looking beautifully smiley in it, it also makes my nose look relatively small, which is no mean feat. Thank you, Mark, for finding my best angle!

I often book photographers for my work (in PR) and over the years I’ve spent plenty of time selecting shots for publication. I know what works – however, I still have no idea why. I’ve sat in on numerous shoots at locations varying from unglamorous construction sites and factories to a literally glamorous and slightly uncomfortable experience at a topless shoot for a lads’ car mag. I’ve even been an emergency foot and bum model for cheap shoes and cut-price jeans (RIP TJ Hughes) and a ‘blur’ in a home interiors mag.

I’ve been a fan of Mark’s photography since I first saw it – I think what has impressed me most is that he has picked up his photographic skills with almost no formal training, yet produces beautiful, creative shots at a professional level equal to much of the photography I’ve seen (better than some of it, in fact). I love the fact that Mark pushes himself to take on new challenges which sometimes go against his self-effacing tendencies. I felt guilty and proud in equal measure when I dragged him to a charity fashion show a few months back, where he got some amazing shots under pressure.

photoI don’t know how anyone achieves this combination of artistry and technical knowhow – just mention apertures and I glaze over. My own photographic skills are nil, for instance, yesterday I tried to take a picture on my phone of a black dog in artificial light with no flash. What I ended up with looked like a furry lump, as you can see (this was one of the better shots).

So I’d like to challenge Mark to take a successful shot of a black dog (this black dog, preferably at a canal side pub of my choosing) within the next couple of weeks, and then to explain how he managed to get the shot to show actual body parts and eyes properly. If he doesn’t have time, some tips on getting a better shot myself would be appreciated!

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Imelda May

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OK so I broke my promise and I’m back with Glastonbury. So sue me. No don’t. But when you have taken so many pictures it’s hard not to get drawn back to them. Plus this fits into the loose theme of this week regarding pictures that I have tried to rescue. I actually enjoyed taking these photographs of Imelda may at Glastonbury from right at the front so much that next time round I am almost convinced that I should see more music and get to the front on some of the smaller stages; I say almost convinced because sunshine, cider and good company have a knack of getting in the way. I have no pretensions of being a rock photographer – and I suggest that if you want to see it done properly then visit the site of my friend Chris Gravett who I was lucky enough to meet up with for a few pints at Glastonbury. His images of Radiohead are, not to put too fine a point on it, stunning. And while he was taking these I was drunk on a hill. As Roy Castle once said ‘Dedication is what you need’. Like me Chris came late to photography, or rather rediscovered photography late, and he has now taken the bold step of going pro. I’m sure you can see why.

But back to my humble effort. I have realised that stage lighting can be a right pain the arse; its either too bright or too dark and when shooting without flash (as I do since I don’t have a proper flash gun and the camera’s built in flash is too weedy) this can lead to images that are grainy. To hand hold and shoot without flash in darker conditions you have to bump the camera’s ISO (sensitivity to light) right up to get a decent picture but the higher the ISO the more the grain, or noise, in the image. Now noise is not always a bad thing and I think it lends itself well to black and white rock photography. However, this image – which perversely was one of the best I took in terms of performance – was very, very noisy and I think I took it just as the lights dimmed. Therefore the camera had to work harder and the grain was more pronounced.

I have tried to rescue it by going high contrast black and white and applying a very dark vignette to draw the eye in. I think it works and I’m pretty pleased with it but just compare it to those Radiohead pics. I have a lot to learn.

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Glastonbury 2011: Final Day

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So final day at Glastonbury and the sun is beating down. Beating down so much that it is ALMOST TOO HOT, which give the weather 2 days earlier is very hard to believe. Sunday is the day that Glastonbury wheels out the legends, so not only do we get The Wombles we get Don McClean (somewhere in a field in Somerset he is still singing American Pie) and Paul Simon, who rather underwhelmingly phones in his performance. It’s so hot that we seek shelter in one of the bars for most of the late afternoon. And then two acts blow me away to bring Glastonbury to a close. First up, Mark E Everett and The Eels who are great and loud and funny in a good way. At this point I split from my friends as they – given that they had four 14 year old boys in two (their twins and two of the twins school friends) – were off to see Beyonce.

Given this stark choice I decided to head to the Acoustic tent to see Irish rockabilly queen as I liked her album Mayhem. Arriving a good 45 minutes early I was lucky enough to catch punk poet John Copper Clarke, who was funny, self-deprecating and genuinely happy to be there. Cooper Clarke regaled the audience with tales of his teenage daughter and how, given that he was her father, she had nothing to rebel against.

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After John Cooper Clarke had finished I made my may to front for Imelda May and had an epiphany. Whilst I like her album this was one of those rare occasions that you realise that the live performance is an entirely different can of worms. Here was a performance filled with such joy, vitality, musicality and verve that it was hard not be swept away. She is one of those artists who whilst perfectly fine on record demands to be seen live. And oh what a voice. This was the first chance I have had to get up front and try my hand at what you might call ‘rock photography’ although in this cases it’s probably more ‘rockabilly photography’.

Catching the end of Beyonce I came to the conclusion that I had made the better choice. And that’s it until 2013. Few more photos of Imelda May below. She really is very good…

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Glastonbury 2011: Day 4

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Saturday. A day of glorious sunshine, sitting in chairs, drinking cider and watching Elbow giving this year’s definitive ‘Glastonbury moment’. There was not an awful lot I wanted to see on Saturday music wise so I went with the flow and ended up with an eclectic mix, which is the best way to experience the festival. Given my desire to just sit in the sunshine and chill I did not take that many photographs and I experienced Elbow’s triumphant set from some way back on the hill overlooking the Pyramid stage. And if Guy Garvey ever read this this: Yes we did have the time of our lives.

So when Illustrating this blog with pictures it struck me that most of the images I took on Saturday were taken in the very early hours of Saturday morning, i.e. when it was still raining. This not a problem but I don’t want to give the impression that it was raining on Saturday. It wasn’t. I woke up to sunshine. But, Friday’s rain continued until about 3 in the morning on Saturday and this is when I took these pictures.

So, post U2 I had two options – go to bed and listen to the rain hammering on canvas, which is the route my friends took, or go walkabout. I did the latter, heading off to the theatre tent because I reasoned that it would be a) dry and b) entering the edgier late-night period. The pictures below blog capture just part of what I walked in on. I mentioned earlier in the week the experimental Russian dance theatre and this is what it looks like. I have no idea what the dancers were called but what I can say is that it was creepy, scary and mesmerising; like walking into a David Lynch film.

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One thing that Glastonbury’s detractors just don’t seem to get is that the festival is not just about music. Music is just a small part of what is on offer. Indeed the full and proper title is the ‘Glastonbury Festival of the Performing Arts’. There is so much to see and do that you could quite easily not see any music all weekend and many people don’t. There is theatre, comedy, cabaret, circus, dance, politics, science, environmentalism, poetry, book readings, lectures, etc, etc. It therefore did not come as a surprise to find myself watching terrifying dance through a cider-fuelled haze whilst a biblical storm raged outside. This may well be the most indelible memory of my festival.

Once the rain had abated I headed off into the areas of the site that are not for the faint of heart – Arcadia, The Common and Shangri La – where you can encounter fire-breathing dragons, desolated cityscapes, transvestites (and lots of them), mermaids, Mexican wrestlers, karaoke, virus outbreaks and decontamination; not to mention Bez’s (of the Happy Mondays) Acid House. Usually you have to queue to get into these areas but the rain had driven many away and I walked straight in; hopefully these pictures will give just a little taste of what I encountered.

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Finally, I should mention, that after many years of looking (and quite by accident) I happened across ‘Strummerville’ (main picture) a tiny area near the memorial stone for The Clash’s Joe Strummer (a Glastonbury regular) which has a huge campfire, with singalongs, and a tiny stage for a select group of performers. This too was a godsend. To warm by the fire and listen to live music in such intimate and friendly surroundings was another highlight.

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Glastonbury 2011: Day 2

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My second day at this year’s Glastonbury festival started very early. I had agreed via Twitter to shoot some footage of @GlastoDancer as he began his marathon dance (website explaining all here). This was a precursor to an attempt at the non-stop dancing world record for later this year. Although I managed to film the start of his marathon task I did not manage to catch up with him again during the festival but I do know that he completed his task, despite the mud. He started dancing in the rain, which was a precursor to the deluge to come on Friday. Hopefully, the short footage I shot will be usable and may feature in a documentary that is being put together.

After leaving @GlastoDancer dancing in a café tent to keep dry I went for a little wander, during which it rained very heavily, the sun came out and a rainbow appeared. This pretty much set the template for the day. I had breakfast, wandered for miles and took some photographs including the one heading the blog, which pictures a man with a chair on his head walking through the site at about 7 am in the morning.

As the festival does not officially start until Friday this was a day for exploring and getting my bearings; although the site layout is pretty much the same each year, things do move about and you can’t rely on your memory as entire areas can change location. After the Brothers cider-fuelled Glastonbury Twitter meet-upI sat in the sun for a bit, came across a world-record attempt for the largest ever game of Twister (both pictured below) and waited for my friends to arrive from Cornwall, which they duly did late afternoon.

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Thursday evening was then spent wandering the darker recesses of the site with a trip to Shangri La, which can best be described as a post-apocalyptic wasteland where ‘all the weird shit happens’. The fact that U2 were headlining on the Friday night had split most festival goers; whilst their showmanship and back catalogue were never in doubt there was the thorny issue of Bono’s tax status to contend with and the general consensus that the U2 front man is generally ‘a bit of a nob’. This is probably best illustrated by the photos below which were taken in Shangri La. At this stage I was not sure if I was going to see U2 or not. I knew I wanted to see Morrissey who was on right before them but it was all very much still in the balance…

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Saturday…

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I am Kloot and Elbow today… so here are John Bramwell and Guy Garvey. This post is for Jenn, who I know will be listening to the Elbow performance on 6Music, even though she’s in Tampa, Florida. By now I am 100% positive that the sun will be shining (a bit).

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