Tag Archives: Cheshire

Words and pictures

Chester noir

Mark is very certain about his tastes in music, fiction and drama [I think this means I’m an opinionated git but I’m going to go with it – Mark] and it’s surprising this certainty doesn’t carry over to his photography. Because it should.

The wobbles of confidence he shares so readily with readers of this blog are surprising because his images are striking, confident and, most of all eloquent. He worries about supplying the words and sometimes forgets that he doesn’t need to because the pictures are often telling the story very well.

In May I stood as the Labour Party* candidate in the local Council elections here in Chester. The ward, which we successfully took from the Conservative Party covers the city centre. It’s a beautiful and historic ward but it does nevertheless have parts suffering from dereliction and neglect.

Mark, and his wife Helen, were really supportive during the campaign and in true Kelvin MacKenzie style, Mark can claim that it was him “what won it” as he was generous enough to allow me to use his images of the City centre that highlighted dramatically places where things were not so pretty in the garden, places off the beaten track that needed attention.

I used Mark’s striking images to make effective campaigning material. Given that I have a slim majority, every vote really did count and I’m sure that the resonance of Mark’s pictures helped.

So now I have the honour to serve as the Labour Councillor for Chester City ward and as I go about meeting residents, traders and officials, I have the privilege to see nooks and crannies that many people wouldn’t see in the normal run of things.

This week, on a lovely sunny day, I was on the roof of St Peter’s Church at the Cross looking down Bridge Street, over the river and beyond to Handbridge. And I found myself, as I often do, thinking: “Mark would love it up here”.

I think Mark’s got talent and his pictures are an inspiration. He should stop worrying and carry on doing what he does best. Telling stories.

Samantha Dixon

*Other political parties are available 🙂

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Day one of the ‘living without children for a week’ experiment and all going well so far. Having adult conversations that do not revolve around the state of my son’s bedroom or whether my daughter should really be wearing eye shadow at the age of 8. Went for a run, with my wife, which has never happened before and was remarkably easy compared with when I run on my own. We even managed to hold a conversation without resorting to iPods. Just phoned the in-laws to talk to the children to be told that they are ‘too busy’ and will phone us back later – so much for being missed.

Anyway, this picture was taken along my running route and something about the young corn (?) and the parallel lines of the tractor running up the field appealed to me. I had grand plans of using this in colour but the sky was too bleached out so I resorted to black and white to get some added texture in the foreground. I know that you can replace the sky in Photoshop and I have attempted it before but it always seems not quite right to me; I think you can tell when a sky has been replaced. At least you can when I do it and this probably says more about my processing skills than it does about Photoshop.

Still, I’m happy to go black and white; the original image is uniformly green anyway. So now I just need to sit by the phone and wait to see if my children can be bothered to phone back [drums fingers on table, checks watch, decides to open a bottle of wine instead]

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Gerald seems an unlikely name for a boat. I mean, why would you call your boat Gerald? It’s more suited to an elderly gentleman. Unless this boat was named after an elderly gentleman. Anyway, this is a picture of a boat called Gerald, as indicated by the painted metal buckets (?) perched on its roof. Most narrow boats seem to have these but I have no idea what they are used for. Perhaps someone can enlighten me? I always thought that they might be fire buckets but I have seen them with flowers in. Or are they just to carry water? I took this picture very early in the morning and I think you can tell. The muted light from the sun rising in the distance gives the colours a bit of a boost – they wouldn’t look the same in bright sunlight. So, another canal picture… maybe I am turning into a waterways photographer if such a thing exists? Too many questions in this blog for my liking already so I think I’ll stop there. Next challenge is to avoid pictures of canals, particularly in black and white, unless that is I decide not to…

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Ship’s cat

Ship's cat

Back out into the outdoors for today’s picture and I must admit to really liking this one, despite its simplicity. It’s a very English picture – witness the overalls and the cloth cap – and one that I think captures life on the canals. This was taken very early morning as the boats were leaving the marina. I took it from the footbridge that crosses the canal, under which the swan from previous blogs was nesting. When I took it I was looking for some depth of field between the two boats, which I think I have got; however, it was only when I looked at the picture full screen that I realised the focus should be elsewhere. The undoubted star of this image is the cat perched in the doorway, which I didn’t even know was there when I took the picture. Another happy accident.

I find this picture very calming and really quite romantic. I’d like to know where the man and his cat are off to next; it seems like a very restful way to spend your days. The smoke adds to the effect. It seems to me that this picture is all about the little details, the ripples on the water, the oily rag in the man’s hand, the flat cap and that cat. Lovely

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Here comes the summer?

Rape field

I am very aware that I have been a bit black and white of late so here is a roar of colour. I took this picture on my way home from work this evening; one of those moments where the composition registered in the corner of my eye and I had to stop the car. We are having unseasonably warm weather for April (this time last year there was snow on the hills) and its seems that the fields of rape seed have sprung into glory a lot earlier that usual. I like the composition of this picture; it draws you in. And to be honest its nice to take an off-the-cuff spontaneous picture that works pretty well.

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No such thing as bad publicity…?

Canal sunet

Back into colour today and a bit of good news. This picture will soon be gracing the pages of the April issue of Cheshire Life and will be the fifth photograph of mine that they have asked to use in the magazine in the last year. Of course this isn’t paid photography but the way I see it, it’s the perfect way of getting my photography out to a wider audience beyond the 100 or so people that read this blog on a daily basis. I know that it’s a two-way deal; the magazine gets photography for free and I get a picture credit and a url link to the blog/website. This strikes me as being a good thing. Of course I have had many people telling me that I should charge a fee or say no but the only way to build awareness is to get your photographs in front of the widest possible audience. Call it a loss leader; as the old adage goes there is no such thing as bad publicity (or a free lunch). Besides, there is something really quite wonderful in seeing your photography in print. I have now had photographs reproduced in Cheshire Life, Lancashire Life and The Guardian and each time has thrilled me to the core.

Hopefully there will come a time when I can charge for my photographs and I have already undertaken some successful commercial photography thanks to the partnership with Didsbury Life. But at the moment I am still working 9 to 5 in the day job and to be honest its going to take a lottery win or a windfall of some magnitude to ever be able to devote my life to photography full time. Unfortunately mortgages still need to be paid and children clothed and fed and watered – our juice bill alone would shame a small country. Whilst I have sold pictures via exhibition where there was a ready-made audience walking past the door I have only ever sold a couple of pictures online. Even though traffic to my website and the blog is pretty good  I need to do something a bit more professional rather than asking people to contact me if they would like a print. It’s all a little vague. And while plenty of people take the trouble to say they like my photographs (admittedly mostly friends or social network contacts) , this is yet to translate into any meaningful sales. I recently toyed with the idea of hiring some exhibition space at the Chester Food, Drink & Lifestyle exhibition next month in a concerted effort to get some more pictures framed and printed but on reading the exhibitors pack I realised that I just can’t afford it. Which is why, when Cheshire Life ask for permission to use a photograph I invariably say yes. Primarily because they always ask so nicely and agree to whichever picture credit I ask for. And its a way of getting my photographs seen.

So, if you are a Cheshire based person pick up the April issue; maybe write to the Editor and ask where you can get a copy of that wonderful photo of the Nantwich canal at sunset :-). One other reason to get it is that they have asked for a mugshot to go with it. I’m not particularly photogenic, although my wife claims that all this running is hastening the re-emergence of the fabled cheekbones of yore.

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Peckforton sunset

Peckferton sunset 

This is probably the new record in terms of time between pressing the shutter button to image on blog. I took this just over an hour ago on the way home from work. It was so beautiful I just had to stop the car and I hope you agree that it was worth it. Being a Friday evening, this will be the obligatory short blog post but in this case I feel more than justified in letting the picture stand alone with little interference from yours truly. The picture is the sun setting over the Cheshire plain today, the 4th March 2011. On the left is Peckforton castle most famous for being the location for the Patrick Bergin version of Robin Hood that failed next to Kevin Costner’s and also the Doctor Who story ‘The Time Warrior’ which starred Jon Pertwee. Out of shot on the right is the far more authentic and ancient Beeston castle. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the wide-angle lens with me in order to get both in and the sun was that little bit closer to Peckferton. It seems like Spring is finally upon us and the sun is hanging around that little bit longer; certainly just long enough for me to take this picture.

I’ve taken about 20-30 of this view this evening and this is the first one I’ve looked at so I’m hoping the others are just as good. Off out tonight to see friends’ band (another manifestation of mid-life crisis) and to have a few beers. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing have a lovely weekend; it’s all started rather promisingly…

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There once was an ugly duckling…


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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Canal sunset

Canal sunset, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Here’s one I prepared earlier… Been out all day taking photographs in North Wales. Just back, then tea, then The Killing on BBC4 so just time to fulfill my blogging obligations. I am hoping that this picture speaks for itself. An amazing sunset spotted on my way home from work last week. One of those ‘stop the car’ moments. Not only were the colours really vivid, the reflections in the canal were too.

Anyhow, enough material today to keep the blog going today including some pictures of the moon in daylight. It was really visible today, so I’m hoping these turn out OK. Hope you don’t mind these shorter blogs at the weekend but it stands to reason that relaxing comes to the fore. Plus I am usually less angry 😉



The violets explode inside me
when I meet your eyes
Then I’m spinning and I’m diving
Like a cloud of starlings

Starlings by Elbow

An extract from one of my favourite songs. I was going to end the blog right there as its link to the photograph is pretty obvious. But I feel like I owe you more, or to put it bluntly I owe myself more. Blogging is a very solipsistic pastime. The only indication I get that anybody is reading this at all is the statistics that I glean from WordPress. A friend told me that you should only blog for yourself and never for anybody else and not to get hung up on readers but it’s very hard not to. As human beings we get hung up on what others think of us; we crave acceptance. Life, after all, can be likened to one long popularity contest. Writing as someone that has never been particularly artistic, this is especially true for me. On the face of it I am hoping that readers are going to like my photographs. But as time as progressed the words have assumed an equal importance.

What has emerged from nearly 2 years of blogging is that you can never second guess what is going to strike a chord with your readership. I find it amazing that my most popular post is the picture I took of my daughter’s makeover party. Admittedly this was helped by being picked by WordPress to appear on the homepage, but they must have seen something in it that eluded me. It was a post I rattled off in an attempt to post something, anything. Conversely, posts that I pour my heart and soul into (or at least put a lot of effort into) receive little or no comment – owl stretching time for example. It should probably serve as a warning: stop polemicising and stick to what you know; but some things just come and before you know it what started out as a post about liking owls ends up as rant against David Cameron. Because I attempt to promote this blog and my photography in general using social media I am aware that I am diluting my message somewhat. Quite often I have some really good comments via Twitter or Facebook that by definition don’t appear on the blog itself, I suppose because it’s easier to respond there and then within whichever media you are using.

Last week I had my first ever request for a print of one of the photographs from the blog. This is another small step towards building up my confidence and is a genuine cause for celebration. I have sold images before but that was in an exhibition environment. I know I need to publicize myself more and I have actually been making some efforts in that direction, but so far with little success. Also, although I have signed up to blogging every day, I can’t help but wonder if I am diluting the message. Posting every day is very good for discipline (that badge on the right hand side is a constant reminder) and for improving my written communication but won’t there come a point where I, and almost definitely you, the reader, will become tired of it.

As you can probably tell, this blog is developing into one of my semi-regular spirals of self pity. I am very aware that I do this but if I am to write this for myself then I need to be honest; I am hoping that I can look back at this post a year from now and think ‘what an arsehole’; just like grown adults look back at their teenage diaries with a mix of humour and horror. I have never written a diary. This blog is the closest I have got. I did get a diary one Christmas and vowed to keep it up to date but it didn’t last very long – it mostly recorded details of what I had for tea (mostly beef burgers or Findus crispy pancakes) or posed the age-old question of why a certain girl wouldn’t go out with me to which the blindingly obvious answer was ‘because you never asked her’.

I feel that my whole life is at a crossroads and it’s a feeling that I’ve had for quite some time; I have alternating periods of boredom and panic that I can’t seem to shake off. Am I depressed? I don’t think so and I hope not. It has been suggested by those who love me that maybe I should go and see a doctor for a chat but I’m pretty sure that this wouldn’t help. I certainly have no desire whatsoever for medication – the only drugs I have ever taken are paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen (obviously not at the same time before anyone rings the Samaritans). The thing is, I know exactly what the problem is, at least I think I do. It’s the whole idea of getting older and a sense that I have not achieved a great deal that nags away. It’s also a very real sense that there is a better time to be had doing something else, but then again I don’t know what or how to go about achieving it. I am 100% sure that I am not alone in feeling like this but it’s not something people ever talk about. We go about our daily business, commuting to and from work, going to the gym, doing the housework, gardening (I hate gardening, did I mention), cooking, writing blogs, updating statuses, drinking, reading, sleeping. It’s almost as if life only gives you the tools and the confidence to be happy in your own skin at the point at which you are too old to use them. Does that make sense? Probably not but I can’t think of a better way of putting it. I think the best way I can describe it is a general sense of malaise or maybe even wistfulness.

I have no idea what drives it. It’s certainly not problems at home and work is fine also. Maybe it’s the weather or seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? Maybe it’s the rumours the Glastonbury headliners are U2, Coldplay and Beyonce? Maybe its the fact that we had the family car serviced today and it cost us £680. And 20% of that was VAT. For a long time I blamed it on Roy Hodgson but things are looking up in the football department too. What it probably is, however, is that I want the moon on a stick. I want to be a gentleman of leisure, travelling the world with my family and taking stunning photographs in stunning locations. If anyone has any vacancies please let me know.

Spookily, a good friend of mine re-tweeted the following on Twitter yesterday from someone called @zard [I’d like to think there’s an @oz67 out there too]:

You know what will make you feel better about your life? Hating fewer things and liking/loving more. Try it?

I have no idea who @zard is but given the above its probably the best advice I’ve heard in years. I still hate gardening though. And Chris Moyles.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with starlings. Well the answer to that question is ‘not much’ I took this picture on my way home from work this evening. My office car park abuts onto a cemetery that is home to hundreds, if not thousands of starlings. Up until recently I only heard them as it was always dark on leaving work. Now the evenings are getting lighter you can see massive flocks of them swooping and diving. I was going to write about Ted Hughes and a poem I remembered from school about starlings but then it turned out the poem was actually about thrushes and that’s not really a good title for a blog. Thankfully Elbow game to the rescue. We’re all spinning and diving like starlings but thankfully although I am, as the song puts it, ‘a horse that’s good for glue’ I do have plenty of love to see me through. See you tomorrow…

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