Tag Archives: people

The knights are drawing in…


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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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

Dean and Alex (105 of 459)

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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Garvey Bramwell

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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Of course if, its raining it could be like this… If the forecasts are to believed then we might well be at this stage by now. Or maybe not? Lets face it no-one knows. I think it will be somewhere between yesterdays picture and todays…

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As evidenced by my bug circus post yesterday this was the weekend where the unusual came to the streets of my home city of Chester. As I have blogged before, the city currently stands at something of a crossroads arts-wise; the only city centre cinema is closed, the theatre has been decommissioned and its seats ripped out, there is no music venue to speak of (with apologies to the one or two venues that are still bringing live music to the city against the odds).

But things are looking up. Whilst we still have no theatre and debate rages as to whether the old Odeon cinema should be re-developed as an arts centre there are several organisations – Chester Festivals and Chester Performs – that are doing their darndest to ensure that the city doesn’t become a complete cultural wasteland. For the second year running, we have an open-air theatre in one of the city’s open spaces (Grosvenor Park) bringing Shakespeare (As You Like It) and original family theatre (Merlin) to the huddled masses.

We are curently in the midst of Chestival, which ties in with the annual midsummer watch parade and has seen open-air cinema in the Roman amphitheatre, a shortened mystery play ‘The Creation’ in the same space and, this weekend, somewhat incongruously vaudeville, cabaret, and burlesque performed on the city streets and inside the town hall.

Breathing fireWe spent a wonderful day yesterday as a family attending all the events and were left stunned and amazed by the vaudeville performers, who brought a real sense of the exotic to the streets of my city. Such was the dedication of the performers it was like being transported to another place and time and it made me bitterly regret that we had not booked tickets for the sold-out seated performance in the Town Hall in the evening. I think it’s genuinely well known that vaudeville and cabaret is making a comeback. Everything has its place and time and things come full circle and whilst our streets are always full of jugglers and unicyclists, especially in the summer, what they lack is the sparkle, the razzle dazzle, the sheer class that these performers had in spades. I hope this comes over in the photographs that illustrate today’s blog and I hope that I have done them justice.

I don’t often get the chance to do portraits or people pictures, and I admit I am far more comfortable with landscapes but the great thing about public events is that it gives me the chance to practice taking these sorts of shot. The blog today is just a small selection of what I shot and I’ll probably blog some of the rest of the festival for the next couple of days before heading off to Glastonbury.

ContortionAs well as the fire lady above the vaudeville performers included a man who could dislocate his shoulders to comic effect (although he made my son feel sick), a man who could remove a rose from his extremely brave assistant’s teeth using a whip, a dancing monkey (not a real one before anyone gets irate) and a quite spectacular contortionist. This was all held together by a megaphone-wielding ‘swami’ in elaborate headgear who kept the audience enthralled and on tenterhooks for the next act.

I am not quite sure how we ended up with this unusual entertainment but I truly hope that it worked and was profitable and will see them back next year as I would love to the see the evening show with its promise of darker, more exotic material.

I’ve taken hundreds of photos, of which these are just a snapshot, of our lovely free day out. Hats off to the organisers

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Ok, so I am back and posting in real time again. I can see that my automated posts actually appeared so that is good thing to know going forward. We have actually been camping in Wales this weekend on the shores of Lyn Tegid near Bala, the largest lake in Wales. And the reason? Two friends (and not me I should hasten to add)  were taking part in the Bala triathlon which, I am reliably informed is also a ‘half Iron Man’. This is basically a 3-mile swim, followed by a 50-mile bike ride, followed by a 13-mile run. My friends, we can call them Steve and Simon for this blog, which also happens to be their real names, do this sort of thing quite regularly. I take photographs, they do triathlons; it’s a middle-aged thing.

On Friday night then three families (six adults, seven children) all headed into Wales for a weekend’s gentle camping before the race today. All things considered, the weather was not too bad on Friday and Saturday (when this picture was taken) but today was a different matter. I took this picture of Steve heading into the lake yesterday for a practice swim. It almost looks inviting. Yet today, for the race, he will have headed into it in driving rain and gale conditions. They started at 10 am and were hoping to finish by 3 pm. Five hours! Of exercise! In the pouring rain! I was going to call this blog post ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen’ but there was no midday sun involved, just driving, relentless rain.

Spare a thought also for their families too, standing in the rain, cheering them on. Safe in the knowledge that we were home, showered and snuggled on the sofa watching telly as we had no reason to stick around. Also, since my daughter had left her waterproof outside all night  there was no way we could have spectated, even if we’d wanted too. And the blog title? This is how my daughter pronounces ‘triathlon’. I thought it sounded suitably Welsh. If things have gone badly, they could still be running as I type. I have asked ‘why’ but there is no reason other than the vague ‘because it’s there’ excuse that you always get from people that are far healthier and fitter than you are. I maintain though that putting yourself through that hell, in those conditions, must take its toll mentally as well as physically.

I salute them, even though I don’t understand. They may have felt the same yesterday when I disappeared with camera and tripod to go and stand in the lake as it went dark. Mad dogs and Englishmen indeed.

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Glastonbury weather fear


Two weeks today I will be there. Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset for the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts or ‘Glasto’ as it is more commonly known. Two weeks out and suddenly the long range weather forecasts come into play. It’s a very stressful time. A warm and dry Glastonbury is the best festival on the planet, ; wet Glastonbury is still the best festival on the planet but an entirely different beast altogether.

In sunshine, the festival shows human nature at its very best – the atmosphere is relaxed, everyone is having a good time, you can almost smell the relaxation and sometimes you can actually smell the relaxation. In wet weather. a grim stoicism kicks in – the Dunkirk spirit. Everyone is still determined to enjoy themselves but when you can’t sit down and you’re stuff is wet and the mud stops you from going where you want to go then the only thing to do is drink through it (pictured).

At the moment the balance is tipped 60/40 in favour of good weather but in this country that means nothing. It could snow. no really, it could. There could be floods. There could be heatstroke. And all in the same weekend. I want it to be warm and sunny, but then it was last year. As a veteran of the great flood of 2005 and the recreation of the Somme (also pictured) in 2007 I feel I am due a good one, especially as I didn’t go last year  (I was photographing a wedding in Devon) but the Glastonbury weather gods are a fickle bunch. They play with us for their sport.

Fingers crossed…

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On portrait photography


The aim of Art is to present not the outward appearance of things, but their inner significance; for this, not the external manner and detail, constitutes true reality.

This quote from Aristotle is perhaps the very essence of portraiture both in its painted and photographed form. The portrait photographer aims to not only capture the external appearance of their subject or subjects but also that inner spark, which usually lies behind the eyes. In times gone by (the years of paint) the portrait was the preserve of the rich and famous – kings, queens, emperors, etc – but over time it became common for the middle classes to commission painted portraits of their families, particularly their children. Of course, the rise of photography meant that pretty much anyone could have their portrait taken. The emergence of photography was celebrated at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and once Queen Victoria had become the first English monarch to be photographed with her children and grandchildren a family portrait was the de rigueur thing for all Victorians to have hanging over the fireplace.

In the subsequent years, not much has changed – other than the technology becoming far more sophisticated and photography, as a discipline, becoming more inclusive – and we still hang pictures of our loved ones on the wall just as the Victorians did more than 150 years ago. But what is so special about portrait photography? OK, it marks the passage of time with an unflinching eye but surely there is something more to it than that, something deeper. My house is full of portraits of my children, taken at regular intervals from the moment of birth; in fact it is probably the arrival of my first child 10 years ago that awakened my interest in photography – that and the fact that the invention of digital freed the non-expert photographer from the world of dark rooms and chemicals. My kids are always getting out the photograph albums and looking at the baby pictures. It is almost as if they have to check that it really is them, so small, so vulnerable. Children live in the moment. Last week is another country; so I would argue that when we have a photograph taken of our children it is as much for their benefit as it is for ours. Family portraits provide a connection with the past, with happy times spent together as a family. They also serve to commemorate those family members that are no longer with us.

For me, photography appears to be primarily about serendipity or the happy accident. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time… Most of the stunning photos that you will ever see were taken in a split second when the planets aligned and something magical happened. When you take a photograph you are capturing a moment in time that can never be experienced again. That’s what is awe-inspiring and exciting about photography. No matter what you are taking a photo of – be it your baby’s arrival at home, your child’s first steps, a first day at school – you are capturing something that cannot be replicated or duplicated even seconds afterward.

Family photography is an ever shifting discipline. In the 70s and 80s we were content to take grainy photographs with instant cameras and lovingly collate them in photo albums or frame them ourselves. If you wanted a ‘proper’ portrait taken then you would still need to go to a professional photographer’s studio but the images were usually very static. Sit still and say ‘cheese’. The multitude of ‘embarrassing family portrait’ websites are full of such images. This was still in evidence in the 1990s but the first digital cameras led to an improvement in image quality and the movement away from film gave the photographer the option of taking more images and deleting the ones that didn’t work on the fly. Our own pictures got better and so did those of the professionals as the digital darkroom (Photoshop, etc) opened up a whole world of possibilities.

The turn of the last century (and who can believe that that was more than 10 years ago already) saw family portraiture hit the high street. ‘Quirky’ photography became the norm with all white backgrounds, ubiquitous spot colour, extreme close ups and props coming to the fore. So what’s next? Personally, I think we will see a return to more traditional portraiture i.e. a move away from the quirkiness of the last decade. The trend now is very much for more natural images taken in an environment that means something to the subjects be it the family home or a local park. This is only a personal view, and the fact that high street family portraiture still flourishes probably proves me wrong, but I think that there is increasing evidence that the staged family photograph – no matter how wacky and off beam – has become commonplace. This has facilitated a shift back towards more honest, unforced and spontaneous photography.

As a photographer I would urge you to take as many photographs as possible as your children grow up. They will thank you for it. Modern digital cameras are very easy to master if you set your mind to it and digital darkroom software (Adobe Elements, Lightroom or Photoshop for example or Apple’s Aperture) can help you produce stunning images yourself. If you don’t have the time or inclination or feel you lack the technical skills then ask someone to take your photographs for you. There is a wealth of great, relatively inexpensive pro or semi-pro CRB-checked photographers out there if you know where to look. A recommendation from someone else is a good place to start and good word of mouth is better than any advert.

What’s most important though is that you don’t find yourself looking back in 10 or 15 years time and wonder why you didn’t capture more. Photographs are to be enjoyed and celebrated and PRINTED. There is no point having a hard drive full of digital images if you are not going to print them out and put them on the wall. A decent frame and a mount can make all the difference in creating portraits that will last for ever.

I would like to thank Sophie, and more importantly, Jemima for permission to use this picture.

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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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