Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Myriad Diagonals

Shafts of sunlight through windows, dust motes dancing, sharp, pure shadows across warm, ochre limestone.


Not seen much of that this summer.

And then, by magic (and a shift in the jet stream plus a ridge of high pressure moving up from the Azores), the sun comes out.

The quest for the perfect diagonal resumes.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Dirty Angel

I spent a pleasant hour or so this morning photographing an angel. I'm afraid it's not been having a good time of it lately. Not exactly fallen, more grubby. The finely carved head had hair extentions courtesy of an industrious spider or two and, although it's in a tightly enclosed space, a bird had seen fit to christen its forehead.

Please note that I have carefully avoided assigning a gender to this figure. Although angels are not within my life's remit, I must assume that they are neuter - anything else would be grossly one-sided. Whatever it is, I couldn't leave it in this state. With the help of a convenient brush, a lens tissue and some spit, I restored to it some semblance of its simple beauty.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Puff, Puff

When I was a kid, and before every child carried enough technology to power a Mars landing project, we thought we could tell the time by blowing upon a dandelion seed head. Obviously it was a tough plant that could withstand midday and midnight but early afternoon was fairly safe.

What I can’t remember is if they were accepted as timepieces by our parents. When I got home at 8 o’clock instead of the three hours earlier I’d agreed, was it a viable defence to say that I’d blown the seeds away in five puffs and so was on time?

Fossil for the Future

I have UK size 12 feet. That to me is one of the wonders of nature; my feet seem to be entirely commensurate with my generous stature. I suppose that if they were size 6, I’d be constantly falling over. But I don’t or, at least, infrequently. The last time I can remember doing so was when I tripped over an deceptive curb stone on a pavement in New England – American pavements, or sidewalks as they so prosaically call them, are if anything worse than ours. Perhaps that’s because, as we’re always being told, nobody walks anywhere.

Anyway my feet, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, lead a fairly autonomous existence down there at the bottom of my legs. And it must be a merry life judging by the evidence I see whenever I manage to bend down that far. There they are, large, off-white limb ends, covered in bumps and bruises. I know for a start that the little toes are forever out-and-about, wrapping themselves around bedposts or the corners of wardrobes and rubbing themselves up against tight fitting shoes until the skin hardens. Masochistic little beggars, they are! How the other toes must laugh!

Well that’s all bye-the-bye and only tangentially connected to today’s image. Last weekend Pixie and I were out walking the waterlogged fields around our village. Why, heaven only knows. Perhaps we’d got a bit stir-crazy, unable to travel but feeling the need for fresh air (we could have just sat in the conservatory with the doors open but where’s the fun in that). Suddenly I felt the urge to photograph a footprint. And lo! There was one.

Now I don’t know what sort of boot made this print; that’s the stuff of Sherlock Holmes and forensic science. In all probability it was a Wellington. (Incidentally my Wellingtons are a size too small; when I wear them all my toes indulge in self-harm). As I knocked off a couple of shots of the muddy prints I fell to thinking about fossils (and about whether we had any crumpets for tea or perhaps a muffin but that’s another story).

I could imagine palaeontologists in the distant future (assuming the human race or a derivative of it lasts that long) poring over a cast of the footprint. Was it from an intelligent life form? (Doubtful). Why was it there? How did it become a fossil? Did it have sausage, bacon, beans, mushrooms and crusty granary toast for breakfast? What other evidence had come from the excavation of the site? Were the fossilised televisions, petrified sofas, rust marks of a disintegrated freezer of any significance? All these things and more were in the hedges around me, evidence of a great deluge, ready to be immortalised in the geological series. Potent signs for the years to come.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Water, Water, Everywhere

The area where I live is inundated by the worst flooding in this part of the UK in living memory. It doesn't matter where in the world you are, as New Orleans, Bangladesh or the tsunami in the Indian Ocean bear witness, the destructive power of water on the rampage is impossible to resist.

To watch a river in full spate, as I have recently where the River Avon flows through my village, is to be awed, frightened and compulsively drawn all at the same time. There is something mesmeric about fierce water.

Back in 1968, when I was on a course at the BBC's training centre, a severe thunderstorm got trapped in the Vale of Evesham, bouncing back and forth off the Cotswolds and the Malvern Hills. The next day, Evesham was awash and the Avon had burst its banks. Down on the sports field, I found a boat. Dressed to kill, I was off across the open water. I couldn't swim but who cared?

Floods are a novelty for some, a chance for adventure, as this one was for me. Earlier today a police helicopter was hovering over the village apparently searching for two youngsters missing from a dinghy. I thought the flood was fun back when I was nineteen. I was stupid.

Pixie finds this photo very amusing. Already I was training my jackets for a life with miss-shapen, bulging pockets and the comb-over hairstyle goes a long way to explain my lack of success on the dance floor although doubtless there were other factors.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Unstained Glass

It is an act of sheer perversity on my part, to take an image as colourful as a stained glass window and remove that which makes it remarkable.

Years ago, before colour printing became the norm, art books were printed in monochrome. Works such as those by Turner, Monet, Gauguin, Cezanne, in fact almost any painter for whom colour was everything (I'm discounting Whistler) had their rich canvases reduced, and that is the right word, to banal variations on grey. It did not work. These artists did not paint thinking how nice this would look if it was in black & white or a tasteful shade of beige. They did not think of trying a slightly lighter shade of burnt umber in order to satisfy the printer of 'The Master Painters of Britain', published in 1898. This book is typical of its era; the cover is pure Art Nouveau, the reproduction, Art Reductio.

A grey scale image is obviously unnatural and yet we invest in it such a perverse pride. If the first photographic system had been full colour, would we have monochrome, sepia, duotone, all those variations? I don't know. Doubtless someone would have experimented with it, it would have been in vogue for a while, like punk music or the maxi skirt, and then it would have passed on.

Yet we keep plugging at it, searching for scenes with just the right contrast range, fiddling about in processing with shading and gamma correction. I'm as guilty as the rest of them. Why? What's driving this quest for a pale imitation of reality?

Well I think it's because the end result is so satisfying, that's why. And that's just plain weird.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


These are the stuff of British comedy films, endlessly involved in third-rate comic sequences. Inept, weedy men in string vests try desperately to erect one without crushing any of the slightly more useful parts of the human anatomy. Looking on will be a deeply unimpressed, buxom woman in a grey plastic mac.

Now do I want to spend any time waffling on about these stripy digital entrapments? Not really but I can't think of anything else to do. They photograph well and usually come in interesting if basic colours; these were red and blue but I've wilfully removed that exciting visual stimulus. Please use your imagination.

They also blow about in an interesting fashion in much over a light breeze. They're made of good, honest basic materials - wood and canvas. As corporal support systems, they have stood the test of time. Any seafront worthy of the name in Britain will have them.

And that surprises me. Given the relentless onward march of the Health & Safety Executive, the standard bearers of the cotton wool society, how come we are still allowed to use them? When they fight back, they hurt. It can only be a matter of time before they are replaced with something rigid, bolted down, in white plastic and with really smooth edges. And I mean really smooth; something with the texture of crème fraiche or a really ripe cow pat.

Such will be progress.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More Mono

An urge has come, galloping over the horizon, stones flying, a bowl of dust swirling in its wake. Its name is Monochrome.

My interest was sparked while I was helping a friend choose her new camera. Shooting black & white was one of her requirements and it made me think about my own experience in the medium. In short, hardly any. Unlike Peter, I have no traditional background in photography although I did play about in the darkroom with a fair bit of monochrome in the early seventies. However that was through necessity rather than choice and because, as a film processor, I could lay my hands on free film, mostly unused tail-ends of 35mm natural history film shoots. I have also lit drama productions in a monochrome film noire style but never in pure chroma-free gloriousness.

So I've started to trawl through the thousands of images that infest my hard drive to see which have the potential to make it into the pantheon of black & white. What I'm looking for is simplicity, structure and gradation. The staircase yesterday probably fulfilled two of those and today's hopefully all three.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mildly Obsessive

My writing is going through a bit of a trough at the moment, picking its way amongst the detritus at the bottom of the pond and occasionally splashing its imagined wellies through a murky puddle. Not sure why this should be but it happens from time to time - I haven't the discipline to write to order nor the motivation.

It's not as if my every wakening hour is filled to the brim with substance. I potter about. In fact I'm almost an obsessive potterer. Perhaps I have compulsive pottering disorder. It's also not as if I'm without input. I've spent plenty of time over the past few weeks with those who provide me with inspiration. I'm sure it's just a switch somewhere that I accidentally flip off and, being the age I am, cannot always find again in order to remake the contact and re-energise my literary trickle.

So I'll skip to an image which neatly encapsulates a couple of visual obsessions - staircases and diagonals. The building is a former school in Barnstable, Massachusetts and, while Pixie was searching the store for bargains, I was snapping the stairs. The original image is almost monochrome so I've taken it a step closer.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Globular Reflections

I've noticed a streak of narcissism creeping in lately and just to compound it, here's an image with thirteen of me, albeit small and insignificant and another with me larger but still a mere speck. They were taken using one of the many sculptural embellishments that are scattered around the small town of Stockbridge in Massachusetts.

My friend, Peter, freshly reinvented on the blog scene, is not above such devices; in fact he's often in a reflective frame. Last Saturday was his birthday and we celebrated by embarking on a gastronomic journey around the eateries of Worcestershire. This epic outing featured breakfast in Pershore, coffee at Bransford, a beer at Lulsey, a little snack at Alfrick, tea in Great Malvern, cake at Birlingham and dinner at Baughton. Some days you just can't avoid eating, fortunately. Unconventionally, in the UK at least, the morning started with cake after I tipped off the eponymous owner of Nicole's in Pershore that it was a significant day for my young friend. Obviously the single candle was a diplomatic gesture on her part.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Blind & A Yellow Spade

One of the many things that I've learnt from my friend Peter is that you should never leave home without a camera; I know other, saner people might suggest that having your pants on the right way round or carrying the front door key and perhaps some money would be better maxims. But for us, it's cameras.

On this particular day, deep in the forbidding, oppressive and terribly repetitive woods of New Hampshire, I came across this pool of water filled with what might appear, at first glance, to be old coins (just suspend your disbelief for a mo, please). I thought to myself - what a great setting for the yellow plastic spade that I just happened to be carrying.

And, without a camera, that would have been that. A tiny, illogical and immaterial art installation would have been lost. But it wasn't; the digits bear witness.

Later (nearly said 'back at the ranch' then - lucky escape) in the bathroom of my hotel I was taken with this projection of the sun's rays through a venetian blind (awful joke avoided there). I've spent a lifetime sticking beams of light though windows in the hope of emulating the sun but only nature can get those cool crisp parallels. Aren't they magic? If only we could get the damn thing to stay in the same place for the retakes.