Thursday, August 30, 2007

Cliché & Rant

I can't remember when I last posted an image of a sunset. The stock photography company I work for reckon they've got enough and I can quite believe it. But they're irresistible. I can't pass one up, no matter how hard I try. Some evenings I even go out down to the fields at the bottom of our village for the sole purpose of shooting a few of these clichéd images. And then I inflict them on you.

A couple of days a week I work as a volunteer in a charity shop in Pershore, sorting and pricing books. The income we generate supports a local hospice which provides care to life-limited children and their families. It's a worthy cause made necessary by the fact that the British Government provides minimal financial support to the children's hospice movement within the UK, giving them only about 5% of their funding needs.

So given that paltry contribution from our lords and masters, it is obviously important that the people using the shop help out as much as possible. So why, you might ask, do we have customers who ask for a discount, who haggle, who try to get money off because of some tiny defect (these are not new goods, after all, they are all donated) and, and this really does take the biscuit, steal - shoplifting is a recurrent problem.

Perhaps we should have pictures of all the children we help on the wall behind the till. Then we could ask our less generous clientele which particular one they'd like to deprive today. Strangely enough, though, I don't think it would make the slightest bit of difference.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Messing About

Somewhere in the preamble to these ramblings I claim that every image shown has been taken by myself. That is true. Since I profess to being a photographer I can see no point in using other people's images. Arrogant, perhaps, but that's the way the dark chocolate digestive crumbles.

Today's picture is no exception except that, in a moment of tedium, I decided to play with it. I was not content. I wanted more than the shallow original (which I will not show, so there). I fiddled with it, manipulated it, opening menus on my imaging program that are best left unopened. I delved into the enormous box of tricks called filters. What wonders lie within! But I chose one of the simplest. We all now what too much excitement before bedtime causes.

The program claims that the result resembles a watercolour. I collect Victorian watercolours and it's not really like any of those. Perhaps they didn't have a filter section on their porcelain palettes. But it will pass for one. Just a little bit of digital magic.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Contemplation in a Flowerbed

Pixie and I like objects in the garden. In various places on our small plot, hidden by the rampant post-deluvium growth, there's a Venus rising from the waves, Roman man-about-town, couple of fountains, sort of wheel thing, bird bath, Celtic cross and a sea horse. Oh, and, horror of horrors, at least one gnome. However pride of place goes to Pixie's Buddha - apparently something about him reminds her of me, possibly the bit hidden in the shadow cast by his hands.

Despite a lifetime's career lighting people, places and things, my garden is a bit on the dark side at night. I have ongoing projects in a typical manly fashion; they have completion dates set decades ahead and illuminating the garden is one of them. For the moment some small solar-powered gizmos do the job, fading gently away as the night progresses.

Friday, August 24, 2007


Found this image the other day and was struck by the crispness of it. It's the sort of crispness that can be found in a really fresh bag of crisps which some of our friends call chips, which, confusingly, are also made of potato and sometimes called fries. All clear? And anyway crisps can be made of almost anything these days - parsnips, swede, beetroot. Why anyone would want to experiment with the perfect snack is beyond me but they do. Why else would we be offered margarine or skimmed milk or any of the other abominations that the food industry thinks up? It's like being invited to imbibe Belgian Chocolate flavoured drinks. Have they got Belgian Chocolate in them? I think not.

Anyway I digress (and that is so, so easy). Summer has arrived in the UK at last and I've switched my desk fan on for the first time this year. It rattles but not in a totally unpleasant way. It's more of a swaggering sound, a 'look what I can do if I want to' sort of noise. It doesn't push it. It knows I could switch it off if I wanted to and then where would its rattle be.

So we're talking about crisp images, not crisp foods, although a nice crisp lettuce takes some beating. The contrail arrows across the picture in a pleasingly diagonal fashion; not perfectly so but striving in that direction. The little pennant on the top of the tower has some miniature diagonals in the letters 'MV', an abbreviation for something that probably has Monmouth in it as that's where I was. It's also very crisp and why is that? It's the lighting - clean, low, sharp, winter sunshine. I doubt it would be the same today; summer light in southern England is not as envigorating, or so it seems to me. It's short on rawness, short on effort; the sun has to try so much harder in January.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just the Teeniest Bit Creepy

I'd finished shooting the organist's hands and decided to revisit the chapel for another tussle with the angels and maybe some more spit. The tomb within was an image-makers gift and, by the standards of the Victorian era, quite restrained, unlike me who likes nothing more than a good cavort around a bit of mucky stonework. As I shifted across to the other side of the recumbent figure, an up-the-nostrils shot caught my eye.

I plonked down my tripod and let fly. On the wrong white-balance setting (Oo, er, mother, he's gone all technical). Daylit room, camera set to tungsten for the reading light on the organ; result, it's all gone blue. And sinister, and just the tinest bit creepy. Day-for-night, Hollywood style. Gorgeous.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Promise of Home

Last day. Hotel room vacated, nothing left behind, bill settled, dull, driving rain, flooding at Hackney Wick, road chaos, A12 jammed solid. The promise of an early finish; rarely fulfilled. Demob happy. A parting of friends.

Always pleased to be heading for home. About now I start to see it in my mind – sweeping round the M25 at 75 mph, cruise engaged, looping on to the M40, coffee stop at Oxford around midnight, out into the country, Burford, the deserted uplands of the Cotswolds, new moon, scudding clouds, deep darkness. Dropping through the S-bends of Fish Hill into the Vale. Home, the tedium and frustration of the last ten days dropping away, reunited with my soul mate.

I love driving at night. I like the desertion and the solitude. I never have the radio on. Or the mobile. Cocooned, the world damped by the purr of the diesel and the modulating road noise. Three hours of uninterrupted thinking. Man and machine at one, the ultimate cliché.

Barring mishaps.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Diagonals with Added Circles

I’m beginning to think that diagonals are a bit passé so, for today’s image, I thought I’d mix in some circles. This detail shot comes from the canopy of Knaresborough Station in Yorkshire. It is one of the survivals on the British railway network from an age when embellishment was everything. Unlike so many railway buildings this one has been allowed to pursue its remaining years with dignity; others include Great Malvern, Kemble Junction and Hellifield.

I think I give the impression that I’m against modern building but that is far from the truth. There is much to admire; I just wish I could think of somewhere off the top of my head…………..

OK, I give up. Maybe there’s not much but there must be something; perhaps modern architecture is not as memorable as the old stalwarts. I’ll make it my mission to find something 21st century that I like and knock off a piccie or two for your edification.

Pixie is a very elusive subject and I have to sneak up on her when she isn’t looking. This is one of my favourite photographs of her. I’ve dropped it in today because I haven’t seen her for nine days and that leaves a big hole in my life. Also I’m a sucker for women wearing glasses.

Friday, August 10, 2007


I think it was Shara who was wondering what I was up to this week. So in a spirit of enlightenment, here’s an image of two of my cameramen colleagues at work on the set what I have lit (great bit of English). Although I was bemoaning the fact that I was using pink and blue again, as you can see it’s much more like lilac and blue (and that makes all the difference to my mental state). Unfortunately the broadcast camera technology is not up to the challenge of such subtle distinctions so the picture you’ll see on the tele will be - pink & blue.

I’ve commented in the past on the deplorable habit of English men taking to wearing shorts as soon as there’s any hint of summer. Just look closely at the photograph – my case is proven.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mirror, Mirror....

Contrary to the evidence available in this journal, I’m not fond of photographs of myself. Nor, despite the industry I work in, do I have any desire to appear on television. I have been caught in ‘behind the scenes’ documentaries several times over the years and they’ve always been ‘cowering behind the sofa’ moments or excuses to leave the room and make tea or mow the lawn.

However I chanced the other day upon a rehearsal room fitted with a wall of mirrors and enlivened by a shaft of sunlight. It was irresistible so once again I must apologise for inflicting me upon you.

Incidentally I loathe the b**g word. I’ll go to any length to avoid using it or its derivatives, b******g or b*****r. Hence the references to posts, posting, pages, journal, etc. What’s the point of getting older if you can’t become reactionary and rebellious?

Once you’re in your late fifties, wrinkled and written-off are not on the distant horizon; they’re just outside the gate waiting for the chance to nip up the path and batter down the front door. Resist them for as long as you can.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Nine Chimney Pots

Things in threes make regular appearances on these pages. I give no apology for that. Some days threedom rules.

Working away from home I usually have limited access to the Internet. This is not because wi-fi does not exist in the UK. It is because the oft-reported culture of Rip-Off Britain extends well into the provision of free Internet access. Unlike in the USA, as I found back in June, most hotels, cafes, etc will attempt to charge an extortionate fee for a facility that costs virtually nothing. They lack the wit to see that providing something so fundamental to modern living for nothing might encourage patronage.

As an example, the Marriott hotels that I stay in when on business charge £15/$30 a day for wi-fi access, an obscene amount of money for which, I assume, most businesses pick up the tab. I’m not that stupid. Although I like to be able to keep in touch, not having the Internet is not life threatening, just as not having a mobile phone isn’t. We managed well enough twenty years ago.

Fortunately for me, although maybe not for those who mistakenly read these postings, the studio where I’m working this week has free wi-fi in its café. In most of the recording breaks I can be seen hoofing it across the cobbled courtyard, laptop under my arm, to get a quick fix.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Pink & Blue

I’m having another of those days when I’d like to write something erudite and informative but nothing is surfacing from the deep swamp of thoughts that lurks somewhere in a lobe just up and back from my largish nose. So I’ll rabbit on about my current project instead.

I’m stuck for eight days in a small airless box built within a large airless box. Six women are sat around a semicircular table playing cards instead of being at home ironing or running a large multi-national company. My colleague, Craig, and I exist in a sensorily deprived state, monitoring the health and well-being of the lighting rig that we’ve put together over the last two days and ready to leap into action if anything goes bang. Most of the decisions that I needed to make of an artistic or technical variety have been made; all we can do now is sit, drink tea, and occasionally fiddle with the setting of a lamp; this is an action that involves selecting it on the control desk, waggling the fader up and down in a subtle manner so as not to frighten anyone, and then deciding you prefer it just the way it was.

After a few days the desire to change things, just because you can, becomes irresistible and it is at this stage that a voice comes out of a talkback speaker saying something like ‘it doesn’t look the same as it did on Monday’. To which you reply ‘No it looks better’ if you don’t care if you work for them again or ‘Sorry about that, I’ll have a look at it’ if you’ve not got another job scheduled until about November 2009. Whichever answer you give, the trick is to do nothing but give the impression you have – holding the show up while you get a ladder out and climb up to knock a light around a bit is normally successful as is trying out every colour you have available and flashing the lamp in every fixture capable of being flashed.

Usually you can get away with this and anyway you’ll be messing it up again in a couple of days time when the boredom once again reaches crisis point. Obviously some continuity is in order. You’re not likely to get away with starting a programme in pink and blue and ending it in green and yellow unless the production asks you to. Even so you should resist this request with all the severity you can muster. Any lighting designer who ventures into the green end of the spectrum has to be on some sort of mind-altering drug. I’ve tried Moss Green once when completely sober and was forced to lie down for some time after. I did have a colleague who could do things with this putrescent colour but he was Scottish and that may have helped.

The problem is that pink and blue are so over-used in television. What we really need is a completely new spectrum with colours like zog, snork and pnuff. That would make it worth coming to work again.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Going Dutch

I popped over to Holland for a meeting yesterday, flying from Birmingham to Amsterdam. It involved me getting up at the insane hour of 03.30. That's the time of day which requires two alarm clocks and a standby wife. Still by 05.00 I was at the airport tucking into a good breakfast and surrounded by hordes of people. Where on earth did they all come from? Outside the airport perimeter the roads were deserted and nothing moved save the odd scavenging fox and some likely lads nicking cable from electricity substations, a short but doubtless enlightening career.

What is it about flying that requires you to be conscious at such a ridiculous hour? Eighteen flights left what is an average-sized regional airport between 06.00 and 07.00, eleven of those to holiday destinations. Obviously the great package holiday plan is to make sure that if you're not totally worn out by working every hour nature sent in the previous fifty weeks, the airline schedulers will make sure of it on the day of departure.

Anyway enough of that. My meeting was in Rotterdam, a pleasant journey by train from Schipol Airport which allowed me to see exactly how flat Holland is (and they hadn 't been pulling the wool over my eyes) and also a few iconic windmills. Missing were people in clogs and tulips - perhaps it was the wrong time of year. I spent the evening with a colleague doing some gentle sight-seeing, eating and drinking in Amsterdam. It's a city I've been tempted to visit in the past and now I have, I'm pleased I didn't spend any of my own money to do so.

I know that I only scratched the surface of the city but my first impression was one of downright seediness, a combination of litter, grafitti that would put London to shame, and a thick veneer of sleaze - the Yellow Pages guide book issued at the railway station listed twenty pages of adverts for call-girls and escort agencies compared to two inches for photographers and about an inch and a half for bookshops. Maybe I'm not the target audience, reactionary old grump that I am or perhaps I've got my priorities wrong.

On the plus side, there were a lot of bicycles of a very strange, sit-up-and-beg design. Every available niche was occupied by a parked bike, great swathes of them marching away from the railway station and along the banks of the canals. Not being mown down by these beasts was a feat in itself but they were fun to watch.

I'll not say any more as I'll be back over there in September to light the show and I don't want to be refused entry at the border. Maybe it'll look better in the autumn

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


A few miles from where I live lies the village of Rous Lench. It's a good run on a bike on a warm summer's evening although the first stretch is a long slog up a steep hill, the sort of climb that makes me want a paramedic cruising along behind, just in case.

The churchyard at Rous Lench has featured several times on these pages; it's one of those places that has a magical quality, particularly in the late evening sun. There is a strong sense of serenity and agelessness. It's a feeling I pick up from time to time, often in religious environments but not exclusively so. It doesn't conflict with my deity-free belief system; it's just something in the air, in the ground, in the light, in the shadow, wherever. In all probability it's the reason the church was built there in the first place.

Part of the attraction of this particular church is the carving around the south doorway. There are two Green Men, ancient symbols of rebirth and fertility. The one I've shown has what's known as a 'disgorging head' - other versions include 'bloodsucker' and 'foliate'. It's a lovely, crisp piece of carving, the more so after I'd cleaned up the spiders' webs; cleaning stonework seems to be my thing this week although you'll be pleased to hear that no spit was involved this time.