Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Photographing St Botolph

click photo to enlarge
A shopping expedition to Boston, Lincolnshire, when the day's appearance said spring, but the air temperature and wind said the end of winter, found me, not for the first time, pointing my compact camera at the tower of the medieval parish church of St Botolph. And what a tower it is. Many towns and cities are defined and remembered by a noteworthy building and as far as Boston goes this is the one. As I've mentioned elsewhere it is also known by the nickname, "The Stump". Its tower is an oddity of Gothic architecture. The medieval masons started building upwards and just kept on going. When you look at the layers that are piled one on the other it appears that a spire may have been contemplated at one point but then they rejected that conventional topping to the tower. Up and up it went until finally they decided to top it with a pierced, octagonal lantern.

Since that time "The Stump"
has been synonymous with the town, a beacon for ships approaching the port and a marker for weary travellers crossing the flat Fenland hinterland. When you walk around the town the tower rises above the roof tops allowing you to orientate yourself. Only when you go into the market place or nearby across the River Witham do the nave and chancel, themselves almost of cathedral scale but small relative to the tower, make an appearance. The classic photograph of St Botolph is from the town bridge. The appearance of a new "bow-string" design footbridge has changed that view somewhat and on my recent visit to the town I took a shot of the bridge and the tower, though not from the town bridge. Another photograph that suggested itself to me was the tower rising from the blossom of a cherry tree that grows in the lawned precinct immediately adjoining the church. However, the shot I took on Church Street, a location where I've photographed before, is the one I like best. It has the name of a pub - The Britannia - and a couple of promotional union flags, in the foreground, with the tower beyond. I liked the contrast of the bright red with the distant stonework.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen






Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 28.5mm (77mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/1250 sec
ISO:125
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Establishment graffiti

click photo to enlarge
The meaning of the word "graffito" has become modified in the past fifty or so years. During the first half of the twentieth century it had two meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes this as the definitions first recorded in 1851:  "A drawing or writing scratched on a wall or other surface; a scribbling on an ancient wall, as those at Pompeii and Rome. Also, a method of decoration in which designs are produced by scratches through a superficial layer of plaster, glazing, etc., revealing a ground of different colour". The latter applied mainly to pottery.

However, the newer meaning, with a citation of use dating back to a Chicago newspaper in 1967 is: "Words or images marked (illegally) in a public place, esp. using aerosol paint." At that time the singular tended to drop out of use and the plural now tended to serve for all references. The key word in the newer definition is "illegal". From that time onwards the illegality of the growing amount of graffiti, particularly when "tagging" arose, became one of its defining features and was what turned most people against it. Graffiti became "underground" and anti-establishment.

But, the establishment has a long record of absorbing anti-establishment movements and making them mainstream. From the Beat poets to punk rock businesses have seen such trends as new ways to make money. It has happened with graffiti too. Works by graffiti artists now appear in galleries. Public spaces, such as the skate-boarders meeting place on London's South Bank, are made available and a blind eye is turned to spray painting. And, as today's photograph shows, advertising has appropriated graffiti-style illustration now that it is no longer solely associated with urban grime and illegality. This example is part of a wall in a passage in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, that leads to a printing business's establishment.

My view on graffiti has changed with the prevailing tide. I still abhor illegally daubed tags and even well-done painting if it is done without the owner's permission. But I can see interest and innovation in some of the graffiti that I come across and I have been motivated to photograph it - see here and here.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon 5DMk2
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/25
ISO: 320
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, April 11, 2014

Viola "Magnifico"

click photo to enlarge
"There is material enough in a single flower for the ornament of a score of cathedrals."
John Ruskin (1819-1900), art critic, social thinker and writer, from "The Stones of Venice" (1851)

We are used to flowers because they are all around us - in the countryside, in urban wasteland, in our gardens, parks, streets, shops, houses - everywhere. We look at them often. But do we see them? There are those that say there is no distinction between the two words, "looking" and "seeing". I think there is, and five or so years ago I tried to articulate that difference in a blog post called, "Looking and seeing".

The quotation at the top of this post has always interested me. What was Ruskin trying to get at with these words? I've always thought that he had two main points in mind. Firstly, perhaps, there's a veiled criticism of the fecundity of building ornament of his time: too many sources of inspiration where one or few would serve better. That architects should extract more from less when searching for ornamental design. Then, more importantly, is the suggestion that people should train themselves to look more closely - to see better - so that the richness of objects and the possibilities within them become more apparent.

Looking at today's photographs of the flower, Viola "Magnifico", I was reminded of Ruskin's words. It's true that you can see a multitude of points of interest in a single bloom. Here I like the colour combinations and the way each bleeds into its neighbour. The symmetry of the petal arrangement, their deckle edges and the striking markings of the centre of each bloom are also eye-catching. Then I like the way the flowers look like they have been designed by someone with wet water-colour paper and a heavily laden brush. And finally there is how the distant blooms and the leaves merge in the blur to enhance that suggestion that this is a painting and not a photograph.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon 5DMk2
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm Macro
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Old farm silos and the Nikon D5300

click photo to enlarge
For the past few years my photography has involved the use of a Canon 5D Mk2 and a Sony RX100. The Canon I chose for its reliability and versatility and it has given me that, courtesy of a very capable body and four high quality lenses. However, it's heavy. And I'm not getting any younger. Hence, I bought the Sony for its mixture of compact form and pretty good quality to use as the "always with me" camera, the one to be taken when we're shopping or out and about without photography specifically in mind. I also thought it would be useful when we do long walks or visit cities such as London. For the latter purpose it is excellent; it's unobtrusive and the 28-100mm (35mm equiv.) focal length lens suits my photography fine in the streets and parks of the city. However, when it comes to walking in the countryside of, say, the Yorkshire Dales or the Lincolnshire Wolds, on the Fens or even by the sea, its maximum focal length has proved somewhat limiting.

Consequently, at the end of last year I bought what I thought would be a reasonably small and light,  "in-between" camera with a versatile lens - the Panasonic G6 with the 14-140mm (28-280mm 35mm equiv.) lens. I got it at a good price and began to use it. Within a couple of days I realised this was not the camera for me. Why? Well, at quite commonly used focal lengths and shutter speeds it would not produce sharp images when using the mechanical shutter. It has an electronic shutter too and that always produced sharp images but at the cost of restricted usability. The problem was "shutter shock", an issue that has affected a number of mirrorless cameras. It is caused by the way a camera without a flip-up mirror cocks the shutter and introduces vibrations just before the shutter fires and makes the exposure. This seems to be a particular issue with this specific body and lens, though my letter to Panasonic resulted in no acknowledgement of the issue; this despite the fact that quite a number of photographers have reported the same problem. The fact that the body was so small and designed with quite a few buttons that I kept inadvertently hitting was also a problem, but one I would have persevered with. Blurred shots I wouldn't countenance, and so the camera was returned to the seller.

My response to this was to buy a Nikon D5300 with the 18-140mm lens (27-210mm 35mm equiv.). The size of this camera is approximately the same as the Olympus E510, the camera that I've had most pleasure out of in the past ten years. It's heavier than the Panasonic (and much heavier than the Sony), but quite a bit lighter than the Canon. You might wonder why an enthusiast wouldn't choose the Nikon D7100 or a mid-priced Canon to make use of my existing lenses. The answer is - weight, and a curiosity to try another brand. Moreover, I intend to restrict this camera to one lens only, so if I had chosen a Canon I'd still have to buy a lighter EF-S lens and so there would be no real saving.

Today's photograph is an example of the output of the Nikon. I'm quite happy with the camera which, incidentally, seems to have the same sensor as all Nikon's newer APS-C DSLRs regardless of price.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 38mm (57mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, April 07, 2014

Cutty Sark and the Carbuncle Cup

click photo to enlarge
Two years ago the Cutty Sark visitor centre opened to the public. It was built following a fire in 2007 that seriously damaged the old sailing ship. The Cutty Sark is one of the best known and loved of Britain's nineteenth century sailing ships. It was built by Scott & Linton on the Clyde in 1869, one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest too. The opening of the Suez Canal and the advent of steam ships meant that the work for which it was built soon ended and the carrying of wool from Australia became her main task.

The new visitor centre tells the story of the venerable vessel and is designed to do it in a way that is more commodious for the paying customers. Before the fire the ship rested in a dry dock. However Grimshaw Architects were tasked with making a centre that included more under-cover areas. The answer they came up with is ingenious but not universally liked. A wrap-around latticework of glass and metal forming a wall, roof and entrance, combined with steel supports that raise the ship off the floor of the dry dock, allow the area beneath the ship to become a large indoor space with exhibitions, offices and a cafe. Lifts and stairs allow access to different levels of the dock and ship. The inside and deck of the ship is open to the public in the same way that it always was.

Clearly there are benefits to the display of the ship by having the new covered space. However, there is one very big disadvantage that critics have seized on and that is that the ship as a whole cannot be seen in one view - the top and bottom can only be viewed separately. This prevents the beautiful, sleek lines of the Cutty Sark from being seen, and it is this, as much as anything else that has provoked an intense dislike of the new facilities. In fact, so widespread is the disapproval of the visitor centre - it has been likened to a bus shelter! - that it was the recipient of the Carbuncle Cup in 2012. This award, made by the magazine, "Building Design", is for the "the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last 12 months". I think the building has serious drawbacks but I'm not entirely sure it deserved such disapprobation. Why? Well, the space created beneath ship is quite spectacular, and though it doesn't make up for the loss of a complete view of the ship, is enough I think to disqualify the project from consideration for UK architecture's "unaward".

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/30 sec
ISO:640
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Photographic trickery

click photo to enlarge
Trickery has been a part of photography ever since the invention of the medium, and certainly entertained the Victorians. In twentieth century England the Cottingley Fairies became a celebrated example of the art. In fact, the five photographs that cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths took in 1917 were so good that they convinced many that the "the little people" were real and not a product of the story teller's art. The author of "Sherlock Holmes", Arthur Conan Doyle, a confirmed spiritualist, saw them as a genuine example of a psychic phenomenon. Not until the 1983 did the cousins admit that they had faked the photographs.

Today the "selfie" is all conquering, but there was a time when people experimented making illusionistic photographs. A person in the foreground positioned and standing so that they appeared to be holding up a bridge or the moon, people adopting the "Harry Worth" position at the corner of a shop window, and car hub caps tossed in air to be passed off as flying saucers, were all popular subjects.

On a recent walk on the Lincolnshire Wolds I saw a sight that I just had to photograph for the illusion that it suggested. Looking across some fields and trees I saw what appeared to be a rocket shortly after blast-off, rising out of a massive cloud of smoke of its own making. What I was seeing in reality was the top of the Belmont TV transmission mast, a slender structure 1,154 feet (351 metres) tall, firmly braced by cables, from which the signal to my TV (and the TVs of many others!) is broadcast. It was sticking up out of one of the banks of mist and cloud that periodically blanked then revealed the sun as we set off on our walk. Looking at the "rocket" I recalled that the date was 1st April.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 52mm (78mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Changing tastes and flowering currants

click photo to enlarge
It's interesting how, as you journey through life, your tastes change. Not all of them, of course, but enough for you to notice that what was once loathed is now loved, and vice versa - what couldn't be countenanced now can. I became aware of a couple of examples of my changing tastes recently. The first was when I was talking to my two year old grand-daughter. She was eating her evening meal, a dish that included cucumber. As she chomped away I told her something that, with hindsight, was probably best left unsaid. I mentioned that I didn't like cucumber; that when I was younger I did like it, but now it was something I avoided. Given that she is trying many foods for the first time and putting her off particular types is inadvisable it would have been better if I'd said nothing. Fortunately, however, she was having none of it and told me in no uncertain terms, and repeatedly, that "cucumber is nice". Apparently she later quizzed her mother with great incredulity about my dislike of this lovely food. Clearly her grandfather was mad. But, the fact is, as I've aged I've gone off cucumber.

The opposite is true of flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). Like many people I wasn't keen on the strong and distinctive smell of this early flowering shrub. Nor did I appreciate the colour combination of pink petals and green leaves. But, in recent years I've grown to appreciate the plant. I enjoy the contribution that it makes to the garden in early spring, both visually and in terms of its scent. In fact, the other day one of our bushes looked so magnificent that I took a couple of photographs of it in all its splendour. The example I post is the shot I liked best.

The interesting question is why tastes change in this way. I have no clear answer, except I do wonder if those initial likes and dislikes were ever firmly founded. Whether my liking of cucumber and dislike of flowering currant was nothing more than youthful postures adopted for the flimsiest of reasons - because I'd heard someone else express a liking or dislike.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon 5DMk2
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm Macro
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Jogging, urban and rural

click photo to enlarge
An east wind meant the weather was warm but misty on our monthly trip over the Humber Bridge to East Yorkshire to see an elderly family member. Consequently we didn't stray too far from our route on the way back, deciding to take a stroll to the centre of the large suspension bridge both for exercise and as a photo gathering opportunity. However, the mist was too dense for anything startling by way of landscapes so I turned my attention to people enjoying the spring warmth on the bridge footpath. I snapped a few cyclists and people looking through the pay-per-view telescope. Then this jogger in his day-glow orange top appeared. I photographed him coming towards us and after he'd passed by. The latter shot is the best one in terms of composition and colour, the bright, eye-searing vest contrasting nicely with the muted tones of the bridge superstructure.

I was pleased to see this jogger here, not only for selfish, photographic reasons, but because jogging in urban or man-made surroundings seems to me so much better than in the countryside or on hills and mountains. Many won't agree - in fact, will strongly disagree - with that sentiment. My view is that, on a relatively small, densely populated island such as ours, we should venture into such areas in a sensitive manner - walking is best (though see my thoughts on this too!!) - rather than insensitively by jogging. I've seen too many upland footpaths, bridleways and lanes carved up by joggers (and mountain bikers, motorbikes and 4X4s) to believe that such intrusions have little or no adverse impact. When I'm in London joggers are ever-present in daylight hours on the Thames-side paths and roads. Their presence on these routes, it seems to me, gives those involved all the physical and mental benefits that they seek without the collateral damage that is inflicted on upland and countryside land and wildlife by those who take their energetic exercise in such places.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 120mm (180mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Redundant churches

click photo to enlarge
What should happen to a church when it is no longer required for the purpose for which it was built? In general people like to see a community use for the building continuing. If it is of particular historic or architectural significance, or simply very old, then The Churches Conservation Trust can sometimes step in and keep the fabric in reasonable condition and ensure it remains open to visitors. In rural areas where alternate uses are unlikely this is a favoured option. But in towns and cities, especially with less distinguished churches, often of the Victorian era, a range of options become available. I've seen churches turned into community centres, cafes for charities, public museums, art galleries and concert venues. Local people feel fairly comfortable with a church being used for this kind of purpose. However, I've also seen them used commercially as antique shops, recording studios, carpet showrooms, and the premises of an electrical contractor. Such uses generally find less favour though are often deemed better than demolition.

The church of St Michael in Stamford, Lincolnshire, was declared redundant in 1974. Because of its prime location on the High Street, the town's main shopping street, in 1982 it suffered the indignity of having a row of shops inserted in the street-facing elevation. Large, plate glass windows and doors were punched in the walls between the buttresses, each leading into boxes that were created filling the width of the church. Pevsner describes it as "an unsympathetic use and an appalling conversion" but recognises that it "has preserved the shell of the building almost intact." And there is the dichotomy. If the main shell remains and the building continues to look, more or less, like a church, a commercial use, with its obvious drawbacks, is often the only solution.

All that being said, you will understand why my photograph doesn't show the side of the church but concentrates on the east elevation and the west tower. St Michael is very typical of its date, 1835-6. The architect chose the Early English style of English Gothic but uses the details in a quite unhistorical way. Ten years later, after Pugin's influence had spread, this building would have looked much more authentic. As it is, the tower pinnacles are typically too tall, the blank arcades, trefoils and lancets are used slightly differently from what was common in the thirteenth century, and the ashlar is too smooth. However, that latter inconsistency does make for razor-sharp shadows on a clear spring day and it was that feature that prompted my photograph.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm (67mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, March 28, 2014

Wind turbine repairs

click photo to enlarge
There's nothing secluded or furtive about the generation of electricity by wind turbines. Not only are the windmills themselves very tall, white, often in groups and consequently visible for miles, they also move and so the eye can't help but notice them. And it's those eye-catching qualities that, in the main, cause them to be unpopular. I say "in the main" because there is a significant minority who like them not only for what they do - the generation of "greener" energy - but also for what they are. Such people see beauty, elegance and the future in these tall machines.

However, one characteristic of all machines, be they traditional or leading edge, is their capacity to fail, to break down and to require repair and maintenance. You can often see individual turbines completely still, looking like a sullen schoolboy who hasn't been allowed to join the game, facing a completely different direction from that of its companions. These are frequently accompanied by a white van parked at the base and an open door in the column signifying the presence of an engineer. Given the conspicuousness of wind turbines it follows that when any work is being done on them, it is obvious for all to see, and not just in the form of the van. I posted a photograph last year of workmen abseiling down the blades of a turbine as they went about their repair work

The other day we saw across the fields a large crane next to a turbine and immediately knew it was receiving care and attention. On the following day I went to see what was going on and heard that a gearbox had been replaced. The crane that is capable of reaching the hub of one of these monsters was moving objects about on the ground in preparation for more work so I wasn't able to photograph it at its full height. But, I did get a distant shot of it at work. I also took a photograph of  a couple of men busy on the nacelle. As I drove home I reflected that repairing wind turbines isn't the sort of work I'd like to be involved in. The views must be great but the wind, the rain and not least the height and precariousness of your workplace are not to be envied.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 140mm (210mm - 35mm equiv.) (heavy crop)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Gibbs surrounds

click photo to enlarge
It is said that examples of rusticated walls - where the joints between stone blocks are cut back and emphasised - can be found in Roman architecture. If that is the case then they aren't too common. However, in Renaissance architecture rustication of this sort, rustication applied to columns, window surrounds, quoins etc are commonplace. The word "rustication" derives from the same root as "rustic" and means rough and rural, or unsophisticated. In Italian and European Renaissance architecture in general, as well as the nineteenth and twentieth century revivals of the style, it is frequently seen applied to the ground floor of a building with the first floor (piano nobile) and above invariably faced with smoother ashlar.

Renaissance architects delighted in applying new variations of rustication to buildings. English Georgian architects used it prolifically too. Today's photograph shows a doorway and some windows of 67 High Street St Martin's in Stamford, Lincolnshire, one of a pair of very similar houses dating from around 1740. Here the rustication is in block form and applied to the architraves on either side of the door and windows and to the key-stoned lintels. In England this treatment is often termed a "Gibbs surround" after the architect, James Gibbs (1682-1754), who popularised the style here.

We arrived in Stamford a little earlier in the day than is usually the case, and the lower sun combined with a clear, blue sky showed the crisp shadows created by the rustication off to great effect. As I framed my shot I reflected that  decorative elements raised above the mass of the smooth stonework of the wall, that were designed to work well with sharp Mediterranean light, worked equally well in the light of a cold, clear English spring.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 32mm (48mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, March 24, 2014

Bad habits and serendipity

click photo to enlarge
One of my bad habits when I was working was occasionally eating my lunch at my desk. As bad habits go it's not particularly awful but it did have an unfortunate consequence. My computer keyboard, over time, became sticky and a little grubby from the unintentional spray of juice from my oranges. Now that I am retired I never eat at my desk, I'm almost always at a dining table, and my keyboard remains free of food liquids and solids. However, since my retirement tablet computers have made an appearance and unfortunately I've developed a different bad habit - often reading my tablet as I eat my lunch.

Recently, as I was indulging my predilection, an arc of juice from my orange traced a path through the air and landed on the screen. And, before I wiped it off, I noticed how each drop of juice acted as a convex lens on the pixels and picture displayed beneath it. I made a mental note to reproduce that effect with water and a dropper to see if I could make an interesting photograph of this serendipitous phenomenon. The other day I had a go and, interestingly serendipity extended the range of images that I took from the experiment.

The effect I was initially looking for is exemplified best in the photograph labelled number 2. The grid of pixels is warped by the droplets of water in the way that I saw with the juice from my orange. An interesting additional feature is a bubble in the centre droplet. But, as is often the way, as I moved the camera and re-focused the macro lens, I got a quite different and unexpected view of the droplets. The photograph labelled number 1 was taken from a lower angle with the circle of my light above. I was puzzled by the tripling in the image of each droplet but then realised it must be due to the layers in the screen each reflecting the water slightly differently. A similar effect can be seen in the main photograph (labelled number 3) and here serendipity has intervened once more because this shot is taken with no screen illumination, the power-saving feature having turned it off.

As I looked at my collection of photographs I reflected that they weren't earth shattering but they did have a certain fascination, and that it once again it derived from the macro lens showing what the unaided eye doesn't normally notice or see.


photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon 5DMk2
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 100mm Macro
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/80
ISO: 3200
Exposure Compensation:  0
Image Stabilisation: On