Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Blues and the chapel pianist

click photo to enlarge
I think it was 1969 when I bought "King of the Delta Blues Singers" by Robert Johnson, a collection of acoustic blues recorded in the 1930s. And it was probably two years later, in 1971, that I bought the newly issued "King of the Delta Blues Singers Vol. II". These were 33rpm L.P.s with paintings of Robert Johnson on the front. The first album showed him from above. The second had an illustration of him playing his guitar in front of a microphone that was positioned in the corner of the living room of a house. Comprehensive cover notes (of a kind that died with the advent of the CD) said that, despite his wonderful song-writing ability and great guitar playing, he was incurably shy and reticent about recording and would only perform without making eye contact with anyone.

I was reminded of this illustration recently when we visited Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire. This stately home is in the care of the National Trust and features, among many splendours, a private chapel with interesting trompe l'oeil paintings. When we visited it we were entertained by a pianist who was sitting at his instrument facing the wall at one end of the chapel. I don't think he suffered from the performance terrors that afflicted Robert Johnson because between pieces he was chatting to visitors. However, it did look odd and it appeared somewhat unkind that he should be so positioned. Perhaps it was his choice to avoid the distractions of the steady stream of visitors.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.9
Shutter Speed: 1/40 sec
ISO:6400
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hinges and old doors

click photo to enlarge
Today's photograph shows a detail of the priest's door on the exterior of the chancel of the church of St Andrew at Heckington, Lincolnshire.

The solid oak and the rusted, ornate metal work appear to date from a Victorian restoration, perhaps that done by Charles Kirk in 1867. Readers of this blog will know that in Lincolnshire (and many other parts of Britain) church doors are often considerably older - examples from the fifteenth century are relatively common and those from three or four centuries earlier are still to be found.

Many people imagine that the large, intricate scroll-work of the hinges of such doors are purely ornamental. But, as with the tracery, buttresses moulding, pinnacles etc of Gothic churches the seemingly decorative is fundamentally structural. In the case of the doors there are stiles and rails that fix the pieces of wood together. However, the scrollwork of the hinges provides additional fixing and hence strength to the structure while at the same time beautifying the door. If I were to hazard a guess I'd say that this metalwork has rarely, if ever, been painted. It looks none the worse for it!

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.5
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
ISO:125
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, August 28, 2015

Eye-scorching colour

click photo to enlarge
Living in the countryside I am surrounded by natural, largely muted colour - the greens and browns of grass and leaves, the dark earth, the bricks, tiles and stone of village and farm buildings. It's true that points of strong colour intrude in the form of flowers, large agricultural vehicles, and most of all the blue of the sky. But it's also true to say that I don't regularly experience the layers of in-your-face, man-made colours so often found in the city. And there are times when I crave them.

So, I was pleased to visit an exhibition of creative textiles by Michael Brennand-Woods at the National Centre for Craft and Design at Sleaford, Lincolnshire, and discover that many of the pieces on display offered eye-scorching colour. As I've mentioned before, it's not unusual for me to come away from NCCD exhibitions feeling disappointed. But, as I've also noted there are occasions when I enjoy an encounter with a kind of craft (or art) that I don't usually seek out, and I depart from the show visually and creatively stimulated. Such was my experience on a recent visit where I saw textiles on the theme of "Seeds of Memory". I can't say that I engaged with the works on the terms that they were offered to me, and the impenetrable, jargon-ridden, art-speak made me despair, as it always does. But I got a lot from the experience on my own terms and that was enough for me. Other visitors who, like us, seem to have popped in for a break from shopping, appeared to appreciate the exhibition too.

During my visit I reflected on whether or not these pieces would work outside the gallery, in a home or an office for example, and decided they would. I often think otherwise about NCCD exhibits because many benefit from the light, shadows and space in which they are displayed, qualities that don't easily transfer to smaller settings.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm (90mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
ISO:4000
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Under the bridge

click photo to enlarge
It is a children's story that I blame for my fascination with bridges; specifically, "The Three Billy Goats Gruff". When I first heard about them going "trip-trap, trip-trap over the rickety bridge" I began to look at bridges in a new light, as structures with a mysterious underneath as well as a very useful top. The small town where I was raised has a rocky river passing through it so footbridges and road bridges, old and new were well-known to me. I never saw any trolls beneath them but I discovered that the water under a bridge was a good place to spot trout, and the underside of the bridge itself frequently held nooks and crannies where dippers would sometimes build their nests.

This interest in bridges has been life-long and this blog contains many photographs of these interesting structures. Today's photograph shows the underside of a bridge on the River Witham at Boston, Lincolnshire. It is old, rarely used, and supported by both steel and timber, though the latter, as you can see, is somewhat the worse for wear. I liked the bold, semi-abstract shapes that the dark structure and its reflection made against the water - it reminded me of the paintings of Franz Kline.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 63mm (126mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.5
Shutter Speed: 1/640 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: 0
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, August 24, 2015

Spinning wool

click photo to enlarge
There are children today who, if you tell them that milk comes from cows, will look at you incredulously, thinking that you are playing some kind of practical joke on them. The same children find it hard to believe that the bread they are eating is made from the seeds of a cultivated grass. As for the notion that the jumper they are wearing was once, in rather more basic form, worn by a sheep - well, suggest that and your sanity will be questioned. If you find this hard to believe, let me assure you I have met such children. They are not widespread, but they do exist, and for two reasons. Firstly, their parents haven't told them about such things either through traditional stories or in the normal course of their early lives. And secondly, because modern life increasingly distances us from the source of our food and drink, the clothes we wear and much else.

Before I took today's photograph I was explaining the process of weaving - insofar as I understand it - to my grand-daughter as we watched the sheep fleece pass through the spinner's hands onto the spinning wheel and thence to the bobbin. What fascinated her most was the way the steady up and down foot movement of the spinner on the treadle was, via rods, cranks and wheels converted into very fast rotary movement, and how the mass of wool was drawn into a single strand. It intrigued me too and I was glad that here was someone carrying on this tradition and demonstrating it for all to see.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 80mm (160mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.5
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
ISO:250
Exposure Compensation: 0
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Photographic aspect ratios

click photo to enlarge
The world wide web, it seems to me, has increased the amount of confrontation and stridency in photography. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that this outweighs the co-operation and learning that the online world confers on our hobby and profession. However, the early years of my forty odd with camera in hand certainly didn't feature the vituperation I regularly see today. Photography is not alone in this of course, and it's possibly the opportunity to adopt extreme postures and language anonymously that encourages the outpourings of bile.

To stick with photography, I continue to be amazed about the subjects on which people have unwavering views that they broadcast and defend with boorish language. Brand loyalty, sensor size, fixed lenses versus zoom, black and white versus colour, the list is endless when it comes to the subjects that some photographers can get exercised about. I've even seen people vociferously arguing the merits of one aspect ratio over another. Now when it comes to this subject I play the field. I'll use 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 as the subject requires. Sometimes I'll select the aspect ration before taking the shot, often I'll take it with the largest capture possible but with a different aspect ratio in mind, and frequently I'll crop post-capture. And the idea that one or another is intrinsically "best" or "better" than another seems to me absurd: all are possible, so choose the most appropriate. I've even been known - whisper it quietly - to choose a non-standard aspect ratio where it seemed to fit the subject better.

Today's photograph was one that I shot at 4:3 thinking that it might work well at 16:9. That turned out to be the case and is in fact the best aspect ratio for this image. It shows some of the inshore fishing boats on the River Witham at Boston, Lincolnshire, with in the distance, the tall tower of the medieval church of St Botolph.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 34mm (68mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/1600 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.3
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, August 17, 2015

The essential compositional element

click photo to enlarge
Photographic compositions can be constructed in many ways, some orthodox and some not so usual. Down the years I have come to realise that some compositions depend on a single element to complete it or to connect the disparate parts. It can be a leaf, a reflected figure, an empty can, or a tiny group of people whose compositional significance outweighs their size.

On a recent walk by the River Witham in Boston, Lincolnshire, I took a couple of photographs of some old hulks, wooden boats of early twentieth century vintage that have been left to rot on the river banks, their mud-covered forms inundated daily by the tides and exposed at low water. I couldn't compose a satisfactory photograph of the complete boat that features in today's photograph but I liked the bow detail and thought that, together with the gull, it would make a composition. But, the space between the two elements was too great and, to my mind, the whole did not bind together satisfactorily. However, when I changed my position the gull's footprints leading to its position at the water's edge were more strongly emphasised and they created an essential element that, for me, made the composition work much better.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 52mm (104mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: -0.3
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, August 14, 2015

Stone, cast iron and slate

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In the main the builders of Britain's medieval parish churches used local stone. Sometimes this was very well suited to the purpose - it withstood the weather well, held sharp moulding and carving for centuries, and the Victorian restorers left most of it in place. The Oolitic limestone of Barnack and Ancaster are two good examples of such stone. Elsewhere, however, the stone left much to be desired but was used nonetheless because to bring better material from afar was simply too expensive. Much of the greenstone used in churches of the Lincolnshire Wolds, though striking in terms of colour, has decayed down the centuries, flaking off the surface, leaving walls pock marked and shabby, requiring heavy restoration. The builders must have known that it wasn't the best building stone, but they used it for convenience, cost, colour and out of a sense of local pride. I'm glad they did. The medieval tower of Horncastle church is positively rainbow-coloured with old and new local stone, as is that of Great Malvern Priory in Worcestershire.

On a recent visit to Derbyshire I came upon this stonework (above) at the church of St Giles, Calke. The building was erected in 1826-8 as a private church on the estate of Calke Abbey. I imagine the beautiful and subtly coloured stone is local, and it immediately caught my eye. What I also noticed was the tracery of the windows and I went to touch them to see if my suspicions were accurate. They were. The reticulated tracery of these two-light windows is made of cast iron. A little research  showed that they were made at a foundry in Derby. I've come across late Georgian and Victorian cast iron church windows before. They are not common, but can be found in cities and parts of the country adjacent to iron-producing areas. Here the colour they have been painted, does I think, go well with the stone and even with the dark slate gravestones rising up through the long churchyard grass.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 39mm (78mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec
ISO:200
Exposure Compensation: 0
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dust sheets

click photo to enlarge
I came upon these dust sheets in one of the unrestored rooms at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire. The wallpaper was stained from what seemed like an ingress of water and the fireplace looked as though an overmantel of some sort had been removed. The furniture that the room held was only suggested by the shapes of the sheets: chairs were obvious, tables and cupboards less so, and what, I wondered, was the tall, thin piece under its sheet? Times past and time suspended were suggested by the anonymous shapes. One could imagine that as the room was painted, papered and readied for visitors the sheets would come off and, with a flick of a duster and a rub of polish, all would be as it once was.

I took my photograph because the jumble of shapes intrigued me. I also liked the contrast between the well-lit pieces by the window with the darker corners of the room, and the limited range of colours that worked well together.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 12mm (24mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/80 sec
ISO:3200
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, August 10, 2015

Derelict brewhouse

click photo to enlarge
Obsessive tidiness can be as much an eyesore as can casual mess. I was pondering this a few days ago when I came across some hedges that had been "cut" perfectly level and made narrower by a farmer who had spent some considerable time tidying the perimeter of his land. I say "cut" because in fact the poor hedge had been battered and smashed by a rotary cutter fixed to a tractor's power take-off, and consequently the end of each branch had been frayed to the point where it looked like a paintbrush. To make matters worse the roadside grass had been cut - perhaps using the same tool - so short that it was left looking like yellow, parched stubble, a bright and sorry contrast to the deep green of the flourishing verges nearby.

There is sometimes a pleasure to be had in untidiness, be it a wanton hedgerow, a stony river bed full of flood debris, or a derelict building that has been untouched for years. I was inside one of the latter recently, a former brewhouse at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire, which is a stately home in the care of the National Trust. What distinguishes this property from many owned by the Trust is that they received it when it was in a state of decay and dereliction and many of the rooms and buildings have not yet been restored. It is advertised, quite rightly, as an "un-stately home", and the contrast between the restored and the derelict is interesting to see. Today's photograph shows the vats, barrels, and implements of the brewhouse. I've wanted to produce a sepia toned photograph for a while and this subject seemed just right for that purpose.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 12mm (24mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.0
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO:6400
Exposure Compensation: 0
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Scarecrows and Victorian values

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Scarecrows are a common sight in Lincolnshire, particularly on the Fens where vegetables are grown. Predation by wood pigeons is quite significant, and farmers have turned to methods old and new to keep the birds off the crops. Researchers tell us that the most common method, propane-powered bird scaring "gunshots" - a single report shortly followed by two more - is actually the most effective. However, a wide variety of other devices are used.

Hawk kites flying from a cord at the top of a tall pole are frequently seen and seem to be ineffective. Cut up plastic bags fixed to the top of softwood stakes to make flags that fill a field and crackle in the wind are also popular and equally useless. Spinning, shiny propellers or balls with faces appear to be less common that a few years ago, perhaps an indication that they don't work either. The most annoying bird scarer, and mercifully only infrequently seen, is a day-glo scarecrow that periodically inflates and stands up to the accompaniment of flashing lights and a siren. As far as I can see that device is about as ineffective as the traditional scarecrow of the type seen in today's photograph.

Given our government's fixation with market economics and its desire to push youth and the unemployed into a job, any job, no matter how low paid or worthwhile the work is, it can only be a matter of time before we see the return of the Victorian method of bird scaring. So look out for boys walking the fields, throwing stones at the crows and pigeons, in exchange for their daily pittance.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 90mm (180mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
ISO:500
Exposure Compensation: 0
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Good enough is fine by me

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In 2010 I posted a piece called "Enthusiast photographers and camera angst" wherein I said that most DSLRs since the time resolution reached 8MP are good enough for most keen photographers. I referred to Alamy's recommended camera list (here is the current one), to show that this is the case. My view on that hasn't changed. That being so you may be wondering why I changed my camera system. Well, it wasn't because I believed the new system would deliver better photographs, or that I sought features that Canon's 35mm sized sensor and lenses didn't offer. It was basically down to size and weight - Micro Four Thirds is simply easier to carry and therefore more likely to be available to me when I'm out and about. And the fact is, that in terms of detail, there is no discernible difference in until I begin to print at sizes that I've never printed at - ever!

On a recent visit to Peterborough Cathedral I thought I'd try a hand-held shot of the crossing using the 9-18mm wide-angle zoom set at an aperture that would ensure close to maximum sharpness and 6400 ISO, the level I have set as the maximum I want from the camera (higher numbers are available). I'm not displeased with the outcome. I could have halved, possibly quartered the ISO and still hand-held the shot to increase the quality, but the outcome with the settings I chose would, I'm sure produce an A4 print that would satisfy me, and a little work may well give a reasonable result at A3. The image above is slightly cropped and rotated because I didn't get everything quite square.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Olympus E-M10
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 9mm (18mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec
ISO:6400
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On