Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not so anonymous buildings

click photo to enlarge
Presented with today's photograph I imagine many people would comment on the beehive-like arrangement of the identical windows, or think of faceless corporations hidden behind the glass and steel. Perhaps their mind would reflect on the anonymity and soullessness of modern life. Certainly the image would, in the main, prompt negatives rather than positives. And yet, this particular building doesn't, I think, deserve that kind of negativity. Of all the tall towers built in Britain in the last 50 years this is one of the better examples, a structure that has worn well, one that is distinctive due to its shape, location and size, and which, due to its excellent detailing, still looks good from close-by.

From 1990 until 2010 Cesar Pelli's tower at 1 Canada Square in Canary Wharf, London, was Britain's tallest building. The Shard overtook it during the course of construction and its 1,004 feet (306 metres) far surpasses the Canary Wharf tower's 770 feet (235 metres). However, the distinctive pyramidal cap, its extra height among the surrounding towers, and its location away from the City make it both distinctive and distinguished both during the day, whatever the weather, and at night. When I'm driving on the M11 into London it's the first building I notice as we crest the low hills to the north of the city.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 48mm (72mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Volute handrail

click photo to enlarge
This is the third photograph of a volute handrail that I've posted on the blog, and like the other two it dates from the Georgian period. On our recent visit to the city of Kingston upon Hull we coincided with the annual Heritage Open Day, a nationwide event that features public and private buildings open to the public, usually at no charge. Anyone interested in historic architecture values the opportunity to enter buildings that are closed for the other three hundred and sixty four days, and in Hull we had a look in Trinity House School chapel and Maister House on the old High Street.

The latter is a flat fronted, three-storey Georgian town house of 1744-5 built for Henry Maister, a merchant. The only exterior ornament is a stone doorcase with a pediment and surround of the Ionic order. It is, in fact a quietly unassuming building of the sort that graces many streets in England. However, once you step inside the buildings piece de resistance hits you with full force. It is an open stairwell that rises the complete height of the building and is lit by a glazed roof lantern at the top. The stairs are stone, the walls decorated with stucco panels, brackets, swags and festoons, with sculpture a fine statue and paintings on the walls. The work is attributed to Joseph Page and Lord Burlington is reputed to have been consulted.

My eye was taken, as it often is, by the handrail up the stairs, and particularly by the volute newel on the ground floor. There is something about that shape and that way of terminating the rail that I find particularly satisfying and I couldn't stop myself from taking another photograph of this subject.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (27mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/13 sec
ISO:6400
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Photographic parts and the whole

click photo to enlarge
 I favour compositions that feature the whole of something - a building a flower, a tree, etc. It may be asymmetrically placed, sometimes it's centrally located, it may be small, or it can just about fill the frame. But, nine times out of ten I include a complete and recognisable subject in my compositions. On the other occasions I deliberately don't! Moreover, when I photograph a fragment, or multiple fragments of several objects I'm fighting my natural predilection.

Take today's photograph. I took a couple of shots of all of this ornamental fountain in Queen's Gardens, Hull, with its wind-blown jets of water partly obscuring Christopher Wray's magnificent Dock Offices of 1867-71. However, the compositions didn't satisfy me; there was too much in the frame and no definite visual focus. So I tried  a composition featuring part of the fountains and just two of the three domes in a composition that has a strong diagonal element running from the top left to the bottom right. It proved much better. And, with a fairly contrasty black and white conversion that made the best of the dull day I produced a monochrome shot that pleases me more than most of my recent efforts.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm (52mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pylons and the big picture

click photo to enlarge
We are often urged to make sense of the world by looking at "the big picture"; by weaving our way through and past the trivia and minutiae of everyday existence and surveying our existence from on high, from the uplands, from a place where the important things stand out and are not drowned in the inconsequential details of life. The problem is that if (or when) you achieve that exalted position you are just as likely to become very aware of your own inconsequentiality among the multitude and complexity that is life, and the big picture remains just as fragmentary as ever it was.

Perhaps that's why many people specialize or bury themselves in one or two interests. Engaging in activities where you can understand a large part of all there is to know about the subject, or with people who can supply all the answers, clearly has its attractions if you want to avoid the chaos of life. It isn't for me but I can understand why it is for many individuals. Having said that, I still remain baffled at why anyone would choose electricity pylons as their focus! I've mentioned the existence of the Pylon Appreciation Society before. However, now I discover there is also a Pylon of the Month website. I'm not averse to taking a photograph or two of pylons where they present some photographic interest. But in general I look forward to the day (it won't be in my lifetime unfortunately) when the need for such monstrosities no longer exists and mankind finds a less intrusive way of distributing power.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 95mm (142mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Gloucester Day and the English Civil War

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On a recent afternoon in Gloucester we kept coming upon groups of re-enactors dressed and armed in the manner of the Parliamentary forces of the English Civil War. We assumed that they were taking part in a re-enactment somewhere in the locality and, apart from taking a couple of photographs of them, we thought no more about it.

Once I was back home, however, I made a point of finding out precisely what they were about and in so doing I learned about an episode of the English Civil War of which I was previously ignorant. The roving bands were in fact taking part in the Gloucester Day weekend that celebrates the city's history and culture. Gloucester Day as it is currently staged dates from 2009 but prior to that was for over two hundred years a celebration of the lifting of the Siege of Gloucester on 5th September 1643, an event in the English Civil War. Apparently the city was under siege by the Royalist army under Prince Rupert and Charles I. The besieging force was about 30,000 strong and the city's garrison of 1,500 regulars plus some militia was heavily outnumbered. But, they took every advantage of their defences and even made sallies from the fortifications to attack the surrounding troops. The siege lasted from August 10th until 5th September when a relieving force of 15,000 troops arrived. Despite the overwhelming advantage possessed by the Royalist forces they lost over 3,000 men killed and wounded compared with the approximately 50 losses on the Parliamentary side. The incident was counted a victory for the forces opposed to the king and celebrated as such.

It seems that if we stumble upon such events they are usually re-creating the Civil War - as were these re-enactors in Lincolnshire.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 140mm (210mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO:160
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, September 08, 2014

Fishing with Einstein

click photo to enlarge
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"
Charles Caleb Colton (1780-1832), English cleric, writer and collector

When I took today's photograph showing a fisherman on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal with Einstein grimacing behind him, it occurred to me that I could post it accompanied by two of my favourite quotes/jokes by the U.S. comedian, Steven Wright. These are:
"There's a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot" and
"I heard that in relativity theory space and time are the same thing. Einstein discovered this when he kept showing up three miles late for his meetings."
However, in checking the wording of the second quote I came upon a website that suggested it wasn't by him at all, but was a "a look-alike from Alex Kirlik". The form of Steven Wright's jokes - observations that are odd, clever, weird etc - delivered in a deadpan voice, are not unique to this comedian, but a stage act based solely on this approach that brims with twisted logic, a style that I find utterly compelling, probably is: hence today's quotation that I chose for the head of this piece.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 140mm (210mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/640 sec
ISO:400
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Park life

click photo to enlarge
It was a changeable day when we spent an recent hour or two in Greenwich Park, London. The sort of day when you can't decide whether to take a jacket - so you do. Then you can't decide whether or not to wear it - so you do. And, having done so you decide it's too hot to wear it - so you take it off. Finally, the clouds thicken, the temperature drops, and you conclude that you were right to bring a jacket - so you put it on again. Only to find the clouds departing, the sun re-asserting itself, and your jacket becoming, once more, a bulky encumbrance.

Today's photograph was taken as a bank of dark, threatening clouds started to make an appearance. They brought increased wind speeds and the threat of rain. But, fortunately for the majority of people enjoying the park who had no warm or wet weather clothing, they were transitory and moved on after a quarter of an hour or so leaving us to enjoy a pleasantly warm day in one of London's most interesting public spaces, somewhere that I always enjoy taking photographs.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (27mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/640 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Lunaria annua

click photo to enlarge
I've never posted a photograph of honesty before, though I have posted one of "honestly"! That's rather surprising because dried flowers feature in our interior decor, down the years we've often grown and displayed honesty, and the seed pods of this fairly nondescript plant are unusual and make an interesting photographic subject.

Honesty is commonly seen in gardens and is also a frequently seen escapee in hedgerows, verges and wasteland. The Latin name, Lunaria annua, derives from the moon-like shape and colour of its silvery-white seed pods, particularly when the outer layer has been stripped to show them in their fragile, shiny beauty. Not all countries associate the plant with the moon however. In the United States they are sometimes called "silver dollars" or Chinese money, whilst in France it is "the pope's money" and in Dutch speaking areas "coins of Judas".

I took a straightforward photograph of the seed heads and stems in the blue and white ware vase that my wife had chosen for the arrangement. But, I thought I'd try a determinedly asymmetrical composition showing only part of the vase and seed pods too.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon 5D Mk2
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 84mm
F No: f11
Shutter Speed: 0.4 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: Off

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Clink

click photo to enlarge
English has several slang words for prison, terms such as "nick" and "glasshouse". Two of this list of words derive from the names of actual prisons. One such is "Bridewell". This was originally one of Henry VIII's residences that was given to the City of London becoming first, an orphanage, then a women's prison. Later it became a poorhouse and prison. The building was demolished in the 1860s but not before its name had become one of the generic terms for prison.

The other actual prison name that attained this generic status was The Clink in Southwark on London's south bank. Its origins are said to date from as early as 1151 and it continued in use until 1780 when it was burned down in the Gordon Riots. Today a visitor attraction that recreates something of this medieval prison can be found on the site of the original Clink on Clink Street near Cannon Street Railway Bridge.

On a recent visit to London we were walking on the south bank and came upon a workman busy with the lighting under one of the arches of the railway bridge that holds the riverside path. The matrix of multi-coloured LEDs works in the shadows of daylight and the darkness of night and adds colour and distinction to this ancient passage-way.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 30mm (45mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/50 sec
ISO:3600
Exposure Compensation: 0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Towers of the winds

click photo to enlarge
Many years ago I visited Athens to look at the architecture of Classical (and later) Greece. One of the many buildings that I viewed was the Tower of the Winds, a 12 metre tall octagonal structure in the Roman agora, that was built in the period between 50BC and 200BC. It features the eight deities associated with wind and has a sundial on each of its faces. It was, essentially, a clock tower.

The other day I was standing in a public space at Canary Wharf in London where there are several clocks indicating time at different locations. We were debating where to sit to eat the lunch that we were carrying. That question was important because, though the sun was shining and the temperature was generally quite pleasant, it was windy and we knew that sitting in the wind would soon result in us feeling cold and uncomfortable. However, it was difficult to find such a place because the tall towers that dominate the location cause the wind to swirl in many directions. We eventually settled on a bench in a well planted area by some water features.

As I ate my sandwich I recalled an article I read recently about a tall tower in Leeds that caused the wind to increase in speed at its base to the point where it often knocked people off their feet, and caused a death when a lorry blew onto a pedestrian. The piece described how structures were being erected at ground level as baffles to reduce the wind velocity. It occurred to me that Canary Wharf's towers were "towers of the wind" too: the gusts definitely seemed to be stronger among them that in the open space by the river. But, the people who work there seemed to know the best places to sit at lunchtime and enjoy food and a break, so I took the opportunity to photograph the be-suited people enjoying their moments of mid-day leisure.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 140mm (210mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Where do all the straw bales go?

click photo to enlarge
There was a time, not so many decades ago, when some English farmers burned the straw on the fields after getting in the cereal crop. This environmentally damaging solution to what to do with the left-overs from harvest has long since been banished to history. The fact that it caused dangerous driving conditions on nearby roads was at least as strong an argument as that concerning greenhouse gases. The loss of nutrients provided by the burnt straw notwithstanding, few lament the demise of burning in the fields.

And yet, burning does actually remain one of the ways that straw is used. Over the past couple of years a straw-burning power station has been built and opened near Sleaford, Lincolnshire. There the bales are converted into electricity with considerably fewer environmental consequences than direct burning (though inevitably with some repercussions), and local farmers have an outlet for their "waste". I'd be interested to know the ranges of use to which straw is put today. Animal bedding remains, of course, and some houses (very few actually) have been built using the rectangular bales as wall insulation. A couple of years ago I spoke to a farmer who was selling bales to the Ministry of Defence to use for demolishing some disused fortified buildings by fire! Straw board is still made and used and a proportion of straw is ploughed back into the soil. However, I see veritable mountains of bales dotted around Lincolnshire of which very few look older than a year. One of my tasks this autumn must be to answer this question - "Where do all the straw bales go?"

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 45mm (67mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/800 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Old and new cultivation

click photo to enlarge
Only a few minutes before I took today's photograph we walked across a pasture that showed clear evidence of medieval cultivation. The surface of the field undulated due to centuries of ploughing using oxen and horses. Generations of ploughmen had gone up and down each selion (a strip in a furlong, which themselves were aggregated into large open fields) in the same direction each season. As a result the ploughshare had made each selion into a long, straight, low bank that curved to the left at each end where the plough was turned. Our passage across the field rose and fell as we went over each ridge and furrow.

The contrast between this traditional method of cultivation, one that prevailed for over a thousand years, with the sight that greeted us as we crossed a recently harvested wheat field, could not have been greater. A single man in a large tractor pulled a machine that was preparing the land and sowing the next crop at the same time. He would accomplish in a few hours that which formerly took many men and animals weeks to achieve. The driver gave us a wave as passed by - such work today is a solitary undertaking - and as we went on our way back to Folkingham I reflected on the way today's cultivation contrasted with not only the distant past but what happened for much of the twentieth century.

Nowadays, as I understand it, there are essentially 5 approaches to preparing a wheat field with the next crop:
1 Conventional ploughing - plough the straw in deep, cultivate the seed bed, then drill and finally spread fertiliser
2 Shallow cultivation - plough the straw in deep, drill and fertilise in one pass
3 Minimal tillage - till the straw in shallow with cultivator, drill and fertilise in one pass
4 Shallow tillage - turn straw over in the surface soil, drill and fertilise in one pass in this layer
5 Direct drilling - no soil tillage, simply drill and fertilise in one pass leaving the straw on the surface.

However, I'm no expert, so watching the man and machines at work I was unsure which method of 3-5 was being used. I think it's 3 (minimal tillage) but I'm happy to be corrected.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 105mm (157mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On