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 - 45mm 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 - 45mm 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 - 45mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, August 18, 2014

Land versus sky

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When I was starting out in photography over four decades ago I remember reading a number of "rules" - the dos and donts of good picture making. As I progressed and matured I came to see them as guides rather than rules and each as something that could be ignored if the circumstances warranted it. One such rule concerned the balance between land and sky. Never, it was said, have the horizon in the middle of your photograph giving equal weight to sky and land because if you do the viewer will not know where you wish to place your interest and emphasis - or words to that effect. It's not a bad piece of advice, and there is some truth in the guidance. However, there have been times when I have done just that because my compositional judgement said it was the best solution.

An extension of this rule was that you should split your composition 1/3 to 2/3. If the land was to be 2/3 then the sky would be 1/3 and vice versa. Again, it isn't a bad rule because it often looks "right". However, there are times when it looks wrong. These days I compose largely intuitively but every now and then I pause and think about the land/sky split and what the proportions should be. In the shot above the enormity and the interest of the Lincolnshire sky was accentuated by making it more than 1/3 of the composition. Moreover, the spire of Walcot church (see previous post), a structure that is big when you are nearby, is reduced to its proper insignificance when seen in the context of a broad landscape.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 38mm (57mm - 45mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/1000 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Walcot church revisited

click photo to enlarge
The church of St Nicholas at Walcot, Lincolnshire, is a favourite of mine. Its exterior leaves something to be desired aesthetically - the tower and spire are too tall for the nave and chancel, the entasis on the former looks a little odd and its broaches are unusually long. But, despite these shortcomings it is interesting and it makes for a prominent landmark in the locality.

However, when it comes to the interior it is a different story. Here the restorers did what was necessary and little more with the result that the medieval work hasn't been altered too much and the Victorian additions don't overpower it. Some would say it looks a little neglected but I welcome the absence of well-meaning tidying, polishing, renovating and prettifying. I like the oddities inside too, particularly the way old capitals were reused as column bases. I don't mind the absence of elaborate memorials and paintwork. And I welcome the "knocked about a bit" look of the pews. It's a rural church serving a small collection of farms and houses, and its sparse interior reflects the small population that services it.

On a recent walk I photographed a distant view of the church among the red tiled houses and agricultural buildings. When we went in to the church I took a view of the nave and chancel. As I took both of these photographs I had in mind two previous shots I've posted of the same subjects and it was with a view to comparison that I took the second set. Different seasons, different weather and different light have produced different shots. I prefer the earlier pair I think, so next time we are passing my aim will be to take photographs that better them.

photographs and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (27mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/30 sec
ISO:1600
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, August 11, 2014

Unexpected photographic subjects

click photo to enlarge
A camera of one sort or another is with me wherever I go. Too many lost shots have taught me the lesson that, when you don't have a camera a great shot will inevitably present itself. Or at least it will be great in your memory as are so many missed opportunities. Consequently, on a recent short walk around the Lincolnshire fields and lanes near where we live I carried a camera, this despite the fact that it was August, the sun was high in the sky, and the chances of a shot were slight. And, my caution paid off. I didn't get a great shot, but I got a couple that I didn't expect of a subject I had never considered.

Stacked by the edge of a field were large rolls of thermal netting, the sort that is put over young brassicas in March in order to raise the temperature two or three degrees, give the plants a quick start and the farmer an earlier crop and therefore a better price. The ends of a couple of rolls were spilling down the stack, their stains and folds making a gauze-like, diaphanous texture that I knew would be quite appealing when a section was isolated in the viewfinder frame. Mercifully the end of the rolls next to the footpath were in the shade rather than the searing sunlight so I had no hard contrast to deal with. I made a several exposures, trying to come up with a composition that offered a little interest in terms of shape, line and colour. These two are my best efforts; not great shots but images with soft, quiet interest, delicate textures and subtle colours. And all the better, from my point of view, in being an unusual subject captured on a day of low expectations.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 42mm (63mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Two Spalding warehouse conversions

click photo to enlarge
In the UK finding new uses for old industrial or commercial buildings often results in them being converted into living accommodation. From power stations to old agricultural barns, fire stations to tea warehouses, apartments of varying sizes and prices are very often the first choice for a redundant building. It's not always the case; I've seen churches that became recording studios and cafes, a police station that became a restaurant, and more than one corn exchange transformed into a theatre. However, on a relatively small island with an ever growing population, housing of one form or another will often take precedence over any other use for a surplus building.

The other day we were walking around Spalding, Lincolnshire. The weather was sunny and the light clear and sharp. It was a good opportunity to photograph buildings. When I came to review my collection of shots I was prompted to reflect on the images of two Georgian warehouses that have been re-purposed (as modern parlance has it). One is barely recognisable as a structure from the eighteenth century, so complete have been its successive makeovers. Gone are the warm bricks to be replaced by painted render that is moulded to resemble ashlar blocks. The central hatches have been converted to windows and the hoist has gone too. In 1947 a main entrance with a hint of "Moderne" about it was created. It is now, I believe,either apartments or offices, with the name, White House Chambers.

The second example was formerly a warehouse belonging to the company of F. Long, but is now multiple apartments. It is a later conversion and has retained much more of its original character. Look at this building and you can immediately see its past. The original brickwork with its imperfections has not been too heavily modified. The rows of windows remain, as do the central hatches, but they are less integrated into the facade than in my other example. No attempt has been made to disguise the anchor plates of the tie rods that brace the building against lateral bowing; in fact they have been made into features. And, the pantiles of the roof, though probably not original, are characteristic of the period of the building unlike the concrete tiles of the other warehouse.

It seems to me that the way these warehouses have been converted exemplify two of the main approaches to such a task: treat the original building as a shell to be updated and made serviceable without any particular regard for its past, or retain the character of the original while doing sufficient to achieve its new purpose. Thankfully, today, the latter approach is more usual.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 66mm (99mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The transformational power of flowers

click photo to enlarge
Every gardener knows the transformational power of flowers. Grow a clematis, a rose or a wisteria against a dull old wall and, for the duration of the flowering of the plant, the mundane becomes beautiful. When our pots of red/orange pelargoniums, that we place to the left and right of our garages and a dark green shed, burst into flower these utilitarian buildings become more interesting and more noteworthy. The Royal Horticultural Society's "Britain in Bloom" competition is all about improving the appearance of settlements large and small by the planting of flowers.

On our recent visit to Brigg, Lincolnshire, we had a welcome and enjoyable cup of coffee at a cafe. The main area of the premises was well-presented under a glazed roof with several potted plants, palms and climbers. The "overflow" or outside area had less to offer, located as it was in a wide passage-way with block paving and rendered walls. However, this somewhat dreary location was lifted and made much pleasanter by the wall-mounted planters filled with multi-coloured petunias. My photographer's eye particularly enjoyed the contrast of the bright flowers and the plain, grey background and white furniture, the near monochrome quality of the latter making the colours of the former seem more intense than nature intended.

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:110
Exposure Compensation: 0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Brigg Fair

click photo to enlarge
"It was on the fifth of August, the weather fine and fair,
Unto Brigg Fair I did repair, for love I was inclined..."
from the folk song, Brigg Fair (traditional)

One of my favourite pieces of music is Brigg Fair: An English Rhapsody by the English composer, Frederick Delius (1862-1934). It is an orchestral piece based on the Lincolnshire folk song that Percy Grainger heard (and recorded) from Joseph Taylor, a Lincolnshire singer. Grainger introduced the piece to Delius who turned it into a work that remains one of his best loved compositions.

As luck would have it we passed through Brigg yesterday, the fourth of August, and with the words of the song in mind we looked around for evidence of the fair. There was nothing that suggested it was on apart from a group of travellers with their horses and caravans. I took today's photograph of a man as he exercised his trotting horse on a street near a large car park. I guessed that this gathering might have had something to do with the fair, but since there was nothing else to indicate the it I resolved to find out more when we got home.

It seems that the fair is held on the first Saturday of August. That was the second of the month this year and so we had missed it. Apparently it is something of a social event and gathering of travellers for horse trading in much the same way that happens at Appleby in Westmorland. The fair has a long history - over 800 years - and today it is less formal and smaller than it would have been when Joseph Taylor was singing in the local musical festival. Next year, perhaps, we'll go on the right day.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 116mm (174mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f9
Shutter Speed: 1/200 sec
ISO:280
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Museum names and obfuscation

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You'd think that one of the primary aims in giving a building a name would be to supply part of a unique address, to identify it to people passing and searching for it, and to indicate its purpose. The latter is not always required but in certain instances it is. There's little point in giving a town hall any other name other than the words town hall preceded by the placename: to do anything else would cause confusion and waste people's time. Similarly with art galleries. Yet in their naming the sound principle just described in relation to town halls is often ignored. What would you expect to see at the Wallace Collection in London? A collection of what? It happens to be fine and decorative arts, but you wouldn't know that from its name.

A public building in Lincoln has a similarly confusing name. It styles itself simply, "The Collection". Perhaps those naming it were influenced by the London example I just mentioned. Yet in Lincoln The Collection is a museum. There seems to be something of an acknowledgement that people won't necessarily guess what the building is about because some of its printed literature describes it as The Collection Museum. But, of course, a museum is a collection, so this awkward construction has built in redundancy: it is somewhat tautological. It seems to me that it is a confusion that should have been seen and then avoided. What is wrong with the name, Lincoln Museum?

We're back, it seems, to yesterday's theme of daft names. And like that post we are discussing a building that is better than the average for the city of Lincoln, despite its unfortunate name. I like the way that stone (is it artificial?) has been used in strongly horizontal lines with randomly disposed holes. I enjoy too the way one enters into a relatively dark foyer then passes into a beautifully lit "Orientation Hall" before entering the main exhibition spaces. The materials of wall, roof and floor have been well chosen and well put together. The exterior is also attractive, its avowedly modern lines fitting in well with the older buildings on its hillside site.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18mm (27mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, August 01, 2014

Daft brand names

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Wagamama, the British chain of Japanese restaurants cum noodle bars, must be in the top ten daftest brand names in the country alongside the likes of Fat Face, Everything Everywhere (EE) and C'eed. I suppose whoever thought it up considered it memorable, funny, distinctive etc. For me it's the kind of name that puts me off setting foot in the place -  in the same way that the restaurant chain called EAT., a company that insists on a full stop at the end of its single-word name, always sounds to me like a barked order that I feel duty-bound to ignore.

We were in Lincoln recently. It's not far from where we live, a historic city with a fine cathedral. Yet, we go there only once a year. I'm not keen  on the place. It seems to me to have the relationship with Lincolnshire that London has with the UK - it draws far more than its fair share of investment and sucks the life out of its hinterland. Add to that the truly awful redevelopment of the area around the Brayford Pool with its execrable university buildings, toy-town hotels and throw-away flats piled on the water's edge, the fact that the cathedral charges for entry, and the paucity of good, modern architecture, and you'll perhaps understand my feeling that one visit a year is quite sufficient.

But, the Wagamama restaurant built out over the water of the Pool is better than most of the buildings in that locality. The emphasis on horizontals and shallow pitches in its design is refreshing, as is the elegant use of materials. I'm not a great fan of hardwood slats as a wall finish; they soon discolour and stain in our wet climate. However, here they work well with the steel cladding and glass. I particularly like the dash of bold colour that accompanies the blacks, greys and browns. The red painted steel panel, with its large and small holes that covers the air-conditioning units is a nice contrast against the muted colours and I made it the subject of one of the semi-abstract, detail photographs that I took of the building.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 66mm (99mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/125 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: 0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On