Sunday, January 25, 2015

Starters, finishers and contre jour

click photo to enlarge
One of the lessons I've learned in life is that many people are good starters but significantly fewer are good finishers. Consequently,if you want to succeed it helps to be a finisher. What do I mean by that? Well, you've doubtless seen people who will begin a grand re-design of their garden, or begin to build an extension to their house, or start renovating an old car, or set off with great gusto on a work-related project only to slow then come to a halt before it is complete. Sometimes they get under way again, but all too often they once again give up and the task they began languishes in an unfinished state for months or years, and frequently is never accomplished. Though that doesn't stop some beginning another abortive undertaking!

Finishers have vision, determination and perseverance. Starters have vision, but lack those extra qualities necessary to see things through to a conclusion. As I took today's photograph I wondered if the builders of the new "bowstring" footbridge over the River Witham, near St Botolph's church in Boston, Lincolnshire, were finishers. The bridge has been open since February 2014, yet every time I've crossed it since that time there has been security fencing, "men at work" signs, piles of paving material etc all indicating that the finishing touches still haven't been completed. You can see some of those wretched movable barrier fences on the right of the photograph.

Purists might bridle at today's image with its flare, vignetting and blown highlights. I don't mind such things. In fact, every now and then, usually in winter, I actively seek them out with a contre jour shot, as was the case with this photograph.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  - 0.3EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, January 23, 2015

Belton House

click photo to enlarge
I recently went to Belton House for the first time. This large country house is now in the care of the National Trust and is open to the public. However, it being a Monday in January only the gardens and grounds were open so we didn't get to see the inside. On returning home I read a little about the building and was surprised by what I found.

Nikolaus Pevsner describes Belton as "perhaps the most satisfying among the later C17 houses in England". I can only think that he is referring to the interiors because the exterior is decidedly eighteenth century in style and fact, the whole having been given, as Pevsner says, "the facelift of 1777-8 by James Wyatt". The neat stonework and layout of the south front can only be described, to my mind, as ordinary. And the fact that the north front is very similar, a couple of details notwithstanding, doesn't help. The "H" plan hints at the seventeenth century underpinnings, but to the casual observer the building wears an eighteenth century face interesting only for its lack of interest.

For much of our visit the sun lit the south front like a floodlight, good for showing off the warm stone, but bad for modelling the architecture. This view of the facade that overlooks the formal gardens appealed more with its surface patina due to the reduced light. I particularly liked the way the building sits in its carefully planned surroundings. As I took today's distant view of that elevation I had an idea that it would make a good candidate for conversion to black and white: the smooth, frosty grass, silhouetted trees, and the building's chimneyed and towered shape under a lightly figured sky all suggested it, and I'm quite pleased with the outcome.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 22mm (33mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The taste of deer

click photo to enlarge
Yesterday I was thinking about the taste of deer. We visited the National Trust-owned stately home of Belton House, near Grantham, Lincolnshire. Part of the extensive grounds surrounding the seventeenth and eighteenth century house is a deer park and the taste of deer was prompted by the sight of the large guards round the younger trees where the deer roamed.

By the "taste of deer" I don't mean to allude to the flavour of venison, but rather, the liking of deer for particular kinds of tree bark - the reason for those guards in today's photograph. I had remembered reading, a while ago, that some species of tree bark were favoured over others. A little research turned up the list I'd seen. Apparently, though preferences vary according to deer species, the availability of other food, season and the type of site, as far as bark stripping (as opposed to leaf browsing) goes certain trees are more sought after. Willow, ash and rowan top the list followed by aspen, lodgepole pine, beech, Norway spruce and other species. There seemed to be a variety of trees protected by guards at Belton, and the fallow deer that make up the park herd had clearly been kept at bay by the steel and wood guards. Some mature trees, however, particularly beech, showed a distinct "browse line". This was where the shoots that commonly cluster at the base of the trunk had been eaten but were untouched higher up.

I spotted this shot as we drove into the grounds and walked back to take it before the sun got any higher and the silhouettes and colours were less strong and the frost had melted.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Nikon D5300
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 56mm (84mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
ISO:100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dark Satanic Mills?

click photo to enlarge
"And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?"
from the poem, "And did those feet in ancient time", by the English poet, William Blake (1757-1827)

The poem quoted above is widely loved by the English, particularly when sung to the tune written by Sir Hubert Parry, and commonly called "Jerusalem". It is built on the story that Jesus visited England - Glastonbury in particular - in his youth, accompanied by Joseph of Arimathea. Blake contrasts the England of the time of such a visit with the rapidly industrializing England of 1804 (when the poem was written), and the England that could and should be.

His disparaging of the "dark Satanic Mills" has been attributed to his dislike of the Albion Flour Mill, one of the first large, factories built in London, in Southwark, near where Blake lived. Opinion on the new buildings of industry were divided between those who saw them as efficient parts of a burgeoning economy that brought wealth and employment, and those who saw them as inhuman, unholy places with their dirty, dangerous work, child labour and long hours. But, there are other theories about what Blake meant, including the idea that he was referring to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, institutions that promulgated a religion he thought very different from the one he espoused.

Whatever his meaning, it was Blake I thought of when, on a darkening day I took this photograph of the distant Palm Paper mill at King's Lynn, Norfolk, from near the quayside in the town. The massive structure with its chimneys, cloudy plumes and looming bulk, put me in mind of his words, and also made me recall another photograph I took in 2013 of an industrial subject - Melton Ross chalk quarries in Lincolnshire.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 37.1mm (100mm - 35mm equiv.) - cropped
F No: f4.9
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  - 0.3EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Archilense

click photo to enlarge
Last October, in a post called "WYSIATI" I described how I was underwhelmed by a series of art installations in King's Lynn, a collaboration between Amiens, France, and the Norfolk town. What I didn't mention was that the installation that sounded the most interesting hadn't been set up and so I couldn't have a look at it. That was remedied recently when we made one of our regular visits to King's Lynn.

"Archilense", an optical installation by Thibault Zambeaux, is described as "a transparent door to a new landscape". Moreover, the website says that, "To create the distortion and images each panel has magnifying glasses inlayed (sic) to build a unique pattern related to King's Lynn." From a distance the piece looked interesting due to the shapes built into the glass. Looking through it, however, proved very disappointing. The inversions and distortions were not sufficiently interesting to engage the viewer: for me the piece failed in the main task that the artist had built into the piece. While we were there I saw a few people look through it and after a few seconds move on. The longest period of attention the work received was from a black-headed gull in its winter plumage that found it to be a very convenient riverside perch. In fact, it was reluctant to leave it and allowed me to get quite close. Looking at the bird I was reminded of some Lincoln sculpture that daily provides a similar avian resting place for both gulls and pigeons.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 20.4mm (55mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  - 0.3EV
Image Stabilisation: On




Thursday, January 15, 2015

Landscapes and aspect ratios

click photo to enlarge
After thirty odd years of shooting 35mm film with an aspect ratio of 3:2 I shot with Four Thirds cameras for a few years. These had an aspect ratio of 4:3. To my surprise I found I preferred it to 3:2, particularly for portrait format shots. When you turn a 3:2 camera so that the long side is vertical it seems to me that the aspect ratio doesn't work so well as when it is horizontal (landscape format) - it's simply too tall. There are a few subjects that benefit from a taller shape (and a very few where 16:9 is best) but not too many. I definitely preferred 4:3 in those circumstances. For landscapes, streetscapes and general photography 3:2 was, by and large, fine, but not better than 4:3 and sometimes too long.

Since I've returned to 3:2 with Canon, Nikon and Sony, the three makes I use now, I've generally shot 3:2 and where I've particularly felt it looked wrong (in horizontal or portrait format), I've cropped to 4:3. Today's photograph is a case in point. When I composed the shot I knew I wanted the verticals of the two medieval churches in the shot. However, I also wanted the full width of the street. On a wet day with an overcast sky 3:2 left too much boring grey cloud in the top half of the photograph. Consequently, I shot at 3:2 knowing I would crop to 4:3. Those of you who know the Sony RX100 might wonder why I didn't dive into the menu and set the camera to 4:3. The fact is I find it easier to stick with the same aspect ratio (3:2 is native and the highest resolution) across all the cameras to benefit from a consistent view and maximum pixel dimensions. To do otherwise would be for me, just too confusing, too tedious, and would deny me the best image where 3:2 is the ratio I want.

On the other hand, if Sony had done what Panasonic did with the LX3 (and other LX models), a camera that I owned until it died, and had put the aspect ratios round the lens barrel selected by a click stop switch, then I just might have set 4:3 before shooting.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 20mm (54mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.5
Shutter Speed: 1/100
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  - EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Worcester Regiment Colours

click photo to enlarge
The original purpose of regimental "colours" or flags was to indicate the rallying points of troops on the battlefield. The loss of the colours was an actual and symbolic loss for a regiment because it was frequently a mark of failure. Fighting in their vicinity often proved to be the most fierce as the enemy sought to secure them and their owners fought to prevent their capture. The tradition of embellishing basic flags with labels naming specific campaigns engaged in by the regiment is a post-medieval phenomenon, and anyone visiting a British cathedral is likely to come upon such colours in one of its many chapels.

Worcester Cathedral's St George's Chapel, not unnaturally, holds a collection of the colours of battalions of the Worcester Regiment. In 1970 it was was amalgamated with the Sherwood Foresters and ceased to be a distinct regiment. The chapel at the cathedral holds flags that date back to the nineteenth century, as well as those from the First and Second World Wars. Light and time inevitably take their toll on the material of the flags and the examples shown in today's photograph are typically discoloured and threadbare, qualities that help the viewer to better understand the passage of time since they were carried into battle.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 19.3mm (52mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f3.5
Shutter
Speed: 1/13
ISO: 800
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, January 09, 2015

Self-portraits and Mr Turner

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The other evening we went to see Mike Leigh's, "Mr Turner", a film about the great English painter, J. M. W. Turner. It was exquisitely shot, beautifully acted and an interesting take on the artist's life. For me it only suffered by a little too much direct connecting between the artists later, great "impressionistic" works and their sources of inspiration. I do recognise, however, that anyone coming to the film with no knowledge of Turner would value this direct explication.

As we went up to the gallery where our seats were I took a couple of self-portrait photographs in the glazed stairwell windows. This was the best of the bunch with the market place beyond, illuminated bank signs on the right, and a passer-by at bottom right balancing my silhouette on the left. Anyone who has looked at my many self-portraits (for example here, here or here) on this site will know that, with one exception, they can all best be described as "obscured", since they are designed to hide or suggest rather than reveal.

After we'd seen the film mentioned, my wife read me an extract from Wikipedia about Turner's first sale of a work (a seascape, "Staffa, Fingal's Cave", unseen by the buyer) to an American, one James Lenox of New York City. The person who bought it from Turner on behalf of Lenox reported to the artist that the new owner was "greatly disappointed" by what he described as the painting's "indistinctness". Turner is reputed to have replied, "You should tell Mr Lenox that indistinctness is my forte". I think henceforth that will be my reply to those who find my self-portraits unrevealing!

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 12.8mm (34mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8 Shutter

Speed: 1/40
ISO: 640
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Ghost bikes

click photo to enlarge
A ghost bike is a white painted bicycle, often changed to a fence, post or some other immovable object, sometimes without tyres and/or pedals to deter thieves. One of its purposes is to remind all who pass by, particularly motorists, that a cyclists died at the location, and that the road is a facility that motorised traffic shares with cyclists. A second, and no less important reason for a ghost bike is to serve as a memorial to the dead cyclist.

I periodically come across ghost bikes when I travel around the country. They are more usual in cities than elsewhere, and they are often decorated with floral and other tributes to the deceased. I came across the example in today's photograph in Deptford Church Street in London. A quick web search revealed that it is a tribute to seventeen year old Olatunji Adeyanju. He was hit by a car driven by a motorist who drove off after the collision, and was subsequently traced by the police, prosecuted and jailed.

The ghost bike initiative is a development that one wishes wasn't necessary. It shouldn't be beyond motorists and cyclists to co-exist on the roads, but too often they are characterised as enemies rather than fellow travellers. This is nonsense, of course, because many people are both cyclists and motorists. It is often argued by anti-cyclist motorists that segregated routes are required for cyclists, but whilst these are helpful and necessary they can never be the whole answer in a city with a tightly packed grid of roads. A little more goodwill will solve what a lot of concrete and tarmac never can.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 30.5mm (82mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/100
ISO: 160
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, January 05, 2015

Greenwich Square's public space

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Over the past year, in our visits to Greenwich, I've watched the Greenwich Square development start to take shape. This mix of housing, retail space, leisure facilities and a public square is being developed on the site of the former Greenwich District Hospital. Some of the apartments, as can be seen by the balcony furniture in today's photograph, appear to be inhabited, but elsewhere there is much work to be done before the scheme is complete.

What has interested me, especially, about Greenwich Square is the public square at its centre. More particularly, I'd like to know if it is really a public space with all the rights and responsibilities that entails, or is it actually a private space to which the public are admitted on terms devised by the owners. An increasing number of these private/public spaces are being built in cities across the country. London's most frequented example is the ridiculously named "More London" near Tower Bridge, the only seemingly public place I have ever been told that I must stop taking photographs. The most recent private space to be described as public ("London's highest public park") is the Sky Garden at the top of the tower at 20 Fenchurch Street (the "Walkie Talkie"), London's ugliest tower by a big margin. It admits the public but it certainly cannot claim to be a public space. So what is the square at Greenwich Square? We'll eventually find out.

Incidentally, the colour of the cladding of these apartments makes me ask this question once more.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 37.1mm (100mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.9
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 160
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Ash, mud and the vanished

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Yesterday I grew by two inches. In case you think I over-indulged on the turkey, Christmas cake and assorted festive fare, I hasten to add that it wasn't my girth that grew, but my height. The cause of this was a walk across two fields of winter wheat to the pasture that holds the deserted medieval village of Walmsgate on the Lincolnshire Wolds. The mud of the field stuck to the soles of my shoes to the point where, not only was I taller, but I felt that I was shod with a diver's boots.

The remains of the village are, as is typical in England, very spare. The undulations of the field on the south-west facing slope reveal to the tutored eye the hollow ways (see small photo) that mark roads and tracks, house walls and enclosures and little else. At Walmsgate, unusually, the bottom few courses of the walls of the medieval church remain, here in a fenced off area that includes the graveyard with some nineteenth or early twentieth century graves - it is probably still consecrated ground. The village is recorded in 1377 as having 30 people who paid poll tax. This had declined to 8 families in 1563 when the last priest is recorded. The muddy walk was worth it for what we saw of the deserted village, but also for the experience of the wonderful light that, following a gloomy couple of days, lifted our spirits. The old ash tree of the main photograph made a fine sight with the cloud-studded blue sky, the green grass and the long afternoon shadows.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A public lounge?

click photo to enlarge
Words come and words go. I learnt the other day that "bae" has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Apparently this word is used by many young people on social media to mean "before anyone else" i.e. their nearest and dearest, significant other, the person (or even thing) to whom (or which) they attach most importance. I've listed elsewhere in this blog several words such as paling, aerodrome and petticoat, terms that in my childhood were widely used, that today have fallen almost completely out of use. We shouldn't lament the birth and death of words unless the newcomers replace perfectly good synonyms or the departures carry a meaning that becomes lost when it is is still needed.

But, there is a modern way with words about which we should be concerned. I refer to the use of a perfectly serviceable and widely used word for a different meaning: a usage that confuses, is lazy or is just plain stupid. One of my early blog posts concerned the appropriation of the word "boutique" by hoteliers in the term "boutique hotel". The original English meaning of boutique was principally, a small shop, or by extension an independent shop, specialising in fashionable clothing. The wider use referring to exclusive, upmarket services appears to have been coined in the U.S. and then applied widely. It reminded me of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass" where Humpty Dumpty says, "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

That quotation came to mind when I looked up details about a photograph I took in London over Christmas. What I'd assumed was Deptford Library is actually grandly and confusingly titled "Deptford Lounge". Now the word "lounge" is today more usually associated with "departure lounge", but in my childhood it was a synonym for "living room" or "sitting room" (the latter also on the way out). What, I wondered, could have caused the local authority to call the building a "Lounge"? Was it a place of rest and repose? A gathering place of loungers? A public sitting room? All these are OED definitions of the word. In fact, this large building provides a range of community services including a public library, computer labs, study areas, a café, room hire and a roof-top ball court. None of these, apart from perhaps the café, incorporate lounging. So why the silly name?

Why too, I wondered, the external screen wall of pierced metal? This feature made me think the building was designed to survive urban unrest because it reminded me of the clip on panels that tanks and APCs sometimes wear that are designed to cause ant-tank rockets to explode early before penetrating the body of the vehicle. What were the councillors of Deptford expecting? A quick look at Architecture Today tells me that the architects, Pollard Thomas Edwards chose the cladding "...to symbolise cultural richness, the facades comprise a perforated brise-soleil constructed from gold-coloured, Aurubis Architectural Nordic Royal copper alloy panels. In addition to its aesthetic appeal, the material was favoured for its durability, long lifespan and environmental credentials." Who would have thought it?

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/80
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On