Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Broken reflections

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"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is the title of the world's biggest mirror ball, twenty feet in diameter, located on Blackpool's south promenade. The ball, which is fixed on top of a pole and rotated by an electric motor, has 47,000 small mirrors. On a sunny day points of light dance around the paving below. The mirror ball is the creation of Manchester artist, Michael Trainor, who named his work after the 1969 film about a non-stop dance marathon. It is one of a number of art installations on this part of the promenade. Recently six spotlights have been placed nearby to give a variety of nightime lighting effects.

But is it art? I don't think so - it's simply a ball on a pole. It is, in my judgement, and despite its fancy title, no deeper than that. But like most people who see it, I like it a lot! It's fascinating and it's fun! From a distance it looks other-worldly. From up close the rotating surface flickers and reflects in a scattered and crazed fashion. When it was installed in 2002 the artist was quoted as saying that "it will reflect 47,000 images of Blackpool, from the Irish Sea to the Tower. More than anything else it will reflect the people looking into it." What it actually does is reflect broken fragments of the surroundings, and never reflects enough of a person for them to be recognisable. But that doesn't stop people looking, and it hasn't stopped me photographing it on a number of occasions!

My photograph above shows the reflections on part of its surface, including the surrounding paving, the shadow of the ball on its pole, railings, a steel bench, a red litter bin, the sea wall, the Irish Sea and the sky.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Monday, February 27, 2006

High Street Britain

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There is a widespread belief ... that many small shops across the UK will have ceased trading by 2015 with few independent businesses taking their place."
"High Street Britain 2015", All-Party Parliamentary Group for Small Shops, 2006

There's a shopping war going on in Britain today between the retail giants and small businesses. There are losers in this war, including the small independent retailers. But the clear winners are Tesco (with 30% of the £76 billion pound UK grocery market), Asda/Walmart, Morrison's and Sainsbury's. However, the real problem is that while the small businesses know that they're losing (50 high street shops close every week), many of the the shopping public think that the superstores are delivering choice, convenience and low prices, and so they too are on the winning side!

The price we all pay for superstore shopping is well documented: it is damaging to the environment, to farming, and to the transport poor. But it is the destruction of our town centres that I want to focus on. Superstores are causing many to become less viable, run-down, less desirable places to be. Every shop that disappears from the high street lessens the viability of those that remain. Town centres thrive when local businesses thrive. And the best local businesses offer good value, good prices, choice, specialism, expertise and committment to their community.

But the market is king I hear you say - people wouldn't use the big four grocers if they didn't give them what they want. There is some truth in this. However, the market dominance of the big four is now such that choice for many no longer exists. And if their growth continues the low prices today will be high prices tomorrow because competition will have gone. Hence the concern expressed in the Parliamentary report quoted above.

And hence too, my photograph of this shop in Church Stretton, Shropshire. I know nothing of H. Salt & Co., except that I bought a lunch box there the other day. It specialises in selling kitchen wares, has a range that beats any superstore, and has competitive prices. As I came out of the shop I looked at the building and noticed the name in mosaic tiles by the door. Curious, I looked up, and saw "HS" and the date 1901 under the pediment at the very top of the building. The shop must have been in these premises since that date, and the owners must have contributed this building to the growth of the town. The flexibility of the design has meant that other companies can use part of the premises now that, presumably, the needs of the shop are less. It is not great architecture, but it is ornate, visually interesting, and adds distinction to the street. But not for much longer if the superstores continue their onward march. And that would be a great loss to the town, and to the shopper.

I hope my photograph documents a shop that will continue for many years to come.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Save me from block paving!

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I can't make up my mind about block and brick paving. Over the last fifteen years or so block (cast), and brick (fired) paving has spread virtually everywhere in Britain. Sometimes it is used well, offering interesting colour, texture and pattern. This is usually where local authorities have laid it, and a professional's eye has determined its disposition. More often it's an abomination!

Many private householders have used it to completely replace their front gardens. Grass, shrubs and flowers have been banished by the accursed blocks, all in the interests of "tidiness" and "convenience". If the owner has an "artistic" bent a small circle with a solitary shrub, invariably a dwarf acer surrounded by pebbles , is left to represent nature. This effect is doubtless inspired by some awful instant-garden makeover TV programme. Otherwise the decoration of the front of the house comes courtesy of Toyota, Ford or BMW! In my darker moments I find myself hoping that retribution for this sacrilege arrives in the form of flooding - these blocks absorb virtually no rainfall, and must have contributed enormously to run-off into the drains in recent years!

The photograph above shows a rare good example of this type of paving. It has clearly been designed by a professional, and is on the south promenade at Blackpool, Lancashire. Here circles of blocks and curved concrete steps are used as visual interest and to focus attention on art installations, seating and viewing points. The morning I took this contre-jour shot the light was delineating the surface very clearly. My job was simply to find a good composition and press the shutter.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Let's talk about the weather

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Anyone who's lived in Britain for even a short time knows that the British never stop talking about the weather. It's either too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy, or just plain beautiful. And if a judgement on the prevailing weather isn't being made, then a prognostication about the coming weather certainly is!

You might think this national trait is a character flaw, but it isn't. The fact is that Britain, lying in the path of prevailing westerly winds and the Gulf Stream, has generally mild but extremely changeable weather. Visitors to our country can find this perplexing - what do you wear! However, I love it for the variety that it brings to each day and each season.

The place where I currently live - in Lancashire near the Irish Sea - often seems to have several different types of weather each day. And it's rare for a weather pattern to settle over us for more than a week. This makes photography both interesting and difficult. Interesting because all the conceivable varieties of atmospheric conditions are guaranteed. Difficult because you can't easily predict when they will arrive!

The photograph above shows a February sky reflected in the clear and tinted glass of "The Sandcastle", a Blackpool swimming pool and leisure centre. As a photograph it is nothing without that lovely, but slightly threatening, sky. When I composed the shot I decided that asymmetry was needed to add interest to the two-tone glazing grid. The converging lines were brought back to vertical in post processing. What pleases me about this shot is the colour, and the way the stability of the window pattern contrasts with the instability of our changeable British weather.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Friday, February 24, 2006

Just a stack of chairs

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"A chair is a very difficult object. A sky scraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous." Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, German-American architect (1886-1969)

If I asked you to visualise a cafe chair, the sort shown in this photograph is probably the type that would come to mind. This stacking aluminium chair (and variations on it) is becoming ubiquitous. It can be seen outside bistros, restaurants and cafes the world over. Who designed it? I don't know. Perhaps you can tell me!

If I'd asked the same question forty or fifty years ago the chair that would have leapt into your mind would have been Michel Thonet's bentwood design. His chair No.14 of 1855, with its circular wicker seat, curved back and ring of wood joining the four legs to give stability, was for a century or more the archetypal cafe chair across Europe, America and elsewhere. It was simple, strong, elegant, cheap and stackable.

Mies van der Rohe hit the nail on the head when he identified how hard it is to design a good chair. And that's perhaps the reason that early twentieth century designs by Mies himself, or Le Corbusier, or Eero Saarinen, or Charles Eames can still be bought today. It's also the reason that we often find ourselves shuffling in a chair, searching for a more comfortable position, because you see, it's very easy to design a bad chair!

I took this photograph of a stack of chairs outside a cafe in Poulton le Fylde, Lancashire because I liked the repeated curving lines of the arms/backs. The gleam of the aluminium also appealed to me, particularly the way it makes the photograph almost monochrome.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A welcoming church

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How far should a society retreat in the face of lawbreakers? Following last year's terrorist attack in London, the British government is introducing laws which many, including myself, see as excessive. The charge commonly made is that the government, in seeking to foil terrorism, are restricting the freedoms that distinguish our democracy from more repressive regimes and conceding ground to those who operate outside civilised bounds.

And what has this to do with the church of St Mary Magdalene, at Eccleshall, Staffordshire, I hear you ask? Well, unlike many churches in England the congregation of this church welcomes visitors, and its doors are open during daylight hours. Those wishing to enter, either for religious reasons, or to look at the medieval (and later) architecture, can do so, and are welcome. This is not so everywhere! Many parishes now keep their churches locked, citing theft and fear of damage as the reason. Clearly these things, regrettably, do happen. And yet neighbouring parishes, who one might suppose face similar levels of lawbreaking, can have completely opposite views on whether their church should be open or not. The fact is that, in many churches, with sensible precautions, the centuries old tradition of open access can and does continue, even in the face of those who occasionally abuse the privilege. I for one am grateful to those who adopt this enlightened view. I hope you are too, and that when you visit a church, for whatever reason, you leave a donation as thanks for the access you have been given.

In my photograph of Eccleshall church I used the arch of the lych gate as a frame. To do so, I had to get down on my knees - an appropriate posture in a churchyard! A brief shaft of sunlight pierced the winter sky, and the illumination it threw on the church helped the shot. The arrangement of gate and building has to be right for this type of framing to be possible, and here, particularly with the angled view of the tower, it works well.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

"The Log Cabin" Cafe

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The optimism of the small business man (or woman) knows no bounds. And it's probably a good thing too! The entrepreneurial spirit of this cafe owner in Fleetwood, Lancashire, means that even though it's February, even though it's blowing hard and cold, even though drizzle and sun are fighting it out for supremacy, the hardy soul out for a morning constitutional along the seashore can stop for a hot cup of tea! Or coffee, or a bacon sandwich, or fish and chips, or a burger, or cakes, or - well, you get the picture.

I don't know when this particular cafe - a wooden shack really - was built. I imagine it was the 1930s, or possibly the 1950s. Whenever it was, its location behind the sand hills, near the sea, next to a gravel car park, has probably always provided enough visitors to keep it open during the summer months, and the rest of the year when the weather allows. Buildings like these were much more common in my childhood. They've mostly been demolished, with some having been replaced by more substantial but less endearing structures. May this one sustain the passers-by for many more years to come!

Why is this photograph black and white? It's because I thought it suited the age of the building, and emphasised the busy detail of the subject.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Monday, February 20, 2006

A good old buoy from Fleetwood

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When I was a boy I could never spell buoy! I knew it rhymed with what I was, but I couldn't remember whether the "u" came before or after the "o"? It wasn't a major problem - the word doesn't crop up very often in childhood chat. But it did become an issue when it appeared in spelling tests set by perverse teachers!

Eventually I got it and all was well until I heard an American actor pronounce the word in a film. He said "Boo-i"! Once I'd worked out from the context what on earth he was talking about, all my childhood concerns returned. And they were compounded when, in another film, I heard the American hero, Jim Bowie - he of the eponymous knife - referred to as Jim "Boo-i"! It was puzzlement heaped on confusion. But, all's well that ends well. I eventually worked it all out and accepted that Americans go their own way on pronunciation as well as spelling.

This old buoy is exhibited near the ferry terminal in Fleetwood, Lancashire. It is big and orange - useful attributes for any buoy. However, when I came to photograph it I couldn't achieve a composition that satisfied me. The shape was great, but the background was confusing. So I decided to use just part of the buoy and set its deep orange against the blue sky and the nearby gorse bush. I quite like the result. However, I do have one reservation. My photograph makes the buoy look a bit like a cannon - perhaps the sort Jim Bowie would have used at the Alamo!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Sunday, February 19, 2006

A pink carnation

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"Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers - and never succeeding."
Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Russian-French painter

My wife received a bouquet of flowers the other day. Not from me. Not from an admirer! But from some colleagues at the place she had been working for several months. It was a kind thought, and as bouquets go it was fine - full and colour co-ordinated, with consideration given to leaves as well as blooms. But as a total experience it was all too much. There were striped flowers, plain flowers, big flowers and small, every one interesting in itself, but collectively seeming to cancel each other out.

We often have flowers in the house: daffodils, irises, tulips, chrysanthemums and the like. But when we buy them we usually display only one variety in a vase. And our definite favourites are red carnations (see January 16th post "Simply red"). They seem to complement our greenish decor, and give a big effect for a relatively small number of blooms. Restricting a vase to a single type and colour of flower concentrates the viewers eye on the beauty of that particular bloom. So, when I wanted to take some flower shots, I selected a single bloom from my wife's bouquet.

This photograph of a pink carnation is taken with the help of an achromatic close-up lens screwed onto the camera lens. It allows the camera to get closer, and in so doing lets us see a beauty in the bloom that we don't see from afar. I am particularly pleased with the confusion of petals and their "torn paper" edges. I also like the way the petals at the edge of the flower pick up the surrounding colours and complement the pink at the centre. When we look closely at a flower and see the loveliness in it we are forced to conclude that Chagall was right, flowers hold a beauty that man finds hard to match.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Saturday, February 18, 2006

A view across the roof tops

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" On the roof it's peaceful as can be,
And there the world below can't bother me."
from "Up on the Roof", Gerry Goffin & Carole King

When I was a child I lived in an eighteenth-century terraced house in a small country town. My bedroom window was next to the flat roof of a building bordering the courtyard of a coaching inn of a similar age. From that roof I could see the coming and going of the people down below, and the sparrows and starlings as they surveyed the courtyard for scraps of food. I felt very much like the person in Goffin & King's song - above and apart from everything happening below in the real world. It was a good feeling, a feeling of escape. As I grew older I found that walking on the hills and mountains gave me that same sense of release.

Those memories came back to me when I looked at this photograph that I took of the view across the city of Lancaster. The intruding chimneys belong to nearby eighteenth-century houses, and the domed tower with the clock is on the Town Hall. In the background are Victorian terraces curving up the hillside, and the whole scene is lit by February morning light, after a night of heavy rain. Living in hilly towns and cities is a quite different experience from living in those that are on the flat lands. The variety of views is much greater among the hills, and you get a better and quicker understanding of the topography, consequently it's harder to get lost! By contrast, in flat areas you have to remember where you are by the nearby streets and buildings alone. There is no hilltop landmark or slope to give you a bearing. I like hilly towns.

This photograph was taken from between Lancaster's Priory and Castle. These medieval buildings are at the summit of a defensible hill that has been built on since Roman times. There is a great view in whichever direction you look. I used a 300mm lens to select part of the view, and deliberately placed the big clocktower between foreground interest (the chimneys) and the background of houses.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Friday, February 17, 2006

What do you call it?

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How many euphemisms are there for the place where we spend a fair proportion of our lives getting rid of bodily waste? I don't know, but here are a few that come to mind - W.C., toilet, lavatory, men's, ladies', bathroom, rest room, bog, john, cloakroom, loo, khazi, thunder-box, facilities, heads, gents, necessary, powder room. I imagine you can think of others!

This variety of words is confusing and arises due to our bashfulness about giving an essential place a proper name. Isn't it odd how we are fixated and embarassed by necessary bodily functions? Furthermore, isn't this multiplicity of names a prime example of how the British and the Americans are divided by a common language?

However, I have always thought that non-English speaking visitors to Britain must be greatly puzzled by the signs outside certain doors in the street and in buildings that simply say "Gentlemen" or "Ladies". What can they imagine is behind such a door? A gathering of the genteel perhaps, or one of the exclusive clubs frequented by the likes of James Bond? And what would they make of this sign above the door of a small building near the pier at Kingston upon Hull? The word says "Gentlemen"but, to our twenty-first century sensibilities, the cartouche, scrolls and swags are decidedly feminine.

I took this photograph because of the way it illustrates how the municipalities of the early part of the twentieth century built to last. And how they routinely, and oddly, used motifs more commonly found on grand buildings, on more humble structures like this public toilet/lavatory/w.c. etc. The shot also shows the use of a word in a way that is rarely found today: "Mens" (without the required apostrophe!) is much more common now.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sentiment or sentimentality?

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All artists must be wary of the fine line that separates sentiment from sentimentality. However, since the artist's intentions are always subject to the viewers' comprehensions, what one person sees as a finely expressed sentiment, others will see as having tipped over into sentimentality. That problem has been associated with this stained glass. The photograph shows a detail of the Peveril Turnbull Memorial Window in the church of St Oswald in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. It was designed by Christopher Whall (1849-1924) in 1905, and commemorates three daughters who died in a fire.

Whall was one of the principal artists of the Arts & Crafts movement working in stained glass. He was a superb draughtsman of considerable personal and artistic integrity, and his work graces many churches throughout Britain. Perhaps his greatest achievement is the windows in the Lady Chapel of Gloucester Cathedral. These typify his style - deeply coloured glass set against areas of white, a gritty textured feel to the painting, figures drawn from life, and extremely inventive (often historically-based) decorative motifs.

Here at Ashbourne those artistic qualities can be seen. Yet some see the characterisations of the young people as martyr saints (the right figure represents St Dorothea with her roses), as inappropriate. And the criticism has been made that the conception is too "storybook", too perfect, too beautiful, too idealized. However, some of these criticisms may be problems attendant on any memorial to the death of young people. It is a hard subject to deal with, and provokes strong emotions. What do you think? Did Whall get it right in this window? Or has he crossed the line that separates sentiment from sentimentality?

One of the difficulties of photographing stained glass is that it is often at a high level. Pointing the camera upwards produces converging verticals in the window frame and tracery. Correcting this in software often distorts the proportions of the window and the objects depicted in the glass, and is particularly noticeable where the human figure is concerned. One way of overcoming this is to take the photograph from farther away with a long focal length lens on a tripod. That is the solution I adopted here.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Arches under a queen's house

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The Queen's House, Greenwich, was one of the first buildings to be built in England in a full-blown classical style. It is the work of Inigo Jones who designed it for Anne of Denmark, the consort of King James 1. Construction started in 1616. However, Anne died in 1619, and work stopped until 1629 when King Charles 1 gave the house to his new queen, Henrietta Maria. Jones finally completed the building in 1635.

The exterior of the building is well known: a white cuboid with elegantly curved twin stairs at one side, and a balcony at the other. It has been much imitated, and is said to have been an influence on the design of the White House in Washington. Today Queen's House is open to the public, showing furniture, paintings and other works of art.

My photograph shows a less well-known side, or rather underside, of the Queen's House. A public road ran under the building when it was first built, and this photograph shows the line that it took. Subsequent re-positioning of the road, and further building have removed nearly all traces of the route. The arches frame the view of a colonnaded walkway that is a later addition to the building. The symmetry of the scene, the arches leading to further arches, and the texture of the cobbles and the rusticated walls are what drew me into the photograph. I fancy that the scene has a hint of Piranesi about it, even though the house was built before the great draughtsman was born.

Symmetry is something I like, but I prefer it when it is marred in some way! Consequently the shaft of bright sunlight penetrating the depths of the building pleases me. The slightly jarring note that it adds, in my view, improves the shot considerably.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Winter shadows and silhouettes

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Many British photographers bemoan the onset of winter. The daylight hours become much shorter, so the time for being out with the camera is reduced. Even at midday the light levels are much lower than in summer, and ISO is usually bumped up, with the attendant quality hit. Winter light has an orange cast due to the sun being low, so you either have to accept that or do some post processing. Those are the main disadvantages. But there are some advantages at this time of year, and the one I like most is that low sun.

When you're out and about in winter you know that you're going to find good shadows that delineate objects clearly, and add drama and contrast to images. Silhouettes present themselves simply by pointing your camera towards the light. In summer you often have to search for these things, by rising early, or by being out when the sun is going down. In winter they are there when you want them - if the sun is shining!

This photograph of shadows and silhouettes at Morecambe, Lancashire, presented itself in the mid afternoon. A little bit of movement by me was all that was necessary to place the two main points of interest at opposite corners of the frame and give balance to the composition. The shadowed buildings, seawall, and gleaming highlights on the water add the rest of the interest to the shot.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Monday, February 13, 2006

An English churchyard

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"Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep."
from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", Thomas Gray

The churchyard at Painswick, Gloucestershire, is rather grander than the one Gray sat in to compose his famous "Elegy", but its yews and tombs characterise much that is pleasing about an English churchyard.

The tombs around this particular church are mainly of the box and pedestal type, decorated with scrolls, arches and angels, and date principally from the eighteenth century. The most striking, however, is a stone pyramid dated 1785, a time before the Egyptian style gained some popularity following Napoleon's excursions up the Nile. It is, however, the combination of tombs with yews - 99 of them - that make Painswick a special place. The trees are said to date from 1790, and it is reputed that a 100th yew will not grow! Yews are traditionally found in English churchyards, and many reasons have been put forward for this. Some say it was to deter cattle (the berries are poisonous): others say it was to provide a source of wood for the English longbow. Perhaps it is because the yew, being a particularly long-lived tree, represents immortality, and is therefore appropriate in a Christian context. Whatever the reason, Painswick's clipped yews make a fine sight.

The day was heavily overcast when I took this photograph, so I had to work for the shot. I took this view of the jumble of tombs through a section of the yews, with the background of stone-built houses, because the soft, dark lines of the trees contrast well with the straight edges and moulding of the Cotswold stone. But mainly I took it because it best represents the delightful experience of standing in the middle of this special churchyard.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Warning - art photograph!

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This shopping trolley, draped in seaweed, slowly appearing as the tide goes out in the mouth of the River Wyre near Knott End, Lancashire is ART. How do I know? Well, the famous French artist, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) maintained that anything can be art as long as it is taken out of its context. His "Bicycle Wheel" (1913) was just that - a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool and exhibited in a gallery. The artist exhibited other works using "ready-mades", his term for found industrial objects, including a signed porcelain urinal!

So, the shopping trolley is a "ready-made", it is out of context (unless a diver has been collecting a lot of kelp), and therefore it is art. Except it isn't. Because whoever threw it into the water did not intend it to be seen as art, and did not deliberately organise it in the way I saw it. However, my photograph might be art! Because I do intend it to be seen that way, and I am presenting it to you as such!

All joking aside, Duchamp is the artist ultimately responsible for the question, "What is art?", being so difficult to answer. Up until the start of the twentieth century both artists and the public had a fair idea of what constituted art, and their definitions were broadly similar - give or take the odd Impressionist or Whistler spat! Since Duchamp that hasn't been the case. Consequently I assert that my photograph is art (pretty bad art I agree), and, thanks to Duchamp, it's hard for you to gainsay me!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The bait digger's bike

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Which form of transport did most to extend the horizons of the common man? Most people would say the car, but, arguably, it was the bike. Until the Victorians perfected the "safety bicycle" most of the population never travelled farther from their home than the distance they could walk - say 20 miles. However, the bike extended this considerably, and it was soon not uncommon for cyclists to travel 100 miles in a day. When cycle touring became popular in the nineteenth century, many intrepid souls travelled the length and breadth of Britain, camping overnight, or staying at bed and breakfast accomodation. The rise of organized riding through associations like the Cyclists' Touring Club encouraged these developments, and cycling remained very popular as both transport and recreation right through into the 1950s. The subsequent decline is much to be deplored.

The photograph above represents a typical use for a bicycle today. Whilst I was photographing on Fleetwood beach I saw a man arrive with his bait digging equipment, lock his cycle to the slipway railings, and walk out onto the foreshore. The light was fading, and as I moved down under the pier the bike became a silhouette against the graduated sky. I moved toward the bike taking a photograph every 10 yards or so. This shot - the closest - is the best, mainly for how it delineates the component parts of the machine and the broken railings. Isn't it interesting how a silhouette encourages us to look more closely than we might with a well-lit photograph!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Friday, February 10, 2006

Significant form

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"Significant form" is the term the English art critic, Clive Bell (1881-1964), coined in his famous book on aesthetics, "Art" (1914). What he meant by it is "a combination of lines and colours (counting white and black as colours) that moves me significantly." Significant form, he further elaborated, "is the only quality common and peculiar to all the works of visual art that move me." Why he rejected the word "beauty" as unsatisfactory for describing this quality, he explains very clearly. Readers wanting to know more of his theories and views should click here. Those who think this sort of thing is airy-fairy nonsense should probably stop reading now!

I came across Bell's theories a number of years ago, and they came to mind again when I was looking at some photographs I had taken of a balustrade on a bridge in Stanley Park, Blackpool. I make no great claims for the artistic merit of this picture. However, it does have some qualities that please me. I think these derive from the repetition of a pleasing shape, the contrast and texture produced by the algal growth, the colour range of the photograph, the colours and shapes made by the ripples in the water, and the difference between the defined foreground and the less substantial background.

Sometimes it's extremely hard to describe the factors that make a particular photograph or work of art appealing. But it is worth trying because it enlarges our understanding of what artists do, and can help us to make better photographs and art ourselves. And sometimes the abstruse writings of cerebral critics, surprisingly, can help us in this as well!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Holiday glass

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The artist, Henry Holiday (1839 - 1927) deserves to be better known. His paintings, stained glass, and writing are invariably rewarding to look at, and show a very individual growth within the Pre-Raphaelite, Aesthetic and Arts & Craft movements. As a young painter he was influenced by, and knew, the principal Pre-Raphaelites - Millais, Rosetti, Burne-Jones, Holman Hunt - and received encouragement from John Ruskin.

In 1863 he began his work in stained glass when he joined Powell & Sons, taking over as chief designer from Edward Burne-Jones who had moved to William Morris' company. His visit to Italy in 1867 exposed him to the Renaissance masters, and their influence stayed with him. Journeys to Egypt, India and the United States later in his career also left their mark. His stained glass can be seen throughout the UK and in the US in New York, Washington and Richmond.

The glass shown here is in Muncaster Church, Cumbria, and dates from the 1880s. It is striking among English work for its large flattish areas of colour combined with light modelling elsewhere and strong lead outlining. This isn't a particular characteristic of Holiday: in fact his style changes markedly over the years, and I didn't realise the windows were by him when I first saw them. The "Rosetti" noses and mouths and the sensual line of the figures betray the Pre-Raphaelite influence, and the colours and compositions owe something to Burne-Jones. However, the total effect is Holiday's own, and quite beautiful.

Stained glass in Britain can be found dating from the 1100s (e.g. York Minster), through to the present day, and photographing it is interesting and rewarding. The most important requirement for a good result is under-exposure so that light areas of glass do not lose their definition. Spot metering can help here. A tripod is essential too (though the photograph above was hand-held at 1/40 second). The best sort of day to photograph stained glass is bright but cloudy: paradoxically, sunlight can be a real problem. Foliage and buildings outside the church can affect the brightness of areas of glass, particularly in the lower part of the window: again, white cloud is the best background. Post processing is helpful in matching colours, but good results are never going to be achieved without that essential underexposure!
photograph & text (c) T.Boughen

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Death in the countryside

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What feelings does this picture of dead moles hung on a barbed wire fence provoke in you? Revulsion? Sadness? Anger? In Britain today some suggest that these emotions will only be shared by people who live in towns and cities. They maintain that there is a difference in outlook, understanding and knowledge between people who live in the country and those who do not. Often these arguments are raised when defending country sports and pursuits - hunting with dogs, shooting, etc. - against those who seek to control such pastimes.

I don't think these differences exist. And in saying that I know that some will immediately think, "Ah, a bleeding-heart, liberal 'townie'." However, I was brought up in the country, and my father and his brothers worked on country estates as gamekeepers and foresters. But, I have lived in towns and cities too. And consequently I consider myself better qualified than most to give an informed view (as opposed to a self-interested one) on this matter. I find that in both urban and rural areas there are those who take opposing views on this argument, and that neither area has a monopoly of wisdom or understanding.

The killing and hanging of moles seems to continue due to inertia rather than need. Yes, they can spoil the appearance and evenness of pastures, but realistically, how much grass is lost to their little hills of earth. Like most wildlife, their population is largely self-limiting. And, the hanging of them is simply to demonstrate that the gamekeeper or mole catcher is doing his job. Surely no one really believes, as I did as a child, that the sight of them will deter other moles!

I took this picture for the shame it represents. I was going to photograph just the bodies in a row, but felt that including some surroundings - fencing, post and background - gave added visual interest. It also places the death of these inoffensive little creatures firmly in a pleasant rural setting, and this contrast heightens the feelings that I had when I saw them hanging there - revulsion, sadness and anger.
photograph & text (c) T.Boughen

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Who's never photographed a swan?

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Alright, hands up! Who's never photographed a swan? We all do it don't we - except you at the back pretending to be above such a thing? And we all know it's about the corniest picture you can take. But we just can't help ourselves, can we!

However, I've been thinking. Why should we apologise for snapping swans? They are the biggest, whitest, most beautiful birds, with that superb flash of colour on the beak. Watch them sailing along, looking like kings and queens of the water, maintaining a slow, calm, quiet dignity in all they do. Well, except taking off and landing on the ground - these actions look like a struggle followed by a controlled tumble! And they are so obliging. They perform like catwalk models. "You want me sailing left? Certainly sir". "Sailing right with neck sensuously curved - how's this?" "Wings raised and feathers fluffed? There you are sir." "A little closer to fill the frame? Is this near enough?"

I suppose that's the problem. Because swans seem to be putting on a permanent show, regardless of what they are doing, they are photographed t0 death! And it's hard to find a new take on the swan photograph. Here's my attempt above. Out of the many shots I fired off, this is the best. Nothing special, I grant you. But I did like the symmetry that's slightly broken by the regal turn of the head and the shadow of the neck. Mainly I liked the heart shape made by the raised wings. Perhaps the shot would be suitable for a Valentine's Day card. Now that would be really corny!
photograph & text (c) T.Boughen

Monday, February 06, 2006

The patina of ages

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In the introduction to his wonderful guidebook, "English Parish Churches", the author John Betjeman, writes, "The parish churches of England are even more varied than the landscape." Visitors to England, if they travel reasonably widely, often remark that the the surroundings change markedly in character over small distances - from fens to rolling pastures, from wolds to heather moors, from mountains to sandy beaches. And in between villages, towns and cities tumble over each other. Churches feature prominently in most rural and urban locations, but I do wonder if the variety in them is as apparent to the untrained eye as it is to someone who loved these buildings as deeply as Betjeman.

Does the visitor to England appreciate the differences between, say, the small, almost dour churches of the Lake District, and the cantatas in stone of south Lincolnshire? And what do they notice of a church like St James at Shipton, Shropshire (above)? Like the majority of English churches it comprises a west tower, nave, lower chancel and south porch. It looks comfortingly familiar, even commonplace. But do they see the four hundred and fifty years separating the building of the nave and chancel, or the weather boarding of the tower, or the original metalwork in the windows? Probably not, and who can blame them. Such knowledge can only be acquired slowly, over time.

What they will see, as I did when I took this photograph, is a beautiful, interesting shape, wearing the patina of years, in an early morning churchyard of snowdrops and tombs. I took this photograph from the south east corner of the church, the classic location for photographing English churches. This position allows the camera to explain the building, and leads the eye from the east window, down the chancel, past the nave (taking in the south porch), to the culminating west tower. It invariably produces a satisfying image, and I believe it does here.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Piel Ferry

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A chieftain to the Highlands bound,
Cries, "Boatman, do not tarry!
And I'll give thee a silver pound
To row us o'er the ferry!"

Many readers "of a certain age" will recognise the stirring opening verse of Thomas Campbell's poem "Lord Ullin's Daughter". It came to mind, having lain dormant since my schooldays, as I looked at the photograph above. However, this ferry is not in the Highlands. It has just travelled from Piel Island near Barrow-in-Furness and is landing at nearby Roa Island. And fortunately the boatman did not have to bend his back to the oars: a marine diesel helped him across the incoming tide in the Walney Channel. Piel Island is only a few acres in extent and comprises the ruins of a medieval castle, a pub and a few houses. It makes a fine sight located between Roa and Walney Island.

The ferry is the only means of getting to Piel Island, and it takes passengers to and fro as demand dictates. The building on legs beyond is a new RNLI lifeboat station. These two form the subject of my photograph and give interest to the foreground and background. Getting balance in the composition was quite difficult given the strong diagonals, so I put the ferry to the right of the frame. The pile of life-belts and the red coat of one of the passengers are welcome and important points of colour in this predominantly blue/grey scene. I was pleased to be able to capture this scene that must have been played out since the time Piel Castle was built in the fourteenth century. Long may the ferry continue to cross the water.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Royal Navy's finest!

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The photograph above shows the Royal Navy's latest warship on a visit to Fleetwood last year. "HMS Blackpool" is a back-pocket battleship featuring the most modern technology. Offensive capability includes twin guns and anti-ship missiles mounted above the bridge, with torpedo tubes located either side of the bow. Other weaponry includes a state-of-the-art lighting array covering the ship which is also pretty offensive when turned on at night. What might look like a rack of blue depth charge launchers is actually the back of the captain's sun-lounger. The modern navy believes that a tanned captain can tan anyone's hide. A yellow rescue helicopter is based on a platform high above the stern and the eyes of the ship are the all-seeing radar array based on the advanced model used by International Rescue to support their "Thunderbirds" fleet.

I interviewed the commander of HMS Blackpool, Captain Cudgel, and he told me that he was generally delighted with his new vessel. He was particularly proud of the short, high-tech metal "plank" inserted in the side of the ship. "It's about time we reintroduced the plank", he said with a wicked smile. "You don't have to use it: just knowing it's there improves the crew's discipline no end." However, he did have a reservation about the number of windows. "It makes us look like a damned cruise liner!", he foamed. He explained that they had been inserted at the insistence of the Ministry of Defence. Apparently many new recruits, enlisting through the advertisement "Join the Navy and see the world", were complaining that all they had seen were bulkheads. "I have no time for the whingeing of cosseted youth. They're damned lucky we don't still use the cat!", he snarled.

Captain Cudgel was at pains to explain that any resemblance between his warship and a converted tram used in September and October during Blackpool's festival of lights known as "The Illuminations", was entirely coincidental!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Friday, February 03, 2006

Under the pier

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Piers are an endangered species. A legacy of the Victorians, piers are steadily declining in numbers (and length) each year. That's a shame because there's something magical about a walk down a long pier when the tide is in. It really does get near to the feeling of being at sea - but without the sea sickness! However, their day is long past, and those that survive are often doing so on a precarious commercial basis, sometimes supplemented by heritage grants.

Fleetwood Pier is the most northerly of five piers on the Fylde coast: there are three in Blackpool and one in St Annes. It was the last to be built in what is known as the "golden age" of pier building (1860-1910). Though it was first proposed in 1892, it wasn't until 1910 that it opened. The structure was originally 492 feet (150m) long, but a major fire in 1952, followed by some rebuilding, has reduced the length substantially. Fleetwood pier is currently being run as a commercial proposition after some years in the doldrums. Long may it continue.

This photograph was taken below the pier on a January morning when the sun was low in the east. The silhouettes of the columns and cross-bracing make a pattern of strong shapes, with a more delicate note being added by the filigree of tangled lines and netting. Since the blue backdrop of sea and sky is not enough to complete the photograph, I was careful to include the distant red buoy. Without this small patch of strong colour there is no photograph!

Incidentally, the composition is based on the same principles as in my post of two days ago, "The Devil's invention."
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Seeing double

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Many years ago I was talking to some people about my home town. It turned out that they drove through it regularly on their way to their parents' house. "Yes, we know it", they said, "That's the place with the church on the right hand side of the road that looks like it's full of water." Well, I was puzzled. There is a church where they described, but "full of water?" However, the next time I went to my parents' home I looked with fresh eyes at that church, and yes, I coud see what they meant! The windows had green stained glass, and if you looked at the building in a certain way you could well think it was full of sea water.

This photograph of a street light that I took in Garstang, Lancashire, reminded me of that conversation. The strikingly thrown shadow makes the light look like, it too, is full of water. I imagine the effect is due to imperfections in the glass. Quirky occurences of this sort appeal to me, as do strong forms and shadows. I decided to shoot the upper part of the light simply because that is where the visual interest lies. I could have wished for there to be no wires, but they are there, so I have to live with them! Black and white seemed right for this shot too, because it accentuates the original qualities of the photograph.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Devil's invention

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"Barbed wire is the Devil's own invention!" My late uncle's comment on this ubiquitous strand of misery has often come to mind, usually when I've snagged my jacket, scored my boot, or cut my leg negotiating it. I suppose that, being a veteran of the second world war, and having spent most of his life as a gamekeeper, he had a close-up working relationship with the material. What he would have thought of barbed wire's modern offspring - razor wire - a development designed to be deployed solely against people, I can only imagine.

The photograph above was taken from a footpath bordering a large commercial premises. Not content with a closely spaced galvanised fence with tops shaped and cut to deter or lacerate intruders, the owners have garlanded it with razor wire. And they've further supplemented their security with 24-hour daytime in the form of column-mounted floodlights. Perhaps the problem of intruders is such that all this has been found necessary. But, it's hard to imagine that's so, particularly since other parts of the perimeter are much less well defended. Isn't it a truism that a fence is only as strong as its weakest spot?

I took this photograph to represent one view of where we are in twenty first century Britain: a point in time where, apparently, property is king, and any means are permissible in its defence. What comes next after razor wire? Armed guards? Exploding booby traps? There will be those who see all this as a necessary response to crime. But even they must acknowledge that we've come to a pitiful state when razor wire is a common feature of our surroundings.

I took a few shots of the fencing, but settled on this one with the off-centre, out of focus lights. The highlight of orange/yellow is an essential focal point of the composition. It is a good contrast with the blue/silver of the rest of the picture, and gains strength by being a complementary colour to the blue. The fact that the rolls of wire form a string of hearts adds a poignant note to the picture.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen