Saturday, March 17, 2007

Goodbye PhotoReflect, Hello PhotoQuoto

After 310 posts I've decided to draw a line under PhotoReflect. At the moment I can't muster the time to write the "reflections"! So, I've started a new, considerably less labour-intensive blog - PhotoQuoto.

Thanks to everyone for the interest and comments over the past 15 months. I hope you enjoy my new venture. If you give it a try be sure to leave a comment.

The address is PhotoQuoto (

Regards, Tony

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Simple things

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"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking", John Masefield (1878-1967), English poet

I find it both a wonder and a delight that, despite the technological progress that mankind makes, people still cling to the simple things in life. Take the bicycle. It is frequently voted the favourite invention of all time, yet it remains, essentially, the same classic, human-powered design that was perfected in the nineteenth century. Sinclair C5s and Segways may come and go, but the humble bicycle rolls on, evolving in small ways, but never forsaking its fundamental features.

So too with sail boats. I suppose paddled canoes came first in evolutionary terms. But it can't have been long before an alert sailor noticed the wind's effect on his upright body, and from there it would have been a small step to rigging up a sail. So, sail-powered boats of one sort or another must have been around for millennia. And they still are. The delight that sailors get from being propelled by the wind, from learning how to sail against it, and from feeling at one with the elements is palpable to anyone who has watched dinghies whizzing over the water. Yes, you can go faster with an outboard, and there is a certain sort of person to whom the motorcycle of the waves - the jet-ski - is the ultimate thrill. But the fun of slapping through the water accompanied by the sound of flapping sails remains a draw to sailors young and old.

The dinghies of the Blackpool & Fleetwood Yacht Club on the tidal River Wyre at Skippool race when the water is high. This area of estuary with its wildlife, mudflats, reedbeds and saltmarsh is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Yet the gentle passage of the dinghies and even the larger yachts create little disturbance, and the plants and animals co-exist happily with their human neighbours. I took this contre jour photograph early one morning as the dinghies were being readied on the slipway prior to launching at high tide. The cloud and vapour trail patterns, the light through the sails, and the silhouettes presented an evocative sight. I recorded it with a wide zoom lens at 22mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f8 at 1/2000 second), ISO 100, with -1.0EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Walking and computers

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There seems to be a general feeling that computers are good for democracy. Supporters of this viewpoint cite the Chinese government's restriction of its citizens' access to the internet as telling evidence of the proposition. And it's undoubtedly true that they give the individual in a society access to information, the means to manipulate and interpret it, and the power to communicate with the like-minded and our politicians.

However, computers can also be used in an anti-democratic way too. Most notably they allow governments, through the amassing and manipulating of data, to believe that they are in a better position to direct and organise society, than are local people and local politicians: they are a dangerous, centralising force. Take the current panic over childhood obesity. The government has collected data, is collecting more, and has come up with an answer - more physical activity in schools. Surely I'm not alone in thinking that if overweight children is the problem, then making them jump about in schools isn't the answer. But, computers in the government's education department know, to the minute (they think), how much physical activity school children undertake each week, and it's not enough! So the decree went out that all, throughout the country, should receive a minimum of two hours weekly during school time. Money was spent, organisers were appointed, and a grand strategy involving webs of high schools with feeder primaries were urged into action. It will have virtually no effect! Child obesity will only be solved by deep-seated life-style changes that include eating better and eating less, and walking and cycling more. This involves government leaning on food companies, planning for bikes and pedestrians, restricting cars, and yes, education, but in the widest sense. However, those strategies don't make politicians very popular. It's much easier to have a grand, trumpeted, school-based initiative and look like you're doing something!

One thing I've started to notice is that when I go walking the majority of the people I see doing it for pleasure are "older" people. If I go to the "honey-pot" locations like the Lake District, the balance shifts towards the younger end, and organised groups of children and young teens can be seen. But elsewhere it's mainly the "oldies" - like my wife and I - people for whom walking has been a lifelong way of getting about, and a source of enjoyment. The photograph shows my wife climbing a stile over a limestone wall on Gigglewick Scars in the Yorkshire Dales. I framed the shot so the wall acts as a line leading to the figure, or from the figure into the surroundings. The image was taken with a wide zoom lens at 44mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f6.3 at 1/400 second), ISO 100, with -1.0EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Friday, March 09, 2007

No, no to retro!

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The success of the "new" Mini has been trumpeted in the press in recent days. It seems to be selling very well and production is to be increased. Commentators like it and, apparently, so do the car-buying public. I don't! My view of this car is the same as my thinking on the "new" VW Beetle - they are shams: pale imitations of the vehicles that they are designed to echo, and based on a corrupt design principle.

Alec Issigonis, the designer of the original Mini had a clear brief to make a small, mass-produced, inexpensive vehicle. He succeeded by being innovatory. The new car had to fit in a space 10 feet X 4 feet X 4 feet, the passenger cell had to be at least 6 feet long, and it had to use an existing engine. The designers came up with a monocoque shell, mounted the engine transversely, and gave it front-wheel drive. The wheels at each corner conferred great stability and handling, and the firm ride came from the use of rubber cones instead of conventional springs. Other innovations like welded seams, sliding windows and external hinges kept the cost down and contributed to a quirky and appealing aesthetic. Despite its cost being initially more than was intended people wanted to buy it, and it became a great success. By contrast the "new" Mini simply apes the appearance and details of the old car, and uses the same bog standard designs found on every new car. Retro and copyist styling of this sort shows lazy, bankrupt thinking. It's like building a mock-Georgian house in the twenty-first century. Why would you do it? People should build for now. They should create designs of their own time and push forward, not look back!

What, you're probably thinking, has this got to do with a shelter on the Blackpool's North Shore - all pediments, cartouches and ornate iron brackets. Well, new shelters have been built on the South Shore that completely disregard old designs of this sort. And, further up the coast new, modern shelters are appearing as part of Cleveleys' new sea-defences. No one thought for a moment to create shelters that looked like, or drew their inspiration from examples such as the one in the photograph. This shelter is of its time, is not without distinction, but certainly isn't of today. Car designers need to take note!

I took this shot on cold sunny day when the biting wind made a cliff-top walk a challenge rather than a pleasure. But that didn't stop the determined, two of whom I included in my image. I placed the shelter very slightly off centre to balance the people, and post-processed in contrasty black and white to emphasise the strong forms. The photograph was taken with a medium zoom lens at 36mm (35mm equivalent) with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f7.1 at 1/320 second), ISO 100, with -1.3EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What goes around comes around

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No one who knows me would say I was at the leading edge of fashion. I search out boring, sludge-coloured clothes and moan if I can't find the same garments from one decade to the next. And yet, I was wearing trainers as casual footwear in 1970! I suppose someone will tell me that wasn't unusual back then, so to bolster my credentials (I think!) I will say they were white with turquoise stripes, were made by Dunlop, and they definitely weren't black and white baseball boots (which were quite fashionable at the time).

That's probably the last occasion I was in fashion. However, I do notice fashion, even if I don't wear it, and I'm now old enough to see styles and colours coming round for the second or third time. I went to buy a lampshade the other day. The shop I entered offered any colour you liked as long as it was beige. On display nearby were cushions in various shades of brown, cream, or brown and cream. Ah, I thought - we're back in the 1970s again! I'm also old enough to know that an object becomes fashionable as soon as everyone's got rid of the old, out-moded version. I predicted that stained glass details in house windows would make a come-back in the 1980s and 1990s, because in the 1970s people were throwing the Victorian and 1930s versions away with great disdain. But, I wouldn't have predicted the re-appearance of the mortar and pestle in kitchens. I'm sure there is a high-tech kitchen gizmo that whines and grinds and produces what this old-fashioned pairing does. Yet, many kitchens I know have a copy of the original article, including my own! Truly, what goes around, comes around.

The other week, I thought I'd combine 1970s colours with a shot of our mortar and pestle. I set up this still-life to provide an assortment of textures, colours, tones and shapes. As with recent images I put the collection on a mirror, and lit it with an on-camera TTL flash bounced off a home-made reflector. I used a 70mm macro lens (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f18 at 1/80 second), ISO 100, with -1.0EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In praise of the dying

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"When a dead tree falls the woodpeckers share in its death", Malayan proverb

In the past fortnight I have read a couple of newspaper articles lamenting the increasing amount, and persistence, of litter in the UK. In the most recent piece three journalists visited three cities - Edinburgh, Manchester and London - to see if litter was as bad as the original author claimed. Interestingly they reported that they were fairly clean! But these examples notwithstanding, it is easy to find areas that are unkempt, with plastic bags being one of the main causes of pollution.

The Irish Republic recently banned plastic bags with great effect on the appearance of the country. The free-trade flag-wavers of the main UK political parties seem unable to do anything as radical or as environmentally-friendly as this. And yet nowadays they all claim green credentials! What puzzles me however, is how on the one hand we have a litter problem, and on the other we have obsessive tidier-uppers in the countryside. Farmers, it seems, can't wait to trim (or should I say smash) hedges into rectilinear regimentation, and many old trees are grubbed up before they can fall on someone's head precipitating a legal action. Returning to the UK from nearby continental countries one is immediately struck by the orderliness of the countryside. I appreciate that this appeals to many people. However I do sometimes feel that many of our self-styled guardians of the countryside are still too over-enthusiastic in their desire for order, at the expense of wildlife and landscape.

So, when I saw these two old trees near Skippool, Lancashire, hanging on to life despite the seasonal flooding of the field in which they grow, I thought "Hooray". I was glad for the visual interest they give to the spot, for the dinners that their rotting wood gives to insect and bird life, and I was pleased that they had been either overlooked or valued as part of the landscape. Their reflections and silhouettes against the cold morning light cried out for a photograph. I used a zoom lens at 142mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera on Aperture Priority (f8 at 1/500 second), ISO 100, with -0.7EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Language and confusion

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The pleasure to be found in language is limitless. You can learn history through language, conceive beauty by arranging it well in poetry and prose, better express yourself by understanding it more, create humour playing with it, and reveal your own ignorance by uttering just a few words!

In, I think, the 1970s, at the height of frosty relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, I heard a senior US politician being interviewed by the BBC. He was complaining that the Soviets weren't negotiating in good faith, and were putting obstacles in the way of reducing tension between the two super-powers. "You know", he said, embarking on what he saw as a clinching argument, "it's significant that the Russian language doesn't have a word for detente." I wanted the interviewer to point out that neither does United States English, which is why it borrowed one from the French! But he didn't, and the moment passed. But not without my concern about the safety of the world ratcheting up one more notch!

On another, more recent occasion I was talking to a young boy, newly arrived in England from Malaysia. We were talking about the differences between his country and England, and in the course of our conversation I asked if, during his weekend exploration, he'd enjoyed the pier. He paused before answering, and then politely told me that he'd enjoyed everything he'd laid eyes on, and that England was a fine country with many wonderful sights. It took me a few moments to realise that he thought I was using the word "peer", meaning "to look searchingly"- an understandable confusion by someone young whose first language wasn't English, and who clearly was doing well in it! The homophones of the English language can be decidely baffling.

Today's photograph is of the pier (as in a long structure on legs extending over water!) at St Anne's, Lancashire. I was taking a few shots of it at the end of the day, and captured this one of a figure walking in front of the ironwork. I liked the bold and delicate silhouettes making lattice-work across the orange glow of evening. My camera had a long zoom lens at 226mm (35mm equivalent), and was set to Aperture Priority (f6.3 at 1/1000 second), ISO 100, with -0.7EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Monday, March 05, 2007

This bike is rubbish!

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The first two-wheeler bicycle that I ever owned was assembled by my father. He took an old steel frame, stripped, it painted it, then fixed all the other components to it. A few parts he bought: some he re-used. There was a time when bicycles were repeatedly recycled! But no more. Today bicycles seem to be "use once" consumer items, much like electronic goods, furniture, and virtually anything else you care to name.

How did this situation come about? Why is a machine that has the potential to last a lifetime, with occasional component replacements, now something to be thrown away after a few years' use? I suppose the fact that western societies are richer is part of the answer. The days when a bicycle was an expensive item are (enthusiast machines excepted) long gone. Manufacture in low-labour cost economies has also had the effect of reducing the price. The use of shorter life alloy components and frames means that they wear out quicker. Furthermore, the increasing complexity of gears, and the introduction of frippery like suspension has made them less user-serviceable. Put all that together, and a scuffed, broken, or otherwise non-functioning machine is thrown away rather than repaired! And that's sad. The bicycle is an environmentally-friendly form of transport that becomes an environmental problem if its life is short. It can also become litter, like this bicycle revealed by the receding tide at Cleveleys, Lancashire.

I took this photograph just as the water had flowed away from the bike, and placed the image in the middle of the frame, knowing that its shape and the background would introduce considerable asymmetry. I used a wide zoom lens at 22mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f7.1 at 1/200 second), ISO 100, with -0.3EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Thoughts from a churchyard

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"Nowhere probably is there more true feeling, and nowhere worse taste, than in a churchyard", Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893), Master of Balliol College, Oxford, and theologian

Sometimes it seems that Victorian churchyards are all anguished angels, mournful maidens, painful prose, columns, urns, railings and pediments, with the occasional oddity like a downcast dog thrown in for good measure. It's perhaps this aspect of funerary sculpture that Jowett had in mind when he penned the words above. Visit a church of the second half of the nineteenth century in East Lancashire or West Yorkshire, and it often seems that taste, gravitas and discretion were unknown to the memorial masons and their patrons. The visual experience is by turns, opulent, muscular and cloying, local stone vying for attention with imported marbles. But it isn't always so.

Go to a graveyard of a century earlier, and the Georgian tombs speak of a combination of elegance and earthiness. On stones made almost exclusively of local materials, cherubs, garlands and cartouches rub shoulders with cadavers, skulls and bones. The verse is sometimes just as sentimental, but the lettering has sinuous flicks and flourishes that please the eye far more than the boldly incised, almost mechanical regularity that the Victorians prized. Perhaps too, the Georgian churchyard benefits from the patina of the extra century, and the greater spacing of the tombs. Today's photograph shows the surroundings of St Chad's, Poulton le Fylde, Lancashire. The church is an ancient building reflecting the construction of generations. A late medieval tower has a Georgian nave attached, with a semi-circular Victorian chancel and apse at the east end. The graveyard has tombs from the last four hundred years, and in the twentieth century had many of the later ones cleared. Each spring the church is surrounded by a multitude of crocuses. This draws admiring townsfolk, visitors and, inevitably, photographers. In the twenty years I have lived here I have never photographed this locally famous spring scene. This year I did! I have a feeling that Benjamin Jowett would have approved of this interesting approach to churchyard management. My image was captured with a wide zoom lens at 38mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f7.1 at 1/320 second), ISO 100, with -1.0 EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Fog and photography

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"It is not the clear-sighted who rule the world. Great achievements are accomplished in a blessed, warm fog", Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), Polish-born author

Fog is much used as a metaphor. Its literal obscurity and lack of clarity, the way it can bewilder and confound our senses and lead to confusion, is often used by writers to illuminate and illustrate their poetry and prose. In the quotation above Conrad uses it to explain a truth that we often forget in our awe and adulation of the "great and good" - that great triumphs are often achieved despite rather than because of the actions of the protagonists who are often shielded from the reality of the situation by blissful ignorance!

I suppose that if you live in an area that is prone to fog - say Newfoundland - you might well wish for less of it. But if, as in the UK, it is a meteorological phenomenon of the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", with occasional visitations at other times of year, then its appearance can be enchanting. For the photographer fog presents great opportunities: the horizon is suddenly very near; the silence that appears to accompany the arrival of fog, and the indistinctness of objects on the periphery of vision seems to make you depend more on your eyes. Colour is beautifully muted by fog, and silhouettes present themselves in places where they never do in clear daylight.

My photograph of this yacht, undergoing some refurbishment, fastened to a jetty in the tidal reaches of the River Wyre at Skippool, Lancashire, would normally have a background of river, distant riverbank and more distant hills and sky. It would be quite a busy backdrop. However the fog has removed all this visual clutter to leave simple, strongly outlined shapes against a soft, moist background. In fact, the fog has given me the chance of a better image than I would usually get at this location. I decided to simplify a little more by presenting the shot in black and white to give greater emphasis to the shapes. For this image I used a wide zoom lens at 22mm (35mm equivalent), and set the camera to Aperture Priority (f8 at 1/400 second), ISO 100, with -1.0EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Friday, March 02, 2007

Flotsam and jetsam

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"Don't be a sinner, be a binner!", anti-beach litter slogan devised by a school student

The Irish Sea is an almost land-locked body of water. It is connected to the Atlantic Ocean in the south by the narrow St George's Channel between the Pembroke coast of Wales and Rosslare in Ireland. To the north the aptly named North Channel between the Mull of Galloway in Southern Scotland and Larne in Northern Ireland is the linking point. However, these are fairly tight straits, and therefore any item dropped into the Irish Sea has a good chance of circulating in those waters for a long time.

One consequence of this is that the sea and many of the bordering beaches have accumulations of natural and man-made debris - flotsam and jetsam. Nowhere is this more true than between Rossall Point and the mouth of the River Wyre near Fleetwood. Here the tides, winds and currents of Morecambe Bay deposit fish boxes, plastic bottles, tree trunks, fishing nets, and countless other items of detritus from land and sea. Yesterday I saw two gas bottles and three large orange fishing floats! The Marine Conservation Society's annual survey shows this beach to have copious and increasing amounts of debris. This mirrors the general MCS findings that over the past 10 years beach litter in the UK has increased by 80%. The "top twenty" items of beach litter make interesting (and depressing) reading. Interestingly, to the south of Rossall Point the beaches suffer much less. Flotsam and jetsam must pass through these waters, but the scouring action of the sea ensures that it isn't deposited in the same quantities as it is further north. With the exception, it seems, of rope and netting! These droppings from inshore trawlers and other ships frequently snag and decorate the piers, groynes and railings of the Fylde Coast. And, whilst fifty years ago this debris would have been made from natural materials, and consequently degraded quite quickly, today much of it is man-made, long-lasting and luridly coloured! It is, therefore, not surprising to find that rope, cord and net is the second most commonly found litter on UK beaches, accounting for 10% of the total amount.

My photograph shows some of this sea-borne waste wrapped around the chain railings of a Cleveleys "slade" (the local name for a slipway). Now, regardless of the fact that it is essentially "rubbish", I have to admit that the achingly bright orange and the subtler turquoise of the polypropylene, alongside the drab natural hemp, bring colour and interest to this image. In fact they make it! To capture the shot I used a wide zoom lens at 34mm (35mm equivalent) with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f8 at 1/200 second), ISO 100, with -0.3EV.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Thursday, March 01, 2007


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It's cloud illusions I recall,
I really don't know clouds, at all.
Joni Mitchell (1943- ), Canadian singer, songwriter, painter

Leaving people aside, what would you say is the most beautiful sight on earth? Flowers? Birds? A favourite landscape? Or perhaps a particular work of art? There is certainly beauty in all those areas, but, if pushed, I would undoubtedly nominate the loveliness of clouds.

In many parts of the world clouds are an almost daily presence, and in some areas are a constant that people try to wish away. Perhaps it's this familiarity that makes people overlook their allure. Yet, if you lie on your back on a summer day, with a fresh breeze blowing endlessly forming and re-forming cumulus clouds across an azure sky, you can re-capture something of the sense of beauty and wonder that you probably experienced as a child, when you took more notice of clouds. Scientists have systematised clouds into types grouped by the height at which they are found. If you know something of this then you'll probably recognise stratus, cirrus, cumulo nimbus, and possibly the many other variants. But an appreciation of clouds can exist independently of any knowledge. Their beauty lies in the way the light illuminates them and pierces them, in the colours that they show at different times of day, in the contrast they make with the background sky and the land below, and in the changing shapes that bring endless delight to anyone who cares to look. It seems I'm not alone in my admiration for clouds. An organisation of enthusiasts - The Cloud Appreciation Society - has over seven and a half thousand members! Here you can read what John Ruskin had to say about the beauty of the sky.

My photograph shows clouds over the sea near Lytham windmill, Lancashire. The sun is trying to force its way through the rain-bearing, swirling mass, but with little success. I emphasised the yellow tinge to increase the dramatic effect, and gave a blue complementary tint to the rest of the image. This isn't a photograph of the scene as it actually appeared to me - it is a picture I have created out of the component parts, and that I have altered to give a melancholy, possibly spectral, mood. I used a wide zoom lens at 44mm (35mm equivalent), with the camera set to Aperture Priority (f7.1 at 1/2000 sec), ISO 100. I dialled in -1.3 EV to capture the detail of the brightest part of the clouds and to give a silhouette effect to the buildings and people.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen