Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflecting on washing the dishes

click photo to enlarge
On what should I end the photographic year? Which would be the most apposite subject for the last image of 2009? Those thoughts were going through my head as I stood at the sink washing up after the turkey, roast potatoes, sprouts and the rest of the Christmas meal, listening to my newly acquired Nina Simone CD. I spend quite a bit of time pondering life, the universe, everything (and the blog) as I plunge my hands into the suds, and scrub the china. Even though we have an automated servant in the form of an electrical dishwasher, there are times when "man-draulic" action is required. I sometimes think that washing up has taken the place of my drive to and from work: it is a time for reflection, focusing on the important things of life, and putting the pressing but inconsequential bits in their place.

And, it works! In fact what came from this period of quiet reflection, as I listened to Nina sing "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine" - all titles with resonance for a regular blogger - was the subject of the final photograph of the year. It started with the difficulty of removing the cooked-on pieces of turkey from the tray on which it had been roasted. My usual tools were making no impression, so I placed it on the worktop, applied abrasive powder detergent and went at it with a damp scouring pad. As I leaned into my work I noticed that the, by now, liquid detergent was leaving swirls and swashes like those made by a large wet paintbrush on paper. Experimenting I found that I could make shapes that appeared three-dimensional, ones that recalled Munch's "The Scream", others that brought to mind Hokusai's "Great Wave of Kanagawa", and even Abstract -Expressionist works. So, I grabbed my small camera, and between strokes took several shots of my handiwork, three of which I present in the form of a "triptych." So pleased am I with my original artwork that I'm thinking of submitting it for the 2010 Turner Prize. Or perhaps not!

Now I imagine a few of you - and it will be only a few because not many can have made it this far in today's post - are wondering whether or not I got my dirty tray clean. It pains me and shames me to admit that I didn't, and that my wife had to complete my work (and achieve the required pristine finish). At this point I imagine quite a few of my female readers are shaking their heads knowingly, muttering, "Typical man - playing about with his camera instead of doing the washing up properly." And yes, once again I'm guilty as charged.

Happy New Year!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2
Shutter Speed: 1/20
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cars, styling and water droplets

click photo to enlarge
Elsewhere in this blog I've confessed to having little interest in cars except their price, utility, safety and economy. However, the way in which they are designed and styled does have a certain fascination for me, as much for the sociological and psychological reasons, as for the engineering and aesthetics angle.

The other day I was out shopping when the sight of a new Ford Fiesta set me thinking. In recent years Ford appear to have steered two divergent paths with their European models. The original Focus and Ka were styled to be different and eyecatching, but with the Mondeo and the newer Focus they opted for bland inoffensiveness. However, as I looked at the most recent incarnation of the Fiesta it occurred to me that this was styled as a "me too" car. By that I mean Ford's stylists had looked at the trends in small hatchbacks - the small Peugeots, Mazdas, Vauxhall/Opels, etc. and come up with a shape that says, "don't forget we've got one of those too!" It has the same "going fast when standing still" appearance, the elongated headlights, and the bodywork curves, bumps and flicks of the rest of the leaders of that market sector. I've always felt that "me too" is one of the two main approaches to car styling. The other is "look at me", a course that is adopted by all sectors of the market, though mainly the top and bottom - think Rolls Royce, Ferrari, Lamborghini, BMW, but also Fiat Multipla (first incarnation), Kia Soul, Honda Civic (current), and Smart Fortwo.

But then, as I considered the Fiesta a little more I realised that it wasn't falling neatly into either of the two main categories of styling - it was aiming to be both "me too" and "look at me". Maybe that's the reason I'm not keen on it : it falls betwixt and between. Though I must say that, as far as I'm concerned, body styling that doesn't say "functional" before anything else rarely gets my vote, and never gets my money.

Today's photographs are two views of a Porsche Boxster S that regularly parks next to my house. Not the sort of vehicle I'd ever want, need or buy, but it clearly has appeal for my son. One morning, as I fed the birds, I noticed that the overnight rain was liquid on its bonnet and still frozen on its boot, so I popped back in for my camera and took these two quick shots for the colours, lines, lighting and textures that the car offered.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1 (Photo 2)
Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/100 (1/200)
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

click photo to enlarge
"And the first tree in the greenwood, it was the holly"
from "Sans Day Carol"

A very Merry Christmas and a prosperous and healthy new year to all who pass this way regularly, sporadically, or even accidentally.

I've "shut up shop" - to use an English colloquialism - for a few days. Normal service will be resumed around the turn of the year (or maybe a little before).

Today's photograph shows some snow covered holly, with its bright red berries, against an afternoon sky that is blue turning to cyan. I post it for its seasonal associations (at least in Northern Europe and North America), and because in yesterday's post about Christmas carols I neglected to mention one of my favourites. The "Sans Day Carol" is a traditional song of Cornish origin. "Sans Day" is a corruption of St Day, the village in Cornwall where the song was first heard. This carol, like "The Holly and the Ivy", compares the qualities of the holly with aspects of the life of Christ. It has a particularly lovely tune that I have a fondness for, in part, because I have been known to teach the song in readiness for Christmas concerts.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas carols and traditional scenes

click photo to enlarge
The formulaic dirge, "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night" is, to my ear, one of the worst of Christmas carols. Unless that is, it becomes transmuted into a thing of fun by the substitution of silly schoolboy lyrics beginning, "While shepherds washed their socks by night...!" Equally mind numbing is the cacophonous jangle of "Ding Dong Merrily On High", a song in which the jolliness quotient has been cranked up to 11, making it a veritable Bruce Forsyth among carols - not a good thing! And don't get me started on "Away in a Manger", "Silent Night", or modern carols such as "The Little Drummer Boy", all of which turn sentiment into sentimentality and put me in mind me of Oscar Wilde's observation about Dickens' "The Old Curiosity Shop" - "One would have to have a heart of stone to read of the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears...of laughter."

Those comments probably mark me out as a Christmas curmudgeon. And, I suppose, I'm guilty as charged. Except, there are Christmas carols that I absolutely love. They are songs that struck me as beautiful when I was younger, and which I consider beautiful still. Only when I was older, and had a wider interest in music, did I realise that the carols that appealed to me the most were the traditional ones, usually based on English folk tunes, and those that I disliked were, in the main, written by Victorian churchmen and women. So, I can listen to "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlmen", "The Holly and the Ivy", "The Boar's Head Carol", "The Cherry Tree Carol", "The Sussex Carol", "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In", "Sans Day Carol", "The First Nowell" and "Here We Come A-Wassailing" every year, appreciating the beauty of their melodies and the, usually, simplicity and unaffectedness of their words. Any one of them, to my mind, trounces carols of the low calibre of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" or "Once in Royal David's City." And it's not just England that produces fine carols based on folk tunes. One of my favourites is the Basque carol, "Birjina gaztettobat zegoen", translated into English by Sabine Baring Gould as "Gabriel's Message". In fairness I should add that there are some "composed" as opposed to traditional/folk carols that I do actually like, one of which was quoted in yesterday's post, "In the Bleak Midwinter." The pairing of Christina Rossetti (words) and Gustav Holst (music) produced a masterpiece that appeals to my sensibilities, though I understand that some (clearly very strange!) people don't like it. So, whilst I have decided views about what makes a good carol, I'm not altogether a Scrooge as far as Chrismas goes. Honest!

Speaking of Christmas traditions, which carols most certainly are, the recent snow has allowed me to gather a few traditional-looking wintry church photographs, of which one of my best is this view of St Swithun, Bicker. Sharp eyes will note the rounded arches in the short nave, and the unbuttressed crossing tower revealing its origins in the 1100s.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

In the bleak midwinter

click photo to enlarge
"In the bleak midwinter,
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;"
from "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), English poet

My current reading is "Between Earth and Sky: Poetry and prose of English rural life and work between the Enclosures and the Great War." This book, by Neil Philip, was published in 1984, and is an interesting anthology about the lives of the rural population during that significant period in our country's history.

The range of the selections is quite broad - traditional rhymes and songs, quotations from novelists, poems by "rural" poets and the more exalted, snippets from official and unofficial surveys of country people, and, most importantly, the voices of the rural workers themselves. Some of the writers, such as Hardy, Cobbet, Flora Thompson, John Clare, and Richard Jefferies will be familiar to anyone who has an interest in this period. However, two sources were new to me, and provide extracts that make the reader want to weep. The first is a publication called "How the Labourer Lives" by Rowntree and Kendall (Nelson, London, 1913). One of the chosen pieces describes the cottage economy of a North Yorkshire farm labourer's family. The father worked 12 hours a day, ate reasonable food at his place of work (valued at 7 shillings weekly), and took home wages of 9 shillings a week to feed, clothe, house, and warm his wife and five daughters. He drank tea at home, ate no food there, and watched helplessly as his family subsisted on mainly turnips and potatoes, with tea, milk, bread, butter and "sad-cakes". During the week of the survey the only "meat" to reach the lips of the wife and children was a cod's head that they had been given. An equally heart-rending extract comes from "The Whistler at the Plough" by Alexander Somerville (James Ainsworth, Manchester, 1852). This is based on a survey of agricultural labour originally undertaken for the Anti-Corn-Law League. In an interview a youth who describes himself as "sixteen a'most", tells the author how he works from 4 in the morning until eight in the evening for three shillings a week; how he lives in the stable loft with other lads with no heat of any sort; has a change of bedding once a year; and eats bread and lard for every meal, except once a week when he buys potatoes that the "master" allows them to boil.

Reading the extracts reminded me that, whilst living conditions in this country have moved on considerably for everyone since those times, there still remain people - politicians and employers - who think that it is right to pay less than a living wage for a week's work. And by living wage I mean enough to feed, clothe, house and keep yourself warm, with sufficient left over to spend in a way that makes you feel you are part of the society in which you live.

I took the photograph above on a walk through the Fenland lanes and fields. The small Victorian cottage sheltered behind the wind-bent trees and ramshackle old sheds made me think of those extracts. For much of the year a smallholding such as this is growing vegetables and flowers, and its fruit trees are flourishing. But in the colder, darker months, with the wind whipping across the open ground, the roads iced over and snow drifting against the side of the buildings it is much less idyllic, and a century or a century and a half ago might have known the conditions described above. With that in mind I prepared this sepia-tone version of my almost monochrome colour image.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 55mm (110mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

St Mary & the Holy Rood, Donington

click photo to enlarge
Today's photograph shows a view across the fields near Donington, Lincolnshire, at the tail end of a late December afternoon as the sun is about to disappear below the horizon. The ground and roofs are covered with hard frozen snow, and silhouetted against the sunset glow are skeletal trees and the tower and spire of the church of St Mary and the Holy Rood.

To my knowledge this dedication is unique to Donington church. There are St Marys a-plenty, and quite a few Holyroods (notably in Edinburgh), but no other church seems to have this particular conflation of names. The word "rood" means crucifix or cross. Medieval churches frequently separated the nave (where the people congregated) from the chancel (where the clergy officiated) with a pierced wooden "rood screen", so called because it was surmounted by a representation of Christ on the cross. Many of these old screens survive today, though usually without the rood, and quite a few churches have newer, Victorian examples (complete with rood). That being the case, you might imagine that Donington church's dedication makes reference to this symbol of the Christian faith. And doubtless it does. But in what way? It could simply be an honouring of the principal icon of Christianity. Or, and I think this is more likely, the early medieval building may have held a "fragment of the True Cross" as a relic with which to attract visitors and donations of money. Many early churches displayed holy relics - fragments of saints' clothes, a lock of their hair, a bone or two, a scrap of Christ's shroud, or an old piece of wood reputed to have been brought back from the Holy Land and "definitely a piece of the cross on which our Saviour died, and yours for only a few gold sovereigns father!" Few, if any, of these can have been genuine relics, but many would have been acquired in good faith. I don't know if this is the case at Donington, but it would account for the rood getting second billing to Christ's mother in the dedication.

Donington church is a large and beautiful building that dates back to the 1100s, though much of what we see today is from the 1300s and 1400s. It was one of the sources of inspiration that Victorian Gothic architects looked to when they began to build again in this style. Like many of our old churches it needs constant attention to keep its fabric together, and it is currently undergoing some restoration. If anyone feels able to donate to this worthy cause this website tells you how to go about it.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/1000
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow and colour

click photo to enlarge
It will come as no surprise to most people to hear that my usual way of feeding this blog is to build up a sequence of posts several days ahead, and then spend a few days when I don't prepare anything. Photographs, with me, tend to come in bursts. Quite often, in a single day, I'll gather three or four shots that I think are good enough to post. On other occasions it's just one shot that makes the cut from a day's photography, and sometimes it's none. When I've got a group of images I can write three posts in an evening, a couple the next night, line them up for posting, and leave the computer to do the rest.

The recent fall of snow in Lincolnshire has provided me with several images that I'll be posting in the near future. However, snow does present one drawback when it comes to a sequence of photographs - all the shots tend to be a touch "samey", fairly monochrome, dominated by black, white and blue. So, strong colours to go with these three must be actively sought. "What about holly berries and robins?" I hear someone cry from the wings. Well, I've done the robin, but not yet the berries. However, on an afternoon walk through snow-covered fields and lanes I was pleased to come upon a subject that I've posted two images of previously (here and here), that does feature strong colours. These modern houses on the edge of the small village of Bicker were positively glowing against the wintry backdrop, and invited another shot. A step or two into the edge of a field gave me some grassy foregound interest, and the bright houses against a dark, lowering sky completed the image.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 9.3mm (44mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/1000
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snowy fields and contre jour

click photo to enlarge
For the past two days we have had snow. Not an unusual occurrence in winter, but these falls come at the end of a particularly mild and rather wet autumn, are heavier than is usual in this part of the world, and are accompanied by temperatures that are at or below freezing by day and night.

Snow is like manna from heaven for photographers, and so I've been making the most of it. One of its virtues, photographically speaking, is that it so changes the subjects that you've photographed before that you feel motivated to snap them again. Furthermore, contre jour shots take on a special quality when snow is on the ground, so I feel driven to take rather more of these than usual.

Today's shot was taken during a morning walk around fields near our village. The snow was criss-crossed with hare tracks, the sky above with the vapour trails of airliners, and the snow had long shadows thrown by the low sun. I chose this piece of relatively smooth snow for the foreground because you are never quite sure what kind of flare you're going to get when you shoot into the sun - it varies with the camera/lens combination - and a smooth surface allows any lens artefacts to show up properly. On this one I got a a small "rainbow" towards the bottom of the frame. This shot is just what came from the camera, with no filter or post processing, except for a little noise suppression in the sky.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/1600
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, December 18, 2009

Strange fruit and Old Etonians

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The early life of any plant, animal or human is crucial in determining what it becomes. If you plant a cabbage seedling and restrict its water, nutrients and light you'll end up with a weedy specimen that's only good for composting. Similarly, if your dog doesn't get a balanced diet but is indulged with treats far too often then it will balloon, become lethargic and die younger than it would otherwise have done.

And so too with politicians. The leader of the Conservative Party claims that it is irrelevant that a large number of his shadow cabinet (and prospective government) were educated at Eton, an elite, expensive "public" (i.e. private) school, saying "It's not where you come from, but where you are going" that matters. He's right of course, unless, your privileged background and expensive education lead you to formulate policies designed to enrich and protect the interests of people like yourself. And that, it appears, is precisely what these Old Etonians are doing. So, in this instance it most certainly does matter where you come from. It always amazes me that many of the British public do not see that private education is just as much about protecting or securing position in society as it is about learning; is expressly designed to support the privileged; and is counter to the wider interests of our country.

Today's photograph of an over-exposed Physalis-variety fruit prompted this reflection. The spherical orange seed container has grown in a protected environment, insulated from its surroundings by the enveloping pod that I've prised open for my photograph. It isn't from a Physalis franchetii (Chinese Lantern), but a variety with blue flowers that produces black (not orange) lanterns.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/30
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: +2.0EV
Image Stabilisation: Off

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tongue-twisters, sea shells and over-exposure

click photo to enlarge
"She sells sea shells on the sea shore"
Tongue -twister popular with English-speaking children

There's a certain age, probably around 8 or 9, when English children are attracted to tongue-twisters, those phrases, sentences and rhymes that it's difficult to say quickly and repeatedly without tying your tongue in knots. The sentence quoted at the top of this entry is often the first exposure that a child has to these slippery constructions. But there are others! Here are three of the most widely known:

"Swan swim over the sea, swim swan swim,
Swan swim back again,
Well swum swan!"

"Red lorry, yellow lorry"

"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper corns,
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper corns,
Where's the peck of pickled pepper corns that Peter Piper picked?"

The only point of the tongue twister is to see if you can say the phrase or sentence repeatedly and quickly without tripping up. Most people can't, but children do love to try. I am always reminded of the sea shells tongue twister when I use the word sea shell: it must have been imprinted on me at a very impressionable age!

A while ago I wrote myself a memo on my computer. It said, "Take some over-exposed photographs." I didn't. But the memo kept catching my eye, nagging at me, and so yesterday I took down this shell from my book cases and made this over-exposed image of its spiral. Over-exposure of an image doesn't come naturally to me. If anything I slightly underexpose, and frequently massively under-expose, particularly when trying to control a strong light source. But, with the right subject, over-exposure can produce very engaging effects. I must do it more!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f11
Shutter Speed: 1.0
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0EV
Image Stabilisation: Off

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Abstraction and photography

click photo to enlarge
Abstraction is a genre of both painting (fine art) and photography. It's technically much easier, of course, to achieve with a brush than with a camera because the image can flow from your brain, through your hand and on to the canvas. In the case of photography the image usually has to flow from the real world, to your brain, then through your camera to the final image, be it on a screen or in printed form. This grounding of photographic abstraction (indeed all photography) in the real world is one of the things that makes it differ from painting. Of course there are photographers who arrange real objects to make their vision, and there are others who manipulate the image - either digital or print - to achieve their goal. But, in general, it is true to say that photographic abstraction is rooted in reality.

This is one reason why I never use the phrase "abstract photograph", but prefer instead the more precise "semi-abstract photograph." The fact is, when you approach a photograph that appears to be abstract in the sense of "not involving concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances", it invariably loses some of that quality once the construction of the image is described by the photographer.

That is pretty much the case with today's photograph. If you look at it (ignoring the title below the image) then it appears to be an assemblage of overlapping and intersecting triangles and quadrilaterals in varying tones. That is, in fact, what appealed to me and what prompted the shot. But, if I say that the shadows and light effects were being produced by a sculpture that consisted of a long row of tall glass blocks, you'll start to decode the image and it will begin to reveal its origins. The multiple gallery lighting that was illuminating the work produced the effect, and made the work more than it would have been, in my judgement, had it been lit by daylight or a single light.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2
Shutter Speed: 1/60
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Beans and global catastrophes

click photo to enlarge
What is the most important resource on earth? You could argue that it is the libraries and computers that hold a record of the sum of human knowledge. If a natural or man-made disaster almost obliterated life on our planet then the written record of mankind would surely be the invaluable resource that enabled the surviving humans to rebuild our civilization.

On the other hand there's also a strong case to be made for an underground building on the Svalbard archipelago of the island of Spitzbergen in Arctic Norway being the most valuable resource in the world in such an eventuality. Here is the so-called "doomsday vault", more properly called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It houses in its subterranean caverns millions of seeds from around the world, examples that could be used to re-establish agriculture if the seedbanks elsewhere on the globe were lost. This particular location was chosen for the underground site, its height above sea level, the relative absence of tectonic activity and the permafrost, all of which should ensure the continuity of the seeds should a global catastrophe occur.

The Boughen household has a seed vault too, but it is a much less grand affair! It comprises a few envelopes of seeds saved from the previous year's flowers and vegetables. A while ago I was looking at the runner bean and dwarf bean seeds that we had collected, and decided that they might make a good subject for a blog post. So, to accentuate the contrast between the purples and mauves of the bigger runner beans with the beige (and occasional yellow) of the dwarf beans, I arranged them in stripes and took this shot with the macro lens.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/6
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0EV
Image Stabilisation: Off

Monday, December 14, 2009

Guilty until proven innocent

click photo to enlarge
It seems that Britain's photographers are guilty until proven innocent. How else can we explain the police continuing to interfere with people using their cameras on the streets of our country?

Over the past year the press has regularly carried articles about amateur and professional photographers, tourists and casual snappers being confronted by private security guards, police constables and police community support officers. In many cases the representatives of the law took action without the support of any legislation. In other incidents, particularly in London, the "catch all" Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 has been used. A Minister has stood up in the Houses of Parliament and said that this was never the intention of that legislation and has told police not to use the act against photographers. The Metropolitan Police has published advice to its officers along the same lines. And yet it continues.

Recently a man on his way to work in Brighton was stopped and asked for his name and address when he was taking photographs of the newly erected Christmas lights. In November a BBC photographer, Jeff Overs, was stopped and questioned when photographing the Millennium Footbridge and St Paul's Cathedral in London. That one sent a shiver down my spine because a couple of weeks earlier I'd photographed exactly that subject! Partly as a consequence of these events, and in the light of a recent memorandum sent to all 43 of the UK's police forces reminding them that no threat or offence is implied when someone takes a photograph in the street, a Guardian newspaper photographer decided he'd see if the persecution of photographers had stopped. He went to photograph "The Gherkin", the distinctive office building in Central London that is photographed daily by thousands of tourists. Within a couple of minutes a security guard had alerted the police and he was apprehended. You can read about his experience in his article, From snapshot to Special Branch: how my camera made me a terror suspect.

One of the pitfalls of street photography today is that some areas that we might think to be public places are actually privately owned. This applies to all shopping centres (malls) - as you might expect - but also to, for example, land around the base of "The Gherkin" and the whole of Canary Wharf. On private land the owner or his representative can sanction or forbid photography and can add detailed rules about the uses to which such images can be put. I was aware of this when I took today's photograph, but was also conscious that - to my knowledge - no one has been forbidden from photographing in Canary Wharf. And a good thing too. However, and this is the main point that the police refuse to grasp, there is no legislation forbidding the taking of photographs in public places. It shouldn't be necessary for a photographer to bring a civil action against the police for this persecution to stop - it would be a waste of public money - but it seems that nothing else is going to ensure that the law as it is written is properly upheld!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Old sheds and paint jobs

click photo to enlarge
The expenses that our MPs have been claiming in order to carry out their role as elected representatives of the people continues to dumbfound the British public. How, one wonders, is an expensive repair to the clock tower of a country house eligible? How too a plasma TV, or a carpet at £70 per square yard, or a robot vacuum cleaner? And can one really stand up in the House of Commons and decry the bad system that allows such applications to be made, and to succeed, and then two days later submit a £1,081 claim for mortgage interest on a second home? Well, according to the Guardian newspaper of 11th December, the Leader of the Opposition manages to find no problem in so doing. And, if you're the Prime Minister, asking the state to fund the painting of your summer house - a small, octagonal wooden shed about eight feet across - to the tune of £500 (according to the Guardian) also seems quite reasonable. £500! To paint something that size! The fact that he thought it prudent to pay back the claim says something for his sense of what should and what shouldn't be eligible for tax payer support, but nothing about his understanding of how much a job like that should be in the real, unsubsidised world where most voters live.

I was thinking about that expensively painted shed when I took this photograph of some old Fenland sheds today. It's the second image I've taken of them. The earlier shot was taken as fog was clearing. This one was taken around mid-day with the low December sun throwing long shadows. The structures look like they've had not a single penny spent on them since the day they were erected, and as I took my shot I reflected that £500 would probably be enough for a complete refurbishment that would double their life span!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, December 11, 2009

A macro experiment

click photo to enlarge
Standing waiting for my wife in a large DIY shed's car park, I glanced at the shrubs that had been planted around its perimeter. Though it was December the Hebe "Midsummer Beauty" was still in flower. "Global warming?" I thought. But when I checked its flowering dates back at home I found that it can continue to November, so maybe it couldn't be advanced as evidence to the deniers. The cotoneasters were in full berry though most of the leaves on the deciduous varieties had gone. Nestling in my pocket was the LX3 so I took a couple of shots of the shrubs.

Wandering alond the border I came upon a spider's web with water droplets strung along its threads. I've posted a shot recently of this subject taken with the E510 and the Zuiko 35mm macro. "How would the LX3 handle the subject?" I wondered. So I slipped it into macro mode and took today's shot. When I brought the photograph up on my computer my answer was, "Not bad at all!" It doesn't have quite the detail of the Olympus, and the bokeh of the lens and the depth of field control doesn't compare. However, the result is I think, quite acceptable.

This is a slight crop of the shot, with some noise suppression and sharpening. The colour and contrast haven't been touched. I have the feeling it would print quite well.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f2.8
Shutter Speed: 1/250
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The sign of The Black Swan

click photo to enlarge
The traditional English pub sign is a joy. It usually comprises an oil painting that illustrates the name of the pub. This hangs from a projecting bracket on the side of the building or on a purpose-built stand. Thus, The Red Lion may have an heraldic lion - rampant, passant, reguardant, rarely couchant - or a shield with the lion as the charge on it. One of the many pubs called The Plough will, in all probability, have a ploughman holding the said implement as he follows his horse. The King's Head will have just that, the particular monarch being chosen either with regard to the date of the building of the pub, or on the whim of the brewery, the landlord or the sign painter. And, because there are so many different pub names, the variety of images on the signs is enormous.

But, in recent years, the insidious growth of corporatism, "branding" and pub designers has led to something of a decline in the number of traditional pub signs. They are still in the great majority, but I notice more and more "modern" signs appearing. These often have a limited palette - usually two colours - and have a simple motif replacing the detail of the traditional sign. Many are conceived in the spirit of a corporate logo rather than a centuries old artefact. And, unlike the older model, the newer ones date very quickly and are usually replaced with something equally inept. A particularly bad example I once saw was on a pub called The Crossed Keys, a common name said to derive from the symbol of St Peter, or perhaps the archbishopric of York. The pub designers had painted black keys - with a trendy ragged outline - on a khaki coloured background. It wasn't eye-catching and the name wasn't spelled out in full: it didn't even warrant a glance, and certainly wasn't of the quality that invites the onlooker to admire the painter's art and reflect on how the establishment's name has been interpreted compared with others you've seen. And, regrettably that's true of most "modern" pub signs.

However, today, whilst on a shopping expedition in Spalding, Lincolnshire, I noticed this modern sign that I quite like. Admittedly it wouldn't work so well on a cloudy day, but the lights on each side of it may well throw interesting shadows at night. I chose a black and white conversion to accentuate its graphic qualities.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 9.3mm (44mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f3.5
Shutter Speed: 1/1000
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Heckington and the Decorated style of architecture

click photo to enlarge
"...one of the dozen or so grandest churches of Lincolnshire...a church remembered for Dec exuberance"
Pevsner, Buildings of England: Lincolnshire

The exterior of the church of St Andrew at Heckington, Lincolnshire, is beauty made stone. Some would say its spire is a little short, or, conversely, that its tower is a touch too big. Others would question the way the transepts fit into the body of the church. But none would deny the beauty of its pinnacles, the decoration of its buttresses, the 38 statues that adorn it, the inventive carving on its south porch, or the quality of its window tracery, particularly that of the east window. "Dec exuberance" sums it up nicely. However, the interior, after the splendours of what is outside, is somewhat disappointing. The Victorians scraped it too much. It is not without a few highlights though - the font of the 1300s, elaborate sedilia and piscina, and an Easter Sepulchre of the first order.

But what of the quotation at the start of this piece? Those without an interest in English Gothic architecture might be wondering about "Dec". Context suggests it might be short for decorative, but why then the capital "D"? In fact it is short for Decorated and refers to a style and period of architecture. The English architect, Thomas Rickman (1776-1841) was a self-taught and quite prolific builder of churches, who also took an antiquarian interest in the styles of the architecture of the Romanesque and Gothic churches that he found all across England. He categorised their architecture of the middle ages into four basic styles: Norman (1066-c.1190), Early English (c.1190 - c.1310), Decorated (c.1310-c.1390) and Perpendicular (c.1390-1485). Subsequent authors and ages have tinkered with the names and dates of this classification, and there are those who have pointed out its limitations. But for all its failings Rickman's original categories still stand up to scrutiny very well, and continue to be used by many laymen and academics.

So, today's photograph shows a significant and beautiful building of the Decorated period of English Gothic architecture, a style characterised by wider arches than Early English, the ogee arch, flamboyant and undulating lines and forms, crockets, naturalistic carving, fleurons, mouchettes and dagger-forms, chamfering and more. Heckington church is quite difficult to photograph in its entirety due to nearby buildings and closely planted trees. This shot, I felt, captured something of its essence
, and shows its tower and spire, a buttress niche in the centre, and the top of the south porch on the right.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 12mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/800
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Monday, December 07, 2009

The moon-rocket of Helpringham

click photo to enlarge
The medieval churches of the area of the Lincolnshire Fens known as Holland are one of its principal beauties. Just about every village and town has one, and so do many hamlets. It's not just the number of churches that makes this district unique, but their size and quality. It would be hard to find a place in England that can compare.

The richness of the buildings is a testament to the riches of the region in those years, a period when sheep, and more particularly the wool they produced, brought in so much money that each settlement could afford to build big and beautiful. Quite a few of Holland's churches have square topped, embattled towers, but a lot of the outstanding buildings have elegant spires. Within this group there is a sub-group that feature pinnacles and extremely slender flying buttresses that give support (but just how much?) to the spires. One such is the church shown in today's photograph, St Andrew, in the village of Helpringham. Among this sub-group of churches St Andrew stands out for the optical illusion that makes it look like the pinnacles are leaning away from the tower that supports them. When you get close the church that impression disappears, but look at it from half a mile or a mile away, and the illusion re-appears and looks most odd. In fact, to my eye (and quirky mind) this effect makes it look like a moon-rocket of "Flash Gordon" or "Dan Dare" vintage is poised on the top of the church tower, ready to blast off. Click to get the full-size image: I'll be surprised if you don't see it too!

This photograph was taken from the seat of my car. Driving towards the village I stopped at the best position for a photograph, but decided that getting out to take my shot presented something of a traffic hazard. So, I put on my hazard-warning lights, wound down the window, and quickly got my image. Not something I make a habit of, but it seemed the best option on this occasion.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 70mm (140mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Andre Preview and comedy writing

click photo to enlarge
In an idle moment the other evening - and I haven't had many of those recently - when multi-channel TV offered nothing that appealed to me, I turned to YouTube and found myself watching a few old clips of Morecambe and Wise. I am of the generation that saw this British comedy duo transfer from live variety theatres and end of the pier shows to television, and witnessed their creative peak in the 1970s when one of their Christmas Shows garnered 28 million viewers.

At the time I was both impressed and highly entertained by the style of Eric and Ernie. They were a double act in the vaudevillian sense, with Eric the tall "daft" one, and Ernie the short more "serious" one, though equally daft if he could only see it: the concept owed a lot to Laurel and Hardy. The comic timing, mannerisms, delivery, ongoing jokes, interaction with guest stars, and the slightly anarchic humour that occasionally broke through the "working class lads made good" feel of the show, ensured it had a very wide appeal. What I never thought particularly deeply about at the time was the writing. This was largely the product of one man, Eddie Braben, and today I find that fact quite remarkable. We're used to comedy shows being written by teams of people - Monty Python surely couldn't have existed without the fertile imaginations of each individual being driven to a higher plane by interaction with each other. So to see great line after great line, new idea after new idea, appearing each season, year after year, from the pen of a single writer is, yes, remarkable.

Reviewing this image taken in Canary Wharf, London, a few weeks ago I kept thinking about what the lady in the brown coat might be saying to the lady in the black coat. But a suitably comedic line wouldn't come. The best I could manage are: "Do you think the baby will have his mother's or his father's looks?" and "My money's on the baby's head being an octahedron!" (that one's for the mathematicians out there.) Not ROFLMAO (I think that's right) material is it?

In my small way I have written a few "humorous" pieces for PhotoReflect. My best three are perhaps: Primordial soup and chilli, IMO UN wasted money, and The cows take a bow. Putting those small snippets together didn't come easily, so I can imagine just how hard it would be to come up with several 45 minute episodes or a full hour of Chrismas entertainment in the way Eddie Braben did for Morecambe and Wise. How much easier it would be with someone to bounce ideas off.

Most British people of "a certain age" will be familiar with Morecambe and Wise, and many more will know of their most famous sketch that features the conductor, Andre Previn. But for those who have never seen it, here's a link.



photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 150mm (300mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Friday, December 04, 2009

The curse of blue skies

click photo to enlarge
Today I reached a natural break in some floor tiling that I'm doing, so I seized the opportunity to get out of the house and take some photographs. I planned a route to take in a few churches, looked at the sky happily noting about 25% cloud cover, and set off. But alas and alack! As I approached my first destination I could see that the clouds were fast disappearing; and by the time of my second port of call they were nowhere to be seen.

I've given a few talks to groups of people about photography and blogging in which I've made a point of noting my dislike of clear blue skies when I'm doing photography. Quite a few in my audiences have clearly thought me mad. You could see them thinking, "This is England for heaven's sake, the place where it's usually cloudy, and where if it isn't cloudy it looks like it soon will be! What's wrong with a nice blue sky?" Now don't get me wrong, I like a clear blue sky and the sun on my back as much as the next person - well maybe not that much - but there are certainly times when I welcome it. However, those times do not include when I'm looking for photographs! Then I want the interest that clouds offer in themselves, and I also want the contribution they make by putting some compositional interest in the top of the frame.

One of the churches I wanted to photograph today was St Andrew at Asgarby. This building, with its exterior of the 1400s and interior of the 1300s, is in a tiny hamlet near a house and farm, and is surrounded on three sides by fields. It has a tall tower surmounted by a short spire, so any image of the whole of the exterior of the church, of necessity, includes a lot of sky: and a lot of plain blue sky is, frankly, boring. So what do you do? Well, above is one answer - you show the church in context, make your image a landscape, and fill the blue with the tracery of tree branches.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 5.1mm (24mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The best and the rest

click photo to enlarge
Periodically I look through the photographs that I post on PhotoReflect and consider which are my best images of recent weeks or months. When I did this the other day it was pretty clear to me that this image of dying water lily leaves was my favourite.

Nominating a favoured image in this way encourages you to reflect on why that particular shot stands above the others, and that's not always easy. I've blogged about this subject a few times, so I won't bore you again. However, I will say that in all the millions of words that are written about photography and photographs on the internet, in books, and in magazines, this is the aspect that receives least attention. And yet, knowing what makes an image good as opposed to mediocre or bad, and being able to articulate that, is surely crucial to the art and craft of photography. I'd like to see more people describing, in detail, why they like an example of a great photographer's work, or indeed one of their own shots. Unfortunately, painters are no better at this than photographers, and much of the wider world is happy enough to be told by "experts" which are the images worthy of placing in the pantheon, and which are the "also rans"!

There is a down-side to my little habit of selecting examples of what I think of as my best work, and that is I'm tempted to revisit the subject looking for a variation that matches up to the chosen shot - something that rarely happens. I'm happy enough with today's photograph - a variation on the dying lily leaves - which includes a couple of our fish, some willow leaves and shows the pond in its frozen state, but it doesn't, for me, have the qualities of the preferred image.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 86mm (172mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/120
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -2.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

He's Claes Oldenberg in reverse

click photo to enlarge
Many who came of age in the 1960s tend to look back on the popular music of that decade as something of a highpoint in the genre. I certainly do, though I'd cite the years between 1963 and 1971 as the best. The music of that time seemed to be constantly evolving, absorbing old ideas and giving them a new twist, as well as bringing original sounds, lyrics, melodies and instrumentation to the table. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Fairport Convention, the Velvet Underground, the Kinks, and the Grateful Dead typify the creativity that was laid before us year after year. However, what we sometimes forget is that for every Roy Harper there was an Englebert Humperdink, for every Leonard Cohen, a Jack Jones. There were definitely troughs as well as peaks.

Then there were those artists and bands who had something to offer, but never quite enough. I 'd include the Searchers in that category. They were capable of great harmonies and 12 string guitar figures that influenced bands like The Byrds, but in their drive to be successful went too far towards commercial, anodyne pop of the "Sweets for My Sweet" sort. This tendency also afflicted The Hollies. Their harmonies were terrific - no wonder Stephen Stills and David Crosby wanted Graham Nash - but they featured in songs that were often second-rate. Successful the Hollies undoubtedly were, but they didn't, in my judgement, produce songs that have stood the test of time.

A few weeks ago I was in Springfield Festival Gardens, Spalding, looking at the pieces of sculpture set amongst the shrubs, trees and flowers, when I came upon the piece by Stephen Newby called "Cascading Water Pyramid". This features a stack of stainless steel "pillows", the largest at the bottom, gradually reducing in size to the smallest at the top. Water falls down the shiny surfaces of these metal shapes that look, for all the world, like they have been inflated. Nearby is a water-wheel with similar "inflated" pillows. As I looked at the incongruity of a steel pillow a thought about their creator crystallized in my mind that borrows from that dire Hollies' attempt at psychedelia, "King Midas in Reverse": he's Claes Oldenberg in reverse, because he makes solid that which is soft, whereas Oldenberg made soft that which was solid! And with that I took my photograph of a corner of the stack of "pillows", water dripping from them, and tried to make something of the line of corners going down the frame.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 27mm (54mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/320
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Flushwork

click photos to enlarge
The builders of Britain's vernacular buildings created many regional styles. One of the most charming is found in East Anglia, and is known as "flushwork". This involves splitting small pieces of flint so that the black or grey interior is exposed. These are then mortared into patterns which are set in, and contrast with, areas of dressed stone. It is often seen on the medieval churches of Norfolk and Suffolk where letters (often "M" for Mary), quatrefoils, daggers, shields and other designs are built into buttresses, towers, walls and porches.

The most notable example of flushwork in King's Lynn can be seen in the form of the chequer pattern that covers the walls of the Guildhall, a building of 1422-8. This structure was built for the Guild of Holy Trinity after an earlier hall burnt down. The ground floor of the Guildhall is an undercroft lit by pointed windows under square hoodmoulds. The central pair of arched windows were formerly doorways. Separating them is a slender and delicate vaulted niche that must once have held a statue. The large, panelled-tracery window lights the Stone Hall which forms the whole of the upper floor. In the 1600s the facade with the Doric doorway, circular windows, coat of arms and decorative panel was added.

To the left of the Guildhall is the Town Hall of 1895. Its architects, Tree & Price of London, elected to build with deference to the illustrious neighbour. They continued the chequer pattern and chose a style that mixes free Gothic with Renaissance details. The whole ensemble makes an appealing sight in the sun of an autumn day. Incidentally, the building to the right is the former prison of 1784 with suitably grim decoration (out of shot) modelled on that at Newgate Prison, London.

photographs & text (c) T. Boughen

Photo1 (Photo 2)
Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11mm (22mm/35mm equiv.):(12mm (24mm/35mm equiv.))
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/1000
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On