This house in Berlin, Maryland, displays three American icons: a stoop, a Bald Eagle and the Stars and Stripes.  I can’t claim to know the United States very well – just three visits as a tourist – but I get the impression that the Stars and Stripes is flown or worn by ordinary people as an unselfconscious sign of genuine patriotism.  In Britain flags were flown traditionally from public buildings and rarely elsewhere.  In recent years the Cross of St George and the Union Flag, or Union Jack, have become ubiquitous, the first associated with the lost cause of English football, the second with strident strains of English nationalism.  There is a self-consciousness about these domestic displays of chauvinism.

Photo: Berlin, Maryland, USA, April 2011

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U3AC Photo Forum 9 – Portraiture

Today the Forum blind-viewed around 20 portraits submitted by members, from formal studies to snapshots and street photography to documentary shots.  As such it was like comparing apples and oranges and pears and melons and posed the overarching question, ‘What is a portrait?’  Answering this required more information than was given about the intentions of the photographer and the context in which the photographs were taken. There was perhaps too much emphasis on formal considerations and how the picture might be improved by post processing.

The U3A Photo Forum now has a web site: www.zimbushboy.org

Photo: David Horan, Abbots Ripton Hall, 2016

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Assateague Island

‘After breakfast we drove from Berlin to Assateague Island, which lies off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia.  It’s a long – 37 miles – sandy barrier island with dunes and wind-formed pine trees between the Atlantic to the east and Chincoteague Bay to the west.  We parked and walked the saltmarsh, woodland and dune trails.  Hot. Ospreys hunted over the marshes and waterways.’


‘Picnic lunch on the beach behind a white-gold sand dune.  Gulls called shrilly overhead; in the background waves crashed and rumbled.  We strolled back along the beach ankle deep in the chilly sea – white foam, pale sand and grey-green sea beautiful in the sun.’  Berlin, Maryland, USA, 24th April 2011.

Photos: Assateague Island, Maryland, USA, April 2011

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‘Contrails present a bit of a dilemma for cloudspotters.  On the one hand, they are both interesting to observe and often very beautiful. …. On the other hand, there is growing evidence that the preponderance of contrails is having a significant impact on the temperatures down on the ground, and yes – you guessed it – the overall effect seems to be a warming one.’  The Cloudspotter’s Guide, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, 2006

Photo: Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, April 2011

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The Hand

The Hand.  ‘Ray Kaskey worked with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials to create a sculpture that would reflect their mission.  From early on, Kaskey conceived of a monumental work that would dominate the space in a dramatic way and envisioned the “Hand of NOAA [pronounced Noah]”; the doves turned into the seagulls that are part of the agency’s logo.  The large bronze hand reaches its fingers toward the atmosphere releasing seagulls to the ocean, continuing the agency’s mission of recording and protecting the environment.’

Photo: US Dept Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA, May 2011

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Living with gods

‘Living with gods’ at the British Museum – selected quotes.  ‘Beliefs in spiritual beings and worlds beyond nature are characteristic of all human societies.’

‘The power and energy of fire symbolise creation and change.  Drifting smoke disappears into invisible worlds.’   ‘God gave us music that we may pray without words.’    ‘Beliefs expressed through objects and rituals help to give confidence, reduce stress and engage support for all that life brings from conception to death.’


‘The commitment, power and control that came out of this [religion] are political and often cause fear, prejudice, exclusion, persecution, violence and, particularly on a personal level, confusion.’



‘”And so on”    Conflicts, persecutions and economic crises across northern Africa and the Middle East are forcing thousands of people to seek better lives in Europe.  The Mediterranean is the scene of humanitarian disaster.  Fear that Muslims, Ethiopian, Egyptian, Eritrean and Syrian Christians, Yazidis, Jews and Zoroastrians might endanger European societies is changing the political landscape.’

Photos: ‘Living with gods’ British Museum, January 2018

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Aeroplane Art

In the autumn of 1942 American airmen arrived in Britain at bases in East Anglia for the start of bombing offensives in Europe. ‘The boys of [the USAAF 8th Air Force] personalised their planes with images and cartoons, preferring a curvaceous female to a military identification number. “Nose art” became all the rage. Few planes took off without a stunning girl smiling coquettishly from the fuselage, wearing almost nothing…..The art included not just women but Disney stars Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny, characters such as Turnip Termite and Popeye, as well as nicknames, home towns, home states, bald-bottomed monkeys and messages dishing it to the enemy…..The art boosted the spirits of men separated from home, marooned in alien England where the beer was warm and the natives standoffish.’  Robert Gore-Langton, 2012

Photo: Virgin Atlantic plane, March 2011

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Brighton Front

‘”No,” Hale said. “I’ve got to be getting on.” – Getting on.  Down the front, mixing as quickly as possible with the current of the crowd, glancing to right and left of him and over each shoulder in turn.  He could see no familiar face anywhere, but he felt no relief.  He thought he could lose himself safely in the crowd, but now the people he was among seemed like a thick forest in which a native could arrange his poisoned ambush.’  Brighton Rock, Graham Greene, 1938

Photo: Brighton, February 2011

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Brighton Wrap

My photo book A Piece of Ephemera included 15 photographs of urban wrappings, from bridges to mannequins and statues to whales.  This one didn’t get through the editing, probably a mistake, if only because the contents of these curious parcels defy identification.  The fine blue rope is a reminder of Christmas wrapping just past; then a cuddly toy triceratops defied all attempts at making a tidy present to put under the tree.

Photo: Brighton, February 2011

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Shades in the Water

We leaned over the railing on the Pont d’Avignon hoping, Narcissus like, to admire our reflections in the slowly passing Rhone.  Instead we looked down on two hazy grey shadows, shades, ghosts of the people we thought we were or wanted to be.  The social invisibility that comes with advancing years was written in the water.

Photo: Avignon, France, March 2011

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Beechwoods – Snow 2

The snowfall was light, directed by a gentle wind.  In the woods snow settled on branches outlining them in graphic sketches of black and white; in open places the drift painted the trunks is white, as though seen in a strong sidelight.



The woods took on a softer, more open air as reflected light filled the shadows and smoothed the rough leaf litter and gnarly exposed roots. Paths through the old woods were blurred; paths around the new woods were smooth white roads between lacy hedges


A dog bounded along on muffled paws; a crow’s melancholy call echoed through the icy air; underfoot the soft crunch of snow replaced the crackle of dried leaves and mast husks.

Photos:  The Beechwoods, Cambridge, December 2011

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Beechwoods – Snow 1

At the beginning of November I mentioned that I hoped to photograph the Beechwoods in snow.  On Sunday 10th December I awoke to about three centimetres of snow on the ground with more still falling.  Wrapped up well, and with new boots, I walked up to the Beechwoods along whitened streets with cautiously crawling cars.


The rough fields of winter plough and stubble broke through the snow stippling the surface.  The dark lines of hedges, haunt of fieldfares and blackbirds foraging for haws, defined field boundaries.



A week previously the woods sat dark and a little mysterious, black fingers clawing at the air.  Now they were softened, a silvery filigree against the grey of a sky promising more snow.




Photos:  The Beechwoods, Cambridge, December 2011

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A Pigeon Sat….

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is a 2014 surreal black-comedy film by Roy Andersson.  The title references The Hunters in the Snow, 1565, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which depicts a rural winter scene with birds perched on trees. Andersson said he imagined that the birds are watching the people below and wondering what they are doing. He explained the title of the film as a “different way of saying ‘what are we actually doing’, that’s what the movie is about.” The pigeon in the film is stuffed, sitting on a branch in a museum glass case. The introspective pigeon motif recurs in a poem haltingly read out by a child with special needs in this intriguing, odd and mythic film.

Photo: Pigeon, Avignon, March 2011

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Pigeons – Trafalgar Square

One of the most exciting things about going to London as a child was feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.  We bought bags of food – I remember it as peas, but maybe it was corn – from the vendors and delighted in being festooned with flapping birds.  Woody Allen had not yet branded them ‘rats with wings’.  A Harris’s Hawk was introduced into the Square to scare off the pigeons in late 2002; in 2003 Ken Livingstone and the GLA made it illegal for anyone to feed the birds.  The last time I went to London I watched peregrines on the Tate Modern tower.

Photo: Pigeons, Trafalgar Square, London, December 2000

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Anyone living through the Cold War will probably remember Nikita Khrushchev as the excitable and pugnacious Soviet leader with a penchant for phases like, ‘We will bury you!’ It therefore came as a surprise to discover recently that he was responsible for building the Moscow Metro. In 1934 he became Communist Party leader in the City and in that position oversaw the building of the Metro.  Khrushchev took great risks in the construction and spent much of his time in the tunnels – accidents were passed off as heroic sacrifices in a great cause. The Metro opened on 1 May 1935.  Artists and architects designed a structure that embodied marble walls, high ceilings and grand chandeliers, said to reflect an optimistic future and show users that their taxes had been well spent.  The result is very bourgeois – the London Underground is quite proletarian in comparison.

Photo: London Underground, February 2011

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