Bass Maltings

Until a few months ago my mental image of Sleaford was shaped by crawling through the town centre on the A15 to Lincoln – so, an outdated picture as a bypass opened in 1993.  Circumstances mean that I’m now getting a relaxed view of the town and becoming aware that it has more about it than the scene of traffic through the car window allowed.  There’s the medieval church of St Denys (apparently a composite saint), the 18th century Sleaford Navigation and the National Centre for Craft & Design, to name just three things worth exploring.

Apart from Tesco, McDonalds and the leisure centre, my introduction to Sleaford so far has included a walk to view the outside of the Bass Maltings, sitting like some great fortress by the railway a short distance from the town centre.  Built between 1901 and 1907 in red brick and Welsh slate to designs by Herbert A. Couchman, the maltings are the largest group of malt houses in England.  Listed Grade II*, the Pevsner for Lincolnshire enthuses that, ‘for sheer impressiveness little in English industrial architecture can equal the scale of this building.’

The introduction of more efficient malting techniques at Bass’s other plant led to the closure of the maltings in 1959, since when they have had a sad and confused history, the home for failed uses and the subject of unrealised (unrealisable?) ambitions – a fire in 1976 caused severe damage to three of the malt houses.  Elsewhere, somewhere more prosperous, apartments, cafes, bars, galleries, offices and workshops would ensure the building’s future and bring it back to life.  For now, pigeons are the beneficiaries of its dereliction.

Photos: Bass Maltings, Sleaford, October 2018

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 8. Portraits and Groups

Nick Kerry used artists as diverse as Leonardo de Vinci, Rembrandt, John Swannell and Cecil Beaton to illuminate his session on Friday.  The aim of the portrait, he said, is to capture the personality; pictures may be formal or informal, static or dynamic.  Concentrating mainly on formal portraiture he looked at the practicalities of pose, clothing, lighting, and background (and related depth of field).  These, and possibly the inclusion of props, can be used to introduce symbolism into the portrait.  The question of whether casual snaps can be considered as portraits was left hanging.  See Nick’s presentation at

Photo: Helena Bonham Carter, John Swannell, 1987

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Margate 8 – Broadstairs

Broadstairs is five or six minutes from Margate by train, an hour and five minute walk by road or a just over two hour stroll along the coastal path.  In other words not far at all physically.  But it seems a world away socially and economically.  The High Street is well-maintained, the shops are occupied, they offer choice and they look prosperous, so unlike the case study in decline that is Margate.  Houses have an air of homes occupied by people who care and holiday flats are advertised with pride.

Broadstairs harbour is a good timber example of its kind; the Promenade and Victoria Parade, overlooking the pretty bay, embody gentle 19th century elegance; Morelli’s ice-cream parlour is a joyful Art Deco survivor; and the town treasures its Dickins connections.  There is little of the seaside tackiness of Margate, nor the misconceived and misplaced redevelopment.  Broadstairs was able to stand in for Margate in Mike Leigh’s film Mr Turner.  The one obvious blot is the derelict funicular railway built in 1910 by Messrs R Waygood and Co – a restoration in 1991 was undone almost immediately by a storm.


The Crampton Tower, which welcomes visitors by train and road, is a robust survivor.  Grade II listed the citation states: ‘A water tower dated 1859. A circular tower, 3 storeys high faced with flint and having rough flint dressings and stringcourses. Crenellated parapet. Brick moulded cornice and band of blank arcading picked out in rough flints with blank panels of knapped flint between. Round-headed windows.’  It was designed by Thomas Russel Crampton, who is now remembered, if at all, as a designer of locomotives and of railways,  The tower houses a museum, including ‘7 working model railways in gauges N,OO,O and Gauge One’.  Dreamland does indeed seem a world away.

Photos: 1. Broadstairs railway station, October 2018;  2. High Street, Broadstairs; October 2018; Crampton Tower, Broadstairs, October 2018

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‘The Itinerary’

‘A Syrian refugee burns a raincoat to warm himself at a refugee camp, at the border between Greece and FYROM: 12 March 2016 near the village of Eidomeni, Greece.  Yannis Kolesidis’  The caption on a photograph in the exhibition ‘The Itinerary’ at the Alison Richard Building (ARB).  On 12 March 2016 I was enjoying a very good birthday lunch with friends at The Anchor, Sutton Gault

Publicity for the exhibition explains its origins. ‘Eleven photojournalists have followed the trek of refugees from their point of origin – the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa – into Europe through the various stopover sites in Greece and the Balkans. The photographs in this exhibition document the refugees’ unimaginable struggles on their way to safety but also their routine, everyday activities and small moments of joy. Covering some of the distance between refugees and us, the photographs remind us that these are ordinary people on an extraordinary journey. They also make the viewer party to the experience and perspective of these eleven eyewitnesses to a great humanitarian disaster.’  A book published by the team contains the complete collection of photographs.

Some of the contributors spoke about their work at the ARB on Monday.  A few phrases summed it up for me.  ‘Who is a refugee?  A human with a name.’  ‘….capturing human grace…’  ‘Little is needed to protect or destroy.’  ‘Cold violence: discrimination, marginalisation, neglect.’  ‘Photography, a universal language?’  ‘Photographers are intruders.’  ‘Some images make the situation personal.’  ‘The pictures don’t need to dramatise – it’s dramatic enough already’

Another caption.  ‘Photos of refugees and migrants are scattered on a beach at the island of Lesbos on 22 October 2015.  John Liakos’  It’s the burning house questioned in extremis.

Photos: 1. Syrian Refugee, Eidomeni, Greece, Yannis Kolesidis 2012;  2. Photos of regugees, John Liakos 2015

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Woolf Inspired

‘Virginia Woolf: An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings’ at the Fitzwilliam is a treat, even if you don’t think much of her literary style or content.  Drawing on work by over 80 artists from the mid-19th Century to today, it explores different takes on ‘landscape and public life; domesticity and the home, and the private self and subconscious’.  A bonus, and something of a surprise (though why should it be?), is the inclusion of several women photographers (or artists working with photography), from Anna Atkins and Julia Margaret Cameron to Calude Cahun and Gisele Freund to Penny Slinger and Zanele Muholi.  Some new to me, revealing significant gaps in my photographic knowledge.  Into Heffers to get a copy of Women Photographers – From Julia Margaret Cameron to Cindy Sherman by Boris Friedenwald.

I’ve mentioned before (17 March 2017) the rather surreal results of listing the media used to create art works.  This mixed show provides a particularly rich catalogue of materials: acrylic paint, acrylic nails, album, albumen print, aluminium sheet and rod, ash, automotive paint, ballpoint pen, beads, board, body colour, bone, brass, bricks, bronze, cabinet card, canvas, carbon print, ceramic,  charcoal, collage, coloured pencil, compressed lint, concrete, cosmetics, cyanotype, diamante, digital print, dress fabric, earthenware plate with tin glaze, earth, ebony, fabric, faux fur, felt, film 16/8mm, found object, frames, gauze, gelatin, silver print, gesso, glass, gorse plant, gouache, granite, graphite, GWR boxes, hardboard, HD video, horn, ink, kneaded eraser, lace, latex, lead, leather, Lycra, marble, MDF, metal, mirrored steel, nail varnish, oil paint,  panel, paper, pastel, peacock feather, pencil, Perspex, photograph, photo collage,  pigment, pigment print, plaster, plastic, plexi box frame, Polaroids, postcard, print, polyester resin, printed linen, PVC, quilting cotton, rag paper, satin, sea shells, shelf, silicone, silk thread, silver, steel, stones, tea, terracotta, [railway] track, umatic tape, velvet, watercolour, Wedgewood teapot, wood and ‘other materials’.  Is listing the media supposed give a work authenticity and gravitas?

Photos: 1. Claude Cahun, Self-Portrait (as weight trainer), c. 1937;  2. Sara Barker, soil knotted like toppled alphabets, 2016

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Margate 7

Monica Sommereux chose Charles Trenet’s La Mer to start her choice of music at last week’s U3AC Music Club.  He sings of how the ‘dancing’ sea ‘shimmers with silver’, of the sky as an ‘infinite azure shepherdess’, of the ‘big wet reeds’ and ‘white birds’.  Finally, how ‘….with a love song/The sea/Has rocked my heart for life.’  In verse two there is a line that sheds a happy light on national differences in metaphors:  he sings of ‘ses blancs moutons’, for us they are white horses.

There were no white horses at Margate when we visited, though the sea shimmered and white birds fed in the pools left by receding tides.  The allure of the sea was still there: the freshness of the air and salt on the lips; the smell of the shore and the gentle susurrus of the wavelets; the endlessly varied ripples in the sand crossed by paw, foot and hoof print; chalky whelk shells and green-brown drifts of seaweed harbouring strange liminal life; and the distant horizon beyond the ships waiting, mysteriously anonymous off shore.  Look, small, touch and taste – a beach is never boring.

Photos: Margate beach, October 2018

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 7. American Photographs

American photography is characterised by tensions, according to Mike Morrish, tensions between the urban and rural, rich and poor, commerce and art.  He argued that these tensions arise from America’s absorption with itself and the long held, but once less stridently expressed, view of ‘America first’.  The photography is also shaped by magazines, like Life, and agencies like Magnum.  Using the context set by these issues Mike showed pictures under three headings: events (photography as witness), e.g. Alfred Stieglitz, John Filo; places (cityscapes and landscapes), e.g. Berenice Abbott, Lee Friedlander; and people (concern for humanity), e.g. William Klein and Eve Arnold.

Photo: Eve Arnold, Marilyn Monroe, 1960,

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Going Spiral

‘The English landscape is full of spires and towers pointing to the heavens. A unique mixture of landscape and building—the horizontal and the vertical—conditions that change in different weather and varying lights and atmospheres. Spires in all their variety, set in all sorts of social contexts, are worth celebrating in a competition…..St John’s church in Bury St Edmunds is sponsoring this event. It has a huge spire built in 1841 and we would like it become better known in Suffolk and far beyond. For an entry fee of £10 you can submit up to five prints in black and white or in colour. The closing date is 5 September 2019….’  See

Photo: St John’s, Bury St Edmunds, November 2018

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Margate 6

Britain’s greatest painter (?), J. M. W. Turner, first visited Margate aged 11, his parents having sent him there to school in Love Lane. He returned to sketch in the town 10 years later and from the 1820s onwards was a regular visitor.  More than 100 of Turner’s works, paintings and drawings, were inspired by Margate and the East Kent coast.  He explained to the writer and art critic John Ruskin, that “…the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe”. The orientation of the coast bathes the town in soft north light with a quality unique to this part of Kent and it drew Turner back time and again.  He loved the sea, the skies and his landlady with benefits, Mrs Booth.

The tradition of painting the light continues.  Michael Richardson runs the Margate Harbour Arm Gallery converted from coal silos.  He is an English modern impressionist painter working in watercolour and oils; and is a member of the Wapping Group of Artists, probably the oldest outdoor painting society in the UK.  His main interest now is in plein air painting, enjoying the challenge of working fast in all weathers in front of the subject.  He passes on his skills to classes along the Margate Steps.  When we visited he was preparing to depart, swallow-like, for several weeks painting in Venice.  You can take just so much Kentish plein air in November.

Photos: Margate steps, October 2018

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 6. Post-processing

Using mainly Photoshop and Lightroom, just two of the range of packages available, Sue Fifer showed how easy post processing is in the digital age, compared with the time of silver halides and chemical baths.  She described it as a ‘democratisation’ of  photography, something available to all, not just those with darkroom.   It can involve a steep learning curve, but it is comparatively cheap, quick, gives you control, is reversible and provides an almost limitless range of options.  The trick is use only as much of the huge potential as you need to achieve the effects you want.  Shoot in RAW if you want to get the best out of it.

Is it cheating?  It can be, but doesn’t have to be and don’t blame digital technology: photography has given a partial and skewed view of reality from the day it was invented.  The picture above was post processed in Lightroom using the following steps: cropping; increase ‘clarity’ (increases mid-tone contrast (‘punch’)); overall exposure increase; overall exposure increase in the shadows; selective exposure increase/decrease to shadows/lights; selective changes to colour saturation; and sharpening.  The result is a better picture without reducing its integrity.

Photo: King’s Parade, Cambridge

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 5. Personal Photo Projects

Five people presented personal projects under the umbrella of ‘creative photography’ yesterday.  Jitka Brynjolffssen: the creation of a picture Orange Spray combining multiple images in Photoshop.  Eric Smith: enhanced colour pictures of the random beauty of bismuth crystals; Eric challenged his own work by asserting that ‘art without thought is not art’.  Nick Kerry: ‘Selfies and Selfishes’, pictures of people taking selfies in the Singapore Flower Dome and the National Gallery for his blog.  Mike Morrish: exploring the harbour at Newlyn and progressing from general scenes to capturing the poignant abstractions of fading and decaying colours and textures.  Ken Turner: looking for patterns in nature.

Photo: Eric Smith, photographs of bismuth crystals

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Margate 5

The tidal pool on Margate sands was built in 1900.  Such pools emerged in the latter part of the 19th Century as sea swimming became a regular part of a visit to the seaside, and was liberated when the legal segregation of bathing areas in Britain ended in 1901. Sea bathing was fashionable, but squelching through wet sand and seaweed at low tide was not; and the pools were a convenient way to exercise in the briny without additional hazards of currents and tides (just watch out for crabs).

Margate has a second tidal pool at Walpole Bay, built in 1937 to designs by Margate’s borough engineer, Mr. E. A. Borg.  It is constructed of concrete blocks reinforced by reused iron tram rails and is listed Grade II. There are 24 tidal pools in the British Isles and Margate is the only place with two.  Rob Ball celebrated the pool’s 80th anniversary in 2017 by making tintype portraits of the swimmers,  Archaic tintypes seem an appropriate way to capture the nostalgia of tidal pools.

Photos: 1.Tidal Pool, Margate sands, October 2018; 2. Water overflow, tidal pool Margate sands, October 2018

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Margate 4

Residents and visitors to Margate can see green power in action – the Thanet Wind Farm is 7 miles off the coast. One hundred turbines cover an area of 13.5 square miles, with 1,600 feet between turbines and 2,600 feet between the rows. It stands in water with an average depth of 46–75 feet. On commissioning in 2010 it was the world’s largest offshore wind farm. The Farm’s maximum output is 300 MW, by yearly average sufficient to supply approximately 240,000 homes, the equivalent of several Margates.   The lazily turning turbines are mirage-like witness to the weather and to the climate on which it depends.

On a calm Sunday morning we watched a training launch of the lifeboat Leonard Kent; a tracked tractor, accompanied by a yellow-clad crew, nudged it noisily across the sand and into the sea behind the pier.  In 1898 a real launch was truly dramatic and tragic.

On 24 February during a gale, the lifeboat was drawn by eight horses to the sands east of the stone pier, the usual place for a low water launch, when turning the carriage, a heavy sea struck the horses washing the riders off and throwing the horses in a heap.  Another attempt was made but another very heavy sea took the horses off their feet and then threw them against the carriage and some of them under it.  The Honorary Secretary and others rushed to the rescue of the men and horses.  Fortunately none of them were lost but four horses were drowned.  £150 was paid as compensation to the owners of the horses

Photos: 1. Thanet Wind Farm, Margate, October 2018; 2. Margate lifeboat crew, October 2018

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 4. History of Photography

Yesterday I presented ‘A (Partial) History of Photography’ to the Forum.  It was partial in both senses: it covered only a small part of the history; and it reflected my tastes and choices.  I tried to blend the history of issues, subjects, photographers and technology in a more or less chronological narrative.  I avoided using ‘first’ photographs of a genre and those that are so well-known as to be regarded almost as clichés.

Twenty-one slides covered: 1. First Photos; 2. War Photography; 3. The Urge to Travel; 4. Portraiture; 5. Searching for the Invisible; 6. ‘You press the button, we do the rest’; 7.  Photography as Art; 8. Campaigning Photography; 9. The Birth of Modernism; 10. Straight Photography; 11. The Avant-garde; 12. Photojournalism; 13. The New Deal – FSA; 14. Magnum; 15. The Decisive Moment; 16. Conceptual Photography; 17. New Documents; 18. Photo Books. 19. Colour; 20. Digital; and 21. Artist-Photographer?  See my presentation at


Comments from members reflected the partial nature of the talk.  Things I didn’t cover included: Polaroid; cartes-de-visite; stereoscopic views; space, aerial and medical photography; and early colour photography, Autochrome and FSA colour work.  And I should have started with the camera obscura.  Next time.

Photos: 1. Samuel Bourne, Fatehpur Sikri, India, c. 1866;  2. Man Ray, Untitled Rayograph, 1922;  3 Lee Friedlander, New York City, 1963

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Infinite Clouds

Dr Hannah Fry explored the brain numbing concept of infinity in her excellent recent series on BBC4, ‘Magic Numbers: Hannah Fry’s Mysterious World of Maths’.  She showed that there may be more than one infinity and how to get a bed at the Infinity Hotel when you are told all the rooms are full (you ask the person in Room 1 to move to Room 2 and so on down the line, because you can always have infinity plus one).  Walking across North Fen on Sunday it struck me that clouds help in thinking about the enormity of infinity: no two clouds since the Earth had an atmosphere have ever been the same and each one has been constantly changing shape, hence infinite variety.  Well, infinite enough for me.

Photo: Great North Fen, Cottenham, Cambs, October 2018

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