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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Margate 3

The legend on the map instructs you breezily to ‘Enjoy Margate’; the urban grime of graffiti on the doors suggests you might want to do so warily.  Really there is much to enjoy: the beach, Dreamland, the Turner Contemporary and the Old Town cautiously reinventing itself with cafes, galleries and quirky shops.  The High Street looks like a case study in the decline of town centre shopping (the opening of the Westwood Cross out-of-town shopping centre in 2005 can’t have helped), and Marine Terrace has a tackiness not quite relieved by any of the kiss-me-quick jollity of a more prosperous past, however, the view across the bay at sunset puts all that into perspective.

And enjoy it eating fish and chips on the Margate Steps (more properly the Margate Flood & Coastal Protection Scheme).  Except that you will want to keep a wary eye on the gathering of hooligan herring gulls that wait, not for the occasional dropped chip but to pounce and snatch all your cod and fries in a squawking flurry of wings.  Harry tells these are immature birds that the parents have stopped feeding and are now looking for an easy meal.  More knowing visitors sit back from the Steps and sneak their chips out of the box one at a time.

Photos: 1.  Margate Old Town, October 2018; 2. The Parade, Margate, October 2018

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 3. Photographic Resources

Tim Ewbank made a presentation and led a discussion on photographic resources, or where to get advice on taking better pictures before you press the shutter.  Sources included:

  • Print – books and magazines
  • Digital – Pinterest, blogs, photosharing sites, e.g. Instagram, apps
  • Audio-visual – TV, film, U-tube
  • Suppliers – shops, companies
  • Getting involved – user groups, camera clubs
  • Museums and Galleries – Photographers’ Gallery etc.

See Tim’s presentation at

Photo: BH blog page (

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Margate 2

Perpetual Canon is an installation by Cornelia Parker made up of sixty flattened instruments that belonged to a brass band. The ring, violated only by unwary and unruly visitors, hung in Turner Contemporary’s Sunley Gallery.  Cornelia Parker says, ‘I resurrect things that have been killed off. My work is all about the potential of materials – even when it looks like they’ve lost all possibilities.’  I tried to describe and explain it to friends over lunch at La Margherita.  They were not convinced, looked askance at me, and turned their attention to the torta al cioccolato.

According to Jyll Bradley’s web site, ‘Dutch/Light (for Agneta Block) marks the 350th anniversary of the Dutch Raid on the River Medway, which brought about the end of the Anglo-Dutch wars, peace between the two nations and an unlikely cultural exchange based on growing plants. At the time of the Dutch Raid, Dutch growers were pioneering early glasshouse technology, which started with the simple idea of leaning glass frames against a south-facing wall – the so-called ‘Dutch Light’ – which led to a horticultural revolution that crossed the North Sea. In Bradley’s work, five tall ‘Dutch Lights’ made of  Edge-Lit Plexiglas are turned on their side and leant against south-facing walls to create an open glasshouse structure that is activated by the sun.’  I’d learned my lesson and didn’t try this on my lunchtime companions.  I preferred to stick with my memory of the cleaner’s homage to the work.

Photo: 1. Perpetual Canon, Cornelia Parker, Turner Contemporary, Margate, October 2018; 2. Dutch-Light (for Agenta Block), Jyll Bradley, Turner Contemporary, Margate, October 2018

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 2. Looking at Pictures

My aim for the Forum last Friday was to encourage members to talk about photography and photographs as a creative medium, an art form.  We looked at the unique nature of photography, the challenges it poses and some critical analysis.  I introduced ways of understanding photographs through the writings of John Szarkowski (Looking at Photographs) and David Hurn and Bill Jay (On Looking at Photographs).  The group then discussed five photographs by Jane Bown, Sebastiao Salgado, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Gregory Crewdson.  Three key points emerged: each person will interpret a photograph in their own way; appreciation of a photograph is enhanced by knowing its back story; and you need to take time to look at pictures.  See my presentation at

Photo: Sebastiao Salgado, Ice Castle, Weddell Sea, 2005

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Pigeon Prey

I went into the garden yesterday morning to collect fallen apples and was presented with evidence of nature red in beak and claw flourishing in my suburban garden.  Wood pigeon wing and tail feathers were scattered across the grass; and a neat corona of breast feathers lay not more than three metres from the French windows.  The prey was easy to identify, but what about the predator?  Surely not the kestrel I saw sitting at the top of the leylandii two weeks ago.  Possibly a peregrine, which soars overhead occasionally; or a sparrow hawk, which I’ve never seen here.

Photo: Raptor prey, Mowbray Road, October 2018

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Margate 1

Plans to visit Margate last weekend were treated with scepticism by some and barely concealed derision by others. But what do they know?  Even Margate holds delights for those who are willing to look and are able to see.  I tried to set aside T S Eliot’s cheerlessness in The Wasteland: “On Margate sands./I can connect/Nothing with nothing.”

Photo: Margate, October 2018

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 1. Introduction

The opening session to set out how the Forum will work.  The overall objective is to ‘improve our individual practice of photography’.  The Forum will be participative, educational and fun.  It is not a camera club, not competitive, nor a ‘how to’ workshop.  Most popular topics for sessions among members are travel, landscape and cityscapes.  Experience in the group of 21 is variable, but cumulatively it amounts to 620 years – 3.5 times the age of photography!  Surprise of the day: striking abstract pictures made by photographing molten and solidified bismuth.  For this term’s programme see and go to Photo Forum.

Photo: Bismuth crystals

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Vismarkt, Bruges

At one time fish was sold in an open air corner of the Bruges Vismarkt, but local people complained about the smell and in 1821 the fishmongers were moved to a covered arcade.  A colonnade with 126 Tuscan column encloses an open courtyard; it was designed by city architect Jan-Robert Calloigne.  In 1852 the original wooden tables were replaced by sloping stone sales banks, a beautiful and very functional design.  Fresh saltwater fish are still sold there every morning from Wednesday to Saturday.

Photo: Vismarkt, Bruges, March 2012

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