Athens Shops

Walking around Athens I was struck by the number of shops and small businesses trading under apartment buildings in side streets under, often taking advantage of shady arcades.  Some of these were eccentric, like collections of oily old car engines (not as pictured here, this another window) or very specific types of bathroom fittings, but most were valuable parts of the local community.  On my last day I strolled round the streets close to our hotel and counted 25 different trades: baker and butcher to bedding and bicycles; lottery and lighting, to florist and pharmacy; and café and crockery to newsagent and nail bar – and the ubiquitous motorcycles, of course.  Photo: Engine, Athens shop window, June 2019

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Benaki Museum

The Benaki Museum of Greek Culture in Athens has an air of style, learning and privilege about it.  This is not surprising as it was established to house the collection of the wealthy and well-connected Antonis Benakis.  What was surprising, to me anyway, was the rash of orange ‘Selfie Spot’ stickers on the floors throughout the galleries.  Should you be tempted to become a Platinum Member of the Museum you can do so for an annual subscription of 20,000+ euros. Photo: Benaki Museum, Athens, June 2019

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U3AC Photo Forum 2018-19 22: Mobile Phone Photography

On Friday Jitka Brynjolffssen explored the potential of mobile phone photography.  Even in the short history of photography the phone’s rise has been remarkable: 1997 first patent, 2000 first cameras, 2007 smart phones and today ubiquitous.  Its benefits include: convenience, you’re always carrying a camera; extraordinary flexibility (close and long focusing and good in low light); and the ability to share and send images.  High quality is achievable without a top of the range phone.

Mobiles now include built in programmes to allow greater creativity and a wide range of processing apps can be downloaded.  Accessories include clip on lenses, the selfie stick and mini tripods.  Will the phone replace the traditional camera?  Well, it certainly doesn’t make much sense to carry both a phone and a compact camera: for all its sophistication and potential most people seem to use their phone much like previous generations used the Box Brownie and the Brownie 127.

Photos: 1. Traeth Llyfn, Pembrokeshire, May 2019; 2. Ghikas’ Studio, Athens, June 2019

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Six Days in Athens 2019

Thursday 6th June  Awake at six o’clock: blackbird singing; thrum of traffic on Kallirois drifting in; later, bells from nearby St. Panteleimon Ilissos.  Walked up to National Archaeological Museum via:  Hadrian’s Arch and Temple of Olympian Zeus; fine exhibition of photographs by Robert McCabe; and Evzones performing their unique stylised march in front of Tomb of the Unknown Soldier;.  Coffee frappe at café off Plateia Omonias – voluble Greek men and clicking backgammon tiles.

Archaeological Museum full of marvellous things in marble and gold.  Athens Central Market full of blackened meat, silver fish and strong smells.  Beer in the courtyard at The Art Foundation.  Flea Markets around Monastriaki – furniture, books, coins medals, clocks, pictures, glasses, cameras, knives, etc. etc.  – sellers relax disinterestedly in the shade.

Friday 7th June  Orthodox chapel in the basement of the Mission next to the hotel; the priest explains the four icons on the iconostasis – left to right, the patron saint of the church, the Virgin Mary, Christ and John the Baptist.  Walked down to the National Garden – formerly Royal Garden commissioned by Queen Amalia, 1838 – pines, cypresses, oaks, cedars and glorious jacaranda, symbol of wisdom, rebirth, wealth and good luck.

Benaki Museum.  Starts with the simplicity of early Greece and ascends through periods of increasingly ornate and fussy design, evidence that art, unlike science, is not progressive.  Formal lunch being held for overdressed Greek ladies of a certain age.  Ghika’s Studio.  No starving artist’s garret, but beautiful and sophisticated rooms full of books, paintings and eclectic objets d’art.  Below rooms devoted to friends from the art world of post-war Greece – discovered two new women photographers, Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari (known as Nelly’s) and Voula Papaioannou.

Saturday 8th June  To the Acropolis.  Start early, but still don’t beat the crowds nor the heat.  Guides wave their umbrellas; people snap away and pose for selfies; guardians blow whistles.  Difficult to appreciate the original grandeur, beauty and importance; it’s now a scene symbolic of something else.  Why to people being young children?  A box is ticked.  Alpine swifts scream overhead.  Acropolis Museum: fine building, homage to the glory that was; good dakos salad lunch.

On to Ancient Agora.  Serendipity: stumbled on The House on Panos Street, a museum of ‘man and tools, aspects of labour in the pre-industrial world’; honours the status of craft skills and the hardness of past Greek life.  Temple of Hephaestus (449 BC) much more complete and in many ways more satisfying than the Parthenon; the Agora (1950s restoration), sublime rhythms of light and shade.

Sunday 9th June  To Delphi.  Full coach; guide in purple dress proves to be loud, repetitive and patronising – in both English and French. Good road, part E75; past Thebes and Lake Yliki, Levadhia and Arachova; from city to mountains, from roadside oleander to roadside broom; 190 km.  Distant Mount Parnassus, still some snow after hard winter. Arrived mid-day.  Climbed up past the Treasuries and the remains of the Oracle’s Temple to the Theatre.  Polygonal wall inscribed with the manumission contracts of slaves, who were dedicated to Apollo.  Sweeping view down the valley, across the Tholos and the Gymnasium.

Museum cool, and calm provided we kept two rooms in front of the guide.  Favourite pieces: bronze Charioteer of Delphi, (470s BC), and silver statue of a bull (with golden balls).  Chicken lunch in sprawling country restaurant near Chrisso; mulberries in the garden; steep drop down to the plain, Itea and the Gulf of Corinth.  Photo stop at Arachova.  Halloumi gyros for supper back in Athens, hmm rather than Ummm.

Monday 10th June  St. Panteleimon Ilissos: early morning sun sending patches of colour across the endless saints and illuminating their halos; lit candles  Through the Zappeio Gardens and Palace to the Panathenaic Stadium – built in 4th Century BC, restored 1895.  Ancient stadia established the model for all built since.

Cycladic Museum.  Beautiful objects of great simplicity.  This and the Benaki based originally on private collections; both excellent, both have an air of class and privilege.  Across the road to the Byzantine and Christian Museum – severe and intense icons become overwhelming.  Interesting take on this and the culture of ancient stones in an exhibition ‘Broken History’ by Pavlos Samios.  Steep climb then funicular railway up Lykavittos Hill.  Athens sprawling out to the surrounding hills and south west to the Saronic Gulf – about 45% of Greece’s population lives here.  Rabbit for supper.

Tuesday 11th June   Walked to the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos – underwhelming, apart from large tortoise and bushes of pale purple flowers alive with bees and butterflies.  Blessings of serendipity on the way: the picturesque little church of St Dimitrios Loumbardiaris with its wonderful Byzantine collage walls; and a playground of children in the sun joyously learning traditional Greek songs and dances.

Across busy Pireos to the Industrial Gas Museum – remains of the Athens gas works closed in 1984.  Extraordinary monument to: human ingenuity; harnessing fundamental processes; the blessing of street and domestic lighting; and the appalling working conditions endured by workers for over 130 years.  A rare survival.  Back to conventional archaeology at the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds.  Serendipity again: finding peace in the Church of Agios Eleftherios amid the bustle of shopping streets.  Last night – large slice of consoling baklava.

Photos: 1. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Athens, June 2019;  2. Fish Market, Athens, June 2019;  3. Jacaranda,  Zappeio Gardens, Athens, June 2019;  4. Ghikas’ apartment, Athens, June 2019;  5. Acropolis, Athens, June 2019;  6. Agora, Ancient Agora, Athens, June 2019;  7. Agora, Ancient Agora, Athens, June 2019;  8. Arachova, Greece, June 2019;  9. St. Panteleimon Ilissos, Athens, June 2019;  10. Athens from Lykavittos Hill, June 2019;  11. St Dimitrios Loumbardiaris, Athens, June 2019;  12. St Dimitrios Loumbardiaris, Athens, June 2019

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Take a Seat – Take a Moment 9

The subject here is taking a four-fold moment: smoking; reading a letter; finding shade from the sun; and escaping the crowds ticking off the Acropolis on their holiday to-do lists.  Even a tree root provides a comfortable perch under the circumstances.  Photo: The Acropolis, Athens, June 2019

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100 Photographs 022

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100 Photographs 021

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100 Photographs 020

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Six Days in St David’s 2019

Sunday 19th May  Walked out to St David’s Head past Trwynhwrddyn and Porth Lleuog.  Paths edged by foxgloves, dog daises, campions, sea pinks and buttercups; lichen encrusted rocks on carpets of squill.  Distant horizon across a gently rolling grey-green sea; a soft susurrus floating up from the shore and the occasional muffled boom of waves filling a cave.  A solitary gannet searching for a shoal; fulmars soaring on straight still wings.

Monday 20th May  St David’s, a big village masquerading as a city.  Fine cathedral, pleasant central square (triangle), and lanes of holiday-let silent cottages.  Up to Abereiddy and the Blue Lagoon; down (125 steps) to Traeth Llyfn, wading round rocks where limpets have ground circles into the smooth black surfaces.  Layers of rock at all angles – illustrations for a geology text book.  Porthgain: whitebait at The Sloop

Tuesday 21st May  Walked from Nine Wells past Porth y Rhaw and east along the cliffs.  A rough grassy mound needs the archaeologist’s eye and the poet’s imagination to turn it into the ancient fort it’s supposed to be.  Lying on the grass watching, counting, the beauty and horror of contrails.  Picnic at Caerfai Bay; dogs exercising their owners.  St David’s Cathedral: alabaster figure of Lady Maidstone looking like Oscar Wilde.  Sunset at Whitesands Bay.

Wednesday 22nd May  St Non’s Bay and chapel ruins; for St Non, mother of St David born here in a thunder storm.  Lit candle in the new chapel – 1930s Gothic.  Valerian flourishing in the unpromising aridity of drystone walls.  Cooking ratatouille.  Brief visits to St Justinians (oystercatcher piping) and Solva (laughter from the Harbour Inn).

Thursday 23rd May  Druidston via Solva, Newgale and Nolton Haven.  Past Malator, house in earth house architectural style; built for Bob Marshall-Andrews, design by Future Systems. Lunch at Druidston Hotel.  Beach: clambering across barnacle encrusted rocks waiting for sandy leads left by ebbing tide.  Found a sea hare.  Wind orchestrating the sea into the sound of surf.  Sounds the sea makes: breathing, signing, whispering, lapping slapping, crashing, roaring, booming.

Friday 24th May  Night punctuated by the Cathedral clock – twelve, two, four.  Cloudy dawn, mist over Carn Llidi.  To Solva Woollen Mill, Whitchurch; moved here in from St David’s in 1907; ancient noisy machinery; 10 foot overshot water wheel being repaired; ingenious, now defunct, sock knitting machine.  Lazy afternoon overlooking the Cathedral; low clouds like islands out to sea, mystical maritime Brigadoons. Evening walk by the Alun; song thrush calling time.

Photos: 1. Caerfai Bay, Pembrokeshire, May 2019; 2. Druidston Haven, Pembrokeshire, May 2019; 3. Whitesands Bay, Pembrokeshire, May 2019; 4. Urn, Lady Maidstone’s Dog, St David’s Cathedral, May 2019; 5. Caerfai Bay, Pembrokeshire, May 2019; 6.Solva Woollen Mill, Whitchurch, Pembrokeshire, May 2019

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U3AC Photo Forum 2018-19 21: Alternative Photography

The session last Friday (a joint effort with Alasdair Hayden-Wright) was an attempt to encourage members to look beyond the safe predictability of digital photography.  The message was: ‘Experiment, play, have fun’.  Central to this was revisiting the analogue world through the use of film, with its delight in the unexpected and deferred gratification – also its unpredictability in the case of Alasdair’s experiments with outdated film.  Instant film, e.g. Instax and Polaroid, was included.  I also introduced non-camera photography in the form of cyanotypes and photograms.

Pinhole photography combined both analogue and digital – analogue with DIY cameras and digital with pinholes replacing the lens on digital cameras.  Alasdair showed the striking effect of using old 35 mm film lenses on a digital camera and the fun to be had bodging unconventional (toy?) lenses onto DSLRs etc.  Andrew Milbourn contributed a section on achieving infrared effect with digital cameras.  The Lensball was introduced at the suggestion of Nick Kerry.

Photos: 1. Market Square, Cambridge, April 2019, Olympus Trip (Ilford XP2 film processed at Boots, low res scan); 2. Museum of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge, 2018, Fuji Instax. See for more details

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100 Photographs 004

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U3AC Photo Forum 2018-19 20: Exhibition 2019

The U3AC Photo Forum Exhibition (U3AC offices until  21 June) includes 26 photographs by members of the group.  They are drawn from four projects tackled over the year: ‘Patterns’, Reflections’, ‘Song Titles’ and ‘The Other Cambridge’.  Through these topics they embrace architectural, landscape, wildlife, still life and street photography.

The subjects show that members are a widely travelled group – Milan to Tokyo, Tallinn to Guadalupe, Ethiopia to Hong Kong.  With one exception (‘Life on the Street’, Brian Dawson) they present a cheery and optimistic view on the world with a focus on its beauty rather than its degradation.

Overall a good selection of pictures representing the interests, perception and photographic skills of the Forum.  Opposite, my contribution, Tate Britain 2019.

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Take a Seat – Take a Moment 8

Working, usually at a laptop, is one of the main occupations of people sitting in public.  And they are most often in cafes where the cost of office space in the price of a cup of coffee, say £3.00 for an hour.  Is this good value for the worker; and what’s in it for the café?  Someone, somewhere has probably done the maths.  Photo: Café Nero, Cambridge, May 2019

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100 Photographs – 003

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100 Pictures

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