Blakeney Angels

Panel from a south window in St Nicholas, Blakeney.  Gregory’s quote is conveniently shortened, if Wikipedia is to be believed: ‘Non Angli, sed angeli, si forent Christiani.– “They are not Angles, but angels, if they were Christian”.  Aphorism, summarizing words reported to have been spoken by Gregory when he first encountered pale-skinned English boys at a slave market, sparking his dispatch of St. Augustine of Canterbury to England to convert the English, according to Bede. He said: “Well named, for they have angelic faces and ought to be co-heirs with the angels in heaven.”’

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Take a Seat – Take a Moment 5

Another book of moments (see post 21st March 2019) is People Kissing by Levine and Ramey (Princetown Architectural Press 2019).  More active that quiet moments, the sub-title is ‘A Century of Photographs’ and it reveals the shifts in social and cultural attitudes around this intimacy that have occurred over that time (1880 -1975).  From Ambrotype to Polaroid, it’s incidentally a history of photography.  Time for a volume on people drinking coffee?  I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one already.  Photo: Indigo Coffee, St Edward’s Passage, Cambridge, April 2019

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Take a Seat – Take a Moment 4

Alasdair and I are planning a session for the U3AC Photography Forum loosely titled ‘Alternative Photography’.  The aim is to get people to play, experiment and have photographic fun, by using film, for example.  So, I loaded an Olympus Trip with XP2, spent an hour or two in the town centre and dropped the film off at Boots.  I collected the prints today with the sense of anticipation that digital cameras have sucked out of photography.  It was fun and the results were a pleasant surprise.  Photo: Great St Mary’s Passage, Cambridge, April 2019

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Everything I Ever Learnt

DaveH got to see Everything I Ever Learnt before I did.  He commented: ‘Was rather disappointed.  Maybe that because I am a Philistine!  The quality of printing did not help but I rebel against out of focus images and poor lighting. I am not convinced that sacrificing the craft for “artistic” effect is the mark of an artist.’  I don’t think he’s Philistine, but I think he may have missed the point.

Everything I Ever Learnt, organised by Shutter Hub, is on show at the Alison Richard Building, Cambridge to 3rd May 2019.  The brief for the exhibition was left open to interpretation by photographers, who were asked to put forward single images or projects (up to 6 images) for consideration.  The aim is explore the idea of seeing through photography.  Shutter Hub elaborated on this: That image reminds me of something. It ignites a small flame that lights my way through the filing system of my mind. It brings me eventually to the hint of a memory, and that memory guides my interpretation of the image, influences my reaction, connects my thoughts and feelings, and threads them together, binding them into a new collection, to be drawn upon the next time something familiar arises.  Everything I have seen, felt, remembered, everything, influences and informs every thought I will ever have.

Work by around 80 photographers was selected and over 150 pictures, printed on tabloid format newsprint, fill the walls over four floors of the ARB. Responses to the brief are expressed through every genre of photography, from abstract to documentary, portraiture to still life, travel to wildlife, and drawing on experiences from around the world.  Colour and black and white both feature.  There seems to be limited reliance on the advanced trickery of Photoshop.

The two first impressions are contrary.  On one side the quantity and richness of the pictures; on the other very variable print quality achieved by using newsprint (it generally copes better with colour than monochrome).  It’s important to focus on the former, which reveals the breadth of the creative imaginations at work and the ability of photography to give life to them through myriad subjects and diverse use of the medium

Among my favourite individual pictures were ‘You Are a Star’ (Eliza Bourner), ‘A Decisive Moment’ (Stefan Czemerys), ‘Slavic Bestiary 02’ (Magda Kuca), ‘Things Had a Way of Disappearing in the Garden’ (Janet Lees) and ‘The Bitterness of Lemons’ (Helen Turnbull).  Strong groups of pictures were the ‘Pictographs’ series (Roger Coulam), the ‘Horizon’ series (Angel Gurria-Quintana), the ‘When I Walked Through Walls’ series (Paola Leonardi) and the ‘It’s Ok to feel…’ series (Gavin Smart).   Nearly half of the photographers were represented by single images and about 40% by two images, those showing sets of three to six images were a small minority.  Though few in number, the sets demonstrated the benefits of being able to work on and exhibit projects.

I submitted six pictures from my ‘In Plain View’ project, two were accepted and I was pleased to be exhibited in such good company.  My accompanying statement said:  Often we do not see, much less appreciate, what is around us.  We find the familiar dull and may be wholly blind to the beauty in everyday objects and experiences.  Jonathan Meades argues, ‘The typical is elusive. It’s a hard thing to capture because it surrounds us and doesn’t shout.’  As photographers we are often drawn to, look at and see with greater clarity, that which is most different from our daily experience.  To challenge this I travelled around my house and garden with a camera to try to learn to see and capture the changing scene, the changing play of light and shade through the day and through the year.  I looked up and down, inward and outward.  The idea of seeing and recording the extraordinary in the ordinary called for the simple, unhurried approach achieved by using film.  I made the resulting images, which have an abstract, fragmentary quality, into a photo book, In Plain View.

Leaving aside the fact that my pictures were included, I think this is an excellent exhibition.  If the print quality rarely does the pictures justice, it is excusable in giving access to an exhibition to people who may not otherwise be able to afford the costs of printing and framing.  There are many individually fine images and the exhibition overall shows the strength of photography as a creative medium and the depth of talent there is using it.  Forget camera club judging prejudices and there is much here to enjoy and learn from.

‘Shutter Hub is a photography organisation providing opportunities, support and networking for creative photographers worldwide. We provide the chance for photographers to professionally promote their work, access high quality opportunities and make new connections within the photographic community, through our website, in-person meet ups and exhibitions.’

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Take a Seat – Take a Moment 3

Black+White Photography magazine runs a regular feature, ‘Smart Guide to Photography’.  It concentrates on still lives and other static subjects and rarely ventures out onto the street.  The helpful advice at shows that B+W is missing something.  I don’t use a smart phone for street photography, but find it a great asset: people are so absorbed in their screens that they don’t notice my camera.  Photo: Rodborough Common, Stroud, Glous., March 2019

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WTO – Dress It Up

Novelty buttons: made in Taiwan and China; packaged at 950 Jennings Street Unit 1B, Bethlehem PA 18017, USA; sold farmers market Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK; price £2.50.

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One of the most widely reproduced images from the early days of photography is The Haystack by William Henry Fox Talbot.  It was taken in April 1844 using the calotype process, originally reproduced as a salted paper print and published as Plate X in The Pencil of Nature.  This digital picture is perhaps an homage to Talbot’s original – and if you look up his work on-line you may also see it as a comment on changing rural life and farming practice.  Photo: Cottenham, Cambs, March 2019

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Two scarecrows from last week.  The different worlds of Fen farming and the National Trust.

Photos: 1. Scarecrow, Landbeach, Cambs, March 2019; 2. Scarecrow, Ickworth House, Suffolk, March 2012

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Metcalfe Almshouses

I made the mistake of trying to get to Ickworth House using TomTom on Saturday.  The man at the Shell garage was much more helpful.  But there was a bonus: an unwonted tour of Suffolk took me to Hawstead and rounding a corner I was presented with the delightful surprise of the Metcalfe Almshouses siting comfortably across a green.  Pevsner does not share my delight: ‘A hungry-looking job of grey bricks…The two middle doorways are taken together under one ogee arch – the one plum in the cake.’

Photo: Metcalfe Almshouses, Hawstead, Suffolk, March 2019

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Only Colour Will Do

Forced to make the choice, I’d opt for black and white photography over colour.  Part of the reason may lie in habit and tradition: it’s what I grew up with and learned in the darkroom.  Monochrome is timeless.  Then there is the simplicity of the palette, black to white through an infinity of greys, which renders the subject without the distraction of colour.  It’s a palette capable of creating its own rich range of tones and textures that enhance form, shape and pattern.  There is an honesty as well as simplicity: a black and white photograph is what it is, a depiction, an interpretation of something, not the real thing.  Shooting in black and white helps us to see things differently, more clearly.

But there are times when only colour will do.  It may be that it is the colour that has attracted attention, a quality in the subject that complements form and shape to create something that is more than the sum of the parts.  Or it may be that colour is the essence of the thing, that it becomes almost meaningless in monochrome: photographs of rainbows must have been very disappointing before the advent of effective colour photography.

Photographs: 1. Faculty of Law, Cambridge, March 2019; 2. J’s kitchen, March 2019

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U3AC Photo Forum 2018-19 19: Song Titles

The last session of term was a collation of members’ work based on song titles.  The minimal rules set by Tim were: images can be newly taken or from personal archives; the title can be any type of song – pop, rock, choral, sacred; and submissions should include the song title and artist.  Sixteen people contributed 43 pictures.

The 34 composers and artists represented ranged from Bach to the Dixie Chicks and Dvorak to Lita Rosa.  Songs spanned ‘Autumn Leaves’ to ‘Flash Gordon’, ‘Psalm 66’ to ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ to ‘Calling Occupants (of Interplanetary Craft)’.  Three titles and four musicians were duplicated.  Photographic styles embraced abstracts, nature, still life, landscape and street photography.  Locations spread from London to the Yellowstone NP, Cambridge to Indonesia and Shoreditch to Great Gransden.

Members tackled the project in broadly two ways.  Most people opted for iterating between a photograph they had and a song title that struck a chord: a photograph prompted a song or a song reminded them of a photograph or both.  This could have led to some strained connections, but in most cases it was logical and easy to guess the song/title from the picture, other than with the more obscure tunes.  A few people chose the more difficult route of taking a specific photograph, usually a still life, to illustrate a chosen title.  There was little use of Photoshop techniques.  If there was a prize for tongue in cheek inventiveness it would have gone to Nick Kerry for his Reinhardtian black rectangle illustrating The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night’.

Photos: 1. ‘Ticket to Ride’, The Beatles, 1965 (Bloomsbury Street, London 2011); 2. ‘Fields of Gold’, Sting, 1993 (Quy Fen, 2018); 3. ‘Stairway to Heaven’, Led Zeppelin, 1971 (Tate Britain, 2019)

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Take a Seat – Take a Moment 2

The previous post has set me thinking that there might be a photo book in my pictures of people sitting in quiet moments.  This would be in a similar vein to my Ruckenfigur Revisited (2013).  More elevated examples are Elliott Erwitt’s Handbook (2003) and Andre Kertesz’s On Reading (2008).

The seated figure is synonymous with the portrait and thus has innumerable precedents in painting and photography.  Painted portraits most often depict a ‘sitter’, whose stillness is consistent with the nature of the medium.  Very slow shutter speeds required a motionless stance for early photographic portraits and seated poses still predominate.

But are my pictures portraits?  A simple definition of a portrait is, ‘a painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders.’  It usually represents a collusion between the artist and the sitter, though this is neither implicit nor explicit in the definition.  I think my pictures are closer to street photography than portraiture, though they do display something of  ‘the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person’.  There is no direct collusion with the sitter.

Photos: 1. Botanic Garden, Cambridge, February 2019; 2. Maharini Take Away, Cambridge, July 2018; 3. Town and Country Fair, Parker’s Piece, Cambridge, June 2017

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Take a Seat – Take a Moment

Anyone seeing my street photography on Instagram will have noticed that it often includes seated people.  Why?  Is it just an accident; or do I go to lots of places where people want to sit down?  Is it because it’s easier than catching bodies in motion, the telling fleeting gesture; or is it to reduce the risk of having to engage with people, taking them while their attention is elsewhere.  Perhaps all of these.  Or maybe something else: the pleasure of seeing people in quiet moments of contemplation or concentration, rest or reverie, in busy public places.  Slow photography?

Photo: Rodin’s The Kiss, Turner Contemporary, Margate, 2012

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U3AC Photo Forum 2018-19 18: Walkabout – The Other Cambridge

The brief for the walkabout practical session last week was the following.  ‘The title “The Other Cambridge” is deliberately vague and wide open. The sub-title is “the Cambridge that the tourists don’t see”. So anything that you consider falls into that category can be included.  The only rule is that images have to be taken on 8th March, anytime during that day (not merely during our class time).’  A suggested supplementary requirement was that the picture should be recognisably of Cambridge.  Members were asked to submit up to three pictures.  The results were presented and discussed on Friday 15th.

Sixteen members of the Forum submitted 45 photographs, which Mike Morrish put into five categories, buildings (12), people and places (10), places (10), details (8) and transport (5).  Around 90% of the pictures were in colour.  Members met the requirement of photographing the Cambridge the tourists don’t see in one of two ways.  First, by the choice of location, which ranged from the A14 to the Elizabeth Way roundabout, Addenbrooke’s to Fen Road, the Lime Kiln Pits to the Science Park and including various unlikely corners.  Second, by picturing the City from high or low viewpoints, by looking over walls and by picking out easily missed details.  The best pictures began to establish a new visual language for Cambridge.

At J’s suggestion I concentrated on churchyards in or close the City centre.  These included All Saint’s Garden, the Catholic Church, Great St Mary’s, Little St Mary’s, Michaelhouse, the Round Church, St Benet’s, St Botolph’s, St Clement’s, St Edward’s and St Paul’s.  I took photographs in only seven of these and it was easy to narrow my three down to Little St Mary’s, St Benet’s and St Edwards, which are shown here.

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The 9th East Norfolk Regiment taking the Sikh batteries and camp ‘at the point of the bayonet’ on the second day of the Battle of Ferozeshah, 21st – 22nd December 1845.  Diorama presented to the Ancient House Museum, Thetford, by the British Flat figure society.  Who knew there was a Battle of Ferozeshah?  Who knew there was a British Flat Figure Society?

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