Judging Photographs

‘Camera Clubs are obsessed with competitions’, according to Gerry Metcalfe speaking at a U3A session on Judging Photographs yesterday.  Hence the need for the hundreds of judges whose names are published by the Photographic Alliance of Great Britain.  Apparently judges should know their subject, recognise that photography is a subjective pursuit and not be too discouraging when faced by bad pictures, but they don’t need to be good photographers themselves.

How then are photographs judged?  Some alchemical combination of: the picture, e.g. composition; communication, the photographer’s intention; technique, e.g. sharpness; colour; and analysis, e.g. originality and special effects.  Thereby wildlife is reckoned to be judged against architecture, landscape against portraiture and so on.  A case of apples v pears and bananas v oranges.  What would this picture score?

Gerry illustrated his talk with a range of his own and other people’s pictures – including the Pen and Camera Club of Methodism (some of whose members should stick to the pen).  The audience tended to like landscapes, travel pictures and technical nature photography, but was critical of too much post production manipulation.  Some wanted to improve pictures by shifting the viewpoint and a crop here and there – sometimes very dubious judgements, sometimes hopeless attempts to improve poor pictures.

It all seemed a bit like using a ‘Which’ best buy consumer testing methodology to rank visual art.  That may help camera club obsessives, but has little to offer to serious photographic practice.  Try applying it to the work if Daido Moriyama.


Photo: 1. Senate House Hill, Cambridge, June 2017; 2. Daido Moriyama

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Cafe Culture 5

The phone, the tablet and the lap top are integral parts of café culture now, technological replacements for newspapers, books and conversation.  Here the adult concentrates on her phone while the children read books, new and old cultures the reverse of the respective ages.  Not a lot of conversation, but not as daunting as a tableau in which all four are lost in their separate digital worlds.

Photo: Balzano’s, Cambridge, July 2017

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Wort’s Causeway 2

The Beechwoods are enclosed and intimate, the sky is hidden, there are no horizons.  Stand opposite the gate on Wort’s Causeway and the open fields spread into the distance in a world that becomes two-thirds sky.  In the early morning the view east is an ever changing source of delight as the sun and clouds mix an impressionistic palette. (See also posts 2nd January and 4th February 2017)

Photo: Wort’s Causeway, Cambridge, July 2017

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Burnham Overy 3 – Razor Clams

The razor clam, razor fish, or spoot, is a bivalve living buried in sandy beaches.   It has an elongated, rectangular shape, whose similarity to a straight razor gives it its name.   The shells are fragile, with open ends; the outside is whitish with reddish-brown or purplish-brown markings; the inner surface is white with a purple tinge. Many populations of razor shell have declined as a result of overfishing; they are also sensitive to minor changes in salinity and temperature. What is the origin and cause of this mass of shells in July?

Rare on menus, razor clams make good eating, their sweet delicate white flesh resembles squid.   The Marine Conservation Society recommends avoiding razors below 10cm in length and not to foraging or buying foraged clams from May to September. The classic method for cooking them is by steaming in a flavoured liquid, perhaps with a splash of wine and some sweated onions and garlic.

Photos: Razor clams, near Gun Hill, Burnham Harbour, July 2017

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Burnham Overy 2

The River Burn is a chalk stream 12 km long, has a catchment of 100 sq. km and falls just 36 m from source to sea.  A barely noticeable presence, it signifies itself through the settlements of Burnham Norton, Burnham Deepdale, Burnham Overy Town, Burnham Overy Staithe, Burnham Market (Burnham up-Market, surely) and Burnham Thorpe (Nelson’s birthplace).

In medieval times the estuary of the Burn was a harbour, Skottermouth, protected from northerly gales by the dunes of the Burnham Meals.   It was an important hub for waterborne trade.  Shallow-draft dinghies now edge slowly along the remaining channels towards the gap between Scolt Head and Gun Hill, still called Burnham Harbour.  Traces of earlier structures, earlier functions, decay slowly into the Overy saltmarsh.

Photos:  Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk, July 2017

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Burnham Overy 1

Mr Knights taught us geography at secondary school.  Then it was thought important to know about cotton in Lancashire, coal in South Wales and shipbuilding on the Clyde.  We learned to read Ordnance Survey maps and looked for arêtes, u-shaped valleys and ox-bow lakes.  Deserts came to life with barchans, linear and sief dunes.  He offered us curiosity about the world.

Photo: Holkham Bay, Burnham Overy, Norfolk, July 2017

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Burnham Pigeons

Sometimes photography shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Photo: Burnham Overy Staithe July 2017

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Stowe Legacy

If you were to ask the Pythonesque question, ‘What has the landed gentry ever done for us?’ the apologist’s answer might not be as impressive as the original list of credits to the Romans: “the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health” (and peace).  But they were rather good bequeathing us a heritage of great houses in marvellous landscapes, and there are few finer than Stowe, created by Viscount Cobham in the grounds of his family home from 1717 – though it did mean displacing a village of 32 houses and 180 residents.

Cobham worked with the most forward thinking architects and garden designers of the time, including Charles Bridgeman, Sir John Vanburgh, James Gibbs, William Kent and Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.  The landscape garden at Stowe is one of the most remarkable legacies of Georgian England – and it’s definitely more a landscape and less a garden.

But for those with a taste for schadenfreude and the just rewards for hubris, in the long term the people have replaced the gentry.  By the late 1830s, the estate was beginning to look neglected. The owner, keen to undertake repairs on the house and gardens, ran up a debt of over £1 million with creditors; by the end of the 1840s bailiffs seized the estate.  A more or less hand to mouth existence ended with the house being taken over for Stowe School in 1922; the School gifted the grounds to the National Trust in 1989. Quite some gift and ultimately a good thing the gentry did for us.

Photos: Stowe, Buckingham, July 2017

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Beechwoods Leaves

After what looked like a slow start (see post 1st May 2107) the beeches are now fully in leaf.  The tree canopy is dense: on cloudy days the woods become gloomy and slightly menacing, on sunny ones they are dappled with pools of light and shade.  The woods have become trickier photographically, long exposures on the dull days and dealing with high contrasts when it’s bright.

Photo: Beechwoods summer leaves, July 2017

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Wheat and Barley

Members of our walking group often ask what is growing in the fields we are traipsing round.  The early growth of green tops and grass-like leaves look much alike, so there is some excuse, though often even the fully grown crops are looked at blankly.  It is just one more symptom of the extent to which we are divorced from the source of the food we eat.  But even the most inveterate urbanite ought to be able to distinguish between wheat and barley.

Photo: Lime KIln Hill, near Beechwoods, Cambridge, July 2017

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Cambridge North

Yesterday I walked from Milton Road on the path by the Guidedbus Way to the new Cambridge North Station.  The quiet away from the traffic streaming into Cambridge was broken only by the occasional bus.  The banks and verges were like linear wildflower gardens – mullein, mallow, vetches, thistles, poppies, buddleia, convolvulus, hardhead, fat hen, ox-eye daisies and rosebay willowherb etc.  Deliberately seeded by eco-friendly local authorities?  The station is a fine piece of design, its clean simple form complemented by an almost lacy geometric mathematical surface treatment.


A young woman sold coffee from a pedal powered machine – a coffee concession will open in the station shortly.  I was impressed by the whole arrangement – access, station, car and cycle parking – and like to think it will finally kick-start a long delayed Northern Fringe regeneration.  I bought a ticket (£2.30) back to Cambridge; and shared a carriage with four ladies on a certain age taking the mother of one of them to ITV’s ‘Loose Women’ as a birthday treat.

Photos: Cambridge North Station, Cambridge, June 2017

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This male grey squirrel was foolish enough to climb a local three-phase power supply array, meeting an untimely death and blacking out several properties near Waterbeach.

Photo: Grey Squirrel, Waterbeach, Cambs 170624

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Docwra’s Manor

This seat by the Main Lawn at Docwra’s Manor has been given an aged weather beaten textures and is slowly being taken over by nature.  Unusable now, it looks never to have been very comfortable.  The uprights of the back have curious lead caps, split and buckled in harmony with the wood.

Photo: Docwra’s Manor, Shepreth, Cambs 170621

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Hull City of Culture

Hull City of Culture, dancing fountains switch on in May 2016:

‘Mel Chantrey, a former Turner Prize nominee, came up with the circle-inspired design two years ago and he was delighted to see his brainchild finally being given its moment in the spotlight….“It’s incredibly gratifying,” he said. “You measure success by the response of the people. You are never sure how it’s going to be received but you couldn’t ask for better than today.”….”This is an opening we’ve been planning for a long time and this is a gift from the Council to the people.”   The fountains are part of a £25m public realm facelift of the city centre by Hull City Council and John Simpson, who is one of the architects involved in the project, thinks it’s great to see money spent on public features.  He said: “As a company we have really enjoyed working for the Council and I think everybody has put a great deal of effort into the public realm work. The council gets a lot of criticism but there are not many councils investing this type of money in their cities so that is a brave step which should be commended.”….The Queen Victoria Square fountains feature 77 separate jets of water capable of changing direction and speed thanks to computer programming. One of them creates circles of mist which can rise up to two metres into the air.’  Hull Daily Mail 26th May 2017

Photo: Victoria Square, Hull 170619

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Things Past

I’ve been writing a very rough biographical memoir to leave to my children and grandchildren.  The narrative reflects the changing world since my earliest memories from the 1950s. Sometimes the passage of time is crystallised in the realisation that there are once common things you no longer see: coal men; pink paraffin deliveries; men and women in hats; grocery delivery boys on bikes; cars with rear window stickers saying ‘Running-in Please Pass and so on.  I was reminded today that you no longer see fields of stubble burning, a practice that was widespread until it was effectively prohibited as recently as 1993.

Photo: Barley, burning straw and trees near Burrough Green, Cambs, 170614

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