Stone Eyes

Cultures through history have used the eye as a symbol of knowledge, providence, foresight, power and divine direction and protection.  The eyes as windows on the soul is a common idea. The spiritual associations move iconoclasts to behead statues; frescoe figures in abandoned Christian churches in Turkey have their eyes hacked out.  Samson had his eyes put out by the Philistines.

Photo: Belogianni Beach, Kardamyli, Mani, Greece, June 2010

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Blue Rope and Red

‘“I am at war with the obvious,” William Eggleston has said, and he set out to prove it by showing the everyday and the ordinary is a startling new light.  More than any other photographer in recent years, Eggleston has expanded the medium’s vocabulary to accept colour and include subjects disregarded by most photographers… Eggleston’s work is not about colour, it is colour.  Just think about [his] image in black-and-white.  It might work, but it is unlikely.’  Jerry Badger, The Genius of Photography, Quadrille Publishing, London, 2007, p. 148

Photo: Canvas and blue rope, Mersea Island, Essex, May 2019

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U3AC Photo Forum 4 – Landscapes

Mike Morrish started his class by saying that, for him, looking at a landscape and responding to it emotionally was more important than the photography.  Working through examples by Don McCullin, Colin Baxter, Ansel Adams, Charlie Waite and Fay Godwin, Mike led a discussion that brought out some issues, e.g. whether landscape has to be beautiful, and principles, e.g. the importance of textures and tones.  Using 20 of his own pictures, from Caxton to Kenya and Oman to Zennor, Mike asked members of the Forum to ‘write down one or more aspects of landscape photography that it suggests.’  Points for me were: view point; the light; being there; sense of place and identity; the importance of happenstance/serendipity; when and when not to include people; and does the photograph express the emotion that made you take the picture?

Photo: Don McCullin from Open Skies, 1989

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Sarah Wrench

I wonder when it was in Post War Britain that being born out of wedlock stopped being a great social stigma, the badge that gave a member of my family born during the First World War a miserable childhood and a lifetime fearing discovery of the shameful secret.  The supposed sin of the mother being visited on the child.  Sarah Wrench died 1848 and was buried on the north side of St Edmund’s Church, East Mersea, in unconsecrated ground.  This may have been because she was thought to have been a witch or had a child out of wedlock or both (in judgemental times the two were conveniently conflated).  She is covered by a mortsafe – maybe to protect her from grave robbers or to stop her leaving the grave and troubling East Mersea residents.  Misogyny comes in many guises.

Photo: Grave of Sarah Wrench, St Edmund’s Church, East Mersea, 2010

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U3AC Photo Forum – Colour Photography

I included a photograph by William Eggleston in my history of photography in 20 photographs for the Forum – his 1976 exhibition at MoMA sanctioned colour photography as serious medium. Two members of the Forum drew our attention to earlier examples of the creative use of colour.

Susan Fifer mentioned Sergey Mikhaylovich Prokudin-Gorsky (1863 – 1944), Russian chemist and photographer, best known for his pioneering work in color photography of early 20th-century Russia.  His technique, first suggested by James Clerk Maxwell in 1855, imitated of the way the human eye senses color.  Photographs were taken through red, green and blue colour filters and then recombined to produce a single colour image.


Alan Bird reminded us of Albert Kahn (1860 – 1940), a French banker and philanthropist who initiated The Archives of the Planet, a vast photographic project. In 1909, Kahn travelled to Japan on business and returned with many photographs of the journey. This prompted him to start collecting a record of the entire Earth. He sent photographers to every continent to record images of the planet using Autochrome plates; between 1909 and 1931 they collected 72,000 colour photographs.  (Compare this picture of the Colossi with mine in the post of 11th October 2017.)

Photo: 1.  Sergi Prokudin-Gorskii, Armenian woman in national costume near Artvin,c.-1905-15; 2.  Albert Kahn, Colossi of Memnon, Egypt, c. 1914

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The Guards Chapel

‘The Royal Military Chapel, St. James Park, known as the Guards Chapel, is the religious home of the Household Division at the Wellington Barracks in London. Constructed between 1839–40 in the style of a Grecian temple and restored in the 1870s, the chapel was bombed during the Blitz in 1940/1941.  On Sunday 18 June 1944 the chapel was hit again, this time by a V1 during the morning service. The explosion of the V1 collapsed the concrete roof onto the congregation, with 121 killed and 141 injured persons (military and civilians).  Using the memorials from the old chapel as foundations, in the 1960s it was rebuilt in a modern style [by Bruce George of George Trew and Dunn Architects]. In 1970 it was given Grade II* listed status.’  Wikipedia

Photo: Guards Chapel, Birdcage Walk, London, April 2010

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Beechwoods – Waiting for snow?

Randy Pangborn commented on my post ‘Gunnar Ekelof in Hadstock’ (27th February 2015) and suggested I read Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’.  He quoted the last verse: The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.’  Will there be a chance to see and photograph the Beechwoods in the snow this year?  It would make a fitting end to this project.

Photo: Beechwoods, Cambridge, February 2017

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Beechwoods – Beech Lore 5

‘Healing: In The Bach Flower Remedies Beech is used against mental rigidity, fault finding, intolerance, arrogance and lack of sympathy.  Meditation: Meditation with the Beech helps us relax and let go of fixed ideas, which hinders us and our development. The tree will helps get in touch with our ancestors, their knowledge passed down through time and the deep wisdom within, which can help us see ways forward for the future.’  From ‘Tree Lore’, The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids

Photo: Beechwoods, Cambridge, June 2016

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U3AC Photo Forum 3 – History of Photography

Today I presented ‘A (Partial) History of Photography in 20 Photographs’ at the Photo Forum.  It was partial in both senses: it covered only a small part of the history; and it reflected my tastes and choices.  I aimed to blend the history of issues, subjects, photographers and technology in a more or less chronological narrative.  With one or two exceptions, I avoided using ‘first’ photographs of a genre and those that are so well-known as to be almost cliches.  The 20 pictures are listed below.

1. First Photos: Fox Talbot, Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey, 1835. 2. War Photography: Roger Fenton, Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1855. 3. The Urge to Travel: Samuel Bourne, Fatehpur Sikri, India, c. 1866.   4. Portraiture: Julia Margaret Cameron, Thomas Carlyle, 1867.   5. Searching for the Invisible: Eadweard Muybridge, Galloping Horse, 1884-5.    6. ‘You press the button, we do the rest’: anonymous photo from No 1 Kodak camera, introduced 1888.   7.  Photography as Art: Clarence H. White, Lady in Black, 1908-2.   8. Campaigning Photography:  Lewis W Hine, Child labour, 1909.   9. The Birth of Modernism: Paul Strand, Blind Woman, 1916.   10. Straight Photography: Edward Weston, Pepper No. 30, 1930.

11. Photojournalism: Erich Salomon, Hague Reparation Conference, 1930. 12. The New Deal – FSA: Dorothea Lange, On the Road, 1936.   13. Magnum: George Rodger, Latuka Tribe Rain Making Ceremony, Sudan, 1938.  14. The Decisive Moment: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Picnic on the Marne, 1938.   15.  Conceptual Photography: Ed Ruscha, from Twenty Six Gasoline Stations, 1962.  16. New Documents: Diane Arbus, A Boy with Straw Hat and Flag About to March in a Pro-War Parade, New York, 1967.  17. Bye Bye Photography: Daido Moriyama, from Bye Bye Photography, 1972.   18. Colour: William Eggleston, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, c. 1972.  19. Digital: Ali Shallal al-Qaisi, one of the prisoners subjected to torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib, c. 2003-4.   20. Artist-Photographer?: Gregory Crewdson, Woman at Sink, 2014.

Photos: 1 Fox Talbot; 11. Erich Salomon

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Beechwoods – Lore 4

‘Beech is linked with time, wisdom and knowledge but especially written wisdom, as the Beech was used in thin slices to write upon and form the very first books. This is corroborated by the fact that Beeches were called ‘Boc’ by the Anglo-Saxons, which later became book. Even today the Swedish word ‘Bok’ means both book and beech and in German ‘Buch’ means book and ‘Buche’ means Beech.’

‘Whatever material words were inscribed, took on the power and magic of the gods which is why the Beech tree was held in such awe. Writing made knowledge manifest into the physical world and therefore allowed that wisdom to be passed on to future generations. Beech can help us make wishes, by scratching your wish upon a piece of Beech and then burying it. Say a simple spell or prayer as you are giving it back to the earth and then it will begin to manifest in your life.’ From ‘Tree Lore’, The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids

Photo: Beechwoods, Cambridge, September 2017

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Beechwoods – Lore 3

‘Ceridwen as Henwen, the great white ancient sow, was said to possess great wisdom from eating nuts from the sacred Beech tree which for Druids symbolised ancient knowledge and tradition (Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm— Druid Animal Oracle). In Greek legend Helen of Troy was supposed to have carved her lover’s name upon a beech tree, as many other lovers had done before her. Jason built the Argo with Beech in preference to Oak. The Irish god Ogma, a leading warrior of the Tuatha de Danaan, who was credited with the writing of the Ogham Alphabet, wrote upon Beech.’  From ‘Tree Lore’, The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids

Photo: Beechwoods, Cambridge, September 2017

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Beechwoods – Lore 2

‘Beech is known for her generosity of spirit, she gives both protection and nourishment, as she fans her branches out into a broad canopy that is useful for shelter and her beech nuts used to be a valuable food source. People once relied upon her beech nuts to keep themselves from starvation, and collecting them helped strengthen the bonds between the community or clans. Beech was also used as a good luck charm, and pieces of it were thought to bring good fortune to the wearer. Many legends talk of serpents and Beech trees and the poet Tennyson referred to the ‘serpent-rooted Beech tree’; good examples of such are to be found at Avebury.’  From ‘Tree Lore’, The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids

Photo: Beechwoods, Cambridge, October 2017

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U3AC Photo Forum 3 – Photographic Resources

Tim Ewbank took us into the labyrinth of photographic resources today.  Available to inform and guide us are: paper (e.g. books, magazines); AV (e.g. films, TV); digital (e.g. websites, flickr, Instagram); museums and galleries (e.g. Science Museum, Photographers’ Gallery); and getting involved (e.g. clubs, blogs).  Resources are essential inputs, but there was lot of interest in using the resources to share outputs, i.e. getting photographs seen.  Not that everyone felt the need to add to the millions of images that pour into the ether every day – there is a place for a personal, slow, photography.

Photo: SS Redentore, Giudecca, Venice, Italy, 2003

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I rarely take of what I think of as traditional, pictorial photographs of subjects that might generally be thought of as beautiful, charming or otherwise attractive.  I’m not immune to beauty and enjoy it in its many forms, but that’s not the same as feeling the urge to capture it on camera.  Very often it’s been the subject of countless photographs before and I don’t have a need to add to the pile.  If I want a nice picture of a place I’ve visited for the album I’d as soon buy a postcard. As a result I don’t care for the pictorialist tradition in photography stretching back to Henry Peach Robinson, the Brotherhood of the Linked Ring and the Photo Secession.

I’ve been critical of camera club photography – rounds of judging, exhibitions and competitions – previously on this blog.  The approach still seems to be rooted in pictorialism, as if modernism, ‘straight’ photography, New Objectivity, conceptual photography and the New Documents exhibition had never happened.  But perhaps I’ve gone too far.  At the U3AC Photo Forum last week I compared ‘camera club photography’ unfavourably to a photograph by Andre Kertesz, and was promptly asked, ‘Is “camera club photography” now a term of abuse?’  Point taken.  The camera club approach as a means to an end can be good; the challenge is to prevent it from becoming a personal dead end.

Photos: Botanic Garden, Cambridge, October 2017

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Disposal of the Dead

There are good public health reasons for taking care over the disposal of human corpses. The manner of disposal is often dominated by spiritual concerns or a desire to show respect for the dead or both, and may be carried out through a traditional ritual.  Sky burial, and a similar method of disposal called Towers of Silence practised by Tibetan Buddhists and Zoroastrians, is an ancient practice.  The corpse is placed on a mountain, or in some traditions on stone structures called Dakhma, to decompose while exposed to the elements and to be eaten by scavenging animals, especially carrion birds.   Apparently few such places remain today due to religious marginalisation, urbanisation and declining vulture populations.

Photo: Black-headed Gull, Snettisham, October 2017

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