Fecund Willows

Quy Fen is endowed with lovely willows, soft billowy trees whose flickering grey-green leaves bring a touch of olive-like Mediterranean light to the dour Fens.  Studies have shown that in England willows are home to 266 insect species, second only to the oak (284) and far ahead of fir (16) and holly (6).  Robert Macfarlane pays homage to the mystery of the willow in The Lost Words: ‘Willow, when the wind blows so your branches billow, / O will you whisper while we listen so we learn what / words your long leaves loosen? / …’.

Photo: Willow, Quy Fen, Cambs, May 2018

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U3AC Photo Forum 24 – Points of View Day Photographs

Last week members of the Forum used two hours in the morning to take photographs, see blog 26th May.   Helen Cherry set the brief given below.






Please meet at the normal time at our room at the U3AC offices.   Leave there at 10.15 and take your photos on the following themes within the next 2 hours. So from 10.15-12.15 or 2 hours after whatever time you leave if it is not 10.15 . This time limit will concentrate the mind!  Of course you do not have to take the full 2 hours but please don’t go over the time to make it fair on everyone.




Please contribute only images taken within the designated area – see the map below [Quayside to Benet Street north-south, Malcolm Street to Trinity Lane east-west].    You can use as much or as little of this area [as you like].


Use your photographic skills and imagination to interpret the following categories.

1 – Curves – These could be animal (including human!) vegetable or mineral    – circles count too.

2 – Bikes on the move – so bikes in use not stationary.

3 – A moment in time – An opportunity to focus in on one of those life moments that evokes an emotion.   For example – happiness,    sadness,    love,    surprise,    fear, etc.


4- Colourful market    –    Looking at the colour and vibrancy of the market – NOTE: this category ONLY to be used if there is NOT enough people to make up a full weeks viewing the following week, with 3 categories. Tim to decide on the day.


The object of the exercise is to try to produce original images so that when you all view them you’re not looking at the same image a dozen times or more times. Try to get all subjects if you possibly can. You may manipulate files if you have the time and wish to, as long as they are recognisable as the category they portray.

Six people participated on the day and submitted around 50 photographs.  Tim teased out some themes for three of the categories.  Curves: on buildings; streets; public art; objects; and natural.  A moment in time: transactions; tourists; the sell; and homelessness.  Colourful market: overall scene; clothes; health; and plants.  ‘Bikes on the move’ covered what it says – it was the subject that people struggled with most.

The Forum agreed that it had been worthwhile exercise.  The benefits were: the value of preparation; developing the skill of seeing pictures; learning to take pictures in less than ideal conditions; the discipline imposed by constraints of time and place; and showing how dedicated time at photography (instead of snapping) results in better pictures.

Pictures: 1. Market Square, Cambridge, May 2018; 2. Sidney Street, Cambridge, May 2018; 3. Bridge Street, Cambridge, May 2018; 4. King’s Parade, Cambridge, May 2018; 5. Market Square, Cambridge, May 2018; 6. Market Square, Cambridge, May 2018; 7. Market Square, Cambridge, May 2018; 8. Market Square, Cambridge, May 2018

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John Turner Photographs

DavidR and TimE both sent me a link to the BBC news item, ‘A suitcase full of photographic wonder’ – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-43782267.  This features the work of John Turner (d. 1987) and reports on the discovery of a suitcase of street photographs from the 1930s to around 1960.  Apart from the sheer delight at seeing the pictures, this is a timely reminder of two things.  First, the importance of recognising the current enthusiasm for street photography as an invaluable contribution to documenting social history.  Second, the need to think about what we do with our photographs: John Turner’s negatives have survived in the metaphorical shoe box under the bed, where will our digital files be 30, let alone 80, years hence?

Photo: Passing in the street, London, 1956, John Turner

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Fenscape 32 – Quy Fen

Monday 28th May, with J to Quy Fen, walking past fields of silky barley, shimmering seas running to distant blue-grey hedges.  The farmer will think this landscape of fecundity, of a reliable and consistent crop, beautiful.  We too think it beautiful, despite knowing of the fertilizers, pesticides and subsidies that create it.  Pylons stride to the horizon.  Engineers with admire them; and we depend on the power they carry.  The aesthetics of the landscape is full of contradictions.

Photo: Quy Fen, May 2018

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U3AC Photo Forum 23 – Points of View Day

On Friday members of the Forum went out to take photographs for the first time.  Helen Cherry set us the challenge of spending two hours in the town centre making pictures covering four themes: curves; bikes on the move; a moment in time; and colourful market.  I used the full two hours and took around 130 shots; a first edit reduced these down to 62 that might contain something of interest.  We have to submit one or two pictures from each category for discussion next week.  This is one of my favourites from the day – I’m not sure it meets the brief and won’t be among those I submit.

Photo: Market Square, Cambridge, May 2018

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Photo Chat

Coffee and lunch with Roy Hammans and David Runnacles yesterday.  Lively discussions around all things photographic, from vintage cameras to the merits of the Fuji X series, the quirks of WordPress to Roy’s index to Creative Camera, and Don McCullin to street photography in Cambridge.  The latter was illuminated by looking at David’s excellent new book of his work printed through Apple.  The print quality is first class and although the unit cost per book sounds high, as Roy said, it would be at least as expensive to get a set of prints to the same standard from any other source.

Roy has accepted the privilege (dubious?) of judging a photographic competition being set up by a church in Bury St Edmunds.  The theme is something to do with spires, but that’s yet to be properly defined.  Roy set David and me the challenge of making a portrait of him for use with the publicity.  This is one of my attempts – Roy chose one of the others to put on Facebook.

Photo: 1. BRH, Dave and Roy, Skylark Road, May 2018; 2. Roy Hammans, May 2018

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I’m reading Mark Cocker’s Our Place – Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before It Is Too Late?  A sharp focus for his criticism of the way we mistreat our wildlife and countryside is the creation of vast areas of coniferous forest by the Forestry Commission and private companies, usually with generous public subsidies.  The planting of Corsican pine, begun in 1859, to create the Holkham Meals on the north Norfolk coast is implicitly exempted from his criticism, indeed these unique woods are the subject of nostalgic reminiscence.  In his discussion of forestry practice he stresses that deciduous trees regrow when cut down – hence the ancient practice of pollarding and coppicing – while conifers do not.  I’ve often noticed this and wondered why it is so.

Photo: Holkham Meals, Wells-next-the Sea, Norfolk, May 2018

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Stile, Rampton Woods

I’m not sure if this arrangement on a footpath at Rampton Woods qualifies as a stile – a brief internet search brings up nothing similar.  It appears at first glance to be an ordinary three-bar fence, but the bars pivot about a pin in the off-central post to allow the left hand end to be depressed and stepped over (held down for the picture by J, out of shot).  Carefully cut chevron ended blocks at other end act as counter weights and return the bars to the horizontal when released.  A small plaque commemorates Brian Roberts.  Was he the designer and builder of this ingenious (unique?) well-crafted structure?  Note, dogs beware of the descending blocks.

Photo: Stile, Rampton Woods, Cambs, May 2018

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U3AC Photo Forum 22 – Cityscapes

Mike Morrish led a session looking at cityscape photographs by members of the Forum.  He defined cityscapes as: A photograph of the physical aspects of a city or urban area.  It is the urban equivalent of a landscape.  The city or section of a city is viewed as a scene, or may be an artistic representation of a city or urban environment.  It might take a variety of forms: a pictorial view; a view as from an aircraft or skyscraper; city buildings silhouetted against the horizon; a city scene with typical elements; an image of an individual building or street.


Eleven members submitted around 50 photographs.  Mike separated these into seven broad categories: city views; architecture; looking up…down; reflections; darkness; public places…and people; and patterns and street art.  Pictures took us from Dubai to Heidelberg, Leicester to New York, Paris to Shanghai and Trondheim to Vienna.  It was part photo appreciation, part geography lesson (and part holiday bragging rights).

Photographically, the session revealed a variety of approaches: black and white and colour; wide views and close ups; unconventional angles and picture postcard views; manipulated images and straight photography.  The pictures frequently showed the value to simply taking the advantage of whatever opportunity is on offer, whether using a simple camera because it’s easy to pack or grabbing a shot on a flight or guided tour.  The resulting pictures may not be great (though they may be very good, e.g. scenes of Rome and Sydney), but they sometimes get the essence of a place or building that might escape a more considered or carefully composed shot.

Geographically and environmentally, the pictures captured a dichotomy between local distinctiveness, e.g. Stone Town and Trondheim, and a homogenisation in the ever expanding high-rise of big cities, e.g. Singapore and Manilla.  New was set against old, dereliction against renewal, pride of place against financial gain.  If it was a geography lesson, it was a lesson in inexorable change and globalisation.

Photos: 1. Stone Town, Zanzibar, 1999; 2. Martin de Yeltes, Spain, 2002; 3. Heidelberg, Germany, 2005; 4. Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France, 1990

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Oak and Parsley

The oak is called ‘the King of the forest’; the Celts honoured it for its endurance and noble presence and considered it a ‘cosmic storehouse of wisdom’.  ‘Heart of Oak’ is the official march of the Royal Navy; May 29th used to be celebrated in England as Oak Apple Day.  Hard and dense, the oak endures.  Cow parsley – it means an inferior version of real parsley – fills the woods and verges with frothy umbrels redolent of late spring.  Alternative vernacular names, Queen Anne’s lace, Lady’s lace, Fairy lace, Spanish lace, evoke its fragile appearance.  But it’s a deceptive fragility: it thrives thuggishly in good soils at the expense of other, more delicate wild flowers.  Seeding down, it too endures.

Photo: Rampton Woods, Cambs, May 2018

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In Bloom

May has brought a spectacular blooming to the woods, orchards and hedgerows.  Apple trees have been dense pink Pavlova confections; and horse chestnuts seem to be decked with the votive candles of a whole year’s religious observances.  Above all the hawthorns are snow-laden with blossom, the fresh green leaves of first growth obscured by dense bunches of flowers.  Why such abundance this year?  Perhaps the consequence of a hard winter followed by a late, wet spring.  Whatever the reason, it’s an omen of a fruitful autumn: good news for apple eaters, conker players and haw-eating migrant birds.

Photo: Rampton Woods, Cambs, May 2018

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North Norfolk channelling Melanie Max

“I want to create in my paintings a similar experience to an unfamiliar landscape being looked at for the first time, an uncertainty of what lies ahead, the puzzle that we undertake in trying to identify what belongs to the sky, what is water, what is the land and at what point they all meet. … My landscapes are influenced by places that I know and love, the North Norfolk coast…I am drawn to the endless beaches of Norfolk, the massive skies reflected in the huge canvases of its beaches.”  Melanie Max, The Old Fire Engine House Gallery, Ely May- July 2018

Photo: Wells, Norfolk, May 2018

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U3AC Photo Forum 21 – Still Life

Jitka Brynjolffssen ran Friday’s session on still life, which she defined as: ‘A genre of photography used for the depiction of inanimate subject matter, typically a small group of objects. It is the application of photography to the still life artistic style.’   A brief history of still life in painting embraced ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the Renaissance and the Impressionists and beyond.  She explored still life photography through the work of Henry Fox Talbot, André Kertész, Josef Sudek, Irving Penn, Sharon Core, Veniamin Skorodumov and others.

Jitka organised a catholic range of still life submissions by the group under 10 headings: Black and White; After the Old Masters; Fleeting Beauty – Decay; Food and Drink; Outdoor Opportunities; Art Objects; Flower; Others; Just for Fun; and Dark Field.  She argued and showed that lighting and framing are important aspects of still life photography composition – and suggested it is also good if the image presents a story.

Photos: 1. Magpie, Cambridge, 2011; 2. Toad, Orford, 2010

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Fenscape 31- Contrails

Clouds above Wicken Fen mimic the flatness of the landscape where the world appears four fifths sky.   The remains of contrails, their artificiality as clouds also mirrors the artificiality of the landscape, whether the vast arable fields or Wicken’s fragile fen fragment kept viable for 9000 wildlife species by pumping water in.

Photo: Wicken Fen, May 2018

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Pebble Homage, Aldeburgh

Aldeburgh Beach Lookout set up Pebble Homage as a participative art installation to coincide with Antony Gormley’s sculpture on top of the Martello Tower.  Visitors were invited to choose a pebble from the beach, think about life, and write a short thought on the pebble.  They will be scattered over the beach to be found by future generations or swept away by the sea.  Yesterday a German visitor found one on the table inscribed with a swastika; he took it and hurled it down the beach.

Photo: Pebble table, South Lookout, Aldeburgh, May 2018

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