Infinite Clouds

Dr Hannah Fry explored the brain numbing concept of infinity in her excellent recent series on BBC4, ‘Magic Numbers: Hannah Fry’s Mysterious World of Maths’.  She showed that there may be more than one infinity and how to get a bed at the Infinity Hotel when you are told all the rooms are full (you ask the person in Room 1 to move to Room 2 and so on down the line, because you can always have infinity plus one).  Walking across North Fen on Sunday it struck me that clouds help in thinking about the enormity of infinity: no two clouds since the Earth had an atmosphere have ever been the same and each one has been constantly changing shape, hence infinite variety.  Well, infinite enough for me.

Photo: Great North Fen, Cottenham, Cambs, October 2018

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Margate 3

The legend on the map instructs you breezily to ‘Enjoy Margate’; the urban grime of graffiti on the doors suggests you might want to do so warily.  Really there is much to enjoy: the beach, Dreamland, the Turner Contemporary and the Old Town cautiously reinventing itself with cafes, galleries and quirky shops.  The High Street looks like a case study in the decline of town centre shopping (the opening of the Westwood Cross out-of-town shopping centre in 2005 can’t have helped), and Marine Terrace has a tackiness not quite relieved by any of the kiss-me-quick jollity of a more prosperous past, however, the view across the bay at sunset puts all that into perspective.

And enjoy it eating fish and chips on the Margate Steps (more properly the Margate Flood & Coastal Protection Scheme).  Except that you will want to keep a wary eye on the gathering of hooligan herring gulls that wait, not for the occasional dropped chip but to pounce and snatch all your cod and fries in a squawking flurry of wings.  Harry tells these are immature birds that the parents have stopped feeding and are now looking for an easy meal.  More knowing visitors sit back from the Steps and sneak their chips out of the box one at a time.

Photos: 1.  Margate Old Town, October 2018; 2. The Parade, Margate, October 2018

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 3. Photographic Resources

Tim Ewbank made a presentation and led a discussion on photographic resources, or where to get advice on taking better pictures before you press the shutter.  Sources included:

  • Print – books and magazines
  • Digital – Pinterest, blogs, photosharing sites, e.g. Instagram, apps
  • Audio-visual – TV, film, U-tube
  • Suppliers – shops, companies
  • Getting involved – user groups, camera clubs
  • Museums and Galleries – Photographers’ Gallery etc.

See Tim’s presentation at

Photo: BH blog page (

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Margate 2

Perpetual Canon is an installation by Cornelia Parker made up of sixty flattened instruments that belonged to a brass band. The ring, violated only by unwary and unruly visitors, hung in Turner Contemporary’s Sunley Gallery.  Cornelia Parker says, ‘I resurrect things that have been killed off. My work is all about the potential of materials – even when it looks like they’ve lost all possibilities.’  I tried to describe and explain it to friends over lunch at La Margherita.  They were not convinced, looked askance at me, and turned their attention to the torta al cioccolato.

According to Jyll Bradley’s web site, ‘Dutch/Light (for Agneta Block) marks the 350th anniversary of the Dutch Raid on the River Medway, which brought about the end of the Anglo-Dutch wars, peace between the two nations and an unlikely cultural exchange based on growing plants. At the time of the Dutch Raid, Dutch growers were pioneering early glasshouse technology, which started with the simple idea of leaning glass frames against a south-facing wall – the so-called ‘Dutch Light’ – which led to a horticultural revolution that crossed the North Sea. In Bradley’s work, five tall ‘Dutch Lights’ made of  Edge-Lit Plexiglas are turned on their side and leant against south-facing walls to create an open glasshouse structure that is activated by the sun.’  I’d learned my lesson and didn’t try this on my lunchtime companions.  I preferred to stick with my memory of the cleaner’s homage to the work.

Photo: 1. Perpetual Canon, Cornelia Parker, Turner Contemporary, Margate, October 2018; 2. Dutch-Light (for Agenta Block), Jyll Bradley, Turner Contemporary, Margate, October 2018

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 2. Looking at Pictures

My aim for the Forum last Friday was to encourage members to talk about photography and photographs as a creative medium, an art form.  We looked at the unique nature of photography, the challenges it poses and some critical analysis.  I introduced ways of understanding photographs through the writings of John Szarkowski (Looking at Photographs) and David Hurn and Bill Jay (On Looking at Photographs).  The group then discussed five photographs by Jane Bown, Sebastiao Salgado, Robert Mapplethorpe, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Gregory Crewdson.  Three key points emerged: each person will interpret a photograph in their own way; appreciation of a photograph is enhanced by knowing its back story; and you need to take time to look at pictures.  See my presentation at

Photo: Sebastiao Salgado, Ice Castle, Weddell Sea, 2005

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Pigeon Prey

I went into the garden yesterday morning to collect fallen apples and was presented with evidence of nature red in beak and claw flourishing in my suburban garden.  Wood pigeon wing and tail feathers were scattered across the grass; and a neat corona of breast feathers lay not more than three metres from the French windows.  The prey was easy to identify, but what about the predator?  Surely not the kestrel I saw sitting at the top of the leylandii two weeks ago.  Possibly a peregrine, which soars overhead occasionally; or a sparrow hawk, which I’ve never seen here.

Photo: Raptor prey, Mowbray Road, October 2018

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Margate 1

Plans to visit Margate last weekend were treated with scepticism by some and barely concealed derision by others. But what do they know?  Even Margate holds delights for those who are willing to look and are able to see.  I tried to set aside T S Eliot’s cheerlessness in The Wasteland: “On Margate sands./I can connect/Nothing with nothing.”

Photo: Margate, October 2018

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U3AC Photography Forum 2018-19 1. Introduction

The opening session to set out how the Forum will work.  The overall objective is to ‘improve our individual practice of photography’.  The Forum will be participative, educational and fun.  It is not a camera club, not competitive, nor a ‘how to’ workshop.  Most popular topics for sessions among members are travel, landscape and cityscapes.  Experience in the group of 21 is variable, but cumulatively it amounts to 620 years – 3.5 times the age of photography!  Surprise of the day: striking abstract pictures made by photographing molten and solidified bismuth.  For this term’s programme see and go to Photo Forum.

Photo: Bismuth crystals

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Vismarkt, Bruges

At one time fish was sold in an open air corner of the Bruges Vismarkt, but local people complained about the smell and in 1821 the fishmongers were moved to a covered arcade.  A colonnade with 126 Tuscan column encloses an open courtyard; it was designed by city architect Jan-Robert Calloigne.  In 1852 the original wooden tables were replaced by sloping stone sales banks, a beautiful and very functional design.  Fresh saltwater fish are still sold there every morning from Wednesday to Saturday.

Photo: Vismarkt, Bruges, March 2012

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World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day.  Last weekend, 7th and 8th October, Laura Pearson-Clark exhibited 1000 origami cranes at the Chequer Studio, Ely.  The delicate screen of cranes in flight was her celebration of full recovery from Postnatal Depression.


Laura held a ‘Name the Crane’ fundraising game.  ‘Bovis’ won me a personalised message from Father Christmas.

Photo:  1000 Cranes, Ely, October 2018

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Wallace Collection

In my rambling around London on Wednesday I stumbled on the Wallace Collection at Hertford House, Manchester Square.  It’s a collection of fine and decorative arts from the 15th to the 19th centuries; and part of the rich collection of the works of the ancien régime in the UK, acquired by wealthy families during the revolutionary sales, held after the end of the French Revolution.  Established originally by Richard Seymour-Conway (1800-1870), it was left to the nation by his is illegitimate son Sir Richard Wallace (1818–1890).  Wallace achieved fame during the Siege of Paris for his charitable work – he is estimated to have privately contributed 2.5 million (1870) francs to the needy of Paris.  The collection is characterised by gaudy opulence.

Photo: Bust of African Woman, Italian c. 1650, Wallace Collection, October 2018

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Paddington Street Gardens

There are plenty of good reasons for abandoning the Underground and walking the streets of London, not the least of these is the serendipitous discovery of new places.  Yesterday, I came across Paddington Street Gardens, where at five o’clock childrens’ laughter filled the playground and jaded office works soaked up a little late sun.  The gardens were built in the 18th century as additional burial grounds for St Marylebone Parish Church, and opened as a recreational area in 1886.  Most of the tombstones were removed.  ‘The mausoleum in the south garden was left because if the exceptionally fine design.  It was erected by the Hon. Richard Fitzpatrick to the memory of his wife Susanna who died in 1759 aged 30.’

Photo: Mausoleum, Paddington Street Gardens, London, October 2018

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Monday: a Egglestonesque moment in Balzano’s car park, and reading Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red flashed into my mind

In the novel: ‘Two Europeans (“Franks” to the Turks and, to this day, Farangi to Iranians) stroll through a meadow. As accomplished miniaturists, their work sets out to render both the individualism of the object depicted and the inner truth which issues from the artist’s mind. Theirs is the progressivist story of western art itself, from Duccio to Picasso. The more inward the better, as we stand on predecessors’ shoulders; sensibility shifts according to perspective. This is our version of modernity, with its varying styles of expression in both life and art.’

‘Such painting, says one modernist to the other, means that “if you depicted one of the trees in this forest, a man who looked upon that painting could come here and, if he so desired, correctly select that tree from among the others”. A tree with Ottoman roots relates the conversation and objects: “I don’t want to be a tree, I want to be its meaning.”’Hywel Williams, Guardian 2001

Photo: Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge, October 2018

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Playing Statues

The idea of statues, inanimate figures, coming to life dates back at least to Pygmalion and his ideal ivory woman brought alive by Aphrodite.  It has been the subject of many interpretations from Pinocchio to Chuckie and The Winter’s Tale and Night at the Museum.  The childhood game of ‘Statues’ does the trick in reverse.  Do these figures have an urge to be animated and push the mooching elderly couple into to water?  Do they come alive at night and frolic sensuously in the pool?  That might be worth watching.  Henry Moore’s figures would not have quite the same erotic charge.

Photo: Musee La Piscine, Roubaix, March 2012

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Yesterday’s meeting about the U3AC Photo Forum was useful in shaping the programme for the coming year.  Whether it will bring anyone nearer to an understanding of William Eggleston remains to be seen.  After the meeting I bought a copy of Photography – The Whole Story (Thames and Hudson 2012).  It argues that Eggleston’s photography ‘is now accepted as one of the defining bodies of work that began the restitution of colour photography from commerce to art.’  By coincidence I was presented with an Egglestonesque subject today on an early morning walk by Great North Fen, Cottenham.

Great North Fen, Cottenham, Cambs, September 2018.

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