A change of tack (Venezia 1)

Just back from a trip to the City of Gondolas, and didn’t read Thomas Mann, Ian McEwan or even Michael Dibdin while I was there so I guess I’m out of love with words at the moment (regular readers are exultant at this point!).

I did however obtain some artistic inspiration; the Palazzo Grassi couldn’t be more different from Gateshead’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in its outward appearance and internal fabric, but it’s purpose is the same, and at the time of writing I couldn’t have been more fortunate in finding inspiration from its exhibits.

The first, entitled The Illusion of Light, 

explores the physical, aesthetic, symbolic, philosophical and political stakes of an essential dimension of human experience that has also been, since (at least) the Renaissance, a fundamental element of art: light.

This alone provided some moving and entrancing art, but it was not the main attraction for this visitor.  The upper floor featured

a collection of 83 platinum prints, 29 gelatin silver prints, 5 colorful dye transfer prints and 17 internegatives

these being a sample of the celebrated 20th Century photographer Irving Penn‘s most famous work, though some of the images have not been shown to the public before now.  Penn’s subject matter is varied; Vogue models, artists from other fields, tradesmen, Hell’s Angels, skulls and cigarette butts have all produced work of great technical and aesthetic appeal, to this photographer at least.  What unites them is that they are black and white, or more accurately monotone, for it is here that his genius is most manifest; through his printing skills and combinations of metallic salts he has imbued the images with clarity and tonal beauty.

Which gave me an idea.

I tend to prefer monotone portraits for the picture then becomes about the structure and shape of a face, the elements that speak to me of character more than hue of skin or eye, but could I undertake a project that would challenge me to produce images with complex and busy subject matter without relying on colour to differentiate them?  There’s only one way to find out.

Consequently I’m going to undertake another 365 Project, attempting from the 1000 or so images that I captured, to produce a daily image of Venice portrayed in monochrome.

Now to be fair there will be repeats; not of the same image, but for heaven’s sake how do you not end up with several gondoliers, numerous churches and religious symbols, and a good smattering of piazzas?  So for the next 12 months I will publish an image a day that represents something about the city; wide shots and tight details, culture and trash, fashion and fascism, people and places.  If you’ve never visited the city (or the Lido where some of the images were taken) they’ll deliver all of the clichés but maybe a few surprises too.  To this pair of eyes they give a flavour of Venezia in a way that seems strangely appropriate.  The regional dish here is pasta al nero di seppia; white spaghetti or linguine in a sauce of cuttlefish ink, the cephalopod that gives us the brown pigment sepia.

So here’s image number one; part of the display in Irving Penn’s Resonance exhibition; 21 animal skulls.



November 17th. A beautiful day with golden sunlight. Perfect for the pictures I will not take. It’s a painful day too as I realise I will not be able to see this project through to the end.

45 weeks of daily portraits. Longer than a pregnancy, but not the complete article. Thanks to those who have read along.

Ave atque vale.

Lumley Autumnly

As I was in Birtley this morning, I followed the road into the adjoining town of Chester-le-Street, probably best known to those outside the North East as the home of Durham County Cricket Club.  Their ground has a picturesque location on the banks of the River Wear, so it was here that I headed for some pictures.

The area is dominated by the 14th Century Lumley Castle, reputedly one of the most haunted buildings in the region.  No sign of any ghosts today, just intermittent autumn sunshine enjoyed by golfers on the course below the castle, and Aydin, a young Turkish man who was enjoying the riverside park with his son.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.


Mirror, mirror, like a wall

Fulwell, where I grew up, is dominated by the great white limestone guardian that is Fulwell Mill. It stands on a hill looking down the mile or so that runs down to the sea, a position it has held for over 200 years, though it is a long time since it has operated commercially.

In my youth it was already disused, making it and the land around it, which was a former quarry, was a frequent haunt for kids in the area. We would often climb up the outer wall to the first story platform, taking advantage of the well-worn mortar between the limestone blocks.

Nearby a short slope by the equally moribund lime kilns was our venue for sledging in what seemed like the everlasting winters of childhood. With a busy road at the foot and an adjacent car forecourt it isn’t the attraction that it once was. Just as well that we rarely get enough snow now.

There is a third industrial relic here, one that I only recently discovered, although it has been there for nearly a century. It stands dejectedly on a piece of waste ground behind some allotments, looking like nothing more than three concrete walls, yet it is an incredibly ingenious device. It’s a mirror.

Not a looking-glass, but a mirror nonetheless. The clue lies in the fact that the back wall is convex; this is an acoustic mirror, installed to detect approaching Zeppelins during the first world war. It deserves better treatment.

I’d approached  Alison near to the mill to be my portrait when a familiar face appeared. I worked with Carolyn about 20 years ago. Serendipitously she now works for the council and was able to add to my knowledge of the mill. Although fully restored to working order in the 1990’s, it was badly damaged in a storm a few years back and closed as it was unsafe. The good news is that repairs are planned which will see it open once more, though perhaps not fully functioning.

Carolyn’s clearly wearing well. It’ll be good to see the mill do the same, and how lucky to find two subjects with great smiles and great light in their eyes..

Three Girls, Two Bicycles, One Camera

Returning from the market on Monday I was heading down the steps to the underpass where I met “The Man Who Fell To Earth” recently when I became aware of a slight commotion beside me.  Two cyclist had dismounted and were manoeuvring their machines down the steep staircase, apparently with some difficulty.  To my eye the bikes looked heavy, both from a design perspective and I suspect from the materials used in their manufacture.

Despite my bemusement at their decision to take this option when there was a perfectly good cycle ramp opposite us I offered help, which was politely declined by a girl with an accent I didn’t recognise.  There was a third girl there too, shorter than the cyclists, but seemingly with them.

The effort required to remount these ungainly steeds took some time to muster so I found myself outpacing them for a short distance until we reached the Wear Bridge.  I stopped here to look at the Construction Support Vessel, Normand Installer which was dominating the scene as the girls drew alongside and stopped once more to give the third girl to mount up.  She was riding pillion, but being smaller than her friends had gone unnoticed.

All three were Bulgarian students; Yoli who was shy about being photographed, Simona who wasn’t, and Raisi*, the passenger.  I’ve not met any Bulgarians during the course of this project and here were three at one go!  I asked to take a picture of the three (Slavic models are so in vogue you know!) but Yoli held back so I tried to shoot Simona and Raisi together, with Raisi peering from behind her driver.  Unfortunately the shot didn’t really work due to the height difference so I cropped it down to just Simona, and caught a slightly out of focus Yoli in between putting her hands to her face!

As I completed the tryptich with my shot of Raisi she told me that she was studying photography. With a perfect smile and great skin she should be in front of the camera as she is here – just a shame I didn’t get her eyes a little wider.  Hope you like some of the images on the blog Raisi.

*Originally I misspelt Raisi’s name, but thanks to her mother Reni for correcting me.  Ironic after writing this!

But who is Mr White?

Cinema buffs might rush to answer that question with “Larry Dimmick” or even “Harvey Keitel” referring to the character in Reservoir Dogs who along with his fellow criminals adopts a colour as his alias (an idea borrowed from the 1974 version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three).  Or they might think of Jesper Christensen‘s character in Daniel Craig‘s first two Bond outings, where there are hints of the same thought process in the naming of members of the Quantum organisation (Dominic Greene).  Of course if Zombies are your thing then it’s more likely you’ll consider 2002’s Resident Evil which also featured Doctors Brown, Blue and Green, as well as Mr Red, Mr Grey and Ms Black.

Of course in Sunderland the answer could only refer to Jacky White.  Run by Sunderland City Council for most of my life, the indoor market is known to all and sundry as Jacky White’s Market.  It doesn’t have the cachet of Newcastle’s Grainger Market, being sited in part of the concrete box development that this Sunderland’s Town Centre, but it still attracts a steady stream of customers.

With 80 or so units there are fishmongers, fruiterers, sweet shops and more but today it was Paul’s counter where I stopped to get a portrait.  A man with a light bulb for every occasion he seems to have defiantly garnered the world’s remaining stores of 100W bulbs, and does a pretty good line in Hoover bags too it appears.

With the demolition of the roof top car park there were fears from some that the market would also be reduced to rubble, but the council have maintained it.  Like many indoor markets it feels like a throwback in time, but for Paul and the other tenants it still has a future.

And as to Mr White, well apparently the name goes back to a spelling error on the first sign painted for the original owner of the market, James Whyte who founded it over 80 years ago.  I wonder how many years it has left.


Fancy a little secluded slice of paradise?

For just £2.4 million you could buy your own Greek island in the Ionian Sea.

Too pricey?

Well then only £1.7m will get you 12 acres of beach-front in St Lucia.

Still a little rich for your pocket?

Half an acre of virgin land on Mayreu in the Grenadines will set you back a far more modest £103,000.

Or you could go to Marsden Beach on a cold and grey November lunchtime for free.

Not as appealing?  Maybe not if you’re a devout sun-worshipper, but for the crash of waves on a sloping beach, swirling foam,  towering cliffs, and sculpted rocks its hard to beat, and for half an hour today it was all mine.  Not a soul to be seen and even the prints from the morning’s dogs were being erased by the advancing tide.

Even on the greyest of days there was colour as the russet sands were swirled into the gunmetal waters, yellow limestone shone in its coat of salt water and the sky managed to inject a little glaucous hue into the deeper waters.

Here nature plays out a battle between the sea and the land and there will only be one winner, for though the cliffs stand tall and the rocks hold fast the sea has time on its side.  Imperceptibly scouring the surface of the stones that emerge from the sand, sucking at the feet of the great limestone walls above, grinding pebbles back and forth along the shore.  The plentiful grains of sand indicate the fate awaiting those seemingly stout defences.

After a while I decided it was time to beat a retreat before my escape route was cut off and as I began my ascent back to the cliff tops met Scott bringing his two dogs for a little exercise.  I felt I was handing over custodianship of a piece of treasure.  For a little while at least.