It’s been a while since I posted here, and I’ve been reflecting on the reasons for this. I can only conclude that it was due to a number of trips that didn’t deliver what I wanted from them, and that I was too critical of myself as a result. I don’t see myself as a perfectionist or a control freak, yet undoubtedly those traits exist within me.
I recently joined a photography networking group, and have already concluded that it’s not for me. On the first trip to a nature reserve it seemed that the pace of the event was dictated by the group. Unsurprising, but frustrating for someone who likes to linger with the things that inspire me, and move on quickly when they don’t.
The second event involved a model and a waterfall. This is a scenario I have successfully worked before, but here I found the event dominated by the gadget minded who wanted to set up lights everywhere, leading to a lot of dead time for the model (and me).
Then there were the two hours I spent on a riverside renowned for kingfishers where I didn’t so much as see a blur of blue, never mind capture one of the birds perching or diving. There was also the early morning walk around the nature reserve at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, where I heard lots of wildlife, but it was screened by walls of the sedge grass that makes this habitat unique.
Most recently I finished working in Liverpool late one night, so used the opportunity of being in the North West to drive to one of the more remote parts of the Lake District to shoot the sunrise. The forecast was perfect, the reality was that as the sun was climbing the cloud was descending. No colourful skies that day.
Let’s rewind though.
Before the group arrived for that first shoot I walked the area alone and shot this:
While the lighting guys were fussing over their exposure for the model I grabbed this in one of those dead times. That then allowed me to head to the waterfall before them and pick my spot for the waterfall, which didn’t need a model to add to it.
No ***kingfisher? But what about the blue blur of banded desmoiselles?
Whilst the fenland animals were mostly hidden that grass had its uses. What’s more there are some subjects that cannot hide.
Shame about that Lakeland sunrise though.
Well maybe. Or as some well known sixties rockers put it:
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you find you get what you need.”
Courtesy of a trust fund established by an ex-employer, I’ve been doing a lot of learning in recent weeks with a view to finding more employment. It’s six months since I lost my last job. I’ve also been exploring the options for generating money through my photography, and getting onto the opposite side of the lens by working as an extra on a number of TV series.
The latter has been a revelation, as most of my work has been on location, but locations totally transformed to become something different for the camera. In this respect I’ve undergone some transformations too!
A printer showroom was rebranded to become a high street bank, the private ballroom of an old sea captain’s mansion evolved into a nightclub, and best of all an empty high street department store in Lancashire was reborn as The Royal Northumberland Hospital. Regrettably I’m unable to share the evidence as the use of cameras on set is not permitted so that producers can keep avoid leaks on social media.
It did get me thinking about ways of dealing with redundancy though. As great buildings are no longer suitable for their original purpose they face demolition if unprotected, or stagnation if new owners can’t be found who are willing to comply with the regulations covering listed buildings. Churches in particular are at risk as we become more secular.
One of the productions I’ve worked on was shooting in the former Head Office of Martins Bank, a building with an interesting history, but some outstanding architecture, and yet because the building is largely empty, the gems it contains are hidden from view. As a former banker who worked for the company that took over Martins in the 1960’s I felt some affinity of course, but anyone with an eye for craftsmanship would have loved the opportunity that I had. Perhaps occasional guided tours may be possible?
Only a bank would see no irony in a Midas decoration
There would doubtless be lots of objections to this on the grounds of security, cost, health and safety and so on, but the alternative is to see these artefacts of beauty and history wasted and decaying.
The bank had been due to begin a new life as a hotel. Those plans seem to have fallen through. Doubtless had they gone ahead there would have been damage and loss as a result of the alterations, but with care and sensitivity much could have been preserved.
On one of the learning events that I attended courtesy of that trust fund I stayed in a hotel that had revamped an older building. The former Co-op department store in Newcastle was built in the 1930’s with many art deco features, and on the ground floor a glass and cast iron arcade. It has been converted to a hotel now, and many original features remain, though close observation reveals where modern replacements don’t quite match the original!
With no room for that arcade what were they to do with it? Stick it on the roof and forget about it it seems. Hope that’s not a metaphor for another unemployed but otherwise perfectly serviceable relic!
*For the reasons described above many of these images were taken on iPhone – apologies if they’re not up to usual standards!
The prevailing weather here in the UK come from the west. The systems that cross the Atlantic have a couple of thousand miles to collect plenty of water vapour and then deposit it on the first suitable land that they cross; West Africa, Western Europe and of course the British Isles. Here in the North of England we have the Pennines, a strip of hills and mountains that forms the backbone of the country and in forcing the air upwards, ensures that more of that rain is deposited here. This is why the counties on either side of that range, Yorkshire and Lancashire were historically the home of our textiles industry. The fast flowing rivers provided water for washing the materials and before the industrial revolution, a source of power. Once the watermill had been replaced during the industrial revolution there was still a need for water to produce steam, the new power source.
I’ve written about the wealth that this generated for some in my posts about Bradford’s Wool Exchange, the warehouses of Little Germany, and the mill at Saltaire, but Bradford was not alone. The Dales (open valleys) on either side of the country were dotted with mills once steam took hold, and the sheep that grazed the hills above no longer provided the raw materials. Cotton was being imported from the US. In the mid 19th century there were over 2500 mills in Lancashire alone.
The twentieth century told a different story however as the industry was obliterated by the effect of cheap labour in other parts of the globe. An area once known for Blake’s “dark Satanic mills” is now very much “England’s green and pleasant land”. In the case of Hardcastle Crags, an area of National Trust woodland in the Calderdale valley of West Yorkshire it was very green indeed.
It’s a curious feature of rain that it seems to make some colours more vibrant to the eye, and non more so than green. Inevitably it was raining throughout my visit, and this alone might have accounted for hue that dominated my photographs, but all that water had another effect. Waterlogged land provides an excellent habitat for mosses, but here in Calderdale they hadn’t restricted their presence to the ground; they had taken over dry-stone walls (something of a misnomer here) and continued their ascent into trees, where branches too were coated in a green luminescence. The copper leaves of last year’s beech were a rare note of dissent against the total domination of the verdant.
My route through the woodland took me through a mile of such scenery, which provided ample opportunities to take advantage of the vegetation and its water supply, but with typical contrariness it wasn’t the green that drew me there.
Among the multiple locations that form the UNESCO World Heritage Arab-Norman site is of course Palermo Cathedral. or Cattedrale metropolitana della Santa Vergine Maria Assunta to give the church its full title. It has every right to be on the list; it was erected in 1185 during the reign of the Norman King William II and the tombs of some members of the royal family are here (others being in Monreale). Built on the site of an earlier basilica that had in turn been used as a mosque it boast the right multi-cultural credentials too. And yet my reaction to it was largely unenthusiastic.
So what could be so wrong?
Blending styles and cultures can be a source of creativity, but it’s not an automatic source of success and the proof of that is to be found in Palermo.
That blending didn’t end with the Arab-Norman period, it continued with major alternations up until the 18th Century. Nothing wrong with that per se so long as you’re able to find the right answers to four questions. Jason Clarke refers to these in his TED talk Embracing Changeas The Renovators Delight and they are as follows;
What do you keep? What do you chuck?
What do you change? What do you add?
One of the additions is the Gagini portico, designed by a pupil of the great Bruneslleschi in the 15th Century and which incorporates a pillar inscribed with a passage from the Qu’ran that was once part of that earlier basilica/mosque and which leads you to the incredible carved doorway by Gambara. Shame that such a magnificent entrance should so whet the appetite and yet the interior should then be so disappointing. I wonder what they chucked?
Yes there’s more Gagini within, and beautiful light from a series of baroque cupolas that flank the nave, a meridian line similar to that in the duomo at Bologna, and of course those sarcophagi in red porphyry are hard to ignore. A chapel of silver might be your thing but to my eye it was just too much. Perhaps my senses had been overloaded by the mosaics of Monreale and the Palazzo dei Normanni but I was completely underwhelmed.
Even the apparently medieval Virgin and Child by Filocamo was actually a product of the late 17th Century, which undermines the impact of that rare golden moment.
A trip to the roof did little to change my mind; the great dome was not really so great and the bell tower seemed too muscular for its setting.
All was not quite lost however. As I left the cathedral to continue my exploration of the city I deliberately chose a route that would take me to a less visible part of the exterior, where the triple apse so typical of the original Arab Norman style remained.
And so as the two floats have been escorted to the cathedral with a funeral march and choral accompaniments at 7.00pm we are ready for the procession to begin.
The robes for the oldest confraternity of SS Salvatore bear a red Maltese cross which suggests a link back to the crusades (this being the emblem of the Knights Hospitaler), but the pictures on the exterior walls of their church suggest their presence much earlier in time.
As rewriting history goes it isn’t subtle. The other confraternities wear similar garb but in different colour combinations, but they are all united in wearing pointed white hoods that obscure their identities. (The exceptions being those carrying the burden of the floats who presumably need more ventilation.)
Some see the hoods as reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan (though there is no known connection) and of course the costumes long predate the Klan’s origins, but perhaps for this reason, all but one of the confraternities have the points of their hoods carefully folded over and held in place with what might be seen as an ersatz crown of thorns reducing the resemblance, though they are still very strange-looking. Mondassian cybermen sprang to mind.
The true purpose of these hoods was originally to serve as a mark of humiliation for sinners in the early days of the inquisition, although it is also seen as a symbol of mourning, hiding the grief they feel at the death of Jesus.
And so at 7.00 the procession begins, a slow, funeral march from the Cathedral near the top of the hill, down to the cemetery which is nearly 4km away. Those taking part are almost exclusively male (though the occasional small group of girls get to dress as nuns and walk between the two columns of mysterious figures slowly making their way through the town.
Each group has its own symbol that it parades, though for the confraternity of the Passion, a series of symbols from the crucifixion are individually carried on either side of the procession. Borne on red velvet cushions they include nails, dice and even a heavily sedated cockerel.
Fascinating stuff, but there’s a problem, for after the brotherhood of the Passion have passed we then have the brotherhoods of SS. Crocifisso of Pergusa, Maria SS of Valverde, SS. Sacramento, Maria SS of the Grazie, San Giuseppe, Maria SS del Rosario, confraternity Maria SS. Della Visitazione, Sacro Cuore, Spirito Santo, Maria SS Immacolata, Anime Sante del Purgatorio, Maria SS la Nuova and SS. Salvatore. Then clergy with a Cross reliquary containing fragments of the cross and the thorns of Christ under a canopy followed finally by the urn of the Dead Christ, the float bearing the Addolorata and another band as well as local dignitaries. All in all there are some 3,000 people and it takes some time for them to complete the trip at which point they turn around and return via a different route.
It’s a point I’ll repeat in respect of some of the churches I saw in Sicily, but really sometimes less is more!
Whenever one of my photographs has received any sort of special recognition on the site ViewBug, I am asked to complete a short biographical questionnaire about the image and my approach to photography, and one of the questions asked is:
What do you carry in your camera bag?
I must confess that I find the question a bit of a pain to answer, because apart from my camera body and two “go to” lenses the answer to the rest is “it depends”. If I’m shooting people I may opt shallow depth of field, whereas if I’m heading out doors a wide-angle could be handy. Wildlife may need more zoom so time to pack a teleconverter. Shooting on a beach? Take the “snowshoes” that fit the tripod so it doesn’t sink into the surface or collapse, and so on. I have what amounts to a plastic bag that would enable me to submerge the camera into the waves or rock pools. Never used it.
For my most recent shoot though, there were more important considerations. My plan was to shoot a nearby abbey at sunrise, drive to Staithes where I would walk part of the Cleveland Way before a short detour down onto a beach and then back to my car via a cup of tea and a sandwich in the small town. Nothing particularly challenging there yet I wish I’d been better equipped.
I arrived at Gisborough Priory at about 6.45am. I knew that it adjoined the small church in the town of Guisborough (different spelling) and didn’t anticipate any difficulty in making my way to the one wall that still stands. First mistake. There was a wall around the ruin, for though only one wall still stands, enough remains at ground level for English Heritage to seek to maintain it and therefore you can only visit during opening hours. Hardly conducive to shooting a sunrise when you can’t get onsite until 10.00am. The solid metal doorway embedded in the wall was firmly locked too. Further along there was an emergency entrance with a wooden gate and pointed wooden palings. It was low enough to lift that camera bag and tripod over, but just too tall to step over without injury on those wooden points. Would there be some purchase where the fence met the wall? No, and besides which I’d be trespassing if I entered. Did I find a way in despite my lack of ladders, ropes or crampons? I couldn’t possibly comment.
The church clock chimed for 7.00 as I put my gear back in the car and left for Staithes. But then church clocks are often inaccurate and this one seemed to be well adrift of reality.
And so onto my coastal stroll. The profile of my walk shows it wasn’t a long one so I was wearing walking shoes rather than boots but being winter I had lots of layers. Layers which I regretted as I ascended those steep climbs with 12kg of that camera bag, but was glad of when standing on wind blasted cliff tops. All the same once again I was badly prepared for what faced me.
The paths along the route were muddy; and this wasn’t a problem as I began my walk because the ground was hardened by the sub-zero temperatures overnight. The rains responsible for that mud were to through me a new challenge when I reached my objective at Port Mulgrave however. There was a sign across my path advising that the route was closed due to landslip. No matter I knew from my map that there was an alternative so followed the road a little further and joined that. Soon I encountered another of those signs, but at a point where the track diverged so naturally I followed the branch that bore no warnings.
There was still lots of mud here, but also patches of bracken which seemed to offer a firmer footing, though that was
undermined by the trip wires of briar that snagged feet and clothing. Grabbing at bushes and small trees to stabilise myself when sliding or pitching forward from the long trailing bramble stems around my feet soon left me with torn gloves and flesh. Most of them were thorns. I’d neglected to include chain mail among my layers.
Part of the way down I wondered whether it was even possible to proceed further and stopped to shoot the bay from above, before carefully packing my gear way again in case of fall. That was enough to convince that there was a way for there was smoke rising from one of the shacks in the small bay. I recall from a brief dalliance with orienteering some decades ago that this sort of terrain is called “fight”. I was participating without weaponry.
I eventually emerged from the undergrowth directly behind one of the shacks where no path existed, but as I worked my way around to a more open space its occupant emerged to hear me express my disbelief at a broad route upwards, roughly stepped with large stones.
“I wouldn’t bother with that on the way back up.” he told me. “The mud’s so deep it’ll come over the top of your boots.”
He was right of course, but thanks to planks, fixed ropes and a point where the slope had an embedded wooden ladder of sorts I was glad that I ignored his advice on the way back. As I reached the top I had to step over a small barrier. It bore one of those signs that advised me of the path closure.
Were my trials and tribulations worth it? I’ll share some images in my next post to help you decide.
Happy New Year everyone; a time for taking stock and making new plans. Me included.
In the years that I’ve been posting here I’ve long since used my media storage allowance and so paid an annual fee to increase it, but of course the day has come where I’m nearing the limit of that too. Faced with the choice of paying a monthly subscription, or deleting old content to make room for new, or stopping altogether I find myself in a quandary.
I could afford to pay the subscription which would bring other benefits too, but as I pay for other sites that host my images there’s a limit to what is sensible. My life has changed too in the last 12 months; a new house and a new neighbourhood to shoot, but with less time in hotel rooms there are more distractions to take me away from the keyboard (if not the camera). Consequently I’m finding it easier to share my images by daily Instagram posts (@aphotogenicworld ) of late, though of course this prevents me from telling some of the fascinating back stories I’ve enjoyed telling.
So while I mull this one over (and still make the occasional post) feel free to dip into the archives and see what has changed over the 1000+ posts that I’ve published. And follow me on Instagram please!