The Seventh Seal (Farne Islands)

_pw_8785One of the problems about shooting wildlife, especially photogenic, entertaining, or threatening wildlife, is that you just don’t know when to stop.  You shoot dozens of images in case this expression is better than the last, or that the beast in question is more in focus, looks more powerful, and so on.  I learnt this when I visited Norfolk last year, or rather I should have.  Instead the big brown eyes and dripping whiskers got me every time; so there was lots of editing when I returned.

The grey seal population of the Farne Islands is about 6000 strong, and is carefully managed by the National Trust who have stewardship of the islands as they do at Blakeney, (both Blakeney and the Farnes have witnessed record seal pup births in recent years).  In the past they have resorted to culling to keep the numbers down, but public outcry has seen the practice banned except in special circumstance to protect fish stocks or fishing equipment.   Salmon fishermen see the seals as a threat to their livelihoods and so there are still controversial kills taking place along our coasts as seals are shot, though the evidence of their impact on fish populations is unclear.

The issue is far more contentious in other nations however, particularly nearer the Arctic Circle where indigenous peoples such as Inuit and Sami have long traditions of seal hunting.  Based on the ease with which I can capture then with my camera, I can’t imagine that they are challenging animals for the hunter.

The boatloads of people I have joined in my trips around the Farnes and Blakeney point demonstrate how a living seal can contribute to local economies, so tradition aside it must be a difficult call as to whether they are a cost or a benefit in purely economic terms, though I’m not for a moment suggesting that this should ever be the sole criterion for assessing the worth of any living creature.  To these eyes they’re always a welcome sight, which is strange really given their binomial name – halichoerus grypus.  It means “hook-nosed sea pig”!  _pw_8850

I get the pig reference; basking on rocks and mud flats they share a fatty rotundity with the porcine beasts, but really?  Whoever gave them that name clearly wasn’t a fan.

Perhaps a salmon fisherman?_pw_8678





Multi-cultural Part 2

_PW_2578_79_80-EditNote – although published 15th July, this post was written before the dreadful Bastille Day attack in Nice.  I’ve no wish to make political points based on that tragedy so have left the post unchanged.  I’m sure those on both sides of the argument about our relationship with Europe will find justification for their views from it.

My visit to London coincided with Theresa May’s ascension to the role of Prime Minister, just one of the many unforeseen consequences of the recent vote to leave the European Union.  May kept a low profile in the campaign and allied herself with David Cameron and Remain, which allowed her to demonstrate to her peers a degree of loyalty that Boris Johnson, and Michael Gove did not.  At the same time her invisibility prevented her from incurring the enmity of those in her party who detest the European project and everything about it.

It could be argued that compared to those who lead the Brexit campaign she has played a very canny game – she can claim to be onside with those who wished to remain, but in declaring that she will deliver the will of the electorate (“Brexit means Brexit”) she has earned the respect of those who did not.  Would it be cynical to suggest that this week’s outcome was exactly what she sought, and the referendum was just a means to an end?

So much of what we have seen since that date in June has seemed to be about the pursuit of power at any means.  The inaccuracies in the information both sides shared showed that the result was more important than allowing people to make balanced judgements.  Consequently there were people campaigning in social media for the opportunity to go back to the days of eating fish and chips from newspaper because trying to understand the real issues and their consequences was impossible in a fog of misinformation.

_PW_2581Those who espoused that and similar arguments seem to think there is a Golden Age that our exit will take us back to.  An age before immigration (not sure how far back that age would be), when Britain ruled the waves, and a major proportion of the world map was pink.  These are the people who would staunchly defend our right to retain the Elgin Marbles referred in the previous post for no other reason than that we’re British and we were the prevailing world power at the time, so perfectly within our rights to take ownership.  They look to Churchill as our greatest leader and plunder his speeches for evidence of views on immigration.

_PW_2596We are already seeing an increase in racist attacks in the country as those of the far right take encouragement from our new-found insularity.  No wonder I spotted Mark Darcy, one of the BBC’s political correspondents, staring out into space from Westminster Bridge.  He must be wondering where this will lead.  Behind him on the other side of Westminster Bridge stands Boudicca, perhaps another inspiration to the xenophobic in our midst.

Boudicca Overshadowed
Boudicca Overshadowed

The great warrior queen of the Iceni who portrayed herself as an ordinary Briton whose freedoms had been lost to foreign invaders, rose to drive the Romans from our lands may be an exemplar to those who tell immigrants to go home.  They should remember that she failed.

My birth town of Sunderland was one of the most vocal in calling for Brexit.  It’s easy to blame the unemployment there on immigration, though in my experience there are more complex factors of education and motivation in the mix.  Will the vote for Brexit give them the cosy Anglo-Saxon nation they crave?  A walk around the capital provides the answer.


BTW – the pic of the two guys playing with the basketball was shot in poor light and through some fencing so I was having to focus manually on a moving target.  That’s my excuse for it not being very sharp.  Nonetheless there’s something about the two expressions and the movement in the shot that I really like.  In the split second that followed it the guy in glasses shifted the ball around to his left side and made a perfect pass behind himself.  You’ll just have to take my word for it!

La Sposa Solitaria (Venezia 205)

For many (and doubtless more after Mr Clooney’s example) Venice is the perfect city in which to marry.  Luxurious hotels, historic palaces, secret gardens, and photogenic backdrops abound.  My shot of the bride being gently rowed to her wedding was marred when one of her family seated in the same gondola moved into frame and blocked the lady of the hour.

In Ravello, I witnessed four weddings in a single day (no funeral!) but I didn’t expect to get another chance here, because the brides are likely to be spread throughout the city.

So imagine my surprise when I got a shot of a bride in one of the world’s busiest holiday destinations without others filling the scene.  There was a solitary waiter in the original, but I felt the image had more power without him so I resorted to removing him from shot.

No tourists.

No pigeons.

No bridegroom.

A moment of emptiness.


Arco del Paradiso (Venezia 167)

This is definitely a hidden gem.  Wandering down a shady calle in the Castello district for no other reason that to see if there were any good canal views had at the far end I passed beneath an interesting section of stonework.

I assumed at first that it was another of those pieces of sculpture that had been removed from a church to a new location during the Napoleonic occupation of the city; its slightly uneven installation giving the impression that it had been placed here as an afterthought.  That much is true, though this is its original setting.

The work features different coats of arms on each face, the heraldry representing two influential families of the area; one of whom owned several properties in the “street” where it is placed; Calle del Paradiso.

The style is 14th century, though records show a marriage between members of the two families (Foscari* and Mocenigo) in the late 15th century, so yes, it was an afterthought to the construction of the calle, but after five hundred years I think is has the right to be considered a fixture.


*The Foscaris are  particularly influential in Venetian history, having provided several Doges, the home of the university and inspired works by Byron and Verdi.


Drawing a line

2013 is a year of looking forward, new people, new places, new challenges, new life and maybe new moments of magic and beauty, so with that in mind here is the last look over the shoulder at 2012 and the people I met along the way…

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When the wheels come off

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou* must be enjoying the royalty cheques at the moment; his theme to Chariots of Fire must have been played to death this summer.

The band playing as the Olympic Torch Relay reached Whitburn must have performed it half a dozen times while we were waiting, and I know that it was played during the medal ceremonies of the games themselves, but who knows how many broadcasters turned to it as a lazy shortcut to stir athletic feelings.

And that’s the thing, research has shown it to be a good motivator, but more so for creating a sense of anticipation before than for during the actual performance.  Music can certainly stir the adrenaline, but for me I always found it hard to settle into a rhythm while running to music, and when cycling I want my wits about me.  (Different when on a turbo trainer where the music is a welcome distraction from the combination of pain and boredom!)

With 7 days to the Great North Run there are lots of runners about, some of whom will not be seen out again for months after the event, whilst others, like the Sunderland Strollers, will still be running throughout the winter and whatever the weather.

Looking at those with iphones and ipods strapped to their arms this morning, it seemed to be the less committed who needed the music to keep them going.

Difficult to find a suitable moment to take a portrait of a runner; you don’t want to stop them once they’re going, and at the end when they’re reddened and sweaty I don’t suppose too many would volunteer, so I thought I’d look for some contrast for today’s portrait.  Sitting opposite all of this activity I met a lovely woman called Pat who was visiting from Nottinghamshire and enjoying the beautiful morning.  She had some cool red spectacle frames and a sparkly eyed smile so I was delighted when she agreed to be photographed. (Not sure her three dogs were as keen!).

Now I love my Canon 5d Mk II, and I’ve been using it for many moons now, but two days running I’ve found the priority control on the top of the camera has rotated from Aperture priority, to full Manual.   (Have I developed a sub conscious habit?)  Yesterday it didn’t matter, but today it meant that all of the shots I took of Pat were ruined – my apologies to her.  Looks like I’ll have to go back to chimping!

So to return to the question of find a portrait of a runner.  Get it before they start…

*known better as Vangelis

Oh happy day…

Two nights of parties and several hundred miles of driving make for a pretty jaded blogger this evening, but what a great weekend celebrating the wedding of Gemma and Tom.

Gemma as expected looked absolutely stunning; could a bride ever look happier?

Of course with such a beautiful wife, Tom looked pretty chuffed too!