Another Look

I’ve gone coast to coast, just to contemplate

Joni Mitchell – Blue Motel Room

No sooner had I basked in the Sandsend sunshine than it was time for me to return to Bootle, where the nearest interesting stretch of sand is to be found at Crosby, the beach where Antony Gormley’s work Another Place stands embedded in the sand.APW_6327

I’ve blogged about this location twice before, but I find the place absolutely compelling and for a variety of reasons.

This is the same stretch of sand that fronts the dunes at Formby, though a few miles further south, and whether due to the sheer expanse of this coast, or the challenges of access here (there’s a walk from the car park that passes a park, play area and leisure lake so there are easier options than the beach) the shoreline never seems to be very busy.  Attractive if you enjoy having plenty of space to exercise your dog or its owner.

For others the proximity of the shipping approaching the port of Liverpool provides the interest; the world’s first commercial dock is still one of the UK’s busiest.  Add in a backdrop of wind turbines and you have an industrialist’s wet dream.

But for me the Gormley figures are the attraction.  One hundred cast iron figures, identical but for an identifying wrist band,  stand facing out to sea, but being spread over a two-mile stretch of coastline they are sparse, with no more than three or four ever in your field of vision.  Even then the fact that they are at different distances from the water allows perspective to resize them, thus giving them greater individuality.  Each of the hundred seems to stand alone, gazing out over the undulations of sand and water and creating a surprising sense of isolation.

APW_6334The sea too plays a part in giving each an individual feel, decorating them with barnacles, weeds and a patina of corrosion that affects no two in the same way.  The sea may also be the culprit for the fact that some of the figures are partly buried in the shifting sands… though there may be another explanation!

Gormley is one of Britain’s leading artists, but his reputation hasn’t been gained through press controversy like some of his contemporaries.  Of the three works I’ve come close to (Domain Field and The Angel of the North being the others) he demonstrates an ability to connect with humanity using cold steel.  This was my third visit to Another Place.  I doubt it will be my last.


A few days after posting this item I came across this programme which describes the history of this artwork and the reactions of the people of the area to their installation… BBC Radio documentary about the artwork

“Let’s Go Round Again”*

I don’t feel a particular sense of nostalgia.

There’s no obvious hankering for past glories.

And yet, when I look at the images I’ve shot and processed this week the evidence suggests otherwise.  My daughter Holly has appeared here before, but meeting her for lunch this weekend to mark the end of her ‘A’ levels and consequently her school life made accompanying pictures an inevitability.  Combining a co-operative disposition with photogenic features she has grown accustomed to the large black device that imposes itself on many an occasion.  As if this wasn’t enough, the lighting in the bar where we met was perfect for some moody (and not so moody) imagery.

On my way to meet her I passed another old friend, and as I couldn’t recall having taken images here in bright sunshine, the Angel got a repeat visit too.

And when the weekend was over and normal life resumed, where was I but Carlisle airport again, where the brooding bomber begged for a wide-angle treatment that I didn’t give it last time I was here.APW_2527_HDR-Edit

Original images, but of well-photographed subjects.

I can’t help but gather new pictures wherever I go, and this compulsive nature means that I have tens of thousands of photographs to store, and I’ve recently been forced to move my entire library to a new hard drive, prompting me to do a little pruning of people and places who time has shown I have no need to revisit.

It was in doing this, that I came across a shot I took in Keswick several years ago.  A candid of a couple embracing that had a dance like quality, which appealed to me and several friends at the time.  To give them greater emphasis within the image I had applied some blurring to the picture, removing other people who would have been distractions as a result.  Although I had a small jpeg copy, I’d assumed the original file was long-lost, but discovered it again this week.

It wasn’t too sharp (this was before I’d switched to the big guns of my Canon 5d‘s (apologies for the pun) so the resolution was limited, and my own skills probably were less developed then too.  Finding the original file gave me the chance to try to sharpen it up a little in post processing, though of course if the detail wasn’t there in the first place  there is only so much you can do.

When it came to applying the blur effect, I was reminded that the newest version of Photoshop includes something called spin blur, so it was time to give it a try to see what it had to offer.  Bingo.  More of the other people in the picture were rendered as abstract shapes, leaving the “dancers” centre stage, though now they were a point of stillness with the world spinning around them.  Maybe that’s more appropriate; I don’t see this couple being fans of the Average White Band*.

There is a quote attributed to Leonardo along the lines of “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” which was paraphrased by Pixar studios when they said “Our films don’t get finished, they just get released.”.

I don’t really see myself in the company of Leonardo or Lasseter, but I think they had a point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Call of the Trail

On my recent visit to Berkshire as my colleague Kevan and I returned from sampling the wares of the local hostelry, I looked up to a remarkable display of stars, which then prompted two middle-aged men to stand in the cold, trying to locate the scant numbers of constellations that they could both identify and name.  There were never many in my repertoire, but even Cassiopeia was eluding me.

The reason we felt compelled to stop and stare was the absolute clarity of the sky above us; unusually cloud free after the weeks of heavy rain that have swept the UK, but also free from the light pollution that we’re accustomed to and that dims the heavens these days.  Given our proximity to London, this seemed all the more unusual, and even though we were staying somewhere relatively bucolic, we weren’t far from the main road linking Reading and Newbury.

Perhaps prompted by the older image that I posed recently I thought that I’d take advantage the following evening and shoot some star trails; long exposure images that take advantage of the earth’s rotation to create whorls of light from the blurring of what seems to be the stars’ movement but is in fact our own.  Most of these shots are composites of dozens of image files, layered using specialist software, though it is possible to do something similar with a single ultra long exposure, though  this needs to be shot against an otherwise black sky to prevent overexposure.

Inevitably the following evening, our last in this location, saw the return of cloud cover, but the seed was sown.  A couple of evenings later and on my way back from meeting my friend Nic and her new Mercedes I stopped off to visit and old friend and try again.

No cloud to speak of tonight, but shooting north, where the best patterns would be achieved was a non starter.  The combined luminance of Newcastle and Gateshead put paid to that idea.  There there were the two girls who turned up and walked through my shot.  Not usually a problem with a long exposure like this; they should have blurred into invisibility – if they hadn’t decided to use their iPhones as torches.  Suddenly the trails in shot became random and much brighter than planned.  Fifteen minutes of standing in the cold while that particular exposure was recording was wasted.  I shot some more, but the chill was soon getting to my fingers and I retired for the night.

Checking my results later there was nothing that came close to what I was seeking.  The shots with a dark night sky showed no real movement.

I looked again at one of the overexposed shots (again marred by torch trails).  It was out of focus too (tricky when shooting wide apertures to make the stars brighter) and yet it had an interesting feel about it.  APW_8945-2Crop it down to get rid of the torches and the glowing moon.  Maybe has some potential?

APW_8945Apply some texture layers? Hmmm.  Maybe not such a wasted trip after all.  The trails will have to wait for another day, but fingers crossed I know just where I’m going to shoot them!

Angel of the North
Angel of the North
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I talk a lot about feedback in my job, and how we frequently dismiss the feedback we receive as we experience denial and then emotions such as anger or embarrassment.  Then all the words pour out as we make excuses.  We don’t want to accept our imperfections or listen to others describe our strengths.  Far better that we should be calm and reflect.

My best friend described me as an angel some time ago for my ability to bring a sense of calm into her life at times of crisis.  I laughed it off; far too aware of my sins and failings to even consider it.  Someone else that I met on a date, whose accomplishments overawed me described me as “too good for her”.  Our own view is often so different to the way the world perceives us.  The world sees the mask that we present to it; behind that facade we see the cracks, or as that friend put it; “Our personal and professional personas can be very different”.

I’ve done so much writing this week that I was struggling for words to post here this weekend (which might surprise some!) so I’m going to listen to that friends feedback and join her in calm serenity.

This picture that I took yesterday fits that mood.  The Angel of the North is a photographic icon that challenges photographers to find a new angle.  Yet for me it’s not about the Angel.  The Angel remains constant.  His partner the sky provides the beauty.

Spend all your time waiting
for that second chance
for a break that would make it okay
there’s always some reason
to feel not good enough
and it’s hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
oh beautiful release
memories seep from my veins
let me be empty
and weightless and maybe
I’ll find some peace tonight

in the arms of the angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here

Sarah McLachlan – Angel


Click the image to enlarge – it’s worth it!

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I recently blogged about the challenges of photographing familiar vistas without descending into cliché, i.e. repeating the same old shots.  As I was in Birtley today I could see what is one of the North East’s most famous landmarks and so the gauntlet was thrown down.

The Angel of the North, whilst originally the subject of much scepticism has been largely embraced by the population here, who have purloined it for business names, corporate logos, and a shorthand for anything to do with the North East.  Anthony Gormley‘s towering sculpture has even suffered the indignity of wearing an oversized Newcastle United shirt.

Unsurprisingly when I arrived there were other photographers about, though most of the camera phone variety.  There are plenty of good angles that you can shoot from and depending on the time of day and prevailing light get some variety, but the reality is that they’ve all been shot before.  The planting of bushes and positioning of fences around the base of the giant reduces the options of originality still further.

So while Clem (a fellow photography buff) and I were waiting patiently for the crowds to move out of shot he took the opportunity to photograph a passing Bernese Mountain Dog, and I took the opportunity to photograph him.My shots were acceptable but unremarkable so in my processing I’ve tried to make them different.

There was one exception though.  I have no idea what this was all about, but the man on the sofa and two young girls set this up just so that one of them could photograph and video him on her iphone.  Having gone to all this trouble I might have expected something a little more professional however advanced Apple’s baby might be.As they manoeuvred their furnishing back to van, doubtless to some other photo opportunity, I heard them refer to the Angel as she, which confused me as I’ve always though of the figure as male.  Is there a definitive answer?