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


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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Baltic: Pronunciation: /ˈbɔːltɪk, ˈbɒlt-/

Origin: late 16th century: from medieval Latin Balticus, from late Latin Balthae ‘dwellers near the Baltic Sea

It’s funny how the brain responds to certain stimuli.  Earlier this week I received an email from my friend Anna in Sweden telling the tale of a lucky escape when her home caught fire.  (Luckily she’s fine).  I’ve only been to her home city of Stockholm once in my lifetime, and even then it was a flying visit when the SS Nevasa docked there during a school cruise in the 1970’s.  I’m sure it’s changed a lot in the 40 years since, but whenever I think of Stockholm my first thoughts are of that cruise around the Baltic which included Helsinki, Copenhagen and a jellyfish infested piece of Norwegian rock among the many outcrops near Kristiansand (Dybiggen? Island rings a bell).  Of course in those days many of the Baltic ports were off-limits.  These were the days of the iron curtain, so Gdansk, Riga, Tallinn, and St Petersburg weren’t options.  I’d love to repeat the experience and fill in the gaps.

The tensions in this area have a long history, including both World Wars, and the sea covers the broken wreckage of over 5000 aircraft and warships, to which the governments of the US, UK and former USSR have added dumped chemical weapons.  The brackish waters are a living monument to man’s inhumanity.

I referred earlier this week to the freezing temperatures during the photo shoot with Bananastudio, and several times during that evening I heard Baltic used as an adjective to describe the bitter cold.  During the winter this is very true of course, but many forget, or are ignorant of the fact, that Tallin for example, though further North than the UK mainland can experience long periods of 30 degree temperatures in the summer.  Stockholm similarly enjoys better summers than we do, with sea temperatures warmer than the English Channel.

So when deciding where to spend Easter Sunday I should not have been surprised that these subconscious hints drew me to another Baltic.  The contemporary art centre in Gateshead.  I’m no aficionado of modern art, but I go with an open mind and have regularly found inspiration there and enjoyed the work of artists such as Yoko Ono, Anthony Gormley, Martin Parr, George Shaw and Vik Muniz.  You can no longer take photographs in any of the galleries, but the building itself can create some interesting imagery.

Yesterday however, was one of those days when I just didn’t really get it.  Fabrice Hyber’s Raw Materials contained many ideas – probably too many to fit into one space. His huge rain cloud for example deserved to stand alone with some more interesting lighting to accentuate the crystalline rain drops that dash the floor below.  The maze like rows of hanging fabrics, akin to the washing line sequence from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life were good fun though (and I did sneak one shot when concealed within it). _MG_0981

Very little of David Jablonowski’s Tools and Orientations  or David Maljkovic’s largely film based Sources in the Air help my attention, but that’s fine.  The creative process will throw up things that stimulate and appeal to one mind and not another.

Returning to the ground floor we found a more conventional gallery of oils on canvas.  These had a photographic quality, with many of the figures outlined in the thick black shadows that you often see in photographs taken with an “on camera” flash unit.  This light is harsh and flattens figures into cardboard cutouts with two dimensions.  Appropriate for a painting, but of course many of these images originated as photographs, for Polish artist (another Baltic connection) Marcin Maciejowski takes his inspiration from images in current affairs and the media though frequently with the facial features removed.  Nevertheless the scene from Godfather II where Michael Corleone tells his wife Kay “Don’t ask me about my business” was still recognisable.

So four exhibitions but none that really wowed me.

Perhaps I was just looking in the wrong place.

Portrait on Car Roof

Time & Place

The last week has seen me making a few journeys cross-country, where I’ve been based in Aintree on Merseyside.  Of course I packed my camera, in the hope that I might have the opportunity to make a short detour to Crosby beach and find a new angle on Another Placethe collection (100 in all) of Antony Gormley sculptures which are installed along the shore here.  Art and a beach?  Seemed like a perfect combination for me.

Unfortunately a different combination of working hours and daylight hours proved incompatible, so that the only occasions where I had time on my hands were when it was pitch black.  A speedlite might have illuminated one of the statues, and with a camera on a tripod and a long exposure I might have caught some ambient light in the sky, but I hear that the beach there is particularly muddy, so the tripod would probably have sunk as I did so.  Another Place will have to wait for another time.

_MG_7095-EditI still came away with some imagery from the trip though.  Only a couple of evenings before a friend had promised me a picture of the willow tree in the grounds of the school where she works so long as it remained snowy until the Monday.  (I’m assuming it didn’t JJ!).  However on my way over the Pennines I spotted a specimen of my own just outside Kirkby Stephen.  There was nothing additional in the vicinity which would make the picture, but it’s an impressive specimen anyway.  It did however have the effect that having stopped to get the camera and tripod out, I was inclined to look for inspiration elsewhere.  I had an inkling of where I would find it too.

The train station at Kirkby Stephen is located on the highly evocative Settle to Carlisle line, and is some way out-of-town on the road up to Ash Fell.  I parked here and went exploring.

Apart from the newly constructed waiting room on one platform the place looks like it has remained unchanged for years, so I shot some interesting compositions, but again I felt I lacked a point of interest.  Where was Jenny Agutter and her red knickers when I needed her?

The light was fading quickly now so I returned to my car and continued uphill when I found my point of interest.  Not sure what the point of this structure by the roadside was, but it brings a whole new meaning to shoe tree!