The Grand Budapest Hotel (Venezia 78)

I watched Wes Anderson‘s film about the concierge of a grandiose and externally colourful hotel on the way to Venice, totally ignorant that the pink confection at the heart of his story would in some respects be trumped by reality.

Situated on the main road that bisects Lido is The Grande Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria, whose rooms are full of murals, wall coverings, and furniture in the Liberty style.  I didn’t see any of that, but no matter.  The exterior, which is 100 years old, is breathtaking.  Ceramics, tiles and mosaics cover the entire façade in what can truly be termed a work of art.  The colours are riotous.

You’ll have to take my word for that.



Illusion of Light (Venezia 59)

The Illusion of Light is one of the exhibits that I saw at Palazzo Grassi along with the Irving Penn photography that inspired this 365 day project.

Containing works by a number of artists it was mystifying, hypnotic, amusing and provocative.  The shot below wasn’t part of it, though it could be termed “an installation” at the Palazzo!  What’s more, it’s a cheat.

I began this project by promising to post 365 days of monochrome images, but this one is processed completely in colour.  Look closely and it’s there. It was the one speck of pigmentation that prompted me to take the image in the first place.  It would have been a shame to rob you of it.


“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

On The Streets With No Names*

Inspiration comes from many sources; the sculpture in my last post has been nagging at me to photograph it for months, and I’d thought that was it for this blog entries this week.  Then, when I was waiting at the hairdressers this morning, a surprise came my way.  I’d replied to a couple of txt messages, checked my emails, and read the BBC news website.  Still waiting.  Any messages on the dating website?  No, and so I turned to my blogging app to see what was published under the “freshly pressed” category.

I scrolled down until I came to a photographer’s post.  I’ve never read Jasonikon’s blog before, but here was his account of doing some street photography on Putney High Street.  What’s more, he very helpfully detailed the technique that he used as well as the settings for his camera.  Well if that wasn’t a gauntlet thrown down, I don’t know what was.  I was due to have lunch with my beautiful daughters in Newcastle today, so I knew I’d have an opportunity to give it a go, or rather give my version a go.

Jason details how he shoots with his Nikon hanging at waist level to make it less obtrusive and therefore remain largely unnoticed by his subjects.  I don’t know what model he is using, but my Canon 5d Mk III doesn’t do unobtrusive, no matter what I hang it from!  When I’ve shot candids in town previously, I’ve tended to work from a distance with a long lens so that I’m able to raise the camera to my eye without being so close to my subject that they will notice and react.  Jason works much closer and with a wider angle lens.  I don’t have a 35mm prime but used my 24-70 and mimicked his settings as best as I could.  My addition was that I held the camera in my left hand, with no fingers anywhere near the  shutter button.  To the casual observer I was no threat!

In my jacket pocket, enclosed in my right hand, was my secret weapon.  I sometimes use pocket wizards to trigger speedlite flash units remotely with radio signals, but today I wired one up to the camera and I was set to go.  What’s more the Mk III’s ability to shoot almost silently was a great help here.  A couple of test shots and then off I went.

As Jason states in his article, street photography comes into its own when viewed through the lens of history, we take note of changes to cityscapes, hairstyles and fashions.  The reportage shots of yesterday fascinate us, but of course they all begin as candid street photography.

Shooting today, most of my images fell into two categories, those showing the incredible honesty of expression that you get from shooting people unawares, expressions that you would never get if someone sees your lens moving in their direction.  Today there is a subset in there; the various attitudes of men being taken shopping by their respective partners!

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The second category is those that are less expressive, but nonetheless capture the spirit of the time through the fashions and attitudes of those pictured.  (See if you can spot Tyger Drew-Honey from Outnumbered amongst these)

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Of course for me there was a third category today; shot on the street, but with two very conscious subjects.  You didn’t expect that I’d ignore my girls did you?


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The Beauty of a Dream

all of the buildings, all of those cars
were once just a dream
in somebody’s head

dreaming of mercy st.
wear your inside out
dreaming of mercy

Peter Gabriel – Mercy Street (link to Iain Matthews cover)

In my frequent work trips to Bootle, Widnes and now Warrington, I feel I make more than my fair contribution to the 35 million journeys that take place annually along this stretch of the M62.  As I do so I often muse about the large luminous visage that peers down upon the traffic speeding past here on Merseyside and I’ve dreamt of the photographic opportunities that it presents.

Imagine my disbelief then, when having arrived for my first night in Warrington, I read a post from my fellow blogger Debra who posted her image of the sculpture on Vladography this week.

Expressing that disbelief to her she of course pointed out to me that there are many other angles on the subject, and so on finishing my work the following afternoon I determined to waste no more timing in unleashing my Canon upon the artwork. remarkably as I started my car, a drama called North of Riga on Radio 4 was telling the story of a mysterious stranger called the King of Winter who cuts a girl’s hair to steal her dreams.

Intentionally or not, Eoin McNamee‘s character, with his long black hair, immediately brought to mind the protagonist of Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series.  This character Morpheus, is also known as Dream; a name shared by the tall, white voyeur atop the hill in St Helens.

Jaume Plensa‘s Dream is the North West’s answer to the Angel of North, and is equal in height, though to my mind less impressive when viewed from the roadside.  I’ve always seen the elongated head as androgynous from this aspect, but when you make the effort to climb that hill and meet her face to face she has just as much impact as her rusty cousin, in fact I found her slender beauty completely captivating.   Like the Angel, she stands on a site that was once better known for the dirty and deadly industry of mining, the faces of the men who worked here a stark contrast with the self-cleaning white concrete of the disembodied head.  Her pallor reminds me of the “engineers” of Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus, a film in which an arrogant and jealous android “reads” the dreams of a woman who is in stasis for an interstellar journey. (The film also features a large disembodied head; both in reality and as a statue!) Our fascination with dreams will continue long into the future it seems.  Funny things dreams.



The beauty of a dream is you don’t let it go,
You don’t ever let it go.

Once in a while a girl comes along
And opens your heart like a spam tin
Just how long can it take?
A bow bends, a bow breaks
And then when it’s time to return the key
She’ll flash you a smile as she slams the door
But you didn’t have to do that to me
To show me just how cruel love could be
And cruel’s a show I kinda starred in before.

Thomas Dolby – Beauty Of A Dream

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Perception Is Reality?

The volume of driving required for my job is made bearable by a combination of Radio 4 and the songs on my iPhone, and it was the latter that I turned to this week as I made my way to Bardon in Leicestershire.  Set to shuffle each new song is a surprise, but I was delighted when the swirling Hammond Organ signified John Martyn’s Changes Her Mind.  I pushed the volume higher to await the exquisite anguished growl that begins one of the lines of the chorus, a wail like the death cry of some mythical creature.  It didn’t come.  Had I missed it?  I flicked the back button to play the song a second time.  Still not there.  Great song but my memory of it was completely distorted.  I’m now wondering which of Martyn’s other songs I’ve managed to confuse with this one.

She just changes her mind like the wind
She thinks loving me is such a sin
I don’t know where to begin any more
She just changes her mind like the wind.

John Martyn

The following morning I awoke at some ungodly hour to the repeating lines of an ear worm.  Not Martyn surprisingly, but Cassandra Wilson‘s take on the Neil Young song Harvest Moon.

Because I’m still in love with you
I want to see you dance again
Because I’m still in love with you
On this harvest moon.

Neil Young

Why had that song woken me?  I knew not but resolved to remove it from my phone to prevent a recurrence.  Yet it was nowhere on the playlists.  I hadn’t heard it on the way down as I’d thought.  Even stranger that it should surface from my subconscious with the power to rouse me from the depths of sleep.

I recall that in earlier days, the phrase “Perception is reality” was often used to justify feedback, the thinking being that if someone else perceives you in a certain way, then regardless of your intention, that perception is how you really are in their eyes.  I understood the maxim, but never really questioned it, yet here was my brain pushing evidence to the contrary in my direction.

Perhaps it was a premonition of some description for on Friday I saw Paul McGee (SUMO guy) presenting his beach ball model showing just how opposing views of reality can be created.  His message though was not that you should blindly accept another’s view as more valid than yours, but that each should take the time to communicate their perspective to create a richer understanding of the overall picture.

Such esoteric thinking is all very well, but it didn’t really provide me with a plan for taking pictures… until I went back to John Martyn and decided that I should try to photograph the wind that he referred to.  Stuck with nothing more attractive than a pub car park to work with and very little light I didn’t have much chance of an interesting image though at least the clouds speeding through the sky on the stormy winds behaved as I’d expected them to.APW_6975-Edit

I wanted something more attractive though, so today ventured to the nearby Beamish Hall hoping that the options of landscape or architecture may provide a better contrast for the shifting skies.  I wasn’t quite so fortunate with the strength of the winds, but still captured enough to meet my needs.

Funny thing though.  Even Martyn’s perception is inaccurate.  Winds tend to come from a prevailing direction.  Not such a good metaphor for an indecisive woman then.  Unless you happen to be that woman.APW_7009_10_11-Edit

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A Handful of Dust

Biology, Chemistry and Physics.


More years ago than I care to divulge I was an ‘A’ level English student, doing battle with a number of compulsory texts (Othello, The Knight’s Tale, Nostromo and Paradise Lost) as well as a range of other literature which if memory serves was categorised as “Modern”, which included both Evelyn Waugh‘s 1934 novel A Handful of Dust, and the poetry which provided its title; T S Eliot‘s The Waste Land.

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

Ex Vivo

Waugh’s tale of a society marriage break up, and the ultimate fate of the wronged and ineffectual husband was surely a poor choice for teenage scholars whose personal experience could never resonate with the story being told of Tony Last’s loss of his son through a riding accident, wife to a meaningless affair, and his liberty in a Brazilian jungle.  What begins with the “bright young things” ends in corruption and decay.

With perhaps unfortunate timing, I’ve finished two other books this week which deal with loss, but meeting me later in life have had a far greater impact.  Sebastian Faulks‘ A Possible Life comprises a handful of tales that revisit some of his favourite subject matter; France, war, the history of psychology and the workings of the brain.  The last tale though is one of lost love, and the narrator, a fading rock star is forced to choose between his beautiful, yet relatively unexciting partner, and a shooting star with incredible talent (clearly based on Joni Mitchell).  He chooses the latter, and the manner of his failure to acknowledge the end of the first relationship is agonising for the wronged partner, but his agony is all the greater, when his new all-consuming love is shattered as the star takes flight and disappears in reaction to a drug fuelled mental breakdown.

Had I encountered this story as a skinny 17-year-old, the emotional impact would have been just as alien as that of Tony Last’s downfall (though the music element would doubtless have appealed!), yet now I was moved to tears by the ways in which we manage to destroy each other.

Those tears, I learned from the other book, have a different chemical composition from the lubricants that keep our eyes healthy, emotional tears containing both hormones and painkillers.  Recommended by fellow blogger Becky Kilsby, Peter Carey‘s The Chemistry of Tears was to continue the theme of grief.  That snippet of biological information makes up no more than a couple of lines of this book which, in intertwined stories, contrasts the construction of an automaton swan (as in my recent posting The Things We Do For Love…) and the reaction of its conservator to the loss of the love of her life.  Catherine’s trauma pervades every aspect of her life and once more produced an empathetic reaction.

Ex Vivo

The complexities of human emotion are incredible when you consider, as one of Faulks’ characters does, that we are no more than collections of atoms and on our death will decay away, leaving those immutable atoms to recombine into some different aspect of the world.  There is so much that can be achieved by a handful of dust.

Daria France
Daria France

Pictures from photography workshop at Bananastudios featuring Daria France

Ex Vivo

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