Miasma Generator

In 1979 a remarkable piece of work arising from the collaboration of an artist and a musician entitled The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony (though it has probably suffered from the identity crisis of not knowing whether it was a story, an album or a coffee table book of art) which told the story of the rise and fall of an alien civilisation who had destroyed their home planet and been forced to flee across space in search of a new one.  Sadly I no longer have a copy, but I recall that one of the factors in their ecological disaster was a device called The Miasma Generator.  After years adrift in my memory, a couple of things have brought it back to mind this week.

You may have noticed in many of my London pictures this week a degree of haziness that rendered the backgrounds dull and indistinct (thank goodness for Photoshop to rescue the image below); an effect that whilst welcome when shooting portraits is far less so when trying to capture cityscapes. At the time I attributed it to meteorology, the warm spring days creating water vapour, but in the days that followed I learned that this wasn’t strictly true.untitled-6

Sunday morning meant washing my car before I went to celebrate my birthday, and I have to say it was gleaming. Arising the following morning to head for the office I was dismayed to find the entire vehicle enrobed in a mottled patchwork of sand. I would have accepted that when I lived on the coast but in Durham it seemed less likely.

The truth was more surprising. The UK has been subject to poor air quality this week arising from a combination of local and European industrial pollution and sands which have been carried from the Sahara.  Those with pulmonary problems have been badly affected.  So dramatic was the difference that on my travels across the Pennines this week it has felt as if you were passing in and out of a wall of fog.  At least my Cutty Sark pics benefitted!

Another news item this week has been about a proposal to ban the sale of cigarettes in branded packaging.  The smoking ban in public places has changed workplaces, pubs and restaurants enormously, and the rate of smoking in the country is happily falling.  I grew up in a house with two heavy smokers and still wonder what time bomb lurks from all that passive tobacco intake.  I was astonished then at how many smokers I encountered in London.  Perhaps it was the greater proportion of overseas visitors or that I was in environments where the smokers were all forced outside and into the range of my lens but in the people pics I took you’ll see a large proportion of cigarettes being brandished.

They do bring a certain kind of cool to some people, but that will never be a good enough reason to tempt me.  All that smoke is more miasma.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Please forgive the use of “spot colour” technique, but I’m sure you’ll understand why I did it!



Enhanced by Zemanta



One of the photographers I follow occasionally through Facebook is Eric Kim, a street photographer who runs workshops all over the world, and provides detailed information about the why’s and wherefores of this art, including a some useful links that clarify the often misunderstood laws relating to public photography.

I’d read one of his recent posts about “the decisive moment”, a phrase coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson to describe the way in which a skilled photographer can synchronise pressing the shutter button with the optimum moment in a scene that is unfolding before them.  Joe McNally paraphrased this in his book “The Moment It Clicks“.

Eric writes that from his studies of the full range of images taken by great photographers it is clear that they shoot multiple images as they find something of interest and then select the critical shot from a range of possibilities.  You can see what he means by reading the article here.

Thus inspired, I decided to hit the streets today and abandon my usual collaborative approach in favour of something more predatory.  I walked into the centre of Sunderland, found myself an unobtrusive place to sit and watched the world go by in anticipation.

Didn’t shoot a single image.

OK, we’ll up sticks and find somewhere else to sit, a bench at right angles to the flow of human traffic.  An elderly woman and a younger man sat opposite me, restricting me options but I resolved to wait.  Still nothing.  

After a while the son got up to window shop and I realised I’d been missing the best opportunity – the woman opposite!  Hearing the siren of a police car alongside us, she was distracted long enough for me to capture one frame only, but I wasn’t convinced I’d found gold yet.

Eventually I put it down to experience and decided to head back home, but as I returned to my car I spotted a young woman smoking in a street cafe.  Something about the poise of her slender fingers and the angle of the cigarette leaving her lips appealed to me, so I raised the camera to shoot, a motion which alerted her and she turned away laughing.  I shot one frame, but was so convinced that I’d missed the moment I didn’t even offer her a card or ask her name.  Even if I’d clicked before she moved, the whole “quick on the draw” thing doesn’t work for photography, not if you want sharp and focused images.

So I returned to my car a little disheartened, but decided to scan the images on my memory card to see how bad they were.

And the result?

Well you can be the judge.

I like them, but don’t think I’ll be making it a regular occurrence; with two of you working on getting a good image it seems to increase the chances of success!