Sprung

Finally a sign that Winter is relinquishing its grip.

Not only did the sun shine, but it did its best to raise the air temperature too.  Not enough to have the beach swarming with swim suited sun worshippers, but enough to create a haziness as water vapour rose from wet sand into warm air.  The thermometer had climbed into double figures.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to shoot at first.  There was a moment of drama with a runaway horse when I first arrived, but it was already moving away from me, presenting me with poor angles and a diminishing subject.     I wasn’t in the mood to go looking for portraits so that left me with landscapes to get started with.  The beach was stonier than usual, still bearing the shrapnel of every winter storm, so I incorporated these into a few shots.  Nice enough results, but I remained unsatisfied. (click any image to open a full size slideshow without the cropping)

Maybe some candids would do?  I switched to street photographer mode but there was little to interest me.  The three elderly couples sitting and staring out to see lacked any sort of animation to lift them out of blandness.  I took a few shots, but they went straight into the recycle bin once I began processing.   As I mused on what to try next another sign of Spring appeared.  This lady is a regular rider along the coast, and I have not seen her for some months, or if I have she was so wrapped up in waterproofs as to be unrecognisable.  Good to see her in her vernal plumage._MG_1034

Looking back to the waterline I saw my chance.  A small group of men seemed to be taking turns to race a horse-drawn buggy along the expanse of sand exposed by the retreating tide (or maybe it was the same guy with a group of fans waiting to judge every run he made).  If he set off once more, I would have time to get into position before he made the turn to come back and perhaps get some shots that captured the action.  I was in luck.

As he raced South, I ran down to the shore to find a spot somewhere near the tracks he had left, thinking as I did that I must remain visible even if crouching.  Being mown down by a galloping horse wasn’t on my to-do list today.  The first shot was good, the angle allowing me to see the faces of both horse and rider, as well as a flowing mane to create movement.

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The second shot was good too.  Horse airborne and sharp, muscles, veins and ribs revealed by the oblique lighting.

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And then the third.  Initially I felt it lacked something.  Shot side on, the lack of any angle made it feel flat, but the mane and tail flowed nicely.  Could I give it anything in processing?  Judge for yourself.  I found the use of overlays to dirty the sky and sand helps give more movement and drama.  This is my favourite, but which one is yours?

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Not for agoraphobics

The South Tyneside coastline is a rugged place of crumbling stacks, caves and blowholes, and historically has been so for some time.  The rocky coastline was perfect for breaking ships, and the numerous coves and caves perfect for wreckers and smugglers to hide themselves and their booty.These days much of the coastline is given over to leisure.  The former pit village of Marsden is long since removed from both map and landscape and is now a nature reserve.  North of here is the National Trust property Souter Lighthouse and between that point and South Shields stretches Marsden Leas, also owned by the trust.

This is a broad swathe of cliff top grassland that attracts folk from the area to enjoy all manner of recreation.  As a cyclist I have long been familiar with every twist and turn, every rise and fall of the main coastal path, though it is presents far less interest now that it has been tarmacked for much of it’s course. 

There are dog walkers and kite flyers aplenty, and the occasional equestrian too.  It’s a great spot for running, and has the added attraction that there are numerous sea bird colonies along it’s cliffs, notably Marsden Rock, which for most of my life  was a sea arch until rockfalls prompted its part demolition.

Much of the shoreline is difficult or impossible to access due to the effects of erosion which constantly force back the cliff top pathways, and whilst you may be able to see it from the water, the dangerous rocks keep vessels a good distance away.

There are plenty of places to sit and take in the views,  many provided in memorial to those who have enjoyed these two miles of open space, and others to those who have lost their lives on the same cliffs.

For all the flow of human traffic, the Leas are so spacious that they accommodate it all, with barely noticeable impact, which probably suits the wildlife.

Once a year however, all of that changes.  Preparations are already underway for next weekends Great North Run, which will bring tens of thousands to the Leas as both spectator and participant for this is where the race finishes.

Still, in the meantime it’s quiet enough for some baring of flesh; which is what Paul was doing when I met him and his dog today.

The Chain Gang

Sunderland has long been connected to the National Cycling Network as one of the earliest routes (the C2C or Coast to Coast) finishes here.  Arguably you could say it starts here too, but anyone fancying the ride is well advised to ride it from west to east and take advantage of the prevailing wind direction.

I’ve ridden it three times and though the knees are getting a bit rusty I still take an interest in cycling matters.

Given the incredible performances of British cyclists this year in a number of competitions, there are many who feel this could be a great opportunity for cycling in this country, not just as a sport, but also as a mode of transport.  Watching those who travel the seafront you will find riders on the road, on the prom, on the footpath and on the cycle path.

Whilst this invariably infuriates the anti cycling lobby, it is hardly surprising given the half-hearted attitude to providing cycle routes in this country compared to many of our continental neighbours.  Councils think that a splash of green tarmac is all that’s required to provide a cycling facility, but rarely examine the practicalities of using them when they are full of parked cars, end abruptly with no obvious alternative, or direct you across lanes of busy traffic.

The cyclist invests their personal energy in creating momentum and they are reluctant to lose that momentum if they can help it, so I had little chance of getting a real portrait of one of them unless they stopped voluntarily.  The closest I got today was this chap, slowed by changing traffic lights his frustration clearly visible.

Let’s hope there more than just the lights that change.

Subterranean Homesick Blues

On the banks of the Tyne at Jarrow stands a strange-looking building; conventional brick walls, pretty ordinary windows, but with a roof that is definitely flying saucer.

The clue to its function lies in the fact that its twin lies across the river, just visible above the bow of a tug heading upstream.  This is one of the entrances to Britain’s first purpose-built cycling tunnel, though it also serves pedestrians for like the barrels of a shotgun this is two tunnels in one.  Opened in 1951 it incorporates what were at the time the world’s highest single rise escalators, though these days they are rarely active.  Luckily there are small lifts at either end.

I first visited the tunnel as a small boy, taken there by my godmother and her then boyfriend I think as part of a child minding session.  I probably never went near it again until 20 years ago when working on North Tyneside I would regularly cycle through it, both for the enjoyment of cycling but also more practically because it was faster than sitting in the queues of traffic that built up at the Tyne Tunnel for vehicles.

The tunnel then is an old friend, and though I no longer have cause to use it practically it remains an interesting spot for photographs.  I took my youngest daughter Holly there a couple of years back and miraculously found an almost identical shoot in a local lifestyle publication a few weeks later.

Like any old friend, the tunnel is showing its age, and what were once pristine ceramics are now crazed and cracked, giving rise to all manner of excrescences upon their surfaces.  As one pedestrian remarked on see me with my camera there today:

“It’s dropping to bits isn’t it?”

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be!

Aside from its visible charms, the place also has its own unique soundscape, the buzz of cycle wheels spinning in an enclosed environment, the echo of distorted voices, the ebb and flow of footsteps and in between the constant hum of the strip lights whose fluorescence also shifts, creating an eerie movement in the shadows.

As I was ready to leave today I heard another sound.  A man virtually skipping down the static wooden steps of the escalator came into view, and John became today’s portrait.  I was less sprightly as I breathlessly climbed up to daylight once more.  Heavy camera bag you know.

Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues

Walk, Don’t Walk

One of the aspects of cycling that I always enjoyed was the fact that I became aware of so much more of my surroundings when I was on two wheels.  That degree of awareness is multiplied when on foot, and on a beautiful spring day there was no reason not to make the most of the opportunity.

The Sunderland/Everton game was over, so there was nothing keeping people at home – there should be plenty of potential subjects to photograph.

Hitching a lift with Gill as she went to the hairdresser I decided to walk the mile and a half from Cleadon to Whitburn in search of images.  I was soon proved right; there were lots of people out and about, but the problem was that nobody was walking.

Two beautiful girls on horseback would have looked great, but getting them to stop and control their steeds on a busy road wasn’t really on.

I turned onto the quieter Moor Lane where I spotted a couple of pedestrians up ahead… …and walking away from me!  There were plenty of others heading my way, but they were all in cars.  As I reached the outskirts of the village I thought there would be more people about on foot, but there were no immediate signs of walking life.  I began toying with the idea of trying to photograph someone who was driving.  Technically challenging due to the need for a fast shutter speed to reduce motion blur, and perhaps a polarising filter to remove windscreen glare.  It was a matter of desperation really.

One local resident looked at me with a degree of superiority.They clearly had no intention of walking anywhere, but then my luck changed.  No one that I could stop and shoot, but at least they were moving slowly enough to get in focus.

And then a car, but a convertible so no glare issues.

And finally my subject: a masterpiece of co-ordination; his clothing blue and white, like his hair, beard and bicycle.  I didn’t stop him, but we were at least able to exchange an acknowledgement through eye contact and then he was past me and gone forever – a case in point of the advantages of pre thinking your camera settings and being ready for likely eventualities.

As I returned home I did finally find another pedestrian though!