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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The Gift of Memory

Like most people there are aspects of my memory that are pretty good (I just wish I could remember what they are right now), and other things that I’m not so good at like remembering people’s names.  When I’m photographing street portraits I like to use the individual’s name at least twice to embed it in my memory for when I write the blog later, though I might also record it on my iphone to be absolutely sure.

My wife’s family love to have parties, and more often than not these involve party games, which tend to become very competitive and not just between the teenagers, but also those who are old enough to know better.  One regular event is to play “the tray game” or “the memory game” where the objects from a covered tray are revealed one by one before the tray is covered again and the task of trying to recall the objects begins.  I’ve never been beaten at this.

This is not a feat of memory though, but the use of a technique.  I begin by having something in mind that I can mentally walk through and then place the objects along the way, visualising some connection that will help me to recall them.  Consequently I can usually recite the order they were shared in as well as the actual objects.  When the objects were relatively few I would work with calendar months, but attempts to thwart me by adding more objects have forced me to refine my strategy to the various premises and landmarks of a real journey.

Derren Brown at the Garrick Theatre, June 2008
Derren Brown at the Garrick Theatre, Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never made a secret of the technique, which has been in use since Simonides in the Greece of the 5th Century BC, yet no one has successfully adopted the same methodology to challenge me.  It’s called the “method of loci“, loci being Latin for places, and with some variations is the basis for many feats of memory.  You may have seen those who can remember the order of multiple sets of cards, or Derren Brown playing multiple Chess masters by remembering the moves to effectively play them off against each other.

One of the more recent TED talks is by Joshua Foer and is entitled “Feats of memory anyone can do”, but that’s where I have a problem.  I suspect that since the method involves visualisation that some may have greater abilities than others in this field.  I am a very visual person, hence my love of imagery.  Derren Brown is an accomplished artist as well as an entertainer.  Might this be a common factor amongst those can take these techniques to extreme levels.  Might the phrase “photographic memory” be more meaningful than we think?

Of course memory is so much more than being able to recall information visually stored for short-term use (these “achievements” are after all little more than party tricks rather than true learning)  but I suspect that there is some gift that allows some to excel at them.

Which reminds me of today’s portrait subject, whose name is Donna.  There was no way I could forget that name for although it means woman in Italian, it sounds like the Latin worddona.

It means a gift.