Public Image

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The one on the right.

If you’ve known me for a while you’ll know that I’ve been lucky enough not to change too much with the passage of time.

The hair grows slightly thinner. The hairline eases further back. The few grey hairs multiply, but only slowly.

My skin is losing its elasticity. There are more lines around my eyes. My muscle tone jumped ship a while ago (though I keep promising myself that I’ll track it down again).

The length of my hair fluctuates in between visits to the stylist, and as it does so does the volume of curls, but it’s not really noticeable. My weight (and waist measurement) wax and wane throughout the year, but there’s never more than a few pounds in it.

In the two and a half years that I’ve known J she has also changed very little; with one notable exception. Her hair.

As our first encounters were online I was reliant upon her sharing pictures and the most recent ones showed her with shoulder length blond hair, a feature accentuated by the yellow tint of the pictures caused by tungsten lighting.

I knew however that her natural colour was a redder hue and by the time we met this was already reasserting itself and so the last couple of years have seen subtle oscillations between copper and caramel, but her style has been largely unchanged except for the occasional appearance of extensions on special occasions.

Last weekend she opted for something darker, a rich mahogany but still with striking red overtones.

Now I love to photograph red hair. Red hair and good light are a match made in heaven, so last weekend I shot hundreds of images of her. The luscious greenery along the banks of the Tees provided a strong colour contrast. The windows of her car provided backlighting. The pebbles on Seaham beach gave a more neutral canvas.

She hated them. The change had been just too dramatic. A change of style with the inclusion of a fringe, as well as the much darker colour was a look that she didn’t identify with and it seems others felt the same way. I was banned from publishing any of them!  Oh, what the hell…

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It’s strange that one feature of our appearance can be so dominant. Her smile was just as engaging, her blue eyes just as striking. She was still tall and slim yet giving her face a different frame was too much.

Luckily at Seaham I still had the sea to photograph and share with you. It even obliged me with some coppery highlights!

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Cupboard Love

This year will be memorable for a series of new experiences, new experiences that to date have not born fruit.

The ups and downs, the hopes and fears, the fun, the disappointments, the joy and the pain have all been part of my online dating story.  A volatile emotional cocktail.

But through it all there is someone who I can count on to hug me tight, kiss me on the cheek, give no quarter to sadness and regularly give of her time.

Collecting her from school today I set to making some comfort food for the provider of this comfort.  She’s eaten some great cottage pies in her time that weren’t of my making, so this staple winter warmer was not to be taken lightly.  I placed my faith in a brunoise of carrot, shallot and celeriac to add flavour, together with a generous topping of mature cheddar and Dijon mustard potato.  It wasn’t pretty, but that’s not the point is it?  It hit the spot for me, and more importantly did the same for Holly.

APW_1064Given that she’d come straight from school, was still in uniform and had had her hair tied up all day, she wasn’t really prepared for a photo session, but she’s my daughter and obliges her father on such occasions, even when we had nothing but a table lamp for lighting as she perched on the end of a sofa.  Low light means image quality suffers in the service of avoiding camera shake but despite this Holly shines through.

Thanks H.

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Lei aveva i capelli rossi bello

A rare day today; clear blue skies and bright sunshine but also because I have a day of holiday. Not to go anywhere but to attend to a few personal objectives, one of which was to have lunch with my friend Shirley who I have not seen since she appeared on this blog last year. She is slimmer now, her hair is longer; she looks great, but it’s not her fate to appear here today.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. On my way into Newcastle I passed the Northern Design Centre, one of a number of new buildings that have sprung up as part of the redevelopment of Gateshead. This is no ordinary building; at least externally, for as befits its function, the epidermis of this structure is a piece of interesting design in itself, so with the lighting conditions it was a great opportunity to create some interesting imagery.

Then onto Newcastle.

Now since I finished my portrait project I have missed shooting people so I limbered up with a few “men at work” shots while en route to Shirley. As you can see the term must be applied loosely!

I was meeting Shirley in a little piece of Italy called Pani’s, a great cafe near the sweeping splendour of Grey Street. Arriving early I grabbed a table near the window so I could spot her when she appeared. As I did so a beautiful signorina engaged me in conversation about my camera. With her cascade of flaming curls she wasn’t what you might consider archetypally Italian, though I know red hair to be more common amongst Venetians for example.

Now between my ring rusty portraiture skills, a new pair of glasses and a camera that has been swimming in the North Sea of late, I didn’t get as sharp an image as I would have liked. Nevertheless her smile and those fabulous tresses rise above my limitations stupidly I didn’t get her name so I must caption her as Woman at Work!

Felt good to have some humanity on my memory card once again.

Donna al lavoro
Leonie

 

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Hang on to your hat!

Early in the film Unfaithful, Diane Lane‘s character does battle with gale force winds in New York City. Whilst this fictional storm is as nothing compared to the impact of Hurricane Sandy, it is enough to cause Miss Lane some problems with her dress (shame!) and ultimately blow her quite literally into falling for Olivier Martinez which is where the trouble begins as she’s married to Richard Gere!

High winds hit Sunderland today so I made for the town centre which was once notorious for its wind tunnel effect, to see what drama may ensue This was never going to provide a Diane Lane type wardrobe malfunction, after all “tracky bottoms” are de rigueur for many of the population, but I thought there might be the odd lost hat or two!

In the end I grabbed a few candids of frustration and desperation, including one guy who seemed to feel the need to hold onto his hair, though he didn’t look much like Wayne Rooney.

Eventually I met John who had the perfect solution to the conditions. His head covering was neither hair nor fabric, yet it was completely weatherproof. It was ink!

Sharp Practice?

One of the rituals that my late father followed religiously was his morning shave.  A blue plastic mug was filled with hot water, a shaving brush wet and lathered with soap and then off he went, standing before a small mirror in his vest with braces hanging from his waist.

I was prompted to think about this recently when I encountered this in our bath bridge recently.  As the only male in our household, the shaving ritual might have been confined to me once upon a time, but now everyone needs a razor.  (It still doesn’t explain why there were five when there are only four of us though!)

What it does demonstrate is marketing power.  I’ll use razors as my example.  The scene I’ve described above probably remained unchanged for decades, but in 1971 shaving started on a slippery slope when Gillette introduced the Trac II, the first twin bladed razor.  A few years later the pivoting head made an appearance, then in 1990 spring-loaded blades joined the armoury.  Gillette’s first razor for women was launched then too.

In the years that have followed we’ve had micro-fins to stretch the skin, lubricating strips, three blades, four blades, five blades, and introduction of battery power to try to capture the electric shaver market too.

Of course all of these additional features cost money, so the price and doubtless the profitability of the simple razor goes up too.

Now I’m a believer in lean manufacturing, which states that any process that you build into the production of your product or service should be something the customer is willing to pay for, and doubtless the main razor manufacturers would say this is so.  My question is do we pay for it because it really improves the results or because we’re told that it does?

Personally I find the multi-bladed heads to large to properly get under my nose with the consequence that they get up my nose instead, but I might not mind so much if there was a real benefit in its place.  Now I’m sure some analyst at Procter & Gamble (Gillette’s owners) could provide data to demonstrate how many extra microns of beard are removed by a four blade razor rather than a five blade, but in a blind test could a punter (or their partner) really tell the difference.  Personally I doubt it, but of course you have to keep up with progress, so we’ll stop making those old and perfectly adequate razors that don’t cost so much to make sure you buy the new version anyway!

The best a man can get?  Hmmm.  It’s not just Gillette either.  Their main rival in the arms race Wilkinson Sword now sell their Hydra range featuring a hydrating gel.  Isn’t that what shaving foam is for?!??!?!?!?  Wonder what a marketing guru like Seth Godin would make of all this.

Anyway to accompany this rant I decided to photograph someone immune from this frustration and spotted Ryan who looked like he needed a distraction from the two girls who were giving him a hard time.  Here’s a man who doesn’t shave I thought as I raised the camera.  Then he took his hat off!

die Schönheit von Eva

The 18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant states that beauty should have four qualities;

  1. Disinterest – we find the subject pleasurable because it is beautiful rather than the other way around.  If we described a meal as beautiful, it would probably be influenced by the taste and aroma, rather than purely down to its aesthetics
  2. Universal – all can agree that it is beautiful (though this goes against the notion of the “eye of the beholder”
  3. Necessary – the human mind must pass judgement on this quality of an object
  4. Purposive – there should be no purpose to the beauty.  It is beautiful for its own sake.

At this point philosophy academics are throwing their hands up in horror at my feeble attempt to explain Kant, and to be honest I’m more familiar with his drinking ability as described in Monty Python‘s Philosopher’s Song!

Also in Germany the Universities of Rostock and Regensburg undertook research using computer generated facial composites, and concluded in their work Beauty Check that facial beauty should include amongst other factors;

  • smooth skin without blemish or wrinkle
  • a tendency towards the average
  • high cheekbones
  • symmetry
  • “baby features” in women (small nose and chin, large eyes)
  • prominent jawline in men.

The great fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld was American, but of German origin, and photographed more Vogue covers and any other before or since.  One of these was chosen by Rankin for his “Seven Photographs That Changed Fashion” project and it shows that Blumenfeld can distil beauty down to even more basic components.  His 1950 Vogue cover certainly has unblemished skin, but symmetry and cheekbones?

Extreme Beauty In Vogue
Extreme Beauty In Vogue (Photo credit: Human Flash Dancer)

For all this German focus on beauty, I found many more examples in the teams of nations other than the Fatherland when watching the Olympic opening ceremony yesterday. (Entschuldigung!)  Nevertheless it was Blumenfeld’s influence that prompted me to photograph Eve when I saw her in Newcastle.

Her silver locks and pale skin don’t quite match the blown out whiteness of the Vogue cover, but the red lips and eyebrows were the most striking features visible beyond her Ray-Bans.  Not much to go on, but it was enough to convince me that she was photogenic.  The quirky smile is all the better for not being symmetrical in my view, but what about the shades?  Are they the “large eyes” required by  Beauty Check?  I think they probably are so cheated and gave them a blue tint!

Oh and in case you can’t see what I’m talking about, here’s my take on the Blumenfeld:

Uniform

This has been one of those languid days; overcast skies have no wind to break the clouds which become an amorphous pale grey blanket.  That same stillness leaves the sea unperturbed with not a wave to give texture.  It warm enough for a slight haze to soften the line between the two elements creating a picture that only a minimalist could love.

I feel the same about the people today.  Few inspire, and those who do I reject as too like others that I have photographed before.  Cliché is not on my agenda today.

This is dangerous territory, for by spurning the familiar, I could leave myself with nothing at all to photograph.  I’m reminded of this as I cross Roker Ravine and look out to sea.  The lighthouse and pier must have been photographed hundreds of times, (by me alone I think!) yet today I spotted a new take on the scene, and one so ephemeral that it must be captured there and then for tomorrow it will be different again.

Yet as I cycle on into town I find it filled with dozens of examples of the same thing, grey haired pensioners slowly picking their way across the flow of people to reach their objectives, tattooed single mothers lighting their next cigarette, young girls wearing more make up than some of the models I have shot under studio lighting.  It all feels so “samey”.

And then I spot Rachel in conversation with her mother, and when she smiles I know I’ve found the grail I seek.  Her alternative look breaks the monotony perfectly, which is ironic since a monotone image suits her really well.  Shame it only tells half the story, yet full colour seems too much.  For me that answer lies somewhere in between.