Contrast is what makes photography interesting.*

Dashing into Newcastle today for an errand, I wasn’t sure what I’d find.  Many businesses would be closed for Good Friday, yet the major stores were all open.  Would the city be thronged with shoppers?  As it happened it wasn’t, which was strange given the slight rise in temperatures which was accompanied by blue skies and sunshine.

No matter if I don’t find people, perhaps today I’d focus on architecture?  From the roof of the car park it was impossible to ignore the magnificent curves of Gateshead’s Sage music and arts centre, and this inspired me to shoot some bracketed images for HDR processing later.  My hall has long been adorned with a moody photograph of the multiple towers of San Gimignano, and as this will be going elsewhere in my impending separation I decided to process the Sage in similar manner by way of a parting tribute!

Even the car park itself had possibilities for an abstract shot, but as it happened the architectural theme was not to be.

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Passing by Grey’s Monument it was impossible to ignore the number of evangelists carrying large yellow, numberplate-like signs bearing the message “John 3:7”.

“Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”

Well it is nearly Easter after all.  I began to shoot some candids here, not sure what I would do with the images but certain I’d know it if I saw it!

It was as I photographed the last of the sign-wielders that I spotted another symbol of the season, albeit one corrupted to advertise a clothing store by riding a diminutive penny-farthing.  I wonder how effective this is as a marketing ploy?

_MG_0902-EditMaking my way back to the car park I was presented with an image that is always tempting.  People standing in doorways make great subjects, because the doorway creates a natural frame.  When the subject is photogenic in their own right it is all the more tempting.

_MG_0914-EditYet it was none of these that was my favourite image of the day.  A quickly snatched shot of an incongruous juxtaposition was my favourite.  I’d like to have framed it better, but I had to act quickly because one of the players was on the move, though the other was clearly settling down for a while.  Nevertheless a sharp stone corner provides a demarcation line between the subjects almost like a mirror, or the binding of two facing pages in a book.

A homeless woman sits or crouches with a thin blanket over her knees, and as many layers as she can muster to protect her against the coming night’s cold.  She is small and almost certainly hungry.

As I spot her she is joined on the corner by a well fed young woman taking a smoking break, presumably from a nearby Italian restaurant.  In contrast she is wearing little, and the clothes that she does have are stretched and pulled by a body that refuses to conform to some remembered size label.  She has no need to protect herself from the cold, she will shortly be back indoors and earning a living, but in the meantime she enjoys the extravagance of a cigarette.  It is an extravagance that her neighbour cannot replicate.   On seeing the other woman she turns her head away, and shortly afterwards moved to a new smoking spot, seeming offended by the person at her feet, and yet the real look of contempt is on the face of the woman she scorns.  She may be down, but she can still feel superior.

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*Quote from leading cinematographer Conrad Hall

Coincidence or Something Subliminal?

Having photographed a number of waves yesterday, and chosen a surfer for my portrait I wanted an appropriate title.  Soft Cell‘s “Say Hello and Wave Goodbye” was playing on my mind for some time, but even the most tenuous links to my pictures weren’t happening for me, so I ended up with a song by Sting against my better judgement.  To be fair, I do love the Dream of the Blue Turtles, probably because the band he assembled included a shipload of jazz talent including Omar Hakim, Kenny Kirkland and the incredibly lyrical saxophonist Branford MarsalisLove is the Seventh Wave provided my inspiration; appropriate as there is an urban myth amongst surfers that the 7th wave is always better than the six that precede it.

Anyway, I digress.  Earlier in the day before deciding on my wave theme I had an idea that shooting people candidly at bus stops might be interesting.  Waiting for buses requires people to find a way of passing the time or engaging in polite, and perhaps unwanted, conversation with someone else in the queue.  Either might produce some interesting expressions or movement.

I shot a few odds and ends but was saving myself for the bus station thinking that I would find a wealth of material there.  It proved otherwise, the waiting areas just weren’t conducive to my needs, but the same harsh light that has been around this week was cutting a swathe through an opening in the side of the building.  I was reminded of another image by Trent Parke from his Dream/Life series, and whilst there wasn’t enough darkness around to replicate the full effect with a wide shot, I was able to frame a couple of passers-by who were dressed in light clothing against a darker background to get the effect shown here.

In each case though I think they needed a mass of normally exposed people around them to give them the truly surreal effect.  As it is they look a lot like mistakes so I gave the idea no more thought.  (This the second time I’ve failed to replicate his work!)

So back to the 7th Wave, and having chosen that option I googled it to remind myself more of the thinking behind the theory, and was vaguely aware that the images option seemed to consist largely of underwater shots of people in turbulent water.  I thought no more of it until this evening when I was researching Mr Parke once more.  There were the same images, from a collection entitled… The Seventh Wave.  How spooky is that?

I went out the following day to shoot my portrait, which is of John, with no attempt to emulate Parke.  I wanted to find someone at a bus stop but bumped into John just beside one (that counts doesn’t it?) and knew I wanted to photograph him.   I’m normally not a fan of spot colour, but when I realised that he would be my entry for 11th November it seemed the right thing to do.

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes*

When I was small the 5th of November was one of the most important dates on the calendar; Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night.

For weeks beforehand, young boys would tour the streets looking for any spare timber that could be used to build a bonfire, and stuffing old clothes to make a “Guy”, which would then be wheeled around the streets or left outside shops with a collecting tin.

“Penny for the Guy” went up the cry, and any pennies collected would be used to buy the magic ingredient of the evening.  Fireworks.  Almost every child had a display in their gardens; some no more than a few rockets and Roman candles, others having a more elaborate celebration with food including potatoes roast in the embers of the fire.

Nowadays the date is more significant to me as being my daughter Holly’s birthday, (don’t be fooled by the candles, she’s older than 7!) but it seems that I’m not the only one with different priorities.  Halloween, which was once the lesser event (carrying hollowed out Swede in the rain, and struggling to relight the temperamental candle inside without burning your fingers had a limited appeal) has now overshadowed a date celebrated to mark an important moment in British history.

Halloween is more of a marketing man’s dream, and I wonder how long it will be before that name (meaning the eve of All Saints’ Day) becomes replaced by Trick or Treat night.

Walking the beach the day after there were still some traces of Guy Fawkes celebrations; the scattered crocodilian timbers that evidenced a bonfire erased by the tide and the occasional carcass of a spent rocket, but these were few and far between and easily missed (unlike the smart windsurfing board abandoned at the water’s edge) Perhaps the two dates will merge into one at some point and we will celebrate at the end of October with fireworks as well as costumes.

Similarly I read this week that a breed of dog once familiar to all thanks to its role as the icon of a well-known paint brand has been placed on a watch list due to the decline in the numbers being bred.  I refer to the Old English Sheepdog (the “Dulux” dog) which it appears is seen as too much trouble to look after compared to “handbag” dogs like the Chihuahua.

So it was nice to meet a man out today walking two of these shaggy beasts.  Getting them both to remain still for a picture was too much to ask, but I grabbed a couple of shots of one of the pair as well as their owner John.  It was great to see these “real” dogs out exercising.  I hope they fare better than Mr Fawkes.

*David Bowie – Changes

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!

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

Forlorn…

…the first word to occur to me on reaching the beach today.

A word meaning lonely, abandoned, desolate, derelict. Not words that you would normally associate with the seaside in August, but this was a short hiatus between bouts of heavy rain.

The was more than enough to clear humanity from the sands, but also their traces. Softened by the high water content the composition of sandcastles is no longer sufficiently robust to preserve their structure. Like the footprints of their creators they are sublimated into their surroundings.  Messages initially scored deeply into the surface fade from view, replaced by streams of rainwater rushing to blend with the larger, more brackish waters that await them.

It still produces interesting imagery, including some tempting reflections in the lagoon to the north. Of course as I near them the rains return, spattering the surface of the bay and erasing those reflections like a shaken Etch-a-Sketch.

Gloomy stuff but soon lifted by the smile of todays portraits John & Lesley. I recall that earlier in the year I grew tired of photographing hats. I didn’t think I’d still be at it in August!

Weather Report – Forlorn

…and one for all!

 

Prehistoric monuments, Roman towns, Renaissance art; I do like things with a bit of history to them, and whilst I recognise the need for progress I don’t always see it as an improvement as I’ve written before about 1960’s architecture.

These values extend to language too.  It’s probably rooted in studying Latin many years ago that I’m interested in the etymology of words, they way they have grown over time through prefix and suffix, and the source of their original meaning.  With the decline in the study of Classics I find myself in the minority these days.

Look up a simple work like “bus” in the dictionary and you might be lucky to see it derives from the word omnibus, though that word is likely to be defined as an old word for bus or wagon.  You’ll be really lucky to discover that it is the Latin word meaning “for all” which was adopted as a nickname for these forms of transport in the 19th Century, probably in France.

The democratic connotations of this means of getting around became enshrined in English legal terminology when the term “the man on the Clapham omnibus” was referred to as a way of describing some mythical man of reason in the general populace.  Though recorded in a decision of Lord Justice Greer in 1932, the phrase is also supposed to date back to the 19th Century.

In the North East of England we have grown accustomed to the word “Metro” to describe the light railway system that joins Wearside and Tyneside.  Again if you were to look for this word in a dictionary it would probably define it as referring to an underground railway, such as ours or the original in Paris.  The London Underground more accurately has a Metropolitan line, pointing to the true origins of the word.  Whilst “Metropolis” may be simply the workplace of Clark Kent’s alter ego to many, or the name of Fritz Lang‘s cinematic masterpiece, it originates in Ancient Greek and means “Mother City“.

And as everyone has a mother, so the Metro in Tyneside is used by all.  As car park charges and fuel prices increase, so the attraction of a cheap rail link grows, with the spin-off that cars are left behind and we burn less carbon.  Like a mother she cares for all, making sure that kids get to school and party people get home.

She appears from nowhere to ferry people to and from work, whether manual labourer or white collared business man.  Alighting from one of carriages today I met John.  What better name to represent those who travel in this way?

BTW – if Metro means mother, what does that make a metrosexual?