Perchance to Dream

Undaunted by my recent failure to capture star trails, the goal remained in mind when I returned to familiar ground in Merseyside this week.  I’ve spent enough time there to be getting my bearings, and though staying in Widnes I knew I was close enough to St Helens that I could easily return to the Dream sculpture that featured here a few weeks ago.

Thwarted by cloudy skies on my first evening there I was delighted to see nothing more than the occasional wisp the following night.  Dining early to give myself the chance to take my time over the shot, I made my way to Sutton Manor, the location of the sculpture.

First challenge.  I’m sorry if you’re local to the area, but to my eye it doesn’t look like the sort of place to leave your car at night.  There’s a pub there with a large and fairly derelict expanse of land around it, and even though there were lights within the building I can’t be certain that the place is a going concern.  It has the look of a place where drug deals take place in the more remote corners of the parking area.

I decided to chance it, leaving my car in a location that combined proximity to the roadside and one of the occasional streetlights in the area.

The pathway to the summit where the sculpture is located was quite distinct, though I wasn’t aware of moonlight, but the bushes and grassland on either side was dark and indistinct except where silhouetted against the deep blue of the night sky.  Glancing ahead of me I spotted a figure outlined in the same way crossing my path and then disappearing once more into the darkness, making me question further the wisdom of my endeavour.  I tighter my grip on the tripod I held in my right hand.

Seconds later I began to wonder if I’d need it to defend myself as I heard his dog announce its presence with a series of growls as it came quickly in my direction.  Straining my eyes against the darkness I thought I could make out some sort of bull terrier, but luckily before I was able to confirm my identification it finally responded to man calling it back.  Though I had a head torch I’d decided not to use it as I didn’t need to illuminate my path and felt it wiser not to announce the presence of a photographer with some pricey equipment on his back.

I reached the summit without further encounter, and identified the position of Polaris.  Star trails look better when shot against the poles for here the rotation of the earth produced more pronounced results.  I set up my tripod to include both the stars and my foreground subject, noticing as I did so that more wisps of cloud were passing overhead.  I was unconcerned; they were both speedy and insubstantial.  Focusing and composition done (as much as you can when shooting an image that looks largely black through the viewfinder) I opened the shutter and began my wait, which gave me plenty of time to notice more of the cloud fragments passing by overhead, though as I followed their progress I was frustrated to see that they seemed to be slowing enough to gather into a more substantial barrier somewhere between me and the Pole Star.  I looked behind me where Orion’s Belt formed a smile at my annoyance.

Undaunted I reversed position to take advantage of the clarity of this constellation instead, only for the cloud to coalesce there too.  The final straw came when two mountain bikers arrived, bearing enough lighting to satisfy the most demanding of road safety campaigners.  Another largely wasted evening, though I liked the result of this shot where if you look closely you can just make out the traces of Orion through the cloud.  Very closely.  Very very closely.

Dream, Sutton Manor
Dream, Sutton Manor
There was one bonus.  My car was still there.Enhanced by Zemanta

The Beauty of a Dream

all of the buildings, all of those cars
were once just a dream
in somebody’s head

dreaming of mercy st.
wear your inside out
dreaming of mercy

Peter Gabriel – Mercy Street (link to Iain Matthews cover)

In my frequent work trips to Bootle, Widnes and now Warrington, I feel I make more than my fair contribution to the 35 million journeys that take place annually along this stretch of the M62.  As I do so I often muse about the large luminous visage that peers down upon the traffic speeding past here on Merseyside and I’ve dreamt of the photographic opportunities that it presents.

Imagine my disbelief then, when having arrived for my first night in Warrington, I read a post from my fellow blogger Debra who posted her image of the sculpture on Vladography this week.

Expressing that disbelief to her she of course pointed out to me that there are many other angles on the subject, and so on finishing my work the following afternoon I determined to waste no more timing in unleashing my Canon upon the artwork. remarkably as I started my car, a drama called North of Riga on Radio 4 was telling the story of a mysterious stranger called the King of Winter who cuts a girl’s hair to steal her dreams.

Intentionally or not, Eoin McNamee‘s character, with his long black hair, immediately brought to mind the protagonist of Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series.  This character Morpheus, is also known as Dream; a name shared by the tall, white voyeur atop the hill in St Helens.

Jaume Plensa‘s Dream is the North West’s answer to the Angel of North, and is equal in height, though to my mind less impressive when viewed from the roadside.  I’ve always seen the elongated head as androgynous from this aspect, but when you make the effort to climb that hill and meet her face to face she has just as much impact as her rusty cousin, in fact I found her slender beauty completely captivating.   Like the Angel, she stands on a site that was once better known for the dirty and deadly industry of mining, the faces of the men who worked here a stark contrast with the self-cleaning white concrete of the disembodied head.  Her pallor reminds me of the “engineers” of Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus, a film in which an arrogant and jealous android “reads” the dreams of a woman who is in stasis for an interstellar journey. (The film also features a large disembodied head; both in reality and as a statue!) Our fascination with dreams will continue long into the future it seems.  Funny things dreams.



The beauty of a dream is you don’t let it go,
You don’t ever let it go.

Once in a while a girl comes along
And opens your heart like a spam tin
Just how long can it take?
A bow bends, a bow breaks
And then when it’s time to return the key
She’ll flash you a smile as she slams the door
But you didn’t have to do that to me
To show me just how cruel love could be
And cruel’s a show I kinda starred in before.

Thomas Dolby – Beauty Of A Dream

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Peace at Last

A town with Roman origins that developed through Saxon settlement into a medieval market town with an important textile trade.  There are several places that come to mind but I suspect the places that come to mind don’t include my destination this week.

Perhaps its Palladian Town Hall, rated by Pevsner as the finest late 18th Century home in South Lancashire.  South Lancashire?  APW_7436_7_8-EditProbably not where you had in mind.  This is a region famed for its industrial heritage and the industrial revolution really brought prosperity to the area.APW_7455-Edit

The town hall was originally the private home of merchant Thomas Patten, but this elegant property and some of its surrounding grounds were sold to the borough council a century later, the grounds becoming the town’s first public park. APW_7426-Edit Sadly the public toilets in the same grounds are more indicative of the more recent fortunes of Warrington.APW_7442

Now mention Warrington to me and I think of Rugby Union, and the team which has the unique record of being one of the founder clubs and the only one who has never slipped out of the top league.  Or rather that was the first thing that came to mind about this Merseyside town.

That all changed twenty years ago when the town was rocked by the explosions of two bombs planted by the IRA.  This came just a month after a gas holder was bombed in the same town which caused enormous damage but no casualties, though a policeman was shot and injured after stopping the bombers’ van.  Sadly the second event was more tragic.

The two bombs were small, and planted in cast iron waste paper bins in the town centre. The warnings given at the time are in dispute, but whatever the truth, Warrington was not the focus of police efforts to save lives.  The location and timing of the two bombs in Warrington meant that shoppers fleeing the first explosion were driven into range of the second, a tactic frequently used by terrorist bombers since.

The cast iron of the bins was turned to shrapnel and caused carnage.  Dozens were injured, but it was the death of two children that made the event notorious.  Three year old Jonathon Ball died in the explosions, but 12-year-old Tim Parry, who suffered the full force of the blast died in hospital a few days later when his life support was ended.APW_7356

People react to such attacks in a variety of ways.  In Northern Ireland loyalist paramilitaries predictably sought revenge, but this was eclipsed by a number of peace campaigns including that of Tim’s parents who began a campaign to promote greater understanding between communities in Britain and Ireland.  Now those efforts have a physical presence.  A large timber clad building in Warrington that bears the names of the two victims in now an international centre promoting peace and conflict resolution.

The ability of some to channel the pain of grief into positive action continually astounds me.APW_7397_8_9

Another Visit to Another Place (aka I Fall in Love Too Easily Part 2)

I wrote recently about my desire to shoot some of Anthony Gormley‘s sculptures on Crosby Beach, and though I was successful, I was disappointed with the outcome for two reasons; the light pushed me towards a high ISO setting that resulted in grainier pictures than I really wanted, and the fact that I was battling with ubiquitous mud was too great a distraction.

Being back on Merseyside today, and graced with another day of hazy sunshine I thought I’d get down there for golden hour and give it another go.

The beach was more welcoming (the tide was coming in this time so the sand had been drying in the sun for some time), the haze gave new possibilities, and I was aware of more of the sculptures, including those out at sea struggling to keep their heads above water.

I thought it would be nice to combine a real person with one of the images in something akin to my signature shot of bride and groom when photographing weddings.  Down by the waterline was a man engaged in his own artwork, draping a flag around the shoulders of a steely companion, he appeared to be creating his own photographic art.

When I approached him it turned out that we should have met sooner.  His son was on a naval ship travelling up towards Liverpool and he had been trying to capture a shot of the ship but didn’t have the right camera to do it justice.  As he told me his story the ship was already disappearing from view so I was too late to assist.  Nevertheless Harvey agreed to pose and I got something like the shot I wanted from this non-model!

Without the pressure of being covered in mud I was free to capture some of the other visual beauty that was all around me, reminding me why I use the name a photogenic world.  There was plenty here to fall in love with.  Wonder if I’d have thought the same if it had been raining though!

Time & Place

The last week has seen me making a few journeys cross-country, where I’ve been based in Aintree on Merseyside.  Of course I packed my camera, in the hope that I might have the opportunity to make a short detour to Crosby beach and find a new angle on Another Placethe collection (100 in all) of Antony Gormley sculptures which are installed along the shore here.  Art and a beach?  Seemed like a perfect combination for me.

Unfortunately a different combination of working hours and daylight hours proved incompatible, so that the only occasions where I had time on my hands were when it was pitch black.  A speedlite might have illuminated one of the statues, and with a camera on a tripod and a long exposure I might have caught some ambient light in the sky, but I hear that the beach there is particularly muddy, so the tripod would probably have sunk as I did so.  Another Place will have to wait for another time.

_MG_7095-EditI still came away with some imagery from the trip though.  Only a couple of evenings before a friend had promised me a picture of the willow tree in the grounds of the school where she works so long as it remained snowy until the Monday.  (I’m assuming it didn’t JJ!).  However on my way over the Pennines I spotted a specimen of my own just outside Kirkby Stephen.  There was nothing additional in the vicinity which would make the picture, but it’s an impressive specimen anyway.  It did however have the effect that having stopped to get the camera and tripod out, I was inclined to look for inspiration elsewhere.  I had an inkling of where I would find it too.

The train station at Kirkby Stephen is located on the highly evocative Settle to Carlisle line, and is some way out-of-town on the road up to Ash Fell.  I parked here and went exploring.

Apart from the newly constructed waiting room on one platform the place looks like it has remained unchanged for years, so I shot some interesting compositions, but again I felt I lacked a point of interest.  Where was Jenny Agutter and her red knickers when I needed her?

The light was fading quickly now so I returned to my car and continued uphill when I found my point of interest.  Not sure what the point of this structure by the roadside was, but it brings a whole new meaning to shoe tree!