Such a Beautiful Horizon (SOS 7)

Freddy Mercury didn’t live long enough to perform his duet with Montserrat Caballé at the opening ceremony of the 1992 Olympics, but their tribute to Barcelona, from which I stole my title, proved prophetic, for one of the most enduring images from the games was from the diving pool where the hilltop setting created an illusion of athletes diving  from an even greater height because the horizon revealed the city far below.

_PW_0499-EditMontjuic, where the games were hosted is a pleasant area with lush vegetation seemingly spreading in all directions.  The statue of an athlete bearing an Olympic torch hints that there is more beyond the trees however.  Whilst not the only part of the city to host Olympic sports, the Olympic Stadium (since renamed in honour of a Catalan leader executed here in 1940) is one of the main reasons to climb the hill.

This is stadium where Sally Gunnell and Linford Christie found glory, and Derek Redmond found tragedy in the heady days when only 5 athletes failed drug tests (though that probably says more about the quality of testing than sporting ethics).  The building has it’s own story to tell however.

Unlike the games in Beijing or London, or those to come next year in Rio, Barcelona didn’t build a new stadium to host the games.  They recycled one!   The structure was originally built in 1927 ahead of the International Exposition that took place in the city two year later, with the intention of hosting the games in 1936.  What’s more, when Berlin was announced as the host city for that event, Barcelona planned a rival People’s Olympiad in protest against the Nazi regime.  In a bitter irony, those games never took place because of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.  Franco’s nationalist regime lasted far longer than Hitler’s

Half a century later democracy was back in favour and the games arrived in Barcelona.

The Olympic park is certainly impressive but I had a disappointment on my visit.  The pool was closed to visitors forcing me to peer through fencing to see that beautiful horizon.  It just wasn’t the same._PW_0453

That and the empty stadium gave a sense of abandonment.  I hope they don’t have to wait another six decades to feel loved again.

Becalmed (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from yesterday.

Here is a gallery of images from the laser class competitors at Roker.  Hope they got some racing in both for their sake and the beach master co-ordinating dozens of frustrated teenagers!  There’s a portrait of Malcolm at the foot of the gallery.

Super Saturday

With 25 gold medals up for grabs, today has been dubbed “Super Saturday”, and it certainly has been so far. It has been an idyllic English Summer’s day, much too nice to be glued to a TV screen.

Whitburn basks in the sun amidst golden fields of ripening wheat, with the village fayre in full swing.

Down by the sea the light from azure skies and matching waters is softened by a slight haze rising in the afternoon sun.

I love to shoot the fishing boats in the bay and these are near perfect conditions with the white boat in direct sunlight.

Turning into the light to make more of the haze provides opportunities for silhouetting action shots I spotted a family walking my way and amongst them was today’s portrait subject. This was Magda, born in Germany but in her words “a bit of a mixture” since.

A super smile for Super Saturday, bit like mine when our women’s pursuit team won gold in a new world record (their sixth in six rides!)

Terrible pun alert


I’ve invented a new word; velography. It means combining photography and cycling and I’ve done it a few times of late when I haven’t a lot of time to get out for a few pictures.

I don’t think it will catch on though. First there’s the issue of what to do with the camera.

A Canon 5d mkII with a 70-200mm lens is no small beast, and with a lens hood attached for protection,even larger. Hung around the neck it swings precariously by pumping legs, strapped across the back and it slides around and digs into your spine.

A small rucksack is more comfortable but it doesn’t give easy access, a camera bag does but it’s large and ungainly.

Then there’s the cycling itself. I get frustrated slowly twiddling along, but up it to faster speeds and you miss the opportunities. Today I spotted a man about to feed an ice cream to his Labrador. By the time i slammed on the brakes and u-turned I was just in time to see the last inch of cone disappear.

It was cycling that made me short of time too. With Team GB dominating in the velodrome you can’t afford to miss a second. So I was on my way home and sure that I was empty-handed when I caught a flash of red hair and a great pair of cheekbones Justine and her family were leaving the beach but this time I was quick enough.

Justine time, you could say!



I worked hard yesterday to free myself up to “break eggs with sticks” today (as my mother-in-law would say), and yet come this morning it just didn’t materialise.  My get up and go had certainly got up and gone!

Crest of HMS Ocean
Crest of HMS Ocean (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I planned to put that right this afternoon by cycling into town to shoot some images at the parade marking the visit of HMS Ocean to the Port of Sunderland.  I formatted a memory card, packed the camera into a small bag (I’ve discovered over the last couple of days how uncomfortable a quick release plate is when sticking in your back) and gave myself time to thread my way through the throng of sun worshippers along the sea front.  With the wind at my back I made it into town 15 minutes before the parade was due to start, and so had time to recce a good spot for pictures.

As I fastened my bike to a roadside barrier, I struck up a conversation with Tom, a Londoner by birth who had lived in the North East for the last four years, having been persuaded by his wife to get away from it all (she is local).  Naturally I thought he’d made a good picture and so with his agreement I raised the lens, got him into focus, pressed the shutter release and…  nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  The battery, which was showing 3 bars when last checked was completely dead.  What was worse was because I wanted to travel light on the bike I didn’t have my usual spares.

No point waiting for a parade that you can’t photograph so I hopped back onto the bike and headed for home, this time with the wind against me of course.  A few miles later and I was there, ruefully inserting a new battery and wondering about today’s image.  Shame about Tom.

I decided to jump in my car and head for the end of the Wear Bridge, on of my usual haunts for finding interesting portraits.  There were few people about so I headed over the river and back into town, seeing the warship dwarfing the buildings of the university campus downstream.  Checking my watch, I realised that I might still see some of the parade; they were due to attend a Service of Remembrance at the war memorial, so I might still catch them marching somewhere in town.

As luck would have it, the service was still underway and I made it back almost to my original spot.  There across the road was Tom and his wife (sorry I didn’t get your name!) so I got my portrait too.

I’ve put a gallery together today, showing just a few of those taking part.  Last year they saw action off the coast of Libya, this year, in common with all of the armed forces the threats come from cuts imposed in Whitehall.  They were applauded as they passed through the town.  Rightly so.

Not sure who the woman with the newly coiffed red hair is, but  she reminded me of the younger sister of a girl I really fancied… when I was 11!  Enjoy the slide show.

Grace under pressure

The BBC launched an interesting online experiment today which is set to run for the next two years. It aims to assess our ability to handle pressure and consists of a series of repeated tests interspersed with hints and tips from Olympic athlete Michael Johnson.

Michael Johnson Victory in Sydney 2000 Françai...
Michael Johnson Victory in Sydney 2000 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At first glance it seemed that this would measure nothing more than the effectiveness of Johnson’s input as the test is repeated time after time, but there is also a lot of other data being collected about the emotional state of the participant, before and after the test is run.  The Beeb are labelling it as “the biggest ever study of the psychology of pressure”.  Size isn’t everything Auntie!

The timing of this test is interesting, featuring as it does one of the leading lights of the corporation’s athletics commentary team, just as the London Olympics are looming.  Arguably this is promotion by the test team to get the maximum number of people interested, but it could just as easily work in the BBC’s favour by reinforcing a public belief in the expertise of their pundits.

Pressure’s a funny thing.  My personal view is that it doesn’t take too much pressure to be detrimental to my performance, but that without some degree of it I’m not always motivated to act.  A bit like red wine, a little can be good for you, too much can be disastrous, and we all have different levels of tolerance.  Our definitions of what creates pressure are all likely to differ too – some people would crumble if faced with giving a formal presentation to a group of say 100 people; whereas some wouldn’t give it a second thought.

My decision to write a daily blog in 2012 is an example.  If shooting portraits for a client then I’ll consider factors like setting, lighting, expression and posture, but all of these elements come to nothing if I can’t establish some sort of relationship whereby the individual reveals something of themselves to me.  Without that, I have merely a snapshot, and to be fair that has been true of some of the images I have captured so far.

Getting that connection, and timing the shutter release to capture it was my goal, and as they say “practice makes perfect”, so targeting myself to shoot every day and publish the results created the right element of pressure to see it through on days when it has been cold and wet, on days when I get a few refusals, on days when I don’t immediately “see” a face to shoot.  As a result I’ve found I’ve developed a style for my street portraiture (different for men and women I think) and feel more confident when I’m working with people on more exacting projects.

Today’s pressure was generated by a short lunch break and the darkening skies above, so I didn’t go all the way into town, stopping instead by a pedestrian crossing that was close to a car park.  First learning point – half the people you encounter at a pedestrian crossing are focused on getting across the road rather than be interrupted by a photographer.

Time was ticking and it would have been easy to start approaching anyone who passed, but as always I wanted someone who would have made an interesting picture.  Resisting the pressure paid off for just as I was about to leave I met Chris and Tamara, either one of whom would have made a good solo picture, but being a mother and daughter it was easy to have them close up the dreaded “gap in the middle”.  There was even a twist on the common response when Chris said “I’m glad I put my make up on”!

Nice picture. No pressure.