Come Sto? (Venezia 231)

How foolish, I overlooked another use of the fountain in yesterday’s post…

A backdrop for photographers shooting models!


Kinship (Venezia 194)

St Mark’s square is full of photographers, mostly capturing friends and family on their smartphones with the basilica, clock tower, campanile, cafe orchestra, etc. as backdrop to the image.  It’s purpose is to prove we were there rather than have any aesthetic merit.  I know.  I’ve been the subject of plenty of those shots in the past, and taken my fair share too.

Now when I’m engaged in trying to find a different image I unpack a tripod, search for some high vantage point, prostrate myself on the ground or back into shadows where I might be less visible, eccentricities which seem to puzzle the world at large, but gain me sharper of more blurred images as I see fit, different compositional elements, or just the chance to shoot people without any unnatural behaviour.

It’s nice to see I’m not alone from time to time.


Oh, this is futile*

*Monty PythonThe Argument Sketch.

A good proportion of the UK is under water at present as successive weather fronts deposit rain and snow at an alarming rate on towns and villages already sodden from weeks of wet weather.

Those in the west have had the additional tribulation of hurricane force winds driving high tides onto battered shorelines.  Dramatic images for those who like me love the photographic opportunities that our coastlines supply though in many locations people have been warned to stay away.  One unfortunate young photographer has been swept to his death in recent weeks.

These freakish conditions inevitably give rise to speculation as to whether man-made climate change is to blame and this morning, stuck in a 30 minute tailback of exhaust fumes and with the forest of industrial chimneys that is Teesside to my left, I heard on Radio 4’s Today programme a discussion of this very question.  Sir Brian Hoskins, one of the world’s greatest authorities on climate was faced with the extreme scepticism of former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Lawson.tees sunrise worked

The exchange, which I found quite exasperating reminding me of the Python sketch referred to above, in which Michael Palin pays to have an argument; “a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition” and is met with a wall of nothing more than contradiction “No it isn’t!”  Lord Lawson’s response to any evidence  proposed by Hoskins was one of pure denial, and culminated in this patronising statement:

I don’t blame the climate scientists for not knowing. Climate and weather is quite extraordinarily complex and this is a new form of science. All I blame them for is pretending they know when they don’t.

No wonder politicians in this country see their credibility at an all time low in the eyes of the voting population.

Anyway, the argument proved serendipitous for it gives me an opportunity to post these sublime images which I captured earlier in the week.  Draw your own conclusions.



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“‘Til I saw the light”*

A busy and stressful week for me and some of those I care about has been accompanied by overcast skies and copious precipitation APW_6692so it was so much nicer to wake to blue skies and dry streets.  Cold and windy but very pleasant all the same.APW_6701

With a pretty busy weekend ahead there wasn’t much time for photography, and to be honest I didn’t even have a plan in mind for either words or images which is unusual after a week with so much driving that the radio which normally provides inspiration hadn’t done the trick.  I needed some ingredients for the meal I’m making for my daughter so a stroll into Durham seemed the answer.

Perhaps the usual suspects would provide me with opportunities?

I wasn’t too hopeful, but actually as I shot the equestrian statue that dominates the Market Place I was taken by the way in which the sculpture was being given further definition by the conditions.  Not enough to really work on though.

Next idea was to shoot some candids of the varied hats and other accoutrements being worn against the cold wind, however I was pretty sure I’d done this before.  (In hindsight it seems I haven’t, so be warned millinery fans!).

It was as I was doing so that my eye was captured by someone who had no need of a hat, and as I followed this Seb Rochford lookalike up Saddler Street I realised where I would find something to work with.

The same light that had so defined the contours of the Marquess‘s steed was providing a combination of back and rim lighting that suddenly transformed that hair to halo.  What’s more every mote of dust in the air was similarly lit, as were steaming coffees, and warm exhalations.  Still wasn’t sure what I wanted to get exactly, but I continued to shoot candids in monochrome, my preferred method for street photography.

It took something as innocuous as a luminous carrier bag to make me reconsider the possibilities of colour, for against the cool winter light, the creamy facade of Bell’s fish and chip restaurant brought some warmth that together with the backlighting gave a more continental feel.  (Ironic given the nature of the establishment!).APW_6836With a change of angle, and an anonymous model whose legs made the most of the sculpting rim light I got closer to producing something more pleasing though she was a little to shaded by the exposure resulting from that change of angle.APW_6736  Back to where I began and suddenly a result that has a nice fashion photography feel.  Shame about the person in the background, but that’s street photography for you.APW_6769-Edit* Title from I Saw The Light – Todd Rundgren
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In my day job this week I have been training people about how communication can be affected by prejudice, that is to say once we have made an assumption about the content of a message we tend to focus more on finding evidence to confirm our assumption than keeping an open mind and listening to the full story (which may confirm or confound that assumption).

Of course that doesn’t make me any less guilty of pre-judging, but I think I probably recognise it in myself more immediately.

Sunday’s shoot was a case in point.  Of the five models present, I had shot two before.  Jemma, who featured in yesterday’s post was working the first time I visited “The world-famous Bananastudio” when erotic photographer John Tisbury was the guest running the workshop.  Shortly after that I returned, this time to learn from fashion photographer John Barone.  Both of the Johns had brought the same model to work with, the never-ending pose machine that is Iveta Niklova, but she was joined on each occasion by more local girls.

barone-10One of those working the Barone shoot was Jenny, and I have to say I was disappointed with the results I achieved shooting her that day.  Not through any fault on her part I’m sure.  She took direction well.  It’s just a shame that I don’t give direction well!

On Sunday I struggled again with Jenny, still not really sure how to get the best from her.  Part of the challenge of course was the white dress she was wearing in the extremely dirty environment, but something else was at play.  Subconsciously I was recreating the difficulties of the first shoot.

What made it worse was that because I had shot other models in the morning, there wasn’t really much time to work with Jenny, particularly as she had a train to catch mid-afternoon which added to the pressure.  I think I shot less than a dozen poses with her.  Very disciplined of me.  I knew I had nailed on shot, but didn’t expect much more.

My preconceptions were shattered then when I came to process the results.  Shame we didn’t have more time.

J & P

According to Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part. 

Several years ago as part of my MBA, I undertook the Myers-Briggs personality questionnaire, normally a very reliable tool, whose results are more consistent over time than many other personality measures.  The trouble was that when I completed it, my personality was in complete turmoil resulting from a change of job, change of house, and death of my father.

I wasn’t convinced by the results (one of the things that is consistent about me is that I like to (over) analyse everything.)  I took the test again.  And then again.  Three results in the space of a month, with a different outcome each time!

The test measures against four criteria, each of which can be seen as a continuum, so for example Introvert/Extrovert.  I am firmly in the introvert category, being well towards that end of the scale, whereas others who are seen as introvert may be just passed the halfway point.  The description refers to the way in which I think (introverts mull things over to themselves, extroverts through interacting with others) rather than whether I’m a wallflower or diva.

I don’t recall the scores now, but I’m guessing that many of my results were balanced somewhere in the middle, and therefore more likely to tip either side of the divide during a retest.

The last of the four categories rates whether I prefer judging or perceiving in terms of how I make decisions and react to information from the outside world.  My score put me as judging which is certainly true of my need for a structured and decided existence, and yet from a creativity perspective, one of the precepts that I espouse is living with looseness; keeping plans and decisions to a minimum to facilitate flexibility and responsiveness to change.

The judging score relates purely to my outward life, how I present myself to the world, and discounts what I may be feeling internally, so this perhaps explains some of my confusion.

Anyway, to the point! One of the ways in which the judging element is manifest is in a need to be punctual.  I hate being late, to the point where I will often arrive ridiculously early for things such as flights, medical appointments, training courses and so on.  This has been advantageous on many occasions when it has given me time to recover from potential disasters, but more often than not it just results in waiting around.

My friend J has a different take.  Whenever we have met, she has been on time once (inevitably the time when I hit heavy traffic) but more often than not I arrive early and she arrives late giving me a window in which to get stressed and annoyed if I’m really  a judge, or respond flexibly to the circumstances if a perceiver.

Yesterday was a case in point.  I arrived about 10 minutes early, Jane was running late, and added to the delay by driving past the turn off to the bar we were meeting at.  Navigation could be a whole other blog!

My reaction?  Get out the camera, look around, find the opportunity to grab some images and think about a blog entry before Jane arrives to be greeted by the paparazzi.    Judge… or Perceiver?


Black and White Notes

APW_0169When I was younger there was a popular TV series starring James Bolam and Barbara Flynn called The Beiderbecke Affair  which dealt with a mystery relating to the theft of a collection of records by Bix Beiderbecke.  I had no idea at that time that Beiderbecke was a real and very significant jazz cornetist and composer; I just know that I enjoyed the series.  Whether this was down to the fruitiness of Barbara Flynn’s voice, which was always welcome, the jazz soundtrack (in the style of, rather than by Bix) or the quality of the writing I can’t remember.  The series, and the two that followed were written by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, Alan Plater.

Plater, who had studied at Newcastle University co-wrote the musical Close the Coalhouse Doora political docudrama of the 1960’s based on the work of another northern writer; Sid Chaplin, born in a pit village but who went on to become an artist rather than artisan.  Chaplin may be better known for another James Bolam series; When the boat comes in.  

Another alumnus of Newcastle University was Ian Carr, who read English Literature there, becoming friends with Chaplin as he did so.  Carr completes the loop, for as well as being a noted writer about jazz (his biographies of Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett are outstanding) was a trumpet player and composer, who wrote a suite of music dedicated to Chaplin entitled Northumbrian Sketches.  I say closed the loop, but not quite.  In his role as associate professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London he worked with a young man developing as a saxophonist and composer by the name of Tim Garland.

This weekend sees the Gateshead International Jazz Festival take place, and this evening the main hall played host to a fantastic concert.  The first part featured the Northern Sinfonia, augmented by Tim Whitehead (who had played in Carr’s band Nucleus), Henry Lowther and Andy Champion in the first performance of Northumbrian Sketches to take place in the region.

After the interval this was mirrored by another suite of music for jazz musicians and strings when Tim Garland premiered his Songs to the North Sky, inspired by his love for the region which developed when he was commissioned to write for the Sinfonia some years ago.  Although a “softy southerner” he put down roots here, and his family remain here while he travels. Both sets were outstanding, but Garland’s was given another veneer of quality by the inclusion of his colleagues from the Lighthouse Trio, Gwilym Simcock and Asaf Sirkis.  For me the highlight of the evening was when these three played a 40 minute set in between the two orchestral pieces.

Simcock must be ranked amongst the top jazz pianists currently performing anywhere in the world and gives a virtuoso performance at the keys and under the lid, damping, plucking, beating and stroking the strings independently of the keyboard.  Garland is similarly proficient, but it was Sirkis who fascinated me all evening.  As a former pianist and singer, I am at a loss to explain what it is about creative drummers that fascinates me.  Bill Bruford was the first to mesmerise me, and more recently Seb Rochford has done the same, both having the ability to work independently of the rhythm they provide to develop light and shade, humour and drama within their work.  As former band mates of Bruford, it seem right that Garland and Simcock should have appointed Sirkis who also fits that mould.  Looking like the love child of David Suchet and Brian Eno, he enjoys every exquisite touch of his colleagues, but then delivers his own contributions in equal measure ranging from moments of battery to passages of erratically ticking clocks.  This included a one man tour de force centering around his virtuosity with the hang.  Superb.

Asaf Sirks Kit (Hang on floor at right)
Asaf Sirkis’ Kit (Hang on floor at right)

There were many present who were older than me.  There may have been some younger than my daughter Holly, but regardless of the age of the audience everyone lapped it  up.  How could they not.  Lighthouse left us beaming.

For the first time, some of these images were shot not by me, but by my young apprentice!

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