The Miner and the Polar Bear*

With the end of British Summer Time at the weekend, the mornings are brighter and more welcoming.  Consequently at 8.00am today there were plenty of people about making the most of the beautiful conditions.

At this time of year of course the sun sits lower in the sky, so that every detail on the beach is made visible in sharp relief by the long shadows that are cast.  At high water it is even possible to see what initially appear to be some sort of tracks along the sand, but are in fact the “fingerprints” left by each individual wave as the tide recedes.

To the south the banks of cloud that have deposited heavy rains are moving away, though the draining waters create a small river that divides the beach for those without the footwear to brave the water, or the energy to make the jump.

This worked in my favour for it meant that Lester and his dog Nanook were forced in my direction allowing me the opportunity to photograph them both.  Lester (whose name is actually Edward) is a former pitman, who has seen the closure of three different collieries during his working life.  Now 76 he is still a picture of health, not always the case with those who have spent their lives inhaling coal dust.  Initially I photographed him and Nanook individually, explaining that the lens I was using was too tight to shoot him full length without backing off some distance.

Quick as a flash he was crouched down alongside his dog and the problem was solved.  His knees must be in good nick too!

*Nanook (or Nanuk) is the Inuit bear god.

Open wide?

The writer Sarah Dunant has recently been sharing a series of opinion pieces through the BBC’s “A Point of View” programme, most recently in a piece that she entitled Mouthing Off, she questioned the American obsession with dental perfection, a subject that I have touched on in a previous blog.

I read the text of her piece with interest, where she attributes part of the rise of the smile in portraiture to a series of different influences; better dental hygiene enforced on WWII GI’s, the popularity of the Kodak camera, and Mitzi Gaynor in South Pacific!  (You’ll have to read the piece for a fuller explanation!)

As a photographer I was interested in this because as I have noted throughout this daily portrait project, women generally feel compelled to smile when asked for their picture, whilst men are happy to stand and present their face as it comes.

It wasn’t always so.  A recent programme about the restoration of a Van Dyck portrait of Henrietta Maria (Queen to Charles I) commented on the fact that history records the lady as possessing

“teeth like defence works projecting from her mouth”

Unsurprisingly then her portraits all show her lips clamped firmly shut, but this is true of the majority of portraits painted before the 20th Century.  Even one of the masterpieces of American art; Grant Wood’s American Gothic, painted in the 1930’s, continues this tradition.

American Gothic
American Gothic (Photo credit: Mark Heard)

I was somehow reminded of that image today when I photographed David and Terry, two friends who have worked in the same manufacturing business for the last couple of decades, yet who have managed to go for years without seeing each other.  They were reunited today on one of my training courses so it seemed fitting to capture the meeting, particularly as David is approaching retirement.

Two men = two fairly deadpan expressions, which is doubtless what reminded me of the Wood painting.  The funny thing about that work is that he used models for the farmer and his daughter.  One of that unsmiling couple was the artist’s dentist!