State of Independence (SOS 2)

I’ve posted previously about the Cuban flag and it’s role in the independence movement of that nation, and I can see the logic of a country separated by thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean from its European rulers seeking more autonomy, whether that be Cuba from Spain or the US from Britain.

I mention this because on my first morning in Barcelona, while making my way towards Gaudi’s confection of a cathedral, I noticed a number of flags hanging from windows that were similar to the Cuban emblem.  The same white star in a triangle against a striped background, though the individual components were coloured differently.  So similar was it that I assumed that I was walking through a neighbourhood populated by immigrants from some other former colony.

I was wrong of course and the flag was so ubiquitous I soon realised that this was the Estelada, the flag of the Catalan independence movement, though the Cuban flag and experience were inspirational._PW_9639

To me though the world seems bent on division.

In my lifetime I’ve seen both Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia fragment into smaller nations and although we’ve just seen Scotland vote narrowly to remain in the UK, the issue has only gone away temporarily.  There are those in Wales who would also pursue their own route and then there’s Cornwall.  The UK as a whole is about to reconsider its membership of the European Union.  I hear lots of objections to having laws made in Brussels imposed upon us, but really why does it matter where the law is made so long as its appropriate?

This trend concerns me.  This focus on difference seems to be at the heart of so many of the conflicts in the world; Muslim against Christian, Sunni versus Shia, Protestant and Catholic.

Perhaps I’m inherently conservative.  In my tattered history of relationships I’ve tended to be the one who wanted to hang on and give things another go, though it seems that others find me harder to persevere with!  My point is that we’re capable of more when we work together than when we’re working in opposite directions.  It’s the basis of teamwork.  Of course when things go wrong it’s easier to blame others than to acknowledge our own role and think about what we’ll do differently next time.

In my day job I often discuss Sir Alex Ferguson when teaching about leadership, and there are two things relevant to his success that have parallels here.  The first is his history of working with assistant managers who had very different personalities to his own, which in many respects compensated for his personal shortcomings in some areas.  The second is that he wasn’t initially successful, but that Manchester United gave him time to deliver – it was four seasons before the team won anything under his leadership but his potential was recognised and valued.  He’s the most successful manager in the history of English football but he achieved it by recognising the power of working with others who are different to you, and by virtue of tolerance.


Catalonia isn’t the only region of Spain seeking self-rule, nor are Spain and the UK the only European countries facing this challenge, in fact Greece, Portugal and Sweden seem to be in a minority of unified nations.  The European Union was originally seen as a deterrent against another world war, yet we seem more intent on building new walls.  Tolerance?  Working with others?_PW_1845

Finally after walking for miles I spotted a Spanish flag.

It was flying over a government building.

The final irony was that even that building represented a regional division.


Cars and Girls

Durham songwriter Paddy McAloon was in his late twenties when he wrote

Life’s a drive through a dust bowl, what’s it do, do to a young soul
We are deeply concerned, someone stops for directions,
Something responds deep in our engines, we have all been burned
Will heaven wait all heavenly over the next horizon ?

But look at us now, quit driving, some things hurt more much more than cars and girls.
Just look at us now, start counting, what adds up the way it did when we were young ?
Look at us now, quit driving, some things hurt much more than cars and girls.

Prefab Sprout – Cars & Girls

The lyrics now seem strangely prescient; and I’m sure that Paddy and my contemporaries have all been burned and do find that the pursuit of love doesn’t add up the way it did when we were young, but how did he know all of that when the album From Langley Park to Memphis was released in 1988?

I’ve been musing on cars as a metaphor for relationships for about a week now, prompted partly by one of my friends decision to invest in a new set of wheels.  For several weeks she has endured a torrid time emotionally due to her ex husband, his family, and his girlfriend, problems she could well do without when her emotions have been tested by another.  I’m pleased that the worst seems to be over for her, and part of her response has been the change of vehicle.  Meet Precious.APW_8942-Edit

Owning a new car is pretty special.  We take great care of them, nurture them, attend to their needs.

Or at least until the first scratch.  At that point the shine is lost (perhaps literally), and unless this is true love they are taken for granted.  In some cases neglected, forgotten or abandoned.

APW_8854_5_6Wandering round the farm where I was staying last week I made a surprising discovery in one of the barns.  Once upon a time this Rover 2200 twin carb was doubtless someone’s pride and joy.  Clearly the love ran cold.

I’m in love with my car
Gotta feel for my automobile

Queen – I’m In Love With My Car

Cupboard Love

This year will be memorable for a series of new experiences, new experiences that to date have not born fruit.

The ups and downs, the hopes and fears, the fun, the disappointments, the joy and the pain have all been part of my online dating story.  A volatile emotional cocktail.

But through it all there is someone who I can count on to hug me tight, kiss me on the cheek, give no quarter to sadness and regularly give of her time.

Collecting her from school today I set to making some comfort food for the provider of this comfort.  She’s eaten some great cottage pies in her time that weren’t of my making, so this staple winter warmer was not to be taken lightly.  I placed my faith in a brunoise of carrot, shallot and celeriac to add flavour, together with a generous topping of mature cheddar and Dijon mustard potato.  It wasn’t pretty, but that’s not the point is it?  It hit the spot for me, and more importantly did the same for Holly.

APW_1064Given that she’d come straight from school, was still in uniform and had had her hair tied up all day, she wasn’t really prepared for a photo session, but she’s my daughter and obliges her father on such occasions, even when we had nothing but a table lamp for lighting as she perched on the end of a sofa.  Low light means image quality suffers in the service of avoiding camera shake but despite this Holly shines through.

Thanks H.


“How Distant Your Heart”/”How Close Your Soul”*

Not really a photography entry today, just an observation on the strange world of online dating at the suggestion of a friend who has featured on this blog herself in the past.  When I dipped my toe in these waters a few weeks back I happened upon a former colleague so naturally sent her a “fancy seeing you here” message.  In her reply she told me that she’d left the site after too many experiences with “dirty old men”.  Hmmm.  “Nice to know which category I fall into now.”  I replied.  Needless to say she backpedalled, wished me luck, and said at least I wouldn’t have to worry about them.

And yet there were still strange experiences in store.  The woman in Stockholm who I originally gave what I thought was a polite brush off too (only been to Stockholm once, and no immediate plans to pass that way again soon) who challenged me about that response and has turned into a platonic pen friend.

Then the enigmatic Mrs Smith whose monosyllabic responses seemed calculated to be provocative, and she was, provoking frustration and irritation (though at least she pointed me in roughly the right direction to get some pictures).

Most people on the site I have been using post a few pictures of themselves, but many do not.  If you’ll excuse the pun I find it hard to get the whole picture without an accompanying image.  If you think yourself so unattractive that you daren’t put a picture on the site, then how are you going to get over the challenge of that first face to face meeting?   I can understand that some people don’t want to share an image for professional reasons, and I had some nice chats with someone fitting this category who on sending me her photograph clearly had nothing to hide.  There were others of whom that cannot be said!  At the other end of the scale, shortly after making contact with one woman, she sent me this image of “her younger self” completely unbidden (I added the blurring).  What message was she trying to convey?  I don’t know as I never managed to develop a conversation with her.blur

And then there was the delightful lady who sent me a couple of  abusive texts for having the temerity to decline a meeting with her, waited several hours and then sent me another.  Not bitter at all then.  I didn’t have her picture but I was reminded of her when out riding at the weekend and finally encountered the fish wife Dolly Peel._MG_7261 _MG_7260-Edit

I just can’t get away from pictures it seems.  I’ve suspended my membership of the site now, but not before encountering the subject of  a couple of shots made yellow by a the colour temperature of the light they were shot in, which was coupled with the fact that she lives some distance away and I didn’t seem to match the profile she was seeking.  It should have been a non-starter.

Still, sitting here in Widnes as I write this, there’s an interesting metaphor at hand.  There’s a structure here dating back to the late 1950’s that transformed the local economy.  The Runcorn Gap made insignificant by a 50+ year old!_MG_7333_4_5

*In 2007 Harold Budd collaborated with Robin Guthrie to simultaneously release a pair of albums that could rightly be called twins: After the Night Falls and Before the Day Breaks.  The tracks on each album are linked to the corresponding track on the other, hence the pairing of these pieces, which seemed appropriate.

How Distant Your Heart      How Close Your Soul



January 1st.

A time of looking forward, resolutions and new starts.

12 months ago I was beginning a project to photograph a different portrait every day, and of course ultimately i failed. The project became overarching, and on a laptop that struggled to process even a single edit per photograph was way too time consuming. Come November it had contributed to the break up of my marriage, and with the loss of one beauty, so I lost the ability to find beauty elsewhere. I’ve only used my camera once in the last few weeks, and tellingly that was to take shots in darkness.

My life this year will be very different; moving house, seeing less of my family, and bidding farewell to the delights of Whitburn and the bay that has provided so much inspiration. However, finding a new source could be the inspiration I need to pick up my DSLR once more.

Already I’ve ventured into the new and strange world of online dating which has given me some degree of future focus, though whether that also leads to new places and new images who knows? I’m trying to keep my feet on the ground and balance any sense of optimism against the inevitable losses.

The future of the blog is unpredictable. It might morph into something completely different, or it may remain a photo blog with only occasional updates. Time will tell, but thank you for reading.

Happy New Year.

V Horny?

There are a number of challenges about photographing groups, and the larger the group so the problems multiply. Trying to herd them into some sort of composition is the first challenge, closely followed by the short attention span that means someone will look at their friend, a passing cat, or the sky behind them at the moment you squeeze the shutter release. Even if you manage to get them all looking at you, someone is bound to have a strange expression. Last weekend I shot a relatively small group of 15 people and it took a composite of 5 different images to create one where I had their full attention!

Girl making the V sign
Girl making the V sign (Photo credit: Niccolò Caranti)

Then there’s gesture. Young Chinese, Japanese and Thai students seem unable to be photographed without making a V sign, and in the West there’s always someone who wants to do “bunny ears”. Ostensibly similar, these gestures have very different meanings; the Oriental version can be traced back to the 1970’s, and whilst there are different views as to its origin, it is used to signify happiness in much the same way as we would say “cheese”!

The western version, which when referred to as “bunny ears” sounds so innocuous, has a less savoury origin, and is the sign for a cuckold, a man with an adulterous wife. The raised fingers were supposed to represent antlers, and refers to a defeated stag who is forced to relinquish his mating rights when defeated by another male. Whilst the word cuckold itself is a reference to the behaviour of the cuckoo in invading other nests, in many other languages the word for the betrayed male has some meaning akin to “the wearer of horns”. This is even found in Vietnam and the Caribbean, though I suspect this is as a result of European empire building.

"The celebration [fête] of the Order of C...
“The celebration [fête] of the Order of Cuckoldry before the throne of her majesty, Infidelity” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It seems strange that society, rather than judge the errant female should decide that the wronged spouse should pay the price of further humiliation, “the nuclear bomb of emotions” according to psychologist and dignity expert Evelin Lindner. It seems that for all our moral codes and marriage vows, we’re rooting for the those who commit infidelity and grant no mercy to those already hurt.

In many countries the cuckold symbol is the most insulting gesture you can make, yet most of us are so ignorant of the powerful message, hence the prevalence of its use in group photographs. All in all a good reason for my preference for photographing individuals, where no one can distract from or undermine the message of one person’s expression.

Thanks to Bob for being today’s subject.