The Thinner Blue Line


After a day of rain, a beautiful evening, but coming too late in the day for many to appreciate it.  Anyone who might have fancied a day by the seaside would have given up long ago, driven away by water from above or by rising tides before.

As I arrived at Roker the tide was just turning and there was beautiful sand aplenty, blue skies, and still a bit of warmth in the sun.  I wasn’t here for that though, and having the beach to yourself is no privilege when you’re looking for a portrait.

No worries today though for my quarry was unmistakable, though when my wife saw them their picture she commented that they looked “too young and bonny to be police officers“.  Technically of course they are not.  They are PCSO’s, Police Community Support Officers, individuals who support the police and carry out a limited range of duties to allow the regular police officer to concentrate on “more appropriate duties”!

Nevertheless they are employed by the police, as women have been for nearly a century, though it wasn’t until 1973 that they were fully integrated into the force rather than treated as a separate service.  The original women’s force was recruited to tackle prostitution, rather than as any sort of parallel to the Met, and it seems to have taken way too long to have closed the gender gap.

I’m sure there are many battles still to be fought for equality in the police force, just as there are in many other walks of life, but we’ve come some way when being “young and bonny” isn’t a barrier to being able to tackle anti social behaviour, and you don’t need to be so tall as to get good leverage with a truncheon either.

I don’t know what the difference in their uniforms signifies, but rank doesn’t matter to me – they are simply Emma and Sarah. 




A bit of a headache…

Another beautiful day today and I was in paparazzi mode.  No, I wasn’t getting in people’s faces against their will or chasing princesses at high speed, but I was on two wheels.  It’s been a while, but it was nice to feel the pedals turning under my feet as I cruised along the coast.  (I wouldn’t have troubled Augustus Windsock in a race though!).

Despite my gentile approach I did seem to bring out more resistance than usual in people (hence the paparazzi comment) which is a shame since some of my refusals would have made great pictures; particularly the man with the white handlebar moustache who very curtly made the point that he would mind if I took his picture, and the woman who was beautifully framed by the open window in her car, but was too self conscious to pose.

Against this background I encountered two girls taking pictures of each other with a Blackberry, so did the decent thing and offered to take one of the pair of them.  Having done them a favour it was their turn to reciprocate and be photographed by me, and that’s where the headache begins.  What do you do with two pretty young girls on a sunny beach?  (Clean answers please!)

The problems are these:

  • It’s so bright that the dynamic range is too bright for the camera.  Any angle that cast shadows and I’m reduced to either blown out, pure white highlights or deep, black shadow with no detail.  I shoot into the light to avoid this, but end up with flat uninteresting lighting on their faces; less of a problem with well lined faces but with fresh, peachy skin like theirs I’m on a hiding to nothing.
  • They’re young and fashion conscious so they’re both wearing shades.  No chance then to really make their eyes pop and sparkle.  What’s more, the trend being for large shades I’ve lost a good proportion of their faces.  Worse still, because they’re so large you can clearly see me reflected in them and this wasn’t supposed to be a self-portrait.

So Sarah and Kirsty, what am I going to do with you?

If I keep it dark enough for Kirsty’s hair I lose Sarah and her vibrant hair colour in shadow…

If I go to monotone and try some different filters I can compensate a little, but then I lose Sarah’s crowning glory even more completely…

What about a bit of cross processing?

Too contrived, I agree.

How about a high fashion glow?  Interesting but now I’ve lost Kirsty’s hair.  This might have come off if I’d gone full length and the girls had made the most of their great legs in some angular poses.

What it came down to was that there were two elements that kept drawing my eye – Sarah’s smile and that bright red hair, so sorry Kirsty but my solution had to be to reach for the cropping tool.  Now I had just one colourful character I could really boost that colour and hey presto!

What would your preference have been?  Leave me a comment below with your ideas please.


It’s just a rumour that’s been spread around town*

The City of Sunderland grew out of the merger of three separate settlements of Anglo-Saxon origin, although the fishing village that originally bore the name wasn’t officially recognised until a century after the arrival of the Normans.  The name Sunderland probably derives from the Anglo-Saxon word soender, meaning to part or separate, and refers to the gorge carved by the River Wear as it reaches the sea.  (The other two settlements were Monkwearmouth, site of a monastery since 674 AD, and Bishopwearmouth, founded in 930 AD when King Athelstan donated the land to the Bishop of Durham)

The first Wear Bridge in what was then a small town, was built in 1796 and was a catalyst in the development of the community.  The present bridge is much more recent having been built in the 1920’s.  Most people who cross the bridge will do so without noticing that there is a set of steps on either side giving direct access to the riverside.  Those on the south side are gated and locked, but on the north side there is still access.  In the heyday of shipbuilding this stairway would have seen a lot of use, giving easy access to what was North Sands shipyard.  Nowadays it probably sees more graffiti artists, though I was surprised to see these lads dismount to carry bike and fishing tackle down, instead of the easier option of cycling slightly further downhill to the riverside.

Before beginning my first “real” job, I worked in the shipyards for about three months after leaving school.  I spent most of my time at Deptford further upstream, where the vessels first took shape, though I also visited North Sands, where they were moored for fitting out after the initial launching.  The SD14 cargo ships designed and built in Sunderland were produced on an almost monthly basis for 20 years.

All of that is gone now; the great concrete base of one of the cranes supports a sculpture representing the regeneration of the area.  Etched into the ground, an anamorphic projection reveals the shadow of the crane that once stood in that spot.


This area of heavy industry is now given over to education and culture;  the former being the St Peter’s Campus of Sunderland University, the latter in the modernist architecture of the National Glass Centre

This is an appropriate location for the Centre; Sunderland has a long tradition of glass- making which goes back to that monastery established in 674.  Part of the design of the building required specialist glaziers to be brought from France and this was when glass making was introduced to Britain.

Most of the visitors to the Centre probably give that little thought, being drawn primarily by the quirkily named “Throwing Stones” restaurant, and the glass roof which you are encouraged to walk upon.  Those not of a nervous disposition can look down onto the diners two stories below.

Here it was that I met the Scots trio of Sarah, Allan and Bill just as they were leaving the building.  Whilst I prefer solo shots I saw an opportunity to group them using the ramp to bring them close enough to leave no gaps in the composition. I fired a half a dozen frames as they laughed, but in one of them I caught this expression from Bill which I felt deserved to be processed as today’s main image.  I trust his friends will forgive me.

* Lyric fromShipbuilding written by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer, recorded by Robert Wyatt.

Robert Wyatt – Shipbuilding

Spoilt for choice

From our house we have a clear view of the entrance to Whitburn village allotments, though the gardens themselves are hidden from view behind high walls and some large properties.  In the years that we have lived here I’ve never ventured down the short lane that connects Front Street to the actual allotments, but since beginning this project, I’ve been considering it a good option to find subjects.

Whilst it would have been tempting to venture down to the beach again today, I didn’t want to become repetitive so it seemed a good time to play the allotment card.  After all, since an allotment is a piece of land broken up in to multiple smaller units, surely there would be multiple gardeners present who would be queuing up to be photographed.

I’ve always imagined that allotment gardening was a by product of the “dig for victory” campaign of the second world war, and were a peculiarly British institution, yet I now know that not only are they found all over Europe, and beyond, and that the concept dates back at least as far as the 18th Century.

Anyway, I digress. Time to tackle that queue of gardeners.  Reaching the end of the lane I was had my first view of the village allotments, and they were deserted.  Not a soul was present with one notable exception who I did photograph, although it doesn’t really qualify.

That was when I had a flash of inspiration.  My daughters both work on an occasional basis at Latimer’s Sea Food Deli, and one of their favourite colleagues is leaving tomorrow.  I knew he would make a good picture so set off in that direction.

With his last day being tomorrow, he might have been a more appropriate subject for tomorrow’s blog, but I have a special plan for tomorrow and only tomorrow will do.  Today had to be Jimmy’s day. The former policeman was in his customary spot, standing at a filleting table preparing fish for Megan to sell.

Unsurprisingly Megan declined to pose with him, but after a quick hand wash he came to the large windows at the front of the property to get some light into those blue eyes and soon the job was done.  Thanks Jimmy.

The only trouble was that he was not alone.  Sitting at a bus stop close by was a young woman and child amusing themselves whilst waiting for their transport towards South Shields.  As soon as I saw her amazing eyes I had no hesitation in asking Sara if she would be photographed.  (Sara or Sarah?  I don’t know but since Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac have recorded great songs without the ‘h’, I’ll follow suit!  Dylan’s is the better in my view although I’m not a great fan of Mr Zimmerman).

She equally had no hesitation in agreeing, and so I soon had another beautiful picture.  But which one to blog about?  I could ordinarily have held either over until tomorrow, but as I say I already have plans.  Best share them both, and give both sexes in my readership a treat.

Until tomorrow, when I step from behind the viewfinder!