Il fumatore (Venezia 14)

Many of my favourite images shot in Venice are of the people I saw there, and though there are some beautiful women amongst them, this man stopping for a quick cigarette in the Campo San Giacomo di Rialto is my favourite.  It’s partly his expression, partly the tones in the picture, but for me it really works; let me know what you think.

Attitudes to smoking are now one of the things that distinguish cultures I find; as we Brits continue to make life difficult for the tobacco lover we have become accustomed to smoke free public spaces, and it’s easy to forget that our enthusiasm for clean air isn’t universally shared.  In Venice there is a law preventing smoking on public transport and the landing stages, but as far as I can see any other restriction is at the discretion of the owner of the premises.

The city council passed a by-law making it compulsory to provide a no-smoking area.  It’s just for show, to keep the tourists happy.  Normally no one pays any attention in a place like this, but every once in a while some arsehole insists on the letter of the law.

Dead Lagoon – Michael Dibdin




One of the photographers I follow occasionally through Facebook is Eric Kim, a street photographer who runs workshops all over the world, and provides detailed information about the why’s and wherefores of this art, including a some useful links that clarify the often misunderstood laws relating to public photography.

I’d read one of his recent posts about “the decisive moment”, a phrase coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson to describe the way in which a skilled photographer can synchronise pressing the shutter button with the optimum moment in a scene that is unfolding before them.  Joe McNally paraphrased this in his book “The Moment It Clicks“.

Eric writes that from his studies of the full range of images taken by great photographers it is clear that they shoot multiple images as they find something of interest and then select the critical shot from a range of possibilities.  You can see what he means by reading the article here.

Thus inspired, I decided to hit the streets today and abandon my usual collaborative approach in favour of something more predatory.  I walked into the centre of Sunderland, found myself an unobtrusive place to sit and watched the world go by in anticipation.

Didn’t shoot a single image.

OK, we’ll up sticks and find somewhere else to sit, a bench at right angles to the flow of human traffic.  An elderly woman and a younger man sat opposite me, restricting me options but I resolved to wait.  Still nothing.  

After a while the son got up to window shop and I realised I’d been missing the best opportunity – the woman opposite!  Hearing the siren of a police car alongside us, she was distracted long enough for me to capture one frame only, but I wasn’t convinced I’d found gold yet.

Eventually I put it down to experience and decided to head back home, but as I returned to my car I spotted a young woman smoking in a street cafe.  Something about the poise of her slender fingers and the angle of the cigarette leaving her lips appealed to me, so I raised the camera to shoot, a motion which alerted her and she turned away laughing.  I shot one frame, but was so convinced that I’d missed the moment I didn’t even offer her a card or ask her name.  Even if I’d clicked before she moved, the whole “quick on the draw” thing doesn’t work for photography, not if you want sharp and focused images.

So I returned to my car a little disheartened, but decided to scan the images on my memory card to see how bad they were.

And the result?

Well you can be the judge.

I like them, but don’t think I’ll be making it a regular occurrence; with two of you working on getting a good image it seems to increase the chances of success!


On the Origin of Melodies*

After yesterday’s shoot with two talented musicians I was interested to learn today about a project that is applying the principles of evolution to the development of music.

If you think about it, music does change over the years, some styles survive whilst others lose popularity, similarly some instruments evolve whilst others change very little.  The violin, whilst having earlier origins, is largely unchanged from the instruments being made in the 16th and 17th Centuries, and whilst it is possible to buy electric violins these have not significantly changed the way the instrument is used.  The guitar by contrast has been transformed by electrification.

Two evolutionary scientists at Imperial College London have turned their attentions away from biology and used their Darwinian expertise to create a computer program that evolves music, and does so in much the same way that the species they study develop and change.

The program initially creates shorts loops of random music, but then by gathering feedback from listeners about those which people seem to like, it learns to abandon those traits which people find discordant or boring, and to create melody and rhythm which is more acceptable.

Initially the progress of the computer program was rapid in making changes but then slowed down to a more gradual rate of refinement.  The project is called DarwinTunes – give it a listen and see if you think it has a future.

Not sure what today’s subject will make of this.  He’s called Dean, he’s Sudanese and he smokes a cool cigarette.

*after Charles Darwin.