John Anglicus?* (Venezia 277)

Sometimes I capture an image on the spur of the moment because for me it contains some magic or meaning, even though at that moment in time I have no idea why.

This shot is a case in point.  Strada Nuova is one of those Venetian rarities, a broad shopping street with an array of clothes shops that, comparatively speaking, don’t charge astronomic prices.  Consequently you will find the tourist throng peppered with locals who have their own sense of style.  This couple, both dressed in white, with hair to match, were certainly striking, but I don’t think that’s it.

I kept coming back to the picture over the weeks that followed its creation, and I began to understand that it was the woman who held my attention, but I was still unsure as to why.  Her bone structure is impressive, though a little pronounced when it comes to that expanse of sternum on display.  Still that expanse of chest allows her jewellery to be displayed with simplicity… which is when the penny dropped I think.

Those beads reminded me of a rosary around the neck of a cardinal, and her hair drawn back has echoes of a zucchettothe small skull cap worn by the same clerics.  Bizarre as it may seem, given the inherent sexual discrimination of the Roman Catholic church, this woman in white reminds me of a pope!

Now if only I could work out which one…


Or was it just that the man reminded me of Picasso?!

*John Anglicus is reputedly the name adopted by the mythical Pope Joan, but that’s a whole other story!


Ground down

This was the penultimate weekend on my beach.



I know I have no right to be so possessive, but in the years that I have been taking pictures upon its numberless grains of sand I feel I have grown to know it intimately, and probably more so than many who pass this way.  The beach has been my companion for nearly 20 years, and as my marriage (which has spanned a similar number of years) ends so I will be heading soon for pastures new, with hopes and aspirations to match.


Today I mused upon the power of nature, and how like the Hindu Lord Shiva it is both beneficent and destructive.  In the midst of tough and windswept grasses it provides a burst of colour with a rogue patch of daffodils, yet elsewhere there is plenty of evidence of its power to destroy.  Shattered and eroded stones litter the beach; and the sand itself is a constant reminder of the natural world to reduce even the hardest stone to tiny grains that are     susceptible to even the tiniest breath of wind.


APW_1342-EditTimber is just as defenceless, and there is plenty of evidence around of wood, both natural and shaped by man, that has been unable to withstand Mother Nature‘s moments of aggression.


She doesn’t get things all her own way.   There is evidence here of man’s presence, in forms that seem to have a right to be here, and in plenty of other forms that don’t.  APW_1335-Edit

Unwelcome as this detritus my be, nature is or will be the victor, interring the remains within the sands and grasses, like some archeological exhumation in reverse and creating in infinite range of shapes and textures.


It’s complicated!

An Ill Wind

As I went cycling this morning I was acutely aware of how much things had changed since yesterday.  There was still some warmth in the air, but that air was moving much more rapidly.  As both bike and rider’s knees creaked their syncopated complaint at the effort they were called on to make I pedaled on into the headwind.  As I laboured along, my mood was not helped by the presumably Californian woman speaking occasional reminders of how much slower than my best pace for the same stretch I was.

The sky was heavily overcast too.  Was I going to get a soaking on this ride?

The wind had of course announced itself to me earlier in the day when I quickly walked part of the beach in search of images.  Today’s shoreline visitors had non of the leisurely approach of yesterday’s individuals.  Today you were there with a mission, and you weren’t going to hang about in this wind once it was fulfilled.  It was predominantly a day for dog walkers, and whilst their pets enjoyed the wide open space of a beach at low tide, the flying grains of sand forced their owners to keep their heads down.  There were some who benefited from these conditions of course.  As I arrived I could see one pale sail out at sea, but it was clearly going to be joined by others quite soon.

The wind surfer who stopped to provide me with a portrait was delighted.  He’s been waiting forever for these conditions.  Some were clearly enjoying themselves.


APW_0423-EditOthers maybe weren’t!APW_0425-Edit

As I completed turned to complete the loop of my bike ride the wind was now at my back.  The voice from Silicon Valley soon changed her tune then!



Incongruously Appropriate

Hanging near the “entrance” to Whitburn Village (actually the traffic island by the Jolly Sailor pub) there used to a painted village sign, depicting a fish rising from the waves.  I say fish, but it was one of those heraldic fishes that could just as easily represent a dolphin to the untrained eye.  I can’t remember the last time I saw the sign; it used to disappear to make way for other decorations at Christmas, but it seems that one of those occasions was the last and it hasn’t reappeared.

The symbol itself lives on in a somewhat simplified incarnation on the badge of Whitburn School, and a three-dimensional dolphin took its place.  This was a wire framework supporting a floral version that initially appeared on the same traffic island, but eventually moved to a spot near the border between Sunderland and South Tyneside where it slowly mouldered away into decrepitude.

Last year it was replaced by a more permanent version, carved from reclaimed timber and standing 10 feet tall it’s a nice piece of work… but it’s standing in a field with trees behind it.  To be fair, it is facing the sea, and has one eye on Latimer’s Sea Food Deli, so it’s probably not unhappy, but a dolphin in a park.  I know it is visible to all who pass along the coastal road, but it should have a more maritime setting surely?_MG_0994_5_6

The second incongruity I spotted when out cycling today was a simple park bench.  Nothing wrong with its location either.  Looking out to sea across the beach at South Shields.  What caught my eye was its temporary condition.  The recent storms have rendered it useless to all but those with the shortest of legs.

Maybe it works though.  They do call the locals sand-dancers.


Finding “the special one”

Spoilers – there are no references to Jose Mourinho in this piece.

Apart from that one.

With my camera and I soon to be parted in the interests of repairing the damage caused by recent exposure to sea water, today was my last chance to go and get some pictures to blog about, and it being a Sunday that meant dropping Holly off at work and strolling down to the beach.  Although I’ve done so many times before, and must have covered every inch of the stretch between Whitburn and Seaburn, I am always optimistic about finding something.

I recall that when I started blogging my goal was to  find one or two images that pleased me every week, so that I could build a portfolio of 100 images over a year.  The goal hasn’t really changed that much, I’m less demanding in terms of the time constraints (I’d be happy with one or two truly outstanding shots a year) but my standards are much higher.

I hadn’t checked the tide tables when I left, so wasn’t sure how much beach I’d have to work with and it proved to be relatively little.  I headed north to where the sandy bay finally gives way to a scramble of rocks and seaweed, deciding whether the tide was in my favour (receding) or not.  I decided not.  Don’t hang around on the rocks waiting to be cut off then!

Finding a patch where the underlying rock was giving way to breaking waves I found a patch with some interesting formations and the occasional patch of sand for variety and shot away.  There are the images that I would have been really pleased with in the  past, but now left me unmoved.  There was probably something to be captured here, but I wasn’t getting it.

Time to get back to safer territory on the way.  I could have stopped for some shots of the dippers, but lens choice was a limiting factor and there was nothing here that inspired me to do something different with the shot.  I was certainly wary of getting too close to the water again!_MG_7748

I could have looked for someone interesting to be my subject, but there was no action on the waves, and relatively few people about on the sand so that didn’t look promising either._MG_7755

Now I love repeating patterns in pictures (perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to the sea so much) so that was my next thought.  The green railings that extend for the couple of miles from Seaburn to Roker have always pleased me.  Perhaps I should make a feature of them.  Now I’m usually ambivalent about pictures which have been desaturated bar a single element (it was very fashionable in wedding photography for a while), but here I think it just about works.



I still wasn’t happy though.  I was bracketing my exposures (shooting over and under exposed shots as well as what might be considered a normal exposure) in case I wanted to process any HDR (high dynamic range) images later, where having the extra information from multiple exposures allows more detail to be revealed in the shadows and highlights.  The textures on these rusted tubes benefited from that approach, as did the grain in the wooden slats of this seating.

I turned to take another shot of the railings and was looking at the over-exposed frame which allowed the sandy background to disappear leaving me with some texture on the nearest ball, tailing off into beautiful bokeh.  Here was the shot I wanted.  It may not mean much to the casual observer, but to me it was the special one.  No need to look any further.



A change of heart

Now the beach is deserted except for some kelp

Bob Dylan – Sara

The road to hell is paved with good intentions so they say. This morning it had been my intention to go for a bike ride. There is still some snow about, but the main roads are clear so why not?

Dropping my daughter Holly off at work, I ventured onto the beach for just a few minutes, and that was enough to convince me not to go; it was windy (the cyclist’s greatest enemy), extremely cold (never good news when you’re holding onto a large piece of metal, and it looked like there might be more snow on the way.

So I made the most of the beach for a little while.  It was bleak, it was bracing, but it was mine.  At least until a couple of gulls and a kestrel turned up to claim their share.

Thinking Differently

“No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.” – Aristotle

All this week I’ve been inspired to write about creativity and mental health, or more precisely mental illness, following a piece of research published in the Journal of Psychiatric  Research by a Swedish  team led by Dr Simon Kyaga.

Kyaga has long held the belief that madness and genius are part of the same continuum (though he would put it more subtly than that!), and as you can see from the quotation above he is not the first to think it.

Now, after a study involving more than a million subjects, he and his team have shown that there is a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse among writers and their families.  Dancers and photographers are also more likely to have bipolar disorder.  What hope for photo-bloggers then?

Stephen Fry has done much to remove the stigma associated with such a diagnosis, though the understanding of mental illness is still in its infancy, both in the medical profession and the population at large.  (See one of my earlier blogs on the matter here).

Kyaga’s research may help in developing that understanding further perhaps through weighing the losses and gains of treatment, though I note that the mental health charity Mind cautioned against romanticising such conditions.  Nevertheless the list of sufferers who have been great writers includes Hans Christian Anderson and Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, Jack Kerouac and even Winston Churchill.

One wonders how history may have differed had Churchill been stigmatised as a depressive instead of revered as a great leader.

The trouble with wanting to write about this was my need to publish a portrait alongside it.  Who could I photograph and put here without conclusions begin drawn about their sanity?