I am reunited with my hometown, Cleethorpes. I have been here for one month after a very long absence and under the strangest of circumstances. Details are unnecessary. The month of July has seen a chaotic and confusing lifting of some lockdown restrictions. I headed for the beach most days, usually at either sunrise or sunset.
My photographs are sparsely populated. In the mornings I share the place with joggers, keep fit enthusiasts and their personal trainers, dog walkers, the odd photographer and those who simply sit and watch the spectacle of sunrise in silent reverie.
The evenings are slightly busier with the addition of fish and chip shop queues, skateboarders, pub crawlers and those who simply want to make the most of their day out. Sunrise watchers are replaced with those who can enjoy the sunset over the outline of what remains of Grimsby Docks further down-river. The odd detectorist scans the beach for treasure.
During the day, particularly if the weather is fine, Cleethorpes remains busy. Not as busy as would be expected under normal circumstances, but busy enough. I have photographs but I am not showing them to you!
I have always considered photography to be a very solitary occupation. I have enjoyed days out with a buddy or two, but at the end of the day I am trying to make sense of my world – by myself. Forty-five years of it have taught me a thing or two.
I anticipate the path of an approaching roller skater.
All photographs were made using an Olympus camera. Many thanks for looking at my blog.
Following an unbelievably brief episode last year, which reduced me to a state of near devastation and the effects of which are still with me today, ten months on, I realised (once I had managed to pull myself together) that I might be a little out of my depth. I weighed up any positives I could muster, picked a couple of brains and ended up facing a big, blank canvas.
Positives? Well my alarming weight loss, from a rather ‘portly’ 74 kilos to a slimline 64 in about two months, was – once I had ascertained there was no physical reason for it – a very big positive. The sometimes agonizing effect of damage to the cartilage between the vertebrae in the sciatic region of my spine miraculously disappeared and, touch wood, has never returned. I enjoyed being able to buy some clothes that I felt suited me and which made me feel good about myself and, importantly, it enabled me to achieve a childhood dream: to have the bohemian look of a starving artist. I kid you not.
I had a bunch of largish box canvasses I’d bought cheap some years back. I invested in some good quality acrylic paint – just the colours I felt I needed – and, being of reduced means, solved the problem of hardware by buying cheap household items with which to apply paint.
Before I go on, I will say that I undertook an art foundation course back in the mid 1970s, am a committed photographer and have worked with computer graphic design / publishing programmes. So I have lived a pretty visual type of life.
As regards the therapy, my first attempts evolved through experimenting with the tools I had bought: plastic adhesive spreaders, rubber squeegees of the sort used to clean down shower cubicle glass, scrubbing brushes, dish washing brushes, small decorator’s rollers and large decorating brushes. From the start it was pretty obvious that texture was going to play a big part in my painting. And I went with it, loved how little unexpected details and unanticipated revelations of colour as I built layer on layer suggested compositional ideas.
Once I had discovered exactly what I could achieve with the resources at my disposal, I located myself within my pictures. The choice of an equilateral triangle comes from my love of maps. Everywhere I go, the first thing I do is buy a map. The Ordnance Survey of the UK use a small triangle as a symbol for a triangulation point. It seemed relevant to me.
I, or rather the triangle, evolved into trees, flowers and ice shards. Something pictorial was going on and I wasn’t fighting it. Most of these new pictures were based on memories of my home county, Lincolnshire.
The eighteen large canvasses I have completed so far (each one shortest side one metre) are currently en route from Bangkok Docks to the Port of Grimsby, UK. More on that in a moment. Meanwhile I am dabbling with what I have kept behind. On paper. We are currently locked down so my camera is taking a break. It keeps me busy and improves my condition.
I hope to relocate to my home town, Cleethorpes in the near future. After a long time away. Only a couple of years off a pension (unless the government moves the goalposts again) and facing a new life as single parent of two teenagers. I will paint, I was just discovering the potential of very fluid paint when I left off and I am anxious to return to it.
To use a well-worn cliche, the journey continues. I have the prospect of a one man show of a photographic project I am currently wrapping up. In 2021. I would hope sometime to be able to exhibit my paintings and other artworks. But no matter: in a metaphorical way, painting has saved my life. I’ve left it late but I may even work myself out. Stranger things have happened…
Thanks for bearing with me. I’ve enjoyed putting it down….
At the moment it is complicated. For some months prior to the lockdown I have been pursuing some art therapy. Painting. To try and address an issue that arose from a life-changing episode that occurred last summer and which is irrelevant here. It has been a great success, my mental health is slowly improving and it has breached a gap in my photography; I am currently in the planning stages for two big projects and am working on the material from a current project and which is scheduled to be exhibited in the UK in 2021. On top of this I am in the process of relocating back to my home town of Cleethorpes and have already shipped a lot of my resources back there.
The Covid-19 pandemic had another impact. I had booked flights in order to begin one of my projects, which was to compare a port in the UK with one in Europe that shares many similarities. I won’t divulge any more, suffice to say the flights were cancelled. Not only would it have been a start to some work, but also a chance to take a break. Never mind. So I find myself at home. Unable to go out and make photographs as I would like to, I decided to make some pictures with my not-so-great phone. As a further challenge I decided to make them in colour – a real diversion for me.
I started off by noticing little things I had previously not paid a lot of attention to: after all, my office wall is just a wall, the dining table and chairs are just that and anyway, who cares about the relationship between my feet and the front door? Yet in a – for want of a better word – meditative state, I gradually discovered another facet to the familiar world I lived in. And light was the catalyst.
The small garden, in which I sit to smoke, is full of potential too. Not that I have particularly done it justice, but that’s not the point (if, indeed, there is a point). It is high-walled, small. Claustrophobic, sometimes. Depending on the weather.
Since I first began making photographs back in the 1970s, family photographs have always been important to me and, interestingly, I haven’t done much of that recently. My daughter often comes with me on an exercise walk around the block. And she enjoys having her photograph taken.
The streets around me, usually insanely busy with traffic, are oddly quiet at the moment. As I have said elsewhere in this blog, my favourite time of the day is first light. When the streets are empty. But this is different. Just very strange.
And then there is the ‘selfie’ a modern art form in which you can realise yourself the way you want. I haven’t resorted to an app that puts cat’s whiskers on my face…
Ok, the confinement is slowly sapping away my motivation. I admit it. Soon it will be over and I will be hard-pressed to find some peace and quiet. And I will want some. Anyway, I’m going to the garden to smoke a cigarette and check out the shadows…..
Thanks for reading. The phone used is a lower range Vivo model. The selfie was made with my Olympus mirrorless camera….
Talat Klong Sip Song Hok Wa in the Lam Luk Ka district of Pathum Thani was once a bustling market community established around the intersection of two klongs (canals) from which its name is derived: Sip Song and Hok Wa. The place, which was also home to a small Chinese community, is largely deserted now and the few families that do live there do so among empty, dilapidated buildings whose occupants have long since departed.
The once busy klongs, their waters animated by the passage of traffic, are silent now. There is evidence that fishing is an occupation for some, but the still water is only occasionally disturbed by the splash of ‘the one that got away’ or the silent wake of a water rat. If there is any success story to be told here then the clue is in the odd, well-preserved interior you may come across. For these are very popular with filmmakers.
The ‘talat’ has been used as a location in movies, television shows, advertisements and music videos and goes some way, I guess, to helping provide continuity. For the hour or so I was there I saw no other visitors save a few cyclists who pass through – the area is popular with cycling enthusiasts – and those who attended the few retail establishments weren’t busy.
The appeal for filmmakers is the authenticity of the available properties: particularly the period furniture. I came across two women about to sit down for lunch in a room full of beautiful examples of this. Though the table, with seating for six more, lent an air of poignancy to the scene. I got the impression that they were no strangers to photo requests; once they had posed for a photograph they seamlessly continued with the job in hand. I then made the photograph I wanted.
So what of the future, I thought, once the place has ceased to be useful? Will the wonderful pieces end up on a stall in Chatuchak Market, Bangkok? Or maybe grace the dining rooms of well-heeled tourists? One thing thing is certain: it has all been recorded. Many times over.
The juxtaposition above amused me: the period Thai costume and the nod to one of the most well known of cinematic icons. Looking at the way I framed the image, I am reminded that I owe a great debt to the work of Eugene Atget (1857-1927). A big influence during my time as a student of photography in the 1970s.
I couldn’t make up my mind about the barbershop: certainly the couple watching television in a far corner were not expecting custom, for I went unnoticed as I hovered in the doorway. A film set? The musical, Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) came to mind. The scene lent itself to the chilling, but in a way that recalled (for me) one of Andy Warhol’s best works: the series ‘Little Electric Chair’ (1964/5). I made my picture and beat a retreat.
Thanks for reading my blog. Camera used was my usual: Olympus OMD EM5 Mk II coupled with a Zuiko Digital short zoom.
As far as I know there are around a dozen ‘cat cafes’ in Bangkok. My teenage daughter had been wanting me to take her to one for some time. She likes cats a lot. An opportunity arose during a school holiday and well, I like cats too…
I chose ‘Caturday’ as it was the most accessible, barely a hundred metres from the Ratchathewi ‘skytrain’ station. An unremarkable building – a modern shop unit – houses the cafe; it has a small porch with a rack on which you have to leave your footwear. There is a small hand basin; the list of rules advises that customers must wash their hands before entering. Once inside you are faced with a decision as visitors can either sit at tables or opt to sit on the floor. I chose a table. A fairly cramped experience as the owners certainly make the most of the available space. My daughter and I ordered a token drink – there is a basic menu of Thai food and the special Caturday cake was enthusiastically promoted – because we were there for one thing only: cats. And there are some…
The place was pretty much full and negotiation in order to make photographs required a bit of skill and agility. But I enjoyed the experience (of making photographs) and my daughter did too (being able to pet a variety of cats).
I recalled the ‘rules’ as I watched a customer share her food with a cat. This is prohibited but appears to be allowed. The cafe does sell bags of cat ‘treats’ and some of the cats did look a little on the weighty side…
The trip was worth it just to see the enjoyment my daughter was experiencing. I enjoyed it for the rather bizarre diversion. Before we left, I remembered to retrieve the bag I had left under our table and which a ginger tom was investigating. As I reached for it I caught the acrid smell of cat’s urine. I left with reservations…
Thanks for visiting my blog. Camera used was an Olympus OMD EM5 Mark II.
I visit my local barber roughly every two months. I have had my camera with me on every occasion, just in case, and once took some photographs of the staff (posed). On a subsequent visit I ensured I had some prints to give away and this stood me in good stead. The owner of the establishment, an endearing, bubbly woman who nominates herself ‘number one barber’, was happy for me to make some photographs a couple of weeks ago: I was third in a queue but it would be a long wait – the guys in front of me were having ‘the works’ – but a fascinating one.
The ‘works’, it transpired, offered photographic opportunities with results more akin to an ENT clinic than a barbershop. As a kind of drama unfolded I was totally absorbed with what was going on. The guy in the queue behind me had his own way of dealing with the long wait: he took a nap.
As did one of the guys being dealt with in front of me!
The lighting in the place was enough of a challenge to be interesting. The day was a very bright one and the only place I could easily take photographs from – without being in the way – meant I had to make my photographs contre-jour. This is a favourite of mine, however, so no real problems vis a vis exposure. The ear cleaning operation that unfolded involved the use of a small, very bright lamp. This did present a challenge, but I liked the dramatic effect it gave to the scene.
Photographers are always looking for a potential for narrative in their work, and I am no exception. The following pair of photographs – according to me – go some way to achieving this aim. They also demonstrate the importance of scrutiny in post production: the presence of elements within the frame seen and appreciated by the subconscious rather than the eye. These are usually beneficial: in the first photograph I was unaware of the Buddha statue overlooking the scene and in the second my attention was so fixed on the razor that I missed the dog statues on the opposite side of the frame.
And there you have it. The work of a barber can involve some painstaking and delicate work. My ‘number one’ barber pays incredible attention to detail – my straightforward dry cut takes around 40 minutes on average – and this made for a more productive and enjoyable day than I had imagined I was going to have.
Thanks for visiting my blog. I used my trusty Olympus OMD with a Zuiko short zoom lens for the photographs.
‘There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment’
When Cardinal de Retz (1613-1679) made this statement he was talking from a political perspective, suggesting that the art of leadership is strengthened by the ability to recognise and seize the ‘moment’. The phrase ‘the decisive moment’ came to the attention of the photographic world when it was used as the title of the English version of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s book, ‘Images à la Sauvette’ (1952). Nowadays it is – particularly in the world of social media groups – a buzzword for countless photography enthusiasts and seems to simply relate to the decision – often misguidedly – to press the shutter button. The original, intended meaning – ‘when the visual and psychological elements of people in a real life scene spontaneously and briefly come together in perfect resonance to express the essence of that situation’ (John Suler, The Psychology of the Decisive Moment) is, to some extent, lost.
One early photographer who embraced the idea of such a moment was Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946): he appears to have had the patience of a saint (as well as a strong constitution, lol) in waiting for the above moment: three hours in a snowstorm, reportedly. Here are his own words:
‘On Washington’s birthday in 1893, a great blizzard raged in New York. I stood on a corner of Fifth Avenue, watching the lumbering stagecoaches appear through the blinding snow and move northward on the avenue. The question formed itself: could what I was experiencing, seeing, be put down with the slot plates and lenses available? The light was dim. Knowing that where there is light, one can photograph, I decided to make an exposure. After three hours of standing in the blinding snow, I saw the stagecoach come struggling up the street with the driver lashing his horses onward. At that point, I was nearly out of my head, but I got the exposure I wanted.’
I have always enjoyed the resulting photograph for a variety of reasons, not least because I believe the photographer achieved his intention.
Following the stoicism of Stieglitz, it seems somewhat trite to mention that I waited almost five minutes for the photograph above. On the promenade at Cleethorpes. On a sunny day. I had initially been attracted by the shape of tyre tracks in the sand before I noticed a strolling couple on a course that I believed might coincide with those tracks. The judgement proved accurate; the silhouetted figures in the background were, interestingly, all separate and, because my attention was centred on the woman and child, I feel this is an example of luck. Whatever, I only noticed this once I had downloaded my image.
I had to hold my nerve for the snap of the ice cream vendor, above. Only a minute or so wait, camera to my eye, but on a busy-ish day with several passers-by. I was going on the hunch that sooner or later, someone with their head down and involved with a task will look up. I tried to half hide behind a giant plastic ice cream and the result was that luckily, although I was discovered, it appears (to me, anyway) that the attention of the salesperson is drawn to that giant piece of gimmickry.
And on to ‘the lucky break’, unexpected moments that add to the success of an image rather than, as is more often the case in my experience, ruin it. I had already made one photograph of the scene below – I was attracted by the geometry of it – but felt I needed to slightly reposition myself; just as I made the second photograph a figure appeared into the scene. In white, catching the sunlight and carrying a clipboard which made an interesting shape. The intrusion enhanced the photograph in my opinion; the original intention, the play of line and shape, was still there but now there was some human interest. I can’t claim it. Or can I? As the saying goes: ‘you make your own luck’.
In the course of preparing this blog I came across two very interesting articles. ‘Alfred Stieglitz: The Terminal and Winter, Fifth Avenue’ by Linda Tate (www.thestoryweb.com) and ‘The Psychology of the Decisive Moment’ by John Suler.
My pictures were taken using an Olympus OMD with a Zuiko lens.
‘Now and then, in wandering through the streets, suddenly one comes awake, perceives with a strange exultationthat he is moving through an absolutely fresh slice of reality.’
The above quote is from ‘The Eye of Paris’, an essay on the work of the photographer, Brassai written by one of my favourite authors, Henry Miller. In my opinion it is one of the very best pieces of writing on photography and I very much recommend taking a look at it. The quote is significant to me because it defines a phenomenon that I occasionally experience when I’m out and about with my camera: the sudden urge to stop and look for a reason not altogether apparent at the time, perhaps subconsciously driven, as if my mind – far quicker at ‘seeing’ than my eyes – had gently tapped me on my shoulder and whispered, ‘look’.
During the four weeks or so I spent in Cleethorpes this year (my hometown – I’m returning for good next summer} I must have walked along Humber Street many times, yet never felt the need to record it as a photograph, save this one instance. And the compulsion to do so was exactly as I’ve described above. The light was constantly changing as fast moving cloud must have been passing over the setting sun and the scene before me appeared flat as I studied it. Once the sunlight broke through again there was a remarkable transformation. The resulting image only has to satisfy the way I felt at the time – the essence of stillness – and for me it does.
When I undertook my ‘street’ portrait project in 1984, I never thought I would be tramping the streets of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire 35 years later, revisiting those I photographed…
On the 22nd August 2009 I received a message from someone I had met – for barely an hour – 25 years previously:
‘WOW…I totally remember this! I just had my 40th birthday party in America (where I live) and had the actual picture out on display. Everyone LOVED it! I love it too!’
The message was from Lisa and the picture she was referring to is the one that heads this blog. I still have 27 of the original 36 prints I exhibited – simply mounted on card and fixed, in sixes, on large sheets of hardboard I had covered with blackboard paint – at Scunthorpe Museum in 1985. In 2009 I photographed the prints, posted them on facebook and through friends of friends the post reached a homepage in Wisconsin, USA.
I’ve moved around a lot and things get lost; five years ago I discovered the 53 rolls of film that comprised my portrait project – all in perfect condition – in a box of stuff stowed away in my brother’s garage. I felt more could be done and this current project is the result.
Following her education, Lisa backpacked around Europe and Canada; she worked in a Greek bar and was a fruit picker in Beamsville, Ontario. (Interestingly, Beamsville lies between Lincoln and Grimsby – named after the Lincolnshire county town and the Lincolnshire port, must have seemed like home from home.)
Although Lisa studied jewellery and clothing at Grimsby Art College she works as a financial planner – quite a change of direction I thought – in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Lisa has lived in the United States for 22 years now, having first gone over when her then partner got relocated from the UK. That relationship faltered and she now lives above the recording studios of her fiancé, Brad (in a rather splendid building I might add).
The new photographs were taken at the home of Lisa’s parents in Scunthorpe the day before she was due to fly back; because the original portrait was one of my favourites I had rearranged the start date of my project. I’m glad I did…
…oh, and Brad reminded me instantly of the singer/songwriter, Neil Young.
Bruce has always worked in the construction industry. He moved to south London in 1987, after Big Red Gun, a band he played bass for, split up. He auditioned with a couple of bands that didn’t really go anywhere, bought a house in Caterham, Surrey in 1990 and didn’t really play for a couple of years.
In 1994 Bruce started playing in a covers band and got to to know ‘some guys with whom I’m still good friends with and still play with to this day.’
‘Whilst playing with function bands The Stonebeats (60s tribute) , The Xscene , and Blondie tribute band, Plastic Letters l had the real pleasure of meeting and playing with a few people who feature in my record collection: Mathew Fischer from Procul Harum, Darren Mooney from Primal Scream and Dave Ruffy from The Ruts.’
Bruce moved back to Scunthorpe in 2006 and bought a couple of properties that he rents out. He is still involved in the local music scene and plays bass with Pointblank. He tells me that he also does ‘a fair bit of ‘depping’, still get the occasional call from the guys down south to cover a gig, always a good catch up.’
I was walking through Central Park, Scunthorpe when I crossed paths with Hayley all those years ago. She was with two friends – one of them was called Heather I recall – and I asked if I could take some photographs, promising not to hold them up for too long. The resulting shot is one of my favourites – though ostensibly nothing more than a snap – which has, for me, a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ and it is appropriate that I conclude my project with it.
Considering that briefest of encounters, when I met Hayley at her home recently it was like meeting an old friend. She is incredibly easy to chat to, laughs a lot and for the life of me I can’t remember what it was we talked about. She shares her home with her partner and her son and there is a feel of comfort about the place: I remember lots of cushions, fabric, furniture you sink into and interesting things on the walls.
At some stage of her life so far, Hayley felt she needed a break and decided on a six week trip to visit her uncle in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This sojourn was to lead to a vastly extended stay in the States. After meeting up with a travelling companion, Hayley took off for the city and lived in both New York and New Jersey. After meeting a guy and marrying him she moved north and spent the following 10 years in Rhode Island.
Hayley is now back in her home town and seemed very settled to me. She works as a community mental health nurse and works for the NHS in the Memory Assessment and Therapy Service.
When I undertook my ‘street’ portrait project in 1984, I never thought I would be tramping the streets of Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire 35 years later, revisiting those I photographed…
Joanathan has been married – his wife works at the Royal Free Hospital in London – for 27 years and has a daughter who is currently studying film and media at university. I knew him quite well back in the eighties – we played in a band together – and it was great to catch up affter a 30-odd year interval. I remembered him as being a highly animated, enthusiastic and unconventional young man; nothing much has changed and our conversations ran at such a pace, and with such a diversity of topic, that it was difficult to make notes. Luckily, Jonathan provided some outline of his life to date by email:
‘My life is divided between living in London and Burton (editor’s note: a village near Scunthorpe). Bought a flat in Hampstead some years ago so I spend my free time propping up bars in and around Camden and going to gigs. But it’s great to catch up with family and friends in Scunthorpe too. Career-wise I have worked in engineering as a machinist/tool maker; it’s paid for the house and trappings but never really fulfilled the arty side of my personality. I’m now retired from that line of work.’
Jonathan tells me that music has always been an important part of his life. He has always been a member of one band or another for the past 40 years and is now ‘a guitarist in 76 Calling playing anywhere and everywhere.’ He likes to collect vinyl records and is a great fan of record fairs, he also spends some leisure time on a narrow boat he owns. Having explored the canal systems of Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, ‘Agincourt’ is now moored at Great Haywood in Staffordshire.
And the Scunthorpe scene all those years ago?:
‘I think fondly of the people I knew back then I think we were lucky to have such a vibrant music scene going on in such a small town. Everyone seemed to get off their arses and do something – whether it was a band, a fanzine or even a shop. If you weren’t playing then your mates were so you would go along and support them: superb. I favoured the Furnace Arms as I thought that place conjured up some great nights of pub rock!’
When I asked Carol – who I remember made all her own ‘going out’ clothes back in 1984 (including those in the photograph) – for her reflections on the past 35 years she answered: ‘I have worked hard and earned nothing’. I feel I, and probably many others, can second that statement…
It would be fair to say that Carol is an academic: she has taught and lectured on English Literature in Scunthorpe and marks papers for a major examination board. She works in a loft in her home – accessed by a ladder – and this provided the setting for my photograph. Carol is unmarried, has one daughter who has made her a grandmother (and me a grandfather, it would be fair to say) and enjoys walking with her dogs, a whippet and a lurcher.
At 13 years old, Anita was the youngest person I photographed for my 1984 project. Indeed, it was her mother – from whom I had gained permissions from at the time – who reminded her, after spotting a post from me regarding my 2019 plans, that she had taken part. Consequently, the decision to take part was made by Anita at the last moment but she very kindly drove the 30 miles to Cleethorpes just days before I left the UK.
Anita arrived with the youngest of her three daughters, Millie and we embarked upon a short expedition to find a location. After discovering that all three of the Turkish gent’s hairdressers on the main shopping street were unsuitable for one reason or another (well, I thought it a good idea, lol. And Anita is a hairdresser), we adjourned to the Cafe Baraka on the promise of an excellent fruit smoothie I had discovered a couple of weeks earlier.
Since 1984 Anita has worked in a London hotel and in a Scunthorpe sewing factory where she had a hand in providing Marks and Spencer with a finished article. She explained that she had turned to this work because she had wanted a car. Very mobile now, she works as a hairdresser covering the Scunthorpe area.