Walking the dog: freedom during lockdown

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I haven’t got away from my hometown, Cleethorpes for some time now. I live a stone’s throw from the sea front and can be found somewhere along the local coastline most days. It’s good to see people out and about during the month-long lockdown but, as a photographer, I confess to running out of ideas. I have projects in mind but have had to shelve them for the time being.

.y the cold

The promenade and the beach are currently the haunts of those who like to excercise, those who simply enjoy walking, beachcombers and lovers enjoying the warmth of each other’s company tempered by the often bitingly cold sea air. And those who walk their dogs.

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And so nothing has changed, for this is the scene in Cleethorpes every winter. But I wouldn’t be out and about every day making photographs, many regulars are getting quite well known to me and we exchange hellos, pass the time of day briefly. Halfway through lockdown and I am really feeling a sense of deja-vu every time I put camera to eye. I have started photographing my washing hanging out to dry, the kid’s breakfast, the street from my kitchen window and abstract views of my favourite chair.

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I don’t have a dog and, although I am a cat person, I don’t have a pet. I’m happy to watch from a distance as people who do take the opportunity to escape the home and, like me, enjoy as much freedom as the coast can offer.

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Camera used was an Olympus OMD EM5 mk II coupled with a Zuiko Digital 12-40 f2.8 lens. Thank you for taking the time to look at my blog.

Alone again or: a solitary life and the ‘rule of six’…

The dunes, Cleethorpes

As she develops her review of Olivia Laing’s excellent book: The Lonely City, Hanya Yanagihara makes this observation: ‘I would venture to be even more specific and say that if love belongs to the poet, and fear to the novelist, then loneliness belongs to the photographer. To be a photographer is to willingly enter the world of the lonely, because it is an artistic exercise in invisibility.’ And to an extent I agree; much as making photographs with a pal or a group can be rewarding experiences, at the end of the day it is the photographer and his camera trying to make some sense of a world that continually refreshes itself before his eyes.

Against the elements

Over the past month I have limited my range to the seaside town which is my home. There are a few reasons and somewhere near the bottom of the list is the advice regarding the current pandemic situation. South of Cleethorpes and toward the mouth of the Humber estuary the sands broaden out, broken here and there by creeks emerging from the salt marsh. Dunes have formed here: topped by the coarse grasses that hold them together, they have captured my imagination and have inspired an idea for a new series of paintings. But out there under the big sky it has been people who have caught my attention: walkers with and without dogs, lovers, joggers, friends and relations. I have been provided with an opportunity to make some observations regarding distancing.

High Tide, Cleethorpes

Naturally, there is an elemental aspect of walking on the North Lincolnshire coast and autumn offers a truly mixed bag of weather conditions which are often unpredictable. Strong winds, always cold, drive the fine sand across the flats, blasting exposed skin while rain, heavy or not, make the paths across the marsh perilous. Sometimes the sun shines and the shadows of walkers somehow serve to emphasize both the loneliness and the instant: that moment in time captured.

Man’s best friend, with dog

For me, the sense of freedom one experiences when out in desolate places is key. Often my mind wanders as I take in the various perspectives. Most of my family, past and present, will have walked here at one time or another. Many old friends too. And friends who are distant share the same sky: turning to face the sea I fancy I may cast my thoughts into the waves to be washed up on a distant shore where a good friend may paddle through them. Suddenly I spot a group of people in the distance and think how nice it might be to be in a ‘group of six’.

‘Group of Six’, Cleethorpes.

An ordinary street, a half thought out project…

July 2019: Humber Street, Cleethorpes

Back in August 2019 I wrote a post on this blog: ‘A holiday snap and how Henry Miller hit the nail on the head…’ The post dealt with the photograph above which I took on my very last holiday in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire.

There is no need to further explain the photograph. In July of this year I returned to my hometown; not for a holiday but to live. After 14 years out of the country.

July 2020: Nightfall, Humber Street

After a two week quarantine in a holiday let overlooking the seafront the kids and myself went to stay with my sister. She lives on a quiet road that joins Humber Street and it was while returning from a walk that I felt compelled to stop. I had a second photograph of the short thoroughfare that had so appealed to my subconscious a year earlier.

July 2020: First light, Humber Street

It was after a third photograph, made on the last day of July 2020, that I decided I might try to keep an eye on Humber Street over the course of one year.

August 2020, Sunrise

There are less that 50 dwellings on Humber Street and at the time of the last census it was home to 117 people. It lies roughly east to west on the slope of the ‘cliff’, the eastern end overlooks the River Humber and, as far as I know, it has had an unremarkable history. The postcode is DN35 8NN and I now live only minutes away in a flat at the top of the hill. I know the coordinates but little else.

Latitude: 53.5565 / 53°33’23″N, Longitude: -0.0251 / 0°1’30″W

I have yet to see much of the residents but hope to at some stage. I’d like to think I might include them in the project. No matter: if it happens it will happen. I did meet one chap and engaged in what turned out to be a lengthy conversation in the drizzling rain. But he was the owner of a flat on the street and he lived on the other side of the river, in Hull. His was a holiday flat – currently unoccupied – and we mainly discussed the ongoing pandemic which was having an adverse impact on his finances.

August 2020
Illuminations, August 2020

I took nothing in the street during September and at the moment I find myself looking forward to fog in November, frost and maybe snow during the winter months. At the end of the day I don’t want to force anything and the project was half due to my restricted movements for the time being: I’m usually strapped for cash and I don’t have a car. Perhaps a bit lazy, too. As for my new life in Cleethorpes – the place of my birth nearly 66 years ago – I love it. Though I’m not ready to hang up my boots and stick the popular house name, ‘Dun Roamin’ on my front door anytime soon.

How a trip to the Co-op enriches my passion for literature…

Alexandra Road Antique Shop

From where I am sitting, a trip to the local shops presents me with a choice of two routes and my decision as to which to take is mainly dependent upon the weather. If I make the trip via Alexandra Road I am exposed to the elements. And this is Cleethorpes. And it can be bitterly cold when the wind is blowing from the North Sea. As much as I love my home town this is a fact, although on a sunny day….

A Beat Classic!

…on a sunny day you will find me loitering outside the antique shop on Alexandra Road (and, to be fair, on not so sunny days). I don’t know if it has a name for there are no clues on the shopfront. It’s been there for donkey’s years. Though the place is chock full of actual antiques, collectibles and other old stuff inside, on the pavement outside there are boxes full of secondhand books. For me, this is the attraction. It was here I picked up a copy of the beat classic: On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. I have several books by this author but never got round to buying this one. I have a decent collection of work by the Beats and have passed over a couple of books at the shop – one by Ginsberg and one by Burroughs – because I already owned them.

My goodness, my Guinness

I can’t recall the number of times I’ve tried to read Ulysses but what I do remember is that I never got much further than the first 20 pages or so. I suspect that it is the sheer length of the work that I find daunting and not Joyce’s style. Anyway, I picked this up for 50 pence in the hope that it would be an easier entry into the great man’s literature. Speaking of price, you will pay up to a pound for a paperback and up to two pounds for a hardback book on Alexandra Road.

Absorbing stuff about stuff you absorb…

I love to cook. Although I consider myself quite accomplished in the culinary arts, the idea that those who consume my food – usually family and close friends – put so much trust in me. You can make someone very sick if you get the preparation of food wrong. I have bought secondhand cookery books at the Alexandra Road store – Mexican, North African and Spanish cuisines – but this is the book when it comes to explaining why a varied diet is important. Like shared tapas it is a thing you can dip into at will.

Bedsitter tales, told…

I love stories of real people: biographies, auto or not, fascinate me. I have recently picked up a couple: Wouldn’t it be Nice by Brian Wilson and the one pictured above. I’ve liked and disliked Cohen’s work in equal measure: I imagine his life story is a story worth reading, I’ll let you know.

Who better to tell the story….

The swinging 60s. I was aged 5-14 years, lived in a seaside resort and loved it all: mod or rocker? I wasn’t bothered. But the beatniks who descended on the place for the once famous Cleethorpes Jazz Festival, yes! At age 16 I discovered existentialism but in the decade before that I was a rebel kid – despite being a cub scout – I liked the Beatles but loved the Rolling Stones.

A Lucky Find

I have been looking at my world through the lens of a camera throughout my adult life. I am interested in the history of photography and enjoy looking at photographs by others. There were a few books that inspired me as a student: David Bailey’s ‘Beady Minces’ and Tony Ray Jones’ ‘A Day Off’ are two I remember. Work seen in magazines by Eugene Atget, Duane Michals, Don McCullin and Chris Killip also played a part in my development. The only photograph by Dorothea Lange I had really taken notice of was the famous one: Migrant Mother. Imagine my surprise when I found this book full of interesting photographs. Cost me one pound. Bargain.

Hmmm…

The reason I started searching through the boxes of books on Alexandra Road was that I imagined I had spotted, in passing, a copy of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir. I went back the day after and was disappointed. I have got to know the three guys who run the shop; they know that I am interested in Existentialism, Art and Photography, the Beat Generation writers and cookery. The only book I have so far discovered concerning my brand of philosophy is a small, well worn copy of some essays by Albert Camus. I had asked how much it would cost. ‘You can have that for nothing’ was the reply. I was so pleased I forgot what exactly I needed from the Co-op…ah, the absurdity of it all.

Life With Restrictions: A Visual Response…

July 2020: Cleethorpes

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.

July 2020: Cleethorpes
July 2020: Cleethorpes

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.

July 2020: Cleethorpes

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.

July 2020: Cleethorpes
July 2020: Cleethorpes

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!

July 2020: Cleethorpes
July 2020: Cleethorpes

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.

July 2020: Cleethorpes

All photographs were made using an Olympus camera. Many thanks for looking at my blog.

Art for Art’s Sake? On the Contrary

The Sea, With Horizon 2020

Spoiler: it’s personal.

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.

Escape Route 2019

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.

My Place in an Imaginary World 2019

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.

Icefield 2019

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.

Red Desert Blues 2019

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.

Wildflowers 2020

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.

Untitled 2020: Monoprint and soft pastel on lining paper

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.

Forest with River 2020

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…

Southern Lincolnshire Landscape 2020

Thanks for bearing with me. I’ve enjoyed putting it down….

Diversionary Tactics: Offsetting the Lockdown Blues (and Reds and Yellows)

Home

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.

Living Room

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.

Home is where your feet are….

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.

It’s a Plant

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.

Any Port in a Storm

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.

Kady and the Branded Shirt

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.

My Street, Late Afternoon.

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…

The Pink Wig

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…..

Another Plant

Thanks for reading. The phone used is a lower range Vivo model. The selfie was made with my Olympus mirrorless camera….

Where time seems to have stood still: once upon a market in Pathum Thani

01.02.2020: Talat Klong Sip Song Hok Wa

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.

01.02.2020: Talat Klong Sip Song Hok Wa

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.

01.02.2020: Talat Klong Sip Song Hok Wa
01.02.2020: Talat Klong Sip Song Hok Wa

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.

01.02.2020: Talat Klong Sip Song Hok Wa

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.

01.02.2020: Talat Klong Sip Song Hok Wa

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.

01.02.2020: Talat Klong Sip Song Hok Wa

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.

01.02.2020: Talat Klong Sip Song Hok Wa

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.

Catering for cat lovers: should we have reservations?

The final mouthful, hopes dashed…

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…

It’s cool for cats…

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…

Above the madding crowd

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).

‘There must be some kind of way outta here…’

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 healthy option?

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…

Cats!

Thanks for visiting my blog. Camera used was an Olympus OMD EM5 Mark II.

Will that be all, sir? Why I didn’t mind the 90 minute wait for a haircut…

The local barbers: great place for a ‘selfie’…

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.

Number One Barber

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.

Napping at the barbershop

As did one of the guys being dealt with in front of me!

Sweet dreams are made out of this…

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.

Clocked!
Gently does it

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.

Disputing the cost of a delivery…
As we bear witness…

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.

‘Would there be anything else, sir?’

Thanks for visiting my blog. I used my trusty Olympus OMD with a Zuiko short zoom lens for the photographs.