Category Archives: photographs

Andy and the Masons

A building I go to regularly has set after set of photos of the local great and good of the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s hung on its walls in room after room. They are oddly disturbing photographs. I am sure that individually they were perfectly normal men for their times, but collectively they look decidedly creepy, as if every member of the Manhattan Project had been photographed all at once. It may be all those tie pins and brylcreme. I’m not sure.

Factory Men

I’ve wanted to Warhol them ever since I first saw them. I finally got a photograph with little enough reflection in it to have a go, though it’s intriguing how persistent the reflections on the left are. I’m not entirely happy with this for lots of reasons, not least because its harder than it looks to balance bright splashes of colour in a space. He knew a thing or two, did Andy Warhol.

Anyway, here they are.

Just looking

I’ve just come across the Visual Dictionary – which describes itself as a collection of words in the real world. I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit cropping the words in my photo collection, most of them captured by accident. I’ll upload them tomorrow.

But this raises some interesting questions: Is the meaning of these photographs in the image or in the word? Do you read them, or do you look at them?

Word Collage

Not so much strange, as bad

One of my favourite websites is hosted here on WordPress. Strange Maps is always a delight and frequently interesting and educational.

I came across a pretty strange map myself the other day, though in truth this map of the UK is not so much strange as bad.

Bad Map

It’s from an independent travel agency in a small English market town which in fairness should remain anonymous. It’s been painted on the window. I assume that the white lines are meant to represent sandy beach resorts. The white triangle and white circle on the left are all that stands out in a picture of Big Ben while the semi-circular blobby thing on the right represents the giant ferris wheel which is the London Eye.

What is impressive is just how bad the map of the UK is. I found myself saying – “look at Wales! – no look at East Anglia! – no look at Cornwall! – Berwickshire! – the Mull of Kintyre! – Devon!” before just getting out of the car and photographing the dratted thing in a spirit of awe.

In fairness, it would have been painted freehand in reverse on the inside of the window using glass paint or blackboard paint, but why on earth whoever did it didn’t get hold of a real map of the UK, reverse it on their PC and copy it I’ll never know. For a freehand reverse image it probably isn’t that bad.

I do apologise for the quality of the image – it’s a bugger photographing images on glass, and I was taking the one I take to railway stations to a railway station at the time.

Lines and Curves in Morecambe Bay

Morecambe Bay has a structure called “The Stone Jetty”; I was blown away by the colour of the sky and the lines and curves of the structure and the wind. It was a perfect day for taking photographs – even the sky and the sand were full of lines and curves.

Morcambe Bay 02


MOrcambe Bay 03


Morcambe Bay 04


Morcambe Bay 05


Morcambe Bay 06


Morcambe Bay 07


Morcambe Bay 08


Morcambe Bay 09


Morcambe Bay 01


Seagull in sunlight.
Hillside casts me in shadow;
White bird in bright sky.


 The picture is one I took last year in Blackpool and the light is nothing like the clear evening light when I was driving home yesterday evening. But it does at least show a seagull.

On Reflection

I enjoy the pepper’s ghost effect of images reflected in glass. This is partly because the brain is not entirely sure what to focus on – is it a girl or is it an old lady? Is it an homage to Mondrian in red and brown and white, or is it a photo of the back of a girl on a ferry? There is also the fact that composition is even more important when dealing with reflected images, there is just more that can be out of alignment and wrong.

Anyway, because I am all worded out right now, here are some photos of more or less reflective surfaces.

On the Westray to Mainland Ferry - Orkney

On the Westray to Mainland Ferry – Orkney

Flamenco Dresses - Seville

Flamenco Dresses in Shop Window – Seville

Alton Towers

The Orangery in the Old House – Alton Towers

Kew Gardens from within the Palm House - Kew

Kew Gardens from within the Palm House – Kew

The Post Office Tower - London

The Post Office Tower – London

The Largest Glitter Ball in the World - Blackpool

The Largest Glitterball in the World – Blackpool

Woodchester House - Glouscestershire

Woodchester House – Gloucestershire

An Englishman, a Scotsman and a Viking lurch out of a bar

Jedburgh 01

Jedburgh Abbey is a seriously impressive ruin; it’s a skeleton with all the soft parts dissected away. No distracting stained glass, no inappropriate Victorian pews or 1950s wooden chairs, no organ loft, no banners or hangings, just the raw engineering of the stone.

Jedburgh 02I was chatting to one of the blokes who sells you tickets and said how impressive it was, he said “until you English destroyed it”. Now, there is so much more to the Scots than you’d ever think from the whingeing victim status some of them adopt in relation to the English that I get mightily irritated whenever one of them comes over all Braveheart and Bonnie Prince Charlie and Highland Clearances on me. I smiled very sweetly and said “oh, it wasn’t personal you know, we English are just a bunch of football hooligans, we’ve trashed all sorts of things all over the world not just here in Scotland”.

Personally I blame the Danes. Don’t get me wrong, I like Danes immensely: I enjoy their ironic sense of humour, I am awestruck that they have vending machines selling pornography in the street, I admire their elegant visual style, and I love their company.

Some years ago I worked for one who warned me that I should never pick a fight with a Dane because the Danes are descended from Vikings. I pointed out a flaw in his logic: England’s where all the roughtiest toughtiest Vikings went raping and pillaging and Denmark was where the stay-at-home ones stayed at home. (It amazes me sometimes that I’ve never been a victim of ABH. My Grandma used to warn me that I was so sharp I’d cut myself.)

Jedburgh 03

You see, it’s always seemed to me that if you strip away all the padding and propaganda from the English character, we boil down to a bunch of drunken football hooligans falling out of the pub and picking pointless fights and suddenly all sorts of things fall into place from the treatment of the Celtic Nations to Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs to the British Empire.

Personally, I think that “I predict a riot” should replace the Godsave as the English National Anthem. In the words of the Kaiser Chiefs:

Watching the people get lairy
It’s not very pretty I tell thee
Walking through town is quite scary

Nell is a jobbie

You see, I rather like graffiti. I know it’s supposed to be vandalism but I can’t get my head around that. Yes, spray paint on the roof of the Sistine Chapel would most definitely be vandalism but let’s face it, planning departments commit acts of desecration all the time.

I should work this up into a full-on essay putting the case for graffiti. I’ll mull the subject over I promise you because it is one that I do have definite opinions on. In the meantime here is a favourite piece from a car park in Fort William which I like for its concise, childish elegence and because the name is so middle-class. The boat is a pictorial bonus.

Nell is a jobbie

Poppy-seed loaves and other jottings

My resolution to leave the house slightly tidier and more sorted every night than it was the night before has started to slide. Maybe tomorrow… However, today I finally joined a local book-group. Actually, that’s not quite true, today I chatted with a woman who runs a local book group about going to their September meeting. If I’m reading fiction again, it might as well involve a night out.

Timmy (the cat who’s incarcerated in my kitchen) seems fine. He’s currently sitting on the mousemat cleaning himself and occasionally purring. Tiger on the other hand (whose house this is) brought me a blackbird in overnight, and was sick on the bedroom floor today. I’ve decided to be cosy-friendly with each of them whenever I can, and to take turn and turn about during the evening.

So much, so mundane. I am clearing through a backlog of emails, and that feels good, and I’ve made another reseller sale on Why does disposing of gifts feel bad?

I cannot pretend that any of this is interesting, so here’s a photo of some poppies. The sight of fields of wheat with corn-poppies in them is now so rare that we’ll stop at the side of a busy main road to photograph them.

Northumbrian Poppies

We don’t realise how much variety we have lost to herbicides and other intensive farming techniques because this style of farming kicked in just before colour photography became commonplace and by now before most of us can remember. It’s not even that – as Joni Mitchell said – “we don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone”. We’re beyond that, now “we don’t know what we had ‘cos it’s gone”. Mind you, we no longer have riots over “corn laws” in the UK and given the choice between urban starvation alongside pretty rural fieldscapes and cheap bread from mono-cultural wheat it really does have to be cheap bread.

What I did on my holidays

The Orkneys have been on my list of places to visit since I first read The Boy with the Bronze Axe aged knee high to a whats-it. Fortuitously, the one I go on holidays with also had Orkney on his list of places to visit and – even better – loves organising complicated holidays, which I find is an excellent skill in other people.

There is a lot that I liked about the Orkneys but the most noticeable thing is that they aren’t Scotland. There is only so much Bonnie Prince Shortbread and Mary Queen of Plots that I can take without wanting to vomit tartan coloured porridge. The thing I hate about the McTartanisation of Scotland it it sells the place so incredibly short.

Deep breath in, Aphra. Deep breath out. Show the nice people a soothing picture of dampness.

The Old Man of Hoy standing coyly behind water, spray, mist, har and rain.
The Old Man of Hoy standing coyly behind water, spray, mist, har and rain. I was expecting our entire stay to be a series of studies in grey and silver.

Right. Orkney. Did you know Orkney was Norwegian until 1472? Considering that the Scottish and English crowns united a mere 134 years later, the islands bounced more or less directly from being Scandinavian to British.

Top five most noticeable things about the Orkneys:

  • Almost everyone you speak to is either English or Scottish; Orkadians are relatively far and few between. On the other hand if you move to Orkney just about the only thing you can do is open a craft shop so I suspect that a disproportionate number of in-comers end up in the tourist industry.
  • It is full of cool and fascinating Neolithic Sites.
  • The pubs are invisible outside Stromness, they masquerade as other things like B&Bs and tea-shops, it’s as if Prohibition Chicago was being run by very nice ladies who knit doilies. The pubs are perfectly normal inside, when you can find them.
  • There’s a lot of sky and no trees but it’s not bleak. In midsummer, anyway.
  • Eating out is expensive and not particularly good. This may have something to do with the invisible pub syndrome. However, the stuff made on the islands like beer and cheese is excellent.

Ach, why not just give you some photies:

I felt a little colour-starved and liked this display of Crocs in Stromness
I felt a little colour-starved and liked this display of Crocs in Stromness.

Skara Bray is fabulous and popular, there are other more deserted and more remote Neolitic sites too

Skara Brae is one of dozens of Neolithic sites showing seven or eight neolithic houses uncovered during a great storm in 1850. This one has excellent visitors’ centre with themed gifties and a reproduction of the largest of the houses which one can scramble around in, but other sites are isolated and desolated. You really are spoiled for choice.

Life at Skara Brae wouldn’t have been that different from the life of 18th or early 19th Century Orkadians. You cannot see it in this photograph, but they built themselves box beds, dressers and benches out of the long flat local stones. I found it surprisingly easy to imagine myself living there.

Thrift and cliffs and seabirds on Papa Westray

I’m sparing you most of the beach-shots, but I did wonder if these rocks in particular had been covered with an oil-spill some time ago.

It is easy to see how simple it would have been to have hefted some squarish, flattish rocks up off the beach to build little stone houses or bloody great brochs.

A Broch - more Neolithic dwellings but different

This is the Broch of Gurness. Brochs are much wierder than the houses, being towers with hollow walls and sealed chambers with Ritual uses. “Ritual” is of course archaeology-speak for “we don’t know what the fuck they did with it”, in the same way that “Anon” is editor-speak for “a woman”. I rather like the idea of an Anthropologist from Mars finding a my little pony and saying it had ritual uses. Anyway, this was a bleaker, emptier, lonlier neolithic site than Skara Brae with, as I said, nasty sealed chambers underneath it.

Chain link on the Churchill Barriers

Orkney had an interesting 20th Century too. In 1919 the German Navy scuttled their fleet there, clogging one of the best northern harbours with the wrecks of 70+ ships. You can go diving there and poke around if you like. Actually, I think that was what I liked the most about Orkney; you can poke around them in ways which are simply not permitted at UK Heritage Sites any more. It feels wrong but – hey. This particular photograph is nothing to do with the WWI fleet at Scapa Flow; this is a remnant of WWII, when Churchill got Italian prisoners of war to build causeways between four of the islands to block off the sea-ways between them and to build road transports along the top. The Italians were given permission to convert a nissan hut into a chapel but I find being a tourist in consecrated spaces to be in rather poor taste so I didn’t photograph it. It should feature in any book on trompe d’oeil.

Churchill Barrier

And here is a Churchill Barrier, great lumps of concrete which were poured into wooden crates, tumbled into the sea and finished off with a road on top. I am curious to know what difference the barriers made to the sea currents around there. The seaweed, by the way, stinks.

A very Swedish looking barn

I photographed this because I liked the colour and texture. It is very Swedish, and it is interesting how un-Scandinavian the rest of Orkney is, though I don’t know Norway to compare it with. Most of the houses are modern, rather squat, ugly pebble-dashed affairs built in the last 20 years or so. And good for them. I once asked a Min of Ag inspector what they farmed on the Islands and was impressed by his one word snarl: “subsidies”.

I’d have photographed a lot more of this building, but the cows in the field behind me got terribly excited. We were the most interesting thing that had happened near them for about the last three years, and maybe we’d feed them or something. They were benign, but curious. And running towards us. My nerve broke, so I only took a couple of photos and left. Orcadian cows seem serene creatures viewed from a nice safe distance, they calve much later than their southerly sisters which makes for sweetly maternal fieldscapes.

Orkney Blues

The place is very light all the time in the summer, even when the sky is overcast. But when the sun comes out, the colours are dazzling.

Gate with buttercups

The sky is there all the time. No trees, of course.

Boats by the Ferry port

When you see it like this, you can understand why it seems so attractive to incomers. It never got darker than dusk, but in the winter…

To be honest, I could probably handle the darkness; I’ve lived and worked in Sweden and Orkney isn’t that far North. What I couldn’t cope with in the winter, and found trying while we were there, was the wind. Some people find wind invigorating. I just feel hectored and bullied and harangued by it.

And I cannot leave the place without one final neolithic site.

Ring of Brodgar

If you like your megaliths silent, brooding, windswept and desolate, with a curlew hovering above the centre of the circle screaming defiance into the wind, then this is definitely the place for you.

So there you go. And back we will go, next year. I found being there refreshing, invigorating, and thought-provoking. In the meantime for a dose of reality here are some Orkadian webcams.