Photography Course in London

Southwark, London. Photo by yrstrly.
Southwark, London. Photo by yrstrly.

In September I attended a fantastic two-day intensive photography course, run by Derek Linney of Take Better Pictures.  The course took in ideas of composition, framing and subject matter, as well as a wealth of technical tips.  The class size was very small, with plenty of opportunity to ask questions and have each of our experimental photographs critiqued.

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Two Missing Posters

Two variations on a theme. First, a bizarre missing poster from the streets of Islington

Balboa Jones went missing in Lewisham
Balboa Jones went missing from Lewisham

This seems so brazen, I have a suspicion its actually some kind of sneaky viral advertising campaign for something. Or Balboa Jones might indeed be missing. Either way, I have no qualms about allowing the telephone number to remain visible.
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Woolwich Common, 9am
Woolwich Common, 9am

The snow is an equalising force, and not just because its free. It also serves to cover up the mess and the shit of the city. But 36 hours after the snow stopped falling, its already melted away in central London, where I assume the heat of the traffic and the buildings turned it to mulch pretty quickly. Out in the boroughs, however, the vast array of public spaces are still blessed white.

It will be the snowmen who last the longest. They are packed thicker than the ground snow, with less surface area exposed. Passing through Blackheath Common yesterday morning, I enjoyed the sight of a few dozen mounds, decapitated snowmen, monuments to Monday’s frolicking. Free from the humdrum of work for a day, how interesting that we suddenly come over all pre-historic, and construct a set of monoliths, our very own snowhenge. I wonder if they are arranged along ley-lines?
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Keeping an Eye on Things

I’m at the Liberal Democrat Party conference with the SMF (Labour next week). I wandered over to the Eye Health Alliance stand, where they took a picture of the inside of my eye.

Robert's Left Eye, showing the cornea, foeva, capillaries and nerves
Robert’s Left Eye, showing the cornea, foeva, capillaries and nerves

An eye examination can provide an early warning for many conditions, including brain tumours. The picture of my eye was later examined by Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris, who gave my eyes a clean bill of health.

Seen Sign

More oldy-worldy design relics. This one reminds me both of the Boston Globe Graphics, and the bomb shelter stencil.

Its a sign for weight limits over the bridge at Blackheath Station. It is not surprising that such a relic has been preserved. Blackheath seems rather gentrified, a little oasis of posh between Lewisham and Greenwhich. The DVD rental shop looks like an antique store.

Fes Alley

Here’s one of the many photos of alleyways I have been taking in the extraordinary Medieval Labyrinth City of Fes, Morocco.  To the left is an apothecary’s shop, full of spice jars and animal pelts.

Incredibly, these lanes receive excellent mobile phone reception.  What did the ancients know that we have forgotten?

Dialogues of Rain and Bamboo

Dancing in the Rain

“Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun!” wrote Noel Coward. I think he missed a trick: there was no corollary ditty, about mad Scotsmen going out in the rain.

Many of my recollections of peace and contentment take place in the rain. Playing cards under a canvas canopy of an eight-man Stormhaven tent on a scout-camp; Sitting at an old desk and writing a diary during the afternoon storms in Zimbabwe; Leaning against the door-frame of a rural Brazilian villa, watching clouds sweep through the valley. Sure, rain prevents you from stepping out into the street, but it also protects you. It creates a barrier you can hide behind. It isolates you like an incoming tide. It enforces privacy. Sometimes there’s nothing better to be stranded indoors by the rain. Open the window and listen to it fall.

Although, if you’re caught out in the rain, you might as well pull a Gene Kelly, and stay out. There’s a serenity to that too. A favourite quote:

There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.

A great deal of this stoicism was displayed at the weekend, at the Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo event at the Royal Botantic Gardens Edinburgh. The sky was not kind, and we were rained upon from start to finish. However, I had the sense that sheer bloody-mindedness would prevail amongst both performers and performance-goers, and that nothing would be postponed because of the weather.

And so we persisted, but some things are obviously odd when performed in the rain. No sane person would wander out and do Tai Chi in a cold, damp park, and I felt sorry for those giving a demonstration of the art, who did their best to ignore the rain. It must be extra difficult when people with brollys are stomping past. I think this point is true of the dance pieces too – the audience were probably not as relaxed as they could have been. And if you are distracted during a performance, it precludes the possibility of giving yourself over to the dance, incapable of submitting to the pure movement.

However, I think the traditional Chinese music gained something through being played in the storm. The hum of the rain was like a backing track, which bedded very well underneath the stringed notes.

Susie Brown’s installation Natural Progression, persists until 29th June. It consists of a set of painted bamboo sticks set into the ground, forming a fence-like barrier which slithers accross the lawn. Like an organic Fred Sandback installation, it delineates the open space and makes you think twice about crossing the imaginary boundaries it seems to define. It therefore takes a little courage to engage with the piece, which you can do by blowing across the tops of the bamboo to ‘play’ their notes.

Back in the RBGE glasshouse life was much drier, although the towering, anorexic palm trees occasionally drip onto you. FOUND and the Shanghai Jazz Project teamed up to give a performance. The glasshouse, with its collision of nature and human technology, is precisely the sort of odd venue I expect from FOUND. I’ve seen them in Warehouses and Chinese Kitchens, and they’ve played in portacabins before too.

FOUND are known throughout Scotland for their love of sampling stuff, mixing and remixing what they collect into their music. For this performance, we heard them sample an old 1930s Jazz recording, supplied by the Shanghai Jazz Project. We heard the familiar hiss and crackle of the old recording, and I remember thinking that this was not unlike the patter of the rain ouside.

Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo was the brainchild of Kimho Ip. Over at the project’s website, there’s an interesting podcast discussion with Stephen Blackmore, Regius Keeper, about the twin pleasures of nature and music, and their importance in the increasingly frenetic modern world.

A Protest for Science

Evan Harris et al

Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, with parliamentary colleagues, at an event in support of the Human Fertility and Embryology Bill, which will protect and extend the right of scientists to perform crucial stem-cell research.

Wall Relic

Public Shelter in Vaults under pavement in this street

I saw this aged notice tatooed onto a wall in Westminster, just off Smith Square. That’s the nice thing about living in old cities – there’s a piece of history on every corner.

I wonder if the vaults are still there, or whether they have been turned into luxury, windowless apartments for rich agraphobics.