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Unspoilt by Progress?

When asked by the organisers of my forthcoming exhibition ‘A Time it Was’ to revisit some of the locations and produce current contrasting (or complimentary) images, I ‘thought’ my way around the area, trying to imagine where most change had taken place. Or indeed least change.

Although I visit these places regularly in the course of my work, and am certainly aware of changing landscapes, from industry to commerce, fields to houses, it was only by stopping and framing through the lens that I really had time to study and take in the giant metamorphosis.

We often stop and appreciate the beauty of a seascape or mountain view, and give the occasion some precious minutes of our time.

Rarely do we afford a shopping centre, factory complex or housing estate the same visual consideration.

Probably for good reason.

Solid swathes of low-lying ugliness seem to form our urban landscape today. I don’t suppose that since the Industrial Revolution the West Midlands has ever had a pretty face.

And I’m sure that when huge factories like Round Oak steelworks in Brierley Hill dominated the skyline, there were many people who were unhappy with it’s noise, smoke, and dirt. But it was a major employer, giving generations of families homes, food, and a future. And there was still green space around it, breathing space.

Today we have a massive shopping complex, complete with nearly a dozen car parks, providing a different sort of pollution, and a road system that struggles on every level long before the real rush hour begins. And it is not a thing of beauty. Coloured sheds as big as aircraft hangers, with music.

 

 

 

 

 

Two views of the same geographical location from Two Woods Lane, Brierley Hill, but forty years apart.

Progress of a sort, I suppose.

 

Let there be Light

Exactly thirty seven years ago (to the month, if not the day) Princess Grace of Monaco visited Stourbridge, in the West Midlands, UK. That’s a bit like saying you were chatting to Mick Jagger on the number 74 bus to West Bromwich, or you bumped into Sir John Betjeman in the sausage queue on Melton Mowbray market. Mind you, I suppose the last one was once a possibility…

I photographed her meeting a bunch of local worthies at Hagley Hall, the ancestral home of the Cobham family. It was an absolute crush, with reporters, photographers, TV crews (and all those damn worthies) vying for a bit of elbow room.

I’m not sure whether my flash went off or not, or even whether I was trying for a natural light picture, which would have been very brave of me at the time, but I got an image that was an absolute swine to print in a conventional darkroom. Luckily, I didn’t have to print it too many times.

Consequently the negative lived in a little packet all on it’s own for nearly forty years, stored with thousands of others in a filing cabinet.

So how could something that had spent it’s whole life doing nothing but sitting in a bag, never seeing daylight, or fresh air, or even stale air for that matter, get covered in so much shite?

Princess Grace at Hagley Hall 1980

 

 

 

 

 

 

I chose this image as one of fifty-odd that I am exhibiting at my one-man show at Himley Hall, Dudley, in April and May this year, entitled A Time It Was.

I simply lost count of the number of hours spent spotting and cleaning up this image at actual pixel size in my editing programme. I suppose the consolation is that I could never have spotted an actual print to the same quality, with dust, hairs and scratches fighting for space on the neg with the same determination and voracity as the original protagonists in that room at Hagley Hall all those years ago.

Here’s a blow up of part of the image, showing the carnage.

Princess Grace at Hagley Hall 1980

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is the finished image. At least I now have a digital copy that can’t gather dust and scratches, alongside my original Tri-X negative.

All I need to to do is make a back-up, with maybe another, and possibly just one more…

Princess Grace at Hagley Hall 1980

 

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Out of Nature – art in landscape

I’ve no idea why, but I often struggle with 3D art in a gallery. A space that seems perfectly suited to a flat two dimensional image somehow seems inadequate to a piece of sculpture. I suppose a painting or photograph operates on a plane, and you never see beyond that surface.

With a piece of three dimensional art, you can always see round and beyond it, and that, for me, always causes problems, because what you see beyond or around the sculpture affects your response to it.

Enter Out of Nature, a sculpture exhibition outdoors in the grounds of Newport House, Almeley, Herefordshire. Associated with the Foley family of Great Witley,  the Watt’s of steam engine fame, and Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Newport House is hosting the exhibition till October 25 2015.

There are sculptures that look like art, and sculptures that look like fun. Organic sculptures by Kate Raggett that have the fragrance of country fruit, and wooden carvings by Ed Elliott, one of which fits nicely in with the current ITV series based in Herefordshire, Midwinter of the Spirit, a somewhat lumpy and unsatisfying tale of demonry in the county.

monk

 

 

 

 

 

But the main thing is, the sculptures are in their natural setting, which makes a world of difference to how you see them.

dogsculpture

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a cafe, it only costs five quid to get in, and you can lose yourself for several hours in the lovely surrounds of a Herefordshire house that you probably never knew existed.

The artists are friendly and approachable, I ate some of Kate Raggett’s sculpture (with her permission) and what else can you get for a fiver nowadays?

Pop along, have a moan at art and all that, then come away realising that another world exists alongside your current one, and there’s a fair chance that there is more over the horizon too.

bullsculpture face horses

Oh, what’s occurrin’…?

What’s occurring is my sixty-sixth birthday. And Dot and I chose to occur it on the Gower Peninsula. Wales. UK.

Ten years ago we visited the Gower. The King Arthur at Reynoldston was good a decade ago, and blow me, it still is. Well done somebody.

I love the idea of hitting a cattle grid, then making your way over common land to a pub with a comfy bed, good beer and tasty food. Simple always wins.

I would imagine to buy a home on the Gower now costs an arm and several legs, and whether you’d want the kind of neighbours who can afford to buy into such a place is something else, but the area is still outstanding.

The National Trust own and manage a decent chunk of the Gower, and Rhossili Beach is acknowledged as being one of the world’s best. And it’s in Wales. Well done somebody else.dot_rhossili

 

 

 

 

 

Port Eynon and Oxwich Bay, where there must have been at least seven people on the beach, came next. A quiet hour watching the waves and dog walkers, listening to The Unthanks, I thought I’d died and gone to Barry Island. But that was tomorrow.

Land of Gavin and Stacey, The Island provided coffee and a stunning almond croissant at Marco’s, followed by a stroll along the collonades and palm trees, and friendly conversations with other visitors. There was a sense of The Prisoner in the surreal September afternoon sun.

I first came here over fifty years ago on a coach trip from the Black Country, a day out at the seaside, and I don’t remember a single thing. Yet a couple of hours strolling up and down the front brought back no memories whatsoever. Funny that.

However, we both realised we will come back. The place is friendly, quirky, and inviting. People of a certain age talked to each other.

Who’da thought it? Is this what happens when you hit Route 66? Not so bad so far…

barry_island barry_island2 mumbles oxwich_bay rhossili

 

It’s only rugby, don’t lose your head…

Somedays, photography is really easy.

When three headless rugby players, a dinosaur and Captain Hook all turn up in the same place, under a fluffy clouded September sky, on a red carpet, half an hour from where you live, it would be churlish to refuse a quick snap.

Stourport funfair in Worcestershire, UK provided the subjects, Fuji provided the camera, and I just walked about a bit with my eyes open.

 

headless tsi

More offbeat images can be found in this gallery.

Monarch of the Bren

While driving around this week taking pictures of events and happenings celebrating the long serving reign of our queen, I was reminded of a photograph I took last year.

“Quick, come and have a look in here” suggested my wife, as I sipped a pint in the Propeller Inn pub at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, next door to a busy little airfield, during a week’s holiday there.

The ‘here’ in question was an annexe to the bar area, where you could sit and have a quiet meal and a glass of wine,  surrounded by machine guns, pistols, rifles, the odd grenade and rocket launcher, a variety of aircrew clothing, and general war memorabilia. And a life size cardboard cut-out photograph of Her Majesty. Of course.

Now, I know she gets about a bit. Very democratic in that respect. But that blue outfit just wasn’t in keeping with the general thrust of the place, if you get my drift. Something a little more casual would have gone down just as well, without upsetting the ambiance one jot.

Anyway, a polite “Good evening ma’am” and a couple of photographs to show the folks back home saw me easing myself slowly towards the exit, before I was asked to sign a pledge, or sing something patriotic.

No slaves here, for sure.

gun room

 

 

 

 

 

More photos in a similar vein can be found in this gallery.

 

 

Unthankuverymuch

“Going off The Unthanks” a friend I met at Moseley Folk Festival offered.

“Preferred ’em when they were just a capella and clog dancing. Too over-produced nowadays.”

Over-produced clog dancing…I ask you.

Admittedly there were long, quite long moments when the sisters stood gazing wistfully towards West Bromwich, while a melancholic solo trumpet and hissing cymbal crescendoed around Moseley Park, but happily this soon gave way to waves of forboding violin chords and the occasional death knell wallop on a couple of drums.

Then the clogs kicked in again. Magnificent in their mystery (and misery).

unthanks1 unthanks2

The festival was on Fryday, Fatterday and Funday (beer and chips a-plenty) or you could opt for a bag of green stuff, falafel or healthy Bakewell flapjack. One family was seen eating chicken legs with hands encased in those plastic gloves you use to fill up with diesel. I didn’t stay for the trifle.

Having been once told I looked like Dave Pegg from Fairport Convention, and was almost asked for my autograph at another festival because of said similarity, I kept an eye open for more famous faces in the crowd. Saw a man who looked like Robert Plant, heard a woman who sounded like Marianne Faithful, and smelt something that was possibly being used for medicinal purposes.

Then she spotted me. A woman in high-viz made straight for me, never taking her eyes off me. Here we go again, I thought.

“Would you mind moving along sir, you’re standing still in an area where you should be walking…”

Now if I’d been dancing in an area where I should have been whistling, or thinking in an area where only weeping was allowed…

Rebel Without a Clue – that’s me.

cameraphone carthy_swarbrick

I moved on, sympathised with a bloke who was having a good natured rant at a dustbin, and waited for The Monkees to entertain anybody over fifty who was intoxicated with nostalgia, and amuse/annoy the rest.

couplekiss kids

Well, I guess I’ve reserved my place at the back of the queue for next year’s do.

Editorial/Press

Stourbridge’s Mary Stevens Park had an extensive (and probably expensive) refurbishment of their 1931 main gates, which are modelled on the ones at Buckingham Palace. Funding came from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund.

“Can you get a picture of the gates?” An obvious if seemingly uninspiring request from the Stourbridge News reporter covering the refurb sent me waddling up to the park to do battle, dodging dog walkers, dodgy car parkers and podgy joggers. Phew!

My first shots were perfectly useable, nicely framed and lit images of the new(ish) gates.

parkgates1

 

 

 

 

 

In a fit of mad enthusiasm – steady Phil – I mooched around for another angle, a different take that might add a bit more colour to the mighty edifice…

A nearby flower bed in the shadows was brought into play, along with dog walker and joggers. 24mm wide angle on my Nikon, a touch of fill flash on the geraniums (I think that’s what they are) and I ended up with something that said a bit more about the park entrance.

parkgates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I truly detest the phrase job done, so I’m not going to say it.

However…

 

Coast

Another cycling/camping holiday in the Netherlands comes to an end. Another splendid diet of applecake and waffles (for strength and stamina, obviously) makes way for the usual UK fayre.

Another realisation that Brits will never achieve what the Dutch have done with their fabulous cycle routes and their open-hearted acceptance and love of two wheeled travel.

Oh well, just sort out the photographs and prepare for a winter of pot-holed hell in our lanes and by-ways.

The Dutch island of Markem is everything that Birmingham isn’t. I won’t say any more. Except that it is peaceful, quiet, a contemplative space that occasionally has to fight off the rigours of a harsh winter, but still says come in, sit down, breathe a little, and believe that things can be different.

And maybe put up a shed.

 

Shed Markem

 

 

 

 

 

The Werfs are clutches of homesteads that are tightly grouped to keep out the worst of the winters, with narrow passageways weaving a path through the wooden houses.

Path Markem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These pics were taken at Rozewerf, where I saw three other people in the space of forty minutes. A bit like a somewhat unpopular museum, but less crowded. Nice. Hollyhocks and a good breeze. A bit like Birmingham then…

Rozewerf

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Dutch pix from the mainland and islands can be found here

Did I mention the Oude Jenever??

Editorial/Press

LOW ANGLE – HIGH JINX

A phone call from Dudley’s press department, and in no time at all I’m lying on my back in the street photographing a horse, a brewer’s dray, two blokes wielding Black Country pints, a dog and Black Country Mon (replete with dodgy underpants – not a good look!)

Must be carnival season, and Stourbridge Carnival in particular.

251528L Stge Carnival promo

 

 

 

 

 

A touch of fill flash, a lot of dodging horse slobber, and loads of shouted directions to people who have no idea what I can see in the viewfinder.

And then it’s the turn of another photographer. Then another. Often with jobs like this it’s a battle with the organisers who want to get the world and it’s uncle into the picture, not realising that more is less, and having no concept at all of the limitations of a three column by eight centimetre space in the local paper.

My take on the photo opp is shown above. The reality of the job is shown here with Phil Parker from Dudley Council press office standing in as wind machine, and Patrick Mulvaney from the Express and Star shouting the directions.

Stge carnival setup

 

 

 

 

 

Fun, fun. And fun…