Archive for the ‘ General ’ Category

The Way We Live Now

When this all began my thoughts were of long walks in this beautiful place I’m lucky enough to call home. All those remote hilltops I’d never quite got round to climbing, those prehistoric monuments unphotographed. However, it’s not going to happen until the lockdown is over. Though I don’t for a moment believe I would be putting others (or myself) at risk by driving to remote places and walking alone in them, somebody used the word ‘solidarity’ when I raised this dilemma on social media, and that struck home. We are all in this together. So no roaming empty landscapes for the time being, and no hills that I cannot reach easily on foot for my one daily dog walk.

View north from Caer Caradoc (pre-lockdown)

I have another dilemma, less easily resolved, which is: how, as a photographer, can I respond to this situation? It’s the very opposite of a visual event – it’s an absence, a vacuum, a blank sheet of paper. A deserted Trafalgar Square is one thing, a quiet Presteigne High Street is a little less unusual, to say the least. Any ideas are welcome. In the meantime there is gardening to do, and the studio to tidy. Stay safe and well, all of you.

Metaphor

I can’t be the only person to have thought it, but Coronavirus really is the most perfect imaginable metaphor for Brexit. It’s an infection whose cause we don’t really understand, whose outcome is uncertain but is at the very least unpleasant and damaging, and whose only certain consequence is self-isolation. What a perfect phrase to describe our new condition! If ever there was an apt mot du jour, this is it.

The great novel using disease as metaphor is of course Camus’ The Plague. I’m sure there is some writer out there sharpening their pencil (or keyboard) at this moment, with a vision of a quarantined and divided community in mind.

Here is a nice landscape from yesterday’s dog walk, before the (non-metaphorical) storm arrived.

Back to the future

Enough of politics (almost); I thought I would comfort myself by taking a longer view, and spending a little time considering the Neolithic age. I don’t remember visiting Silbury Hill since we climbed it as a family towards the end of the fifties (and probably picnicked on the top).

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Silbury Hill

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Not Silbury Hill

You are now discouraged from climbing it (rightly, in my view) though thankfully there is only the barest suggestion of a fence – a tactful reminder rather than a barrier.

I wanted to visit in winter, since this is when the River Kennet (or Cunnit) reverts to its old course and floods the meadow around the base of the Hill, so that it is reflected in the shallow water.44483This literal isolation seems to return a little of the sacredness the Hill must once have possessed. Nobody knows, of course, what it really meant to its builders or why it was built. However we do know that it was deliberately sited on wet ground, near the source of the river, and also that when first built from rubble and heaped chalk it must have been a dazzling white for many generations, until eventually the grass was left to grow over it. Imagine this vast mound, bone white under a full moon, doubled by its reflection in the surrounding lake. It would have drawn people as Mecca does today.

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Evening, Silbury Hill

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Moonrise, Silbury Hill

The road from London to Bath and Bristol runs beneath the Hill, as it has done since long before the Romans came. Traffic howls past at rush hour but somehow at a remove. The light trails left by a long exposure provide a convenient metaphor for the flicker of our brief histories compared to the more than four thousand years of the mound’s existence. This is a place for perspective.

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Silbury Hill by moonlight, with Venus and light trails

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Moon and Silbury Hill

A shameless act of self-promotion . . .

for which I make only a modest apology. Over the last few years I’ve had a number of small exhibitions, and I have had increasing numbers of visitors asking whether they can buy my images off my website. Well, now they (and you) can, in the form of limited edition prints of some of my favourite pictures, from my Print Store.

Stubble burning, East Anglia 1972

Stubble burning, East Anglia 1972

These are high quality fine art prints on heavyweight paper, in editions strictly limited to 50 at each of the three sizes I am offering. Full information regarding sizes, payment, delivery etc can be found here.

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Winter, Shropshire

New images are being added regularly and prices start at just ¬£50 – I’m sure you’ll find something that will give you pleasure for many years to come. Please contact me if there’s a picture you remember seeing but can’t find on my website.

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Akureyri, Iceland

Ring a Ring o’Roses

And so the endless dance continues, with both our government and the opposition seemingly unaware that, no matter who forms the ring, Brexit remains a circle that cannot be squared. Little has changed since I last posted here over a year ago. Our country is still brutally split. A democracy that ignores the wishes of half the electorate is no democracy. That is true, naturally, on whichever side of the Brexit chasm you stand.

There is a strong sense of injustice, cleverly exploited by those few who stand to gain from Brexit. One cause of this – the huge financial disparities in our society and around the world – is brilliantly analysed in¬†Oliver Bullough’s new book Moneyland. It is a superbly researched account of the incredibly complex ways in which so many of the ultra-wealthy steal and conceal their money. For the slower-witted, such as myself, some of the chapters require reading twice, but it repays the effort. I strongly recommend you buy this book (preferably not from Amazon but from a real bookshop that pays its due taxes in this country).

There will be some kind of a deal, of course, at the last minute. It will satisfy nobody, and is likely to leave the country worse off. Our global influence will wane. Decisions taken in Europe will continue to affect us, but will be made without our involvement. So much for ‘taking back control’.

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What can we do? Keep writing, keep protesting. Make every effort to come to London later this month and let our politicians know that we will be heard. Assemble on Park Lane, north of the Hilton Hotel, on 20 October 2018 from 12pm (midday) and march to Parliament Square. Hundreds of thousands came last year. Let’s make it a million this time. And don’t forget how that playground rhyme ends:

We all fall down

Welcome to Ruritania

Well, here it is – the day that most of the country never expected would come; nor would we have seen it, had more of us bothered to vote. As it is, 17 million people ( many of whom are now regretting their decision) have radically changed the future for the whole 64 million of us. Why did they do it? Frustration and a sense of lacking control, certainly. Undoubtedly bigotry and ignorance motivated some. The majority of my generation (and above) chose to leave, heedless of the wishes of their children and grandchildren. Was it nostalgia for the golden mornings of their lives, when half the map was still, just, coloured pink? You might be forgiven for thinking so, when our ridiculous Foreign Secretary is seriously proposing the purchase of a new toy yacht for our toy royal family. In our Houses of Parliament, with their mock-medieval fantasy architecture, our toy MPs (with a number of honourable exceptions, I’m pleased to say) vote dutifully according to the wishes of our toy Prime Minister, herself bobbing up and down at the behest of the Daily Mail. We want to feel important once again? Let’s have some very expensive submarines fitted with nuclear weapons – alas, no toys these. Meanwhile the adults on the other side of the Channel continue to battle against the resurgent forces of neo-fascism and authoritarianism, while trying to cope with an ever rising tide of refugees. But what does that matter? These aren’t our problems any more, are they? For the next two years we shall hold the proud position of Europe’s stupidest country. But none of this matters, so long as the Tory Party can be kept united and in power. We were once a successful manufacturing economy. A previous Tory administration did away with much of that, preferring instead to make London into the financial centre of Europe. Well, that is going to disappear too – to Dublin, to Strasbourg, perhaps even to an independent Scotland – and what will be left to us then? A country that is not so much split as fragmented, however much May pleads for unity.

Along with well over 100,000 others I marched last Saturday to mark the EU’s 60th anniversary and to celebrate the peace it has maintained for over two generations. There was much sympathy from onlookers. We laid flowers and held a minute’s silence in memory of those recently killed and injured by a British-born madman, before hearing a series of passionate speeches. These were not solely by politicians, but also by students, NHS workers, immigrants and representatives from the rest of Europe. This was where true unity lay, among people who could not be more diverse but shared their aspirations for the common good.

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From time to time we hear the Brexiteer’s jeering taunt “you lost – get over it”. The answer is “Yes, we lost – and so did you, so will your children and so has Europe”. We will not ‘get over it’, however. If you haven’t already, join one of these organisations and fight on.

Rough Beasts

I really didn’t want to do another political post – but there are those in positions of power and influence in Britain acting with terrifying irresponsibility and silence does not seem an option. The front pages below say it all.

This foul rag, bigoted, racist and homophobic, spews its poison across our nation. Shame on anyone who works for it, or for its equally repellent if coarser bedfellow, the Daily Express. Paul Dacre, the editor, is not an uneducated man. He knows the power of words and can scarcely be ignorant of the fact that this phrase was regularly used by both Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung, as well as Hitler. There are moments when I do not recognise my own country – a popular newspaper using Nazi phraseology to condemn judges for upholding the law, a Lord Chancellor failing in her sworn duty to support the independence of the judiciary, and Farage, a rabble-rousing demagogue threatening violence on the streets if he does not get his way.

I have to remind myself that the vast majority of my fellow citizens are ordinary decent people (though not in Farage’s understanding of the words) who believe in parliamentary democracy, in the primacy of the law, and who would if allowed generously welcome refugees and the dispossessed from other lands. They – we – may or may not support Britain’s membership of the EU; there are valid arguments for both positions. Whatever our feelings on that subject, we are one when we support and display common humanity and basic decency in our words and actions. It may be that a time is coming when we all have to stand up and be counted.

Yeats’ famous poem, The Second Coming, has allegedly been quoted more often in 2016 than in any of the previous thirty years. I make no apologies for adding to this statistic.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

ADDENDUM: Having just heard the appalling election news from America, I would not change a word of the above. We are in a dark place.

A FURTHER UPDATE: Why not stand up for civilisation and sign the world’s letter to Trump? Sign here

OS

Tigress (2013)

Tigress (2013)

OS opened here a couple of days ago, and seems to have aroused some interest. It’s the start of a collaborative exercise with the poet Liz Lefroy and covers several themes, though the pictures are all still-lives. Despite a number of requests I shall not be putting them online, apart from the title image above. They are intended to be seen as tangible objects, printed to a specific size, mounted in a particular way and viewed, thoughtfully, in the context of a gallery. What’s the digital alternative? – a flow of electrons to screens of unknown size and uncalibrated colour in some distant country, where the pictures might just possibly be given a passing glance, should they even surface among the great deluge of images washing around the Web. So my apologies to those who are prevented by distance from visiting the show – but wherever you live there are makers and artists whose work can and should be seen in glorious three-dimensional reality.

The exhibition is at The Workhouse Gallery, Presteigne and runs until the end of this month, open most days including this Sunday. It’s also open on Bank Holiday Monday, when at 11am Liz Lefroy will be reading from her new work as part of the Presteigne Festival. Tickets available here or on the door – further information to be found here. UPDATE – the talk sold out and the gallery was packed, with many interesting points raised during the morning – thanks to all who came! (and apologies to those who couldn’t get in)

The Workhouse Gallery

The Workhouse Gallery (and photographer)

And finally a little late summer colour to relieve the sombre tones of this post

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Going, going . . .

It’s not every day you see the equivalent of a cathedral being flattened, so when I found myself an hour’s drive from Didcot last Saturday evening, I was immediately on my way. Three of the famous cooling towers were due to go the following morning. Like many people I’ve always considered them beautiful structures – that lovely sexy curve at their waists! – which enhance the landscapes in which they are set. They can quite legitimately be compared with cathedrals; their architect, Frederick Gibberd, was also responsible for Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (Paddy’s Wigwam to the irreverent).

I reached Didcot after sunset, and eventually found a position on a railway bridge with a fine view, about a quarter of a mile away. The towers could still be seen in the last of the light.

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The bridge dates to the earliest days of the Great Western Railway, and is itself soon to be demolished and rebuilt. This place had seen the birth of a new technology, and here we were to witness the passing of an outmoded one.

The demolition company had taken the unpopular decision to destroy the towers during the hours of darkness, hoping to discourage spectators. However Didcot was not to be deprived of its fun, and within an hour my railway bridge was packed. So was every other viewpoint in the town, as well as the Ridgeway where at least a thousand people held vigil – or rather an all-night party.

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About midnight the towers were illuminated – for safety rather than for our benefit.

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It was to be a long night. All anyone knew was that demolition was scheduled some time between 3am and 5.30am. We chatted, shared coffee and chocolate, read and gazed at the towers. I thought of the crowds who must similarly have gathered during the dissolution of the monasteries, watching as another set of old certainties were buried under the falling masonry. Four o’clock – a possible time for the blast – came and went. We watched the railway workers preparing to clear up debris. For once First Great Western might have a reasonable excuse for delay – ‘cooling towers all over the line’.

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Five o’clock, and a grey dawn. Suddenly the middle tower appeared to slip quietly sideways, and an instant later we heard and felt three huge blasts. As each tower collapsed in on itself it blew a series of colossal smoke rings in its own shape, which hung for a moment in the air.

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The middle tower lit red by an explosion

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The view vanished into what looked like a sandstorm. Those of us with (expensive) cameras ran for the shelter of their cars, and in a couple of minutes little could be seen except streetlights glowing through the dust cloud.

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You wait ages for a blog . . .

. . . and then two come along at once. It’s been such a long time since my last post, back in May, that I think I’ll have to publish in instalments. That amazing summer is now just a memory of lazy evenings after work spent by and in the river, and meals in the garden.

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summer evening by the Lugg

Wonderful working weather, too. But before starting on that, the significant (to us) news is that we are not moving. Our house sale fell through at the very last instant, which gave us the chance to look at where we stand in a new light – and behold, it wasn’t so bad after all. In fact we’ve had all the fun of moving somewhere new without actually going anywhere. Now back to some pictures. A good spread of stories this summer, stretching from Marc Swan’s extraordinary ‘showman’s ship’ (seen here proudly floating among the Herefordshire hills)

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Sir Joseph Swan

to, among others, Dorian Bowen’s intimate reconstruction of a Welsh ‘Ty Unnos’ or one-night house

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Ty Unnos

What else? It seems to have been relentless, in a good way. Some wonderful shows, notably Salgado’s Genesis, perhaps the best exhibition I’ve ever seen. (Not to be missed either is Tony Ray-Jones at the Science Museum – Only in England). Parties, weddings, work – no holiday, but then who needs one of those in this glorious climate? A trip to the fantastic NoFitState Circus was followed the next day by a team of tree surgeons in the garden doing much the same sort of thing, but with added chainsaws

Alex Ramsay

Enough for the time being, before I ramble further. More next week.

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