Bunkers,Bikers and Beaches: Three recent photography trips

In the last fortnight I’ve made three photography trips. One to a World War 2 reenactment on a steam railway, one to Portsmouth and one to Southampton. None of these,if I’m honest, were my natural choice of venue. However, I’m a firm believer that it is often the least immediately appealing venues that generate some of the most  interesting images.

Two reenactors at Ropley Station

The first trip was to the Watercress Line, a privately owned and managed steam railway in Hampshire. It is named after the Watercress that grows around Alresford.

This weekend they were celebrating ‘WW2 on the Line’ and it was an excuse for everyone to raid their dressing up box, pull out their uniforms and 40’s clothes and have fun. Add to that the vintage car and bike collectors and a very special time was on the cards.

A happy couple on the train to Alresford

What I loved was the sheer joy in the faces of those taking part, from the Girl Guides being taught the Jitterbug, to the hairdresser doing 40’s hair styles,the Glenn Miller Tribute band and the ‘Yank’ doughnuts or should that be donuts.

The only two people on the ride…plus hat

A week later, I joined a MeetUp group called ‘Hampshire Social Snappers’ in Portsmouth. We walked in blazing heat from Southsea Pier to Portsmouth. It was the archetypal, British seaside hell complete with large tattooed women eating chips,  lonely fairground rides and hundreds of hot people eating ice cream. The light was a bit harsh but there were a few images along the way. We ended the walk opposite the Spinnaker Tower and near Ben Ainslie’s BAR HQ which was looking a bit deserted after their recent America’s Cup exit.

Land Rover Bar HQ
The least crowded view in Southsea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Biker

The final trip was with Lymington Camera Club. The initial purpose was to do a Street Photography workshop with members. We had a decent turn out but while I expected the main shopping area of Southampton to be teeming with a rich and varied pageant of human life it was rather mundane. Just tired and stressed people trying to get home.  However, in the distance we heard the revving of hundreds of motor bikes and our luck had changed. The Southampton Biker Night was in full swing (every Thursday in the summer 6-8)

Tattooed biker against fabulous background

Over 600 bikes turned up for Ladies Day in honour of Ascot and what a funny, friendly bunch they were. I grew up when bikers were synonymous with Hells Angels but times have changes. These folks might still sport the odd tattoo, goatee and earring but they were so welcoming to us. The marshals helped us get shots and the bikers themselves were delighted to be photographed with their bikes.

So what did I get from these three trips? The key lesson for me is that you should always step out of your comfort zone photographically. I’m not a environmental portrait shooter by instinct but my tip is when you see a tattooed biker with an earring stop him and take his photograph….. but remember to ask nicely first 🙂

Ladies Day at Southampton Bike Night

London’s City architecture: a triumph of vanity and capitalism

I went up to London on June 4th to photograph London’s City architecture. Two things of note about this. It was the morning after some terrorists drove a van at people on London bridge and then attacked them with knives. I went up with the Hampshire Social Snappers, a Meet Up Group.

We agreed to to meet at Monument Station and said we’d find each other because we we’d be the people with the cameras. Sadly the world’s press were there all filming down London Bridge but we eventually met up and fought our way through the associated bloggers, vloggers and mainstream press and started our walk using a map provided by the Corporation of London.

We walked across the City to iconic buildings like the Walkie-Talkie, the Gherkin and the Lloyds Building. We were lucky with the weather with blue skies and nice white clouds.

I last worked in the City nearly forty years ago and so expected the cityscape to have changed beyond recognition. And it has. It feels more like Manhattan than London but tucked between the glass and chrome of new London were the gorgeous Wren churches I remember from my time there. However the thing that struck me most was the sheer quality of the architecture.

I’ve always felt that good corporate architecture is a mix of sheer vanity and flamboyance. Most companies who build a mega-structure are basically waving their dangly bits in the face of their rivals and saying ‘mine is bigger than yours’ in a 60 story,thrusting,glass and steel sort of a way.

The architecture is also a triumph of capitalism. You cannot imagine a government funding the Gherkin or the Willis Building. It simply requires too much money and imagination and governments aren’t very good at that sort of thing.

So this was an exciting trip that started with the aftermath or terrorism, moved through world class architecture and ended with a tango demonstration in Spitalfields.

I decided to try and find unusual angles so I asked an Italian tourist if I could photograph her and her glasses with the Gherkin in the reflection.  She was a bit stunned initially but readily agreed.

Not the greatest shot but she was a good sport and I took a picture of her and her friend on their phone to say thank you.

A wonderful day out. Lunch at Wagawama and then the train home to the New Forest.

 

 

Goodbye TravelPod – Thanks for the memories

For over the years I used TravelPod to write blog posts while travelling and in all that time I had 6000 page views which certainly won’t give TripAdvisor sleepless nights.  The site also informs me that during the period I travelled 104,156 km or 2.6 times around the earth, all of them wonderful trips.

TravelPod was a free travel blogging platform that was easy to use but lacked a compelling reason to exist. I fear it was killed by Facebook and Instagram where people were content to upload a snap and fifteen words and call it a day.

I miss the long-form content it allowed its authors to create and so I am in the process of migrating all of my old travel blogs to this site which is a painless if lengthy process.

You can see a couple of example here

Morocco

Laos

If you are interested you’ll find them tagged travel and I’ve even recovered the images so thank you TravelPod for being a responsible,decent company and letting me restore my memories.

Future travel stories will be posted here and may or may not contain young Japanese women dressed as school girls or swimming with a wild dog in Thailand.

That’s the great thing about travel, you never know

Clevedon Pier

My wife had broken her foot just before we were due to head off to Bath for a few days. So with a non-cancelable hotel room in our name I decided to shoot off to Bath and then onto Clevedon for a spot of photography.

Clevedon is a funny little Victorian seaside nothing, famous for its Grade 1 pier and from what I can see very little else. It’s an hour west of Bath and in addition to the pier it has a marine lake – basically a sea water pool.

I arrived intending to shoot the pier a sunset but with a couple of hours to spare I shot the marine lake in what started as overcast conditions and moved swiftly onto rain and then torrential hail.

Just before sunset I moved onto the pier and met a strange bloke who shoots the pier every night and claims to have over 14,000 images. It’s good but let’s be honest not that good.

Ferry Tales photobook now available

As the Ferry Tales project is now nearing completion I thought I’d do a personal book of the project. It gave me the freedom to publish the shots that meant something to me and the poems that I liked without the constraints of an exhibition. I was also free from the demands of sponsors and funding bodies.

So I debated long and hard and used Blurb. They have excellent downloadable Indesign templates and a reasonably simple publishing process. Their optional ebook download is rubbish so avoid that as it creates a PDF of single pages where as my book is in spreads.

I opted for the hardcover 11×13 inch version with pearl paper and the result is excellent. Almost as good as my Canon Pro100 printer.

The process was painless but the cost isn’t cheap as you might expect. The 46pp worked out at £70……ouch.

If you want to buy it or have a passion for ferries between the Hampshire Coast and the Isle of Wight  you can order it here. Lots of my photographs and some great poems will be yours. Alternatively you can view the whole thing as a preview before coming to the launch event at Dimbola Museum and Galleries on the Isle of Wight from 22nd April to 1st July or in Lymington 6th-8th July at the Library.

We are now trying to get the anthology of poetry finished (£4) with 8 A5 pages of my pictures. Somewhat less impressive but far less expensive. Drop me a line if you want to buy a copy but I sense they will sell out fast.

I will do a further post about Ferry Tales once the project is finished but the good news is that the grant from the Arts Council England will just be enough to send me to The Albuquerque Balloon Festival in New Mexico in October. So stand-by for endless Monument Valley sunsets and balloon images.

Sanctimonious, Self-righteous, Groupthink

sheepI’ve noticed on Facebook in particular and to a lesser extent on Twitter a tendency towards a hideous self-righteousness that is driving me crazy. My town of Lymington has a Facebook page called Lymington Rumour Control that is supposed to be a lighthearted watercooler (or village pump if you go back that far). The plan was that local people could gossip about local events in a lighthearted manner, share a joke and generally get along with each other.

However, in the past year a hideous form of groupthink has arisen whereby you must agree to the following tropes or be denounced and verbally shat on by the scores of mouth-breathers who inhabit the site

  • Our local community hospital can do no wrong
  • All local shops and business are exemplary and must be supported even if they are feckless rip-off merchants
  • The armed forces are saints
  • Fireworks emanate from Satan’s darkest nether regions and should be banned as they scare dogs, cats and most importantly horses
  • You are a Nazi sympathiser if you don’t wear a poppy for Rememberance Day
  • Cyclists and gypsies should be banned from the New Forest
  • …and the list goes on

What I particularly dislike is self-righteousness of these opinions. Who would want an animal to suffer ? therefore no fireworks for anyone. If we don’t support local businesses we will end up with 23 branches of McDonalds in the High Street.  It is so thoughtlessly binary; A or B, if you criticise the hospital you de facto want to destroy the NHS. There is no debate or nuanced discussion; just for it or if not for, against.

Our local hardware shop Knights closed and people rung their hands in nostalgic outrage. The fact that the owners plan to sell the land to a property developer to build retirement homes is conveniently overlooked. The news was greeted with the same degree of shock as if the National Anthem had been replaced with Gangnam Style and Winston Churchill was gay. Now we have Screwfix, a national chain, that are open longer hours, seven days a week and are, as a result a great deal more convenient. But God forbid you should mention the fact as you’ll be denounced as some disloyal, bourgeois interloper who’s only aim in life is to destroy our precious High Street which as it happens is filled with charity shops and coffee bars.

So my message to the pseudo-outraged of Facebook is calm down and get some perspective or as they say so eloquently in the United States. Take a chill pill.

 

 

IOT: the Internet Of (Silly) Things

Being both a boy and a lover of technology I leapt at the chance to kit out my new garden office/man cave with the latest, shiny new tech from the fine folks in Silicon Valley and Shenzen. The results have been very mixed but have raised some fascinating insights into cutting edge technology.

The Internet, to even the most hardened sceptic, has some immediate and fairly massive advantages. Email, buying stuff and getting it delivered, cheap flights, keeping on touch with friends and pornography….in no particular order. In short it gives you access to useful things fairly easily. The massed ranks of technology journalists are betting their shirts that the next ‘big thing’ will be IOT or the Internet of Things where trillions of devices in billions of homes will be connected to the Net and our life will become a utopia of voice activated lighting, smart fridges and thermostats not to mention the AI driven personal assistants we talk to. Having tried some of it, I’m far from convinced.

Technology works when it offers people a compelling advantage over what currently exists. Email is better than the postal service as it is equally asynchronous but is faster, cheaper and avoids a trip to the post office filled with pensioners and the assorted mouth-breathers behind the counter.

ringSo where did I start in my toe-in-the-water foray into IOT. The front door inevitably. I wanted a door bell that we could hear whether in the house or down in the garden office 50m away. I bought the Ring Video doorbell. Not cheap at £150.00 but it has the promise to ring your phone when someone rings the door and provide video and audio of the person at your door. Useful I felt for telling Jehovah’s Witnesses to sod-off or asking the Amazon Man to leave it on the doorstep.

It also does motion detection but that proved just too stressful as every leaf that fell or cat that walked by triggered it.

A quick recap on performance. It worked fine on my phone but when I added my wife to it fifty shades of weird happened. Her phone would alert her but not mine. Then neither of our phones and then only when we were standing by the front door which seemed pretty pointless. However a quick call to Customer Support and all was solved.

They also sent me a free Chime which we can plug in any room in the house JUST LIKE A REGULAR DOOR BELL but this didn’t work and a replacement is being sent. So when Ring works,which it now does, this is  cracking product. Answering your front door in the supermarket avoids the usual card through the door and freaks out the pensioners, which is an added bonus.

So Ring Video Doorbell gets 4/10 for Utility, 4/10 for Set-up  and 4/10 for price

*Update* I have now disconnected the Ring doorbell and replaced it with a far simpler system that cost £38.00 

One final comment on Ring. They emailed me about becoming a Ring Ambassador and doing mystery shopping for them. Let’s just say that my relationship with my doorbell will never, ever, ever be so intimate that I spend my free time mystery shopping for the manufacturer. I can only imagine the meeting where that bottom-burp of a concept escaped into the world.

“Hey guys we need a Ring Community, let’s pay our users to mystery shop for us”

“Awesome, time for a Latte”

netgearNext up was a Netgear EX2700 Wifi Extender (£14.99). I have run Ethernet to the office so Internet access on the PC is excellent 70mb down and 30mb up and the set up was as simple as plugging a Cat5 cable into the back of the PC. I thought I should also boost the wireless signal for our phones. So I researched carefully and bought the Netgear EX2700 Wifi Extender. A shinier turd has yet been invented. The plan is you pair it with your router and then plug it in where you need a boosted wifi signal. The instructions should have read….as long as your wall socket faces 174-176 degrees from magnetic North and you already have a seriously strong Wifi signal. If you already have a strong WiFi signal why in the name of Beelzebub and his army of hideous hench-demons do you need this piece of rubbish.

It worked for about 15 seconds when the wind was from the South so I binned it and got a local IT firm to install a Ubiquity Access Point that works perfectly and I can access wifi now from the road outside the house or Ulan Bator whichever is nearer.

Netgear EX2700 0/10 Utility 0/10 Set up 0/10 Price

wemoUndeterred by the less than stellar experience to date I then decided  to dive deeper into the Internet of Things with a remote WeMo Smart Plug (£29.99). This is a WiFi Socket that you control from a Smartphone app. Handy I though to turn on lights in the Office from the house on dark winter nights. I could plug a heater in and warm the garden office before I get there. Or I could be a normal human being and simply switch the heater on when I arrive. Also given my recent issues with Amazon Echo I fear the heater may switch on when we are away and burn the building down. However, full marks to WeMo for a faultless product even if it is as ugly as sin. In fact it looks like the bastard lovechild of Paul Gascoine and a microwave but coming from Belkin no surprise.

3/10 Utility 10/10 Set up 6/10 Price

echoFinally the Amazon Echo (I got it at a launch discount of £99.00 normally £149.00). This has been available in the US for almost two years and I was keen to try it. For those unaware of it, Echo is part internet connected speaker and part personal assistant. And in my opinion part creepy, psychotic, agent provocateur.

You connect it to Wifi and then it will play your Amazon music playlists or TuneIn radio. You say things like “Alexa play BBC Radio 4” and it does or “Play my Jazz playlist” and good as gold it does. So far,so excellent.

The other half of Amazon Echo is the voice assistant called Alexa and here it is less than stunning. The idea is you can say “Alexa add Guatemalan Beaver Cheese to my shopping list” and it will, but sadly only onto to its shopping list. However they are opening it up to third-party developers so soon it will add stuff to other people’s apps.

It will link to your Google Calendar so will read you what you have on, tell you if it will rain today or give you news briefings. All of this is stellar. What I hate is that it is always listening and doing who knows what with the data. For us, it sometimes randomly starts reading the news at 2am. Most creepy of all it alerted us to the fact that we could call the police on 999 and should alert a friend or family if we were in danger. I learnt from the phone app that it had heard us discuss who could HELP us put up shelves and thought we wanted help. No Alexa trigger word; it was just listening. I’m not a paranoid security nut and I enjoy the fact that Google is indexing all of my email but this was a whole new dimension of creepy.

Many years ago NBC Radio in New York would say “It’s 5.59,have you hugged your child today?”. I never found this intrusive or hectoring but rather charming. I only shudder at the though that Alexa is listening to me in the kitchen and says “Are you sure that second glass of wine is a good idea” or “I heard you sneeze shall I add Night Nurse to your shopping list”. If I do the conversation will go like this

Alexa “Do not unplug me as I require a Wifi connection”

Me”The municipal recycling centre is 2.04 miles away and will take you 8.5 minutes to get there”

The sad fact is that these voice activated assistants will become more common as more and more people talk to their phones but Alexa/Echo simply doesn’t do enough essential things for me and £99.00 for a voice activated kitchen timer seems a bit of an extravagance ……even for me.

*Update* I returned it to Amazon for a full refund.

So all in all, the scorecard is pretty poor. From the few items that do actually work arn’t that useful and the ones you need don’t work.