London

52 trees – week forty-three

London Eye, with trees

In the end, there wasn’t much opportunity for photography while I was in London.  Most of my time was taken up with meeting friends and a fair bit of eating and drinking, none of which I’m complaining about at all.  I did intend to use my first day there – which I had on my own – to do some photography, but on pulling my camera out of my bag once I got there, I saw that it was switched on and the battery was completely flat.  Somehow the switch must have moved as I packed it, and the battery had been draining ever since.  No matter – I went to see the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition at the Tate Modern instead, and had a wonderful time there.

However, the next day the friend I was meeting was held up for a while, and so I got an hour or so to take some pictures. There’s nowhere like London for visual stimulation and I’d really have liked to be without time pressure – having to keep checking my watch stopped me from switching off and wasn’t ideal for encouraging those creative moments. I tend to fall back on the obvious shots in this kind of situation, and there can’t be anything more obvious to photograph in that area than the London Eye. There are so many pictures of it around that it’s difficult to think of a different way of shooting it but I found a couple of less obvious shots, one of which didn’t involve trees, and this one that did.

It was still early in the morning and there was a slight, and very welcome coolness in the air as I wandered along the South Bank.  It was one of those perfect summer mornings that you wish could last the whole day, without the relentless heat and humidity that inevitably develops by lunchtime. In the words of ee cummings there was ‘a true, blue, dream of a sky’ and looking up to the sky through the trees I caught this glimpse of the Eye framed by the branches. For me, it epitomised a summer day in the city.

 

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London at dusk

The Shard, London, sunset

Preparing for my course assessment has taken up so much time since the beginning of the year that I haven’t had a chance to sort out any photos I’ve taken during that time.  A few weeks ago I had a teaching job in London – it was the first for quite a long time and it felt great to be back in the saddle again.  We did our usual photo walk round the City, part of which involves going down to the side of the Thames at Billingsgate. There’s lots to see down here – a bit too much photographically, sometimes – but we’re almost always faced with a dull grey-white, completely uninteresting sky.  But this time was different.  It was late afternoon, getting near dusk, and the sky was wonderful, with interesting clouds and sunset colours.

The Shard is one of London’s latest tall building projects and some of my favourite shots from that day are of it.  As I took more and more shots, I found myself including less and less of the building in the frame, and the last shot here is my favourite – not much building and lots of that wonderful sky.  Something else I noticed while in mid-shot was this: there were several planes flying past and I found myself feeling very uncomfortable if I took the shot while they were approaching the building.  Since 9/11, it’s not possible for me to see a plane and a building in this sort of proximity without being reminded.  I wonder if this is the same for everyone?  So in the shot below, I had to wait till the plane was flying away from the building before taking it.

The Shard, London

The Shard, London

I’ve always loved the lampposts at Billingsgate, because they’re topped with little curvy fish to symbolise Billingsgate’s previous role as a fish market.  Normally, because of the boring skies and more daylight than this, they don’t make for much of a photo but this time I managed to get a few decent shots.

Billingsgate lampposts, London

The nearby river-side walkway and the light shining on the water made for another atmospheric shot.

Riverside walkway, The Thames, Billingsgate, London

We moved on after a while to Leadenhall Market – a wonderful place but one that I’ve never felt able to photograph in a way that satisfies me.  One thing I hadn’t noticed before, though, was these air vents.  They look like little creatures to me, perhaps arrived from some other planet.

Air vents, Leadenhall Market, London

It was a weekend of taking photos at dusk. After meeting a friend the next day, I had an hour or so to kill before I went for my train home, so I spent it shooting in Trafalgar Square.  The weather was deteriorating fast, with heavy rain and wind that got stronger by the minute.  I was handholding  – as usual – and didn’t think many of my shots would be free of camera shake.  However, these ones came out fine.  Note the way the flow from the fountains is being blown to one side by the wind.

Fountain and wind, Trafalgar Square, London

Coloured lights, fountain, Trafalgar Square, London

Fountain jets, Trafalgar Square, London

Fountain close-up, Trafalgar Square, London

St Martin in the Fields

St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square

St Martin in the Fields Church steeple, behind Trafalgar Square fountain

I had a welcome teaching break in London last weekend, and I managed to fit in a day with my friend Jill.  We met up in the area around Trafalgar Square, and thought we’d go and have a look in St Martin in the Fields Church, which is very nearby and rather nice inside – or so I’m told, anyway.  I never did get to see it, as when we got there we saw a queue of people all holding tickets made out of red card, and then we spotted a notice saying there was to be a memorial service for Eric Sykes.  Jill suggested we stick around to see if anyone famous turned up, and what do you know, they did!  We spotted June Whitfield, Robert Powell, Richard Stilgoe (you may not know him – he used to do a lot of work with Esther Rantzen many years ago), a very well-known comedy actor whose name we couldn’t remember, Kevin Wateley (from Morse), and best of all, Michael Palin, on whom I have a bit of a big girl’s crush.

We got quite excited and there we were, two middle-aged women, squealing like teenagers every time we saw someone we recognised.  It got me to wondering why it is that even when you hate the whole celebrity cult thing, it’s still really exciting to see someone in real life that you know from film or TV.  And that got me to wondering if it was a bit similar to how you feel when you see a painting or a photograph that you’ve only ever seen in reproduction before.  With these, of course, there’s the fact that you can finally see them in their original size, and with texture present (in the case of paintings), but I think there’s a little bit more to it than that.

I think there’s something in the fact that you don’t totally believe these things exist, in their own right, somewhere out there in the world, and then you finally see something that, say, Turner himself was in contact with and that you could reach out and touch for yourself – if that was allowed.  So when you see an actor in real life, there’s a feeling of ‘wow, they really exist!’ and I could almost have reached out and touched Michael Palin’s sleeve – if that was the sort of thing that respectable middle-aged women were allowed to do.  Whatever the reason, it added a little spark to our day, which was shaping up very nicely already.

All of this aside, outside the church there is a lovely sculpture of a baby boy emerging out of a large lump of stone. The baby is half in, half out of the stone and it reminded me of those rocks you can break in half to reveal an ammonite or other fossil inside.  It was if the stone had been broken in half and revealed this perfect little baby hidden in its interior, still attached by its umbilical cord to the earth from which it’s emerging.  It wasn’t easy to photograph, as the top of the stone was high enough to stop me getting above it, but I did my best.  And with a bit of delving around on the web, I found out that it was created by someone called Mike Chapman, whose website is here. Oddly enough, the website for the church doesn’t even give it a mention.

Stone baby, St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square

Stone baby, St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square

Red lines

Bicycle lane, London

I’m used to seeing yellow ‘no parking’ lines everywhere on our streets, but these red lines are much more unusual.  I thought they looked great with the contrast of the wet tarmac, and the puddles of rain on them.

Drain, London

Double reds, London

Red lines, with yellow, London

But my absolute favourite is this one……..

Red lines, red lights, London

London rain

Umbrellas outside the Bank of EnglandPeople queueing to see inside the Bank of England building, OpenHouseLondon, 2012

London never fails to inspire me. It’s a tiresome place in many ways – the hassle and time involved in getting around it, the uncomfortable humidity of the tube system that slaps you in the face like a hot wet blanket, the carrying of a heavy bag up endless stairs, the crowds of people so wrapped up in their own worlds that they don’t even see you as they push past, the expense of it all – but despite that I love the visual stimulation it offers.  I’ve found nowhere round here that affects me in the same way.

The occasion this time was my first workshop for Hairy Goat in nearly a year. It felt good to be out there again, teaching, helping, feeling as if I had a purpose, and of course, bringing in a little income too.  I was a bit rusty – my explanations weren’t as polished as they could have been, the cameras were new models that I hadn’t seen before and had to figure out how to work, and I felt at times that I was dredging knowledge up from the sticky, muddy depths of my memory – but I think it went well, considering, and everyone seemed happy enough.

They turned out to be a very self-sufficient group and didn’t need much at all in the way of help when we went photo-walking, so I got a lot of opportunity to take pictures.  It was a wet day – a very wet day – but rain can be a gift sometimes and the shots I got owe everything to it.  It always interests me to see how students respond when the weather is bad.  You can see that some of them would rather be somewhere else – anywhere else that was warm and dry – and some of them stoicly soldier on but without really having their hearts in it.   But the ones I always think of as the true photographers get so excited by what they’re seeing that they forget they’re getting wet and cold, and are so absorbed in their photography that they barely notice it.  You just know that they will be the ones that will go on to produce really good work.

I took a lot of pictures and they’ve fallen quite naturally into several different themes. I’m going to start with buildings and people, although these aren’t the shots I’m happiest with.  I also have some great reflection shots, some more to add to my Fallen series, and some involving red parking lines, all of which I’m very chuffed about.   I made myself process these ones first because there were fewer of them to get through, but the others are on their way………

Yellow umbrella, Royal Exhange Square, London

Bank Tube station, London

Phoebe, camera workshop

Wet day, London

Corinna, Beginners workshop, September 2012

December, St Dunstan-in-the-East

Sunlit leaves

It’s that time of year again, when I just don’t feel like taking photos because the light’s so uninspiring and there’s so little colour around. Fortunately I’ve still got a backlog of pictures from just before we moved, and by the time I’ve got this lot sorted out spring will be beginning to make an appearance and I’ll get my mojo back.  There are snowdrops and crocus out already and I can see the buds beginning on the trees, so it won’t be long now.

I’ve written about St Dunstan’s church before (here) and it will always be one of my favourite places to go in London’s City area.  These will be the last shots of it you’ll see for quite a while – I don’t know when I’ll be back there again.  I was lucky enough to get some amazing light the last time I was teaching there back in December, and these shots are the result.  Do you find there are certain places that you just keep going, time and time again, and never tire of photographing?  For me, it’s been this place and Canterbury Cathedral – something about them keeps me coming back for more.  I’m sure access has something to do with it, as the Cathedral was almost on my doorstep, and when I was teaching in London we nearly always went to St Dunstan’s, but it’s not the whole story.  I think there are some places that seem to encourage the art of seeing – where you simply see more photographically than you do in other places – and I’m sure they’re very specific to each person.  I’m wondering which places where I’m living now will become my new favourites.

Creeper

Railings

Red leaves

Sunlit blades of grass

Wall shadow

Sunspot

Stem and stonework

Winter sun

Window, St Dunstan's

Coloured leaves

Pebbles and leaves

Tacita Dean at the Tate Modern

Tacita Dean 1

Still catching up on my backlog of images. These ones are of the Tacita Dean film in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern in London.  For non-UK (and perhaps non-London people too), Tate Modern is housed in what used to be an old power station and it has changing art installations in what was the turbine hall.

I don’t know much about Tacita Dean; I knew the name before I went but not a great deal about what sort of things she’d done.  This film is projected onto the  back wall of the turbine hall, which is a huge area and the film is equally huge and therefore has quite an impact when you see it.  Dean refers to it as a visual poem and that seems like a good description to me; I wouldn’t really know what else to make of it, although I did enjoy it and watched it through several times.  The images and colours are constantly changing and very compelling.  I’m not sure I have a great deal to say about it – certainly nothing very erudite or knowledgeable – but if you’re interested, there’s a Guardian article here that’s quite interesting.  And if you’d like a look at the film itself, youtube has several versions of which this is one – complete with playful children.

I took loads of photos, but of course I had my usual problem of hand-holding in a very dark space so many of them were too blurred to use.  You could go and sit  – or walk round if you liked – in the hall itself and there were lots of children racing around and having fun interacting with the film.  These were the ones that made for the most interesting pictures; partly because of the interaction, but also because they bring home the sheer size of the projected film.

Tacita Dean 3

Tacita Dean 4

Tacita Dean

Tacita Dean 2

And finally, this man was just sitting at the side of the hall in the darkness, totally absorbed in his ipad.  This photo is hopelessly blurred  because of the slow shutter speed I was forced to use, but I kind of like it anyway.

Ipad man

That strange time between Christmas and New Year…..

Arches, Natural History Museum

Another visit to London this week; my friend Corinna was taking a well-deserved break from running her company (Hairy Goat Photography Tours), and we thought we’d have a day out.  It started exceedingly well, with tea and some absurdly good cakes in a small cafe in South Kensington.  Amazingly we managed to sit outside for an hour and a half, which is pretty good going for December.  It did get a bit chilly after a while and we made our way to the Natural History Museum to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

We were a bit taken aback by the fact that the queues just to get into the building were backed up as far as the road, but a security person suggested we try the side entrance.  That was much better and amazingly there was no queue at all for the exhibition itself; most people were on an entertain-the-kids-during-the-school-break mission.

There was some stunningly good photography. Sometimes I forget how much enjoyment there is to be found in photographs that just give huge amounts of visual pleasure.  With all the emphasis in the courses I do on everything having to ‘say’ something or have some deep meaning, it can be a real relief just to look at stuff you simply enjoy looking at.  If you want to see some of it for yourself, have a look at the Natural History Museum’s webpages.  I have to say that the photos don’t look anything like as good there as they do when you see them much larger and  backlit, but you can get some idea.

When we came out, we spent some time photographing the building itself. It’s an amazing building, quite incredible inside, and more like a cathedral than an exhibition space.  On the outside, it’s composed of brick with a kind of pinkish tinge, with blue brickwork inserted in patterns.  It’s a truly fabulous building that’s somehow reminiscent of something that Escher might have drawn.  There was also a small fair and ice rink outside, so we absolutely had to go on the merry-go-round – well you do, don’t you?  Sadly, despite a lot of trying, I failed to get any good shots of people on the ice rink.  There were just too many people to be able to isolate anything interesting and I couldn’t get a fast enough shutter speed anyway.

We rounded off the day very nicely with a Thai meal in a nearby restaurant. It’s a strange sort of time, this hiatus between Christmas and New Year, and I often find it quite difficult and unsettling.  It’s even more so this year because of our forthcoming move,  and I feel I should be busy organising lots of things.  The trouble is that everywhere has closed down for the duration and I’m left floating in limbo for the time being.  It feels like that pause you get on a roller-coaster just as it gets to the top and hesitates before plunging down scarily fast………..

Escalator to the Earth Zone

This escalator takes you up, quite literally, into the Earth Zone.

Bridge, Natural History Museum

Ceiling, Natural History Museum

Hall, Natural History Museum

Steps, Natural History Museum

Facade, Natural History Museum

Merry go round

Turbanned man and daughter

I loved seeing this man with a turban and his little daughter; they were both having a lot of fun.

Horses, merry go round

The V&A Glass Gallery

Coloured glass vase, V&A

I love the V&A in London! It’s a wonderful place just to wander around and come across interesting things, and even better, they don’t mind you taking photos as long as you don’t use flash.  I went there yesterday with my friend Eileen, who’s a member, and so we were able to use the Members Room for coffee and chatting purposes.  The Members Room is great – a really nice, relaxing, quiet space away from all the bustle and there were only about three people in there when we went.  That might well be because it’s incredibly difficult to find and when you do find it, you go through a door in a mirrored wall which makes it all seem a bit Alice in Wonderland.  I was hoping for a Mad Hatters Tea Party to be going on inside, but it was all disappointingly normal.

To get there you walk through the Glass Gallery, and I found this fabulously coloured glass vase (above).  A close-up made rather a nice abstract.

Colour abstract

There was also this little group of glass men. They look identical from the front, but when you go round the back you see that one of them has rebelled!  I could identify……

Glass men

Rebel

Rebel 2

There was some stunningly beautiful glass, and lots of it, but we’d already spent a little too much time chatting and eating cake and wanted to get to the Photographer’s Gallery while we still had time.  But I managed to get this shot, which reminds me of one of those optical illusions where you either see a vase or two faces, depending on how you look at it.

Symmetry

And the V&A version of a Christmas tree is a little different from usual.  This one was made out of string, some of it bound around small cone shapes.  It made for some interesting shadow patterns.

Christmas tree 2, V&A

Christmas tree, V&A