Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A little more Cambridge

I ate my lunch on Christmas Eve overlooking King's College, with the BBC van pulled up outside, waiting to relay the service of nine lessons and carols. And the choral scholar at the next table - all very festive. It was a lovely day for photography, and there was one moment when I had to abandon my artisan sausage and mushroom sauce to run outside and capture a particularly nice moment of light on the gatehouse of King's, against some darker purplish clouds. I think my parents probably stole some of my chips while I was out on the pavement, but I felt it was worth it for the lovely colours.

Throughout the day the winter light had been ideal, making quite ordinary details look lovely.

And I had a bit of fun discussing with a new elderly man friend how best to capture myself and King's in a bauble in the window of the sweetie shop opposite.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Cambridge Christmas

My connections with Cambridge go back a long way. I first visited as a seven-year-old, travelling for a special holiday with my cousin to visit my auntie, for whom we'd both been bridesmaids the previous year. Apparently the two of us just read our books the whole time and were generally not very entertaining guests. I do remember liking Cambridge a lot, especially the baby turtles for sale in the market. Much to our annoyance, our auntie didn't allow us to buy turtles to take home on the plane.

As a seventeen-year-old, I applied to study at Cambridge, and I was mightily impressed by my visits there for interview. I felt that it was just the sort of place where I'd flourish as an intellectual. Sadly, the interviewers, having heard my clueless answers to quite a range of music history questions, felt that I would flourish better in some other university altogether.

One of my brothers impressed his interviewers somewhat more and spent a heady three years at King's - an excellent place to visit - and further time working in the city. And now my sister and my parents live nearby and I visit frequently.

This year I spent the morning of Christmas Eve, beautifully bright and fresh, wandering through the city with my camera. I joined my parents for lunch on King's Parade, dining at a table next to one of the choral scholars from Kings, who was meeting his family before singing the service of nine lessons and carols. I tried fairly hard not to eavesdrop too much, but the talk was a little bit fascinating...

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Venice: twenty-year flashback

I've had fun this week going through some of my old black and white film negatives. These ones were taken in Venice in the early nineties on a vintage Yashica, and it's interesting to me to see what's changed about my photographic style since then and what is essentially still the same.

This was my first trip to Venice. I'd travelled by train from Florence, and I can clearly remember standing in a quiet square somewhere in San Polo with tears running down my face because it was all just so beautiful. I knew exactly what it was going to look like, but seeing it in real life was overwhelming.

Since then I've returned to Venice quite a few times, learned to speak Italian and visited many other places in Italy. I still love it, but it'll be difficult to beat the specialness of that first time.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A plaster nativity

I found this today at the Ulster Folk Museum, one of my favourite local places to visit. It's in the chapel, which is the church of St John the Baptist, originally from Drumcree and dating back to 1783.

The vintage plaster figures are arranged on a bed of straw in front of an early nineteenth century memorial stone. I think they're beautiful -  a reminder of a time and a mindset when, for good or ill, people whose own homes were bare and bleak invested money and effort in decorating their churches and chapels.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Muralise #1

Belfast is famous for its murals. The walls of the city can and do talk. I don't always agree with everything they say, but that doesn't stop it from being fascinating.

The other day I was up the Falls Road looking at a mural of Kieran Nugent. I was struck by the way in the which the artist had captured the expression in his eyes.

And I thought it might be interesting to capture the eyes of characters from a number of murals and group them together, as a testament to the humanity and vulnerability of the people portrayed. 

This first set of five is taken from a range of murals, political and cultural, shot in east and west Belfast. Abstracted from their contexts, I don't think you can tell which are the eyes of the hunger striker and which are the eyes of the celebrated author. Or can you?

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Winter gardening

My tiny garden looks dead now. But it's only sleeping, and there's something poetic about its messy corners in the thin December light.

Closed Bells (Medbh McGuckian, 2004)

Frost hollows
small areas of leaf
in gardenless
Wounded by the thought
of nests expanding,
they inspire
devotion of a sort,
using this world
as if not
using it to the full,
a risky limbo.
Front action
on the loose-fitting stones
and frost-broken rock
over-divides itself
and puts the spent hops
with their pinch
of old seed
off flowering.
Rust will devote itself
entirely to
that ringingly taut
and ample root,
though they will come
into flower
a close grey spring
if you study
your windswept window
bearing their colours in mind
that would find the move
too much
if they did not
answer to this blue
found between the bones:
movement towards
a touch, with two
five-nerved lips
reflexed to form a star,
or one indistinct nerve
erect and desirable
in your violet throat

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Inspirations #2

Walker Evans: Squeakie Burroughs Asleep, Hale County, Alabama, 1936

... the name "Squeakie" ... the printed, frayed cloth ... the horrified wondering whether the cloth is actually a shroud ... the perfectly angled pillows ... the tiny moment, tiny scene, paying witness to a whole era ... beauty in poverty, without condescension ...

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Seaweed at Kearney

I went to Kearney last weekend hoping to capture some wildflowers on the beach in the lovely light of the low winter sun. But it seems that not many seaside flowers bloom in December. Oops.

So I turned my attention to what was there on the beach in abundance - seaweed. I have a love-hate relationship with the stuff. The texture is hideous, and I can't bear to walk on it. But at the same time it's beautiful, and there's something cool about the idea of that huge range of vegetation growing under the sea.

The more closely I looked, the more I came to appreciate the sculptural qualities of the Kearney seaweed and its characteristic range of colours. These are some of my favourite shots.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Smithfield seven

Smithfield... how I wish I'd seen it in its heyday. It was the sort of district I love to explore in other cities, but its body went up in flames in the early 70s. Its soul appears only in occasional glimpses. Sidelong, as Ciaran Carson would say.

Old Smithfield, from Joe Graham's great site exploring old Belfast

Smithfield Market (Ciaran Carson)

Sidelong to the arcade, the glassed-in April cloud – fleeting, pewter-edged -
Gets lost in shadowed aisles and inlets, branching into passages, into cul -de-sacs,
Stalls, compartments, alcoves. Everything unstitched, unravelled – mouldy fabric,
Rusted heaps of nuts and bolts, electrical spare parts: the ammunition dump
In miniature. Maggots seethe between the ribs and corrugations.

Since everything went up in smoke, no entrances, no exits.
But as the charred beams hissed and flickered, I glimpsed a map of Belfast
In the ruins: obliterated streets, the faint impression of a key
Something many-toothed, elaborate, stirred briefly in the labyrinth.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Inspirations #1

Dorothea Lange: Leaving Church, Toquerville, Utah (1953)

... the beauty of these 1950s women ... their dresses ... the natural light ... the smallest girl, in the middle, looking at the photographer ... the perfect composition of the image ... the familiar activity of church-going ... the relationship, perhaps not entirely easy, between the photographer and the subjects ... the thought that some of these women are probably still alive...

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Shankill dozen

Visiting the Shankill Road in November, I hear voices from the past calling from every direction. From the Somme memorials. The ancient graveyard. The graffitied RIPs. The memorials to Troubles victims. The murals of historical characters. 

Amidst the disturbance of their calls, the living go about their business, walking their dogs, eating an egg soda, buying some braising steak, wishing each other happy birthday.

It's a place where the layers of the past are clearly visible. You can see the Victorian splendour and utility behind today's decay. The eighteenth century is just a little out of focus, the sixteenth becoming hazy. We're walking this road together with those who trod it earlier, simultaneously mysterious and entirely without mystery.

Wounds (Michael Longley, 1973)
Here are two pictures from my father’s head —
I have kept them like secrets until now:
First, the Ulster Division at the Somme
Going over the top with ‘Fuck the Pope!’
‘No Surrender!’: a boy about to die,
Screaming ‘Give ’em one for the Shankill!’
‘Wilder than Gurkhas’ were my father’s words
Of admiration and bewilderment.
Next comes the London-Scottish padre
Resettling kilts with his swagger-stick,
With a stylish backhand and a prayer.
Over a landscape of dead buttocks
My father followed him for fifty years.
At last, a belated casualty,
He said — lead traces flaring till they hurt —
‘I am dying for King and Country, slowly.’
I touched his hand, his thin head I touched.