Saturday, 27 June 2015

Grandpa's contact sheets: rural life

I first blogged back in February about the box of contact sheets from my grandfather, Ernest Elliott, that I'd been scanning and preserving. In that post I showed some of his portraits of older people (check them out here if you'd like to see them), photographed in Portaferry in the 1960s.

Another strong theme running through the images I have is rural life. Grandpa's family business was James Elliott and Co, founded in 1862, an agricultural merchant's supplying local farmers on either side of Strangford Lough. As part of his work he made frequent visits to local farmers. He was a gregarious, friendly man and a good listener, and he clearly won the trust of many of these farmers, who let him photograph them as they went about their work. These images are also from the 1960s, from the Ards Peninsula and Strangford areas.

I don't know if Grandpa realised how many of the agricultural practices he photographed would die out in the years to come. Many of his images show a way of life, fishing and farming which must have been commonplace in Ireland for hundreds of years. More modern life does creep in - there's a lone tractor, for example. But for me, the beauty of these pictures is in the intense hands-on relationship between the farmers and fishermen and their work.

As in my previous post, these are contact sheet images, just intended by Grandpa as indexes and rough guides to what would eventually become carefully developed and cropped, beautifully printed pieces of art. What I'm showing here is imperfect, sometimes spotted by age, sometimes with torn edges. Nevertheless, they have an energy and integrity that  makes them relevant and appealing, both historical documents and moments in the lives of real people.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Belfast in detail: bricks and stones

Some more quirky/gorgeous Belfast details - do you recognise them? Answers at the end of the post....













One: the old Bank of Ireland at the corner of Oxford Street and Ann Street.

Two: the Albert Clock - I always find this a surprisingly contemporary-looking detail.

Three: Hamilton Street, round the corner from Joy Street.

Four: St Anne's Cathedral.

Five: Ten Square, Donegall Square South. This was originally a linen warehouse, which in turn was built on the site of a Georgian terrace.

Six: St Malachy's Convent of Mercy School, Sussex Place, built in 1878, one of my top favourites. Belfast Buildings Trust has plans for the resurrection of this building. (Update, 21 June: I drove past this morning and saw a For Sale sign on the school. I don't know what that means for the BBT project, but I really hope this isn't bad news for this excellent building.)

Seven: Commercial Buildings in Waring Street: its foundation stone was laid in 1819.

Eight: Riddel's Warehouse, Ann Street. This is a really gorgeous building - I'm excited to hear about its imminent restoration.

Nine: the Headline building in Victoria Street, built in 1863 from plans by Thomas Jackson.

Ten: another Albert Clock detail: these angels are gathered admiringly round the Prince's feet. 

Eleven: Ewart's warehouse, Bedford Street. Plus a poster of a little boy, who looks frighteningly similar to how I did at the age of about nine. I definitely needed a more girly haircut...

Twelve: St Patrick's Church, Donegall Street.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Affreca's grey abbey: perspective

I spent this morning becoming progressively more irritable and despondent as I went round the city centre trying to find things I need for my forthcoming holiday. I lost a lens from my sunglasses on the hard floor of Dunne's. I don't seem to have that beach body that apparently I should have been working on for some months. Sunscreen is too expensive. I realised I haven't got my travel insurance yet. It wasn't even slightly enjoyable.

So after lunch I drove down the peninsula to Greyabbey to try to reclaim my good mood. I wandered round the graveyard and the abbey for a couple of hours, sat in the sun, took a few photographs and tried to imagine what it would have been like here in the twelfth century when the Lady Affreca founded her monastery here. I based most of my imaginings on the novel "The Pillars of the Earth", so they may have been over-dramatic but perhaps not so far from the truth.

You really do have to look upwards here to escape the beautifully trimmed lawns, gravel surfaces and explanatory plaques. When you do, you're left with weathered stone and weeds. You have to ignore the over-concreted repairs of the nineteenth century to see the bones of the original buildings and envision the monks at work in the glorious gothic abbey.

The light was beautiful and the daisies and celandines shone out like parables against the old stones. It was quiet and peaceful. It wasn't hard to put all the stuff of the day back into its proper perspective. 

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Playing with prints

I take so many photographs that I couldn't possibly print them all. But when I do have prints made, like this pile of little 5x7s from this weekend, I always think that I should do it more often. Photographs are better in the flesh than languishing on a hard drive (carefully backed up, though, of course). And even more enjoyable spread out on my special £1 Homebase backdrop floor tile.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

The best former seed warehouses in Western Europe

In 1868, two rival Belfast seed merchants moved into their state-of-the-art premises in Victoria Street. William Hastings, their architect, had done them proud with a pair of ornate four-storey semi-detached warehouses from which John Lytle and Samuel McCausland could each keep a close eye on their competitor and present an impression of prosperity and global importance to their customers.

Thanks to some enlightened investment (described by the UAHS), these buildings, which were at one point threatened with demolition, have recently been restored and are now back in business as the gorgeous Malmaison hotel. 

Taken together, the warehouses are an impressive and elegant structure. But what I love best about them is the amazing profusion of stone carvings they carry. These were executed by Thomas Fitzpatrick, who also created the huge figures on the roof of the Ulster Bank in Waring Street (now the Merchant Hotel) and the carvings on the Customs House. 

The Victoria Street carvings were based on drawings by James Kendall. They shine a curious light on the mindset of commercial Belfast of that time. There are some great, simple seedling sculptures on the upper levels, a nice little reference to the owners' trade. I'm very keen on the peering turtles, snakes and birds around No. 34, and on the cool Chinese guy down the side of the building in Marlborough Street. Then on No. 36 there's an excellent set of figures representing the five continents, each with fruit and vegetables to match, demonstrating the imperial reach of Victorian Belfast's importance. To be technical, these figures are half-caryatid pilasters, but I did have to look that up. Everything is carved in the boldest, most vigorous manner. Time has only enhanced their effect, adding bloom, texture and new subtleties of colour. 

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

A bouquet

I'll never stop being fascinated by old buildings. But sometimes a giant bunch of flowers to photograph makes a nice change.