Friday, April 27, 2012

Drink Entire Against The Madness Of Crowds

Greetings m'Dearios, for 'tis time to straddle your nadger and prepare to gallop across the bacon counter . . . yes, another Weekend FogBlog is upon us and in an unashamedly commercial manouevre, I am going to urge you all to purchase a copy of Ramblin' Syd Rumpo In Concert.
This album of greatness from the 1960's meant one thing in the Sheephouse household . . . Fun.
And yes that is Fun with a Capital F, because such is the genius of it, the sheer eloquence and power of the English language contained therein; the oppulence of innuendo and the mind-bendingly weird words quothed, that should you not laugh at all upon hearing it, you are officially dead.
Remember, this is the record that circa 1965 (as far as I can work out) gave the word GRUNGE to the English language .
It is one of the things that has made your Ol' Uncle Sheephouse who I am today, and I will "tether my nadgers to a grouting pole, because the old grey mare is a grungin' in the meadow" such is my pride at being associated with it.

(To the right of this page you'll find a 'Sheephouse Approved' item. I am sorry to put a blatant plug on something like FB, it is an experiment really . . . for the price of a pint in these parts, you can experience what I am talking about. Ignore the terrible, shameful cover, also I urge you to ignore Track 17 onwards, as they are just supposed vfm add-ons. Up to Track 15 you have the whole album and it is pure comedy Gold.)

Anyway, commercialism out of the way, basically the above had a huge influence on my love of language. I pinched my brother Chris's copy when I was about 8 and never looked back. At that tender age, I couldn't believe anything could ever be as funny, and you know for all the 'sophistication' you supposedly get as you get older, personally, there's still a wee boy happy to play this on a hand-me-down Dansette and listen to it again and again and again, laughing out loud the whole time.
There are still people in the world today who would consider Syd to be too risqué!
So I urge you to laugh in their faces before hitting them on the grommet with a wrought-iron splunger.


This aside into the well-tilled earth of childhood is a way of leading you into the main point of this FB. Basically, a myriad things make up you as a person, but one of the deepest (besides a knowledge of yourself) is a sense of place and it is something we as modern and mobile citizens of the 21st Century have almost lost.
Having lived for so long in a city (and truly being a country boy at heart) sense of place means more to me now than it ever has. It has led me in my photographic adventures to try and find small, quiet places that have a sense of depth to them. That depth of feeling from such places has become a substitute for a longing which entirely takes me back to living in an ancient old cottage in the middle of nowhere with my Mum and Dad. The cottage (and I'll give it its full original name - Three Wells Cottage) was on a site above a steep drop down a riverbank. There were three natural springs on the bank as well as a river and (to me) there was a feeling about the place that it had long been a stop-off point for thirsty travellers. The water from the springs was sweet and good and there were well-trodden paths down the steep incline. I was incredibly lucky - I had a riverbank of some 2 miles to play along, I could walk and talk (to myself) and above all watch and listen. That powerful solitude (and it was incredibly lonesome at times) formed a deep well-spring of feeling for nature within me which I have never lost.
Being city-bound though, it is difficult to fully experience the country life (to say the least!), but as they say, where there's a will there's a way, and in my own inquisitive way, I have discovered places both nearby and further away which sort of have that same quiet solitude to them.
Maybe you are fortunate enough to have discovered such places in your life. They are to you (in a way) secret. It could be a room where you can be alone or a small corner of a field, an old graveyard or a mountain, but wherever it is, it is yours (for a while). It feels good doesn't it!
(Now the following little bit will take us away and on a slightly circular path . . but don't worry fearless FB'ers . . we'll get back on the main path in a minute!)
It was quite the thing in our ancestors day to travel little further than the fields surrounding the village. Some daring souls risked the next town on a market day. Long treks were considered gruelling and dangerous and populations generally stabilised themselves to certain areas. Obviously this all changed with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, and though the said change was inevitable it wasn't necessarily for the better, because something was lost.
I've never read about anyone thinking this way before, but it's my opinion and I'd love to know what you think:
Back in the mid-1990's I started thinking about my ancestors* and how their lives might have been and I realised that with all the movements and upheavels of modern society something incredibly important has been lost to modern man - namely . . .wait for it . . . the hearth.
Now that to you dear reader will sound totally bonkers, but the use of the word hearth doesn't just encompass the actual physical fire-burning centre of homes for millenia, it has become in my mind a concept which encompasses home; the feeling of being at home; somewhere with a rich loam in which one can root one's soul; and, vitally, one's family. My hearth is my family: my wife and my son, they are where I want to be, but strangely and contrary to this too is the feeling that before I die I have to live once more in the countryside, which is where my true roots are. The countryside is also hearth to me.
So, whilst my family and I have to live in the city for work and education, when we escape the hamster wheel we go to quieter places.
One day, God willing, we will uproot ourselves from the city and find somewhere quiet and with a sunny aspect.
But for now, we have to make do and make the efforts to find places that are brimming with solitude.
Places that could be called hearth.


Having a love of hillwalking I have lugged photographic gear to many different places, some barren and wild with no trace of any feeling at all and then, some that are extraordinary.
One of these is below.

(My notebook says: "This is the weirdest most secret place on earth. Can't help feeling that in wading in, I violated it - there is a strong presence to the place that is haunting. I did say thank you though!")

I simply would love to tell you where this is, but you see dear reader I am being selfish, and I cannot. It is not far from where I live, but it is a convoluted journey. Wending your way along quiet and ever-narrowing lanes you really feel like you are heading into the depths of nowhere. The crazy thing is, it is a popular destination for visitors of a Vibram wearing persuasion**, and yet I wonder how many have actually seen the place like this.
I have visited it in all sorts of weather, from bright sun, to mist and slight snow, hard perma-frost, to high white cloud cover, and every time it has looked different. It is a very secret place. To me I can well imagine it being a spot where the spirits of nature were worshipped in ancient times - it simply has that feel to it. Being there in the early morning, and hearing the sound of rushing water, it is quite easy to be carried back millenia.
The photo was made with my beloved Rolleiflex in early October. I was knee deep in icy mountain water but I didn't care. The Rollei was on a tripod, and the tripod took days to dry out properly, but it was worth it. I had no towel with me so ended up removing my trousers and drying my feet on them!
I think the spirit of the place has been captured sufficiently on a humble roll of Ilford FP4+.
It is a full-frame photograph, no cropping and the FP4+ was rated at EI 64 and developed in 1:3 Ilford Perceptol.
I wish I could use FP4+ more often these days as it is an incredible film, and especially so with Perceptol.
The print is un-retouched and was made on Grade 2 Ilford Galerie, developed in Moersch Eco print developer.

* Inspired by a marvellous short story from the Master . . Mr.Frank Herbert.
If all you've ever read by Frank is Dune and the billion awful follow-ups to the original genius novel then I highly recommend reading his other books!
** Hillwalkers

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Divisive Moment

Good morning fellow sailors on the seas of fate (oh how I loved Michael Moorcock when I was young). This weekend's super-tooty, nice n' fruity Weekend FogBlog is about capturing a photograph where all is not quite what it seems.
Our lab-rat primed pinned down and ready for dissection is a photograph by my Dad - Charles Rogers. 
There is something very unusual about this photograph, which eluded me for a while, until I realised that proportions-wise, he wasn't using the Instamatic!
I know, your teeth have shot across the room and lodged in your partner's copy of the FT haven't they?
Yeah mine did the same too.
So what the hell was he using? Well, it was either the old 127 Brownie that seemed to be kicking around our house all of my life, but more than likely (knowing Dad) he will have borrowed my Uncle Trevor's camera.
Now this is where the dogs get separated from the pups, because I cannot for the life of me remember whether it was a Kodak Retina or a Braun Paxette. If I were asked to bet my cheese sandwiches on it, I would definitely go for the Braun. I just seem to remember a nice leather never-ready case with Braun embossed on it. The Paxette was a very decent little range of cameras as far as I can see. Not that I remember them obviously, however now the nodes are being tickled I do seem to recall some extra lenses he had, which would fit in with the Paxette.
Anyway, what is wrong with this photo other than a disruption of comfy, familiar photographic proportions? For all intents and purposes everything is present and correct. 

It is a child's party, the sun is shining and one of these children is wearing a costume. This was I believe my seventh birthday party. 
I loved my childhood birthdays because we had a nice big garden and it was July, so we were pretty much guaranteed sunshine in those days. My Mum used to put on the most incredible spreads of food you could imagine - none of this popping off to Iceland (sic) it was all proper homemade stuff.
In this photo we are having an après (it could have been pre too, knowing Mum it probably was) birthday tea snack of bananas, which weren't exactly everywhere in the late 60's, but I'll put that down to the fantastic fruiterers we had in 'Victors' at the foot of Field End Road** which was an old style fruit and veg shop.
My mouth is stuffed with said delicious fruit and everything should be lovely . . however I can recognise in myself a look. Maybe you can see too that all is not right in Happy Birthday land.  Why am I looking most dischuffed at the camera when I should be happy? I am eating - it was my childhood hobby so I should be ecstatic, but I am not. 
(You shout across the table and gesticulate)
Why is the podgy little boy not happy?
I'll tell you why! 
(And my teeth are gritted as I write this) because that was my new Coldstream Guards outfit that Martin is wearing and my new rifle that Martin is holding and was I happy about it? . . .Was I hell! *
That to me is the genius of this photograph my Dad made - he has captured a moment, a divisive moment, at just the point that realisation forms and incredulity sweeps aside everything else leaving outrage to walk abroad. Apparently, I did make just a bit of a song and dance about it, but as with all childhood spats it passed over pretty quickly.
I wonder where Martin is now? We had a strange relationship. Was he my friend? Yes and no - in the ever changing world of childhood friendships not really and yet . . . 
Daryll Botshon was really my best friend, but he moved away. 
No, with Martin things could be difficult. He once jumped me on the way home from school and tore some buttons off my favourite shirt, so I picked him up and threw him (boy did I have some strength). We made it up, but then at my 10th birthday, when he was the only person who came round, we (incredibly) had a game of fencing with two real (Rogers of Sheffield) hunting knives! Believe it or not I nearly managed to chop his finger off (or so it seemed) and he fainted flat out. My Mum had to do a quick emergency sort out but seeing as she'd been a wartime nurse at Ashridge Hospital dealing with burns victims, she was utterly unphased.
Martin and I made it up again, till I went round to his house and his brother was a total B to me, and I never went back. 
Back in sunny 1968, quite how my Dad managed just to catch me at the exact moment I'll never know. Good luck and anticipation I suppose. However he did it, the photograph is, in its own surreal small-town little way, a decisive moment. My sheer outrage is writ large for all to see.
I wish I could take photographs like this.
Now where did I put my Bearskin hat?

* My Mum actually let him wear them apparently, so I think she was trying to instill a little life lesson into me - be kind and generous to others. If his brother was anything to go by, I don't think Martin's home life was all that rosy.
** Just take a moment and savour that name: Field. End. Road. The road at the end of a field. I have Google mapped Northolt in researching this (haven't lived there since the 70's) . . oh my goodness every bit of green has been built on. What a shame. Whilst it wasn't exactly the country back in the 60's and 70's there were plenty of green spaces . . RIP Figure Of Eight Pond.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Permanence Of Photographs (In A Chaotic World)

Greetings Ship Mates! It is time to hoist your Weekend Flag and keelhaul your Dandos, because the Goode Shippe FB is back to sail the seas of fate and chance! Yes, in these uncertain times, when all is fluxed, it is reassuring to know that if you can afford a tea bag and a crust, and can press an 'on' button before the sun crests the mizzen mast, then your weekend is sorted!
This weekends little ditty is a bit of an FB exclusive, but you'll need to read to the end to understand that.

I guess I must have known the world was entering a state of chaos as far back as the mid-1980's when someone broke the Quantel computer our college had managed to gain access to for a period of months. The Quantel was a big thing. For a start the BBC used it for weather forecast TV animations and it was the bees knees - no really it was! This was the coming revolution which no one really guessed would take off in the way it did. Back in those days all the text and other things we used for graphics roughs and presentations was done by hand (or Letraset if you could afford it) - none of this modern instant stuff - oh no, it was pure hard graft!
On the new wunderkind, being able to 'airbrush' clouds onto one of the stock pictures loaded into the machine (of say, a Spitfire) was really something - it was . . er  . .great! (Even though the end result looked  . .er . . to put it politely . . . not exactly brilliant*).  But what were we to do?  It was said that they wanted to build this new direction so that students could be up and running into the new golden dawn!
As I remember it, someone with a natural curiosity dismantled the 'light pen' (that you used like a real pen) of this new acquisition, to see how it worked. The machine thought uh-oh . . INTRUDER and entered said state of chaos and refused to work.
They had to get some guy up from somewhere down South to fix it, but it was never quite the same again.
This is the Quantel:

(This is I believe a Mk II and I am pretty sure we were using a Mk II. If  you measure proportionately and estimate that pen as about 6" long then the drawing board could be anywhere between 24" and 30" long. Big stuff eh! Our Quantel even had its own rack!)

The thing I am trying to say from this is that at the same time that people were being schmoozed upstairs in Graphics about this fabulous future, downstairs, in the bowels of Photography, budgets were being cut and there was apparently 'no money' for new gear or materials.
It was a disgrace.
My lecturer at the time was feeling increasingly sidelined and a couple of years later he was shunted into early retirement. The future was set, digital imaging had come to stay and a world of technological avarice had landed. Obviously things were never going to be the same again.
When real money could have been spent on some much needed new cameras (we were using ancient and battle-weary equipment) that would have done the job in aiding creativity, it wasn't. Instead it was spent on the new thang - a proto computer graphics suite!
This was so advanced and cost so much (and became so incredibly dated, so incredibly quickly) that the fact that large amounts of money were thrown at it and not at something of permanence still gets my goat.
Chaos had come to town and nothing would ever make sense again.
It was obvious which way the cookie was crumbling, and something as deeply old fashioned as traditional monochrome photography was seen as being archaic.
And as for the monster? No work of any use was ever produced by the big, fan-cooled box of tricks, but it did look good when you had visiting lecturers disappearing into the room to sip coffee and say 'Gosh . . they must be important . . . they've got a Quantel!'.
What's that smell? yep, you guessed it . . . pure, Grade 1 BS.
FFWD 25 years and where is that behemoth of computing now? Well the roots of it are still around in Quantel systems which are widely used (and highly regarded and British) in broadcasting worldwide, but the actual Pandora's Box itself that caused such upheavel?  I'd bet on it no longer existing.
And yet look, the permanence of photographs and the permanence of technology:
Below is a print which I own. It was given to me as a goodwill gift for my future by Mr.Joseph McKenzie, said lecturer mentioned above. He is a great photographer and was an inspiring lecturer. Were it not for him, I would not be writing this - it really is as simple as that.

Crofter, Comrie, 1964

(This is the first time this image will have been seen by a lot of people (well probably anyone actually) and I hope Joe doesn't mind me putting it in FB, but his work needs to be seen and he has to be acknowledged and appreciated in his own lifetime!)**

The photograph was made at Comrie (near Crieff) in 1964 (the negative pre-dating the Quantel by some 20 years and no doubt still safely stored and archived); the print I believe to be of a similar vintage.
It is a stunning photograph and also a stunning print. The scan is actually pretty hopeless as there were hotspots on it - you need to see the original!
I can actually see a lot of similarities between Joe's work from the 1960s (his Gorbals essays *** especially come to mind) and Walker Evans' masterful work for the FSA in the '30's. Joe's photographs are revealing and beautiful and tender. He gave of himself and in return his subjects repaid him with an openness that is rare.
In this photograph the stoicism is obvious. Here are two workers confronting each other, one behind and one in front of the camera. They leave their pretences behind and let light and film and time record the moment. It is such an honest photograph.
There is a care-worn attitude to the crofter that is so incredibly Scots. If you look carefully you can see that those dungarees have been carefully darned but there's still years of use in them. It is obvious that crofting is not an easy life. Hands like that are not created by desk work!
I have no idea what camera Joe used, but it looks to be large format so I would hazard a guess at a Graflex which I know he used. Film could well be Tri-X which he was fond of, and he used to use D76 a lot . . . so maybe it is that combo . .who knows.
The print is on a matt paper which has an 'almost' platinum sheen to it, in that the darker areas have that metallic matt/gloss when angled towards the light.
It is dry-mounted and personally inscribed to myself on the back.
The print size is 6" x 8" and I have it stored safely in an archival sleeve and then in an archival print box. It is a jewel to be treasured.
Given that Joe took the utmost care to fix his prints properly and selenium tone them, I have no doubt that this photograph will outlast me by a number of generations.
Remember the saying:
"He who laughs last, laughs longest"?
It is entirely appropriate methinks.
Thank you Joe (for everything). 

* And sorry graphics animation people . . . computer animation still doesn't cut the mustard as far as I am concerned.
** When the V&A Dundee opens in the city to which he gave his working life (and which he documented with such care and passion) it would be utterly remiss of them if the first photographic exhibition they staged wasn't a McKenzie Retrospective.
*** If you can find his book 'Gorbal's Children' I can highly recommend it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Was . . Fr-a-a-a-a-a-med!

A warning to the curious. I typed the piece below and I fell asleep. In the field of human typage it is probably about as dull as it comes. Please do not operate any heavy machinery whilst reading this. Please do not look after small children whilst reading this. Please do not drink anything other than strong tea or coffee. Failure to comply with the above will result in serious snoozing and I cannot be held responsible.
(a note to readers . . yes I know I said it would be a weekend only thing, but this is too dull to dampen your Saturday so I thought I'd post it today)

Our title for today was quothed by the late, great Alex Harvey, and who am I to disagree with such an electric performer. By all accounts he could hold a Glaswegian audience in the palm of his hand, which is no mean feat.
I'm quoting Alex, because frames are wonderful things - we take them for granted and yet here they are, scattered all over our world. If they weren't around this page, all this text would be off and running, making a nuisance of itself; they stop the walls of your house from falling into those gaps you had made; they keep your pictures neat and tidy; they can define an enquiry; they are even used as an aid when gurning.

(This is what happens when you try to gurn without a frame. See . . . .everyone wants in on the action. Had I been framed, I would probably have won.)

With regard to photography, frames are your best friend, but incredible as it seems, the humble frame is the last thing on a camera manufacturers mind. Early handheld cameras were beset with squinty little windows that hardly let the sun in, they were just a very rough view of the world. Things slowly did improve (and obviously I am not in the slightest demeaning those wonders of miniature camera making, the Leica and the Contax) but despite improvements, even at the height of film SLR evolution, whilst the image might well have been bright and easy to focus, there was one very important point missing.
It is at this point that I hoist my trousers up to my chest, take a puff from my Meerschaum and get incredibly eccentric.
You see (whisper it) I am one of those photographers who believes in the full frame photograph.
I just can't crop an image. The way I see it is thus: I looked at the scene, I composed a picture within a frame and that is the way I want it to look. Maybe it is just me, but as far as I can tell it makes me, photographically, one of the least popular people since Genghis Khan.
Why? I don't know actually.
I really like composing through a viewfinder, and when I get something that fits that little frame-set I have in my mind, I release the shutter. Very often it doesn't work, but every now and again I manage to lasso in a part of the world, that was fully formed, galloping around just waiting to be framed. And then I print it on photographic paper . . .you know, that stuff that you can't inspect in daylight!
It is here that a very important factor comes into play and it is all to do with what you can see through when you make the photograph. By this I mean the viewfinder. (For the interests of this article I will discount 'viewing screens' as they are, for all intents and purposes, the works of an idiot). A good viewfinder is a thing to behold. and yet they are often regarded as a sideline, just a thing to focus with. And it is here that my second point of conjecture comes in, because I have to have a 100% viewfinder, or as near as dammit.
94% and 92% and even 97% ones are common, and that's fine if you are going to crop, but I don't. So you see, 100% has to be it.
In any image, there are certain things at the edge of a photograph that are important. One is the vertical and the other is the horizontal - sounds logical to want to include such elements within your photograph doesn't it . . but if you aren't seeing the whole image it isn't as easy as it seems. With a 100% viewfinder, you can align those verticals and horizontals virtually perfectly (or make them super squinty, if you so wish) and your photograph will be as you envisage it, but if you are operating with only say 94% of view, it is bloody tricky getting it right - you have to compose and align and re-compose and to be honest the whole thing is a bit of a faff.
When you are operating close-up, things become even trickier as the room for error increases proportionately with distance to subject matter. I could go into the rocket science of reproduction ratios and so on, but I won't. It is entirely obvious - try it for yourself! The closer you get, the bigger the problem.
Even taking a humble portrait can be beset by discrepancies with not being able to see what is exactly at the edge of a frame. You are making a portrait of someone- they look incredible, the lighting is perfect and they're behaving naturally - you make the photograph. This is going to be a good thing, you know it. You develop the film and your subject is just as you expected apart from one sixteenth of Uncle Henry's beetroot, whisky-addled fisog attached to the photograph! Were you a cropper you would crop it out, but as I said before I'm not and Uncle Henry has just become a problem, because in the split second after you captured their likeness, someone tripped and you watched in horror as a pint of beer washed over your subject in slow motion. Do you see what I am getting at?
Henri Cartier-Bresson apparently did not crop - he is always cited as Mr. Full Frame and when you see his photos you realise you are in the presence of an eye that was finely attuned to what his camera was capable of doing. However in the case of one of his most famous early photographs (Behind The Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris, 1932 . . you know, the one with the man and the puddle . .) the final print was cropped, because he only had a moment, and there was part of a fence in the way! If he'd had a 100% viewfinder he'd have been able to deal with the matter in even more of a split-second than the usual split-seconds he normally dealt in.
The 100% viewfinder is a rare beast though, they made it onto very few cameras at all - the ones that did sport them tended to be 'professional' . . .and even then. Pentax? nope the LX was close, but not quite; Minolta, well yes, the Maaxum 9 was by all accounts; Olympus? No, not even the mighty OM 1 and 2; Canon, well yes their professional lines starting I believe with the F1 and onwards; Leica? No and I have no idea why. Also, the majority of cameras built for the 'general public' did not sport them.
So, I turn my thoughts in another direction, where herds of very reasonably priced cameras with 100% viewfinders are running rampant across the plains of Secondhandshire. They belong to that most incredible family of cameras, the Nikon F series. I won't detail a long discussion on them here as that will be the topic of several later FBs, however suffice to say, if you want a camera that will be a friend and a reliable tool; that carries a weight to it that you never forget; that features a viewfinder showing you as near as a gnat's eyebrow exactly what you are going to record on your film, then do yourself a favour and choose an F.
I currently find myself in possession of three Fs. An  FTN Photomic, an F2S, and an F3. They are all three quite different, but they all enable me to make photographs where I am in control of what my photograph looks like.
But all is not doom and gloom, because even if you have a percentage-challenged viewfinder, or even one of the dreaded LCD viewing windows (ok, viewing screen . . .) you can still try to compose to your best ability. You don't even need to use any film; no 01010101's need be harmed in this exercise! Just take your camera or device, and start composing. Be acutely aware of verticals and horizontals; try not to keep using that zoom button and move in on your subject - get as close as you can; then move away; alter your POV - jump on a chair, lie on the floor. In other words there really is no need for, say a landscape, to be a view from a distance, or a portrait to be a view from about 4 or 5 feet away. Try and think outside of the frame, to what the end result will be. If you practice hard enough, you'll find that the frames in your head will drop away and the only ones that will count will be the ones holding the little piece of the world you have captured in place.


The above shows the importance of being able to see everything.
The camera was a Pentax MX which did not show me 100% of what I wanted, hence the droopy horizontal from the hoarding in the upper left of the picture, and the presence of part of the letter C on the left vertical; also the cut-off of the point of the chin is a bit poor. If I had been able to see the image properly I would have framed tighter, but alas that was not the case.
This is a full frame photograph, and though the right vertical is fine, it misses the beat - everything is just ever so slightly off.
The lens was a marvellous Pentax SMC-M 50mm f1.4, which was lovely. Oh for a better camera though. This being said I enjoyed my time with the MX, it was very light and easy to use, but I found myself more and more missing the solidity of my F2. Plus the frame spacing was starting to go, which was annoying, so I returned it to the vendor. I really hope it finds a good home as I did a darn good job of replacing the light seals!
On the photograph above, I find the Phillips screw-head particularly gruesome.

Film was Rollei RPX 100, at EI 80, developed in HC 110 (Dilution B) for 11 mins at 20C. A very nice combo.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Memory Still Intact ü

Ja, it is time to consume your bacon sarnie with gusto Mein Freund!
Jut out your angular little beard, Be proud of it.
Don your penny-rounders. You know, the pair your vife bought you last year.
Quick! There is no time to lose!
Find the moth-eaten corduroy trousers at the back of your cupboard, and take to the couch, because, for zis veekend's FogBlog: 
'I vant you to tell me about your childhood'

(My apologies of course to any readers of a foreign persuasion, I am after all British, and the above is just something we do, but it is never meant [by me] with any seriousness.)

Please forgive me if you are a follower (albeit casual) of FB - I am maybe going to move over to a once a week, weekend thing, which might be better for me, because I don't want to stretch myself too thin, and better for you, because you don't feel you have to read this stuff . . .
This could be a good thing for both of us, because instead of dealing with the dreaded working week, it could be Weekend FogBlog at every posting!
Hoorah! I hear.
How brave to make something in life that can be so insightful, such a jolly thing that only happens at the weekend when we have time to read it!
Oh and a Happy Easter to you and yours . . .

We shall see how it goes, but in the meantime, today's little piece is to do with how deeply photographs are integrated into our memory.
It is a strange thing, but to get all philosophical, does the photograph equal the memory, or is the memory enhanced by repeated views of the photograph?
I think the majority of people would plump for the latter and yet, in my own case (well before I even started to view a lot of my parent's old photographs) I was aware of very deep memories of the photographs being taken.
It is hard to get a true take on this, because in actuality the claim that you can remember a photograph being taken, or more correctly, the moment that brought about the photograph being taken, is pretty preposterous, especially when it involves the depths of time that take you back to your very early years.
I have a series of photographs of myself at the age of two months. I know they were taken at two months, because my Mum wrote it on their backs. Strange as it might seem, I remember the time frame in which these photographs were taken.
Now give or take a number of months, these are memories from 50 years ago, which is a pretty remarkable thing when you think about it. Is the slowly developing, fleshy miracle that is your brain really capable of such a feat? Well, yes, I believe it is.
These are just about my earliest memories, but obviously because I was barely new and have nothing else to judge them against, things get a tad jumbled, so mixed in with these photographs being taken are other very early memories that didn't involve a camera:

Being weighed at a clinic (obviously I had no idea I was being weighed!)
Being fed by my Mum.
Having a photograph taken in the bath tub in front of the fire (sorry that one has a camera in it).
Wearing a felt hat that was too big for my head (actually there's a photo of that too).

The cynical amongst you will say that the photographs have enhanced the memory, but I will disagree with you till the cows come home, because I know my own brain. I had memories of these memories when I was a larger child, way before I even knew what that collection of bags and boxes in the top of Mum and Dad's wardrobe contained.
I think what I am trying to say, is that a photograph being taken (back in the day when it was still expensive to get a film processed and printed) was an occasion. Everything had to count and even though they were called 'snapshots' it was still a big thing - well it certainly was in my family. Did a sense of that occasion enhance the feelings of everyone around so that there was something ethereal in the air? A sense of anticipation perhaps? Was that sense of something being preserved for posterity maybe tangible to a young and sensitive brain; so much to the extent (that for a small period of time) the very young me had a heightened awareness of something going on? I don't know, but with regard to the photographs below I can tell you this:
It is the back garden of our council house, on one of the then relatively new estates in Northolt (Middlesex, England) in late August/early September 1961; it is warm, and Dad has carried me gently up against his right shoulder from the house. That's my pram being aired by the way (it's a cracker isn't it!). Mum has laid the blanket (ex-army, procured during WW II by my Uncle Joe) on our lawn, and I am carefully passed from Dad to Mum, from Mum to my Aunty Jane and then back to Dad to be posed.

(Mum and I)

(Aunty Jane and I) 
Note the nifty Deckle Edge on this print!

(Dad and I)

Would you believe me if I said I can almost feel their presence in these simple photos?
Mum, Dad and Aunty Jane are all dead now, but there's just something there.
So, this extremely long weekend, if you get a chance, why not go and look out some photos from your earliest times.
Find a quiet room and lock the door if you can.
Forget music or leaving the TV on, you need concentration.
Now lay the photos out and look at them and try to see if somewhere in your mind you can remember the occasion.
Maybe that wee person that was going to become you is still in there (somewhere).

On a totally photographic note, it is interesting that these were processed and printed 50 years ago. The camera I believe would have been our Kodak Brownie 127 - a brown bakelite marvel.
The paper is Ilford. I no longer have the negatives so I have no idea of film (either Kodak or Ilford - I would say Kodak though) but with regard to the prints, there is no way these were archivally processed! They were probably done by Tudor D&P through our local chemist.
The prints are fine, which says a hell of a lot to me as a printer who has been more than a bit obsessed with archival processing.
The one caveat I will add, is that fortunately we were never a 'grab and show' family with prints.*
Dad always emphasised that you should handle a print carefully and preferably hold it by its edges.
Well done Dad and thanks - our memories are still here.

* If you have a large archive of proper silver gelatine prints of this age or older, I cannot emphasise it enough - please be kind to them!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Keep Them Moonbeams Short

Greetings and Good Morrow to you if you are of a human nature! This fine dawn greets another working week and for those of you wending your way off to the coal face, my sorrow goes with you. As for me, it is a public holiday (and it is going to be raining apparently) so I shall put my feet up and enjoy several pots of tea.
If you aren't sentient and made of flesh, my greetings still go to you too; in fact if you are a 'bot: 1010000111110010101010111100101010101010001010101001010000000111011010101010 to you!

The subject of this FB is all to do with thinking something is one way when it might actually be another.
To wit, the above title alludes to a misheard lyric.
Genesis' single, 'I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)' is a track I have loved from afar for many years, without ever owning. I never owned it, because at my school, everyone loved them, and there I was (for my sins) a lowly Mott the Hoople fan*.
I stood out like a sore thumb and as such, in a fit of teenage pique, I decided that the band weren't for me. This was typically stupid because actually, they were a rather unique group and I should have liked them. My loss was further hammered home when I saw the 'Prog At The BBC' programme recently with that fabulous footage of Peter Gabriel operating the cosmic lawnmower. In a word it was superb, and I thought why don't I own that album, so, feeling like having a spend (and locking the ranting, teenage me, in a cupboard) I bought a copy of Selling England By The Pound from HMV . . none of your download nonsense here!
Marvellous I thought, at last I can hear it on my own lovely stereo.
'Keep Them Moonbeams Short' is just a wonderful use of words, and like all great lyrics it evokes imagery that one cannot put ones finger on at all:
The lad in the song cuts grass and is exhorted to grow up, move to the city and start making money, but he doesn't want to because he is happy in his work.
Oh the simple life, I thought, this is like art! How wonderful.
Art should be pure and have integrity, just like his grass cutting. 'Moonbeams' would tie in with his artistic nature. He mows by night making an incredible job, as short blades of grass are transformed by moonlight into a thing of great beauty. 
Guff and airy-faeryness I know, but that is the beauty of a good lyric. It takes one's own inner thoughts and helps transform them.
However I was to land on the well-mown, moonlit grass with a serious bump when I read the actual lyrics: 'Keep Them Mowing Blades Sharp'.
Now actually I am not really sure if that is the correct lyric, because:
a./ On the record, it sounds like 'Keep Them Moonbeams Short'.**
b./ 'Keep Them Moonbeams Short'  is a much better lyric.***
But who knows, maybe Jacob (I assume that is the mower's name) is a craftsman and not an artist after all - I suppose that would make sense. But there goes that Arts v Crafts thing again . . .

When I was very, very small, my Mum would push me around in an old pushchair. It wasn't one of the lightweight marvels you get today . . oh no . . . this was solid and heavy and we used to go for long walks. It was a happy and simple time for Mum, because she liked walking and talking to people, and for me because I was with my Mum, we were happy and we might be going to the shops! 
When it was raining, she would haul out a very old plastic rain cover and fit it over the front.
The transparency of plastic is very much taken for granted on such things these days, but back in the early 60's (and prior to that) it was far from the case. Plastic was a relatively expensive material and what I remember of that rain cover is a world painted translucent white and often streaming with rain. It was hard to see through and my small, happy world was transformed; but the sound of Mum saying 'Bother!' (as the pushchair took on the form of a ship's sail) and the steady drumming of water against the cover as we struggled along, have left their mark.****
I think maybe my current fascination with things seen and unseen, with reflections and ephemera, have, in a small way, their very roots in those journeys from my early life.

The above photo is strangely mysterious to me. It implies either that someone has just hurried by and you don't know where they have gone, or else they could be about to come rushing up those stairs (but only so long as you turn your back and walk away). In a way it is a misheard lyric of a photo, because it isn't at all what it seems, or is it really?
The interpretation is all yours and God bless you.
It was made on Fomapan 100 roll film, developed in Barry Thornton's 2-bath developer. The camera was Oly the Rollei, using the 16-on kit, so essentially the negative size is nominally 6x4.5cm.
Oh and thanks go to John Blakemore for his book and his ideas on the exploration of print tonality.
I've never met John, but if he's around these parts he's more than welcome to come in for a cup o'tea and a blether.
Remember, if you want to be a photographer, you must become both things: Artist and Craftsman.

* The greatest Rock and Roll band Britain has ever produced.
** Of course it is 'Keep Them Mowing Blades Sharp' - listening carefully it is quite apparent.
*** Also sounds like 'Keep Them Moon Blades Sharp' which is an even better choice of words!
**** A misheard memory. I recently found a picture of said push chair. The seat faced the pusher and there was a large hood attached to the back. However I can work out from this that you were totally able to put a rain proof cover over the front of it, in other words between me in the chair, and Mum who was pushing.