Meeting the Big Issue Vendors

29 06 2009

I was invited to go along to the Big Issue offices in Birmingham today to help out in their ‘enrichment’ week, talk to some of the vendors about photography and help launch a photo competition. I decided that travelling by train would be the best idea so I set off at 8.30 this morning and made my way to the City centre.

I had  put together a slide show of some of my own images to show to the vendors to help me explain the basics of composition, rule of thirds etc etc and was expecting a small number who had expressed an interest to be there. These kind of things don’t normally go to plan so I wasn’t particularly surprised when none of them turned up. So, we set out onto the streets of Birmingham to go and meet some of the vendors and explain what was going on, arm them with a disposable camera and try to build up some enthusiasm in them to go out and take some photographs.



Having worked with newspaper sellers for a long time in my previous job, I was aware of the kind of characters that this kind of job generally attracts so I was looking forward to having a chat and photographing some of them. The diversity of people was quite amazing, French, Canadian, Romanian and British were all represented and all selling the Big Issue on the streets on designated selling pitches. When you get chatting to these people they all seem quite willing to share their stories too, many were or had been users of heroin, some were on methadone programmes, some were alcoholic, some had been in and out of jail all of their lives, some had only recently arrived in the UK and others were simply working to earn some money. All extremely friendly people, despite what difficulties they have had or are having in their lives.

Big Issue 009

They earn 80p for each issue they sell and seem to rely on regulars and ‘drops’ where people simply give them money, but having an ID badge and being issued with a jacket identifying them as official Big Issue vendors really gives them some identity on the street. The workers at the Big Issue aside from the day to day ‘office’ duties also seem to take on an ‘outreach’ role, talking to people on the streets, helping them out, to the point of supplying sunscreen today as it was sweltering, and trying to help them get some stability to their lives.

Big Issue 011

From what I have seen it’s a really supportive organisation and it was a real pleasure and experience to talk to some of their vendors. Hopefully they will get out with their cameras and take some interesting photographs, there could be some very interesting results!

I managed to capture this whilst we were walking about. I didn’t realise it at the time but the two people on the right hand side of the photo really provide a great contrast to the main subject. Bit of a lucky shot.

Climbing, Sitting and Sleeping

Climbing, Sitting and Sleeping


Shift Time – Primordial Soup

24 06 2009

I went along to The Quarry in Shrewsbury to day to meet up with Clinton Chaloner, a sculptor who is in the process of creating an art installation as part of the Shift Time Arts Festival.

Sculptor - Clinton Chaloner

Sculptor - Clinton Chaloner

Clinton has been sculpting for 8 years. His work is mainly based around his fascination with microscopic forms and he brings these to ‘life’ by sculpting the forms out of large pieces of wood, his favorite being oak. He doesn’t just do this by himself though, he has been on site in The Quarry since mid-June and had not only shared his knowledge by holding workshops with local schools, he has also encouraged passers by to get involved and learn the subtle art of wood sculpting for themselves, something that Clinton believes is helpful towards relaxation and well being.

Tying in with the Shift Time Festival and linking in with Darwinism he aims to create an ‘evolutionary nature reserve of creatures that did not make it‘.

Just as he started his project in The Quarry a fellow Flickr user, Sue Jones, went along and took some photographs of some of the creations that had already been finshed, her set on Flickr can be seen by clicking here.

By the end of the festival there should be some very weird and wonderful sculpted creatures to see, in all different shapes and sizes.

Shift Time – Naturebots

17 06 2009


The thing that all started off this blog is in my first post here and, as part of the Shift-Time festival I will be blogging the event and my involvement in it.

This afternoon I visited the Belvidere School to have a look how the preparations for the Naturebots demonstration are coming along. The idea behind the project is to show how children can use modern technology to program robots, in this case to mimic the movements of a human dancer.

On walking into the room I saw a mass of computers which is something that I  never had when I went to school, no surprise then when the next thing that hit me was a robot the same as the one on the left being controlled by two school children, it was dancing, posing, rolling over, standing on it’s hands and other such things. Pretty amazing thing to see. The robots themselves have been supplied by DACTA which is launching the product as an educational robot. The unit itself has 17 servo motors which allow it to perform all of the tasks it is told to from the dedicated software. The Children were showing me how to instruct it and it is so simple that even I could understand it. Essentially, each joint is shown on the screen and you can simply click on it, move it to the desired position and save that as a move, so on and so forth.

Showing on the wall was the following video which shows what the children are aiming to do, a tall order but from what I have seen, eminently possible.

Wanting to record the event I took my camera along and took some photographs, see the captions for details.

Staff and Pupils from the Mary Webb School

Staff and Pupils from the Mary Webb School with the ED-E

Rhys Marshall-Porter, one of the ED-E programmers.

Rhys Marshall-Porter, one of the ED-E programmers.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out and it will also be good to see how the demonstration is presented having seen some of the background work that is going into it. I really hope that they can pull the synchronisation off, it will all be about the timing.

I hope to catch up with Wren & Ray who are in the process of collecting books to start off the Remembrance Path art project.

From that website:

The artists are based in Shrewsbury, a town influenced by one of its most famous sons, Charles Darwin. During research on Charles Darwin it occurred to the artists what a huge influence loss and bereavement had on his life, both as a young boy who lost his mother and as a parent who suffered the grief of losing a child. Elements of Darwin’s life also linked in with other important aspects of the project, including the importance of walking as a contemplative and healing practise, his use of stones as markers for thoughts as he walked, and the healing and nurturing effect of the landscape.

That will also be a bit of an eye opener as I will be there when they collect a van full of books to help start the labyrinth.

There are going to be some great photographic opportunities at this festival, one person that I definitely want to meet and photograph will be Feng-Ru-Lee. Hopefully I can be a little more creative rather than the standard ‘newsy’ shots above.

A Very Sociable Weekend

17 06 2009

I had not been to Lechlade before and knew little about it (including where it actually was until I put the postcode into my sat nav) but, if the weather promises to be good and we are camped out in a field with friends then it’s all good to me. As we drove south and entered into the Cotswolds it become immediately apparent that you have entered into a beautiful part of the country, the houses are built with a different material to houses by where we live and it seems to give even the plainest street some character.

Once everyone had arrived, tens been erected and kids put to bed we settled down and opened a few bottles of wine, (I had had a beer or two in the afternoon anyway, always better to have a bit of alcohol in your system to put a tent up I find) The light was fading quickly so I had a bit of a play taking some candid shots but eventually gave up when I was getting shutter speeds of 1/13 at f/1.4 and ISO-3200, with the combination of alcohol intake and slow shutters there was no chance of any decent shots anyway. This was probably the last of the night.

Martin, Elizabeth and Jon

Martin, Elizabeth and Jon

Saturday morning saw me up pretty early as the sun hit the tent at 8am and the room warmed up quickly leaving me in certain need of a shower and a walk with Jack. I usually try and have a good look round for any nice scenes to photograph whilst out with the dog but unusually I didn’t take my camera with me this time. I did however walk far enough to get to a rather pretty house set on the river with willows reflecting in the waters……..more of that later.

After breakfast the group decided to go for a walk and visit a pub in the area called The Trout Inn which had a good reputation. I had only taken my 50mm lens with me so the following view of St. Lawrence Church from the opposite side of the Thames has been cropped down a touch.

St. Lawrence Church - Lechlade

St. Lawrence Church - Lechlade

The rest of the day was mainly spent drinking, lounging around, playing football, getting sun burnt and doing the usual with disposable barbeques and a load of meat. Lorna and I have actually vowed never to use disposable barbecues again, too hot, and they gave a real ‘fire lighter’ smell to the food……..not good.

On Sunday, I again got up relatively early and set off to photograph the house on the river that I mentioned earlier. I didn’t have Jack with me but as usual I got talking to someone with a dog on the way and during the conversation he mentioned that if I liked photography then I really should visit an old abandoned church not far away. He reckoned that he had lived in the area for 25 years and never been to it until a week or so previous. I’m a bit of a church fan so I asked directions and planned to walk there after taking the shot below of the round house from the wooden bridge that crosses the Thames at it’s last navigable point for motor driven boats.

Lechlade Camping 067 copy

The Round House - Lechlade

I fiddled and diddled with this one in Photoshop to get that kind of ‘chocolate box’ feeling to it. The main process used was the

Orton effect, with a bit more messing with curves and levels.

After I had taken a few snaps around there I made my way to the old church which was about 15 minutes walk away. Again, I got chatting to someone with dogs and this time it was an 83 year old lady who asked for my help to get her over a bridge, she was fit as a fiddle apart from this and she came to the church with me as she also had not been despite living in the area for over 40 years…..amazing.

The graveyard was over grown slightly, but as promised, the door was open. I was kind of surprised to see no signs of vandalism in the building, no graffiti, nothing broken or ripped apart, just a simple church with box pews and some wonderful light coming in through the still intact stained glass windows. In the church there was still an old chair, a piano and some old bibles as well as a visitors book which I duly signed. I guess that the caretaker locks the place up at night.

Having an empty church, with a few chairs, great light and the time to think about things really floats my boat photography wise so I looked aorund to see what angles I could possibly get, what light was about and where, what ‘props’ I could use. After a few attemps to set up a picture I took the following photograph which I am very pleased with. I love the textures on the wall, the areas of darkness and of course, the light.

Church Chair

Church Chair

There are a couple more pictures on my Flickr stream which is linked on the right of this page.

Fence at the Glee Club, Birmingham

9 06 2009

I went along to the Glee Club last night to see King Creosote and other members of the Fence Collective perform.

In previous visits to the club there have been ‘No Photography’ signs up in the entrance but despite this the MC has usually said that people are ok to take photos as long as no flash is used, so I decided to take along my 5D and 24-70mm lens, hoping to get a decent front row seat. As the venue is all seated there is not a great deal of opportunity to move around during the shows and being not 10 feet away from the performers I really didn’t want to be a distraction to them. I love small gigs like this, what you lose in photographic angles you gain in intimacy.

So we took our seats waiting for the first act, Player Piano, to come onto the stage. I had already had a look at the light and metered accordingly, shutter speeds were at about 1/125 at ISO-800 and f/2.8 which is great for this kind of concert, nice depth of field and a decent shutter to help freeze the moment. My intial readings were thwarted though, as Player Piano came onto the stage the lights dimmed so I swore slightly under my breath and re-adjusted the ISO to 1000 which gave me an approximate speed of 1/80 in the available light. Of course, this changes with every shot as the stage lights vary the available light, but that is the fun of it all.

Player Piano

Player Piano

This shot was taken at full zoom as the keyboard was located on the far end of the stage to where I was sitting, I was very pleased with the light that falling on him as he played, I desaturated the shot in post processing to get over the funny colour casts that you get in these situations.

When The Pictish Trail came on stage I wasn’t really in the right position for the first song as he had his back to me, as the set continued though he moved back to centre stage and gave some great opportunities though some other mic stands were partially blocking at times. The following photograph was at 1/50 f/2.8 ISO-1000.

The Pictish Trail

The Pictish Trail

Though King Creosote had been on stage supporting both Player Piano and The Pictish Trail during the night it was then time for his set. The great thing about the Fence Collective is that everyone supports everyone else, there seems to be no ‘I’m a bigger artist than you’ kind of thing going on at all, just people who love to make music, making it together.

This is a shot of the stage area, taking in all of the band and indicating the kind of light available. This at 24mm, ISO-1250, 1/80, gives an indication of how close to the performers we were.

From right: Uncle Beasley, On The Fly, King Creosote, The Pictish Trail (hidden) and Player Piano

From right: Uncle Beesly, On The Fly, King Creosote, The Pictish Trail (hidden) and Player Piano

I was keen to get some different compositions for the main act as I had been sat in the same seat for the previous two. So, I moved two seats further to my right (wow!!) and tried to look for better angles. Being slightly more upbeat, I upped the ISO to 1250 to keep my shutter speeds up, confident in the 5D’s ability to handle the extra sensitivity and produce relatively clean images.

This is possibly one of my favorite shots from the night, composed to keep the backing singers in the frame and shot at a wide aperture to give the nice depth of field which gives more impact to King Creosote himself. Shot at 1/80, ISO-1250, f/2.8.

King Creosote

King Creosote

Finally a shot of Uncle Beesly playing the bass. He sat down on a monitor right in front of me so I lowered my position a touch and shot this. I applied a cross processed effect in post processing as I thought it looked nice.

Uncle Beasley

Uncle Beesly

Wedding Photography……as a guest

7 06 2009

Lorna and I had the pleasure yesterday of attending the marriage of two of Lorna’s friends and previous workmates. They knew of my passion for photography and so I was asked to take a few pictures for them. My favorite lens had unfortunately been dropped a week or so ago by my darling wife and was away for repair, luckily Lehmans in Stoke on Trent managed to turn the repair around in just over one week so Friday saw me rushing up to the store to pick it up. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable without it and their service was excellent. So, the evening before the wedding I went through the usual routine of checking batteries, cleaning sensors, formatting cards and clearing all of the crap out of my camera bag to make it easier and lighter to carry on the day.

All hopes of a nice sunny day were dashed when I was awoken by heavy rain which unfortunately didn’t really subside for the rest of the day, typical of Britain to have a stunningly hot week and then torrential rain on the day of a big occasion!

The wedding took plaace at a beautiful small church in Weston-under-Redcastle in Shropshire and after a small delay the bride arrived, looking glorious. The lighting in the church was actually not that bad and I elected to rely on high ISO to keep my shutter speeds up rather than use my flash gun.

Vickie Arrives

Vickie Arrives

Photography wasn’t allowed during the ceremony, for the guests at least, though I could hear the official photographer clicking away just behind me throughout. I am sure that she managed to get some stunning images as the church was small and reasonably well lit and the ceremony was packed of ‘those little moments’ that any decent photographer would be looking to capture.

Ceremony over and register signed the new Bride and Groom made their way out of the church. I had made sure that I was  on the end of a pew so that I had the best possible chance of catching the couple without interference from other guests’ elbows, heads etc. Luckily I managed to capture the following shot as Vickie’s eye was caught by one of her friends and laughter ensued.

The newly wed couple.

The newly wed couple.

The reception was held at the nearby Hawkstone Park Hotel which, with its own picturesque grounds and follies seems like a perfect place to have your ‘formals’ taken. Unfortunately the rain put paid to that option so whilst the guests, including myself, took advantage of the bar, the bride and groom were whisked off to various rooms and locations within the hotel to have the photographs done. I kept well away at this point and let the photographer get on with her job. I can imagine that there is nothing worse for an official photographer than to have some ‘keen amateur’ hanging round, making a nuisance of themselves and stealing all of the shots that they have so painstakingly set up.

I have to admit to taking advantage of one situation when the couple were sat in the car ready to go to the reception but it seemed that the official picture had been taken so I grabbed this one. I liked the reflection of Tom’s face in the window.

In the wedding car

In the wedding car

I was quite surprised to see that the official photographer didn’t stay around for the speeches so at a suitable break in the meal I went out to my car and grabbed my bag, planning to take some photos that hopefully caught the ambiance of the occasion. Again, I was quite lucky that the room was reasonably well lit and also that my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens had enough reach on my 5D to frame the speakers well enough without needing a heavy crop in post processing. The speeches were extremely entertaining and provided lots of moments of laughter both for the guests and the family of the newly weds.

This is my favorite of that part of the day, love the way both of the couples eyes are fixated on the speaker (it also looks nice in mono which will probably appear on my Flickr at some point.)

The Father of the Bride speaks

The Father of the Bride speaks

All in all we had a smashing day and despite my initial dissatisfaction with my haul of pictures I am actually now relatively happy with what I managed to get. Still a few to process but more will appear on my Flickr in due course.

Shift Time…..Where it all starts.

3 06 2009
The Hive in Shrewsbury

The Hive in Shrewsbury

My first ever blog post………

Yesterday I attended a meeting held at The Hive in Shrewsbury relating to the upcoming Shift Time Arts Festival which is due to hit the town in early July. Part of this festival relates to blogging and how, through local people blogging the event, a wider audience can be reached.

I have had my own website ( for a while now but have never really done a lot with it, I learnt a bit about building websites, had a fiddle and published it and from that point onwards have not updated it. Rather pointless.

So, inspired by the meeting yesterday my blog is born.

I have had an on line presence for a good while now, being a regular contributor to various forums, having my own Flickr account and more recently participating in the joys of both Facebook and Twitter. Flickr has been the most valuable to me and through it I have made some good friends who share the common interest of photography (and real ale, but that is a happy accident). I have seen various blogs in the past and know people who use them but they have never really inspired much interest, to  me it seemed like a lot of bother to constantly update and diarise my life which I think that other people really wouldn’t be interested in, that was until yesterday.

After listening to Pete Ashton talk about his and various others blogs I realised that there is actually a lot of value in publishing regularly to a personal blog, particularly if you include lots of links to other peoples activities, and that there is a big opportunity being provided by the Arts Council who are funding this part of the Shift Time festival, so thanks to them for that!

Pete Ashton and Rebecca Owen - Blogging Project Managers

Pete Ashton and Rebecca Owen - Blogging Project Managers

So, where from here?

Well, more training courtesy of the Shift Time Festival blogging managers (above) will hopefully see this blog develop and provide an initial subject matter that will actually be interesting. In the long term the blog will hopefully replace my current website (free stuff is good) and be a constantly updated record of my activities and thoughts.

My wife Lorna will also be blogging about the Shift Time festival on her blog here

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