Monday, 27 October 2008

Scenes from Birmingham's first half marathon

Some ran simply for the joy of running...and others ran for causes of all kinds...

There were vast crowds, but odd moments of intimacy...

There were eager, happy faces – people who looked as if they had barely exerted themselves...

But there were also many who seemed to have the shocked, exhausted expressions of refugees fleeing a catastrophe...

And there was the clearing up... Scouts and sea cadets cleared up hundreds of water bottles and plastic caps...

Friday, 24 October 2008

Trafalgar Day

For some years now Birmingham has commemorated Nelson's death at the Battle of Trafalgar. As is often the way, it's the things that happen in the very margins of these events that attract my attention. Nos. 1 and 2 are Trafalgar Day; no. 3 is just a watery coincidence, taken on the preceding day, I think.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The Greek stranger

This man – I never did ask his name – asked me if it was a Leica I was photographing with. It was. We got talking – more accurately he got talking, an unstoppable torrent of Greek/American accented English.

He left Greece in the 1970s to study photography in Boston. He mixed with other students, got involved in radical politics, lived on free coffee and donuts from a shop a cousin ran, dreamt of breaking into photography, of owning some decent equipment.

One morning in Boston, he said, "I saw a bum – a homeless guy. My God, he was filthy – you know, he had dirt in the lines on his face, his clothes were stiff with dirt – but he looked dignified. His face had character. I asked politely if I could take his picture. I took two frames. I thought the one was good and for a couple of weeks I carried this picture round with me to give to the guy when next I saw him. One morning I saw him. I said, Sir, you remember me, the kid that photographed you – I have something for you."

Some while later, the Greek was eating more free donnuts in his cousin's coffee shop when the tramp turned up again and called him outside. "I thought, oh my God, what does he want – he has his picture, alright, enough now." The tramp explained that he wanted to return the Greek kid's generosity and courtesy. He had something he wanted the Greek to have – something he would use.

"He gave me a dirty paper sack," the Greek said. "I'll be honest – I wanted to throw it straight in the trash, I wanted to wash my hands. This heavy, greasy bag! And I would have but for my cousin – it was him who made me open it. I tell you what was in it?"

In the bag was a Leica M2 and a 50mm Summicron lens.

The Greek leant forward and cupped his hands in front of my face – a gesture almost of prayer or supplication. "It's true," he said. "A bum gave me a Leica. Thirty-four years ago, but I can still feel the weight of the bag in my hands."

Throughout the 1970s, 80s and into the 90s the Greek built up a photography business. He shot 150 to 160 weddings a year and ran six or seven processing shops across Massachusetts. "It was a great time to be in the photography business. I would have queues outside my stores – running right down the street! I spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on equipment and I made a lot of money – the money rolled in, you couldn't stop it, my God. But that's the truth – I became a professional photographer because of a bum on the street."

A life shaped by a chance encounter with a homeless man? It sounded too good to be true. But like a vignette from a Saul Bellow novel or a Bashevis Singer story, I chose to believe and on this pleasant autumn Saturday afternoon a vanished world took shape in front of me.

Saturday, 11 October 2008


This series of pictures from Birmingham-based voluntary organisations began here and continues here.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

'Of All the People in All the World'

A disused factory in the Jewellery Quarter belonging to the AE Harris engineering group came eerily alive recently when Birmingham theatre company Stan's Cafe staged 'Of All the People in All the World'.

The show revolves around a constantly changing sequence of statistics represented by grains of rice: "Each grain of rice = one person and you are invited to compare the one grain that is you to the millions that are not."

The wonderful derelict factory space – hardly touched since it closed – ambient noise and 'worker announcements' all added depth and resonance to the show.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Different Worlds

Men from a centre for people with disabilities in Chelmsley Wood treat themselves to a Friday curry sauce and chips.

Dancers and promo girls crank-up the publicity for hyper-club Gatecrasher: "devised in Ibiza...designed in NYC...built in Birmingham".

New Sector

I'm very (ridiculously!) proud to say that New Sector, the magazine for democratic enterprise and community control (yes, I know, it trips off the tongue), has just used three of my photographs.

This one on the front cover:

And these two in a supplement inside.

The photographs originally featured in this post.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Old glass, new glass

Oddly enough, taken within a few hundred yards of each other on the same early evening...

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


There is something about armour-piercing shells and wing-mounted artillery that men – and increasingly women too – can't resist. This was an RAF event.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

After School Club / 2

In this post I included some pictures from an after school club. I've since photographed in several others.

Friday, 11 July 2008

15th March 1924 – 8th July 2008

Mom – Barbara Elizabeth Severn
15th March 1924 – 8th July 2008

"...each must manage as well as he can in the tumult of his feelings."
– Simone de Beauvoir, A Very Easy Death

Thursday, 10 July 2008

An after school club

For some time now I have been photographing the activities of charities and voluntary organisations in Birmingham. I have an idea that this might be a longer term project that I can add to as opportunities arise.

Getting ready for carnival:

Choosing what to have for tea:

There are more voluntary sector pictures in this post.