Thursday, 9 December 2010

Pope's visit

They waited in gardens, on the pavement, and in upper storeys where the view would be better.

And they waited outside bars.

Some came in jubilation...

And some in anger...

And they came with messages...

All in all, it was one of the most curious events I think I have ever been present at.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

We buy gold

Flogging our gold: it's something we may soon all have to resort to.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Time travel

At the tail-end of the summer I went again to the open day at the Museum Collection Centre. The nicest thing is that you get to travel there and back on an old bus. This one was a 1960s bus, I think. I suppose it would have been in service well into the1970s -- it's certainly how I remember bus travel being in the 70s.

On the day I went even the parked traffic seemed obligingly in character too.

Remembrance Day

I'm no great fan of the Remembrance Day set-pieces. Unless you've got a really good vantage point -- or access to the ceremony itself -- and good long lenses, they are very difficult to photograph. But what I like more and more is what happens before and after the event, the small things going on in the margins as people prepare or as they leave....

Is it art?

I think it is. I'm catching up with some long-stockpiled film which has just been processed. This was in September and I rather think it was some kind of street performance as part of ArtsFest.

Or maybe it was one of those strange glitches when people forget that they are out to shop and slip into a dream state?


I love this. She almost was a real, live matchgirl -- except what she was selling happened to be street art, handmade silkscreen prints taken, I imagine, from Indian designs.

Anyway, it has a lovely, slightly out of kilter feel to it -- simple, but on the other hand puzzling.

And then once you start to look, street art seems to be all around you...

Memento mori

I was walking through the Jewellery Qtr one Sunday morning. This looked like a pre-prepared religious allegory, a memento mori.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Polish Prayers

Taken some while ago at a Polish Community Centre where everyone was very welcoming and patient -- even when I somewhat mistakenly (in retrospect) carried on photographing as prayers were said.

Another from the same event -- song sheets are handed out for guests to sing traditional Polish folk songs and hymns.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Big Pride

Another from a few months back -- Pride in the rain...again. I love photographing at Pride and the chance juxtapositions that happen on its fringes. The rain adds a different atmosphere.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Voja Mitrovic, Printer to the Greats

There is a great two-post article by Peter Turnley on The Online Photographer website about Voja Mitrovic ('Voya'), master B&W printer to many of Magnum's photographers, including Cartier-Bresson. If you ever wondered what role printing plays in the production of photographic masterpieces, and why -- and how -- some people can coax finer images out of a photographic negative than others, then wonder no more, just read the article.

Part 1
Part 2

Expressions – again

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Hat girl

I remember when this was. There was a Latin American festival just starting and I was attracted by this hat stall and hung around photographing for quite a while, hoping something might fall into place. This exchange, the fleeting gracefulness of the young woman's gesture, can hardly have taken more than a fraction of a second. But the strange thing is, I have no recollection of taking this picture specifically.

Maybe I didn't. Gueorgui Pinkhassov, the wonderful Magnum photographer, has said:

Good photos have come when I least controlled the situation. The process reminds me more of fishing than it does of shooting. I look through the lens; I create my composition – banal, boring. Get tired, get distracted – click and success. As though the photographic angels, upon whom it all depends, had begged, 'Don't look through the lens, let us work in peace.' Sometimes I have not even recognized my own photographs.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I love a man in uniform

It was so wet I could hardly see to focus. When I saw this scene taking shape I heard an almost audible click in my head as I saw the centurions move into just the position that would reveal the further one's face, accentuate the shape and rhythm of their helmets, and catch the onlookers' expressions. Sometimes it's like that -- you know it's going to work for you. But mostly it isn't...

Spring was in the air....

Certainly for this woman, who broke into a joyful, impromptu dance as some busking musicians played Balkan folk music.

Sunday drinkers

A bitterly cold morning at the tail-end of last winter. This Eastern European couple were keeping warm in proven, time-honoured fashion...

Monday, 30 August 2010

I quite often photograph at charities and voluntary organisations. Here's two of my favourites from a set that I took at St Paul's Community Trust, who were fantastic in letting me wander about everywhere and take pictures during their thirtieth anniversary event.

Splinter Cell

Sometimes these juxtapositions work, sometimes not. But whenever you see them, trying is irresistible -- maybe the Gods of timing and synchronicity will smile.

England's Glory

Colour cool/colour hot

An empty Bridget Riley exhibition -- still, calm, meditative; and the clash of colour, shapes and motion on the street -- an energy drink company vying for the attention of punters.

There's a wonderful sequence of photos here taken for the British Council, which includes pictures of Riley in the mid-60s. It's not difficult to see why she was such a captivating figure -- tousled, gamine, intellectual... This one especially.

Different bowlers

A reminder that that marvellous old class-signifier, the bowler hat, is alive and well and still doing its job impeccably...

Bowler hats always strike a chord with me. I think it is because of this wonderful photograph by the late Erich Hartmann, one of my favourite Magnum photographers. HIs last book, 'Where I Was' -- which he was working on when he died, and which was finished by his wife -- is a marvellous book of his personal work. 'Personal', the term photographers usually employ to differentiate between commercial work and the work which really matters to them -- describes it doubly well. Its selection of pictures are oblique, provisional, glancing, unexpected. Here's another marvellous one.

Street food

I can't quite remember when this was -- Chinese New Year, I imagine. Anyway, a lovely moment when everything just literally fell into place...


Friday, 20 August 2010

John Madin: Birmingham's brutalist 'starchitect'

John Madin, now 81, was key to much of the new 'brutalist' architecture of Birmingham's post-war redevelopment. His 1974 Central Library -- now slated for demolition as its new towering replacement begins to rise between the Rep theatre and Baskerville House -- remains a hotly contested masterpiece.

It has recently gained artwork by Lucy McLauchlan:

There's a fascinating 1965 BBC documentary about Madin which can be view in its entirety here. It's like entering a time capsule of modernity and optimism...

Interestingly, Madin still believes that his Central Library may be saved -- he comments on this in an interview in The Guardian here.

Lovely light

There was a lovely, shaded gently lit corner during a recent veterans' and armed forces parade I saw.

Strange apparition

My older daughter will shortly be moving to Lincoln to study. She'll be living in the first house on the right in the narrow little lane that runs along the bottom of this hill.

I think she is hoping that Lincoln will always be as strange and Harry Potterish as it appears to be here...

I hope she isn't disappointed.

A different kind of Sunday morning

Some Sunday mornings you just happen on things...

Two more moments from the same Rathayatra festival mentioned below.

The Skull & Photographer

Yes, it sounds like a fictional pub in a strange Dickensian city one has never visited (there is a Skull & Trumpet if I recall correctly in Christopher Isherwood's LIONS AND SHADOWS), but it's also what passes for photographers' recreation on a Sunday morning...

Blessed with fire

Taken at a recent Rathayatra festival.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

History lesson

In the quiet before the crowds arrived for the Lord Mayor's Show a couple of weekends back, this moment stood out with all the clarity of a history lesson...

Friday, 28 May 2010

The museum of curiousities

Except this isn't a museum. It's where Birmingham keeps the stuff there isn't room for in its museums...

It's called the Museum Collections Centre and I mentioned it in the previous post. Here's a couple more taken there -- it was a weirdly atmospheric place, all the more so for the utter unpredictability of what one would see next.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Ghost fountain

Tom Lomax's Spirit & Enterprise is the beautiful fountain which graced Centenary Square until construction began recently on the new library. It now lies amongst piles of other street furniture and storage containers in the grounds of Birmingham Museum's storage facility in Nechells.

'Ghost signs' is the term used to refer to fading hand-painted advertising signs on buildings, typically painted on the gable-ends of shops and houses. 'Spirit & Enterprise' is currently a kind of ghost fountain. I hope it will be given a new life elsewhere in the city. This is how it used to look.

The museum's storage centre was recently thrown open for a public Open Day -- more of that in the next post.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Big Wheel

Another from shortly after Christmas. I spent ages trying to get a half-way decent picture that captured something of the size and scale and beauty of the big wheel when it was here in Birmingham. I must have taken dozens of pictures around and about there -- but all of them looked tacky rather than elegant, a mess rather than the clear geometric formalities I thought I was looking for. And then one evening shortly before the wheel was due to come down, I saw this juxtaposition and just about managed to squeeze a couple of very slow shots off before my bus came.

Oddly, it subsequently turned out to be exactly what I had been looking for.

Still moment

Just for a split second it seemed people had forgotten why they were there, then, as quickly as this mood descended, it vanished and the crowds surged onwards.

Monday, 17 May 2010


Vaisakhi marks the beginning of the Sikh new year and also commemorates the founding of Sikhism in 1699. On Sunday 25th April 2010 two processions set out for Handsworth Park for one of the largest Vaisakhi events in the UK -- one from Smethwick, and the other from the Ramgharia Gurdwara in Graham Street in the Jewellery Quarter, where this was taken.