Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Symphonica And Deep South


We are off down south for a few days. I will leave you with a couple of recent shots, both of which result from experimenting with my recently acquired "Little Nik". The first was an attempt to see what the camera could do with hand-held night shots. One is tempted to say "not a lot", but I am quite fond of the image. All it needs is a catchy title - "Symphonica 13" - and it may catch on.


The second image was another shot gone wrong. It started as a slightly out of focus shot of some fallen Autumn leaves. I tried to sharpen it up using Photoshop and obviously pressed the wrong button.  For this one, I couldn't even begin to think of a catchy title.

I will leave you to ponder these images whilst I venture into the deep south. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Indecent Proximity Of Homes And Mills

There is something about scanning and repairing old negatives : you get intimate with them. Up close and personal you get to airbrush history; discovering a detail here and a long forgotten commonplace there. When I reach into my negatives files looking for a strip of negatives to bring back to life, I always favour places rather than people. It is those throw-away shots of a nondescript road or a terminal mill that hold the most secrets and, like a sponge, seem to soak up the most social history.

I spent the first few years of my life in Great Horton, about a mile or so away from where this shot was taken. The photograph manages to capture so much of West Yorkshire : the steep cobbled streets, the drunken chimneys, the indecent proximity of homes and mills. 

It would appear that Cannon Mills still exists and now is the site of an outdoor Asian market. I feel a trip down memory lane coming on.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sepia Saturday 255 : Part Crufts Part Silhouette

It's a tricky Sepia Saturday theme image this week. The photograph, which comes from the Estonian National Archives, is entitled "Eveline Maydell making a silhouette, with her models. Indianapolis 1931" I have no silhouettes in my family archives so I had to settle for the dog in the centre of the photograph.

There was something about the look of the dog, that canine stance, part Crufts part shameless show-off, that reminded me of a photograph from one or another cardboard box that constitutes the Burnett Family Archives. Eventually I tracked it down : Harry Moore and an unknown dog - a photograph from the 1940s or 1950s. I have never thought of Harry Moore ("Uncle Harry") being a dog person. Towards the end of his life he would drag Auntie Miriam's old Jack Russell around the streets of Northowram without either enthusiasm or noticeable affection. But this is a younger Harry, a Harry that was still in touch with his glory days when he would tour the country as part of a touring group of entertainers (think of J B Priestley's fine novel "The Good Companions"). 

But those who have already read the story of Harry Moore on these pages will no doubt recall the name of that touring concert party. Yes indeed, "The Silhouettes"


Friday, November 21, 2014

A Dog On The Turn Amid A Lot Of Megapixels

Amy is on the turn - she is becoming  nocturnal. For the last thirteen years she has been more than happy to go for a walk through the Crematorium in the morning and a stroll around the block in the early evening. Together, we have grown into this routine: our twice daily walks providing a daily timeline, like some peripatetic minaret call. Now she shuns our tea time outing, rolling over on her back, sinking into some deeper level of unconsciousness. And then, at half past midnight, when all good folk are tucked up in bed, she wants to take to the streets. It's a better time of the day, she explained to me the other day, a time when you don't bump into other dogs or other people (she is not that fond of other dogs). It's a time when the only life you are likely to meet is a fox on its evening stroll or the milkman making an early delivery. It's a time of the day when you can be alone with the street lights, the fog, and your thoughts.

I have just taken delivery of a new camera (message to the GLW if she is reading this, it was a bargain). It is just a little point and shoot Nikon, the kind of camera that you can slip into your pocket and forget about until that moment when a good shot sneaks up on you. Despite the fact that it is by far the cheapest camera in my collection, it happens to have probably the best sensor of any camera I have ever owned - packing a mighty 20 megapixels. I remember buying 3 megapixel cameras and thinking "nobody could ever need more than that" I remember telling someone that wanting more than 5 megapixels was nothing but greedy. I remember hitting double megapixel figures and thinking "that is more than enough for the rest of my life".  No doubt within the next few months I will be penning another blog post as I try out some new 50 megapixel camera (message to the GLW if she is reading this, no I won't, my camera buying days are behind me).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Most Of The Last Sixty Odd Years


We went to York yesterday : the GLW to meet up with her cousin for some recreational shopping, and myself for the ride. We had what the weather forecasters call "sunny intervals" which meant that I was able to wander around the old city taking photographs. It may not sound particularly thrilling, but it is what I enjoy - and have done for most of the last sixty odd years.

It is the kind of activity that is best done alone. There is an awful lot of just wandering up and down back streets, looking for the right angle, seeking the right composition. It is a type of mind-game in which your eye - and its extension, the camera lens - battles against the ever changing lines of buildings and people until it thinks it has found something pleasing, something which - when it is transposed onto printing paper or computer screen - will be meaningful. That strange branch of humanity who call themselves photographers will know what I mean.

And when the sun had one of its intervals, there were other things to occupy my time. Sitting in a quiet pub, enjoying a rather nice pint of beer. It may not sound particularly thrilling, but it is what I enjoy - and have done for most of the last sixty odd years.

For those who are interested in such minutia, the pub in question was Ye Olde Starre Inne - which despite its silly name is really rather old - and the pint was the deliciously malty Naylor's Aire Valley Bitter.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mr Punch, Mr Gladstone And The Scarcity Of Second Hand Bookshops


I was in Liverpool a couple of months ago and happily browsing around that rarest of creatures, an old second-hand bookshop (the kind where books are stacked like firebricks and filed according to some long-forgotten system) when I found a half-bound copy of Punch Magazine dating from 1889. It was half-bound because one of the covers had taken its own, quite separate,  road through life a hundred years or so ago, but its boundless energy resulted in a bargain price of £2 - less than the price of a half-decent pint.

Some times, when the rain is falling and the fog is drifting in, I will dip into my old Punch annual and try to make sense of a political cartoon which is so far past its sell-by date that the joke has turned sepia. This cartoon featuring William Ewart Gladstone is a great example.

In June 1889 Gladstone was Leader of the Opposition and a tireless political campaigner despite having reached the age of 79.  Where others would take long summer holidays, Gladstone would fill his time delivering political speeches in all parts of the country and the cartoon shows Gladstone on a train heading for the West Country and another round of political meetings. At this time in his life, he was becoming more and more radical in his views, flirting almost with an early version of democratic socialism.

One is tempted to look back across the political years and conclude that little has changed. People were making fun of politicians back then, and many of the events of 1889 - aristocrats involved in sex scandals, people demanding a decent living wage, Sheffield Wednesday losing at football - have a degree of familiarity.  Some things do change, however; and not necessarily for the better. A politician prepared to face the people - without a carefully selected audience and a carefully placed autocue - would today be as rare as an empty railway carriage. A Leader of the Opposition who was entering his eighties and still destined to serve a further term as Prime Minister, would today be as unthinkable as a self-penned speech. And a politician who was getting more radical as he got older would today be as hard to find as a decent second-hand bookshop.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Sepia Saturday 254 : Life Over My Shoulders


The theme image for Sepia Saturday 254 features a man carrying a woman over a river. My dip into the archives this week has a man, a woman and a river; but it is Waterloo Bridge in London that is doing the carrying. The man is myself, the woman is the GLW (Good Lady Wife) and the date must be somewhere around 1970 or 1971. 

At the time I was at university up in Keele in Staffordshire whilst Isobel was at university in London. Although we spent the week apart, we would get together each weekend : our meetings being based on a three week cycle - one weekend she would travel up to Staffordshire, the next I would travel down to London, and the third we would both return to our homes in Halifax.  The weekend of the photograph was obviously a London weekend and you can clearly see the Houses of Parliament in the background and the Royal Festival Hall to the left of the photograph.

Within two or three years of the photograph being taken, we had married and I had moved down to London and started working for the Inner London Education Authority at County Hall; the building that you can just make out over my right shoulder. A year later I had moved on and I was working as an early version of what is now known as a "spin doctor" for the Labour Party at their Smith Square headquarters which was adjacent to Parliament and therefore just above my left shoulder in the photograph.

It is interesting that, what started with an attempt to match a Sepia Saturday theme image, has turned into a chapter of an autobiography I have yet to write. If I ever do so, I am tempted to call the chapter dealing with the 1970s - "Life Over My Shoulders".

When you have finished looking over my shoulder you can see what other Sepia Saturday contributors are looking at this week by visiting the SEPIA SATURDAY Blog and following the various links.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Angles That Were Right Not Wrong

The nineteenth century did not do curves very well. With the rigidity of a Victorian patriarch, architects preferred horizontals and verticals, angles that were right not wrong. Get rid of the stylistic curves of the cars and the vaguely carnal line of the flyover and you are left with the solidity in stone that is nineteenth century Halifax.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

At The Snap Of A Digital Finger

Buried deep within an old family photograph is this busy beach scene. It is likely to be the Yorkshire coast, probably Scarborough or Bridlington, and the styles and shapes all point to the 1930s. Nobody took this photograph - it is a by-product of a snap of sleeping Uncle Harry. But the watchers and the deckchair sitters and even the hefty horse have been waiting around for eighty or so years, waiting to be rediscovered, ready to be re-awakened at the snap of a digital finger.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dressing Properly In Yorkshire

People don't dress properly like they used to: thank goodness. We seem to have outgrown the need for men to wear a noose-like tie around their necks and women to wear a sober skirt for them to be taken seriously. Most restaurants no longer feel the need to keep a spare tie behind the reception desk in order to maintain customer standards and signs in pubs limiting customers in work clothes to certain bars would now be treated with the disrespect they deserve. The tendency to make judgements based upon styles of dress is, hopefully, in retreat, but it still exists and occasionally we all still need reminding to avoid such sartorial snobbery.

It is possible to visit many of the towns and cities of West Yorkshire with their large populations of citizens who come from an Asian background and spot styles of dress that might appear "foreign". The sight of women wearing the hijab - or headscarf - is now relatively common in these parts, but any lingering thoughts of cultural separateness are driven away by their rich Yorkshire accents. And their headscarves are not all that foreign to these stone-flagged Yorkshire streets. I remember seeing a clip from an early short film which was shot outside the gates of a Yorkshire mill in the early years of the twentieth century, just as the mill girls were leaving for the day. Almost every one of them was wrapped in a full headscarf. I was reminded of this only yesterday when I found this old photograph of my grandmother, Harriet Ellen Burnett, taken, I would guess, some time in the 1950s. She is wearing the same headscarf that she wore throughout her life in line with, what to her, was a grand old Yorkshire tradition.