Friday, 21 December 2012

"Ice on the rabbit's paw"

Christmas is a time for traditions and one I grew up with was the annual attendance at one of the Liverpool Philharmonic Carol Concerts (now known as the 'Spirit of Christmas' concert). These were always wonderful, moving occasions and, in the last few years, we have started going again. Over the years, we have seen many different presenters such as Richard Baker, Peter Ustinov, Roger McGough, Lesley Garrett and John Suchet. Like James Bond and Dr Who, there can be debate as to who is the best but, for me, it has to be Richard Baker, the former newsreader who presided over the concerts for many years.

These concerts have their own traditions; they always end with a closing sequence usually consisting of one of John Rutter's beautiful carols followed by a reading, a mesmerising rendition of 'Silent Night' by the choir and, finally, everyone stands to belt out 'O, Come All Ye Faithful' . Always, the reading was 'Christmas Landscape' by Laurie Lee and it never failed to bring tears to my eyes. Until last year, that is. Last years concert was particularly magical with that single exception - it just wasn't the same without that particular reading. A friend (who's family were also regulars at these concerts) once told me that, for his Mother, Christmas began when she heard the words "ice on the rabbit's paw" and that pretty much sums up how I feel.

Sunday night we will go once more. Sadly, this year, it will just be me, J and my Father but I know we will have a wonderful evening and, just in case they leave it out again, or you've never come across it, here is that wonderfully evocative poem in full although the reading always ended at "The blessed babe is laid".

Let Christmas begin!

"Christmas Landscape" - Laurie Lee

Tonight the wind gnaws
With teeth of glass,
The jackdaw shivers
In caged branches of iron,
The stars have talons.

There is hunger in the mouth
Of vole and badger,
Silver agonies of breath
In the nostril of the fox,
Ice on the rabbit’s paw.

Tonight has no moon,
No food for the pilgrim;
The fruit tree is bare,
The rose bush a thorn
And the ground is bitter with stones.

But the mole sleeps, and the hedgehog
Lies curled in a womb of leaves,
The bean and the wheat-seed
Hug their germs in the earth
And the stream moves under the ice.

Tonight there is no moon,
But a new star opens
Like a silver trumpet over the dead.
Tonight in a nest of ruins
The blessed babe is laid.
And the fir tree warms to a bloom of candles,
And the child lights his lantern,
Stares at his tinselled toy;
And our hearts and hearths
Smoulder with live ashes.

In the blood of our grief
The cold earth is suckled,
In our agony the womb
Convulses its seed;
In the first cry of anguish
The child’s first breath is born.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Planning Isn't Everything

In a previous post I mentioned a talk I prepared for Frodsham & District Photographic Society in which I described my planning and preparation for a landscape photography outing. To be honest, there is no rocket science involved; it's mostly about considering the weather forecast, sunrise and sunset timings and, where appropriate, tides. In preparing for the Thursday just gone, I had done all of these things and settled on a plan which consisted of starting the day at Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) and, when done there, heading over to Cwmorthin near Blaenau Ffestiniog. My reasoning for the former was that the expected still morning offered the prospect of interesting reflections in the lake and you can see from the picture above that things worked out pretty much as hoped; the sunrise wasn't dramatic but I was really happy with the soft, pastel tones that materialised.

I spent a couple of hours by the lake before packing up to head off for Cwmorthin. This is a hanging valley extensively scarred by industry in the form of slate quarrying. The ruins make for an interesting photographic location but one of my main reasons for heading there on this occasion was the knowledge that the sun barely penetrates the valley at this time of year. That may sound strange but, given the cold forecast, I anticipated plenty of frost and ice and this is what I wanted.

I didn't make it there....

As I headed out of Bala, I discovered an extensive hoar frost in the area surrounding the Afon Tryweryn and, after driving a short distance further, I decided to abandon my plans and turn back. A quick review of my map indicated that a path ran alongside the river and this became my new objective. After all, I reasoned, it was frosty conditions I came for, and here, frosty conditions I had. The rest of the morning was spent happily pottering along the river bank where there were many opportunities for frosty pictures.

The moral of this tale is that, although planning is important, you should also be prepared to adapt to what's before you. I will never know whether there were even better conditions at Cwmorthin but I am happy with my morning's work and don't regret changing my mind. I think I need to update that talk.

Prints available from my website :

Saturday, 8 December 2012

In My Liverpool Home

Liverpool was my birthplace. I'm a Scouser although I probably don't sound very much like one having been brought up on the Wirral peninsula. I tell you this so that you know that I may be simply biased when I say that it is one of the finest cities in the world but I do believe it. Yes it is less than salubrious in parts and quite scruffy in others but there is some fabulous architecture to be found there. So, when my daughter said she needed to take some architecture photographs for her A Level, there was only one place to go (New York and Venice being rather too far). This was something of a treat for me since, although I go into Liverpool quite often, it is usually with a specific purpose (shopping) so it is a long time since I've taken the trouble to study the buildings. In many cases, it was a welcome return to an old favourite but I also did a little bit of research beforehand and discovered some new gems. The only pity was that we didn't have more time.

As the main aim was for S to get some pictures, I decided to travel light and take just the one, 50mm lens on my D800. I was able to make use of the camera's selective format offering to get some different looks from the one lens but every picture in the montage above was taken yesterday with that one lens. I am sure that some would benefit from judicious cropping but that's for another time. Only the central image deviates from the 3:2 format, having had a little bit of foreground water removed to give a better balance.

We began the day in Toxteth; an area known for cultural diversity, there is a mosque, a synagogue and a Greek orthodox church within a few hundred yards of each other. All were photographed but, sadly, we were unable to go inside any of them. The website for the synagogue does say that it is possible to arrange tours and interior pictures look spectacular but, from the outside, it is the least remarkable of the three buildings. We wandered around a little, taking in the 'drive thru' Nat West Bank (sadly, doesn't appear to offer this unique facility anymore) and Toxteth Library before making the short journey down the road to the Anglican Cathedral. Previously, you have had to purchase a permit to photograph inside the cathedral but the appear to have dropped the charge and we were even assured we could use a tripod if we wished. It was here that I received my degree and I still cannot imagine a more impressive setting. It really is a magnificent structure. The Catholic, Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King was our next main target; it is, of course, dramatically different to it's counterpart at the far end of Hope Street. Although it cannot match the sheer drama of the Anglican Cathedral, I have become increasingly fond of it over the years and the stained glass is exceptional.

I decided at this point to leave my car where it was and head down into the city centre. Our route took us down to St. Georges Hall and William Brown Street, then through the central business district to the waterfront before heading back up through Liverpool One to Bold Street and, finally, Upper Duke Street and back to the car. I had planned the route to take in many of the classic buildings but also some of the newer structures that have appeared over the last 10 years. In addition to the two cathedrals, the highlights for me were:

Oriel Chambers : Built in 1864, this Grade 1 listed building was the World's first metal framed building, the precursor of many of the early skyscrapers found in New York and Chicago. That in itself makes it special but, when I was young, for me it was the place where first my Father (with Gracie Beazley) and, later, my Mother (for a Solicitors), both worked.

India Buildings : Opposite Oriel Chambers in Water Street, you will find India Buildings. This has a more functional, 1920s look to it but the magic is inside where there is an elegant arcade of shops. Sadly, many of the shop spaces are no longer occupied (I imagine passing trade is poor these days) but it still retains it's charm.

Exchange Flags : It's a curious name for a building and it really refers to the area behind the Town Hall where trading was traditionally carried out. The buildings surround the flags on three sides and it has long been a favourite space of mine. For many years, the offices lay empty and, if I recall, there was a question over their safety but I'm pleased to say that they have now been renovated and are back in use. The other significant feature of these building is that they sit above the underground operations rooms used during the second world war for the coordination of the fleet activities in the Western Approaches. This complex is no longer open to the public - a real shame because, having visited it on a couple of occasions, I found it fascinating.

Port of Liverpool Building : Known more commonly as 'the Dock Office', this is one of the three graces on Liverpool's Pier Head and, for me, is the most impressive. Although the Liver Building gets the greatest attention, the Dock Office is more elegant and I urge you to go inside. Here you will find corridors radiating out from a central, octagonal hall beneath the dome. Maritime themes can be found in the mosaic floor, the stained glass and, most obviously, in the inscription which runs around the eight walls of the hall; "They that go down to the sea in ships that do business in great waters these see the works of the Lord and his wonders of the deep. Anno Domini MCMVII".

The Bling Bling Building : I include this not just to prove that I like modern architecture as well as old, but also because I actually didn't know of it's existence before yesterday. It is quite embarrassing to admit it but the truth is that I never really go near Hanover Street these days. It certainly is a curious building but I really do like it, particularly looking up School Lane where the protruding pod seemed to balance perfectly against the (closer) pub sign.

St Luke's Church : Our final 'stop' on our tour was the bombed out church of St Luke's. The Church was struck by an incendiary bomb on 6th May 1941 and was completely gutted by the fire that engulfed it. It remains, maintained as a ruin, a memorial to those who died in the war.

The day ended with the short drive through the Birkenhead Tunnel (another marvel of engineering) to the Woodside Ferry Terminal where I made the final (central) picture of the day. Unfortunately, the warm, late afternoon light had been swallowed up by cloud so I had to make do with this four minute exposure. I did make a couple of even longer exposures but this was the most successful. All told, I was there for about half an hour in the company of a very interesting man who regaled me with interesting facts (some true) and fairly tall stories. And so, the montage - my tribute to the architecture of my City - each one taken yesterday. I must have another day like that soon.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Featured Photograph for December 2012

I do have a confession to make; this picture was not made in December. However, I don't necessarily think that I have to feature pictures in the month they were made and, anyway, this is surely a depiction of what we all want December to look like.

This is a picture from a couple of years ago when we had a rare episode of very heavy snowfall here in west Cheshire. I can only recall two or three times in the last 25 years when this has happened so I made sure I made the most of it with a trip into North Wales. This, however, was much closer to home - Frodsham Golf Course in fact (I wasn't trespassing, there is a footpath across the course - see below). It had only just stopped snowing and I went in search of just this kind of scene. I wanted something simple, that was all about the shape of the tree and really needed to find a tree I could position against the skyline with nothing else to intrude. Once I had found a suitable tree, making the photograph was relatively simple.

I had initially planned to make this a silhouette. Indeed, given the dynamic range involved, I expected it would have to be a silhouette as I exposed for the sky to ensure it was pure white - a bit like a studio background. When processing the picture, though, I discovered I was able to retain the white of the sky and snow whilst bringing out some detail in the tree and this, I decided, looked better then a silhouette would have.