The Magic Moment…

Remember the days of getting prints back from the Chemist/film developer/photo shop? Seeing what you had photographed maybe months ago. A pleasure which has largely disappeared with the instanaeity of digital cameras. Here are two girls enjoying that magic moment to such an extent that they have literally sat down in the gutter. Ironically snapped on my smart phone…



The Snapper Snapped!

Its not often that I find myself in front of the camera instead of behind it but a while back I had a visit from Abdulaziz Balarabe Abdurrahman, a photographer whose friend had told him about my frozen yoghurt shop Zest. The results of his afternoon’s shoot are now up on his website They include a portrait shot of me which though with the eye of vanity I recognise as showing my age, it is a nice shot!

The day I gave away £25,000

I shall never enjoy that magic moment on “Antiques Roadshow” where a member of the public gasps with surprise as the expert gives a valuation way more than they were expecting for the antique they have brought along – I have already had my moment and nothing else is likely to surpass it,,,

Some years ago when I lived in Ireland, I went to jumble sale in Sligo and happened on what I thought was an old accounts ledger. Without even opening it I asked the price and handed over £1 – it was still Punt then – pre-Euro. When I did open it a few minutes later, I was delighted to find that it was an album of 19th Century photographs and as I flicked through it, I realised that it was probably from Kilronan Castle, a then roofless ruin near to where my sister and brother-in-law had lived. When I showed it to him, Willie agreed and said that he believed that there had been an early photographer in the family that had lived there. I resolved to take it to the National Library of Ireland – Photographic Archive and if it was part of a body of work, to donate it to them to be with the rest of the work.


As you can see, the pages were elaborately decorated with pen borders – sometimes Celtic knotwork and in this case the date and place are given however like so many family albums since, the compiler of this album has not seen fit to name anybody – on the assumption that everybody in the family knows who is who… This may be true but people pass on and we are left with a collection of the nameless. Undoubtedly this is a family album and for the several years I had the album in my possession, I enjoyed speculating about who was who and who was the compiler. My money was on the girl on page one placed centre page between whom I guessed were her mother and father. There were other pages that betrayed the sentimental nature of youth such as a page of pets and also the passion for categorisation as in the pages of estate workers and indoor servants below.



There were also holiday photos – also labelled and dated , unlike the people. Look at the detail below in this scene of Rome…



It was not until I had returned to England that I finally got around to contacting the National Library of Ireland and sending them the above scans and they confirmed that the family who had lived in Kilronan Castle, were the King-Tenisons and both husband and wife had been pioneer photographers. Also, they would be delighted to accept the album into the collection of work they had of the King-Tenisons. I offered to post it and aghast the lady said they would collect it the next time they had someone over to England. A few weeks later they emailed saying I would have to obtain an export licence for them to bring the book out of England. I duly downloaded the form only to find that a valuation was required and the form was only for items in excess of £10,000! I rang the NLI and said “Don’t panic, I’m still going to give it to you but I needto know what the album is worth?” ” Well we obviously haven’t seen it and its condition  but we think about £25,00!”

Cue staggered moment!

Well eventually I got the export licence and the NLI sent someone to pick it up but that wasn’t the end of my involvement . Sadly I had to return to Ireland for the funeral of my dear ex-brother-in-law Willie and took the chance to go to the Photographic Archive to view the rest of the King-Tenison collection (my album was in conservation) ans they also passed on the name of an American academic who was writing a book about the couple. I made contact with Lee Fontanella and on one of his last research trips before publishing his book we met up at the archive and examined both my addition to the collection and other work that he had previously viewed. Lee outlined his book which is to tell the story of how this apparently cosmopolitan couple travelled round Spain for several years presumably before they settled down in Kilronan to raise a family. They hobnobbed with the Spanish aristocracy up to and including the queen, taking photographs of their estates and making a living by doing so.

Lee concurred that the album I had found was probably the work of the daughter and that certain pages were probably the discarded catalogue thumbnails of her parents work.

I hope that if economies improve and there is one day an exhibition of the King-Tenison’s work that I might play some part in the curating of it – perhaps exploring the theme of the shortcomings of family albums from this one henceforth, to label their subjects…

Happy Birthday Mobile Phone (Things I ONLY photograph with my Phone!)

So the mobile phone is 40 years old today – Happy Birthday! Whenever a new gadget, or programme or App as we now most often engage with, is announced as the next best thing, I am initially skeptical but I am truly fascinated to identify those things which really have, or are going to change our lives and the mobile phone is one of them. Used solely as a phone, it has meant we can be contacted up a mountain (if you’re lucky) and in certain advanced cities, even on the underground. No need to recourse to a phone box or the reception desk phone or the kindness of strangers – contact anywhere any time…

Remember the StarTrek “communicator buttons” those natty badges they wore on their lycra costumes that the y could communicate (via the ship as switch board) with anyone on the network. We may once have envied the ease of communication but now we have gone way beyond! Yes the mobile is a little bigger and doesn’t double as a lapel insignia but it is now a self contained computer with access to others  and with the knowledge bank directly (not just asking the ship for answers) and of course – A CAMERA!!!

People have a car accident these days, they whip out their mobile phones  – not just to call the police but to take a photograph of the evidence – like skid-marks, before the they get contaminated. Below is a photograph of my gas meter and not only could I produce a date stamped photograph of it but send it by email direct to whom it may concern. Or a video, to an acquaintance I’ve never met in the flesh on the other side of the world!


There are a lot of pictures on my computer which though they certainly could be taken on my Canon SLR – probably with greater technical quality – I would not have been bothered to get the beast out of the bag, power up, stow the lens cap in my pocket and then frame and shoot. So hereby way of celebration, is a small selection of Thing I ONLY photograph with my Phone!


Naked statuary on a snowy night in Leeds


A hand bag to become the inspiration for a blog post


…because I had no other camera to hand

What is this history I see before me?

The young photographer and his gear

Squinting in the sun on top of Table Mountain, Capetown S.A. 1968

In regular History there are two main philosophical themes, critical and speculative. Critical is concerned with the nature of historical evidence and the extent to which objectivity is possible whilst Speculative is looking for the meaning (if any) of human history – is it a sequence of unique events or is there a discernible pattern to it.

This history will be drawing on photographs mostly taken by me over some 45 years since my father handed down my first camera. and there will be some sequence though not necessarily chronological however, I am going to be looking for how my photography has changed with the times, my state of mind and most of all, the technology. Because when I spent my meagre pocket money on developing coloured slides, I wanted every shot to count and so each click of the shutter was carefully considered and the proportion of “successful” shots in each eagerly awaited set of slides was surprisingly high. A teenager today has probably had a cast off phone camera since he was old enough to hold one and pictures cost nothing to take so they are much more “disposable”, more copious but also more immediate, catching the zeitgeist as it unfolds indeed creating the zeitgeist.
Digital manipulation means, some say, that nothing can be regarded as true any more but were images ever true or did the eye and the mind behind the camera and their selectivity and framing of the world make the images just as subjective and questionably “true”. These are the themes I will explore here…

Camera phone and editing - 2012

“PhotoShop” in a phone.

The two photographs here span the history – that boy squinting in the unacustomedly bright sunlight on top of Table Mountain is me in 1968 at the age of 14 en route to Australia. My father had splashed out on a new camera so round my neck is his old hand me down – I can’t remember the make but it took 828 film which is 35mm in width but wit no sprockets so the slides were that little bit larger. The other camera took 127 film I think and was loaded with b/w stock. I don’t think I enjoyed that camera and its results so much as the anticipation of getting a box of coliour slides back.

The jazzedup night club shot is Ruth, a friend from one of the choirs I used to sing in and was taken with my Nokia N8 phone camera and processed with Photorim an app that lets you apply PhotoShop like effects to your pictures piling one effect on top of another without any technical knowledge – you just choose from preview options for each effect. Below is the original shot – was it gilding the lily, I’ll let you judge…

Original Shot

Original Shot