21 February, 2011


This is one of my favourite photographs and I really want to post it here
this morning, February 22nd, 2011.

It is of my mother who was born in 1911,
one hundred years ago today.

Sadly she did not hang in for her telegram from the Queen
but the photograph helps me to remember/imagine her doing
what she most enjoyed doing in those early days before WW2,
sailing in the Solent with her new husband.

Actually, I might myself have been around, in one form or another,
when these photographs were taken . . . or very soon after!

16 February, 2011

We are ready for our close-up, Mr Grigor!

New readers may not know that Frances and I are both graduates of St Andrews University (in the distant past) and were friends then . . . although we only 'got together' at a later date! Another friend of both of us back then, and subsequently, was Murray Grigor who was making films as a student but who has honed an increasingly starry name for himself as a maker of seriously beautiful (and beautifully serious) documentary films as well as designing art exhibitions and running film festivals.

What you also need to know is that St Andrews University is coming up to its 600th anniversary. Yes, that is correct . . . it is older than any foundation in the UK with the exception of a college or so at Oxford and Cambridge. No doubt there will be any number of jamborees of all sorts to celebrate the event but, just for now, Murray Grigor has been commissioned to make a major documentary about the history of the place and the people who are alumni.

Living folk can be interviewed in various ways but dead ones cannot. The really good plan that Murray has come up with is that extant graduates should not only talk a bit about themselves but also about an earlier graduate no longer with us.

One of Frances' gifts to me in the early days lay in sharing with me the work of Gavin Douglas - whose translation of Vergil's Aeneid was completed in 1513 and first published in 1553. [The book had to be printed in London, incidentally, because the arts of printing had not quite reached Scotland.] His translation was hugely enhanced by the Prologues he wrote to each of the Books which often give delicious descriptions of Nature and country living of the day. This feeds so clearly into the subjects that we find valuable in our lives and in our work that Frances suggested to Murray that Douglas should be 'our chap'.

We had been told some time ago to expect a lightning visitation and it was on Monday evening that Murray (and the other part of this brilliant but lean team, his Director of Photography, Hamid Shams) arrived here having photographed wild boars that day (don't ask me why, it is a long story!) and Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, the day before. They stayed a couple of nights and we had great fun. The 'spaghetti' enveloping Hamid's camera will tell its own story! They then rushed off to the next in a long line of St Andreans and will, very soon, be interviewing a pair of rather high profile graduates whom I am not at the moment allowed to mention!

. . . oh yes. I almost forgot to mention. There is to be a narrator throughout the show. A chap called Sean Connery . . .

The fact was remembered that I had spent most of my time at University acting and directing with The Mermaid Dramatic Society. I rashly mentioned that I still had an old scrapbook . . . and that led to Hamid scanning old photos. As some of these are now on my desktop, I had better give you a laugh with me as David King in A Sleep of Prisoners and a couple as Creon in Oedipus at Colonus. The former was performed in the University Chapel (that's me in the pulpit) and the other in the ruins of the Castle. (Note to audience, bring your own blankets!)

08 February, 2011

Up the Wye with a makeshift Claude glass

One day last summer, Frances and I went on a trip in a motor boat up the River Wye, from Chepstow to Tintern and back again. The event was designed of course to give some of the flavour of the Picturesque Trips taken by the oh-so-romantic followers of the Rev. Gilpin and painters such as Turner, Palmer, Cox and Varley.

It was great fun and interesting from many points of view. I did of course take my camera and had dreamed of stunning shots of cloud and lightning effects after John Martin and tangled masses of vegetation that I would immediately recognize as the precursors of the neo-romantic. Sadly it did not work quite like that. The weather was totally bland and I had even forgotten to bring the polarizing filter that I use so much. Restriction to the deck of a small boat forces on a photographer the role of the 'click at anything that passes' passive tourist. In search of a photograph, I will always seek to get under the subject . . . or behind it or see it through something else. This is not possible in the middle of a river. Frankly I had hoped, nay expected, to carry home a load of stunningly 'artistic' studies with which I could amaze the favoured followers of this site . . . but this was not to be.

I have revisited the file and find that the shots of the 'sights' please me no more than they did . . . but I give a number here, mostly as an introduction to what follows.

So, starting at the grandeur of Chepstow Castle (above), we progress . . .

. . . we progress until we sight Tintern Abbey

Now we come to the real point of this post. I have always been fascinated by the concept of the Claude Glass, so beloved by the artists and the just arty among the travellers up the Wye. Hard to describe, so I call upon the good offices of Wikipedia . . .

A Claude glass (or Black Mirror) is a small mirror, slightly convex in shape, with its surface tinted a dark colour. Bound up like a pocket-book or in a carrying case, black mirrors were used by artists, travellers and connoisseurs of landscape and landscape painting. Black Mirrors have the effect of abstracting the subject reflected in it from its surroundings, reducing and simplifying the colour and tonal range of scenes and scenery to give them a painterly quality.

Just before we were leaving home for this adventure I suddenly had the perhaps crazy idea of experimenting with a photographic equivalent. I grabbed my trusty small diminishing glass (invaluable in the business of designing book pages) and hoped I could back it with the black scarf I was already wearing.

I have read that the Claude glass users were ridiculed for turning their backs on the subjects the purported to admire so much as they stared into their glasses and I feared that I must look very strange holding my camera in one hand and taking a photograph OF the other!

Anyway, here are some of the results which, after the passage of time, I find more interesting as the 'straight' photographs seem more pedestrian. I leave them to have whatever effect on you they do.