Enhance! Finding tiny treats in huge old photographs

I’m a fan of old photographs scanned in at eye-seeringly high resolution. In fact, I’m sure I’ve mentioned this on my blog in the past.

Beyond the gorgeous, crisp look of these old images, it’s the details that sneak in which get me really excited. Little features that you could easily miss when looking at the image in full, but which can be scrutinised more closely when zooming in.

Here are a couple of recent examples I’ve stumbled across.

From a gorgeous shot, circa 1911, of Waterlow Court, a beautiful, low-cost arts and crafts housing scheme on Hampstead Garden Suburb, we can spy a cosy-looking desk in the back corner:


But what’s on the desk? It looks to a quick 21st century glance rather like a laptop, or even an iPad.


Ah! It’s a calendar, or something like it, in a frame. Of course it is. But how nice to get these extra details – a letter-writing kit, some framed family portraits, a notebook, and a desk blotter pad. It’s the little personal details that make it even easier to see this place as it was lived in – even in the absence of humans in the image itself.

Another one, this time from Archives New Zealand, shows a 1930s railway carriage – but a rather fancy one.

In this one, again, there are lots of sumptuous details to behold. But it’s the tech that catches my eyes…

Phwoar – would you get a load of that phone/radio receiver setup? Look how shiny. Gorgeous.


If you want an easy source of the kinds of beautiful, high-res images that set my pulse racing, I’d always recommend shorpy.com (just click each image to view large), meanwhile the National Library of New Zealand has a staggering amount of images online, which if you drill down enough, you can usually view at incredibly high resolution.

Pitchfork Review: Ryan Adams – Live at Carnegie Hall

Live at Carnegie Hall makes Adams’ impromptu comedy the main draw: somewhere within this three-and-a-half-hour package is one of the funniest standup records you’ll hear in 2015. And the subject of nearly all of Ryan Adams’ jokes is Ryan Adams. This is a career-spanning project, so “Ryan Adams” becomes a very, very broad topic. Adams offers countless punchlines about the prevalence of tears and rain in his music as well as his penchant for using this reputation to his advantage—”Probably like 86% of you are on Paxil, so you understand about depression. So… you’re at a fucking Ryan Adams show,” he cracks at one point.

via Ryan Adams: Live at Carnegie Hall | Album Reviews | Pitchfork.

There’s a new Ryan Adams album – and it’s a live recording. I was initially blasé about this, given how many essential Ryan Adams live recordings are available via the network of bootleggers and uploaders that have followed him for so long. But for all those amateur live recordings, we really do need a handful of definitive collections, and it sounds like this one comes pretty close.

It’s been a while since I frothed rabidly about Ryan Adams, and lord knows I used to do that a lot more often in the past. So it’s reassuring when a new Ryan Adams thing pops up every year or two to remind me that he’s still great, and also of fun times past.

The reviewer above says this set won’t please the hardcore fans – I guess partly because of the ubiquity of those essential live bootlegs I mentioned. But it’s been a while since I poured a glass of wine (or two, or three), and devoted a few hours to Ryan Adams, so I’m looking forward to drinking this one in.

Listen to Live at Carnegie Hall (Deluxe) on Spotify.

016/100 – 7-11 Herbrand Street, London

7-11 Herbrand Street - Wallis, Gilbert and Partners 1931
7-11 Herbrand Street – Wallis, Gilbert and Partners 1931

Now occupied by a communications agency, this wonderful 1930s building feels slightly tucked away. But as soon as you see it – WHOOSH. The glorious paint job helps, but there it is, all subtle curves and fine black lines.

Dating from 1931 (as if you couldn’t tell), this was a coach station and garage, for Daimler car hire. What really knocks me out is that sweeping spiral car ramp, and the bold lift tower. I was interested to see it used to be a coach station – you can see similarities with Victoria Coach Station.

The building is grade II listed, and the entry contains the following ‘historical note':

Daimler-owned cars were stored on the upper floors while the basement was used as a car park, for privately owned cars, with a waiting-room, attendant’s office, lavatories and telephones. Each floor had an electrically operated pressure washing plant for the cars.

015/100 – Goodge Street Deep Level Shelter

Goodge Street Deep Level Shelter
Goodge Street Deep Level Shelter (aka The Eisenhower Centre) – 1942

There are a small number of these odd-looking buildings scattered around London. They are the above-ground structures of London’s deep level shelters, constructed during World War II. Each is associated with a tube station – all but one are by Northern Line stations. There’s one I pass most days near Belsize Park tube, and this one is just off Tottenham Court Road, near Goodge Street tube.

Most were designed to house 8,000 people. This one is known as the Eisenhower Centre, but I’ve found conflicting reports as to whether it was used by the President (the Supreme Allied Commander for D-Day). All were used by the government, but some were opened up to the public when bombing intensified. This one served as a headquarters for the Allied armed forces.

I’m starting to notice a trend with the buildings I’m featuring here – and, in turn, with the buildings I notice when I’m out and about. Much like cabmen’s shelters, phone boxes and police stations, these buildings are all of a certain type – with subtle variations – and they tend to have an intriguing history or use.

It boggles my mind a little bit thinking about what lies beneath this type of building. They tend to be used for storage or network infrastructure now. But the subterranean tunnels, pipes and so on are all generally still intact. Pretty fascinating.

Norway heading towards FM switchover

By 2017, Norway wants to be the first country to ditch FM radio entirely | Ars Technica

This week, Norway’s Ministry of Culture announced its plans to transition completely towards digital radio and turn off FM radio nationwide, according to an English report from Radio.no (the original announcement in Norwegian can be found here). The switch-off is scheduled to begin in January 2017, and it would make Norway the first country in the world to “decide upon an analogue switch-off for all major radio channels,” according to the announcement.

I find this very interesting – I listen to a fair bit of radio and, although I appreciate many of DAB’s features, there’s still a lot to be said for FM. And it’s not just nostalgia: the ubiquity of FM coverage and receivers means an awful lot, but benefits such as FM receivers having much better battery life are hard to ignore.

We’ll see more and more of these stories in coming years. The UK had been considering a relatively early switchover, as soon as 2015 or 2018. A more recent report hints that the ‘tipping point’ necessary for the UK government to re-consider switching off analogue signals will come around the end of 2016. Some countries will have more reason to switch over than others; I suspect that Norway’s geography and population dispersal may mean an early switchover makes more sense than other areas.

I recently picked up a decent little receiver – predominantly to noodle around on the short wave bands, but also as a decent FM device. Part of my reason for getting a new radio was as my previous receiver, a cute John Lewis FM/DAB model, chomps through batteries at quite an alarming rate (the supplied mains cable having bitten the dust some time ago). Annoyingly, the John Lewis model wasn’t even particularly power efficient in FM mode as it has a screen backlight which is on while the radio is on. It also has no clock or alarm features.

My new Tecsun PL-380 receiver

My new toy has a useful clock, alarm, and sensitive digital tuner. It’s compact, and covers a wide range of wave bands. It also appears to be very power efficient. The display is large and can be backlit – but, usefully, can be set to just come on for a few seconds when pressing buttons. I’m using it for a couple of hours a day, most days – and occasionally for many hours at a time.

It doesn’t do DAB – so I’m missing 6 Music. But I’m not missing better reception: I live in London, and the stations I want to listen to come through loud and clear. Even some of the stations I didn’t think I wanted to hear – pirate stations, which I’m surprised to find are still very much alive and healthy – are well received, and it’s quite fascinating to tune up and down the length of the FM band to see what is broadcasting.

And this is all before I even begin rambling about shortwave listening. Picking up direct radio signals from afar is still pretty thrilling. The fact that you can usually hear the same broadcasts online is helpful, but not at all the same. Knowing that you’re picking up a wireless signal that left a tower halfway around the world is really quite awesome. Even in this day and age.

Likewise, picking up local FM transmissions is a nice, direct connection between broadcaster and listener.

I had the unutterable joy of producing and co-hosting regular shows on Manchester’s All FM for a few years while I was at university. Knowing that the signal was leaving the studio not just via webcast, but via FM, was a huge part of the attraction of doing live radio.

And when I last visited Auckland, NZ, I was so happy to be able to tune in my personal little radio to 95bFM, a station that for so long I had only ever been able to hear as an internet stream. Feeling that close connection – by default, as I had to be nearby to pick up the signal – gave me quite a buzz.

In short: FM is great, and I’m glad it’s still going strong.