2020 weeknote 2

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Turning over the rubber date stamp to see a fresh, un-inked ‘2020’ is a good visual metaphor

The first proper ‘work week’ of 2020, and quite a landmark as we said goodbye to our manager who is destined for pastures (or estates) new. Lots of things to sort out, inevitably, even with a longish notice period. There’s never enough time. Cue bouts of hysteria around loss of years of knowledge and experience, and colleagues and I running around like headless chickens. Of course with hindsight we’ll have been fine. But it’s felt like quite the upheaval.

Thursday and Friday were taken up by the aforementioned leaving do, and then the final day proper. The former went very well – not a foregone conclusion, given the number and variety of attendees – and the latter was pleasant enough, though marred slightly by some very last-minute srs bsns.

Spent a few minutes watching a blackbird in the garden attacking a holly tree, retrieving berries. And the rest of any free time my brain allowed me was spent daydreaming about some of the highlights of our trip to Bruges the previous week. I have a feeling Bruges will stay with me. One of those very special places.

Not an awful lot else to report – a quiet weekend was had, as it was the first proper weekend in a few weeks of no plans. I know I spent some of it just pottering, and a lengthy session on Sunday which took me back ten years or so. Now and then I find myself browsing Flickr and Tumblr and other personal blogs and it’s similar to the kind of web browsing I did in 2010 and earlier.

The very particular aesthetic of certain photographers and bloggers that I just find so comforting and, a little, inspiring. Film photographers, studyblrs, and curators (YES!) of all kind of niche interests.

And just the very act of using Flickr and Tumblr themselves, though being aware of how they are increasingly becoming dinosaurs of another era. I think I know in my gut now that they – at least in their present forms – aren’t long for this world. But I still find comfort in them.

Onwards.

2020 weeknote 1

The Belfry seen from the Groenerei / Quai Verte

The first week of 2020 began with a four-day trip to Bruges, which was fabulous and not a bad way at all to kick off a new year.

I’ve been editing the photographs (I took a lot) and I still can’t quite believe how lovely Bruges is. I had expected it to be lovely, and assumed there would be nice bits dotted around, but I was surprised by how consistently pretty it is, and how much I enjoyed walking around.

As well as how the place looked, I was also struck by how Bruges sounds. Traffic level are low, which has is a big help. And there are horses and carriages around every corner. Their hooves make a lovely noise on the cobbled streets. But the icing on the cake is the amount of church bells one hears all throughout the day. The bells mark the hours and quarter hours, and also call people to services. They reverberate around the town wonderfully.

The Belfry

The highlight of this auditory experience of Bruges was going up the Belfry, which houses an array of bells (obviously), but also (less obviously), a carillon, which enables the array of bells to be played as though it were an organ or similar keyboard instrument.

We somewhat accidentally chose Saturday morning for our climb up the tower of the Belfry, and it coincided perfectly with a carillon performance – as we neared the top, we passed the small room inside which was a man happily sat at his keyboard, just starting to perform using the bells meters above his head.

Nothing could have prepared us for the experience of being inside the belfry as the bells played out. I had foolishly assumed that the viewing area of the belfry would be different to the bit where the bells are, otherwise how could mere mortals occupy a space in which loud bells are rung every quarter of an hour?

Wrong. And, indeed, bong.

The viewing area is very much where all the bells are housed, and the noise of their clanging is, quite literally, cacophonous. It was also a unique opportunity to get out my Tascam recorder and – after a massive correction of the input levels in such a loud environment – try and capture some of the incredible noise we were experiencing.

Bruges was wonderful. We were there for almost four full days thanks to the convenience of Eurostar and I’d happily go back again some time to see some of the things we missed, and perhaps see the place in a different season.

Moving too fast

Something Phil Gyford wrote in his latest weeknotes struck a chord with me. Talking about the recent documentary about the Jonestown massacre, he said:

Unfortunately one mystery went entirely unexamined: why did the documentary makers stretch all the archive footage to the wrong aspect ratio? Maybe we’ll never know. Future generations will not only wonder why the people filmed in silent movies could move so quickly but why all the people filmed in the second half of the 20th century were so fat.

A good point. And it reminded me of something I was thinking recently watching whichever is the most recent big budget BBC nature documentary series. It featured (or if it didn’t, it made me think of it) footage of the Aurora (whether Australis or Borealis, I know not).

Footage of the aurora is usually sped up – I think. Certainly you often get weird swooshy effects when the shot contains humans or if there is any camera movement. I think it tends to be made up of multiple long exposures. As far as I know, the lights change and move quite slowly, and we are more used to seeing them move quite quickly.

I don’t think I always knew this was the case. I’ve never actually seen the aurora, so I can’t say for sure either way. But as far as I know, this is the case.

This is the same sort of phenomena as Phil mentioned above, where old footage is often herky-jerky or just plain too-fast, usually down to the way the camera was hand-cranked.

I’ve also never seen people from the first part of the 20th century walking around all fast and jerky, so I can’t say for sure etc. etc.

Anyway, it occurred to me, watching the BBC wildlife film, that some shots of animals are, inevitably, slowed down. Usually because what you’re seeing would happen far too quickly to see in real time. But it’s never really explained.

There must be a gland buried in our brains that tells us, usually due to contextual cues like other stuff in the frame: “That footage is slowed down because it must be.” Seeing foliage or water move similarly slowly nearby would be a hint. But it struck me that it’s never actually explained. We just sort of know it is. Unless some of us don’t.

Weeknote? Late November 2019 edition

I sat down to watch something on YouTube the other day, and instead of a brief ad for Squarespace, I was shown a 5-minute music video. At no point did it present itself like an ad – apart from the little thing that told me it was an ad (and it was a skippable ad, thankfully).

But after about twenty seconds, I didn’t want to skip this ad/music video. I was transfixed. I kept watching. I had no idea what I was watching. And I ended up watching the whole thing.

I think initially it was the striking opening shots that left me wondering what it was going to be about. And then once it became apparent it was, essentially, a music video (or live performance video), I kind of kept watching just to see where it was going. Would it turn into an ad for something? The track itself was kind of downbeat compared to the gravity of the images alongside it. And then of course the barriers presented by the cultural and language differences meant that I hadn’t got the foggiest idea what was going on.

It was a riot. Almost literally, at points.

I guess I’ve not watched any live performance videos filmed at stadiums lately – especially in this age of tiny high definition cameras and drones (Christ, I feel old) – so maybe they all look this good and dramatic. But particularly the aerial shots of the circle pits were just so dramatic. It was just… fascinating.

Anyway the video itself is viewable on YouTube so you don’t need to play, ahem, Russian roulette with YT’s ad algorithms to see it for yourself.

Anyway, I think it’s basically just a live performance video by a Belarusian musician called Макс Корж. Why I was shown it on YouTube as an ad I’ll never quite understand. There was a little note that explained that I’ve turned off targeted ads in YouTube, which goes some way to explaining why it was so random. Maybe not quite this random… But if turning off suggested ads occasionally presents me with something quite as unusual and compelling as this, then it was clearly a worthwhile change.

Bring on the crazy stuff from outside my YouTube echo chamber, please…

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Speaking of YouTube algorithms that are rather more in my wheelhouse, I was shown a lovely film recently of a chap called Beau Miles running the 46km length of a disused railway line in rural Australia. It was an unexpected delight, and I look forward to seeing more of Beau’s films.

It should be no surprise to me that YouTube algorithmically showed me a beautifully-shot film (with added drones) about an eccentric runner with a strong connection to railways and beautiful countryside – my YouTube is basically either that, or videogames and tech.

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On a not unrelated note, there’s something weird about our broadband at home. Having done some googling it appears to be a common issue related to our ISP, and not one that causes any actual problems, so I’m happy to let it slide. But basically, when we use the web at home, some websites think we’re based in India.

Fortunately, we haven’t come across any sites for which this would be a problem – stuff like iPlayer and Netflix is all fine. It’s just that some ad networks get confused, so when I’m at home, Twitter serves me ads meant for audiences based in India. Curious. I get a lot of stuff about Bollywood movie stars and I recently saw trending topics relating to whether the ‘real’ Indian man should be bearded or clean-shaven.

(Interestingly, our service provider claims it’s not them at fault for routing traffic via India; rather it’s that they’re using IPs that have had an association with India previously, and it’s down to the third parties to update the fact that these IPs are now UK-based. Or something. I think I understand.)

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Over the weekend I had a bash at making a crystal radio using whatever parts I could salvage around the house. Not having any spare wire, I ended up dismantling a pair of disused power bricks from old laptops to strip the wire from the transformers which was… fiddly. But very satisfying.

Anyway, the radio was a total failure. I identified at least three areas for improvement and I will try again with better components. I’ve never made a crystal radio and the prospect still charms me.

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I recently restarted my Flickr subscription having lost interest around the time SmugMug took over.

I’ve been using Flickr since August 2005 which seems like a really long time now. Definitely in internet years. And I was a paid-up member of Flickr for probably 10+ years of that. I just found myself using it less and less, and then when the subscriptions increased in price (and then something to do with the amount of ‘free’ space users were given), I just lost interest.

But in recent months I’ve found myself browsing Flickr as much as ever, and I miss posting to it. I’ll stop short of saying I’ve missed contributing to it, but I suppose that’s what it feels like.

And I find that the stuff I see on Flickr is just so damn inspiring that it inevitably makes me want to do a better job of editing my own images, and uploading things to Flickr still feels inherently very different to putting things on Instagram.

I’m going to keep my Flickr subscription as a rolling monthly thing for a while to see if I enjoy being back using it properly.

Are you still using Flickr? Hopefully we’re already friends. If not, why not add me, or let me know where to find you. Here’s me: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulcapewell/

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Finally, this newfound active use of Flickr has led to me revisit hundreds (or even thousands) of photographs I took in the fallow period where I stopped uploading things there. And that meant that pictures I’ve taken have just sat in Lightroom without even being given a second look. Which is madness. I just needed a reason to return to them, and using Flickr again has offered me such a reason.

I don’t mind editing in Lightroom on the desktop, but I thought it was time I revisited Lightroom on iOS and Android, and I’m glad I did as the applications have improved massively.

And it’s meant that I’ve really had fun editing old photographs, and been reasonably pleased at what I’ve found. It has breathed new life into photos taken on trips that would otherwise just be forgotten. So I feel like it’s time well spent. It’s also nice to spend these dark winter days editing photos taken on interesting trips.

It’s been especially nice revisiting the pictures I took in Rothenburg – but that’s hardly fair, as it’s probably quite difficult to take a bad photograph of that place.

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That’s all for now.

 

Tatenotes – A run down to Tate Britain

This week’s “run to a museum in town” saw M and I run down to Tate Britain, which I’d never visited before. Oddly enough, on a previous run into town I had passed the gallery and made a note to visit again this way. Lo and behold it’s almost bang-on 10km door to door, so it was a satisfying achievement.

I liked the gallery itself. It’s a lovely building, and there was a variety of things I hadn’t known to expect.

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We primarily went to see Steve McQueen’s Year 3 photography display – class photos of all (most?) of the 1,500 or so year 3 classes in London, taken in the previous school year.

The visual impact is staggering – those pictures take up a huge amount of wall-space.The above shows a small section of the main gallery where the images are displayed.

If you’re like me and went to school a long time ago, and very much not in the city, you might be surprised to learn that even in primary school, year groups can be  – and often are – split into two and three and sometimes even more forms. So in this display there is often more than photograph per school just for year three alone.

Each photograph naturally contains anywhere from 2 to 30 or so school kids plus teachers and assistants. You quickly spot the similarities in the photos – the reds, greens and blues of the majority of school uniforms. The layout of school halls – generally wooden floors with climbing apparatus on the rear wall. The arrangement of the subjects – along wooden benches, children of varying heights, flanked by adults (of varying heights).

And once those similarities have bedded themselves in, it’s the differences you being to notice. Along with mainstream schools, the project naturally includes special schools which tend to have fewer pupils, or a greater adult-to-child ratio.

The rooms used for the photographs also vary: not all schools have vast halls, it seems. And any variation to the generic school hall you conjure up in your head suddenly sticks out like a sore thumb: the one with the “live, laugh, love” variant daubed on the wall in metre-high script was one such surprise.

There are, therefore, a shit-ton of photos lining Tate Britain’s walls. By the time you’ve circumnavigated the gallery a few times taking in the whole spectacle, you’ve seen the faces of 76,000 children. That’s a lot.

I came away feeling impressed by the scale of the project’s achievements – from the photography to the framing and mounting, to what that size of project even looks like all laid out on the wall like that, to the sheer audacity that such a thing could even be pulled off in the first place.

But I also came away thinking, “Bloody hell, there might just be too many people.” And I don’t think that was the intended outcome at all.


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Away from the grinning faces of tens of thousands of children – I really did need a break after that – I found myself in the Turner rooms. I was pleased to learn that Tate Britain had so many Turners on show, but ultimately it made me realise that perhaps I’m not such a fan. Or perhaps it was the number of his works in close proximity that I quickly grew tired of.

Seeing that many Turners in one space is quite a lot to take in.

In small doses I love his deft use of light and texture to show a scene in such a unique and unmistakable way. But before too long I was actually quite excited to see a crisply-rendered architectural study by Canaletto or, in the next room, paintings by any number of mid- to late-18th century artists whose names I feverishly jotted down in my phone’s notes app for future reference.

I was particularly taken by Stanhope Alexander Forbes’ The Health of the Bride (1889):

The Health of the Bride 1889 by Stanhope Alexander Forbes 1857-1947

When I showed M this painting she commented how dark it looks. Looking again at it now, she’s right.

But when stood almost with my nose pressed against it – and it’s a large painting – I couldn’t help but be taken by the life and movement present in the details of the image.

The boy taking a drink. The man’s hand lightly carressing the lady’s hip at the bottom left. The raised glasses with extended pinkies. And the way the light falls on the sailor’s uniform.

It was all very real. And somehow it struck me as uncannily photographic.

What this made me realise is how much I love paintings which reveal the influence of photography on artists of that era. And I think that just comes down to me enjoying reflections of a scene in as realistic a way as possible. I love city scenes from historic periods. I love interior ‘snapshots’ of a family or other group surrounded by their worldly goods. I love portraits which capture a subject’s skin, and life, and glint in the eye. And I love the ability an artist can have to capture light in a way that almost makes the painting glow.

So anyway. That’s what I re-realised on this latest visit to a gallery. It also reminded me that I have often found myself scribbling down the names of artists and paintings I enjoy whenever I visit galleries, and I should spend twenty minutes sometime adding those various paintings to my TV’s screensaver or something.

I remain immensely grateful to be surrounded by institutions of the calibre of Tate Britain, the Science Museum, and the British Museum, and so on. And I also remain grateful that I am able to get up and run to these places – not to mention relieved that no one seems to mind seeing me in my running gear as I peer at paintings and other artifacts.

For those of you considering running to it: Tate Britain does a great, stodgy flapjack packed with goodies, which goes down nicely with a flat white.