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.

Blurb photobooks

I’ve been so pleased with the quality of Blurb‘s book printing service over the years.

The first edition of my book on Charles Wade was done by Blurb, and I’ve made a few photo books with them now. It helps that I use Lightroom and there’s a fantastic built-in book assembly tool, but Blurb’s free Bookwright software is also excellent for laying out an entire book. There’s also templates for InDesign, if you dabble in that.

The latest book I’ve made is of photos taken this past summer cycling across northern France with Megan. We had a blast and would easily do the same kind of trip again.

Making such a hefty book (172 pages and hardcover imagewrap in this instance) was especially satisfying as it makes for such a large object. And the plain cover means the book can stand up on its own, acting as a kind of display item in its own right. It’s great.

I should mention here that the France photobook arrived and had a couple of minor printing flaws. Nothing bad at all, really, but they were there if you looked for them. I sent Blurb a quick note and some example pictures to show what had happened, and within hours they had begun processing a brand new book to be sent as soon as possible. Naturally, when the replacement arrived, it was flawless. And we were allowed to keep the original, which means we’re able to keep one basically perfect version for pawing through and showing off, and give the neat copy as a gift.

The reprint process was quick and painless and really showed that their customer service is responsive and helpful. I’ve seen this level of service from Blurb before when I’ve had queries about publishing books through Blurb, and various other things I’ve needed to ask in the past. It’s reassuring to know the after-sale service is just as good.

I’m looking forward to making a magazine or two shortly, thanks to Dan Milnor’s encouragement. Possibly Rothenburg or Toulouse, or maybe that collection of live music photos I’ve been meaning to make for years now…

Here’s a taste of the most recent photobook project:

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A week of notes

I’ve restarted my subscription to Flickr. I don’t know what came over me, but ever since all the stuff with limiting free accounts, I’ve found that I still regularly follow people on Flickr and even go looking for new people to follow all the time. So it’ll be nice to post things again.

img_20191114_181107Last week I was very happy to see my dear friend Jessica launch her new book Two Trees Make a Forest at Daunt in Hampstead. I managed to buy the book a few days before release date (which is something I used to love doing particularly when it came to new music), and despite being an ebook guy, I love the physical edition: there are maps and Chinese characters and the first chapter looks like this (and it doesn’t look like that on my Kindle, I can tell you)

On my cycle commute home I came to a traffic light on which the red light wasn’t working. Luckily the other two lights were working, but the red one is quite important. I recently learned that in London, Transport for London controls all traffic lights, and I also learned that TfL are very responsive on Twitter DMs for this sort of thing. The light was repaired within 24 hours.

I found a bunch of cool new websites and blogs to follow via Kicks Condor’s excellent hrefhunt – I’m clearly getting older and nostalgic for ‘the old web’ (see also my increased use of Flickr) – and Kicks is great at showcasing the kind of unique homepages (homepages!) that scratch that itch.

Related: inspired by this chap‘s wide-ranging blog (homepage!), and particularly his posts tagged as cycling, I contacted a local shopping centre to ask if they’d mind installing a bike pump and a water fountain. They’re installing the latter in the new year, apparently. (Our local bike shop recently became a running shop – I think under the same company – and inexplicably removed the bike pump from outside the shop.

The Beths won awards at the NZ Music Awards. Yay! This inspired me to look up some previous NZMA performances on YouTube, which led to me finding a Mint Chicks one from 2009 which is a really long time ago. I miss the Mint Chicks.

I started playing Downwell on my phone and I’m so glad I did. The gameplay is fast and addictive, and the graphics and sound design are so well executed (it’s very 8-bit, or whatever). This has led me to check out Cave Story, as well. Along with Steamworld Dig 2, which I am loving, it’s fair to say I’ve found my niche genre of pixely mining/exploring games.

Also in videogames, I stayed up far too late over the weekend working on my second divine beast in Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It took me two sittings, because I broke all my bows on the first go, but was pleased to be able to warp away, hunt around for new bows, then warp back and defeat Waterblight Ganon with relative ease. I had also recently sold a shedload of gemstones and bought a load of bomb and fire arrows, which pack a punch. On something of a roll, I shortly thereafter went and killed my first Lynel.

This weekend, M and I ran to another museum – the Wellcome Collection. We went to look at the Play exhibition, which was pretty good. A decent mix of objects, and all the novelty of seeing stuff like LEGO and an Atari 2600 in a museum case. This was the third London museum we’ve run to in as many weeks. The key, we’ve found, is to have a staggered start time. We then both get the run we want, can listen to whatever we each want, and we end up somewhere interesting at the end of it, feeling pleased with ourselves. We went to the pub afterwards, too, making it a pretty excellent use of a Saturday afternoon.

I also enjoyed this booklet which reeked of Scarfolk:

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The Meaning of Mubi

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Online movie streaming service Mubi is currently showing the final Monty Python film The Meaning of Life (1983). It’s also showing twenty-nine other great films. Those films (including the one I mentioned) change every day – you get a month to watch each one, and when one leaves, another is added.

Want to try Mubi for a month? Here’s a referral code: https://mubi.com/t/web/global/fpiivi3

The concept is strange, but when faced with the amount of stuff available on Prime or Netflix or similar, it can often be frustrating knowing what to watch. It’s even possible to spend longer scrolling through the available titles – a few well-known things but really a lot of shite – than time spent actually sitting down and watching something.

Mubi’s offering is different – it’s quality over quantity. You can usually be assured that whatever is currently showing on Mubi is decent. On average there’s often about five films you’ve heard of, a bunch you haven’t, and some oddities like shorts, new films or documentaries that have screened to about forty people at an obscure film festival somewhere.

At the moment we’ve got some classics like The Birds (1963) and Peeping Tom (1960) as well as more recent stuff like Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). There’s then a bunch of stuff I’ve not heard of – and that’s fine – it’s there and it’s available. I might find my new favourite film amongst that list of unknown titles.

The key difference is these films have been carefully chosen – I’ll stop short of saying curated, but that’s not a bad way to describe what Mubi does – and they’re worth your time. I’ve had several periods of time where I’ll just watch a film from Mubi every day or two regardless of what I know about it, and it’s always time well spent. Naturally, not every film will be to your taste, but it’ll be at least worth a shot.

You can give Mubi a try using my referral code if you like: https://mubi.com/t/web/global/fpiivi3

Mubi haven’t asked me to tell you all this, but they did recently send me some swag to say thanks for encouraging new users to check out their service. And I am only too happy to try and encourage a few more of you to do so if you haven’t already.

Semi-related: Are you on Letterboxd? Follow me on Letterboxd. https://letterboxd.com/paulcapewell/