Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A game that no-one wins

It's been a tough day today, with the news coming in from Manchester.  It doesn't help when you've a teenage daughter who has tickets for a very similar concert in Belfast later in the year.  Just when we thought we'd got rid of all that nonsense in this part of the world, eh?  My thoughts are with the families of those murdered and injured.

This blog is not the place for politics.  I generally don't comment. But for some reason this one has got my dander up.  Let me say my piece and then no more.

In this part of the world we had 'The Troubles' where there were bombs going on and off for the best part of 30 years.  I'm lucky - I chose good parents.  I lived in a place that was relatively immune from it all.  And I'm stupid enough to realise I could have a very different outlook on life given different circumstances.

It's hard to make sense of anything these days, it really is - the more I read, the more I despair about the human condition.  Well, perhaps not the human condition per se, more so the way the world is going, I suppose.  I do see the struggle that certain communities have to survive and thrive in difficult environments and there are grass-roots movements which offer hope.  That, I think, is where the future lies, even if those voices aren't heard by the large part.  What I don't get - and never will - is the point where a person thinks that detonating a bomb in a place where innocent men, women and children are going about their daily business is a Good Thing.  For sure it gets people attention, but at what cost?

In this part of the world we have what is called the politics of 'What-about-ery'.  For every Bloody Sunday there is a Kingsmill.  Arguments dissolve into a 'He started it' slanging match and before you know it we're talking about events that happened hundreds of years ago.  What-about-ery is often used to justify anything, no matter how base a deed. It's a bloody game that no-one wins.

But you didn't come here for this.  Life must go on - 'tis the nature of the thing.  As trivial as it seems, here we go - back to the usual photographic observations on the state of play in the North East Liberties of Coleraine in May of 2017.

The symmetry of these two parked up on Portstewart Prom last week caught my eye:

Notice the flashy new chromed railings and the new pavement, part of a large refurb last year.  I like the railings - they should be good for lines and that.  We've got fancy new LED street lights as well, but Mother doesn't like them.  I don't either - they're dark in colour and keep getting in the background of me snaps and standing out like a sort thumb - like in this one of Missy here from a few days ago.

Taken on the 'Blad/50mm combo.  I cropped it, just to see:

Not sure which I prefer.  I might try a lith print next, just to inject some, well, lithiness to it. You never know...

Monday, 22 May 2017


Another one from Portstewart taken during Race Week:

HP5+, Warmtone RC paper.  Via the 'Blad/50mm combination - roughly equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm format although it could be any one of three possibilities, since the aspect ratios are different.  This page tells all.  The square format is very addictive.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Buttermilk pancakes and an Indian

This Bad Boy was parked up on The Prom last Friday and I have to admit, it looked pretty damn good.  All shiny chrome and luscious lines with that big V-Twin engine what have you.  Not sure it would be my cup of tea were I a biker, but I can appreciate something different and well put together from time to time.  This is a tightly cropped version of a print I made for my Facebook Fiends - crop of a scan of the original print with a digitally added border (I know - yuk!):

Indian Easyrider bike, Portstewart Promenade, 2017.  On HP5+/Ilford Warmtone RC paper.

Here's a scan of the original print, just for good measure:

The reason I cropped it was the crane in the background - OK so I lost the cow-horn handlebars and the funky wing mirror, but I felt the crane in the background was too distracting so I did what was necessary.  In hindsight perhaps I was too critical.  

There are cranes all over the place these days - can't move for them on account of all the new building going on.  Properties in Portstewart with a "Sea View" go for a premium - well north of half a £million is not uncommon. Mostly outside money, of course - there are no jobs in the area which could support local ownership of such expensive properties and not that many businesses either.  What passes for industry around The Liberties would be farming and tourism.  We'll soon be like all those other seaside towns across the UK - full of people who 'come down from the city' for the weekend expecting skinny lattes and croissants and wine bars and what-have-you and then the place is deserted on a cold wintry morning in November and you'll be lucky to get a decent drop of tea and a buttermilk pancake.  Actually, come to think about it, I'll take that any day of the week - I quite like cold wintry mornings in November without many people around.  And I'm happy with a decent cup of tea and a buttermilk pancake too.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Race week

At this time of year in The Liberties the annual North West 200 road races take place (motorbikes).  The circuit is on public roads, which are of course closed for the practice and race days.  As speeds of up to 200mph are reached there is a huge effort made to make it as safe as possible, with many hundreds of straw bales attached to lamp posts, stone walls etc.  Still, when accidents happen they can be pretty bad, as you can well imagine given the speeds involved.  Thankfully this year there were no fatalities even though one of the winners described the course as 'terrifying', largely due to the fact that there had been quite a lot of rain on the main race day (Saturday) and the roads were somewhat greasy.  I can only imagine what that must have been like.

Now I do get that motorsport is not everyone's thing,  but it's part of what we do in this neck of the woods, with races in Cookstown, Tandragee, Dundrod, and Armoy to name a few.  Indeed, the road-racing season is a big thing in many peoples' lives in Northern Ireland.  If it is your cup of tea, you might be able to catch some of this year's NW200 action from BBC here.  I'm not sure but I think the BBC might restrict access to some of their content so if you can't see that link then there are a few YouTube videos that are good - this one I think is still one of the best - New Zealander Bruce Anstey passes the end of 'our road' at about 1m38s in.

It's one thing riding the circuit at high speed, it must be quite another when you are doing 190mph and only a few inches from another rider - hopefully someone who knows what they are doing, eh? US film photography blogger Jim Grey of Down the Road fame might possibly remember the part of the circuit at 3m10s, where him and his new wife Margaret took time out from their honeymoon to meet me in Portrush last September.  It's funny watching this video - these are the roads between Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush that I drive every day to and from school and the beach.  Not at these speeds, of course.

When I was a callow youth I liked nothing better than crawling up to a hedge at the side of the road and poking my OM-1 and 200mm lens through it to photograph the bikes as they sped past.  But I don't photograph the racing any more - it's hard these days to get close to the action.  Also, to be honest I don't want to get that close - I don't know if it's my age or the fact I'm a parent but these days I'm thinking more about the danger rather than the thrill.

So now I contend myself with a walk around Portstewart on the Friday evening of Race Week and see what ends up on me film - sometimes not a lot, it has to be said.  But this week I'll show you a few of the darkroom prints that I made at the weekend.  I was out with a camera not always known for its street-photography prowess, a Hasselblad 501cm.  Certainly not as convenient as a 35mm camera, but when you get those negs back in the darkroom it's hard to not to think you made the right choice...every time.

I asked this biker lad and ladette if they would mind if I took their photograph and they duly consented.  Ice-creams almost finished, coffees ready to go they were clearly enjoying themselves.  I kicked myself afterwards - I should have asked their names. The band is setting up in the bandstand to the right (that funny building to the right with a roof like a witch's hat).

This particular print, on Ilford Warmtone RC paper, looks way better than the scan - I don't enjoy scanning and like to get it over with as quickly as possible.  I know I should spend some time learning how to scan better, since I'm doing this blog-thing, but nowadays the less time spent at a computer the better.  That's just the way it is.

Anyway, there's something about this shot I really like.  I had asked the couple just to carry on as normal and ignore me while I attended to the usual composition and focus.  Certainly they knew they were being snapped (hard not to with a 'Blad pointing at them) but they still look pretty relaxed.

I dunked the print in some sepia toner just to see what gave - not sure if it helped or not, mind you.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Taking the air

Ah there she is herself, taking the air on Portstewart Prom:

On Cooltone RC paper.  Some-one tried to add a bit of vignetting and as you can see make a right hames of it.  Eejit.  He should have left it well alone...some people never learn, eh?

Friday, 12 May 2017

Al fresco dining in The Liberties

Portstewart Prom (the place where people come to promenade in the late afternoon) was buzzing the other evening.  And rightly so, as the weather was most clement.  People were out in force and quite a number were having their fish and chips al fresco:

I know - shadows!  I was a bit far away with the rangefinder so had to crank up the enlarger a bit.
Tonight is the Big Night for the Prom - it's North West 200 week, where those mad eejits race around the roads in their motorbikes, doing 200+mph.  John McGuinness crashed today during practice and broke his leg - that would be John McGuinness with over 20 wins in the Isle of Man TT races, second only to the late great Joey Dunlop.  Mr McGuinness is 45 years old, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, Friday is the day before the big race day and 'tis customary for visitors (of which there are a great number) to descend on Portstewart Prom for the craic and to see the fireworks.  I'm not a great one for crowds but I might dander down and see what gives.  Who knows, I might even load some fresh-ish HP5+ into a camera just for the occasion.  

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

If you really want An Irish Republic

It has, believe it or not, taken me two days to produce this masterpiece:

My old Uni friend Simon, his partner Catherine and I took the train to Derry-Londonderry last Saturday and after the obligatory visit to the Guildhall to see the exhibition about the 17th Century Plantation of Ulster and the similarly obligatory walk around the Walls (which Simon and I first did about 35 years ago) we dandered up the town before getting the train back to Coleraine.  Towards the top of Shipquay St is the War Memorial and I snapped Simon as he leant over the railings in a pensive sort of mood.  I liked the Sinn Fein election posters against the backdrop of the 1927 War Memorial - kind of tells you all you need to know about this part of the world, really.

Anyway, due to shooting into the sun the subject brightness range was immense and the first straight print had no tone whatsoever in the sky.  That print went in the bin.  I tried a simple burn in and it looked awful so after a bit of thought I figured out that perhaps this was a negative that might benefit from pre-flashing.  I'd never done it before so read all I could about it in a short space of time - like here, from Ilford.  If you are into darkroom printing then you probably already know about the toe and the shoulder of the negative-density exposure curve.  Pre-flashing gets over the inertia of the paper, gets up past the toe and gives you a chance to get a little more tone into the paper for negatives where the highlight detail might normally be lost.  But don't take my word for it  - do your own research, as they say.

So I did a pre-flash test print - wound the enlarger up high, closed down the lens and set filtration to 00.  As a result I reckoned that for my situation, using Ilford Warmtone RC I could get away with about 4s before tone started to show on the paper.  So I pre-flashed a few sheets.  I did wonder how long the paper would hold it's 'pre-flash' for and the only mention I could get of it was from Roger Hicks, who reckoned a few hours to a day.  Good enough, anyway.

My first attempts were moderately successful - I got tone and detail in the sky but lost a lot of sparkle in the rest of the print:

So I regrouped and read some more and someone somewhere said that when pre-flashing it was appropriate to increase the contrast in the rest of the print and decrease the exposure.  Makes sense I guess when you think about it since you're effectively fogging the print a little...I think.  Anyway, this afternoon I took a deep breath and ventured forth again into the darkroom to try just that and yes, pretty much it worked.

I ended up pre-flashing at grade 0, printing at higher contrast/lower exposure than suggested (grade 4), burning in the sky at grades 2 and also grade 4, an additional burn-in at grade 4 for the top half of the print and lower-left (Simon's jacket) and a 9s dodge around Simon's face.   Whew.  After all that we get the result shown at the top of the page and shown here again just 'cos:

It's been a 2-day self-taught workshop with one negative and while 24 hours ago I never wanted to see that negative again now I think Yes, I can deal with it.  I'm happy.