Monday, 11 November 2019


It's hard to go wrong in a country such as Italy, where it seems that around every corner lies a thing of beauty.  Particularly somewhere old such as the Citta Alta of Bergamo.  And the added bonus is that lovely soft light.  Bergamo lies just at the foot of the Alps, which might have something to do with it - we had a superb view of them as we flew over from Belfast, not a cloud in sight.  Fast forward 5 days and the flight back was the opposite - a thick blanket of cloud stretching pretty much all the way home.

From the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiori looking towards the Cathedral.  Lith print, Foma paper.

The main square in Bergamo is rather nice but the real gems lie just to the Southern End - the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiori and the Cathedral.  We did the Cathedral first, which dates back several hundred years and is every bit as impressive as you might imagine.  Inside is a treasure-trove of artefacts and statues which reflects an incredible level of skill by the stonemasons and artists of the time.  We actually walked past the nearby Basilica the first time we were there but the Old City isn't that big and on our next foray we realised there was another building open to the public and so we found ourselves in the Basilica.  It's on a smaller scale than the Cathedral but more impressive for it, I think.  The walls are lined with centuries-old tapestries and it's just a lovely space to find yourself in.  I didn't feel too bad taking a few shots with the Leica as the shutter is whisper-quiet.  Not sure how well they came out though since I was hand-holding at some ridiculous speed.  We'll see.  As I wandered around, somewhat in awe, I spied a separate room off to one side and entered through the large glass doors.  There's probably a proper name for it but I'm not big into my organised religions so that didn't stick in my head - most likely a space for private prayer and reflection away from the main area.  It was deserted - or so I thought.  I was admiring the centrepiece of Christ on the Cross and instinctively reached for the I did so I turned slightly and got a tremendous shock for out of the corner of my eye I noticed a very old clerical gentleman, dressed as usual in black robes and just sitting in the corner in quiet contemplation.  He didn't acknowledge me and was (I imagine) clearly there to get away from the hordes of tourists (with their damn cameras).  I felt like I was intruding. I put away all thoughts of taking a photograph, sat down in one of the chairs at the back and just enjoyed the space for what it was.  After what I thought was a decent few minutes I made my exit, leaving the gentleman alone to enjoy his peace and quiet.

At times like that it's hard not to wonder about the difference in people's lives.  I was going to write 'in the way people choose to live' but I'm not sure that's the correct way to put it.  I mean, I'm guessing the priest made a conscious decision to wear the cloth etc and I'm sure somewhere along the way I chose the Family Life but like the song (Talking Heads - Once in a Lifetime) sometimes it doesn't feel that you get where you are today completely by choice.  It's just where we find ourselves. So there's me - family man, flying in from Ireland for a few days sightseeing and eating before returning home to School Runs, trips to the supermarket and my usual stuff.  And there's the priest with his life in Bergamo and all that entails.  Our paths crossed for a few moments.  Funny old game, isn't it?

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Caffe Poli

This was taken at the entrance of the Flea Market in Bergamo - although I must confess to moving the cup a little to get some of the early morning sun.  Not sure what I must have looked like to the people going in and out but I'm kind of past caring what anyone might be thinking about me these days.

As usual the print is a bit richer than what you get here on screen but anyway:

Entrance to Flea Market, Bergamo.  HP5+ on Ilford Warmtone fibre paper

It didn't really work as well as I wanted - the flower pot is just plain dull and boring.  I might have been better taking it off the table and just making do with the cup and the ashtray.  Or maybe not bothering at all...

Monday, 4 November 2019

In the clink

Well that's not strictly accurate, since 'the Clink' was a prison in Southwark, England and this shot was taken in Bergamo, Northern Italy where I found myself last week for a short break with the family (it being half-term, y'see).

Old prison hospital, Bergamo, 2019.  HP5+ on Ilford Warmtone fibre paper.

As we wandered up the main drag (via Bartolomeo Colleonithere was a sign for a 'Flea Market' and we followed it, as both my wife and I usually love a good dig around such places - you never know what you might come across.  Downstairs was a bit disappointing, though - rails of clothes and some hand-made jewellery bits and pieces.  Neither really my thing, to be honest, but at the end of the hall was a sign for 'Experimental Art', leading up some very old stone steps.  I dithered a bit, as they looked a bit dodgy (no handrail, either) but in the end I ventured forth.  And it was a good decision. The steps led up to an old abandoned prison hospital.  Strangely, there wasn't much experimental art on display (none, except for a few not terribly impressive photographs) but the rooms were simply amazing to walk though.  Thankfully they hadn't renovated anything - it looked like it had just been opened up after years of lying empty.  Very sad it was, to think of the lives of the inmates that spend part of their lives living in those conditions.  I took a few shots and this was the first that I printed this morning.  I was a bit rusty in the darkroom but I was happy with this one. Others will follow.

Bergamo is a must-see, by the way.  I'm a sucker for anything old and Italian and slightly off-the-beaten-track and I have to say, this place is the real deal.  Even better as we could fly direct from our local airport.  At the other side it was a short bus ride to the old town (Citta Alta) and about a 3 minute walk to our hotel.  Couldn't really ask for an easier journey than that. 

Thursday, 31 October 2019

A bug's life

That would be a great title for a film, don't you think?  ;)

This is another fail from the Nikon F3 test film I ran through the other day.  I think this was with the 28mm close focus lens - which was very nice to use I have to say.  As expected, you can get close to things...real close.

Variegated leaves in the garden (and a bug)
I didn't notice the bug thing until I printed it - it must have been very small.  The low contrast doesn't seem too bad to my eyes in this print - it kind of suits the subject, I think.  And it's on Ilford Warmtone fibre paper, which probably helps.

This shot of the hawthorn berries was close to being fair to middlin' (as my grandfather would have said) but the background on the top half of the print is too distracting.  I think this was the last shot, or one of the last on the roll so I was eager to get it finished.

Hawthorn berries in October

Monday, 28 October 2019


I've found myself a job.  Not a proper job, of course - been there, done that got the t-shirt etc etc.  No this job is to help a friend of someone in the Club sell their late husband's photo gear.  It's the sort of thing that's hard to say no to.  So about a week ago four bags of varying sizes were carefully placed in the back of the car.  I'm not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn't this (Health Warning - could lead to a bout of Gear Acquisition Syndrome):

Nikon F3HP with the following AIS lenses: 24mm f/2.8, 28mm f/2.8 (close focus), 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4, 100-300mm f/5.6 plus as many Nikon metal lens hoods as were ever made, I think, along with a bag full of Nikon&Tiffen filters (including a 72mm polariser and special hood made for the 85mm f/1.4).  All in 'as new' order except for the 50mm which has a scratch on the back element.

Hasselblad 503cw, dedicated winder and remote, 45 degree prism, 60mm CB lens and 120mm Makro-Planar.  Again with hoods and filters.  And again, 'as new'.

There's a couple of flashguns as well, if you like that sort of thing (Nikon and Metz).

It's fair to say this gentleman had expensive tastes.  I'd like to think he got a lot of pleasure from using this equipment.

Reed bed by the River Bann;  Nikon F3, 85mm f/1.4 On very old Barclay graded paper.
I set about seeing if the cameras were in working order - no reason to think otherwise but I thought it might make it easier to price/sell if we could vouch for them. Nothing whatsoever to do with me just wanting to play with a new toy. The very thought...  The F3 needed new batteries but after that everything seemed good to go, so I went out and about and snapped anything and everything just to see (a) how much I liked it and (b) everything was working OK.  Oops...wrong way round. Honest.

Naturally I had to try out the F3 and the 85mm f/1.4 first - a beast of a combination, it has to be said.  If it were ever dropped you would hope it didn't land on your toes, that's for sure.  The F3 is from another era to the FM3a that I really is a solid bit of kit and feels like it would withstand a lot of abuse.  Mind you, you won't ever forget you're carrying it around...

The print is poor - I had a rare failure when developing the film.  My go-to for HP5+ is ID-11 diluted 1+1 but I thought I'd economise a little, since this film was just a test of the gear and I knew there wouldn't be any masterpieces on it.  So I diluted 1+3 and gave it the suggested 20 minutes. I was a bit too slap-dash though and must have messed it up somewhere along the line as the negs came out horrible - very low in contrast.  My mind must have been somewhere else...

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Danny Boy

Well our Club judge, Danny, did the business on Monday night.  He seemed a very decent sort, older gentleman with plenty to say about every image and print, which I liked.  Some judges have a tendency to skirt over some images when they have very little to say about them and I don't think that's very fair to the photographer.  But Danny wasn't like that - he had a lot to say about each and every one.  Unfortunately with my non-existent hearing I wasn't able to ascertain what he was actually saying - though when it came to my prints maybe that was a good thing.  There are 3 categories - projected digital images, colour prints and B&W prints.  Obviously there's only one of those that I enter - and here's a not-very-good phone snap of one of my prints:

Rejected: Clouds over Inishown

Danny almost selected this one to go through...almost.  He kept coming back to it but in the end he preferred something else.  I asked my friend David what he was saying and the response came back that Danny liked my print, said it was 'a print like you would have seen back in the days of film'.  But that he thought the other print would have better success in the competition.  While that did make me smile I think he got it spot on with regard to the chances of success.  I was pretty OK with that, since when I go to the trouble of mounting a half-decent print I want it go on my wall, not disappear to goodness-knows-where and be handled by goodness-knows-whom and be returned with grubby finger marks all over it.  It's my precious, see...

Monday, 21 October 2019

Fun times

Nothing much new here, I'm sorry to say.  It's Club night tonight and we have an external judge coming in to look at our work - let's call him Danny.  Danny's job is to select which prints and PDIs (projected digital images) go forward to the Northern Ireland Photographic Association (NIPA)'s Inter-Club competition.  There are 5 rounds and tonight is round 2. The theme is landscape. Hmm....

Now NIPA judges don't usually give me a warm glow, it has to be said.  Some of the comments last year were, quite frankly, laughable.  It takes all my willpower to actually submit an entry to these things and I really only do it to show support for the Club.  I have no desire for any of my prints to be selected.  Having said that, there aren't usually very many B&W prints submitted so the chances are pretty high of having a print go forward to the competition proper.  My usual modus operandi is to have a bit of fun and submit a print they'll hate - something deliberately out-of-focus, or a lith print.  Either of these usually throws them completely, since they all seem to have a 'thing' about sharpness.

Unfortunately when I went to dig out something that might vaguely be considered landscapey, I could find nothing really suitable.  I tried to print a couple of negatives yesterday morning - lith on Slavich paper but that paper needs a certain sort of negative to come alive and neither of these really worked.  In all honesty I don't think I could bring myself to submit these, notwithstanding my views on the whole thing...

Portstewart Strand, on Slavich/lith

Mt Errigal, Donegal.

On the other hand...

I'll reveal how it went on the next post, if y'all can handle the suspense.