Saturday, 28 March 2015

Old boats

Delving back into the archives today - well, only to 2012, when a day trip to Rathlin Island was the order of the day.  Rathlin, in case you don't know, lies about 6 miles off the North Antrim coast.  It is inhabited and the only means of access is by boat - usually from Ballycastle.  It can be a rough enough trip and in the winter time often the ferry is often cancelled due to bad weather.

Rathlin is a fairly magical place.  Probably best known for its RSPB reserve, where in late July you can witness tens of thousands of seabirds nesting.  It is a visual and aural feast and well worth a visit. And Richard Branson crash-landed his big balloon thingy there a few years back.  Before that - around 1898 - Marconi staged the first commercial wireless telegraphy link between the island and Ballycastle. But today I only have a couple of old boats for you.  I found these two resting near the harbour in Rathlin - looks like the one on the left has been resting for some time, mind you, although the other one looks seaworthy enough.

Rathlin Island - the harbour, 2012
Not too far further along were another odd couple:

More old boats
Not sure either of these will float again.  That particular trip we took the kids along with us. The year before The Brother and I had gone on our own - and that was a never-to-be-forgotten trip.  We'd not booked a ticket on the ferry so had gone for a wander along Ballycastle Marina.  We spied a charter vessel by the name of Dan's Fastrack, so we paid our money and a little later were sitting aboard what seemed quite a small vessel for the journey to Rathlin.  Dan, it turned out, had some sort of physical issue - not quite sure what was going on there but let's just say he didn't inspire confidence.  There wasn't a life-jacket to be seen when we ventured out of the harbour walls and Dan hit the throttle - hard.  Next thing the front of the boat was up at an angle of about 45 degrees and we were holding on for dear life.  Well, that's not quite true - there was nothing to hold on to.  Our faces were about 2 feet from the water and that's how it stayed for the next 20 minutes or so.  To say I was terrified was an understatement.  As we pulled up in Rathlin, Dan helped me off the boat, grinned and asked 'How was that?' - I must have looked a sight.  But given some time to recover on the island I came to the conclusion that Dan knew what he was about and actually the return journey was quite enjoyable. But when we took the kids with us the next year we went on the proper ferry...

Friday, 27 March 2015

Roosting Rooks!

Sometime before Christmas I was in Ballymoney, waiting for the Wee One to finish her cello practice.  The light was falling fast and the car park was full of mums and dads waiting like me.  Most were sitting in their cars, presumably with the radio on, killing time until their little ones escaped from orchestra practice.  But it wasn't a cold night and since I like a dander about I took the old camera out to see what opportunities presented themselves.  And what a treat was in store.  It was one of those windy autumn days and the sky was full of rooks - and I mean full!  They were doing what rooks do best, swirling around in the wind like they are out of control, all the time communicating loudly with each other.  I love watching and listening to rooks as they roost - one of nature's treats for sure.  They are such sociable birds.  At one point a whole bunch of them descended onto the roofs of the school buildings, only to take off again and head up into the sky for more flapping about.  Like something out of a Hitchcock movie.  Anyway, I pointed the camera upwards and snapped off a couple of shots, as you do.  More in hope that anything else to be honest.  When I looked at the negatives the other day all I could see was blur - nothing there I thought to myself.  But I did scan them, just to see and this is what I found:

Rooks - loads of them!

What a sky!  I must admit I quite like this one and it might well see the darkroom once it gets commissioned.

The second one I like too - in a different sort of way.  As you will know if you are a regular reader (!) I'm a big fan of Titarenko - anything that goes against the prevailing obsession with sharpness.  I mean, there is a place for sharpness and all that - but sometimes you just have to turn things on their head, don't you?

More rooks

I think this captures the movement quite nicely.  It would be fun to try some more shots like this, perhaps using a tripod next time :)

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Winter sun

This first shot today is taken in our front garden.  We are in our house 10 years now and this used to be a field - not much changed there, eh?  We didn't so much design the 'herbaceous' borders, as you can see, it was more a case of 'fill that space' with something - anything!  Anyway, some weak winter sun provided quite a nice effect through the tree-thing.

Weak winter sun in the garden, 2015
Never a good idea to point a rangefinder camera at the sun for too long - no mirror between the lens and the shutter, but I think I got away with it on this occasion.  Now, a word about composition - that's the thing that results from the direction in which you, the photographer, are pointing the camera thing.  Did you notice I cut the top of the tree off?  Was this deliberate I ask myself.  Don't know is the answer - sort of, I guess.  The sun is roughly sitting on the 1/3 line and the rule of thirds is well-known in photography.  The shadow of the tree in the foreground occupies slightly more than 1/3 of the image, but since this is a major feature of the shot that's OK - it leads the eye into the image.  I think if I'd included the top of the tree then the detail in the middle of the frame would have been even more compressed and the whole thing would not have worked so well.  Of course none of the above was in my mind when I composed and pressed the shutter release!  Well maybe it was, but sub-consciously, lol.  One final note - the digital peeps would have removed those sticks intruding into the shot in the top right...but that's not what we do here, right?!

Now we like a wee stroll in the country, so we do.  We are fortunate to live in an area where there are beautiful walks all around us - walks of both the seaside and the country variety.  This next shot was taken in one of my favourite places, Mountsandel,  just last week. I've written about Mountsandel previously - it of the Bronze Age settlement, earliest known man in Ireland and all that.  The River Bann runs alongside this path, just to the left.  Perhaps a tad too much contrast in this one, but sometimes you have to experiment, right?

River walk, Mountsandel
I've decided I rather like the winter.  Overcast skies are just the best for B&W photography and when the skies aren't overcast - a rare event in this part of the world I can tell you - then the sunlight is usually quite weak and soft.  Bare trees are good - although trees are good with leaves too so that's OK.  What isn't so interesting for B&W photography are clear blue skies - luckily that doesn't happen very often where I live haha.  The great thing about our climate is that the weather conditions change frequently, so if it's bright and sunny now you just have to wait a couple of hours and things will be different.  Ditto if it's raining.  Now what could be better than that, I ask you.

I was caught out that day in Mountsandel - this was the last shot in the film and I'd forgotten to bring another film with me.  How could that happen?!  My esteemed former colleague Dr Charles laughed when I told him and suggested an alternative - how dare he mention the d***tal word? He knows my views on that subject well enough, I can tell you.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A field near us

Wintry scenes for you today since I only got round to scanning these negs recently - I've been busy!  Thought these were quite nice - taken on HP5 for a change, which is a kind of a winter film, being rated at 400ASA and all that.  Still nice tones when developed in DD-X, as these were.  I might even get round to printing these at some stage...

So here we have a field.  Not just any field, but one very close to where I live.  Just to the left lies the Coleraine campus of the University of Ulster, where I used to work.  You can't see it in this photograph - just as well, really, as it's a bit of an eyesore.  Nice natural framing in this, don't you think?!

A field, somewhere near where I live
This next one is of another field.  Actually it's not - it's of the same field, just a different part of it.  There's a story behind this photograph.  This is taken from Mother's patio and this is the view she sees every day when she pulls back her kitchen curtains.  The reason I took this photograph will become apparent in a minute (assuming you read on...).

View from Mother's patio - as it looked late 2014
I found a print of this same field in the late 1970s - probably done by the Brother, since I don't remember taking or printing it.  So wind back 35-ish years and it looked like this:

Nearly the same view, c1978
Unfortunately I couldn't replicate the same view.  From the perspective I reckon this was taken from the back bedrooom upstairs in Mother's house.  Nowadays there is a 40-foot holly tree in the way, hence the lower perspective in the more recent shot.  But they are similar enough for a bit of comparison.  The hawthorn hedges have grown, as to be expected.  Electricity pole in the same place and the two trees visible in the 1978 print are still there, though the one on the right has overtaken the other one.

When I see these older prints it makes me want to just photograph pretty much everywhere around these parts, print as many as possible and just stash them away in the loft.  Maybe some-one will come across them in 50 years time and be mildly entertained by them.  Maybe I'll just do that...after all, I don't expect this blog will still be around then.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Bann at Coleraine

A couple of older shots for you today.  Nothing spectacular, just of the River Bann at Coleraine, my home town.  Well I kinda grew up outside of Coleraine - in the North East Liberties to be precise!  But sure you know all that already (as a keen reader of this blog, right?!).  Anyway, the first is of the old bridge across the Bann.  We are told that the first bridge here was in 1248 and lasted until 1315 (destroyed during the Bruce invasion, presumably him of the spider tale).  A ferry was the only means of crossing until 1673, when a certain William Jackson built another bridge.  This would have been well after the fortification of Coleraine at the start of the Plantation of Ulster.  Another bridge was erected in 1716 and removed in 1843.  The stone bridge, which you see below, was completed in 1844.

Coleraine Old Bridge over the Bann, 2014
A couple of hundred yards upstream is the Cutts.  I've written about the Cutts in an earlier post.  There's a really nice walk along Christie Park from the bridge to the Cutts, looking over to Mountsandel.  On this particular day it was a bit foggy, but pleasant all the same.  Quite often I've seen kingfishers along here and you sometimes get the odd heron or two, although mostly they reside downstream, between the town and the Barmouth.   You really need to be on a boat to get the best view of the wildlife along the river - and I'm not really cut out for boats, or dry land come to that :)

View towards the Cutts, Moundandel opposite
Not the best negatives these two - bit lacking in contrast, possibly due to aging developer.  But it was a murky day anyway, so maybe these are a fair reflection of the conditions.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Franka Solida

Franka Solida - what a name. I hadn't come across the name myself until relatively recently, when I began looking into old folding cameras, which were made from the 1920s onwards.  These particular cameras were built in occupied Germany after WWII and have a pretty decent reputation - perhaps not a par with Zeiss or Voigtlander, but not far off.  The one I ended up with is a very compact little beauty which takes 120 roll film, giving massive 6x6 negatives.  Well I say massive - compared to 35mm that is correct, since each side of the negative is 6cm instead of 36x24mm, so each negative uses occupies somewhere between 3 and 4 times the area of a 35mm neg.  The resulting images have a lovely smooth tone compared to 35mm - less grain is visible purely because you tend not to magnify the image as much.  Now sometimes you want grain, and 35mm is so much more portable and cheaper than 120 film, so there is a case for both.  Unlike 35mm film, you can't buy 120 film in bulk, unfortunately, since it requires a backing paper, so that makes it inherently more expensive.  And it takes a bit more chemical to develop it.  And you only get 12 shots per film.  But it's nice to work with - very nice.   Hopefully you can see some differences in these next couple of scans which came from the 1960s Franka.

This next one is of a subject which I've posted a photograph of before - the old lighthouse in Portstewart.   Very pleasing tones in this methinks.

The old lighthouse at Portstewart, 6x6 style

I've just realised - the lighthouse has had a coat of paint since the last time I snapped it about 6 months ago.  You can see the 'older' lighthouse photo here.  Ain't that something!  Who was responsible for that, eh?

This next shot was taken at the end of our lane.  It's not that interesting, but FP4+ has captured the softness of the early spring light quite well.

Spring has sprung, 2015 style

So I'm very happy with my 50-year old camera.  I wonder how many of today's digital cameras will be warming the hearts of photographers in 50 year's time.  Not many I suspect.  Thank goodness for film!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

End of America

Well, not really the End of America - just the last post related to my recent visit there.  OK, some people for a change!  To kick off, double trouble.  The Brother's weans, to be precise.  Don't they just look American?!  They'll be breaking some hearts in the not too distant future I would say - perhaps they have already!

Double Trouble in Oak Park, Thanksgiving Morning 2014
And for good measure here's the Man Himself - looking all academic and everything.

The Brother as he looked late 2014
This wee shot was taken in the Buzz Cafe, in the lah-de-dah Arts District of Oak Park.  A nice wee place the Buzz Cafe - so nice we ended up there two days in a row.  He does a good job of looking studious, the Brother - wouldn't you agree?  I guess he's had plenty of practice, what with all that lecturing he does and all those conferences he goes to. The last conference he spoke at was in Canada and was titled 'A matter of lifedeath'.  Says it all really.

Here's another of the two babes, strutting their stuff in State Street downtown Chicago:

A strut down State Street, late 2014

So that, my friends, is the last of the Chicago 2014 snaps.  It was a quick trip, cold as hell and not the best for me personally.  My Meniere's acted up bigtime - with the inevitable conclusion on the pavement just outside Macy' wasn't pretty.  But these things happen and The Brother and his missus were just brilliant at taking care of things.  Thanks guys and hopefully we'll see you soon again.

Friday, 20 March 2015

More American Culture

More cultural photos for you from the Mid-West.  Starting off with Roosevelt Road as you'll rarely see it:

Roosevelt - Thanksgiving Day 2014
Now Roosevelt lies west of Chicago and separates the 'villages' of Oak Park and Berwyn.  It's a major route and usually is chockers, with cars coming at you from all angles.  About 100yards down the road on the left is everyone's favourite, Wal-Mart.  Usually we can't resist a last-minute visit to Wal-Mart to pick up some cheap crap for presents - well, it's not really crap and it's not that cheap to be honest, but they do a decent line in printed t-shirts and the like.

This is how Roosevelt looked early Thanksgiving Morning in 2014 - deserted!  Very weird.

Another road for you now - the Eisenhower Expressway, or Interstate-290 if you prefer.  It cuts right through Oak Park and will take you downtown Chicago to the east or you can just keep driving west until you fall asleep, probably somewhere past Iowa.

Eisenhower Expressway, 2014

Just to the left of the road lies the railway line between O'Hare airport and Chicago Loop, where it is known as the Elevated, or simply the 'L'.  Unlike most major cities it sits above the ground - it's an iconic piece of Chicago, and very noisy, which you'll know from the Blues Brothers film, of course.  All the bridges over the expressway have these massive fences, as you can see above - to deter people throwing things onto the traffic, I guess (and jumpers too, maybe?).  There are signs telling you that you are not allowed to stop on the bridges - advice which I ignored just long enough to take this photograph.

Here's another street scene, snapped as the car stopped at traffic lights.  No turn on red at this junction, as you can see :)

Somewhere west of Chicago Loop, 2015

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Somewhere in Illinois

As you know (!) The Brother lives somewhere out West.  I had occasion to visit him last year around Thanksgiving time, which coincided with uncommonly low temperatures for that time of year.  The upshot was we didn't get out much - too damn cold.  However, I took a few snaps while I was there, as one does.  So here y'all are now - welcome to Illinois!

Home of the Choppak!  Illinois 2014
Most of these were snapped from the car as we drove past - through the glass for good measure. Anyone know what a Choppak is?  Anyone want to?  No, me neither.

On Interstate 290 heading into Chicago
Interstate-290 is always an interesting road.  And dangerous.  Above you see the view as you head downtown from the west - just passing University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) on the right there.   Unfortunately it was particularly foggy that day, otherwise you would be able to see downtown with all its glorious skyscrapers.  But not today.

You can drive over there from the age of 16, so you sometimes see these old, huge, Detriot-built gas-guzzlers driven by some little kid who can hardly see over the steering wheel.  Unfortunately there's never one around when you want one, so you get this shot of the back end of a Hyundai instead.  Not sure I'd be happy pointing anything out the window at some drivers, though - this being America my 35mm Rangefinder camera might be mistaken for a .44 Magnum and while I enjoy my photography I'm not sure I'd want to lay my life down for it.

The Brother is always threatening to take me for a Michael's 1/2 lb Belly Buster for lunch.  Luckily I've been able to dodge his kind offer up to now...

1/2 lb Belly Buster anyone?
Yes, there is a lot of eatery type places.  A lot.

More photos to follow from this cultural heaven tomorrow...

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

My favourite seaside town

Just a couple of shots of my favourite wee seaside town.  Now I've written a bit about Portstewart before - or Port na Binne Uaine as it used to be called in Irish (as in Benone) so I'll not repeat myself (well, too much anyway).  At one time it had a thriving fishing harbour, but today you'll mostly find charter boats for fishing day-trips tied up there.  All that sea just out there and nowhere to buy fresh fish anywhere - isn't that a disgrace?  Anyway, here's what it's like at low tide, looking towards the harbour:

Portstewart - looking towards the harbour at low tide, late 2014

Turn the other way and you'll get a grand vista past the gothic architecture of Dominican School (previously Dominican Convent, and before that O'Hara's Castle) towards the famous Strand beach, 2 miles of golden sand.

View West from Portstewart Prom, late 2014

As you can see from the wee photos above Ireland is a great place for dramatic skies.  Often the light is just wonderfully 'soft' - probably due to all the precipitation in the atmosphere.  Many painters were aware of that - most famously probably Paul Henry.  Until I can afford one of his paintings I'll make do with a couple of original Michael McNeill photographs hanging on my wall, like these ones captured on Ilford FP4+ on a little old 35mm rangefinder camera.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


Chesters.  The name to strike fear into parents in the late 1970s.  Also known as The Portrush Arcadia, or The Speakeasy.  Venue to many bands in those heady days when it was a good time to be a teenager.  The Darts (wonderful live), Ian Dury (what a performer), Dr Feelgood, XTC, The Undertones and my favourite, The Stranglers.  Manys the night my mate David Moore and I headed down to Chesters, forced a couple of pints of Smithwicks down us (couldn't handle Guinness yet haha), listened to some good sounds and with luck got a cheeseburger (and a few chips thrown in for free) at Rudi's takeaway before a certain purple mini arrived to take us home (thanks Emily Moore!).  Good times.

Portrush Arcadia, as it looked in late 2014
Nowadays half of it has been knocked down, but the facade still stands.  What used to be the concert hall is now a kids playpark.  Ah well - nothing lasts forever, as Bryan Ferry told us.

Snapped on 35mm FP4+ film, developed in DD=X.  I might even print that one - it would be rather nice to see that on the wall, methinks, for old times' sake.

Monday, 16 March 2015


Here's a couple more snaps from my trip to Ballymoney the other day.  Both taken from the Seacon Road - or was it the Ballyvelton Road - I can't quite remember.  Anyway, somewhere around there.  The Ballyvelton Road I have just discovered - it leads from Ballyrashane (that of the Creamery fame) to Ballymoney and a very nice drive it is too.

A clump of trees somewhere between Coleraine and Ballymoney, 2015

This next wee photo shows the poor state of hedges around this part of the world in the early 21st Century.  Now there was a time when our beautiful hawthorn hedges grew tall and wild and in the spring had a fantastic display of flowers - the May flower.  Hence the old adage 'Never cast a clout 'til (the) May is out' - meaning don't take off any layers of clothes until the Mayflower has blossomed.  Nowadays you'd be hard put to find any Mayflowers, since the farmers give all their hedges a Number 1 cut early in the season.  This (below) is typical of things - you'd hardly call that a hedge, for goodness' sake  Where are all the hedgerow birds to nest/feed/shelter?

What used to be a hedge

So why do they cut them down so much? Probably due to a number of reasons.  Partly because they can.  They've all got the tractors and the machinery to flail the crap out of the hedges, so they do. In the old days a couple of big ligs with hand tools could maybe have trimmed the hedges back a bit but nothing like to this extent.  Partly because they want to cut them back from the field so as to maximise usage of the land - although very few crops are grown in this part of the world anymore - the land is mostly used to graze cattle or sheep, or perhaps to grow silage.  Is the yield improved significantly by doing this?

I'm sure lots of people look at these hedges and think 'Nice and neat - great job'.  Not me.  I'm definitely in Grumpy Old Man mode with regard to our hedges.  I don't like neatness in the countryside when it's man-made - I'd rather let nature take its course and have wild and unkempt hedges - with blossom!  Here endeth today's rant.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

A change of plan

As you know, I've been working on the big darkroom refurb since before Christmas.  Like all such projects it has taken longer than expected, but it's coming together at last.  The sink has been screwed together and is about to get sealed, painted and varnished.  Hopefully it'll be reasonably waterproof - that's the whole point of it, innit?  The support base has also been made.  Next step is to get Buff the plumber in to hook up the water and sort out the waste.  It took me a while to work out why he is called Buff - let's just say he's quite Big, reasonably Ugly and could lose a few pounds.  Building site banter.  A decent sort is Buff.  I'll try to capture him on film for your amusement.

Which leads me to the Big Issue.  Being away from the darkroom for a while has given me time to think - and meanwhile the negatives are piling up waiting to have light shone through them onto photographic paper.  But I'll never get them all printed, and that means a lot of 'quality snaps' will never see the light of day, which is hard to accept.  The only sensible thing to do is to do what everybody else does, scan them and blog about them.  Yes yes I know I made a big thing about this blog being 'printed photographs only' but this way there might actually be a bit more blogging done.  Hopefully my faithful readers (i.e., you) will understand.

I'll be sticking to some of my principles, you'll be glad to hear.  I'll only be posting scans from film, for example, and that means only black&white.

So here's a scan from a neg I developed only yesterday.  It was taken on my latest acquisition - a lovely little Franka Solida 6x6 'folder' from the 1960s.  Small enough (when folded up) to fit into my coat pocket - I think it will be coming with a lot in the future.  I'm just loving these big 6x6 negatives.

This one was taken up the country the other day - just off Seacon Road, which if you are from around these parts you will know to be between Coleraine and Ballymoney.  A very muddy track it was too - too muddy to explore where the lane leads to.  I think there might be an old house at the end of it, which will be explored another time.  The trees are lovely at this time of year - not a leaf on them but getting ready to explode with foliage.  A month from now this scene will look very different.

Country Lane, Seacon Road, Ballymoney

On HP5@400ASA developed in DD-X, if anyone's interested.