Friday, 30 June 2017

A parallel universe

Someway along the busiest shopping street in Porto I happened upon a rather interesting building.  Sandwiched between two retail stores was a very unassuming entrance with a sign proclaiming 'Grand Hotel do Porto'. What else could I do but wander in...

Going through the doors into the lobby was like entering a parallel universe - outside was a bright, noisy, busy street bathed in sunlight, whereas inside the place was cool, church-like quiet and very, very elegant.  And there was me in me long shorts, trainers, white short-sleeved shirt, red face (we Irish are inclined to go red at the first hint of sun, y'know) and camera.  Hmm, I thought to myself as the two men behind the desk looked up - 'I wonder if they're going to stop me'.  But I acted as nonchalantly as I could (given the circumstances) and kept walking.  They didn't speak and I didn't make eye contact.

As I got further into the hotel it became clear the place was not your typical hotel.  It was very dark, with wood-panelled walls adorned with some lovely black-and-white photographs - portraits of famous people (and some I didn't recognise).  Very nice it was - I spent a good bit of time wandering around this impromptu gallery, getting some ideas on composition for when I next take a portrait.  Across the hall was a small sitting area - there were a couple of gentlemen sitting reading - they didn't look up.  Further along was 'The Windsor Bar', where again there were photographs hanging - this time the unmistakable face of King Edward VIII before he became the Duke of Windsor after abdicating in favour of Wallis Simpson.  I didn't spend too long looking at these photographs :) but clearly this area was marked as a tribute to The Duke. I'm guessing he frequented the hotel, perhaps more than once. I wonder if he paid his bill - I assume he did, hence the rather lavish tribute to him (a bit over the top if you ask me, but then again, no-one did).

Clearly I wasn't going to take photographs inside the hotel, so I made do with a couple of snaps on the way out.  The fancy handles on the old ironwork gates at the front found their way onto some HP5+ inside the Nikon with its standard 50mm lens attached.  Here's how they came out when split-grade printed on Ilford Warmtone RC paper:

10"x8" print of the handles on the entrance to the Grand Hotel do Porto

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Dorothy was right

Back home now, from our week in Porto.  Enjoyed the week enormously.  Although it's very hilly, our little aparthotel was right bang in the middle of the action, so perfect really.  We still did a fair bit of tramping around - well you have to really, don't you.

But as lovely as Porto was, it is very good to be back.  Dorothy was right, y'know - there's no place like home. It's a lot cooler of course (17 degrees vs 28) but as my mother would say, 'It's a nice air' can breathe.  And I missed the clouds - really!  I mean, all that blue sky - it's not natural. It gets boring after a while.

Have a bunch of films still to develop but got 2 done the other night.  Had a little session in the darkroom last night.  I don't know if I was a bit rusty or what, but everything was a little disappointing.  Actually that's not correct - it was a big bit disappointing.  Perhaps I had me hopes up too high for some wonderful masterpieces but as yet I haven't come across any.  Ah well, maybe in the next batch, eh?  We live in hope...

This gives some idea of the general chaos in the streets during the festival of São João (St John).  Busy, busy streets, temporary fires set up for the cooking of sardines (or rack of pork if you prefer).  I'm not a great fan of hordes of people, as I'm not too steady on my feet at the best of times, but I have to say I felt very safe in Porto.  I know this shot has loads of hand-shake in it - I should have pushed the HP5+ a bit but I was half-way through the film so it was too late.  Probably around 1/4 second, hence the problem.  I was in two minds whether to take the M6 or not but opted for the Nikon FM3a.  In retrospect the M6 would probably have been the better option, certainly for shots like this anyway.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Still not here

Last full day in the lovely city of Porto. Public holiday today, something to do with St John the Baptist. Big celebrations last night, I think everyone in Portugal was in town, or so it seemed. The thing to do is tap everyone you meet on the head with a plastic hammer - it seemed to work well, everyone was in good spirits.

Last of the series of prints I made from the new growth Ash tree. This one on Art300 paper again, but toned this time - firstly with mild sepia, then selenium. Toned well it did - strong colour shifts in both:

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

I'm not here

Things are quiet on the blogging front as I'm not here. I'm on me hols, in the lovely city of Porto. I was here years ago at an academic conference and am very happy to return. Lovely place, lovely people.

So this is a print I did a couple of weeks ago, but this time on MG Art 300 fibre paper. Lovely stuff.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Those trees again

One I've posted a few times before, but a new print made last weekend:

The dodgy left-hand edge is purely a result of me scanner - this is a 9.5"x12" print, so it doesn't quite fit on the scanner bed.  Anyway, that's not important.

The bottom line is I should take more photographs, but from time to time when I get a compelling urge to print (pretty frequently these days I must admit) I just pick through my neg files and see what leaps out.  This one has leapt out a few times but this time I stuck it on some Foma 131 paper and sloshed some Moersch Easylith developer over it for about 3-4 minutes.  There's more detail in the print than the scan - obviously!  :)  It's not particularly lithy but the overall print is decent enough.  It's not toned or anything - the Foma paper naturally comes out very warm in the lith developer.

I like the sunlight hitting the trees randomly through the scene.  There's a path there, of sorts but you get the impression there might be many other paths too.  Like life itself, eh?

Taken a couple of years ago on  a walk through Coleraine's "Trim Trail", near Somerset - across the river from Mountsandel where those oldest people in Ireland used to live.  A lovely place to walk at any time of year, to be fair.  It's been a while since I've been there - Note to self: must go again soon...and take another snap or two.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The ideal weekend retreat?

I snapped up this scene a while back but never printed it for some reason - until last week that is.   OK so it won't win any awards, but it's one of those photographs that I have an emotional connection to:

Now doesn't that look like a nice place to live?  Well it does to me.  It's in Dunlewey, Donegal, very close to the old church that I snapped up a couple of years ago when on a trip with my mate Dr C.  This is the gatehouse to a serious Country Estate which lies to the south of Lough Dunlewey - notice the 'Keep Out' gates leading past the house.  I daresay a mile or two up the lane there's a big pile of bricks arranged in rather an impressive form.   There are quite a few grand estates in Donegal - well, in Ireland as a whole to be honest.  Personally I have no need nor want for a big castle thing, but this gate-lodge caught my eye.  The tranquillity of the setting, the babbling brook leading down to the lough, the trees - well it all seemed pretty perfect to my eyes.  So I snapped it up on the M6 with the 35mm Summarit lens. 

The Summarit range of Leica lenses are the cheap ones, in case you didn't know.  Of course cheap in Leica-land is anything but.  But it draws beautifully on film, this piece of glass does.  And it's a thing of beauty itself - taking 39mm filters it is really petite.  Not the fastest lens on the planet, with a maximum aperture of f/2.5 but I find it absolutely fine for the sort of snaps I take.  With the M6 I find I can handhold at speeds way lower than anything else, it being mirrorless and what have you.  Well, enough for the size of prints I make, anyway.

This one was printed on 9.5"x12" Foma 131 fibre paper, followed by a dunk in some Moersch Lith developer.  I was pretty happy with the outcome, apart from the burnt-out highlight there in the sky.  One of those artefacts that if you don't see it, it ain't there...but once you do see it, it's hard not to look at it.  Funny thing that...

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Easy Rider

This lovely lady was parked up on Portstewart Prom during the bike race week:

On Foma Nature fibre paper, toned in sepia giving it lovely chocolatey-brown blacks, if you know what I mean

I presume it's a Harley what with that big V-engine and those beautifully curved chromed pipes.  I used to know my bikes, since my dad was into his Triumph T500C in a big way.  He had it before he got married and sold it in order to pay for the honeymoon, or the house or something.  Then a couple of years later he bought it back and kept it until the end of his days.  On a weekend morning he would get up early and ride it to Belfast when the roads were empty - probably less than an hour away at the speeds he would have used :).  He'd call into Marks&Spencers (the only one in the country in those days) and get something different for breakfast.  He'd be back home to bring my mum a cup of tea and a croissant before she even knew he was away.

As a lad I had various posters on my bedroom wall from my dad's copy of MotorCycleNews that he bought regularly.  Ivan Mauger (speedway) and the famous Giacomo d'Agostini (what a name!) on his MV Agusta were ones I remember.  Barry Sheene was a bit more recent but I think he had his place on the wall too.  Anything Italian was, of course, exotic - and how could it not be with names like the Laverda Jota or Benelli Sei, with 6 cylinders - mad!  A quick look at the classifieds shows a 1977 Jota currently for sale at £14,000, so clearly it has achieved iconic status.

Unfortunately not all Italian machines lived up to the dream.  My Uni mate Simon had a Moto Guzzi for a while when we were undergrads in Bath.  Great in principle but in practice the electrics were shot - manys the time him and I pushed it up the steep hill outside our digs in order for him to jump-start the thing before riding it non-stop back to his home in Liverpool for the weekend.  Good times...for the most part, anyway.  It was a big brute of a thing to push uphill, that I do remember...

Monday, 5 June 2017


Taken during a dander about in the spring - the beginnings of new growth in the ash tree at the bottom of our garden:

On Foma Nature fibre paper, via HP5+ on the 'Blad.

I did a second print and dunked it some sepia toner just to see what gave.  I think the bleach was a bit strong as it worked fast - I could probably have pulled it a little earlier:

The two prints are very different - I can't quite decide which I like best.  The element of mystery is better in the first one, I think, but the contrast seems a little low by comparison to the second, which has a lot more sparkle to it.  In the toned print, though, the background is too bright and detracts from the main subject. 

Friday, 2 June 2017


This is what happens when you walk around your gaff looking for something to photograph - in this case, a rusty nail sticking out of a 100-year old stone wall, once upon a time lime-washed but long since neglected:

This was on the 'Blad with a close-up filter on.  Foma 131 paper in the usual Moersch Easylith developer.  Lovely stuff to work with I have to say.