Thursday, 27 February 2020

Belt up

Looking through some negatives from Italy the other day I came across one that I hadn’t printed. Taken in a flea market in Bergamo:

Belts in Bergamo. Leica M6ttl, 35mm f/2.5 Summarit, HP5+, ID-11 and Adox MCC fibre paper.  Yummy.

There isn't much going on in The Liberties right now.  The weather is most inclement.  This week I've been out a couple of times along the coast, between Portstewart and Portrush.  Both times I've stepped out of the car with the camera and though...'Hmm'.  The cold was biting, the wind was fierce and the whole experience was pretty awful.  Yesterday morning the Zeiss 6x9 folder I had with me went on protest - the shutter locked up.  I retreated to the car and watched as the sleet came down sideways.  Then I gave up and went home for a cup of tea.  Perhaps not unexpectedly the Zeiss's shutter decided to work again pretty much straight away once it warmed up.  Not so stupid, these old bits of metal and cloth...

Monday, 24 February 2020


Not the best shot - or print - but sort of completes the latest instalment of the Sheep Saga.  It's hungry work getting shorn and shortly afterwards they got a feed:

The finished article.  On Ilford Warmtone fibre paper

Unrecognisable from the original versions of the same sheep.  Literally, as it turns out, since the Sheep Man informed me they don't recognise their own friends at first (I wasn't even aware they had friends, but apparently they do 'have a crowd they run with'.  There you go, eh?).  It's not so much a problem with the sheepettes, but with the rams Graham needs to keep a careful watch - they have been known to head butt and fight one another, with potentially fatal outcomes.  I suppose the familiar smell has gone so they have to start over again.

They'll be kept inside for a few weeks until the coat starts to grow back and the weather warms up a bit.  For now, they're inside the barn, in close proximity to each other and keeping warm.  Good thing too, as it's pretty nippy outside these days in The Liberties - and this morning we've a dusting of snow on the ground.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Peter (Dentist, Sheep-Shearer)

So...drum is our mystery dentist-and-part-time-sheep-shearer, known to everyone as Peter.  A thoroughly nice chap he is too.  If I heard correctly, his grandfather kept sheep - he took up shearing as a teenager and has stuck with it.  From what I could see, he's pretty darn good at it, too.

Just before we went for a well-earned cuppa, I asked if I could take his photograph and he duly posed, clipper in hand.  It was my last frame on the Hasselblad and I was very happy with the result:

Peter.  On Adox MCC fibre paper.
I think it's fair to say he'll be chucking that hoodie in the bin on the way out.  The wax and dirt that comes off the fleeces is something else.  Interestingly, his trousers and boots (well, moccasins) are special-purpose gear, made for shearing.  They are made from very flexible material and are sticky to the touch.  Apparently, they are made from sheeps' fleece, which means the bits coming off the animal don't stick.  Clever, innit?

Monday, 17 February 2020

The Harpist

At the launch of my friend's exhibition the other night the wife of another member offered to play the harp - a beautiful instrument.  I snapped her up a few times as I wandered past and this was the best of the bunch, achieved by holding the camera down low and hoping for the best.  I like the shot but I think there's a better print in it, if I can get my act together:

The Harpist, on HP5+, Adox MCC paper, partially toned (sepia)
I like a bit of context in photographs and the young girl looking on makes the shot, I think - what with her natural inquisitiveness and a little bit of awe etched on her face.  The prints on the wall look better here that they did in real life - for they were colour prints.  'Nuff said...

Thursday, 13 February 2020


A break from the Sheep Tales for a bit.  Tuesday night saw the opening of an Exhibition by one of the Club's members and a very enjoyable evening it was too.  Here's a few of the lads enjoying themselves while discussing the finer points of the prints on show - well, I think that's what they're doing ;)

Welcome respite for The Lads, on Adox MCC paper

That's the Sheep Man on the right, by the way, though how he can bear to leave those wee lambs for an evening I know not :)

I took the stealth camera (M6) and the 21mm lens (Voigtlander), just zone focussed at f/5.6 and hoped for the best.  I was down about 1/15th of a second so I set the camera on the table for this one.  HP5+ in ID-11 if you're interested in such things...

Monday, 10 February 2020

The Shear

So the wait is over, the nearest lamb has been grabbed and dragged over the 'shearing centre' - that's a sheet of plywood that's seen better days and a compressed-air-driven razor thingmy.  Peter (the shearer) tucks the head between his legs, pulls the cord for the razor and off he goes.  He starts on the front leg, then the upper body and head, then the lower body - same procedure every time.  It was fascinating to watch, I have to admit...

Sheep Man Graham kept me engaged with snippets of information as we watched a clean lamb appear from under the dirty fleece.  They'd been out in the fields for the first four months of their lives, so the fleece looked dull and not terribly clean - to be expected, I guess. If I was lying on the bare ground for a few months under the stars I doubt my fleece would be very clean.  As bits started coming off he reached down and gave me a handful.  Rubbing it in my hands it felt very waxy - I suppose it has to be to keep the elements out.  When we resumed after a tea-break, the razor had gummed up with dried, congealed wax from the fleece, which Peter had to scrape off and then re-oil the blades before starting again.  I think he said a new blade was required every 20 or so animals.

Before long there was a mini-mountain of discarded fleece on the floor, which Graham swept up from time to time.  I'm not sure if the bits had any value but I'd surprised if someone somewhere didn't have a use for it.  I got down low and steadied the 'Blad with a 50mm lens attached (about a 28mm equivalent in 35mm) on a bale of hay (wrapped in plastic, see background right) in order to get this shot:

The Crime Scene. On Adox MCC fibre paper

Most of the lambs didn't seem terribly bothered by the whole thing but the odd one or two struggled quite vigorously against this unwarranted affront to their dignity.  Peter, being an experienced shearer, kept a strong grip of them until they relaxed a bit and he could get on with it.  It didn't take long - about 5 minutes a lamb.  Graham told me that actually Peter was taking his time and doing a very neat and careful job, on account of these being prize-winning animals (and being Graham's pride and joy and all that).  On other farms, where time is of the essence, it's a 2-minute job per lamb.  That's fast.  Shearing is, as you can guess, really hard, physical work. As we took a break Peter told me the first summer he did this he lost something like 2 stone in weight over the course of a month - the target was 200 lambs a day.  That, I can tell you, is some going.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

The Wait

Last time we saw the Sheep Man shooing the lambs into a smaller pen - makes for easier grabbing prior to the shearing.  They didn't look too unhappy about it, but they kept milling around and I had to wait a while before I got the shot I wanted.  They don't stand still, the little blighters! It was like a sea of sheep as they jostled for position - trying, I guess, to find a way out... 

Dorsets, awaiting their fate.  Ilford Delta 3200 on Warmtone fibre paper.

There was only one way out, though, and that was into the waiting arms of the sheep-shearer.  The technique appeared to be: grab the nearest one, get it out of the pen, then twist it's head up and back so that it went off-balance and effectively sat back on his hind quarters.  At this stage it no longer has much of a say in anything so it can be dragged rather unceremoniously the few yards closer to the shearing equipment.  The Man had his technique down pat so it takes longer to read how it's done than the actual doing of it.

Next up: The Main Event.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Back on the farm

So last weekend I was out with the Sheep Man again, to take some snaps of the lambs getting their first shearing.  It seemed indecently hasty, since these are the lambs that were only born at the beginning of September, but I was quite surprised to see the size and weight of them.  They'd been outside eating good County Antrim grass as well as nature's milk from their Mammies so they'd all put on a good few pounds in the last 4 months.

Here's Graham 'corralling' them in to a smaller pen, ready for the sheep-shearer to do his thing:

Getting them in, January 2020.  Hasselblad, Delta 3200 on Ilford Warmtone fibre paper.
Unfortunately the light wasn't great in the shed - even worse than last time since the main doors were closed (on account of the fact that the sheep might run out).  I was relying on flourescent tubes and some natural light coming through perspex sheets in the roof.   I had Delta 3200 loaded which I needed to expose at - you guessed it - 3200 iso.  I'd had good results last time with stand development (albeit it for film exposed at 1600 iso) so I did that again, but the results this time weren't so good - low in contrast and not so easy to print.  I'm not quite there yet with this film/developer combination. 

More to come of the shearing over the next while...