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.


  1. I bet it's a beautiful print in flesh. Looks good even on the screen to me, but I know what you mean. Nothing got the looks of a good hand held print.

    1. Thanks for the comment Roy. I'm always disappointed with my scans of prints - not sure if that's down to my poor scanning or just that the prints are different things. Probably a bit of both...