Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Monday July 27 2015

Today, from an advert in Shoreditch High Street, I learned of a game which is new to me …:

image

… Zorb football.  As I have already told you, in the heading of this.

Zorbing.

The website in the picture.

Video of people playing Zorb football.

The tackling reminds me of this.

Sunday July 26 2015

I like Palestra House, outside Southwark Tube.  It’s a bit trashy and seventies looking, but I like it.  Especially in nice weather, as it was when I recently photoed it, on the right here:

imageimage

On the left is how Palestra House was looking on March 31st 2005.  There was a faked-up picture of what they thought it would look like on the outside of the site, but you never really know these days, by which I mean for the last three decades or so.  Although, there was an early clue, in the form of the beginnings of the glass cladding, as you can see.

One definition of Modern Movement modernism sixties vintage (as opposed to the later and more stylish versions), would be to say that when it was being built you did know only too well what it was going to look like.  It was going to look like … that.  And that … was not good.

I think that Palestra House, on the other hand, turned out quite good.

Saturday July 25 2015

May 2005 was when I first really started noticing my fellow photographers.  My archives show that I had been noticing a bit before then, but that was when I really started taking photoer photos, to the point where there are now enough from that time for me now to choose only the ones where faces are not revealed, and still have plenty to pick the best of:

image image image imageimage image image imageimage image image imageimage image image image

My favourite is 4.3, the penultimate one.  The proof that I was getting serious was that I took lots of shots of this guy, which meant that the best shot was good of him and his amazing posture, and it was good of his camera, which like most of them, is of a sort you no longer see.

It is particularly noticeable how many cameras were silver coloured, in those far off days.  Now dedicated cameras are mostly black.

Friday July 24 2015

Well, it hasn’t really worked has it.  No way have I caught up.  But before today ends, I do want to show you this, because it is a cat and Friday is my cat day:

image

This photo is not mine.  It is Mick Hartley‘s.  I really like his photos, both the ones he takes himself and the ones he picks out for his blog that other people have taken.

What I love about Hartley’s photos is his attitude to colour, and to black and white.  He loves both.  He loves the black and whiteness of black and white, and he loves the colourfulness of colour.

So, that white cat above, for instance.  It adds an extra something that the white cat is surrounded by a white window frame, and that it is black behind the white cat.  And, neither the cat nor the window frame would be as white if it were not for the blue wall.

So, go to Mick Hartley.  You may not want to read the whole thing just because I do.  But, look at the whole thing.

When G(od)D(aughter) 1 and I left the Park View Cafe, the weather was still grim, as you can see in this picture, which is of an amazing building which we encountered just a few yards down the road:

imageimage

I was amazed.  But so amazed enough that I forgot to take a closer photo of all that signage so I could look it up later.

What is it?  And more to the point, what was it?  Because nobody says “We need a place to do indoor pretend rock climbing” and builds themselves something like that.

Well, here is the website for what it is now.  And here you can read about what it was originally built to accommodate:

For a small district, Stoke Newington is endowed with a generous amount of open space. To its north, there is the extensive West Reservoir, now a non-working facility, but open for leisure and surrounded by greenspace, at the entrance to which is the architecturally bizarre Castle Climbing Centre, once the main Water Board pumping station. It was designed, by William Chadwell Mylne, to look like a towering Scottish castle.

There should be more fake castles of this sort.  Why don’t people build such things now?  You’d think with all the current fascination with fantasy movies, Harry Potter, and so forth, there’d be rock and roll royalty queueing up to erect more stuff like this.  Do they not even try?  Or, do they try, but are they then rebuffed by boring local planning committees, frightened that if they allowed such things, before you knew it, everyone would be building whatever they liked.

“Castle Climbing Centre” ought to mean a Centre where you learn to Climb Castles.  But, it doesn’t.

During the same walk that I took this picture, and this picture, I also took these pictures, of photographers.

We start (top left) with a view of a photographer on the Millennium Footbridge, and end with a clutch of photos taken on Tower Bridge.  In between, I walk from the first bridge to the second, along the south bank.

As you can see, smartphone cameras continue to predominate:

image image imageimage image imageimage image image

As you can see, I am becoming every more careful to avoid showing recognisable - especially automatically-computer-recognisable – faces.  I have even included one photo (bottom right) where the whole point and fun of it is that a passing car hid the lady’s face, and thus caused the resulting photo to qualify for inclusion in this posting.

Also, I like that effect you get with glasses (top right), where you get a more focussed version through them of the otherwise blurry background.

I have been reading Richard J. Evans’s account of the libel trial which took place at the High Court in 2000, in which David Irving sued the American historian Deborah Lipstadt, and her publisher Penguin Books.  In one of her books, Lipstadt had called Irving a bad and dishonest non-historian, and Irving was trying to suppress this opinion.  Irving lost.

Richard J. Evans was the expert witness who did most to blow Irving’s claims to be an honest and effective historian out of the water.

The Evans book is entitled Telling Lies About Hitler.  At the end of the chapter in it entitled “In The Witness Box” (p. 231), Evans recounts a truly extraordinary moment, right at the end of the court proceedings:

And when it came to rebutting the defence charge of consorting with neo-Nazis in Germany, Irving’s habit of improvising from his prepared text led him into a fatal slip of the tongue, as he inadvertently addressed the judge as ‘Mein Fuhrer’.  Everyone in court knew that he was referring to the judge as ‘Mein Fuhrer’ from the tone of voice in which he said it.  The court dissolved into laughter.  ‘No one could believe what just happened,’ wrote one spectator.  ‘Had we imagined it? Could he have addressed the judge as “Mein Fuhrer”?’ Irving himself denied having made the slip.  But amid the laughter in court, he could be seen mumbling an apology to the judge for having addressed him in this way.  Perhaps the slip was a consequence of Irving’s unconscious identification of the judge as a benign authority figure.  Whatever the reason for it, with the laughter still ringing in its ears, the court adjourned on 15 March 2000 as the judge prepared the final version of his judgment on the case.

Bizarre.

Thursday July 23 2015

Said I to myself - said I, on the 10th of this month:

I need to get out less, and this weather is not helping.

Tomorrow, the weather will be helping very much:

image

This is perfect.  My life today, in the last few days, and for the last few weeks, has been one mad social whirl after another, my contented solitude being having been violated seemingly every other evening and sometimes more often even than that, which is all fun and all that, but I find that an evening out puts a blight on creativity for the entire day, because what if I start something, want to finish it, but then don’t have time to, because I have a social whirl to attend and to get ready for and to find my way to and to find out about finding my way to?  Last night I whirled out to watch theatrical stuff in an unfamiliar and transportationally complicated part of town with a theatrical friend.  Tonight, I face another social whirl, to meet Perry II.  Every time I go out I take photos, but because of all this going out I have no time to show them to you people or not with the sort of insightful commentary that I want to attach to them without which what’s the point? - They’re just pictures.

So tomorrow (a day during which I have nothing else planned), I will stay in all day, and try (although I promise nothing) to do here a mammoth day of catch-up blogging, showing you a tiny fraction of the pictures I have been taking lately, all properly explained, and anything else I’ve been meaning to put here for some time that I decide to put here tomorrow, in not one, not two, but many postings.

We shall see.

Wednesday July 22 2015

Indeed.

Busy day today, so another photo taken yesterday evening, at the southern end of Blackfriars Bridge:

image

Dragons like these are to be seen all around the City of London, guarding the City from the rest of London.  This is the kind of thing Wikipedia surely gets right, so here is that link.

You can find lots of pictures of these dragons, but not so many photos that look the way mine does, with a blurry Big Thing and a blurry crane in the background.

Tuesday July 21 2015

Today I went on one of my regular walkabouts.  But it was different from almost all other walkabouts I can remember, in that this time, this time, I returned home convinced that I had taken a lot of, by my reckoning, really very good photos.  I knew that this time, I would not have to go through the usual ordeal of looking at them, becoming depressed, only returning to my clutch of photos a few days later to rescue whatever photographic merit I might then find.  So it has already proved, only a couple of hours after me getting home.  I looked at the photos and an amazing number of them were … really very good.  I think.

Here is just one, for now, one among many that I already know that I like:

image

Big Thing, tick.  Roof clutter, tick.  But what I really like is how some of the roof clutter is dark, while some of it is sunlit, and the sunlit stuff has an obligingly dark Big Thing behind it, to set it off.

I didn’t meander about making this happen.  It just happened.  (Although, I did have to do a little bit of rotating.  Sorry about that.  I can only assure you that this will almost certainly happen again because the combination of me and my camera (with its twiddly screen) seems to make me rotate pictures when I take them, a lot.)

Monday July 20 2015

Just before taking these photos, on a very sunny afternoon earlier this month, I photoed this oriental lady, apparently using her sunglasses as some kind of photographic filter:

imageimage

On the left, she is photoing the Wheel.  On the right: Big Ben and Parliament.  I have removed her face from what I am showing you, but it’s a shame I didn’t catch the picture she was taking on her smartphone.  There would have been no harm done showing you that.

It was hard to tell if she had done this kind of thing before, shoving her sunglasses in front of her smartphone.  As I say, it was a very sunny day, so maybe not.  On the other hand, maybe yes, because it would seem that sunglasses are a very big deal for this lady, this next image being a close-up crop from the picture above, top left, of the lady’s painted nails:

image

Those are sunglasses, are they not?  Or, aliens?  Aliens wearing sunglasses?

But then again maybe she hadn’t done anything like this before, because if she had she might have gone straight to this excellent arrangement, instead of appearing only to arrive at it rather slowly:

image

I have not seen this done before, by anyone.  This time I did catch the picture she was taking, reflected in her sunglasses.

That last photo is the money shot, or it would be if anyone were ever to pay me money for my photos, which they will not (see the posting immediately below).

Sunday July 19 2015

As already related here, I had a delightful day out with G(od)D(aughter) 1, way back whenever that was.  And I got as far as telling you that we had succeeded, with the help of our mobile phones, in meeting up, not (as I wrongly related (apologies to anyone inconvenienced or insulted)) at the “Manor Park” Cafe, but at the Park View Cafe.  And I also wrote about how I nearly didn’t have my mobile phone with me, and about how inconvenient that would have been.

Once settled inside the Manor Park View Cafe, GD1 and waited for the rain to stop, and conversed.

GD1 was full of apologies for the fact that she had kept on postponing our expedition.  I, on the other hand, was rather pleased about these postponements, because they were caused by pressure of work, GD1’s work as a professional photographer.  And I think that her being faced with pressure of work is good.  Getting established as a professional photographer has been a bit of a struggle for her, but now the struggle seems to be paying off.

Another sign that GD1 is now photographically busier than she had been in former years was that she felt the need to apologise also about not having done much recent photoing for the sheer fun of it, as I constantly do, and as the two of us were about to do again.  “You put me to shame” was the phrase she used, in one of her emails to me before this latest walkabout.  But again, I see that as a good sign.  I mean, if you have spent a day taking important photographs for a demanding client, and being sustained in your efforts by the expectation of money, would your idea of a fun way to wind down be to go out and take yet more photos, with nobody paying you?  That she does rather less fun photoing than she once did means, again, that she is probably busier doing work photoing.  Good.  Under the circumstances, it was all the more kind of her to be willing to share a day with me doing this now, for her, ever so slightly uncongenial thing.

At the Park View Cafe, GD1 and I discussed the fact that, although becoming an established professional photographer may be a struggle, this line of business still most definitely exists.

Not that long ago, some were predicting that the ubiquity of cheap-and-cheerful cameras, wielded by cheap-and-cheerful photographers like me, would drive the formerly professional photographers out of business.  Well, it did drive some of the old pro photographers out of business.  But the world now is at least as full as ever it was of pro photographers, including many who started out as cheap-and-cheerful digital amateurs.

Yes, there have been big changes in the photography business, as my friend Bruce the Real Photographer long ago told me, when digital cameras first started catching on.  And change often registers first as bad news for existing practitioners, who then have to adapt fast or go out of business.  Because yes, lots of the kinds of photos that Real Photographers like Bruce used to charge for are now taken by amateurs instead.  Family portraits, for instance.  If you take photos of your kids constantly, you are pretty much bound to get lucky with some of them, and that’s all most people probably want.

And yes, amateurs like me can sometimes take nice wedding pictures.  But, would you want to rely on the amateurs to take those crucial never-to-be-posed-for again wedding moments, just for the sake of a few dozen quid?  I think not.

Or consider the house-selling trade.  The phrase “false economy” is the one that best explained why there will always be professional photographers alive and well in that line of business.  Imagine you are trying to sell a house, perhaps for several million quid.  Does it really make sense to rely on some fun-photographer like me to try to make the place look its best?  No it does not.  A crappy set of house photos or a flattering set of house photos could be the difference between sale and no-sale, a difference that could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds or more.  So, not spending a few hundred quid making sure that the photos are non-crappy is … a false economy.

In general, whenever the economic difference made by good photos dwarfs the mere cost of good photos, then good photos will be demanded, and good photos will be paid for.

Here is a rather crappy picture which I recently took, of a non-crappy picture of a house interior, a house recently featured in the Guardian, a house which is (fingers crossed, for it is now (or was until very recently) owned by a good friend of mine) about to change hands for several million quid:

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That’s a photo of a glossy brochure, devoted to this one, highly desirable house.  The house-sellers paid quite a lot for that glossy brochure.  For the same reason, they paid quite a lot for the photos in it.  Why would they not?  My friend described the mysterious things the photographer did with light when he visited.  “Ambient” light, was it?  I can’t even remember.  A simple way of putting it would be to say that if a muggins photographer like me had taken the photos, the garden would either have been invisibly white or the rooms would have been invisibly dark.  Plus, more generally, and for reasons I don’t even understand, it wouldn’t have looked like nearly such a desirable place.  No wonder the guy who took this photo makes a living at it.  And I’ll bet he doesn’t any longer go out fun-photoing in his spare time, any more than GD1 now does.

So, in the short run, Bruce the Real Photographer was suddenly faced with a hoard of crappy photographers like me, taking all the “good enough” photos that he had been taking, and he had to adjust to that by finding other photos to take.  This was not fun for him, at all.  But meanwhile, the same digitalisation-of-everything process that was making such miseries for Bruce the Real Photographer was also creating a whole new world of internettery where photos are now required.  Most of these photos need only be “good enough”, so Bruce the Real Photographer can no more make a living doing them than he can make a living with the many of the photos that he had been taking for a living in his younger days.  But, GD1, after a struggle, is finding work, illustrating all that internettery, for all those people - people like my friend’s house-sellers - for whom only very good is good enough.

If only because there are now so many more photos swirling about in the world, if you want your photos to stand out from the crowd, they need to be really good.  And really good costs.

My guess is that the photography profession is now several times bigger in number than it used to be, before cheap digital cameras erupted.

I say similar things from time to time (for instance towards the end of this recent posting here about the changing context within which Samizdata now operates) about the impact of the internet on the old-school news media.  Despite many individual failures to adapt to the new digital dispensation, and despite similar prophecies of doom at the start of the digital age, the Mainstream Media are in much the same sort of healthy state as, to adapt that phrase, Mainstream Photography.  And the current non-plight of the Mainstream Media is not only analogous to the non-plight of Mainstream Photography, but yet another cause of that non-plight.  After all, one of the biggest customers for Mainstream Photography is the Mainstream Media.

Saturday July 18 2015

Incoming, this morning, 11.37 am:

Hi brian

Hi.

How are you?

Oh you know, much the same as ever.

My name is Chrystal. I am 25 years old. I am from Chongqing. I like your page. How often do you visit the site? I really want to communicate with you. I am good at Thai massage and really like to eat fish. What about you? I guess that we will have many topics to talk about.

Do you have some social networks? I will be waiting for your letter.

Best wishes
Chrystal

I was pondering my reply to Chrystal, asking for clarification about this site I am supposed to be visiting, but going on to say that she really is a bit young for me.

But then, incoming, at 12.12pm:

Hi brian

How are you?

My name is Eugenia. I am 25 years old. I am from Chongqing. I like your page. How often do you visit the site? I really want to communicate with you. I am good at Thai massage and really like to eat fish. What about you? I guess that we will have many topics to talk about.

Do you have some social networks? I will be waiting for your letter.

Best wishes
Eugenia

Uncanny.  Truly, truly uncanny.  They even both said “hi brian” is the same giant blue letters.  What are the odds?  Presumably, I should continue with the composition of my reply, and send a copy to each of them.  It’s almost as if one of them isn’t a real person.  Or even – the horror – neither of them is.  Does some terrible middle aged, male, ugly criminal want to know more about me, that he can then use to his advantage and to my disadvantage?  If Eugenia hadn’t copied Chrystal’s email to me, these suspicious thoughts might never have occurred to me.

Seriously though, these sorts of (and all the other sorts of) bullshit emails pollute email, by making you assume that any email from anyone which seems even slightly off key is bollocks, even if it isn’t.  You even think it may be bollocks if the person it’s from is someone that you know.  Because, maybe someone else stole that person’s name, or just guessed it or chose it at random.  I can remember when it actually made sense to trust incoming emails from strangers, unless they were obvious bullshit.  Those days are long gone.  At first, email seemed to create a bright new world of candour and of quick and easy communication.  But emails like the ones above clog up the pipes.  They may be a joke, but they are a joke we could all do without.

Friday July 17 2015

It’s true!  Three of weeks ago, I was scratching about for a cricket cat connection, and all the time this cricket cat connection has been out there, and I never knew, until I followed a tweet at Cricinfo!  And there it was!  Philip Clive Roderick Tufnell (nickname: “The Cat”, or so somebody claims), former Middlesex and England spin bowler, now TMS commentator, painter, has climbed aboard the catwagon!  Does he actually like cats?  Is he merely hoping to get internet hits that are the envy of artists who prefer non-feline subjects?  Who knows?  Who cares?

image

Says Tufnell:

I think people are sometimes surprised that art is my thing. I got an O level in art at school (my only one – I was too busy playing cricket!) and my Dad was a silversmith, so there’s a history of creativity in my family. I even worked with my Dad for a while when I was turning professional, and I loved it.

I’m not a landscape water-colourist or anything – you won’t bump into me and my easel on a country walk! Instead, I love to work in abstract art and with different techniques. My studio is full of spray-paint cans, because I really like the effects I can create.

You can see where I’m getting all my exclamation marks!

I love that the cat is a smoker!

Thursday July 16 2015

Indeed

On September 19th 2004, Goddaughter 1 and I visited the inside of the top of the Gherkin, on that year’s London Architecture Open Day, or whatever they call it.

But my camera (a Canon A70) was not very good at doing views, and the best pictures I took were of, guess what, other photographers.  And the most interesting other photographer was, I think, this one:

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Proof (a) that selfies were being taken before the word itself had caught on, and proof (b) that I had already noticed.

I also like that the camera there looks seriously clunky and out of date.  That’s because it was then seriously clunky and is now seriously out of date.