Releasing the Tension

Hurrying by foot from St Pancras to Euston Station two weeks ago I saw this and shot instinctively.

IMG_6809_2This was taken on the road that separates St Pancras from the British Library. These two men – waiters I assume – were taking a break, ‘chilling out’ with their phones. The contrast between them and the man in the poster seemingly at screaming pitch struck me as powerful.

Curious to know more, while writing this, I thought I would see what’s on at the British Library. It turns out that this poster is advertising ‘Terror and wonder: The Gothic Imagination‘ and the image itself is titled ‘Terror and Wonder’ by Dave McKean. click the link to see the full poster (which has been flipped horizontally for display as seen in my image) and learn more about this exhibition.

Posted in Seen on the Street | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Margate – a balanced view

This is my third post about Margate: a seaside town in the county of Kent on the SE corner of England. Margate has a long history as a seaside resort that blossomed with the advent of the railways and with William Turner’s well-known love of the town and the surrounding area.

_DS81794The following paragraphs are a summary of how Margate is described on sites I have visited on the Internet:

  • Margate grew as the destination for Londoners wishing to escape the smog of the city. There was a Victorian Pier, regular, affordable paddle steamboat excursions, substantial sea-water baths and the first sea bathing hospital in the world, people came in their droves to benefit from the medicinal and recreational delights of the town.
  • As more people visited the seaside resort, beautiful Georgian and Victorian buildings were erected to accommodate and entertain holiday makers. Elegant squares, fashionable hotels, and crescents with sea-views; Margate was a spectacle of architectural grandeur, which can still be seen today.
  • Distinguished cinema architects Julian Leathart and William Grainger were hired to design and coordinate the building of ‘Dreamland’ – a magnificent cinema, cafe and ballroom complex. VIP guests enjoyed a buffet of caviar, oysters and champagne at its opening on March 22 1935.
  • In the 20th century Margate remained a favourite holiday destination for many British families. They came to the South Coast’s ‘Dreamland’ for the sun, sea, sand, amusements and unrivalled views. In Dreamland’s Ballroom groups such as the Rolling Stones and The Who performed. Margate has left fond memories for generations of visitors.

I remember Margate from the ‘60s when I was at a boarding school in nearby Ramsgate. In those days foreign holidays were for the privileged few, but so much has changed in the fifty years since then. Many of the traditional British seaside resorts have suffered severely as the relative cheapness and promise of guaranteed sunny summers have tempted people abroad. Loss of tourist revenue is followed by inevitable decline.

And on a grimmer note Margate was one of the towns that witnessed violence between mods and rockers in the ‘60s, and further disturbances in the ‘80s.

_DS81801Margate’s decline is evident and visible. My visit to Margate was very limited in its physical scope – it’s important I make that clear.

_DS81824From the station, I walked down Station Approach to the seafront and along Marine Terrace and Marine Drive to the Harbour Arm and to the Turner Contemporary gallery. And then a short incursion into the town on the way back. I visited on a weekday in mid September when children were back at school and the summer season was all but over. The resort was quiet, with few people in evidence; the beach was almost deserted, and many of the small craft stalls on the Harbour Arm were closed.

Decline, however, is only one part of Margate’s story. There’s another story to tell: one of Margate fighting back, against the odds; raising money, garnering public support for projects involving regeneration, and re-vitalizing critical areas of the town.

As I walked, my eye roamed and I captured what I saw in an admittedly brief time and area. What I saw illustrated those two very different stories of Margate – three if you include images looking out to sea. Turner described this corner of Kent as having a unique quality of light.

I posted two seaward views earlier in a post: Single Figures at the Seaside. Those images were of an empty beach save for a solitary figure. And here’s another.

_DS81751What do images like these say? To some who commented they suggest melancholy. To others they are serene. For those who live in seaside resorts they may express the joy of an empty beach at the end of the season. And then finally for lovers of landscapes these are merely minimalist images divorced from their location – they are seascapes, pure and simple.

I found many images that portrayed the sadder side of the resort. The picture that somehow summed it up best is this one: just a pair of old trainers hanging on the inside of a window with rusted bars.

_DS81746Below this was a boarded-up window covered with an evocative face by an unknown artist.

_DS81748As I walked I found a boarded up pub close to the station, the remains of a ‘Shell’ sign on premises that once housed a vehicle repair centre, a town centre boarded up pub with a longing to be something better, that was never achieved.

Renewal and regeneration is best summed up by The Turner gallery that sits prominently at the root of the Harbour Arm and was the subject of a Post last week. The publicity for the gallery states that the gallery is: ‘at the forefront of Margate’s exciting revival as Kent’s new cultural heart’. The gallery’s aim is summed up as: ‘making art open, relevant and free for all’. A local resident has commented: ‘I never imagined that my family and grandchildren would have the opportunity to walk into a local gallery to view world-class art. Now they do.’

_DS81760The Turner gallery (click here to see my post about it) is a potent symbol of regeneration; but there are others, not always so obvious, but they are there if you look, and there is more than meets the eye if you start to do a little research. Here are some examples:

  • Dreamland closed in 2006. The Dreamland Trust was formed to protect and re-vitalize this site, working with partners, and launching appeals for financial support. As a result of substantial public funding the first phase of restoration should be open in 2015.
  • The Turner Gallery and Margate’s Old Town are at the heart of an emerging creative quarter, with a growing number of art workspaces, residential studios, and independent shops, as well as a lively café and restaurant scene (largely in beautiful Georgian and Victorian buildings).
  • The Margate Old Town Heritage Initiative (THI) scheme has helped to transform some of the previously neglected and run down buildings within Margate’s Old Town into attractive, vibrant properties.
  • In the Old Town local entrepreneurs are aiding regeneration by giving visitors an ever-expanding range of shops in which to browse and buy… and an equal variety of places in which to eat and drink. In 2012 Margate was chosen as one of the towns to benefit from the Portas Pilot Scheme aimed at regenerating some of Britain’s run-down High Streets. It is hoped that the money provided by the scheme will enable the re-opening of the many empty shop units in the High Street.

Children, the next generation, have also being involved in two highly visible schemes. Firstly, there are a set of three standing stones close to where Station Approach meets the seafront.

_DS81834In 1997 writer Suzannah Dunn worked with local children at Artwise Youth Club, Ramsgate and other venues to explore ideas and thoughts about Margate, people, and feelings, in words, stories and poetry. From all the words written down and spoken by the children, Suzannah has drawn together a poem, which has been carved by Paul Wehrle into both sides of the three stones. (All six appear in the gallery at the foot of this post).

Secondly, on a lengthy hoarding fronting a derelict empty space next to Dreamland is another artistic project masterminded by Sophie Herxheimer called ‘Pie Days and Holidays’. You can read about in this next image, which forms part of the exhibit. Further images are in the gallery below.

_DS81829_cropThe message I take away from my day in Margate, from the images garnered, and what I have read, is a story of a community galvanized into action. There is a sense of determination to regenerate their town, to make it once again a place to feel proud of. I hope they succeed.

This experience has made me think seriously about how we use images we capture to tell stories and I hope you will now click here to go to my other Blog – iSighting – to read ‘What’s the Story’. That post explores ideas around: Does the camera lie? And how we use images to tell stories.

Click on the first image in the gallery below and navigate through. All images can be individually viewed by clicking on them.

Posted in A Personal Viewpoint | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Sitting Waiting

A journey is always an opportunity for a photograph. My images are often shot surreptitiously, from the hip with my Canon G10, hoping to capture something worthy of a picture.

Many stations on the Underground have been up-graded, and this one in particular attracted me because the design was atypical of most Underground stations. I had fired off a few shots of the design elements and then I spotted this line of people waiting for the next train.

IMG_6658They looked an interesting bunch and I very quickly shot: just the one shot – a chance shot. When eventually I looked at this back home on the iMac, I noticed the range of facial expressions, the assorted baggage, the varied degrees of slumped sitting. The tiredness so evident in some of them.

Click on the image to see an enlargement to get a better view of this random group of fellow travelers. It’s well worth doing.

It was only this morning as I was re-sizing the image for loading that I thought about a B&W conversion. Strangely it had never occurred to me. I liked the colour in the original, to my mind it added an extra dimension. But I have now run a B&W conversion; and I think it works. The coldness of the medium seems to match, and even enhance, the obvious weariness of the people. It creates a different mood.

IMG_6658_BWBut which do I prefer? I really don’t know right now. What’s your opinion? Write a comment and let’s see how you all vote.

PS: Linda Leinen (commenting as Shoreacres – see below) made a very perceptive observation about the mint green background and produced a new version removing the green tint (see below). I really like this version that Linda has produced and thought I should add that version to this post: thank you so much, Linda. I seriously recommend that you all take a look at Linda’s blog ‘The Task at Hand‘ – she writes beautifully and her blog is one of my favourite reads.


Posted in En Route | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

Turner Contemporary

Turner Contemporary (a Tate Plus partner gallery) is a new exhibition space that opened in 2011 on Margate’s seafront. JMW Turner was a regular visitor to Margate, staying on the precise spot where this modern visual arts centre, designed by David Chipperfield Architects, has been sited. Turner loved Margate – he was inspired by the views out to sea and by the quality of the light. Partly in response to Turner’s known association with Margate, Londoners flocked to the town and sparked its growth and development as a classic seaside resort of that era.


Turner Contemporary

Sadly like so many other traditional seaside towns, Margate has suffered. But there is hope. Publicity states that the gallery is: ‘at the forefront of Margate’s exciting revival as Kent’s new cultural heart’. Tracey Emin has also written: ‘the brilliant thing about Turner Contemporary is that it has given people hope that things are going to change here and also put Margate back on the map.’

I was in Margate last week to see an exhibition of Piet Mondrian’s work. Mondrian was one of the key figures in the development of abstract art in the early twentieth century. He is most well-known for his instantly recognizable grid paintings formed of lines and blocks of primary colours that he termed Neo-plasticism.

_DS81797Mondrian started out as a landscape painter. Writing about his early landscapes the curator comments: ‘Because of their simplicity, he deemed everyday objects such as farms, barns and woods worthy themes. He sought an appropriate way to capture these modest subjects.’ How familiar that concept will be to so many of us working as photographers today.

It was an impressive chronological exhibition although I have to say that at the end of a brief hour I still struggled to understand the drivers behind the evolution of his work from landscape to abstract grid. But then, I make no claims to being an art historian.

_DS81768_finalThe gallery space is well planned. The main high-ceilinged entrance space has panoramic views out to sea. I returned to this space repeatedly to capture an image, waiting for figures to align themselves close to the windows, while avoiding the watchful gaze of a gallery attendant. Eventually I caught an image but it was not quite what I had hoped for.

There is a brightly lit café that spills out onto the terrace, and standing on that terrace looking across the curve of the bay I could see what Turner meant about the quality of the light.

_DS81765Outdoors there was a commissioned artwork titled ‘Dwelling’ by Dutch Artist Krijn de Koning. A colourful labyrinthine walkway through small enclosed roofless spaces.

_DS81807It was an enjoyable day trip. Before and after, I walked the promenade and across the sand (see Isolated Figures at the Seaside). I found, and photographed, a rather sadder side to Margate, but one also that shows evidence of the revival that quotes earlier in this post alluded to. More of that in a future post.

Posted in Architecture & Buildings, Art and Scultpure | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Single Figures at the Seaside

On a late summer’s day I took the train to Margate, a town close to the south-eastern tip of the UK. I was in Margate to visit Tate Contemporary to see an exhibition of Piet Mondrian. A post about the gallery and the exhibition must wait until another day.

I was also going to see the sea; for the first time this year. As I stepped off the train into warm hazy sunshine I felt a keen sense of anticipation. It took me back over thirty years to a time when we would be driving, with our two small children, towards the sea – on holiday or perhaps just on a day out – and four sets of eyes would be searching eagerly for that first sight of the sea. And someone would suddenly call out: ‘I saw it first’. I feel drawn to the sea: there’s something very special about looking out to sea, breathing in the smells, listening to the gentle wash of the waves, and gazing at that distant horizon.

A short walk from the station and there it was. A quiet sea that merged almost imperceptibly into the sky. The light was soft, the sea washed against the sand – ripples, not waves. It was a minimalist scene. I stood, lost in thought, and noticed a figure strolling the tide line, periodically stopping. A lady in a red top, white shorts, white bag. I waited patiently and eventually she crept into my frame.

_DS81752Two hours later I was walking back to the station with a card full of unexpected images. It was mid-week in mid September. The kids were back in school, the tourists had gone. The cafes and pubs were quiet, the promenade was deserted except for an occasional walker. The beach was empty. I looked for am image to sum up that ‘season’s over’ feeling. I found it in the deck chair attendant, waiting patiently, without a single customer.


Posted in Coast | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

In the Garden

As promised in my previous post, ‘In the Mirror Pool’, the focus today is on the gardens at Upton House.

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time walking round those gardens, spotting the best specimens of Aster, Dahlia, and Geranium that populated the flower beds this late in the year. A couple of weeks earlier, the show would have been much more impressive. I had an idea as to how I would process these, and therefore I shot with care to avoid distracting backgrounds.

As well as semi-formal gardens, Upton House has a bog garden, which can thankfully be visited while retaining dry feet, and less formal wooded areas. In those places there were the first signs of autumn and I’ve included three images from there in the gallery below.

Back home I made a deliberate decision to follow the layout in an old encyclopedia of garden plants where every single illustration is square. For specimen flowers, there is something very natural in cropping to a square format around a circular single flower. And it was not hard to extend that concept to the remainder of the images

I hope you enjoy the gallery below. Click on the first image and then navigate through.

Posted in Country Houses & Gardens | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

In the Mirror Pool

Last week, stumped for new ideas for a day out, my wife checked through the National Trust handbook and found Upton House. She’s a good finder-outer. It’s a forty-five minute drive for us, just the other side of Banbury. It proved to be an excellent ‘find’ and one that we will be re-visiting.

Upton House became the country seat of Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted in 1927. Walter Samuel was the son of Marcus Samuel whose family business was the Shell Transport and Trading Company, although we know it better as Royal Dutch Shell.

The house is a treasure trove of Art and Porcelain, but on this occasion it was the gardens that we were interested in exploring. Set on steeply sloping land, the garden consists of a series of linked terraces that end in a small ornamental lake – The Mirror Pool – at the foot of the garden. The Mirror Pool, to quote a well-known advertising strapline in the UK, ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’. It reflects beautifully. On the day we visited, the water was mirror smooth, and I found a small spray of reeds that provided a rewarding image.

_DS81699The garden was just past its best, but even so we were surprised and delighted by what we saw. My wife ambled, I paused, shot, and hurried to catch up. We are like the tortoise and the hare at places like this.

Come back on Friday to see a gallery of images from the gardens.

Posted in Country Houses & Gardens | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments