Christo on the Serpentine

Christo, famous for wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris and the Reichstag in Berlin  has a new installation this summer in London.

It’s a 66ft high array of oil barrels in the shape of a pyramid with the top cut off – called a Mastaba. Mathematically we would call it a trapezoid.  It is a shape that is reported to have been popular with ancient Mesopotamians and the word mastaba is an arabic word for bench. It is floating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, Central London until September 9. There is an accompanying exhibition in the Serpentine Gallery that I have not yet seen.

Christo (full name Christo Vladimirov Javacheff) has been wrapping things for more than half a century. Twenty three schemes have gone ahead, and another forty-seven never made it off the drawing board. Apart from the two listed above he has skirted islands off the coast of Miami in pink fabric, and erected a 25 mile curtain of fabric in California. All his projects are monumental and self-funded.

The Mastaba suggests a completely new direction for the artist but that is not the case. Interviews and reports associated with the London installation reveal that Christo has been interested in barrels since the late 1950s. In fact in the 1960s he used oil drums  to blockade (briefly) a Parisian street illegally. On the drawing board, and in development now, is a much larger Mastaba destined for the Abu Dhabi desert.

I was very much aware of the Mastaba through articles and pictures in the press. Thinking about how I might photograph it, I had considered that the image would probably be  abstract. When seen, in the flesh, the installation in the Serpentine is immediately eye-catching and arresting, but as a shape I would not call it beautiful. I walked round it – quite a long walk up one side of the Serpentine and back down the other, searching for an image that was different in some way. The colours – red, blue and magenta – on the vertical sides were dense. The sloping sides were red with white stripes. Neither ‘spoke’ to my creative heart. It was not until I got an oblique view of one of the vertical sides, almost looking into the sun, that suddenly my ‘Eye’ saw images. And this is what I saw:

The barrels, in places, changed colours. The palette of colours broadened, with muted colours reflecting off the barrel ends. Patience was rewarded.

If London is accessible to you, do go and see this before September. You won’t be disappointed. Images will come but you may need to spend time working out ‘how’ you see them.




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Lyme Regis ia a popular resort on the South Coast on the border between Dorset and Devon. It’s well-known for The Cobb – a man-made stone projection into the sea that protects the harbour and was first built centuries ago. It is most famous for featuring in the film ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’.

Walking out onto The Cobb is a ‘must’ for any visitor to Lyme. I’ve walked that walk quite a few times over the years but never in the right conditions for a great photograph. We were in Lyme just recently for a family get together. It was baking hot. The Cobb was not likely to be photogenic, but views from it across the harbour were worth the walk.

This was one of the images I captured of little boats in the harbour. According to the normal rules of composition, odd numbers of objects are regarded as preferable to even numbers. Unfortunately the boats were not thus aligned., but I thought this was an attractive composition nevertheless.


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Robert Indiana RIP

This is an ‘image’ that will be well-known to many of us. It exists on cards, posters, album covers, jewellery and T-shirts and of course as this Sculpture. It has been around since 1965, and yet the Artist who created this ubiquitous artwork may well not be known to those who have seen, purchased or been given a version of it.

It’s creator was Robert Indiana, and the reason I am posting this now is because last Friday in my regular read through of the Obituaries in The Times newspaper I spotted Robert’s obituary  headlined by the ‘Love’ sculpture (as it is known). He died of respiratory failure on 19 May.

In 1965 the Museum of Modern Art in New York commissioned Robert Indiana to design a Christmas card, and this was the first incarnation of the four letters of ‘LOVE’. It became a symbol of the late 1960s. Robert later produced a 6ft by 6ft painting of the image followed by the Sculpture. It even featured on an eight cent stamp in 1973.

He exploited the image, yet described it as the most plagiarised artwork of the 20th century.

I took this image in October 2012 on a visit to Waddesden Manor, near Aylesbury; a French Renaissance-style chateau built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the 1870s to display his collections and entertain the fashionable world. I imagine this to be one of many copies of this famous Sculpture, but I was thrilled to see it in the flesh. It was surrounded by a foot-high post and chain to keep children away that I managed to clone out (children will climb on anything given half a chance!). And I was careful to choose a viewpoint that gave a clear view through to the small classical sculpture standing in the background in front of the building’s facade.

Some artworks leave a lasting impression on me – and this is one of them. It is always a challenge to try to capture an image that I feel does justice to another artist’s work. A photograph of another person’s art is never going to achieve a good mark from a judge, but the process of capturing and processing an image that I feel happy with is a satisfying endpoint in itself.



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Reduced to Abstract

When you get up close to some ‘objects’ you start to lose all sense of scale and, in addition, the concepts of perspective and depth are diminished.

What is this? Three clues – It’s on the south coast. It’s a place where you eat. It was designed by Thomas Heatherwick. Some of you will know the answer by now. Maybe some of you have resorted to Google for the answer. And I’ve deliberately not tagged it!

Two earlier posts will show a more conventional view. Click here, and then here. In that order. The first post shows this building about ten years ago, the second post was shot last year. Rust has weathered the structure (although, I would have to say that my earliest images were probably not entirely accurate colour-wise). And, for that matter, neither is today’s image, but it is the tonal range rather than strictly accurate colour balance that creates the image.


Posted in Architecture & Buildings, Eclectica | Tagged | 10 Comments

Window Grain

Something rather mundane today.  An old building in Kennington, South London, awaiting renovation (with no evidence of progress on that front in several years).

It’s a building that I pass on a regular basis. Not far from the Oval cricket ground.

I glance at it usually – casually without taking it in – but this time I paused and really Looked. And this is what I saw. Window glass replaced by window grain. It was that sheet of boarding resplendent with the grain of the wood that caught my eye. Well past its best and highly likely to de-laminate if a developer doesn’t get a move on, but in its current state, I saw a form of beauty. A repeated pattern of lines and shapes and knots in the wood.

Beauty doesn’t just mean something that exhibits a ‘classical’ form of beauty. I believe that there is beauty in the mundane, in the simple lines of ordinary objects. At least, that is what my eye sees here. Does it attract you too?


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A walk in the woods

There’s something special about being lost (in a photographic sense) in a wood. I enjoyed that experience just a week ago. It’s quite some time since I last did that.

All I could hear was the distant sound of traffic, but when I became ‘tuned in’ to the search for images I forgot about that, my brain has learnt to tune those sounds out. Even the birds were quiet – it was early afternoon on a hot day. Perhaps they had sung enough and were saving their breath for the evening.

There are broad paths and narrow paths through this woodland. The bracken  is now, in places, head high.

This is Buchan Country Park, just a fifteen minute drive from home. A large area of mixed woodland, dense in places, more open in other areas. With the welcome addition of two lakes.

A small grove of Silver Birches caught my attention. An image that I knew, when it was shot, would go straight into Silver Efex back home for a conversion to monochrome.

A scattering of Pines meant I switched from my 18-250mm Zoom (27-375mm in real terms) to my ultra wide Tokina to look up, and just I was pressing the shutter a bird crossed the sky. A moment of serendipity.

And then to the water.

Fishermen fish, water lilies grow, and the water ripples in the shallows. An opportunity for something a little different.

Ninety minutes of gentle walking, a healthy collection of images and I feel refreshed, rejuvenated.

We all need moments like this. Time on our own, with no pressure, camera in hand, walking at a leisurely pace, reciting the mantra: ‘Where’s the picture’. The pictures come, they are always out there waiting for us. When we tune out the world, we tune in to our inner creative hearts.


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The First Spiral

Today’s image was taken very nearly fifty years ago. I had completed the first three years of my medical training at Cambridge and had moved down to London to continue my training at Guy’s Hospital close to London Bridge.

I and three friends found a flat to rent halfway between Blackheath and Lewisham in SE London within reach of trains to London Bridge. The flat was owned by a man who worked overseas for the British Council in Istanbul. The stand-out feature of the flat was this classic iron spiral staircase that was sited in the corner of the main living room and provided access to the bedrooms upstairs.

I started printing my own black and white negatives in 1966. This photo would have been shot sometime between 1968 to 1970, and then printed in a darkroom I discovered that was available for hire above the Photographers Gallery in central London. And what you see here today is a digital photograph taken of that original ten by eight inch print. I have photographed many of my old B&W prints and quite a few of them have appeared on this blog – if interested you will find them in the Print Archive category listed in the Right Sidebar of the screen.

As we travel through life on our own visual journeys as photographers, inevitably we change. We grow, acquiring a wide range of skills along the way, and our unique view of the world starts to take shape. It is when we look back through our archive that we develop a greater understanding of how that journey has progressed. We will cringe at some of the work we thought was good, see our mistakes, and perhaps re-process work. Also, we will find images that marked the start of individual threads of our work that exist to this day. I have always appreciated flowing lines and curves. Spiral staircases are all about flowing lines.

I must have walked up and down this spiral hundreds of time in the course of two and a half years. This was home for that period of time, a time during which my clinical training led to my final degree and shaped my future life’s work as a GP (general practitioner or family doctor for overseas readers). And a period of time during which I met my future darling wife who has journeyed with me through life in all its ups and downs and is still here (thankfully).

This was my first spiral. I came to love that spiral and I still love those flowing sensual lines. If you haven’t seen my previous post of a spiral staircase at Tate Britain then click here to view it.


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