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The Life of P

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The Photogenic Side of 2016

It strikes me that in the past year the site has seen an unusually stark contrast between posts here tending to deal with unfortunate real world events and the Artist section featuring a string of weddings (exhaustingly so!) and children. To redress the balance, I thought I’d collect some of the brighter moments of 2016 in a brief photo essay, sharing some comments and perhaps highlighting a few images that may have gone unnoticed.

I made two trips to Amsterdam this year as a result of work retreats. In March Lizzy showed me the non-tourist side of the city. This is not a stitched panorama but rather one of my favourite uses of the fisheye lens I bought last year, with judicious cropping and retaining an undistorted horizon.

There were also two USA trips this year. The first was for Alexis and John Michael’s wedding. On a day when Karleigh looked particularly grown-up as a bridesmaid borrowing my jacket, my favourite shot of her was one of childish excitement as she shook a Polaroid.

Whiling away golden hour during Clark’s football practice provided a great set of photos but I love the quiet strength in this shot of Jenna.

Visiting the supposedly haunted Myrtles’ House, we found a baby turtle in the gardens around the lake which brought the three kids together. It is another fisheye favourite that would not have felt as intimate with any other lens.

“Hello Ladies” – My Godson Simon could not resist his curiosity at his sister’s Christening. Why did so many people seem to be disappearing through this door?

The second US trip was to catch Matt O in New York during his Clipper round-the-world yacht race. One of my favourite NYC buildings is Radio City, a few blocks from Times Square, for the way it is illuminated at night.

The moving memorial at Ground Zero was filled with tourists and kids taking selfies. It spurred me to find a more respectful shot and eventually this is what I produced. The experience made me realise that 15 years have now passed so, for the children visiting the memorial, they have no memory of the event beyond stories which they have been told.

Weddings took me all around the country this year. Adam and Gaby chose Portland, which hosted sailing events during the 2012 Olympics.

House of Burlesque’s show at the Wonderground Spiegeltent is always a highlight each summer and this year I shot them for the first time. I am used to low light from shooting gigs, but the combined rapid movement of the performers made it a real challenge, though I was happy with the results. Here is one of the less risqué shots, from the moody “Absinthe” act.

Becca and Rob had perfect weather for their summer wedding in Bracknell. This was my favourite shot, described generously by one friend as capturing the essence of summer.

A round number and three years since I last threw a birthday party, it seemed time for another. Taking inspiration from Alexis and John Michael, an instant camera produced some fantastic intimate snaps from the Americana-themed night. As much a night to remember as my 27th at Volupté.

On my earlier trip to Amsterdam, Lizzy introduced me to the Tuschinski Theatre, a beautiful purpose built cinema replete throughout with a combination of art deco and art nouveau details. On my second visit I arranged a tour, photographing all of the interior.

It has long been a goal to explore some of the disused tube tunnels that run under my city. This year I did it twice. Most interesting were these travel posters, preserved since the 1960s.

Work required me to travel frequently to travel to Chester in the latter half of the year. Fortunately, I swiftly found a hidden speakeasy cocktail bar and became acquainted with the staff. Darkness and candles led to this shot in which the ice in my Old Fashioned seems to burn – “A Song of Ice and Fire”.

The Google Pixel sports the first phone camera really to impress me. This afternoon of gardening with Simon and Abi sold me. Not that there is any danger of my SLR being relegated.

I acquired a second Godchild in 2016. A third may be forthcoming, but that will be a 2017 story. Wilfred seemed thoroughly to enjoy his photoshoot with Alex after the service, which bodes well for my camera in future.

Jack and Katherine’s wedding was an interesting one since I knew them both independently, prior to their meeting at work. Although the barn was beautifully lit, one of my favourite shots was in the dreary outdoors, of Katherine glancing back through the crowd.

Closing out the year with gingerbread baking? That’s just how Abigail rolls…

I hope you enjoyed this set, which was in part to experiment with the flexibility offered by the last site redesign. In the coming year I will endeavour to produce similar photo essays pulling out key shots from larger galleries with commentary, where a full post may not be warranted.

Alex and Suzi’s wedding

Alex's Speech

I avoided writing about Alex and Suzi’s stunning wedding in mid-May until the photographs were ready. Now that I have shared them with the bride and groom, they are available for your perusal. They are an unusual set for me in that it is the first time I have shot with the intention of supplementing someone else’s work. Their official photographer was the excellent Jeff Ascough, who is so good at his craft that many barely noticed his presence at all, particularly during the ceremony. I took on the role of official unofficial photographer, or perhaps unofficial official photographer, I am not sure which. They key is “unofficial” — many of you know this is a rule as, whilst I will inevitably take many photographs at friends’ weddings and I am happy to share them, I simply cannot guarantee that I will nail each of the key moments and you only get one chance to do so.

As Ascough would be photographing the bridal party prior to the ceremony, Alex specifically requested that I shoot the chaps over the morning, and in this I was happy to oblige. As an usher, I did not shoot the ceremony at all and broadly sought to stay out of Ascough’s way during the day’s main set pieces. Between these Alex and Suzi largely circulated separately amongst the guests, with the unusual result that I ended up with virtually no photos of the two of them together.

Hard Rock

The day began at the RAF Club, some of the ushers nursing their heads in the bright sunlight after two successive nights out with the bridesmaids and family. Corks were swiftly popped on two medicinal bottles of champagne. We had allowed plenty of time to get ready but, being men, required virtually none of it. As an usher, one’s key role before the ceremony is essentially to stop the groom from doing anything dangerous. Like thinking. So we set off to find him a drink. Unfortunately, in the morning before the pubs had opened, the only available option was the Hard Rock Café around the corner — not the most natural venue for a dozen men in full morning dress. The tourists peered at us in bemusement, not entirely sure whether we were preparing for some event or whether this was simply how the British dress for the weekend. We chose not to dispel their confusion.

The Church

After a short ride in two gleaming white taxis, the next stop was The Windmill, a pub round the back of St. George’s Church. Given the proximity, it gradually filled up with wedding guests over the next hour, after which we adjourned to the church. Ascough had arrived already and, upon our enquiry about the bridal party, made a slightly cryptic comment. The ceremony itself was a lovely, simple affair inside a beautiful church. It was only afterwards, aboard the routemaster buses that took us on a winding trip around London before returning us nearby at the Lansdowne Club, that one of the bridesmaids spilled their morning’s events to which Ascough had alluded.


Suzi, having awoken early that morning, had decided in preparation for the impending nuptials to transfer her engagement ring. Unfortunately the fingers of her right hand turned out to be slightly larger than the left. Being a determined sort, she was disinclined to back down and it became hopelessly stuck with her finger swelling up. As it began to turn purple she decided it should probably be sorted out and so she found herself in A&E having the ring cut off. Typically calm, she was the one telling her bridesmaids not to freak out as she explained the situation from hospital.

The remainder of the day went far more smoothly, the Lansdowne providing a wonderful suite of rooms as the backdrop for the reception. I caught up with Sarah and Frankie, as well as Amy whose band provided background music. The wedding breakfast boasted a delightfully multinational menu, accompanied by Swedish snaps for toasting and wedding favour bottles of Tuscan olive oil.


I was slightly concerned that Peter, my boss, would be joining for the evening reception, after I had indulged in a full day of drinking. Photography duties slowed my intake slightly and he was on great form, so I need not have worried! The night wound on with much dancing, frivolity and it was the only wedding at which I can remember the bride’s garter being tossed in traditional fashion as well as the bouquet.

As we sent the bride and groom on their way (to the Ritz no less) it was time to recover my top hat and relinquish the morning suit. Whilst I avoid hats because they inevitably destroy my hair, I was disappointed to part with the well-fitting top hat and found myself purchasing a great old-style brown trilby for a film noir themed night a few weeks later. Any wedding that can alter your fashion tastes must be considered a resounding success.

The Birthday Barn

Lenka arranged a group “retreat” to a lovely converted barn in the Norfolk countryside to celebrate her, Kate and Viktoria’s birthdays. This sounded like it would be a relaxing, civilised affair. Of course I ought to have known better given: (a) the above average number of Saffers in the group; and (b) the barn in question, I swiftly realised upon recognising an all-too-familiar roadsign, was just down the road from where this transpired nearly three years ago. While there was certainly some drama, as with the trainee weekend away what happens in Norfolk remains firmly in Norfolk. The highlight was the Saturday night masquerade accompanied by a veritable feast put on by Lenka and her sous chefs. As I was handed the mantle of official photographer, a larger-than-usual Birthday Barn gallery is available for your perusal (those masquerade money shots are, naturally, at the end).

This year nearly passed by without a single film review. This is primarily a result of severely reduced cinema attendance, although it was coupled with a rise in home viewing so my actual film watching remained roughly even. However, I am hopeful this trend is reversible, not least since I am now in possession of  Picturehouse membership for the first time since leaving university. This partly due to the convenient proximity of both the Clapham Picturehouse and the Ritzy in Brixton, but also the fact a deal meant the membership sold for less than the value of the three free bundled tickets. My reviewing return begins with the excellent The Ides of March.

Meanwhile some changes at the site.  The Questions section has, once again, become woefully out of date. I have rolled through updating across the board to the current v2.0 beta and, as with all betas, that means I invite feedback: specifically, as always when this section receives updates, any questions? I just might answer them. The major change you may notice is that the site’s content now bears a Creative Commons licence which allows copying and derivative works for non-commercial purposes, so long as an attribution is included, which better suits my general opinion that most information on the Internet ought to be freely to be shared (in other words: it makes me less of a hypocrite). It does not apply to to the Gallery, not for commercial reasons but primarily because many of those photos feature friends or family who have not consented to — and may be uncomfortable with — such reuse. For photos I continue to direct people to the royalty free images shared via my morgueFile profile.

Tom and Lydia’s Wedding

I have been inexcusably slow in sorting out photos from Tom and Lydia’s wedding at the end of April, which meant, by extension, that I did not get round to mentioning it here. Seeing them both last weekend at Annabel‘s birthday dinner party (now firmly established as an annual event since several of her friends have now become strictly Once-a-Year Acquaintances of mine, following last year’s Wonderland-themed affair) motivated me to sort them out. As a result I am now pleased to present a gallery of wedding photos, including a range of square portraits of guests which is a new experiment.

Like Andy and Irina’s wedding last year, the ceremony itself was in the Downing College chapel. This was fitting not just because the pair met at Downing, but as choristers they both spent a significant amount of time rehearsing and singing together in that chapel. Sunlight filtered through beautifully throughout, while most of us struggled to decide on which side we ought to be seated. In the end James and I opted for Tom’s side largely on the basis Lydia appeared to have more family in tow. And it gave him a better view of Lucia who was looking rather stunning while performing her official duties (if more questionable when off-duty).

Following the ceremony we adjourned to Anstey Hall, a nearby location that is apparently a popular Cambridge wedding venue. The weather was glorious for the boldly early April date, and bright sunshine poured over the guests sipping champagne in the gardens. The wedding breakfast was served in a large marquee which was later cleared out into a large dancing area. While the bride and groom’s first dance was a traditional and well-executed ballroom number, this was followed by a céilidh in suitably Cantabrigian fashion (by Cambridge Ball standards, anyway). Traditionally something I would sit out, I was dragged up by a pleasantly inebriated Helen and enjoyed getting confused by organised dances more than I would readily admit. It was around this time that Dave, in a fit of missing us all too much, impulse-bought his plane tickets for the following weekend to attend Keggfest. Sadly, since I was not staying the night in Cambridge, I had to disappear before the festivities ended else my last train would have turned into a pumpkin.

All in all, a fantastic day and it was wonderful to see another pair of uni friends off on the road to marital bliss. As Matt D put it a few days ago, “a wedding is like a wake for two single people who cease to exist”. Only in a good way.

USA 2010: the photo guide

The USA 2010 photo album is now up but, since I haven’t really discussed the trip in much detail, I thought a quick summary of what we got up to so that the photos have some context. Some ground rules: no kicking, no biting, and absolutely no pointing out that half of these photos were technically taken in 2011.

A week late, I arrived in Baton Rouge around 9:30pm on Christmas Day. Jenna was at work (she agreed to work Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve in order to get the rest of the holiday off) so, after meeting their newly “aquired” dog, Jeff and I attempted to stay up, fuelled by Zombieland. Sadly Christmas Eve in the bar of the airport Hilton followed by 20 hours of travelling caught up with me as soon as the credits rolled; I was asleep and unstirrable when Jenna returned.

We soon made up for lost time, heading to Natchez in Mississippi to spend time with her parents (and mine). While there our exploration took us to Windsor Ruins, the handful of columns being all that remained of a once grand house, the Schafer House where the first shot was fired in the Battle of Port Gibson during the Civil War, Jefferson College, a former military academy, and Longwood, a sadly never-to-be-completed octagonal mansion.

We returned to Baton Rouge for a single night to catch the musical gang Jeff, Jesse and Matt playing their weekly gig at family restaurant Appleby’s, where Jesse is a manager. I’d seen the guys casually jamming at the house a few days earlier, which took me back to an evening I spent with Jesse and Jeff years ago, when they played a rather haunting acoustic cover of Tool’s H. I also finally met Morgan because, Jenna explained, it was vitally important that I meet Morgan and how had this never happened before? (Presumably this meeting has now averted a future world-threatening, space-time paradox; it felt like it was probably that sort of meeting.) Post-gig I disappeared with Jane and a friend of hers (apparently creating gossip) to what I shall affectionately describe as a karaoke dive. A stunning (female) rendition of Rush’s Tom Sawyer made the night though.

Jenna and I had the day to ourselves on her birthday, so we decided to go photographing together. We grabbed our cameras and ended up at Circa 1857, an old vintage/antique/art store. Also, they had hats. Lots of hats. On my final evening we built a wagon that had been bought as a Christmas present and took the kids to a nearby basketball court and playground. Although I nailed my first basketball shot in years, ultimately I think I confirmed it’s probably not my sport.

For those with access, there is a fuller rogues gallery of the people involved up on Facebook. Now that Facebook’s image quality has been drastically improved, I don’t mind putting photos up there quite so much, though this site will still be the first place to look.

Anonymous Celebration

As many of you know, while I love to celebrate other people’s, I don’t make a particularly big deal about my own birthday. I’m sure it’s rooted in various things, but the bottom line is that while I don’t hide it, I certainly don’t broadcast it either. Yesterday, I realised, I was lucky enough to have a moment in which I spending my birthday exactly the way I like it, weird as it may sound: sipping a martini while listening to some great live Cuban music anonymously at someone else’s birthday party. That was the evening, in which I had accompanied my flatmate Anna to her ex-boyfriend’s birthday bash at Floridita, largely for moral support. Crowded (like anywhere in London) and stiflingly hot at the start, it’s otherwise a great Cuban-themed location with a restaurant/bar upstairs and a club downstairs for live music and dancing. The bar staff vary slightly, the first guy who served me being incredibly attentive (and asking all the right questions when I ordered a martini) while the second was generally too busy chatting.

The day was spent in an equally “me” way. My present to myself had been a 2002 Riesling I’d bought a few days before. The age (particularly for a white) gave it far more character, despite the fact it was a slightly sweet wine for my palette. Anna rated it as the best white wine she’s had. For those interested it was a 2002 Emrich-Schönleber Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Spätlese. Personally I think I prefer the delicious 2007 Weingut Max Ferd Richter Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett, of which I’ve just picked up another bottle. It’s amazing to note the quality increase when you spend just the same amount you would spend in bar on a bottle to drink at home instead. I cooked a thai green curry to suit the wine (clearly the right way round!) which we ate and watched swathes of How I Met Your Mother over the afternoon. So nothing too fancy, but a very enjoyable day.

Some great photographs of “Great British Views” submitted to the BBC showcasing the UK at its very best.

Emrich-Schönleber Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling

Please Release (Candidate) Me

First off various bits that I’ve been meaning to share:

I have not said a great deal about my experience with Windows 7 since installing the beta a while ago. The reason is pretty simple: it’s just been incredibly smooth with very little to report. The general interface has undergone minimal change since Vista, with most of the changes under the hood. Subtle changes like the new Super Bar and AeroPeek are well-implemented evolutions of the Aero interface, but hardly revolutionary. Unlike the experience of early adopters of Vista, most software will already be fully compatible, particularly since most vendors now support 64-bit releases (yes, with 4 gigs of RAM in the laptop I’m using a 64-bit version of Windows 7). The result has been a very stable operating system that acts just as it should: generally stays out of your way and lets you get on with what you want to do.

So when the Release Candidate arrived earlier this month I didn’t jump at it. In fact, my experience with the beta has been so hassle-free that I probably won’t upgrade before my trip to the States either, since reinstalling all that software will be time-consuming. In fact my chief reason for switching to the RC will be to take advantage of its generous trial period, lasting until March 2010 (full expiration is technically June 2010 but forced shutdowns every 2 hours essentially render it useless in that period).

Photographing London Demonstrations

Some quick advice to answer some questions I’ve been asked about photographing tomorrow’s G20 demonstrations in London (with the usual caveat that none of this should be construed as legal advice). Generally speaking, if you’re in a public place you can photograph whatever happens to be going on. Privacy doesn’t really apply since in a public demonstration neither the demonstrators nor the police have any reasonable expectation of privacy. Equally merely photographing a demonstration is unlikely to amount to a breach of the peace.

However some amendments to the Counter-Terrorism Act in February this year could affect photographers’ relationship with the police. With some very poor, wide drafting, typical of the current government, the new rules catch anyone eliciting information regarding members of the armed services, intelligence services or police which is “of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. This potentially covers photographing police officers and we are just expected to trust that the statute will not be abused. An easy non-lawyer article summarises the change.

The G20 demonstrations clearly are not linked to terrorism so calmly explaining that should diffuse any attempt to stop you under the Counter-Terrorism laws. The chief issue is often misinformed police officers who genuinely misunderstand what photographers are allowed to do. In that respect I highly recommend everyone print and keep a copy of this UK photographers rights leaflet in their camera case to help them explain if questioned.

Common sense should prevail, particularly since the police are understandably likely to be tense: if you see problems likely to occur, don’t argue, take a step back and move elsewhere. If the police try to search you, complying is usually best, although they should not have any right to seize your equipment to my knowledge. Make it clear you are there as an observer rather than being confused as part of the demonstration to avoid breach of the peace accusations. Good luck!

Zombies, Sharing and Folklore Stamps

Stubbs the Zombie: The Soundtrack

These days my exposure to new music has become somewhat limited since I don’t listen to the radio. Instead discoveries tend to stem from browsing the latest releases and sales at 7digital and amazon mp3 and listening to the samples. Delving a little deeper into their stock occasionally turns up a delightful gem, most recently Stubbs The Zombie: The Soundtrack from the last generation videogame. The game itself, a twist on the zombie genre by having you play the titular undead character, was entirely mediocre, never quite living up to the humour it promised. The soundtrack however, is a wonderfully quirky mix with modern indie bands covering pop classics from the 1960’s, when the game is set. Think a Death Cab For Cutie rendition of Earth Angel alongside a Flaming Lips cover of If I Only Had a Brain.

Long time readers will remember I used to share a lot of my photographs through the royalty free archive at morgueFile. Although there is no remuneration, it’s rewarding to see your work end up in all sorts of interesting and unexpected places. Undoubtedly the weirdest was a close-up headshot of my sister in traditional Bharatha Natyam dance dress which someone turned into a cushion! For no particular reason I stopped around two years ago, though around that time I started taking more shots of friends and family which are less useful to share. After this long hiatus I have just returned to the site and uploaded some of my recent work so I’m curious to see where it’s used this time. To date full size versions of my photos have apparently been downloaded there over 5770 times, which I have to admit is slightly scary number.

Perhaps as a corollary to my love of Neil Gaiman, I am a big fan of artist Dave McKean, so I was greatly excited to see he has been asked to design a series of stamps based on mythical creatures from folklore. The samples look beautiful and they are due for release on June 16th this year.

Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction have released a free Tour Sampler EP to promote their upcoming NINJA 2009 tour (see what they did there?). Trent giving away free stuff is hardly newsworthy any more, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth listening to. Arguably more interesting is that it means this promotion model is clearly working for him if he is continuing to do it. Giving the fans what they want makes them happy so they buy stuff — who knew?

I realised the Questions FAQ was horribly out of date, so I’ve updated it to bring it in line with, well, now. The new version is marked “beta” since I’m currently open to suggestions for new questions. Anything you want to ask, now’s the time…

Pure Reason Revolution @ Dingwalls

Since nowhere in London could sell it to me, I ended up buying the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens from Amazon and, as if by design, it happened to arrive on the day I was to see Pure Reason Revolution play at Dingwalls in Camden. My main reason for selecting the lens was its low light ability (due to its wide aperture) and there are scarcely more extreme lighting conditions than at a gig. Time to test it out.

Of The I - guitarist purple smoke

This was really my first attempt at gig photography and you can see the results in the Pure Reason Revolution gallery. These were my first few hours with the lens so I’m still learning how to use it. Interestingly a lot of my favourites are actually the more abstract/body shots towards the start. Capturing a concert is a considerably different skill and one that I’d like to hone. The general theme here was dark and moody with a lot of high contrast black and white shots, though I’d be keen to get more variety. The real issue with using this lens is that its lack of zoom means framing close-ups is virtually impossible unless you can position yourself right in front of the band, so it’s certainly not what professional concert photographers would choose. Dingwalls is a small venue with capacity for around 500 and it’s easy enough to get round the front/right side of the stage (particularly, it seems, if you’re carrying a sizeable camera as people happily let you through and even security give you space). While this offered a decent vantage point for the support acts (Of The I and The Domino State), PRR sadly set up their keyboards here, blocking clear shots. I’m generally less happy with those, but given they were the band I went to see I kind of had to include them!

Guitar Heads

The band had their new album on sale and hung around afterwards to sign copies too. Titled Amor Vincit Omnia, line up changes in the band are matched by a sound shift. Although still familiar, the new sound includes a lot more electronica and even some dancy beats in places. The result is a less ethereal record than The Dark Third. While still good live (if not quite as incredible as their old stuff stills sounds) my initial impression was that I would not be listening to the album very often. In fact the first half has really grown on me. It’s disappointing that later on there are a few tracks I will always skip over, since their debut is one of those wonderful albums I can happily listen the whole way through.

And as with every PRR gig I’ve been to so far, I bumped into Jon from uni. With him were Philly J and James, so it was great to catch up, grab a beer afterwards and get home far later than I’d intended. Great music, a nice first set of concert photos, a signed album and catching up with friends — if I can improve, gig photography might be a lark worth getting into.

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