The Brecon Beacons: Attempt #1

Last November (2013) we attempted to walk the Horseshoe ridge walk at the Brecon Beacons national park.  The idea was Henry’s as for his 16th birthday he had wanted to camp and do the walk with a couple of friends.  The only possible issue with this was his birthday is in wet and windy November!
We had recently purchased a Land Rover and so this seemed like a good first outing for it.  We packed it full of tents and teenage boys and off we set.  The camping was even more wet and cold than expected but the sky’s were clear the next morning as we started our walk…

The boys went on ahead while Cathy and me plodded at a more leisurely pace. There was a good wind and some rain but nothing too bad and the view opened out as we got a bit higher. Once we had got a good way up the hike the horizontal rain started and the wind gusts got really high.  By this time the wind had also brought some cloud in on the peak and so our view was all but lost and it soon became apparent that there was no way we were going to make it to the top of the ridge as the wind was now blowing in ‘knock-your-off-your-feet’ gusts.
As we neared the ridge top we met the boys who had doubled back and we all agreed that today’s walk was now officially over. Completing the Horseshoe ridge hike would have to wait for a return visit in the spring.
Hopefully this should be a little more pleasant as we will be out of the tent and into our caravan by then so more to follow later on attempt #2

I should also add that during this little trip we did a good job of getting our Freelander thoroughly stuck on a slippy slope.  The local farmer where we were staying looked at it and put it down to the road tyres and then pulled us back to firmer ground with his tractor.  A lesson learned there then!

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Ellesmere Winter Festival Lantern Procession: Fizzgigs, Fantastical Vessels and Albatrosses

After the success of last years Ellesmere Winter Festival Lantern Procession there seemed little doubt we would do it again this year. With this in mind and the idea of staging other community arts events in Ellesmere throughout the year, a committee was formed and gained a name… ‘Fizzgigs – The Ellesmere Community Arts Group‘.
This is a group of enthusiastic people from in and around Ellesmere who simply want to make arts events happen in the town.
Firstly there was the all the required begging for funding which Cathy had bravely (or foolish) taken on.  This then also led onto a fund raising Ceilidh, and the first outing for the ‘Fizzgigs Ceilidh Band’! Once we had enough funding we could then set about planning, plotting and scheming for what we wanted do…
For quite a few years as part of the Winter Festival in Ellesmere, Father Christmas has arrived in the town and then paraded through the streets before settling down in his Grotto in the Market Hall. Last year the lantern procession accompanied him in this and guided him into the town. In past years he had also arrived by narrow boat on the canal which to us seemed quite apt.
This year we were given the opportunity to take on this part of the Winter Festival ourselves. It was decided early on that we would want to do something a little different. We wanted to avoid a traditional Coca-Cola type ‘Santa’ and wanted to take a step back and bring ‘St Nicolas’ into the town, but in an ‘Old Father Winter’ kind of way. As St Nicolas is often known the patron saint of sailors we eventually decided to go with a theme of boats’ ships and sea life.  A flotilla of boats to be led by an Albatross!

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And so the building begins

Cathy and myself were both keen to build lanterns again this year and so Cathy volunteered to build the Albatross that would guide the procession.  Initially I wasn’t sure what I would be doing but our idea required a ‘Fantastical Vessel’ so after some deliberation of who might build it I volunteered for the job.

The problem was this would involve some skills that I simply do not have.  There seemed to be a distinct requirement for a good deal of welding and grinding in this Vessel!  I was lucky enough to enlist Peter Cartilidge as the ‘Fizzgigs Chief Engineer’!
I presented Peter with a plan for the frame for our Fantastical Vessel’.  I use the term ‘plan’ very loosely here as it has to be said it was a ‘not-to-scale’, ‘sort of this shape’, ‘sort of like that’, ‘you know what I mean’..ish type plan but Peter locked himself into his Garage and commenced with the grinding and welding.

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The Fantastical Vessel ‘chassis’ and the ‘Fizzgigs Chief Engineer’

He produced a wonderful frame which would be the base of the Lantern.  The idea was that the withie  and paper lantern would cover all of the frame and be lit so that nothing of the frame is seen at all.  It would have a platform at the back for St Nicolas to stand and a central mast too!
Once this in the Market Hall I started to build the withie shape and attached it to the frame.  There were several small modifications required as we went along but Peter and Roger Garland (a.k.a. The Fizzgigs Engineering Department) sorted things out in their chirpy and happy way.

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Workshops and withies

While this was going on the workshops seemed to be going well.  There were plenty of large lanterns and smaller ‘pyramid’ lanterns being built.  Cathy brought her Albatross down to the Market Hall and worked on it where possible but mostly she was caught up in helping with the workshops and so did most of her building at home.  As the Albatross had been designed to have removable wings it made transport possible but the Fantastical Vessel had now grown to around 14 feet long.
A mast was put together by Roger and Tony Boyes and Peter started to make a Crows Nest while Gavin Lewrey finished the swirl on the prow which I had feared I would have to sacrifice due to lack of time.  Lots of helping hands, always good!

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Our lanterns both take shape

As time got short getting the lighting fitted into the lanterns and getting them papered became a bit more of a push.  I had several sets of cheap string lights inside the Fantastical Vessel which would normally each have their own switch and AA batteries but they were all modified and wired up to one battery pack thanks to Bob Richards (…’Fizzgigs Electrician’).
Hillary and John (a.k.a. H & JP) came along and started the papering while I finished the structure one evening but we had less than a week to go at this point.  Cathy had also started to skin the albatross but it was taking quite a while, no pressure then…

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Tissue, latex and sticky fingers

There was a Wednesday night session to get the skinning of the Vessel finished after the workshop.  With the help of Rosemary, Tony, Peter and Hillary we got it done.  A big thank you needs to go out to Sophie Handy here for working until 1.30am with me to get the last bits done.
This year we commissioned Sophie Handy, a lantern artist, to lead the community and school workshops. She brought different ideas and lots of enthusiasm to the workshops which was great. We ran four community workshops in total. Cathy got involved in the running of these but I was tied up with the Fantastical Vessel.  We also ran some workshops in Lakelands Academy which I did manage to help a bit with.
There were a few finishing touches of greenery for the back of the Vessel that were added by Tony, Rosemary and Hillary and it was done!  Cathy managed to finish the Albatross on the very day of the procession and so we were ready to go.
The day itself was a bit damper than we would have liked and certainly a bit windier but all went well for everyone I think.  St Nicolas looked splendorous in his colourful costume and greenery that Mary Lewrey had produced.  He was quite a sight as he arrived at the Wharf on a narrowboat lit by flaming torches.

All I can say is a very big thank you to everyone that got involved in this and helped to make it happen.  Tony and Mary Lewery especially.  They have both put in a great deal of creative work and time to make this something special that happens right here in Ellesmere.  Mary created a great vision of our St Nicolas, both festive and seasonal yet removed from the traditional ‘Santa’ and Tony seemed determined to have fire torches in the streets of Ellesmere and it was all the better for it.  For Cathy and me it was good to see our creations from last year (Pikey & Jack Frost) out again and to add new ones this year too.

Thanks to Ian Wright we have some great photo’s of this event and Tracy Piper-Wright produced a film of the procession, links to both are here;
http://fizzgigs.co.uk/winter-festival-lantern-parade-2013/

So, what’s next!   😀

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The Fantastical Vessel. Finished!

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…and in the procession.

A Little More Urbex: The Saw Mill

Only a little way from where I live is an old derelict saw mill.  I have driven past it countless times and always tell myself I should go and have a look down the little lane and see what’s in there.  I’d been told it had been left untouched, tools on benches, for years.
As it is right next to some houses and is only a little building it is one of those things I have never got around to doing.  Until now.
It was Cathy’s suggestion, she has been wanting to have a look around there as well and Henry wanted to do a little filming there too.  So on a quiet balmy evening we jumped in the car and drove down the little turning from the road that we always drive along.
As ever the first job is finding a way in.  A couple of obvious doors were padlocked and a hopeful looking side door was through a forest a five feet high nettles and so wasn’t an option either.  We found that around one side there is a lower level and an open doorway into the ‘cellar’ level below the main floor.  This runs under the building and below the large floor beams.  It had a good solid look to it and no signs of rot, cracks or collapse so in we go.  It was pretty dark in there and we moved forward by the beam of a torch.  The floor was thick with sawdust from the gaps in the beams above us and there was a very ‘Scooby Doo’ moment when a couple of bats, disturbed by the torch light, started flittering around our heads in the dark.  But no way in!
We went back outside to check for any other ways in and then as a last attempt Cathy and me went back in to explore the last bits of the cellar passages.  We at last found a trapdoor to the floor above.  So to add to the ‘Scooby Doo’ theme, flittering bats and a trap door, cool!

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Once inside the place reveals itself to be trapped in time.  All the tools have been left exactly where they were last used.  Oil cans, saws and drills.  Workbenches and machines, all just gathering dust.  It seems that one day everyone just left the mill and the doors were locked behind them, everything is just as it was left.
The mill is only small, essentially one long room with a couple of small side rooms.

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We spent a little while there and I played around with a few idea’s and a bit of light painting.  The one below took a few attempts but seemed to work out ok.  This is a long exposure with Cathy out of the frame and a torch behind her to project her shadow onto the door.

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All in all a beautiful place that is a little time capsule, tucked away in rural Shropshire.

Completing the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge

Cathy and myself have just completed the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge.  That’s a 25 mile hike with over 5,000 feet of ascent and descent over three of Yorkshire’s largest peaks, and all done within 12 hours.  We did this hike together with an eclectic group of people and raised quite a bit of money for CLIC Sargent, a children’s cancer charity, which is all very well and good…
But that is not the reason we did this hike.  For that we have to go back to the start of the year.

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Our nephew, Josh Furber, was a 20 year old man with everything in front of him.  He was mid-way through his Uni’ degree in Leeds and taking a gap year out in Australia, a country that had captivated his heart and soul.  He was living in a shared house on Bondi Beach with a multi-national group of other young, free people enjoying life with his ‘ozzy family’.  He had a positive effect on people, knew how to enjoy life and wanted more.  As he summed it up himself: “I’ve seen far too much to ever settle for a average life”!

At the start of January this all came to an end when Josh was killed in a tragic accident while on a day out with friends at Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains.  The devastating effect this has had on people, family, friends cannot be overstated.

This is why we were doing this hike.  One of the many things Josh had done before he had left for Australia was the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge.  He was working at Weatherspoons in Leeds, while at University, and had agreed to do it with the ‘spoonies’.
I gather he had no idea what he had let himself in for and was 100% unprepared, but he completed it all the same.

Josh had done it and so we were doing it.  As a tribute and a means of family and friends getting together to do something that feels like it needs doing.

Cathy and me had decided early on that we would both be doing this.  We also both realised that we weren’t going to find it easy.  Henry had said he would be doing this with us too but unlike him we don’t have the resilience of youth.  On the other side though, we’re both only in our mid-fortys and so had no doubt it had to be done, and it would be done!

So, after a few practice walks to break in some new boots and to give our legs some idea of what we were going to throw at them, the weekend of the walk arrived.

We had looked at a few YouTube videos, a few web sites and blogs, which had given us some sort of an idea of what to expect.  We got out the camping gear and packed the car from top to bottom like a tin of sardines and headed for Yorkshire.  The site was easy enough to find but due to picking kids up from school we were one of the last to arrive.  Once we were sorted out, unpacked and set up it was good to sit down and talk to people.  Lots of different people, all here for the same reason, all wishing we didn’t need to be.
After a reasonably well behaved evening and it was off to bed for one of the coldest, most miserable and sleepless nights we could have hoped for before a wet Yorkshire morning greeted us at 6 am.

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And we’re off!  Walkers away and support crew left behind we head for the first peak, Pen-y-ghent (694 m or 2,277 ft).
The walk started off on nice firm trails that just got gradually steeper and steeper and then led us into nothing but mist and cloud.
Right from the outset the group split into much smaller groups walking at their own comfortable pace.  Some of the ‘spoonies’ sped off ahead while everyone else found a pace they were happy with.

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As we got closer to the top the walk began to turn into a climb, which Cathy was starting to find a bit hard.  This had nothing to do with her legs or fitness though, but was actually due to a fractured rib she had gained the weekend before.
She had been stood on the edge of the bath while cleaning the bathroom and her foot slipped on the wet edge and she came down on the edge of the bath.  After a couple of days of pain she went to A & E and they confirmed it was a fractured rib.  They also told her she just had to get on with it as there’s nothing they can do with broken ribs.  She had been determined to do the walk all the same, but the steep climb wasn’t helping.

At last we could see the summit of Pen-y-ghent above us in the cloud.  Everyone else had waited there for Beth and Jake and us but were keen to get moving and so there was just time for the group photo before everyone headed off again.

At the summit of Pen-y-ghent (694 m/2,277 ft)

So here we are, all together, all doing the same thing, all in the same spot Josh had been.  With our Josh Furber tee-shirts and the ‘Joshie Style’ banner that Danielle had struggled and stressed to get done in time.

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At this point Beth and Jake seemed to have found their stride and were off and away, which is a good job as there was quite a walk between here and our next peak, Whernside.
The path covered varying terrain and we went through some small boggy area’s but generally the paths were all good.  Not that we could say the same for the weather.  The rain had set in with varying degrees of drizzle to horizontal to torrential, but all consistently wet!  Strangely Cathy kept telling us all that the rain was good and quite ‘invigorating’!  I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that she had lost the plot at this point though.
This section did allow us to get a decent walking pace going to gain some time and miles.  It was at this point that out thoughts started to turn to the support team, a hot drink and something to eat ahead.

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Our lovely support team met us in Ribblesdale and they were a welcome sight.  They had brought chockie bars, drinks, banana’s, sandwich’s, pasta and smiles.  All very welcome.
Stopping for a little while and having a well earned cheese burger from the ‘chuck wagon’ and a chat was really great but all too soon it was time to get going again.  Our next peak, Whernside, was in sight past the viaduct and of course, was covered in cloud.

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The walk up Whernside was quite long on a seemingly never ending incline.  The path was well slabbed though and we settled into a steady trudge for this section.  The nearer we got to the top the colder and windier it got and by the time we were near the summit we could see the cloud whipping over the top ridge and billowing over the other side of the mountain.

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So here we are at the summit of Whernside (736 m or 2,415 ft).  We so very nearly missed this summit post (yes I know it’s called a Trig Point…) on this peak.  The groups had split up and the wind on top of Whernside were ferocious so the other groups had carried on, we hadn’t planned to stop and the post is also behind a wall off of the main walkway.  Thankfully we spotted it but I have no group photo for this one, just us.
You may also notice that on Josh’s photo his trainers are looking anything but white like they were in the last photo.
From here we walked along the top ridge of the mountain which is quite long and very, very windy.  Thankfully at this point the cloud was starting to lift and we could see the landscape below.

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We felt we were doing ok for time and our legs seemed ok.  My thighs were starting to ache a bit and Cathy had her ongoing rib pain but we both had no doubt that we would finish it, and within the 12 hours too.
We had brought Roofus, out happy little terrier, along with us and he was doing great too.  He’d had the odd bark at some sheep and got lost once but for a little dog there seemed no doubt he was up for the full 25 miles.

The decent from Whernside was very steep in several places and really made you think about where you were putting your feet.  A combination of coming down a little in height and the cloud lifting as the day went on, gave us a great view from here.

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The only worry was our final peak, Ingleborough, was looking depressingly far away as it is the highest peak on the right of the photo above.  Oh well, on we plodded.

It has to be said that this whole event has been quite a thing, I don’t mean a physical thing, but rather as a thing to do for Josh.  To have a whole group of different people made up of family, Josh’s friends from his home town of Runcorn and his Uni’ friends from Leeds, all getting together to support Jayne, Mark & Beth.  All getting together to all do something for Josh.

We briefly met the support team again for a coffee and oatcakes (home baked and lovely, donated by a family friend), a quick chat, and then quickly off again.
Ingleborough itself looks quite imposing the closer you get to it.  It also looked very steep.  This wasn’t what our legs wanted to hear but what are the choices?  It has to be done and it’s going to be done!

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The climb up Ingleborough was very varied, there was a long wooden board-walk, a long slabbed incline and then a very steep climb up several zig-zags in the side of the mountain.  Unfortunately I have no photo’s of this part as it had stopped being a walk at this point and had now become a climb, and a steep one too.  Because of this, the camera was tucked away safely in the ruck-sack. We had also been pressing on hoping to catch up with the others for a group photo at the summit and so no time to stop here to take photo’s.
As luck would have it we met Henry and some of the Runcorn group just coming down from the summit (who after a brief conversation were talked into going back up again) and then met some of the Leeds group just reaching the summit too.
There was another steep climb which seemed to be to the top but then once you think you’re there it’s another 15 minute walk to reach the actual summit point.
The wind was bitter here as it was very exposed but we were here, at the final summit!

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The walk down from here was on weary legs but at least they were legs that were heading home.  We walked with Fran (who was having problems with his knee by now but was working through it), Asha, Beth & Jake for the last section.
We passed a sign that told us we only had 2 miles…
I warn anyone at this point that there is no way that those last 2 miles is actually 2 miles!

Back to camp and we’re done.  An evening of celebration and merriment ahead, but more of that later.

And here are all of the photos from the hike;

Urbex Adventures: Langley Maltings

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Gamma-rays Ltd, Now mostly demolished.

I have recently been on another little Urbex adventure with Damian Bere.
The original plan was to have a look at the ‘Gamma-Rays Ltd’ building in Smethwich near Birmingham.  Unfortunately when we got there it seemed there was a good deal less building that we had expected.  Most of the building has now been demolished and what was left looked stripped out and empty.  All the doors and windows at the front had been bricked up and so the only possible access left was around the back of the buildings.  This is also where you will find a Van repair company and several men keen to ask questions like ‘What can we do for you’ and ‘What are you looking for’.  Hmmmmmm, that’s a no then.
After a quick walk around the area, which is mostly industrial and has its share of run down buildings, with several old and empty buildings, it became clear that there was nothing here that would be accessible.

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Langley Maltings in days gone by.

The backup plan was to have a look at nearby ‘Langley Maltings’ in Oldbury.  There was a possibility that this would be a waste of time too as some on-line images gave the impression it might be just an empty shell.
We parked up and took a short walk to the old Maltings.  From the outside it is quite an impressive site.  The main buildings were built in 1880 and used for the Malting Process to create malt for brewing beer from Barley.

The building has been empty since 2006 and unfortunately in 2009 there was a large fire that destroyed some of the towers and the roof of one of the main buildings, but from the outside, it all looked mostly ok.

Once we arrived it was fairly easy to find a break in the iron railings that someone had bent apart.  A bit of a tight squeeze through and a quick march across the open yard followed by a climb up a pile of dirt and a scramble through a window frame and we’re in!

The first room we came to was one of the long rooms that would have been used for drying the malt.  This had many iron columns and good deal of water on the floor due to a big hole in ceiling at one end of the room that opens to the sky and a stairway at the other end that had collapsed and was also open to the elements.

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I thought I’d have a go at a couple of Urbex ‘selfies’ here and use the standing water as best I could.

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In the first I wanted to use the light through the doorway and the puddles for effect.  Once I had set this up and did a few test shots I found the I needed to use a remote flash hidden behind one of the columns for some fill light.  This stopped me being too silhouetted by the light behind me.  If you look on the floor, you can see the light from the strobe hidden behind the column.
There was also some distracting graffiti which I removed afterwards, you can spot where if you compare this to the images above.

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Next was a more straight forward reflection shot.  I look a little less that happy on this one but that’s due to me trying to stand still for the 20 second exposure of this shot.
Above this, is another floor, with the whole roof missing which is accessible by the handy solid metal ladder that has been installed, quite recently, by the look of it.

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Even though this looks like the ground, it is the roof three floors up!  This image is a stitch of four vertical shots and the one below is just a tighter crop of this image as I felt you couldn’t see the details of the fire damaged building enough.

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Next we headed down to the ground floor and moved through what can best described as the ‘smelly bit’ of the site…

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We had a quick look around the central open yard and the rooms that open from it.  There was nothing of great interest and so we headed into the other large building.  There we found a good deal of new building material and UPVC Windows stacked up in a side room.  This, and the new ladder in the other building, all suggest that some of the site is ready for renovation soon.  Once we went up to the next floor of this building we found more to confirm this…

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Damian found a large pile of rubbish that had been piled up neatly in the centre of the room which was conveniently in a nice large puddle of reflected water.  Bugger, that’s a nice shot I though.  As he’d seen it first though I left him to it.  There’s little point in us both taking the same shots after all so I settled for taking a shot of him taking a shot of Mt. Detritus.

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The only shot I managed myself in this room was another water and reflections job.  So it was then, up to the final floor…

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There was a walkway that had a little wall of crumbling paintwork at the end of this row of wooden arches which looked lovely.

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A little further along there was a walkway, which had had an open side to the courtyard below.  Another vertical stitch for this one then.

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The last shot of the day for me was of a red fire door which had the words ‘Do Not Leave’ on it.  In truth, there was also the word ‘open’ and a few bits of graffiti too but I viewed them all as mere minor distractions and so they had to go, via a bit of Photoshoppery.

13-Do-Not-LeaveThis shot was lit using a gridded remote strobe to the left of the camera and I will admit there were several attempts to get this right due to reflections on the metal door.

Part of what I enjoy about the whole ‘urban exploring thing’ is being in a place that is out of sight and out of bounds.  Because of this most people do not generally see these places.  There is a feeling of being a little step outside of society when you’re in these places, they often have a very post-apocalyptic feel to them and yet also have a beauty all of their own too.

All in all this was a very interesting site, with much to offer, but due to what looks like impending development, I don’t think it will be open to unscheduled visits like this for much longer.

There are far to many beautiful old building that are allowed to decay beyond renovation, that are then replaced by characterless monoliths that are are all about cheap construction and materials.

Even though I am fascinated with derelict buildings and the effects that time and nature has on them once the care of man has left them, I am happy that this building will not be one of the ones allowed to crumble beyond repair and will be re-used.

Ok, so where next…

Is Photography Art: Yes, No, Maybe…

One question I’m sure all photographers will ask themselves at some point: Is photography art?

Some people will reply a resounding yes, others with a simple No.  Is it better described as a craft?  Or a skill?  Or all of them?
I just thought I’d explore this a little and give a few views on the subject…

As I see it, the first problem with defining photography as art is the fact anyone can take a photograph.  For generations now, anyone could buy a camera and press the shutter, simple as that, job done.  This is, of course, no guarantee that the end result will be any good, let alone something that could be called art, but the problem still remains.  It cannot be denied that a simple press of a button can produce a result that ‘can’ be very good.  A captured moment, an expression, a perfect frozen second where everything all comes together, just being in the right place, at the right time, and just pressing a button.
Of course this is often by pure chance with no creative skill or input from the button presser required but the end result can still be something wonderful.  I can’t think of any other forms of art where that can happen (unless you include kicking over a few tins of paint in your garage and then call it a Jackson Pollock that is).
I think it is this ease and accessibility that makes many people think of photography as less than art.  But of course, like most things, it is not as simple as that…

No matter how good that captured moment is, it is not what I would call art.  It could be a wonderful photograph capturing a frozen moment but it is just that.  A good photo, not a piece of art.  But this does not mean that photography cannot be art, it just means that by pressing a button alone, you don’t have a piece of art.

Following this line of thought through though does mean that photo journalism and street photography are good photographs, but not art?  Is this true? I don’t know.  Maybe.

Another possible objection to photography being art is that the end result is a photograph.  It can be printed in the hundreds or thousands, with each one being indistinguishable from next or even as a digital copy that can be uploaded, copied and posted anywhere.  There is no ‘physical’ connection to the end result from the person that created it like there would be in a drawing or painting.
But if this were a genuine objection then we would have to say that writing was not a form of art, or poetry.  A book or poem can be reproduced in print or on a screen in just the same way so I don’t see this as argument against it being art either.

So, to be a piece of art does it require foresight or vision?  In my view, yes.  I think most good photographers know how they want the shot to look well before they press the stutter.  The decisions on shutter speed, depth of field, lens, style, angles, lighting, composition and post processing all add up to the final image.
So if that is the case, does composition, shape, visual interest or narrative have to be present to be art?
If so there are plenty of examples of this in photography.  There are many, many names I could list here and I’m sure different photographers would have their own favourites but I have picked three to illustrate the point.

The first would be Man Ray, an experimental photographer from the 1930’s & 1940’s

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He pushed the boundaries of photography forward (and was also the father of ‘light painting’).  He worked in many mediums and considered himself a painter primarily but certainly left his mark on photography.  His work brims over with creative invention and experimentation and is full of interesting shapes and idea’s.  This is someone who is not ‘capturing a moment’ but rather creating something that exists in his minds eye and is then using the camera as a tool to create the final image.

In landscapes too there are many photographers that can create something very special and stylisticly their own from the world they see around them.  I will only use one example here, the ‘grandfather’ of landscape photographers Ansel Adams

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He created the ‘zone system’ to optimize exposure and was an absolute perfectionist in terms of technical detail but this is only half the story.  His work was also finely composed and has a distinctive look that has been emulated countless times.  To this day, held up as a master class of quality and detail.

My final example would be a personal favourite of mine, a modern day, surreal and cinematic photographer, Gregory Crewdson

Crewdson

He creates images that are very cinematic in style and usually have a frozen narrative about them.  Much of his work is surreal and often ‘captures’ an odd or unexplained moment in small town America.
Crewdson is well known for his high budgets and large production team.  This makes much of his work more akin to a film shoot that a traditional photograph but it is all about creating that moment.

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I think for me, photography can be an art when the camera is used as a tool to capture or create an image that is first seen in the photographers ‘minds eye’.  Where the line is between a good photo and a piece of art is anyone’s guess as photography is completely subjective, as is all art.
And after all, what is art?  Is pickling a shark or a pile of bricks art?  I’ll leave that argument for someone else I think….

Northern Harmony: Our American and Italian visitors

This week we went to see the choral singing ensemble called ‘Northern Harmony‘.  We had seen them before in 2011 and so had a good idea of what to expect and again, we weren’t disappointed.  They sing a mixture of world and American folk music which is both uplifting and intricately woven together.  They are an interesting and eclectic bunch of people who seem passionate about keeping alive old vocal traditions and delving deeper into the worlds varied and beautiful vocal archive.
A big thank you should be passed to Mary Keith for organising this and making sure it all went well.  The performance was opened by a collection of people, from the various choirs that Mary runs, singing two opening songs that she had chosen to welcome our visitors from afar.  With this I would like to thank Mary for letting me, for one night, become an honorary singing Frippet.
It was through Mary that the whole ‘Northern Harmony’ experience became so much more interesting for us.
Northern Harmony is made up of around 15 people, the majority of which are teens to late 20’s.  As they tour they depend on the hospitality of the local people wherever they are to put them up and provide a bed before they move onto their next venue and performance.  With this Mary had asked could we put someone up if needed, and so of course we had said yes.
And so it was that after the performance we welcomed into our home two young singers, Dalia and Maisie.

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Dalia who is Italian and Maisey who is American were an interesting and very sociable couple, and so several hours of good humoured English/American/Italian discussion followed…
We talked about the way Schools work in all three countries (Dalia’s face being a picture of dismay through some of this, as her parents are School teachers…) and how there are different limitations and benefits in each.  Maisie and I had an interesting discussion about the crossover of American-isms and English-isms and how they are creeping into both cultures.  This then led onto the differences in humour between the two.  As they are both language students the discussion naturally found its way to language and words and the sounds they make.  There was some picking apart of the structure of language and Cathy told them how she had ‘winged it’ as a language teacher while living in Mexico (as you do).  We all agreed that German (and Chinese for that matter) are not languages to whisper the words of romance in but that, much to Dalia’s rolling of eyes, Italian is a language that sounds both passionate and sexy.  It also made Cathy and me laugh when they both gave us an impression of how they though the English accent sounded.
They asked much about England and we had to get a map out to establish what are the differences between the UK, England, Wales, Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Ireland and where they actually were right now in all of that.
We asked about where they both came from and Maisie convinced us that supermarket or shop bought maple syrup is nothing at all like ‘real’ home-made maple syrup.  Not to be out done, Cathy thought it was be about time to introduce them to the delights of home made English Sloe Gin!
There was a discussion as to just what a ‘sloe’ is but then everyone could agree that once it has been soaked in alcohol for three months it is just fine and dandy!
At half-past one we all decided that enough was enough and called it a night and went to our beds.

Determined to be the good hosts we made sure that once up and about they were having breakfast ‘English Style’!  So bacon, sausage, egg and beans with toast, best butter, coffee, orange juice and tea, in a pot of course, it was.  We talked of the differences between American and English bacon and tried our best to describe what Black Pudding tastes like.
Once we dropped them back at Welshampton Village Hall (at the obligatory 10 minutes late of course) they gave all us collected hosts, a final impromptu and rapturous song before leaving.

All in all it was lovely to have two such interesting and warm people stay over for the night.
I wish them, and all the other  members of ‘Northern Harmony’ a good journey for the rest of their tour of England, The USA and Columbia.

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Come back soon  🙂

Ellesmere Winter Festival Lantern Procession: Our involvement with Jack Frost and the Pike…

There were various suggestions of other things that the Bonfire Committee could get involved in since deciding to not do any more bonfires.  There will, of course,  still be Panto’s and Mummers plays and various other things I’m sure, but one idea that was mentioned was to add a lantern procession to the Winter Festival.
This is an event that happens every year in Ellesmere at the end of November.  It is the evening that the lights on the Christmas tree are turned on and there is late evening shopping with mince pies and mulled wine on offer in most of the shops.  There is usually some sort of singing on the streets and music and stalls in the Market Hall.  All in all it’s a lovely evening in small market town kind of way.
With this, Cathy and me both really liked that idea and so got involved in making the lantern procession happen.

As we were proposing a community event we were granted some funding by the ‘Ellesmere Area local joint committee’ and so the idea was to have community workshops to get families to build lanterns and then have some large sculptural lanterns too.  There were six workshops in all, two in Welshampton at the Parish Hall which Tony Boys and Rosemary Drake ran and two in the Market Hall in Ellesmere which Cathy, myself, Tony Lewery and Mary Lewery ran.  Finally Cathy had suggested we get in touch with Lakelands School to see if they wanted to get involved.  After a brief meeting with Andy Richards, the art teacher there, we had another two workshops.

Cathy had decided to to make a Pike lantern.  This would be no little Pike though, it was to be a 12 feet long three sectioned pike.
As for me, for some time I’ve fancied making a backpack puppet and so planned to make a Jack frost puppet.
Originally I was planning to cover and clothe the puppet and make a paper mache head.  He would carry glowing lanterns but would be a mostly ‘non-lit’ puppet.  Once I had started the planning and drawing stage Cathy suggested that I make it as a withie and tissue lantern puppet.  Initially my reaction was “Nahhh, I don’t really like working with withies” but the seed was then planted…
Over the next few days of going back and forth between “Oooooh a walking lantern, that’d be good” and “Doing a puppet as a lantern adds wayyyy to many problems” I decided she was right, it would indeed look good as a walking lantern puppet.

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And so the building began.  Soon it was withies and tape everywhere and the living room and dinning room became overnight workshops.  There was much ‘Googling’ of Pike’s and muttering about legs and hinges…

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Between us there were a few problems to think about.  The glassy glowing eyes of the pike were solved by cutting the ends off of two wine bottles and fixing LED’s and tin foil behind them but how to fix the three sections of pike together remained an ongoing issue. There was also the slight  issue that the pike had now grown to over 13 feet long long.
I had several issues with how to make hinges work and how to light the puppet.  Due to the slender limbs it had to be LED’s but there was still the issue of how to fix in around 20 LED’s and be able to turn each one on and off…

withies-livingroom swan

Meanwhile in a workshop just outside Ellesmere Tony Lewery had been creatively busy…
He had created a beautiful elegant Swan, the very emblem of Ellesmere, in his interesting and busy workshop.  I dropped in to see it before it was covered and have to admit it left me feeling that the bar has been set very high!
I cannot praise Tony and Mary Lewery highly enough for their enthusiasm and time given.  Tony led the adult instructional workshop and they both helped us with all the other workshops.

pike-outdoor jack-outdoor

And so before we knew it, time was pressing on and it was time for some outdoor testing.  Cathy’s pike was looking good once the sections were all together.  She had now decided that it would be three separate pieces that would flex rather than joining them to make a solid one piece lantern and there was also a working jaw.
Jack Frost on the other hand had a few problems of his own…
As soon as idea of doing this became a real possibility I knew I wanted to build a large Jack Frost, and that he had to walk.  I have for a while wanted to build a backpack puppet and liked the idea of building legs that move and walk as the person wearing it walks so that it is a fully moving figure.  Once this puppet became a lantern puppet it made a few things a little more interesting as you can’t hide the messy stuff away with a withie lantern but the main problem I had was making the legs move in the right direction and way.  At first I had hinged the knees so they could only move at a right angle but this was not enough and so I had to make another flat, right angle hinge at the ankle.  This meant fixing a wire frame to a pair of old shoes and the legs attaching to them in a rigid, one directional way.  With the ankle and knees only being able to move in one direction it meant the hip joint could be a simple suspended joint as the legs now couldn’t go in any other direction.

jack-skin pike-skin
And so with only a few days to go we were onto skinning the withie frames.  This is a very satisfying, but also time consuming process.  I found myself still glueing and sticking at 4.30am the day before the event but I’ sure that’s pretty normal for this kind of event.
Very soon Cathy’s pike became a solid, real thing with moving jaw, glowing eyes and teeth and Jack Frost became a solid figure.

And so the day of the event came.  If I’m honest, both me and Cathy have said that if we were to organise this again there would be a few things we would do differently.  We were a little chaotic during the evening build up but Tony Boys was wonderfully helpful with his Van and Peter Cartlidge had been faultless and admirable in his role of gatherer and leader of musicians for the procession.  I also want to thank everyone that gave their time to help make this happen.
And so we were off!
All built, all done, and with nothing but the marching music and the lanterns to lead us forward we go…

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I would also like to thank Phil Barrett and Christine Corfield for there photo’s.

So, here’s to next years lantern procession  😉

Jubilee Celebration and Winter Festival plans…

Here in Ellesmere towards the end of November there is a Winter Festival each year.  This is when the Christmas lights are turned on and all the shops stay open late offering mince pies and mulled wine to everyone.  There’s usually a little performance or singing and in the Market Hall there are stalls and such.  All in all it’s  a lovely event which we usually try and go to.  A few years ago I even did a little exhibition of some of my photo’s there.
This year the Bommy-Commy will be adding a lantern parade to the event with community workshops and large sculptural lanterns, but more about that soon!
While planning this parade it reminded me that I hadn’t posted anything here about the Jubilee Celebrations in Ellesmere that we were involved in so before the Winter Festival arrives I thought I’d better put that right, so here we go…

The event was a really nice afternoon in Cremorne Gardens by the Mere where many a picnic blanket was spread on the ground and plenty of people all came together to flag wave and be happy.  The Welshampton Bommy-Commy had been invited to get involved and add a wandering ‘Mummers’ style play to the event.  Mary Lewery adapted a Mummers script and added a few new characters to some of the more traditional regulars.  Once she had whipped us into some sort of half decent shape we were ready for our meandering performance.

A final rehearsal in our back garden then it’s off to Cremorne Gardens.

I’m not sure how much the audience enjoyed it but we had a good time!
From my perspective, after being in the last Winter show dressed up as a very silly looking boy scout ‘hero’ called Galahad I have no self respect what-so-ever and so was more than happy to dress up as William Shakespear and be part of the play.
Once we had done this quite a few times (a few times too many some might say…) it was a quick dash home to get changed and then back down to the Mere for some fireworks!  Gavin Lewery was behind the fireworks performance and so it was, as we were sure it would be, a visually beautiful production from start to finish.
The Mere looked particularly lovely as the light started to fade with the Moon large and yellow on the horizon reflecting in the water.
As I had brought the camera and tripod along with me it was time to jostle into place and have a go at capturing some of the stunning colours and light.

 

A Return Visit: Cosmopolitan Textiles

A long, long time ago I worked in a factory in Winsford in Cheshire.  It was somewhere I worked for far too long in a dead end job before moving on and moving away.  The company was called Cosmopolitan Textiles, I knew that it had closed down a handful of years after I had left but I didn’t realise it was left derelict.
I came to be driving through the Industrial Estate in Winsford one night on my way back from an unsuccessful attempted evening of photography when I thought I’d take a look at this place.  When I was there it was quite a large site at  77,000 sq ft but I was surprised to find around 2/3 of the factory demolished and what was left just an empty shell.
So here is is, somewhere I like many others, had spent day after dull day before its time was up

What would have been the mali-fleece department

Now just an empty shell

What would have been the loading bay and main entrance

A little Urbex: Exploring at the Paper Mill

I’ve been on a little urbex adventure lately.  There was a little trio of myself, Paul Whittingham and Damian Bere that made our way to an abandoned Paper Mill in Yorkshire in the hope of avoiding security and seeing some interesting deriliction.  The mill dates back over 100 years and at it’s peak over a 1000 people worked at this site.  The company went bankrupt and closed in 2001 and the site feels like everyone just walked out, closed the doors and never came back.
First job was getting in.  With that little adventure out of the way (…don’t ask) we were unsure of how much of the site we would be able to get to but were greeted by a small room that led to the corridor below.  Now it’s at this point that I’m reminded of why I’m here, I love derelict buildings!  I love the light and the colours, the textures and the way paint peels and crumbles.

This is HDR combination of three separate shots of different exposures

A quick explore of this initial part of the building revealed some really interesting big chunky bits of industrial machinery.  Suspended several feet off the ground were six huge metal spheres.  These look like they are made from parts of an old battleship with their huge rivets and thick sheets of curved metal.  I gather they are called ‘pochers’ and were used to ‘cook’ pulp under high pressure in this room.  There is a walkway underneath these spheres and one in level with them, from either they look very dramatic.

Like a gaping mouth!  This is lit from directly below with a diffused remote speedlight to create some interesting shadows

The walkway that runs alongside the large metal ‘pochers’

This one gives a better idea of the size of these things. The ‘pocher’ is lit with a remote speedlight to bring out the colour and texture

After a while in this room it was time to explore a little further.  We found a door that opened into another room with little in it, but then another door that we could squeeze through which open the way to the whole rest of the site.  There were various rooms and offices and all showing the tell tale signs of time.  Paint crumbling and bubbling, wallpaper peeling and corrosion and colour everywhere.

A little bit of dereliction and symmetry.

When moving into one of the main machine rooms (below) we had a little surprise.  As we were looking around and setting a few shots up another group of urbex’ers came into the room.  There was the slightly embarrassed nodding of hello’s as they passed through and then we were back to our camera’s.

The machines are now all silent and this building is now a very, very large pigeon coop (complete with a very, very large amount of pigeon poop)!

The offices in particular I found fascinating, they really do feel like the workers just left one day and never came back.  The rooms have not even been cleared our and there are still files in draws and paper on desks, only now time has taken hold and is claiming it all slowly back.

Paper still in the In tray, files in draws, notices on the walls.

A little further on there was a drawing room with board and blue prints.  There were draws full of these technical drawings and some had been got out and laid on the board.

This was lit with a single speedlight on the desk to the right of the board.

Finally in one of the last offices there were draws and draws of photo’s.  Someone had got some of them out on the desk, they looked to be from the 60’s and I’m sure are former employees of the mill.  Made me wonder, who are these people…

Who are all these people?

Finally a little selection of a few more images from this outing below and a few more here on Flickr

     

     

     
So, the only question now is where next?  I want to do quiet a bit more of this and am looking forward to getting inside and exploring more building that are hidden from day to day view but have with then help of nature and time have a distinct beauty all of their own.
🙂

The Winter Show: So that was interesting, so what’s next…

It has to be said that the Welshampton Winter show ‘All Fired Up’ was a success and bloody good fun to be involved in too.  A huge amount of the credit needs to go to Tony Lewrey, our director, who really brought something to this show.  It was a really good feeling being involved in something that had a good all-round feel about it, with an original script by the lovely Richard Jones, original music be the talented Mary Keith and a director who had put a great deal of thought and commitment into it all.
As for me, the first time performer, how did it all go?  I’d have to say it was jolly good fun!  I actually found I enjoyed standing in front of a crowd and acting daft.  I played boyish character (oh the irony…) and we were all given pretty much a free hand to perform it however I wanted to.  We were also given a good deal of freedom to put together the look for our characters as well.  This was something I hadn’t given any thought to at all and so after a bit of head scratching came up with the idea of him being an over grown, over enthusiastic boy scout adventurer type.  I put together a quick Photoshop doodle to show our esteemed director and then once I knew he was ok with it it was off to E-Bay for a scouts shirt and begging and borrowing the rest.  I even shaved the beard off for the performance!  This was the first time in eight years I had been clean shaven and Cathy was far from pleased with this.  I was given strict orders to re-grow it as soon as the show was over!  My only regret is we could get hold of a Pith helmet…
As you can see on the right the result pretty much matched the idea.

   

The next big step along the ‘never done this before’ path was when Cathy called me and said our musical maestro Mary wanted us to do a song…
My initial reaction was: Ehhh, what, song, a Song!… no one mentioned a song, like a singing song, a song you, errrr sing? That type of song, me, song, Ehhh…  And so on and so forth.
This wasn’t helped by Cathy coming home and saying ‘right what we need now is a routine to go with the song’… More ‘Ehhh’ and the occasional WTF followed!
As it turned out is was all ok.  The song was something I could more or less talk through (much to the relief of all) and the routine was silly and fun.

The ‘We Caught the Dragon’ song

One of the PR shots with a few of the cast from the show

So, all in all a good time was had by all!

So, what’s next?  It seems there will be a bit of street theatre later on in the year from the Welshampton crowd which I’m sure we’ll be involved in.  I’m also feeling like after quiet a long break from doing anything creative with the camera it is indeed time to pick it back up and have some fun with it.  I’m also finding myself being drawn towards some experimentation with video, short film and all the joys of post processing.  More of that to follow later…
🙂

The Mummers Play: Performing and all that…

Towards the end of 2011 amongst much talk of another Panto (or some sort of Panto-esqe Winter show) it was decided it was time to do the Mummers Play again.
For those that may not know, a Mummers Play is a traditional English play that dates back hundreds of years in it various forms but generally involves a Knight, a Dragon, a Turkish or dark Knight and a Doctor.  There is also often Beelzebub and a fool or various other characters.  They vary but all follow the same basic theme.  These are short plays performed outside for the entertainment of the public around the Christmas period.  The idea of performing this again was met with much approval by all the usual suspects and so the planning began.  After after a seven year gap (and various mutterings of  “who’s got a copy of the script…?”) the Welshampton crowd strode out to perform the mummers play again.
For me this was something a little different.  During most of the Welshampton events I have managed to stay out of the way when it comes to performing.  I have always enjoyed helping building or and doing whatever I can.  During the Welshampton bonfires, I had always been safely hidden out of sight behind a camera.  Best place for me I’ve always thought.  So when we started doing the Panto’s I was happy to stay backstage and help with the organising and the nearest I got to the stage was moving the odd set here and there.  Mission accomplished I thought to myself.
Cathy on the other hand is very different and has always enjoyed being on the stage.  During her time in L.A. had been in a couple of Panto’s and in the Welshampton events has been at various times Beelzebub, a Goddess, a Panto Prince (twice),  a dancing polluted fish and Buffy Orton – Space Checken… twice!

Anyway, towards the end of the last Panto I began to think that it might, just might, possibly be fun to give it a go.  This is indeed new ground for me as I’ve never really been happy doing anything like that before.  As a teen to young man I think I bounced between arrogant self-opinionated over-confident git and insecure over-analytical git, neither of which made me want to try anything like performing.  Now on the wrong side of forty and so completely free of any misguided sense of self respect etc. I’m willing to give it a go.  Time to step out of the comfort zone any try something new and scary (always a good thing…)!
And so this is how I found myself in green tights dressed as a dragon walking from Pub to Pub in Ellesmere.

That was ok I thought, but then it’s easy to hide in a costume when your only lines are ‘Gggggrrrrr’.
And so now on to the Winter show/Panto.  After a set of auditions (ehhh, do what, audition!?!) I have a part, a part with a silly costume and words and everything!
And what’s more, I have to say I’m enjoying it.  It seems standing in front of a whole bunch of people and acting like a complete tit has a lot going for it.  Of course we’re only doing rehearsals so far and not the hard Welshampton audiences that bay for actors blood…
I’m sure it’ll be fine  😉

If you’d like to come and see the show then you’ll find all the details here: www.welshampton.net

More to follow including a very, very silly costume for my character, Galahad, a boy trying soooo hard to be a man!

🙂

Welshampton Bonfire: When the lights fail…

Photographing this year’s Welshampton bonfire with the lighting problems we had was interesting to say the least and a few people have asked me about this so I thought I’d cover it here.  I didn’t get a proper chance this year to do much in the way of test shots as unfortunately there was an issue with the lighting desk during the Tech’ rehearsal on the Friday evening before the event.  Not the end of the world I though as after photographing this event for the previous seven years I thought I’ve more or less got the hang of most the problems it can give you.
I was wrong.  Around fifteen minutes before the performance was due to start on the Saturday evening the light failed, again.  I’m sure everyone involved had their own issues caused by this but my thoughts definitely went along the lines of ‘bugger, how am I going to do this then’!?
In previous years the issue has always been getting the exposures right with the lights changing in colour and intensity constantly throughout the show, this time I was going to have to try and do a good deal of lighting from the camera.  So with the event now being lit by little more that a couple of ambient background lights illuminating the bonfire build and a follow spot which I had no control of I find myself feeling very happy in the knowledge that my trusty Nikon SB600 strobe had a fresh set of batteries in it!  Once attached to the camera, and we were off!
After a few shots it became clear that using the strobe at any high power as needed was spilling too much light around the surrounding area’s and so I tried using the grid I had with me to limit the light spillage and ‘spotlight’ the area’s I wanted to.  This worked really well and so I used it throughout the rest of the performance.  What made me even happier is this is the classic ‘made with black tape and black straws’ home-made kind of grid so following the commonly held view by many strobist photographers that when it comes to strobe lighting high cost equipment is often unrequited.
After an interesting evening of constant ongoing image reviewing followed by constant ongoing sodding around with strobe power settings to add to the usual photography fun it all seemed to go ok in the end.
To those of us that are involved and know how it could have looked the lights failing was a real blow as the drama, colour and effect was lost but I hope for most of the audience that wouldn’t have know about any of this that they enjoyed it without knowing something was missing.
So with the decision that the Welshampton bonfires are now over and there will be no more we move onto other events and other things.  The Panto in February and a new type of event for us all together in the summer!  Looking forward to it all.
So finally, here’s a selection of images that made lighting this years, final bonfire, so interesting…  🙂


This seems a shame that it is a little colourless but at least it is a cake and so is fine being white.


This one is a mixture of the ambient light of the backlit windows and some low power strobe light illuminate the build itself.


And then going for some without the strobe to get a contrasty skeletal look


A longer exposure of 3 seconds for a bit of sky and foreground


This is a combination of two shots, one exposed for the volcano and one with the gridded strobe to pick out Sir Mike in his boat


The Goddess lit with low power strobe to pick out the metal work


And then without the strobe to pick out the flames


Again, this does seem lacking in colour but I’m sure the audience still enjoyed it anyway


Ahhhhh, that’s a bit more colour!  Three second exposure to try to get some dramatic fireworks


I always like this bit, the start of the burn…


And the burn just gets gets better!


…and Hotter!

Welshampton Bonfire

So it’s Welshampton Bonfire time again!  This year there is a nice upbeat feel to it all as we all know what we’re doing and where it’s going.
I have had little time to do much and will update this later but for now a few images of how it’s all going…  🙂