1st World Moans

I’m trying hard not to be paranoid here, but it seems anytime I write about the wall of angry cranes flooding the horizon another one appears.

This is semi suburban Berlin, not some central office utopia, but every day brings more and they are all in a rush to get the buildings built with floodlights blinding the local residents deep into the night.

Really, are there so many desperate rich people out there who want to buy a luxury a apartment so near to us, their much poorer cousins?

As a consolation I do occasionally get this War of the Worlds lighting effect.

A small mercy I suppose.

70-200MM, f 4.5, 1/8th sec, ISO12,800


Back to Basics

Rather than write a load of blather I thought it would explain more if I posted a letter I sent to a photography friend.

Hi Fee, I’ve had an interesting set of experiences the last week. As you may remember from my message I was in Vienna, ostensibly to see a large exhibition of Robert Frank photographs. I originally thought the exhibition was a retrospective but it turned out to the collection of some super rich dude from Switzerland. It was seriously interesting because many of the pictures I have never seen before as prints, especially as old 1950/60 prints. It’s fair to say that despite Franks disdain for convention he was a masterful printer of Black and White photographs. But enough of that, to the point.

As I’ve mentioned in previous missives I’ve been working a lot lately as an event photographer, plus the occasional portrait to keep my hand in. The work is interesting and I enjoy it, but the event stuff in the final analysis, really quite boring.

Engaging on the day, but not really satisfying long term.

I’ve also improved my P.S. skills to a sophisticated level, which means I can do more with a photo and do it fast. Sounds great, but the lack of challenge translates into a dwindling in interest in the everyday world of photography.

Solution, go back to my roots.

Hence I’ve once again taken up film. In fact the only camera I took to Vienna was a film camera.

The difference in picture making is profound. For a start, everything is soooo slow. I’m using my medium format Bronica, which means first taking a light reading, a maximum ISO of 400 and no auto focus assist in low light shots.

And there are only 12 shots to a roll, so one needs to choose what one shoots with care.

I set myself a limit of one roll of film per day, which seemed insignificant compared to the plethora of shots I shoot with my digital camera, but the daily limit proved to be more than I could accomplish.

Instead of indiscriminately pressing the shutter button it was, do I really want this shot, was this the best angle, was the light right, would it print, was there too much/little contrast in the scene and how was it going to look in B&W.

Back in Berlin I had some old chemicals at home so I carefully processed what I considered the most insignificant roll. The chemicals turned out too old to work.

The roll lost.

Despite the knowledge that there wasn’t much of value on the roll, there is still the nagging doubt that there might have been something.

The pain of not knowing is real.

Ya don’t get that sort of emotion with pixels.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not reconverting back to analogue. I love what I can do with my digital cameras, but for a break from reality, film is so engaging,


fraught with risk,

offers so little in the way of reward,

the rewards that come take time to materialize,

which is exciting in it’s own perverse way.

it’s full of surprises. I guess the trick is to let oneself continue to be surprised.



Bronco SQA, 80mm, f4, Classic Pan 400ASA( 9years out of date), processed with Adonal Rodinol, 1/50 dilution.


Another Turn of the Wheel?

I once thought they couldn’t build out my view, well they can’t totally, but they (whoever they are) are doing their best to prove that they can.

Yes, I know it’s a first world problem, but for a number of years now I have not been able to escape the cacophony of mind-deadening roar resulting from the cornucopia of tools that grind tear saw pound bore bludgeon rip and render as part of the building process. The visual pollution of man’s mechanical assistants don’t give me a warm fuzzy feeling either.

Today is a beautiful fall day and I would expect that those working on the building sites in this picture are enjoying the weather while they work, I would like to be happy for them but my empathy doesn’t extend that far.

Cheap money is fueling the building boom, plus banks taking equity positions in large  building projects stokes the appetite of the risk takers. I’ve got a bad feeling that the genius leaders of industry are once more racing each other to turn our savings into debt.

This begs the question; why do they only build luxury apartments? When the bubble bursts, nobody but those who benefit from social destruction will have any equity.

Oh yep, I see.

The sharks can buy the worthless luxury cheap and hold until things get better.

Check your pension fund, bad shit is on the horizon and you don’t want to be caught holding the deeds to worthless paper

28-300mm, f 6.3, 1/2000sec, ISO100. Camera set on aperture priority

Lessons Unlearnt

It’s sad, really, the way history repeats itself.
Now more than ever the dogs of war are straining at their leashes and as the rhetoric increases those with pretensions of greatness are on a one-way track to mass slaughter.
Or am I just being an alarmist?
Hopefully I am. If some control is exercised, common sense and a collective urge for species survival will hold the lunatic fringe in check, but I’m not hopeful.
I know, I know, we’ve been here before.
Yep, we dodged the bullet in ’62, but today’s strutting peacocks have arsenals just itching to be tested.
Am I being paranoid or does the American political class seem to be awash with Strangeloves Brig. General Jack D. Ripper clones?
Spooky when it’s the military urging caution, pressing for the diplomatic option.
This picture was shot 14 years ago during the lead-up to the never-ending war in Iraq.
Then it was about oil, now it’s about egos. There never was and never will be common profit for the world in either set of lies.
Canon EOS RT, 50mm, Formapan 400asa, processed with Agfa Rodinal diluted 50-1.

Basic Instructions

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how many times one picks up a camera to shoot the potential to learn something new is always a pregnant possibility.

On Saturday I had an event to cover, a 12-hour day/night shift so naturally I checked all my equipment the day before and double-checked on Saturday that everything was there and working properly before I left: spare batteries, spare SD cards, all lenses as well as the camera itself.

In the past, when camera manuals were small books that came with the camera I always included it my kit bag. Why? Because if something can go wrong it will go wrong and it will always go wrong when you are working, so the book helps immeasurably with little quirks that sometimes happen – quirks that are interesting when you are at home and just playing, but stressful when someone is paying for your time. After doing this work for a few years one begins to think that there is nothing about the camera to learn, but a camera can always surprise you.

So I take my camera out of the bag, check that the dial is set to manual (I always shoot in manual) and then try to adjust the aperture, a flashing L appears in the information window and that’s it. The aperture changes in Aperture priority but nowhere else.

Things were happening and I needed to take pictures immediately so I worked around the problem for the entire event.

I thought at the time it was a software glitch, what else could it be my computer wire brain told me

It was the dedicated lock button. Three minutes at home the next day in a bright and quiet atmosphere was enough to solve the riddle.

My old 5D had the feature on the on/off switch, which often irritated me but I’ve never used the lock button on this camera, nor do I understand who or why one would. I think that, as I took the camera from the bag I inadvertently moved the sliding lock button half a centimeter, enough to cause the problem.

I now know what the flashing L means.

24-70mm, f2.8, 1/125sec, ISO 8,000

Filming in the Streets

I have often wondered if one of the reasons old photographs are admired is due to the style of dress at the time, the shape of the cars or the other myriad things that tell us the picture was shot many decades ago.

When I learnt that the local TV station was filming scenes from a long running period serial near me I thought I would test this theory. The series is set in Berlin during the 1950’s and titled appropriately Kudamm 56.

As you can see, even a banal scene of actors standing around waiting for the filming to start has interesting style elements. Elements a photograph of the same scene with the actors dressed in modern clothes and todays shapeless cars would lack. In fact, when film staff, who were dressed casually modern, moved amongst the actors adjusting items of clothing and explaining additional roles, they (the staff) looked boringly dowdy in comparison.

Therefore my question is: am I right in thinking that it was the styles of the day that interest us (me)? Or do the many modern photographs that leave me cold, even though they are similar to hugely famous pictures from the past, have elements I’m not properly grasping, possibly because I am living in the period being photographed, or is it simply a case of nostalgia for a mythical, simpler time, which means maybe I should get over it and move on….

Way To Many of Me

Recently we were in Scotland for two weeks and it soon became abundantly clear that many of the interesting parts of the world are clearly suffering from too many of us tourists. Our guide on a five-day-tour was making his last trip and seeking greener pastures due to the overcrowding on many of Scotland’s roads, which he maintained had become extremely dangerous due the massive increase in self-drive holidays, and after experiencing some of the craziness in the Highlands and around Skye I had to admit he has a point.

Skye in particular is ruined, he said. A once beautiful fishing village has morphed into a tourist hot spot where the exhausted cashiers at the local mini mart can no longer service endless stream of customers.

Want to buy a nice piece of local fish for dinner, good luck with that.

Berlin also has mass tourism, but the city’s size helps to absorb most of the problems. Not so the picturesque small villages and mountain tops of Scotland, which are collapsing under the strain. I shot this picture from a window at Edinburgh airport. This photo is nothing less than remarkable when you think that on a Tuesday afternoon, a city with a population of 500,000 citizens can fill to capacity a car park this size.

It’s a clear indication that too many are trying to do the same thing in the same place.

Fuji X20, f5.6, 1/400sec, ISO 200