Friday, December 18, 2009
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
The above photo by myself has been selected by the rather well known photographer Martin Parr to feature in a new book he's publishing in partnership with the slightly controversial artist Joachim Schmid.
Schmid is controversial because his art mainly consists of appropriating work by other photographers, taken from online resources such as Flickr, without credit or regard to copyright. The book's a sort of photographic covers album, including original photos by Schmid in the style of Parr, and Parr-style photos selected by Parr himself from a tribute group on Flickr. Parr, ever the professional, contacted the photographers to seek permission, and gives them credit and copyright notice in the book. Thumbs up for him.
It's unlikely anyone will be making any money out of the book, but there it is. And just in time for xmas.
Monday, October 05, 2009
Ghost streets in the sky
I'd been meaning to get up to Sheffield's Park Hill estate for a year or more, since first seeing the vast wall of hollowed-out flats while driving by Ponds Forge beneath. There wasn't any great rush - according to recent reports in the Sheffield Star, the project (estimated cost £160m) won't be complete till around 2017. It's three and a half years since I wrote about the plans here.
I had a free morning in Sheff last Friday, so popped over. I think it's the first time I'd actually been up close to the place - looming over the city like some demon fortress, it had a fearsome (and mostly undeserved) reputation when I was growing up in the city.
If it's still an unnerving place, it's an environment of eerie solitude rather than one of social threat, like stepping into the partially autopsied carcass of some sprawling municipal beast. Part has been stripped back to the concrete skeleton, secured behind high steel fencing; but the bulk has just been emptied and shuttered, and you're free to walk at will. All seemed deserted, although parts of the upper estate are still inhabited.
It's an interesting place to visit at the moment. I've doubts whether Urban Splash's grand plans will ever come to fruition, or whether this unique building will disappear from Sheffield's skyline. But the stripped frames of this first phase seem to hold a strange promise, of brutalism turned gothic, the bones of some monster waiting to be reborn.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Memories of the Space Age
These are a few of a small set of slides that my parents bought in 1971 (when the Apollo 10 command module visited Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Sheffield, as part of a travelling exhibition) showing key images from the Apollo 11 mission, the first landing on the moon, 40 years ago this week.
This is before my time, really - I was born just over a month before Apollo 17, the final manned mission to the moon, left the surface.
The slides, now somewhat aged, were digitally captured using a Canon EOS40D and 100mm macro lens, simply lit by a 430EX flash positioned directly behind the slide, and manipulated in Canon DPP.
The camera alone has more processing power than all the hardware used in the Apollo missions.
"What happened to the Space Age? Its once heroic vision of our planetary future now seems little more than a mirage, fading across the sandbars and concrete of Cape Kennedy like the ghost of a forgotten advertising campaign of last year's science-fiction blockbuster." - JG Ballard (1930-2009).
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Lovely piece from Martin Wainwright in the the walks supplement with today's Guardian, in which he rhapsodises about the wuthering beauty of Ogden Water and Ovenden Moor, wind farm and all, just north of Halifax (described, rather curiously, as a 'market town' - while there is a great indoor market, I'd say it's still a classic mill town).
There's also directions for the walk, which I've been round a few times myself.
Monday, April 20, 2009
JG Ballard 1930-2009
JG Ballard, probably the greatest British novelist of the 20th century, died yesterday after a long battle with prostate cancer. He's been a huge influence on and inspiration for my own non-commercial work (writing and photography), and in recent years I've been an irregular contributor to the Ballardian website. The site editor, Simon Sellars, asked me to write something as part of the tribute to the man and his work. I sent the following.
I first read JG Ballard when I was 12 or so, after picking up 'Crash' (with that lurid orange Chris Foss cover) at a village hall jumble sale. I occasionally wonder to what degree this might have affected my development.
Over the next decade or so, I picked up a few other titles, but none hit me with quite the same force. I just wasn't struck by that intensity, that outrageous lucidity, which radiated from that battered paperback. But I gradually started to appreciate the subtler qualities of the writing, the humour, and the semi-detached perception. Gradually, his books started to just make sense to me. By the time I was living in a tiny flat in the dullest part of south London, barely writing a first novel and trying to find that elusive first job in journalism, I was a devotee.
So sometime round autumn 1996, I was thinking Ballardian thoughts as I trundled through the South Croydon wastelands towards an interview at some obscure trade journal. At the interview, the editor noted that, according to my desperately padded CV, I was working on a novel. 'Oh yeah,' he said. 'JG Ballard used to work here.' I got the job.
That's basically my Ballardian claim to fame - I used to do JG Ballard's old job at 'Chemistry & Industry'. Well, more or less - he was deputy editor, a role that didn't exist in my time, while I was production assistant and reporter. The magazine was still at the same premises on Belgrave Square, surrounded by the same pubs and curved balconies of concrete hotels, and my desk was certainly old enough to pre-date the 1950s. I felt a certain kinship.
The one time I met the man himself was in February 1998 at the ICA, where he was talking about movies with David Leland. Afterwards, Ballard stayed on stage to chat with anyone who wanted to jump up and say hello, even as the ICA staff tried to clear the room for the next event. I said I was doing his old job and showed him my business card. He briefly reminisced about his own time there, and seemed genuinely pleased and interested to hear how things were going, some four decades after.
My plan to follow in his footsteps by rapidly finishing an acclaimed novel or two, then quitting work to write in creative seclusion, never quite worked out. But he remained an inspiration, in work and life. That long-unfinished first novel definitely bears his influence (along with Norman Mailer, another recent loss), though possibly not in ways detectable to anyone else. As an intensely visual writer, he's also a constant presence when I'm out taking photographs. Whether in stories or pictures, that influence comes from his unique way of seeing - that forensic examination of the landscapes of the late 20th century, the disasters and psychopathologies, the art and the technology. That medically-trained analysis of the nature of the catastrophe, and the acceptance of it all.
Ballard's also proved a near-infallible guide to a parallel world of literature (though, personally, I still can't be bothered with Self or Amis Jr). Any book I might find while scavenging secondhand shops which carries an adulatory blurb from the man gets added to the pile. Equally, I've found various writers (from Nathanael West to John Gray) by other routes and been greatly impressed by them, only later finding that they're also favourites of Ballard's. And of course you could build a library out of the many other writers, artists, musicians and film-makers who've acknowledged their deep debts to the man.
Unlike many of the other folk adding their tributes here, I'm not a literary critic or academic (nor, to be honest, would I wish to be). I'm a fan, though I wish there was another word for that. And through my developing fascination with the man's work, I've been privileged to meet, drink, and make friends with a whole bunch of fantastically creative and intelligent people, of all ages and professions, from as near as Sheffield to as far as Australia, who've all been equally enthused in their own idiosyncratic ways.
Apart from the infinitely explorable mass of his writing, I think maybe that's the legacy of JG Ballard - the dispersed generations of people who might call themselves, in whatever sense, Ballardians. The readers for whom his writing and his vision just made sense. The saddest realisation is that there'll be no more.
Pics: (Top) Set of photos by Donovan Wylie for an unpublished magazine profile of JG Ballard, on show at the 'Autopsia del nou Mil.leni' exhibition at CCCB, Barcelona, October 2008.
(Above) JG Ballard's childhood home at 31a Amherst Avenue in Shanghai's old international settlement, now the SH508 restaurant, October 2008.
Tuesday, March 03, 2009
I'm back from the visit to San Diego, more or less refreshed after another temporally disorienting brace of flights (left the hotel 4am Sunday, home at 8am Monday). A very worthwhile and enjoyable trip, though, meeting everyone from the Mayor to a bunch of dudes making environmentally-friendly surfboards (possibly the most Californian business imaginable). I'll be doing a full write-up for Cleantech Magazine. There's more pics from the trip on my Flickr stream.
In the meanwhile, Cleantech's latest Infocus publication features another article by myself on venture capital investment in smart grid companies, an area that was high on the agenda in San Diego where the local utility is gearing up to install some 1.4 million smart meters in homes. Also due out is the latest annual review from Private Equity International with my review of the European mid-market; and, next week, another technology focus section for Crain's Manchester Business, looking at smart tech investment in a downturn and also featuring an unexpected bit of Hollywood glamour.
Monday, February 02, 2009
Friday, September 19, 2008
Bish bash HBOS
A worrying time for my home town of Halifax, with a significant number of local jobs sure to disappear in the wake of Lloyds' white knight takeover of HBOS. Exact numbers have yet to be announced, but I'd guess at least a thousand in the town - maybe more.
Lloyds has said that preserving jobs in Scotland will be a priority - job losses there were also small when the Halifax acquired the Bank of Scotland back in 2001, with most of the limited cutting then done at lower levels, and Edinburgh also had the honour of hosting the head office at the BoS's historic HQ on the Mound. So saving jobs there seems fair enough - the Guardian reports that the group has 6,459 employees in Edinburgh, a fairly significant chunk of well-paid employment in a city of 450,000.
But what's worrying is that nothing's been said about jobs in the Halifax' eponymous home. HBOS also employs around 6,500 in and around Halifax - and this is a town of just 90,000, with far fewer other major industries than the Scottish capital.
There are obvious political motives for favouring Scotland, which will put Labour into even more disfavour locally. Fair enough, most will say.
But the potential economic impact on the town and the surrounding area is likely to be terrible. The presence of the bank here - its head office until the BoS takeover and, after, the base of the expanded retail operations - has been the main factor in protecting the town from the worst of the industrial decline and saved it from being quite as bad as, say, Burnley. Any major reduction of HBOS employment would, alongside the general downturn, easily make it as bad as, say, Barnsley when the mines were closed. Not a happy prospect.
It might not be that bad, of course. There's inevitably going to be swingeing cuts at the common operations of the two merged groups, but it's a question of deciding how that's going to be split between Lloyds and HBOS. I'm less familiar with Lloyds' operations, but I'd guess the bulk of their operations are in London. It might then be an attractive option for them to cut jobs in that more expensive employment market, and keep them in the more cost-effective West Riding.
But even if that happens, I'd guess that in Halifax they'll be cutting from the top; and in London, from the bottom. Fewer well-paid, professional jobs here in finance, IT, management and so forth, but we'll likely still get the minimum-wage call centre and data input end. Not a great deal.
More generally, it's been fun to see the scrabbling for scapegoats to blame for the deeply shite state of the banking markets, and the faux outrage over the antics of the short-sellers and speculators who we are shocked (shocked!) to find are inclined towards amoral profit-seeking based on some rather unrealistic financial models. At least, I hope it's faux - surely no one who's been keeping the vaguest of eyes on the financial markets and the economic orthodoxy can honestly be remotely surprised?
As per the title of this blog (borrowed from Galbraith, of course), it looks like reality has caught up with its would-be escapees.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
What we saw of the destruction of Weybridge and Shepperton.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Pace Egg play
On Friday (Good Friday, that is), we took ourselves up to Heptonstall for the first of the day's performances of the Pace Egg Play. The play's been traced back to the 1500s or so, but the obvious pagan roots suggest rather older roots. The current version has just been running since 1979 but, as this BBC story from last year relates, it's as close to the old play as possible given the effects of time and memory.
It's a rollicking performance, anyway. Many of the towns and villages on both sides of the Pennines have their own version, performed at Easter or new year, but Heptonstall's is reckoned to be one of the best in the 'combat' mode of the play.
More pics of the action over on my Flickr page.
(Apologies for the lack of recent action on this blog, by the way - I've been tied up recently on a contract with the Environment Agency, but the (un)usual service should be resumed soonish.)
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Of all the trees most lovely
Photo taken in Brussels, December 2007. Yuletide felicitations to all!
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Station to station
Last week, en route to Belgium, we changed trains at the new-look St Pancras. The £800m regeneration of George Gilbert Scott's gothic brick fantasia - and, arguably even more impressive, William Henry Barlow's mammoth train shed, once the largest enclosed space in the world - as Britain's main Eurostar terminal means that Yorkshire travellers need waste next to no time in London on their journeys to the Continent.
It's an impressive conversion, banishing all memories of the former grime that encrusted the shed. It's not without its niggles, though - like any transport hub, there's bugger all places to sit apart from a cafe or (admittedly rather pleasant) champagne bar. And Paul Day's giant cuddling-yuppies statue is, to be honest, bloody horrible, a Saddam-like piece of monumental kitsch by way of Bridget Jones. I think I caught the best angle of it in the pic above.
I've put a couple more pics up over on my Flickr page.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Flickr of danger
Having joined the digital age with the new Canon, I've also signed up with the Flickr photo-sharing site thingummy. There's a permanent link over the right there. I've just put up a few pics from a weekend visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, including the above. Quite a nice response from the camera in pretty low-light conditions.
In other news, here's my brother at one extreme of the automotive safety and efficiency debate.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
While the basic controls are much the same as the trusty 30, there seems a hell of a lot more wee buttons on the back to play with (or, more often, to try not to press by accident). The 1.6x increase in effective focal length (because of the sensor being smaller than a frame of 35mm film) takes some getting used to, with my standard 50mm lens now a minor telephoto - great for portraits, but less useful for other subjects. The 19-35mm wide angle, on the other hand, now covers that mid-range, but loses the far wide angle that I like. Still, that's no surprise - while I'd have liked one of Canon's full-frame models, I couldn't really justify the extra cost. Physically, it's a lovely body - heavier and more solid that the film equivalent, and much more comfortable in my big hands than the cheaper 400D. My one complaint is the absence of eye control autofocus, one of my favourite features on the 30 - the different AF grid is easy enough to adapt to, but I do miss the eye control.
Anyway, here's a few of the first results (substantially reduced in size from the output images, of course).
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
A handful of men stationed here lit up the hillside during German bombing raids, in the hope that the pilots would mistake the lights for nearby Halifax and drop their deadly cargoes harmlessly onto the moor; a nerve-racking posting.
It's easy enough to get in, and apparently popular - past the square blast wall, the low central passage leads to two rooms, each with a few years' worth of bottles and cans trodden into the mud. It's a relief to get out again.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Not a number
Here's some photos we took, in between shaking our fists at the oppressive sky and declaring our existential liberties.
The Bell Tower, seen in many episodes.
Here I stand where Halifax's own Eric Portman stood, to deliver his election address as Number Two in the Free For All episode.
And here's where Number Six delivered his address: "You will all die like rotten cabbages!"
The Old Peoples Home (in real life, the hotel) and the Stone Boat.
Thanks go to Catherine Nemeth Frumerman for her On the Trail of the Prisoner booklet.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007
What we made with our hands and our hearts
Thursday, March 01, 2007
The pleasure of books
Friday, February 02, 2007
Leventhorpe is the work of this man, former industrial chemist and teacher George Bowden. His story's told here, in a piece in the Telegraph last year, and here at Sugarvine.com. He's a tremendously enthusiastic and knowledgeable chap, happy to talk at length about the subtleties of viniculture in a challenging climate.
It's hardly one of the great chateaus, with just six acres of vines and production based in a breezeblock shed at the bottom of the field. But they are producing very good stuff indeed. Leventhorpe wines have won a string of awards and competitions (not just against other English wines), and plaudits from folk like Oz Clarke and Rick Stein. Bowden's also managed to win official Yorkshire Regional Wine appellation status for his excellent Seyval Blanc.
After an extensive round of tasting alongside the grape press and tanks of developing vintage, we took home half a dozen assorted bottles, including one of their well-regarded sparkling (though not their rather idiosyncratic and very limited quantity red Triomphe). They're on the rack waiting for sunnier weather to make the most of their full, crisp flavours.
Thanks to Richard Jones for organising the visit.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Friday, November 10, 2006
Wainhouse Tower in trouble
The Halifax Courier reports:
HALIFAX'S historic Wainhouse Tower – shut to the public a year ago – will stay closed indefinitely.
Calderdale Council says safety problems at the 130-year-old landmark are worsening.
And current funding means renovations will not be considered until April at the earliest.
A regular inspection of the tower revealed problems with ornate masonry at its top.
The paper's leader rightly notes:
It is a lovely piece of history and a unique piece of architecture worth keeping. The question is should our council tax be spent on its renovation?
Surely it is a cause worthy of English Heritage or the National Trust who could maintain this unique piece of social history for future generations. Its story, so tied up with the area's industrial past, is worth telling in a display or small museum at the bottom and with some careful thought it could become not only a well-known landmark but a tourist attraction in its own right.
A brief background on the Wainhouse Tower, from my Strange Attractor essay on unusual aspects of local history -
This dark stone folly, rising some 75 metres above an overgrown cemetery, was erected by John Edward Wainhouse in the 1870s. It was meant to serve as a chimney for the dyeworks he'd inherited on Washer Lane, some 100 metres further down the valley slope. The dyeworks were sold off before construction was complete, and Wainhouse had the octagonal structure topped by an ornate observatory, reached by 369 steps winding around the chimney flue. Some reckon this was his intention all along – to build himself a platform where he could overlook the estate of a local rival. Some versions of the story say Wainhouse wanted to spy on his rival's wife. Some give his monument the name of the Tower of Spite.