Packwood House lifted the gloomy grey weather with a display of colourful Christmas decorations. Trees and plants around the house and gardens were adorned with hand made ornaments and baubles. Shelves had displays of miniature nutcracker soldiers. There were colourful Christmas wreaths on the gates to the garden and doors to the house. The wonderful display lifted the spirits. Here are a few photographs taken around the house for you to enjoy Merry Christmas.
An opportunity to spend time photographing Oxford arose just before Christmas. My good virtual friend, Doddsie (Neil Dodd) was visiting from Switzerland as he was attending a course at Oxford. Neil and I take part in the well regarded Internet production, ‘the Photo Show’, which can be found at the BritishTechNetwork.com. Whilst I have met the other two presenters Martin Kelly and Ian Lewis several times before, I had only chatted to Neil virtually. As Neil was based in Oxford, we arranged to undertake a photowalk around the city. We started our journey on the river Thames. There is access to the river near to the hotel where Neil was staying. Officially our start point was University College Boat House, an imposing structure overlooking the river. We walked past many canal boats which were sealed up for winter. Some had even sunk into the river and were in in need of refloating. We walked along the river. There is Grandpoint House which has a commanding view of the river and merits a picture.
We came up from the river at Folley Bridge and then onto Christ Church College. The College over looks a meadow and the treelined popular walk. We circled Merton’s field walking along Deadman’s walk and Merton Grove. We took in Merton Church and went into Magpie Lane, over the High Street and then Catte Street. This led us to the Radcliffe Camera considering by many as one of the most beautiful buildings in Oxford. Here we were fortunate to see the filming by Warner Brothers for the upcoming film Willy Wonka. When we saw them they were filming scenes in the Radcliffe Camera. In order to give sunlight into the rooms, there were large cranes which were directing bright lights through the window.
The courtyard at the Bodleian library is a wonderful structure and as you see I did some unorthodox picture taking of the skyline (Picture curtesy of Neil Dodd). Next stop the Bridge of Sighs followed by a quick visit to the Turf Tavern along St Helen’s passage. We retraced our steps back through the main shopping centre of Oxford. There is a veranda here where you can get a view of all the Oxford Spires. Next stop the Oxford prison and some photos of the green roof of Nuffield College. On the way back we made for the river and we were rewarded by a rowing boat from the city barge club moving along in Venetian style. Both pupil and instructor were standing and moving along briskly. The instructor even had time to chat to us as she coached her pupil on how to negotiate the river. They made good photographic subjects. We then retraced our footsteps along the river back to the hotel where Doddsie was staying. We spent some time taking pictures along the river and then it was time to say goodbye to Neil. A great day out photographing Oxford and I have shared the photographs so you can enjoy the place taken in winter.
If you enjoyed these photographs then be sure to follow my fellow colleagues at the BTN Photoshow Ian Lewis Neil Dodd Martin Kelly our wonder chair and the person who puts the show together is on email. Drop him a line if you are interested about the BTN show.
On one side of the M1 is Warwickshire, on the other is Northamptonshire. Most of the time, I am in Warwickshire visiting my daughter and so Rugby is my final destination. Google maps is a wonderful tool for browsing and looking for new places to visit. Often, I use canals as my compass and it was following the Grand Union canal along Google maps that I was intrigued not only by Cracks Hill but also the surrounding area. I discovered the Friends of Cricks Wood web site and learnt about the good work being done by the community there. Close by is Cracks Hill which was formed by a retreating glacier during the last ice age. Running through this area of natural beauty is the Grand Union Canal. This looked like a good place to photograph especially if the conditions were just right. The one ingredient that is needed is good light and on an evening in December, it looked as if there would be a good sunset. I packed my camera gear and set off to the woods. On arrival, I spent some time in the Jubilee woodland as the sun was setting. The colour on the leaves in the light at the end of day was something to behold.
The next place to visit was the summit of Cracks Hill. It was not disappointing and I was pleased that I had brought along my Canon D5 Mk4 with tripod. The windmills were fascinating to watch at such a distance and at a height. I was also taken by a lone tree on the side of the hill. Needless to say the tree featured in a few photographs. So it was a successful day and I made my way back to the car.
As I reached the bridge over the Grand Union, I met a dog walker and I let him pass. He moved onto the bridge and started walking into the embers of the sunset. I fumbled but I got my Fujifilm x100v just in time to capture a picture of the walker on the bridge. The resulting picture was dark but I used my editing suite to bring out the colours of the sunset. So part capturing the scene and then relying on a preset edit to produce the scene that I observed over that bridge and far away.
The final part to this series of photographs is the selection of the walker over the bridge by England’s Big Picture. It was my second feature of the year on the BBC site. I was very pleased with the outcome.
The snow started falling on a Saturday morning and it was settling on the ground. Seeing the conditions, I gritted my teeth and decided to head out in the cold. There could be some good pictures of Knowle village in the snow. Venturing out in the windy cold conditions was not fun. Being cold and wet, I took my Fuji x100v which is weather proofed and wandered around the High Street taking pictures. Even though I had camera gloves on, with only the tips of the thumb and first finger exposed, I was getting very cold. However it was disappointing as the snow had turned to rain and there was little of the white stuff around. I decided to call it a day and when I got back to my car, I was soaked. Sitting in the car, I noticed that a thick snow blizzard had started. I decided to be brave and I returned to the High Street for a second time. My decision this time was to use my iPhone13. Going to the northern end of the High street, I started taking pictures and slowly advanced towards the church at the opposite end of the road. The temperature had dropped and the driving swirling snow was making it difficult to see what was happening. My finger tips were numb so it was difficult to know whether the camera had taken any pictures. I was also shivering and the iPhone was continually slipping out of gloves. I returned to the car more soaked than before and came home.
When I saw my iPhone pictures, I realised that I had captured some magical Christmas card snow scenes. I did have some camera shake on one or two of the pictures but the majority were good. The reactions on social media were very positive. I made the long list of #sharemondays2021 and await the results of several other competitions where I submitted the pictures. I am really glad I did brave the conditions! Seeing the pictures made it all worthwhile!
When the call goes out on Instagram for night time photography organised by the WestMidlandsPhotoCollective then you know it will be a good event. Unfortunately, it was limited numbers, and I was unsuccessful. I put my name down on the waiting list and promptly forgot all about it. A day before the event, a call came through saying someone had dropped out and was I still interested? No difficulties in saying yes.
We met at the Roundhouse Birmingham which is where the horses that pulled the canal boats were kept in the early days of the industrial revolution. After a period of falling into despair, the Roundhouse is now restored to its former glory. With funding from the National Lottery Heritage fund, a partnership formed between the Canal and River Trust and National Trust has led to a community-based centre offering new purpose for the building. Check out their web site to see what is on offer.
Jim and Sarah from the WMPC met us and outlined the walk. We followed a community route called “Brum through a Lens”. We were armed with our tripods and set out along the canals to Gas Street Basin to start taking our first set of photographs. It is one of the highlighted stops on the Brum through a Lens walk. This classic view is immediately under the Cambrian Wharf wall, looking out over the basin towards the Cube. I started having tripod malfunctions and struggled to get pictures. By the time I had freed up the tripod, it was time to move on to the Cube. On the way we passed under Holliday Street Aqueduct. This looked an ideal spot for light trials and I lingered around the place taking what turned out to be my best picture of the night. Several cars came through at once and I had the camera on the long exposure settings (25s, f22, ISO 100).
Catching up with the group, I took a picture of the Mailbox. Trying something different I went low and illuminated the train tracks with my torch. The long exposure gave the water a milky texture and the background was the bright lights of the Mailbox.
The final stop was Centennial Square with the Big Wheel and the Star Flyer. I looked around for a vantage point. Many of the photographers were setting up underneath the Star Flyer and I saw their pictures after the event. It was a unique viewpoint. I decided to stand back and get a good vantage point with both attractions in the viewfinder. After a while I got an idea of how the Star Flyer was moving up and down. I had a few efforts with the long exposure and then there was one session where I captured the movement from top to bottom. The flyer had illuminated struts with people suspended in chairs out into the heights. It looked quite scary and the movement made a good subject for the long exposure. There were also plenty of screams as well to accompany the long exposure.
The group moved back to the Roundhouse to take part in some light painting. Both fairy lights and long neon tubes were used for the light sources. It was a different light display and made for some dramatic effects as shown. The circular structure of the roundhouse allowed it to be very dark with little stray light. An ideal location for light painting.
All the walking combined with the photography made for thirsty work. The remaining photographers made their way to the Distillery pub for some well-earned refreshments. There was talk about those pictures that were successful and those that got away.
Thank you to West Midlands Photo Collective for organising the meeting which was very enjoyable giving many of us an opportunity to wander around the City. Being in a group reduced concerns about our safety with all of our equipment and we were able to concentrate on the photography.
All these long exposure pictures were taken with a Canon D5 on a tripod. I used a fast zoom lens 24-105mm. The camera settings were on manual with an ISO 100. The aperture was set at either f/11 to f/22. The timings were around 30 seconds for the light trails and the Star Flyer. At the Roundhouse, I adjusted the timings to be around a few seconds due to the intensity of the light.
Craft beer breweries are increasing in number and Birmingham has around 15 of them. Of those 15, I have visited the Two Towers, DigBrew and Birmingham Brewery over the years. Time to discover some new ones and a Saturday craft beer walk was planned to start at the Burning Soul. This brewery sits on the edge of the Jewellery quarter in an industrial estate just off Constitution Hill. The colourful signs of the Burning Soul emblem greet you on their garage door.
You then enter a brightly lit room where Chris, the master brewer greets you. Chris runs the place by himself and serves up some tasty beers. Beers on offer include Ice Cream Pale and the house favourite Pineapple Chilli. Both are very nice on the palate and provide a mixture of tastes. The ice cream variety lives up to its name whilst the chilli is noticeable against the fruity flavour. The mixture of fruit and chilli works and makes for a great beer. Chris is an amenable host and showed us around.
Going behind the scenes, Chris explains the brewing process and how he comes up with the ideas for the beers. We return to the bar for drinks and notice that the place fills up very quickly. Soon we are on our way to the next port of call the Rock and Roll brewery on Hall Street, near to the centre of the Jewellery Quarter . Whilst the brewing is done downstairs, the first floor is the lounge area with the bar. The walls are adorned with Rock and Roll memorabilia and whilst there were no bands playing during our visit, there is a small stage for performances. Both Rock and Roll and Burning Soul have worked together on several beer projects. I purchased a couple of their cans to bring home with me.
After an enjoyable stay our next tasting session was at the Halton Turner Brewery in Digbeth. This is a recent addition to the Digbeth scene, and it is based under the arches on Trent Street. Whilst the Burning Soul and Rock and Roll breweries were in warm premises, the brick arches surrounding Halton Turner are a touch on the cold side. Drinking beer in this brewery does require the wearing of warm clothing. This is not to distract from the beers which like the other two are well worth tasting. In summary all the establishments have wonderful character, the beers range in taste and style. There is something on offer for everyone. An enjoyable time and a wonderful stroll down the independent side of Birmingham.
All Pictures taken on my iPhone13 and I lived to tell the story after drinking all the beer!
In 2020, problems with the attachment of the discs to the building began to surface and this is evident in my pictures. A decision was made by Selfridges to undertake the refurbishment and replacement of all the discs on the building. There are 15,000 discs and it will take some time to replace them. The original makers of the discs no longer exist and new constructors were required. The story may be followed up in the news media when in November 2020, the official reports of the replacement began.
It was during Lockdown #2 that scaffolding began to go up around the store. So as to protect the construction workers and the scaffolding, an eye-catching temporary skin has been put in place. The striking art structure is called “Infinity pattern 1” and is designed by Birmingham born artist and interdisciplinary designer, Osman Yousefzada. It is intended to be a “message of hope” to the people of Birmingham. The design was drawn up in conjunction with the IKON Gallery. The colours are striking and are best viewed in the sunlight which picks up the shades of red. The installation is temporary as the replacement of all the discs will be completed in time for the Commonwealth games in 2022. Therefore whilst it is on view, I encourage you to wander down to Birmingham and see Osman’s creation. The visit will be worthwhile.
These photographs show how Osman’s artwork interacts with the City and the people. The pictures tell the story of the loss of the discs, the placement of the scaffolding and the final structure. There is merchandise in the store that feature the Infinity Pattern 1 on them. The colours and the design pattern lend themselves to pictures and I like the picture with my daughter looking out over Birmingham with the Infinity Pattern 1 behind her.
Instameets are friendly photographic get togethers where you meet like-minded people for a social chat and take pictures. The meetings are also held at fascinating venues around the West Midlands. My usual patch is IgersbirminghamUK or the Westmidlandsphotocollective. Both hold meetings at venues which provide a multitude of photographic opportunities. Igers_staffordshire is a group that hold Instameets around the Lichfield area. The venue for this meeting was the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. The Arboretum occupies a large swathe of land just North of Lichfield and is well signposted off the A38. However, it is a place that I always pass by and think to myself that is somewhere to visit in the future. When Igers_staffordshire advertised the event then I quickly signed up. The meeting started in the car park which is one of the strategic places in the Arboretum. Whilst entry to the site is free, car parking is strictly controlled and must be prebooked. The entrance and the welcome buildings guide you through to the main body of the Arboretum. I was greeted by the organisers and it is easy to work out who the photographers are as you will not miss the tripods, backpacks and cameras on display. Once through the entrance we made our way to the most commanding monument which is the Armed Forces Memorial. It is not difficult to miss as it sits as a raised structure with an attractive circle of trees. We posed on the steps for the picture of the group and then started exploring.
You find yourself pulled towards the Armed Forces Memorial, up the steps and into the inner parts. It borrows heavily in architectural design from the Greeks and Romans. It is impressive, and it was here that I met Kenneth who is a volunteer at the National Memorial Arboretum. We got talking about the Arboretum and Kenneth outlined some of the major features about the place. He showed me where a shaft of sunlight shines through the gaps in the southern walls onto the central bronze wreath on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month #Armistaceday. Kenneth does two days volunteering and is out in all weathers, greeting visitors. His welcoming smile and enthusiasm help visitors to get the most from their visit. Kenneth is one of many volunteers who I met during my time at the Arboretum. I explained to Kenneth about my ‘100strangers’ project and he agreed to being photographed. This picture shows him standing in the centre of the #ArmedForcesMemorial near the central wreath with the #cenotaph in the background.
Next, I set off to visit the rest of the Arboretum. There were several memorials that I passed along the way including those to the Iraq war and The Polish War memorial. I did like the Irish Infantry Grove. The paving stones are set out with a map of Ireland. From there, I wandered into the trees and was taken with the numerous discs with messages on them. There is so much to take in and this blog only touches the surface. I posted several sets of pictures on Instagram.
The first is a set of lines and colours that made an impression on me. The #shotatdawn memorial by artist #AndyDeComyn was particularly moving. Consisting of stakes in the ground representing the young men shot by firing squad. There are several other memorials captured here.
My other reflection from my visit was the numerous Connections in the Arboretum and this is the link for this series of photographs including pictures with permission of soldiers remembering people behind the names. The sun and the rain connect with the memorials to enhance their stories.
It was a moving day out and I covered a fair amount of the Arboretum. There is still much more to see. These are the best of the pictures although there were many more to discover. Several of the memorials have been cleverly designed to catch the natural elements such as the sun and rain providing reflections and opportunities for carefully taken pictures that bring out the best in their design.
The University of Birmingham has a major economic impact on Birmingham and the West Midlands region. The University educates students, is a major employer, a research leader in all sectors and a gateway bringing in global connections that benefit the city. Even though the University has a beautiful campus at Edgbaston, a physical footprint in the city centre has long been on the University’s wish list. The old Municipal Savings Bank began to look an interesting project. Especially with the location of the bank on the new look Centennial square.
The former Municipal Bank is a Grade II listed building and has historical links with the University. Joseph Chamberlain was founder and first Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. Neville Chamberlain, the son of Joseph Chamberlain was behind the building of the Municipal Bank on Broad Street. It was first opened by Prince George in 1933 and has a long history of underpinning the wealth of an ambitious city. However, the bank closed at the turn of the century and the last 20 years has seen the building empty with no tenants. It was famously portrayed as the AC-12 base in the BBC series ‘Line of Duty’. The iconic safe deposit boxes in the vault were used in a Chanel advert amongst the various roles that the bank filled in these barren years. In 2018, the University negotiated a long lease of the building with Birmingham City Council and the renovations began.
I was fortunate in my University of Birmingham role to see these renovations firsthand in October 2019 before the pandemic. During my visit, I took a series of pictures on my iPhone. I had no idea which room I was photographing, although I remember the vaults where the safe deposit boxes reside. They are so interesting to see. Rows and rows of metal doors with numbers on them. One can only begin to imagine what was contained within them. The building was being gutted and there was so much to do from floor to ceiling in each room.
Fast forward to October 2021. Hasan Patel who is part of Communications Team at the University of Birmingham invited me to coffee at the Exchange after his Marathon Run. (Follow Hasan on Twitter to learn how to sponsor him on his running diary). We spent an enjoyable couple of hours putting the world to right. Hasan introduced me to the University team at the Exchange and we visited several rooms in the building.
Not long after my visit with Hasan, IgersBirminghamUK announced an Instameet at the Exchange. Immediately I signed up and went along. This Instameet is a friendly collection of photographers. We were given access to all areas including the Board room and the former bank managers office which I did not get to see on my first visit. The other interesting feature is the balcony where the bank manager opened the doors and looked out onto the banking floor to check that the bank was running smoothly. During the Instameet, this was a favourite spot for all the photographers.
Whilst we were in the vault, we were also given access to a utility room where many of the safety deposit boxes were stored. Now many of the boxes are placed strategically around the building and are a feature of those rooms which are used as teaching spaces and meeting areas. This basement room had many of the old boxes and proved to be a fantastic place to take photographs. There were still some stickers remaining and on one of the boxes the notice stated that this box could only be opened in the presence of a solicitor. Once again one could only imagine what was kept in these boxes over the years.
We finished the tour and adjourned to the Distillery Pub next to the Roundhouse. This is another interesting place to visit and includes a wall mural of a canal horse painted by one my favourite street artists, Annatomix. The Roundhouse was used to care for the canal horses that pulled the boats and has been renovated as a historical place of interest. There is even one of the horse stables on view.
This was a day taking pictures of historical buildings that have been brought up to date in a city that is rediscovering its roots and moving forward. Thank you to the team at IgersBirminghamUK for organising the tour and The University of Birmingham for opening the Exchange for this Instameet.
I have also included a blending of the old and new photographs in two of the rooms to show how the building has been modernised between my two visits.
Pictures taken with iPhone 11 and 13, camera Fujifilm x100v
I have been to several art installations which reflect on the Covid19 pandemic. I have covered “In Memoriam” Luke Jerram’s flag creation that visited Aston Hall. The flags were blue and white and made from hospital bed sheets. They were stunningly arranged in a medical symbol. “This is Gratitude” is an Art installation of 51 sculptures championed by Dame Zandra Rhodes. The figures visited Chamberlain square in central Birmingham and were painted by several artists. These two installations were colourful, moving and told stories about different aspects of the Pandemic.
Would I go and visit a third installation by the “Standing with Giants” organisation? This post tells the story of my visit to the installation. I nearly missed it and only picked up on the tour via a photographer I follow on social media. The beautiful grounds of Coombe Abbey were the setting for the visit. Standing with Giants consists of 300 figures cut out of industrial recyclable materials. On one side, there are colourful paintings of key NHS workers. When you first encounter the figures, you are struck by how many of them there are. Already there are emotional touches to the installation as bouquets of flowers have been left at the feet of some of the figures.
Chloë, my grand daughter, started playing hide and seek amongst the figures and I followed her deep into the art display. As I turned around, there was a surprised waiting for me. The backs of all the figures were black and there were messages written in white. The sight of all the black figures wearing white face masks is extraordinary. It was different to the colourful front facing view. The messages were a mixture of thanks, hope and remembrance. The were both moving and a joy to read. Clive, one of the volunteers, came over to us and handed us one of the white writing pens. Sandy is an ex nurse and she penned a message on back of one of the figures. We spent a good 15 to 20 minutes taking in the messages and the sights. It was a different approach and I am fortunate to have seen three different installations that make you think, challenge and also help in reflection about many of the individual tragedies that happened during the pandemic.
Finally…..We just want to say thank you to Clive who was one of the volunteers on the day we visited ‘Standing with Giants’. Clive explained what to do with writing the messages and showed us where the white marker pens were kept. A friendly face to the installation. Thank you.