It’s been quite a while since I posted — all of about nine days. I think that’s only happened once before in the past year. Put it down to readjustment after a fortnight away and to problems with my photo catalogue, which have now been sorted out (I hope).
Anyway, sometimes I forget that this blog is called PhotoGeoGraphy for a very good reason and I get carried away by fulminating about politics and politicians. That may not change anything but sure makes me feel a little better, if not altogether good. So, forget Friday’s forthcoming entertainment in Washington for it’s not going to be entertainment. Don’t deliberate over Hard .v. Soft Brexit as Mother Theresa has already spoken on that issue though, interestingly, not to parliament. Let Bibi try to escape from a tight corner into which he’s pinned himself, apparently littered with empty cigar boxes, champagne bottles, airline ticket stubs and hotel receipts and recorded conversations with newspaper owners. Let’s just concentrate on some photographs.
In this blog, I sometimes start by having a few photographs at hand that I’d like readers to see and build a story — or at least some loose verbal logic — around them. That’s the easy way. Other times, I start by writing something that’s on my mind and then find photographs to go with the words. Usually, I know more or less where to find the images but on other occasions, it proves more difficult than I would have imagined.
That’s because I’m basically disorganised. I’ve always had difficulty filing things away, partly due to laziness and partly because I really don’t know whether a piece of paper should be filed away by type, by date or by some other criterion. The upshot of this confusion and disorder is that I tend to live from pile to pile (knowing more or less what’s in each pile) and only when the piles become too tall and threaten to collapse or make the desktop totally invisible do I attempt to file things away, something I hate doing but also something that must be done from time to time. And as it is with paper, files and desktop, so it is with photographs and computer.
If only I were an organised person, the cursor on the computer monitor would fall immediately on to the photos I need. More often than not, though, the cursor transmogrifies into a curser and the curser is I. Moi. I know exactly which image I am searching for and I know where it was taken and approximately when but I can’t find it among the 40,000 or so images I have currently. Sometimes, I can spend an hour or more looking for a single image and eventually find it — and when I do, the image is identical with the one that was in my mind’s eye except that it was taken not on the street I thought it was taken on and was two years before (or after) when I reckoned it should be.
The software gives me all the tools that I need to be neat, tidy and methodical. All I need to do is, after editing a day’s pictures, enter some keywords that would allow me to find the pictures I need with ease. And every now and then, just like with the piles of paper on the desk, I do this — but the action is little more than sucking up some drops from the ocean.
So, a few weeks ago, I decided that the time had come to stop fooling around and put my photo collection in order and catalogue the photos systematically. First of all, however, I needed to scan the whole collection and get rid of those images I was never going to look at again, let alone use and, of course, scour the collection for duplicates. And here, the problems began because the database that informs the computer how to display the images became corrupted. To cut a very long story short, the issue was sorted (I hope) three days ago by a very knowledgable Dutch gentleman living in Heerhugowaard in North Holland and as a result, I am now on a journey through the past decade, junking and transferring.
I’ve worked my way of far through to mid-2010 and managed to reduce the collection from over 41,000 to just over 35,000 images. It will get tougher as I work through the years because with time and experience I became more effective at junking photographs as I took them but I’m not yet ruthless. A typical morning walk will net me from 30 to 50 images, sometimes more and sometimes less, and I can reduce that by half after uploading and first viewing but that’s not enough.
The upside of this is, of course, that I get to see all the images I’ve recorded over the past decade, many of which I had totally forgotten about. The worthless ones are fed into the trash but some of the better ones are quite good. It has also given me the opportunity to look at how the various cameras I’ve had over the period have performed. Strangely (0r not as the case may be), I started my first photography course with a borrowed camera, a Fuji Finepix 5600, a digital zoom camera at the cheap end of the market, with a time lag of over a second between clicking the shutter button and the camera reacting, making it almost useless for photographing moving objects. However, it had wonderful colour rendition compared with the first camera I bought (an Olympus), which makes me wonder why I didn’t offer to buy it at the time.
Anyway, while I am undergoing this massive culling- then-editing job (which, although I abhor it because it’s so mind-numbing, just has to be done), I’m still out each morning adding more. So let’s start with some images from the past 10 days and then add some of the older pics to the next post.
The past week started with a Tube strike in London. The following day, I walked to Chalk Farm Underground station the day after that senselesss stoppage, which had been caused by 4,000 station and ticket office workers in a dispute over job losses and ticket closures resulting in tens of thousands of hardworking people being hampered from getting to their workplace and then home again. Walking down Haverstock Hill, the Shard stands out on the horizon, dwarfing St. Paul’s Cathedral, and looking through photos I took a decade ago, it’s hard to remember that you could look southward from Hampstead Heath or Primrose Hill and not see it.
On the way, I noticed a car that reminded me that in Britain in of 2017, Big Brother [Camden in this case] is keeping an eye or two on you — constantly.
And while on the Tube with camera hanging from the neck and wishing neither to appear too obtrusive or to be seen too be idle, I wiled away the time photographing some smart footwear…
… and arriving at Euston Station, passed by this snazzy bike park.
And what better way to try out a new lens on the camera than by taking a family photo — of Dov at work.
He looks so comfortable in the studio yet five days later, he was all pumped up for his ultra-marathon, around 50km of running off-road around the cliffs at Dover in freezing temperatures and strong winds. Supported by his good lady, his children and his in-laws, we chickened out of being spectators, giving as our not so lame excuse that we had to be back in Tel Aviv.
And then, indeed, it was back to Tel Aviv…
One of the earliest things I came across on my first morning out was a reminder that President-elect-and-soon-to-be-the-real-thing Trump and President Putin have not yet met. When they do, I couldn’t help wondering how they would decide if the other was friend or foe. I guess this is as good a way as any. To quote Tom Lehrer, from his wonderful song Lobachevsky:
“Pravda – well, Pravda said: perzhnavisk. It stinks. But Izvestia! Izvestia said: parachnavor. It stinks.” I don’t know what the New York Times or The New Yorker might have to say on the matter.
And as is often the case, I ended up in Tel Aviv port and stumbled upon this little mynah. Appearances do deceive, for these little birds are dirty and vicious things, given to cannibalism on a good day. They also mimic other birds, saying what they think the the other birds would like to hear or rather to fool the other birds into thinking they are something else. Rather like politicians, methinks!
And then there was the regimentation of the condiment jars — something which for some peculiar reason always attracts my eye. These are not leaders but simple foot soldiers, the ordinary MPs of the food world.
And my eye remains attracted to fire hydrants. This was one, the kind of which I had never seen before, installed at the local filling station (gas station for North Americans). Note the subtle twist. Yet another bent mind in the political landscape.
And this monster was espied on King George Street. I absolutely do not apply make-up and costume to the hydrants I photograph and the same is true of this one. Somebody else had applied the eyes and the dentures. Nevertheless, it made an appealing picture! Another pin-up politician in search of a photo opportunity, no doubt.
And finally, yesterday morning, passing through Rabin Square on the south side of Tel Aviv Municipality building, I noticed this wooden “sculpture”. I wonder if the tree surgeon had actually noticed that s/he had created a monster! Couldn’t be another scary politician, surely? Or could it?
A few days ago, walking westward with a friend down a main street in London from St. Paul’s Cathedral after what supposedly was to have been been a day together with cameras, I brought up politics. Actually, I didn’t quite bring up politics and I certainly had no intention of being provocative. I simply said it was amazing that we had spent four hours together and had somehow managed not to mention either Brexit or Trump. (We talked a lot of the time on this outing and much of what we did that could be classified as being remotely to do with photography involved walking around a gallery at the Tate Modern taking in an exhibition, comprising just a small part of the most amazing collection of 8,000 modernist photographs owned by Elton John, the singer and songwriter.)
And as we walked along in the cold and we did mention both Brexit and Trump — and I think I might have referred to the guy with the N-name and my friend might have referred to the woman with the M-name just so as not to feel too left out (too right out might be more apposite) and suddenly I felt a bit warmer. We didn’t talk directly about either Trump or Brexit or the N-man or the M-woman but chatted about leadership in the modern world — or the lack of it. (The same evening, I watched a BBC Four documentary about Mussolini, which, I suppose, dealt with leadership in a slightly different context and how easily people can be led and dragged in the direction in which politicians with “charisma” or who possess a form of animal magnetism can take them.
It strikes me that politicians fall into two super-categories. Either we get “strong leaders”, i.e., those who appeal to lots of people because their message is simple or simplistic, glib and easily understood, even though the means of attaining the goals contained within those messages are nebulous at best or even non-existent. The message is the medium, to make a nonsense of Marshall McLuhan. Actually, the title of McLuhan’s book of half a century ago didn’t show what people usually read as there was a typographical error with “message” actually reading “massage” and McLuhan was happy to leave it that way. And so, there became four possible readings for the last word of the title of his book — all apposite: “Message”, “Mess Age”, “Massage” and “Mass Age”. It appears to be pertinent to some politicians, too.
The other mega-category of politician comprises those who actually understand issues and have sound policies to put them into effect. However, often because their message is shrouded in numbers or words that need some rational analysis to appreciate their meanings. In other words, many people prefer the messages offered them to be straightforward rather than complicated or complex, even though the world in which we live and which we share with others is anything but uncomplicated and the interconnections intricate, to say the least. Having said this, we have to remember that 3 million more Americans voted for Clinton than chose Trump, so even though she appeared wonkish, her message still managed to reach more Americans than his. Much good it did!
Into this mega-category, too, fall politicians who are cautious, who are averse to making decisions even though they know — or at least feel — that the decisions are the right ones. At issue is the fear their cautiousness might be interpreted as showing lack of leadership.
But leadership involves leading, taking decisions that might be unpopular in the short term but prove correct in the longer term. Good leadership also involves displaying a certain amount of pragmatism, a process that allows a politician to override long-held beliefs and ideologies if they are shown to have been wrong, i.e., of admitting to errors of judgement (not too often, of course, because that might lead people to believe that you can’t be trusted to make the right decisions). Leadership means leading; that means being able to swim against the current if necessary. What too many politicians do today is wait until they have examined polls that they have commissioned in order to see “what the people are thinking” —and we have all seen in recent years how wrong the polls can be— and then, rather than lead, they follow. One of the downsides of democracy, I guess.
Another of my friends described the political situation in the UK 15 years ago after several years of Labour government, one in which institutions and organisations had to meet goals and targets and if these were met, it could be brandished as “success”, as the “demise of the officer class”. This was to be interpreted, of course, as saying that once there were people who were not afraid to take decisions even if they were the wrong ones (vide Winston Churchill) whereas now, decisions are made by committees and after extensive but not necessarily exhaustive consultations—if they are made at all.
The current British Prime Minister, vis-à-vis Brexit, is being cautious to the extent that six months after taking office, some people are beginning to ask whether her circumspection is actually indecision. Maybe. We’ll see.
Anyway, enough about things I know little about to something I also know little about. Did I take any photographs prior to or following our walk along a long street on a cold day? The weather hasn’t been too conducive to photographs during the past 10 days. I suppose that if I was madly keen on shades of grey, I might have found lots to excite me but there’s been no snow and not much sun. There were a couple of spectacular sunrises and that was about it.
Nevertheless … St. Paul’s is always there for the photographer and it can be viewed from an almost infinite variety of angles.
And Hampstead #1 Pond yielded the following procession of six friends and a hanger-on, who, I think, has relatives in the Yarqon Park in Tel Aviv.
According to the writer Adam Gopnik, the French are likely to begin a conversation with some complaint about the bureaucracy; talking about the bureaucracy takes the place of talking about sports. The Americans, in contrast, are wont to open a discussion with some comment about baseball or football. (In Israel, I suppose the commonest way to start chatting with someone these days is to make some statement about the Prime Minister and his coalition partners although that might land one in some very hot water indeed which you won’t hear about it on the Bibi See.) However, one can’t imagine an exchange in the UK starting with some mention about the Civil Service, the state of England’s cricket team or whether or not Theresa May is doing a good job or otherwise. You are likely to strike up a conversation in London with something inane like “Nice day, isn’t it?”, which more often than not is not just inane but insane, because as you look around you, it’s pouring out of the heavens or you can’t see the end of your nose because of the fog or the perspiration is dripping because it’s hot and has been for the past month but investing in a fan, let alone air-conditioning, isn’t worth the expense. Grin and bear it, they say — or at least they used to.
I started to write this blog on New Year’s Day 2017 and as I looked out the window it was raining. I’m not in Tel Aviv but I’m in that other place — London. It’s our fourth day here and so far, we’ve experienced a broad variety of typically British weathers. The sun was shining when we arrived on Wednesday afternoon, the air was clear and it was a pleasant 7ºC but that didn’t last long; the night and following day were cold — perhaps not by Canadian or Siberian standards but cold nevertheless. Although the central heating had been on for four hours a day in our absence, the apartment was chilly on arrival so I switched it on to 24 hours a day and it took about two days to warm up to a comfortable temperature.
The first three days involved lots of family and friends. It began with a magic show ostensibly for children — and they loved it — with a cameo performance by Scott Penrose, an English magician and magic consultant, who just happens to be the President of the Magic Circle. I am a super sceptic about things “magic” but this guy, who makes his living as an “illusion designer” produced pigeons and rabbits out of thin air. As I was sitting perhaps no more than six or seven meters away, even I had to admit that I was impressed — and that’s saying something.
Friday morning turned out to be one of those typically foggy London days — no longer one of the notorious “pea-soupers”, that mixture of coal-derived smoke and fog that used to plague the London Basin but foggy nonetheless. Pea-soupers were legislated away by the Clean Air Act of 1956, a response to the Great Smog of 1952, which killed 4,000 people in its immediate aftermath, with a further 8,000 dying in the months following. Measures were put in place by which only smokeless fuels could be burned, and sources of heat were shifted to cleaner coals, electricity, and gas.
It may not have been a pea-souper and though the weather forecast intimated that it would clear my midday, it didn’t. It just got thicker and thicker as the day wore on, with visibility down to about 30-40 meters. Only the bottom floors of Centre Point, one of the London’s high-rise landmarks, were visible from halfway between Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road. That’s quite something.
Then on Saturday, New Year’s Eve, there occurred an annual event for which the British have no competitors — the publication of the New Year Honours list. This is headline news — who’s become a Baron or Baroness (a Lord or Lady to us plebs), or a Sir or a Dame or who can now post magic letters after their name. This “news” is repeated repeatedly throughout the day as if it were earth-shattering and really newsworthy. Along with the Queen’s Birthday Honours later in the year and the Prime Minister’s Resignation Honours (which is not an annual event even though some people might wish it were), these lists reward those people (worthies for the most part, I presume) who have distinguished themselves somehow, for example, by an act of personal bravery or career achievement, or for service or by dint of other contributions to the UK and British Overseas Territories. These honours range from life peerages (which grant the beneficiaries membership in the House of Lords and thus a role in legislation — albeit a minor one), through knighthoods, to lesser honours, which entitle the recipients make the world aware of their achievements by affixing [usually] three thaumaturgical letters after their names, thus indicating the status or worthiness of their exploits and deeds.
It’s always amused me (having been born in 1945 and brought up in Ireland just as the Empire was beginning to unravel formally) that the most commonly granted honours are those of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the Civil Service. It’s beyond me why nobody has had the temerity to remind those responsible that the British Empire is an anachronism but I suppose it would be akin to replacing a national anthem, something usually associated with regime change (although Canada did it voluntarily half a century ago) and the suggestion of which might lead to accusations of disloyalty and treachery.
But then, if the British Empire were to vanish (from the Honours List, of course, because it’s already been dead and buried for five decades) what would they change it to? The Most Excellent Order of the British Commonwealth somehow doesn’t sound right. The Most Excellent Order of the United Kingdom, perhaps — but that sounds even worse as does the Most Excellent Order of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, even though that’s close to the original. Perhaps the whole system needs overhauling except that there is something be said for recognising contributions to society in a way that is essentially — though not completely — apolitical. I can’t imagine a system even remotely resembling the British Honours system ever being applied in Israel, where the relative current strengths of the political parties would have to take into consideration before someone could be nominated, let alone honoured. (Perhaps I should start an online petition to inaugurate a Prime Minister’s Resignation Honours List in the rather vain hope that it might make something happen.)
And anyway, if the Brits changed the name of the Honours, all those Knights Grand Cross, Knights Commander, Commanders, [ordinary] Officers and [plebeian] Members — (GBEs, KBEs, CBEs, OBEs, and MBEs to you and me) — might become GUKs, KUKs, CUKs, OUKs or MUKs — which not only looks all wrong but even sounds somewhat vulgar.
Among this year’s better-known recipients was Sir Andrew Barron Murray (Andy, the tennis player). I hope the heavy weight of his knight’s sword and battledress doesn’t slow him down too much on court while chasing the Australian championship in a fortnight.
Anyway, here I am again in London, capital of the Brexit-is-Brexit not-so-United Kingdom. I waved goodbye to 2016 and welcome 2017 and hope that Ms. Le Pen & Meneer Wilders and his ilk ▼ and Ms. Merkel ▲ and hope for the best although I wouldn’t hold out too much hope for either but with a bit of luck I might be quite wrong (yet again!).
However, to return to the weather, that perennial opening to a British conversation, this being Britain, one never quite knows what to expect from it. Another day passed and I hadn’t posted anything yet. But then this morning (Monday January 2), I checked the phone on waking at 6 o’clock and Facebook informed me (!!!) that it was going to be a bright sunny day in London. So, at 07.40, I set off for Primrose Hill to photograph the sunrise and as daylight began to break, the sky seemed cloud-free. I started the ascent to the top and thought I saw several people and just assumed that they were clearing up after yesterday’s New Year’s Day mess. On approaching the summit, I realised that although there was a single park employee clearing up yesterday’s shambles, I had been preceded by about 30 others armed with cameras and tripods all awaiting the inexorable appearance of the sun.
A strange camaraderie developed amongst those waiting — partly, I imagine, because it was so bloody cold on the top of the hill. I was wearing two thermal vests, a woollen sweater, a suede jerkin and two pairs of trousers against the cold and it was just about the right amount of protection!
The sun eventually made its scheduled appearance. Nobody had doubted that it would and it was then that the clicking began.
It was a worthwhile wait indeed!