Walking with the Ancestors at Lughnasadh

Posted on 06/08/2017 by Admin under General Photography
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As John Barleycorn readies himself for the harvest, at this time of year I reflect on what I’ve personally harvested from the year so far.

Over the past two weekends I’ve walked the landscape where I grew up looking for clues.


I was born and grew up in a Nottinghamshire mining town.  Everything centred around the pit.  In the 1980s the government forcibly broke these communities, spilling blood, killing pride and leaving millions without hope.  In its place a ‘me’ culture was established based upon endlessly sustaining economic growth through selfishness, grasping, selling-off the country’s assets and separating people into two groups: The ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.  The idea being that the latter aspired to become the former through hard work.

Were seeing the return of those days.  Landlords who own most of Britain’s houses and those that sleep rough.  Those with private healthcare, and those that cannot afford a dentist.  Fine dining and food banks.  A divided society.

This is my old school gate.  Eight hundred children used to pass through them each morning to be educated.  Now only a dozen builders pass through them, creating a handful of luxury homes for property developers to rent out.


I have walked the disused railway lines which supported the industrial revolution and carried good across Britain to sustain use through world wars.  I used to explore the old bridges and infrastructure as a child, fascinated.


Now green pathways, the ghosts of Britain’s rail network lie silent, the clouds mimicking the plumes of steam from the passing trains.


We may look back on the ‘good old days’ with a mixture of anger and also nostalgia. Anger at the social inequality mentioned above.  But communities stuck together.  They fought as a collective, rather than as individuals.  They had pride.  They mucked in.  They survived.

Were it not for the regeneration I would not be able to walk these lands.  They would remain dirty spoils of a lost industry.  Nature and communities have brought something back to life for the common good.

I finish the day grateful for what my ancestors have done.  Grateful for what communities have pulled together to do.  Grateful for mother Earth’s ability to reclaim, covering our mistakes with greenery, given time and patience.  Grateful for what I’m doing.





First Foray into Large Format 5×4

Posted on 29/06/2017 by Admin under General Photography
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There’s something magical about film.  Maybe its the way it forces you to get it right in the camera with a more considered approach, the tactile nature of it, or the sense of connection to those early pioneers Fox Talbot and Neipce.


While 35mm was always very convenient the medium format negative is superior in all respects – colour grduation, sharpness and detail.  I was keen to explore all of these things deeper using a large format camera.

The sinar F is a monorail-type large format camera taking 4 x 5 sheet film.  Fitted with a Rodenstock 150mm lens this is broadly equivalent to a standard 50mm lens on a normal camera.


First things I noted:

  • Although not particularly fast at f5.6, the lens stops down to f64 for immense depth of field.  This feature of large format cameras gave its name to Ansel Adams’ famous ‘f64 Club’.
  • Film has to be loaded one sheet at a time in the darkroom at home then slotted into the camera one at a time.  In complete darkeness, it then has to be unloaded again for developing.
  • The camera is fully adjustable on all planes (tilt, swing and rise).  This allows depth of field and perspective to be manipulated in ways impossible for a normal camera.
  • Everything is slow.  Shutters have to be cocked, examining a ground glass under a black sheet is needed to focus the image.
  • Quality is astonishing.  It is impossible to visualise this on screen despite 40Mb scans.

Here’s the first two images I’ve taken, both at f64 with an exposure of 1 second at ISO 125 (Ilford FP4plus).  Notice how the perspective is shifted in the building to eliminate converging verticals by applying some tilt to the front standard / lens board.  No sharpening has been applied nor filters apart from a neutral density grad for the sky:



First impressions:

  • The sense of achievement – of taking just a single photograph – is significant.  This is arguably lost from digital photography.  It takes a lot of forethought, planning and preparation to get an image
  • One slip, one error, and the work is ruined.  With colour film costing around £10 per photograph to buy a sheet of film and develop it (not print) any mistakes are costly.  Black and White is around £2 per sheet and can be developed at home (these were developed by Ilford Labs to provide a benchmark reference point).
  • Quality is outstanding.  There’s a hard to define tonal rendition.  On inspection there seems to be no end ot the detail held in the negatives.  Room-filling images are a possibility and way beyond even the 36megapixel digital camera I use every day.

Michael Wolf – Tokyo Compression – Exhibitions – Flowers Gallery

Posted on 27/06/2017 by Admin under General Photography
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Sometimes an exhibition looks so good i just have to save it.


Michael Wolf stands on the Tokyo underground platform as the steamed-up windows reveal the commuters that scroll before him. As we look at the disquieting images we might ask why people tolerate this? You can feel the discomfort. The fingers down the condensation-soaked windows look like fingernails against a cell wall.

But we can also see how it feels ‘normal’ to be a commuter in this every day. It is tolerated.  A fascinating insight into what we humans will accept.

The condensation reduces the faces to abstracts, not real people, just shapes and colours behind a window.  We cant see their gaze, their expressions.  It is as though their humanity is suspended while on the train.  Faceless.  Until they arrive at the other end.

At the Flowers Gallery until 1 July.


Khadija Saye

Posted on 18/06/2017 by Admin under General Photography
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This photographer died in the Grenfell Tower disaster.


Using very old tintype, her work explores Ghanaian spirituality and a “deep rooted urge to find solace within a higher power”: Poignant after what happened.

Interesting isn’t it that unless she’d died in a disaster, many of us would never of heard of her nor seen her work?  History is littered with artists who only achieved fame posthumously.  Do they work to be famous and, if so, they would have ‘failed’ in their own lifetime?

For me this is another lesson that we must follow our own authentic path, producing work that inspires us.  If current or future generations enjoy it too then that is a welcome – but secondary – bonus.

Pick up a camera, paint brush or pencil and do your funky thing.  For you.


A picture is worth a 1,000 words..

Posted on 31/05/2017 by Admin under General Photography

As part of my university coursework, I thought it might be fun analyse (in a non-political way) the hidden messages contained within posters for the upcoming 2017 election.  What are they subtly trying to tell us though their choice of pictures?

Some of my thoughts are below – what do you think?


This poster carries a strong navy background and text beside an image of Theresa May apparently giving a talk.  The appears to be addressing at least two ladies (we only see the back of their heads) in a factory setting.  The text carries the word ‘Leadership’ in a larger font to the rest.

The photo suggests Mrs May as being in contact with real people – addressing voters in a factory setting. She is animated, talking passionately about something, using hand gestures.  This connotes her having a clear vision she wants to communicate, reinforced by the word ‘leadership’.

The word ‘Conservatives’ is much smaller than everything else on the poster, being about half the size of ‘Theresa May’.  We would be forgiven for thinking the election is a popularity contest for Mrs May instead of promoting her party’s chances overall.  Maybe there is recognition that the person is more appealing to the public than the party is.

The navy background provides – literally – a bold, strong and solid backdrop for the poster.  It also connotes reliability and understated constraint.  It is the colour of business suits and executive limos.

We are being informed that this is a serious, stable person who will act ‘in the national interest’.  It invites us to put to one side our preconceptions of what the Conservtives might stand for: theres a job to be done, and Mrs May is the best person to do it.

We don’t vote for any prime minister in this country, we vote for our local MP.  So it is interesting to conclude that, for this election, the Conservatives are playing themselves down and trying to persuade us that we are instead voting for her personally.



For the Labour Party on the other hand, it was hard to find a poster thst did have their leader on it.

The posters all have a common aesthetic, shared with conference backdrops, of a clear slogan on a bold red background. The principal slogan being ‘For the Many, Not the Few’.  There are witty plays on words such as ‘Let’s make June the end of May’.

Although the Labour Party have red as their party colour, if has often been subdued in previous years (as a red rose against a white background, sor example).  Here the connotation is pure passion, rage, an anger.  Are they trying to suggest that they feel just as passionately about what needs to change in this country as you do? Or are they trying to use this colour to ignite this passion within you? For the latter, it is known that most young people do not support the Conservatves, but many don’t bother to vote for anyone else. Is the poster actually red or really a ‘blue touchpaper’?

The puns certainly might appeal to a younger voter, disengaged with ‘stuffy’ Westminster politics.  The slogans connote being on their side, not the elite class.

The labour Party know that their leader is divisive so are taking the opposite approch to the Conservatives, promoting human values over personality.  The message suggests cooperating with the many folk out there – rather than taking a ‘tough business deal’ to our European friends.


Liberal Democrats

Leaving to one side the strange merged caracature of Theresa May and Nigel Farage, the Lib Dem posters frequently show hoards of supporters holding ‘Winning Here’ signs like this one:


The message is clear – you are not alone if you support the Lib Dems.  There are many of them.  They are winning ‘here’.  The messages here are less subtle and easier to interpret.  Maybe this lack of sophistication is a deliberate attempt to show them as straightforwrd and honest, alternatively it could just reflect a lower advertising budget.

Living in the moment

Posted on 28/05/2017 by Admin under General Photography
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I went to the bank yesterday to pay in some cheques.  Waiting in line, the assistants repeatedly asked me if I’d rather use the machine rather than wait.

The thing is, waiting in line gave me an opportunity to speak to a real person instead of a machine.  A chance to meditate while the young man in front had his bags of 1p coins rhythmically tossed onto the scales. A chance to watch life, to think, to reflect.

It also gave me the idea for this blog post.

By slowing down, living in the now and not racing through life at 100 mph we live more fully – the opposite of wasting time.  And we notice more awesome things to photograph. Bonus.


Harland Sick – Steve Cordingley

Posted on 25/05/2017 by Admin under Reviews
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Harland Sick, Steve Cordingley

Harland Sick is the first photobook by Derbyshire photographer Steve Cordingley.  It “forms a response to an afternoon spent exploring – and sinking in – the Harland Sick” (a boggy area of peat) high on Beeley Moor in the Peak District.  The book comprises 16 monochrome images and an accompanying poem, ‘Stugged’.

Like The legendary Wainwright’s Guides to the Lake District, Harland Sick skillfully leads us on a journey over the moor.  First approaching it, then leading us over the Sick before reaching rocks at the highest point.

There’s a rhythm to the book that any seasoned hiker will identify with – the welcoming panoramic view of expectation, space to explore and reflect, watching where your feet are going, repeat for the next section…The book flows at the pace of life.

No people feature anywhere.  Just the photographer in the land.  As we press on into the desolate moor we have to watch our step, negotiating the boggy areas of the Sick.  Despite the dark black peat here’s little space for ‘noir’ monochrome here – the slightly soft contrast and warm tones envelop us, encapsulate us, as though in a soft cloud.  Comforting yet threatening.  We cant see the heavy peat cloying to our boots as we view the pages, but we know its there.

Then the summit.  We reach our goal.  The view from the top comes in the form of a poem. Engaging and perfectly matched to the experiences of the moor described above.

Is the book a walk or a metaphor for life? Images of skulls and frogspawn-thick standing water remind us that we have travelled a circle of life.  A cycle that is woven into the peat that consumes all that stand still on it for too long.

Best keep moving then.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It treads gently on the land in a sensitive way, engaging the senses through poetry and images.  It explores our relationships with both our own lifetime and the land we live it on.

Harland Sick is self-published by Steve Cordingley and available here: https://stevecordingleyphotography.co.uk/prints/harlandsick

So why do you bother?

Posted on 21/05/2017 by Admin under Uncategorized
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I was at an Exhibition in Bradford yesterday for the recent BBC4 series on the history of photography: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08h95c3

It got me thinking.  We are taking more photgraphs than ever before.  But we hardly ever print them or put them in albums to keep. We forget all about them…until Facebook reminds us with a ‘3 years ago today…’ memory.  Snapchat takes this impermanence to extremes.

But if we printed our photos like our parents did it would be a disaster for the environment: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/we-take-1-million-selfies-every-day—but-what-are-they-doing-to/

Maybe we just want to take photos as ‘evidence’ that we were there (or that we were with the Danish PM at Mandela’s memorial service): https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/10/nelson-mandela-world-leaders-selfie?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

But if that were the case, why do we want to learn how to take better photos? Why do we want a better camera when the one we have is generally fine?

Susan Sontag believed that we took photos to overcome our guilt and shyness – hiding behind it while intruding into the lives of the natives on holiday.  We would never stare at people like that – without hardly talking to them – unless we had a camera.  And having a ‘job’ of taking holiday snaps temporarily filled the guilt where the 9-5 job would normally occupy our minds.

I take photographs to explore myself in slices of 1/125th of a second.  Each time I pick the camera up I’m looking into an imaginary mirror:

  • Why do i find that thing appealing, unusual or beautiful?
  • Do I have the skills to make this camera ‘say’ what I’m actually thinking?
  • Given that, at one level every photo is therefore a self portrait, how much of my soul am I exposing when I show this photo to others? What if they think the photo is rubbish?
When we look at photography like this, perhaps it takes a lot more of your courage to put a photo on Instagram for the public to examine, instead of being hidden in Grandma’s family album.  Well done!


Photography an contemporary art

Posted on 05/03/2017 by Admin under Uncategorized
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I tend to agree with much of this article – to become part of the ‘contemporary art club’ art photography needs to keep chipping away at the modernist shackles imposed upon it nearly 200 years ago.  Otherwise it is constantly refining itself but within its own separate oeuvre to other contemporary arts.


What clouds the issue is that there are so many different types of photography some can be more progressive than others – a post modernist prison mugshot might not be helpful, for example.  However good a gardener auntie is, she might not want to be represented as an abstract plant pot.  One of photography’s key attributes is indeed its ‘captured slice of real time’ form.


So is the real issue that photography needs to accept its inherent diversity and stop trying to be just one collective thing called ‘photography’ (…where only Canon and Nikons are good enough, right?)? Camera club judges need to stop saying their way is ‘right’.  It needs to throw off the straight jacket it imposed upon itself 15 years ago as a reaction to people doing totally crazy stuff with Photoshop just because they now could.  Maybe that was the closest photography ever got to a cultural jailbreak.

It’s all new!

Posted on 23/02/2017 by Admin under Uncategorized

Welcome to the new Hippy Hippo web site and blog.

Photography offers an amazing and lifelong journey into finding your own creativity. Over coming weeks and months I’ll be sharing some of the things that inspire me to take photographs…hopefully they will you too.

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