Gray’s School of Art

Short course exhibition

So, after taking an evening and a morning to hang the B&W analogue prints for the photography part of the Gray’s School of Art short course exhibition, the show opened on a Sunday only to close on the following Tuesday. Not because it was cr@p, but due to new restrictions brought in to ‘manage’ the spread of Covid-19.

The analogue prints were photographed (digitally!) as they were taken down, and have been mastered into a slideshow. It illustrates our efforts, but is second best to seeing the real things.

There has been some loose talk about hiring an art space later in the year to reprise the exhibition, but until then, take a look below

(If you want to know which were mine, then look out for puffins, canal and narrowboat life, a pair of size tens and a sweet chestnut on a fence post. You should find seven in all, eight if you count the one included twice in error!) 


Royalty versus Firstborn

No contest!

There are two ways to appreciate the street art that is  Paul Curtis’ ‘Liver Wings’ graffiti in Liverpool’s Jamaica Street; the right way and the wrong way.

I give you Camilla Duchess of Rothesay’s tragic fail. This is just wrong, wrong, wrong!

“Dullness is the absence of the light of our souls”

Firstborn shows us the right way. Let your imagination take flight!

“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!” 


Everyone needs…

… a porpoise in life

or a dolphin or two! The dolphins put on a terrific show just outside Aberdeen harbour last week (pics taken on a Canon 650D camera at 1/640 seconds exposure and ISO 400, with a Tamron SP 150-600 Di VC USD zoom lens).

I was observing from the shore and this sequence was shot at f11 at 500mm…

If you are observing from a boat and not from the shore, then the rule is to let the dolphins encroach upon you and not for you to encroach upon them – the Aberdeen Harbour pilot boat got it very wrong!

These other pics were shot at f10 at 600mm…



It’s just another pic on the wall…

Well, the RGU Gray’s School of Art short-course exhibition is over for another year. I’ve added my exhibits to ‘the wall’ chez moi. Here it is (the location is not well-suited to being photographed)…

A limerick a week #64

Innocent but Profumed guilty

The early 1960s sex and spy scandal, the so-called Profumo Affair, led to the downfall of John Profumo, the UK Secretary of State for War, and, it is believed, both Harold Macmillan as the British Prime Minister and his successor’s Conservative government.

Christine Keeler, a central character in the drama that unfolded has just died at the age of 75. She was not a paragon of virtue by any means but should be remembered now as a victim and not a culprit.

Profumo successfully redeemed himself off-grid by quietly volunteering for decades at an east-end charity in London, but the reaction of the day was for the establishment to look after its own without any concern for the price paid by others.

One of those others was Stephen Ward, an osteopath and socialite who killed himself in the midst of later court proceedings that related to trumped-up charges of living off immoral earnings; a case now believed to be both a miscarriage of justice and an act of revenge in behalf of the establishment. Another was Keeler who, in the 1970s, defined her later life as surviving not living.

Growing up through the 1970s, my generation was fully aware of the scandal, where it was posited in terms of good-time girls on the make corrupting a highly thought of politician. In fact history shows it to have been down to the self-perceived entitlement of powerful men within the establishment to do as they please.

Keeler’s early life had been one of poverty, abandonment and sexual abuse. She arrived in London, vulnerable, in her teens at a time when the 1960s free-love revolution was about to take off. Her participation in that revolution, which she freely acknowledged, led to the subsequent condemnation of her as a cheap tart whereas it now bears all the hallmarks of the abuse of a woman by men in powerful positions. The recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein et al simply revisit that behavioural paradigm.

Keeler’s son put it well in a comment that he made to the political correspondent Lewis Goodall soon after her death, “I hope we now live in a time where we stop blaming women for the urges of men”, a view reinforced with clarity by the journalist Josh Lowe, “Apt time I guess for us to remember a young woman mistreated by powerful men then painted as the architect of their downfall.

The veteran writer and political commentator Harry Leslie Smith also opined tellingly: “I hope Christine Keeler found some measure of happiness in later life because she was horribly abused by men, the press and a system that favoured the entitled. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

So, it’s a serious limerick this week …

The Minister that tried to conceal a
Licentious and lewd misdemeanour
Paid for his vice
At a fraction the price
That was paid by the ill-starred Ms Keeler.

In contrast to the advantage taken of her by others, when faced with an obligation for a nude shot that Keeler didn’t really want to do, the photographer, Lewis Morley, cleared the studio of others and had her sit against the back of a chair (a copy of the classic Arne Jacobsen design). Thus was she fully naked as contractually obliged, but without any onlookers and with all the naughty bits concealed (at least that is one account – according to Keeler herself she was still partly clothed, either way Morley respected her in a way that few others in her life had).

I don’t think it is gratuitous to show it here. It is, after all, a photograph in the realm of fine art and not voyeurism and it is certainly one of the most iconic photographs of the 1960s

An image that defines the word ‘iconic’.

Captured on medium format 120 film rather than 36mm stock, ‘that’ picture was the last shot taken during a studio session to promote a film that, ironically, was never made.

Here’s the contact print from Morley’s photographic negatives:

Morley’s contact sheet of prints. Interesting isn’t it, that the iconic shot just stands out a mile from the others?


All in all it’s just another pic on the wall …

It’s taken a while, but I finally got around to re-hanging the ‘picture’ wall to include the latest Gray’s School of Art short course exhibits. Looks good!

It’s not false modesty to say they’re “okay, but not fine art”. Perhaps they don’t even match my strapline of artless but enticing, but what they are is a set of half-decent B&W analogue prints that gave a great deal of pleasure in the taking and making of them (frustration too, but mainly fun). And anyway, this quote from Susan Sontag gives us all hope:

“Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art.”

I can wait …

Postscript: Here’s a pic of my ‘new’ Nikon F3 HP film camera with its motor drive, 50mm prime lens and 35-135mm zoom lens. It was given away, free, to a good home; well to me anyway!

Until now, my B&W analogue pics have been taken with a Canon EOS 300 camera with autofocus and a variety of modern lenses (although I don’t always use autofocus). It will be interesting to see how the Nikon matches up.

According to Ken Rockwell’s web site, the F3 was in production from 1980-2001, remaining so even after the F4 and F5 were introduced. He gives the F3 the accolade of being one of Nikon’s best pro cameras.

The HP model was introduced in 1982 and going by its serial number, mine was made in 1983 – 34 years old and still in almost mint condition!


Staying focused

The Gray’s Art College short course exhibition has now finished and was a great success. There are some really skilled practitioners across the various disciplines that were on show. (I’ve already enrolled for next year’s analogue photography course and look forward to receiving my next student card!).

Meantime, I’ve decided that only three-and-a-half-year-olds should be allowed as critics at the show. Why? Simply because I was emailed by the mother of one such child who so liked one of my photographs that he wanted to take it home with him. The lad has taste and thanks to a helpful colleague I have now had the photograph digitised so that I can print a copy and frame it to give to the young man as he clearly knows fine art when he sees it:

Wiener Straßenbahn. My attempt at street photography

This picture of a tram was probably my personal favourite from my entries in the exhibition, but it always annoys me to look at it. Why? Because if you look at the hotel to the right, the building is not aligned vertically. It was a difficult picture to print, lots of regions that needed different exposures or contrasts which I managed okay, but I forgot the simple expedient of checking the verticals were, er, vertical <<expletive deleted>>. Meantime:

How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb?

Ten. One to change the light bulb, eight to share experiences of changing light bulbs and how the light bulb could have been changed differently, and a photography tutor to be politely underwhelmed by your ability to change light bulbs in the first place.

That was my year that was

I’m quite pleased to see the back of 2016,  but for what it’s worth here are some pics for my ‘best of’ compendium for the year …

Best new experience of the year:

A bread-making course at ‘Bread Ahead’ (Borough Market, London). Just me and a bunch of Chelsea girls loafing around …

You know you’re in trouble when your sourdough goes a-rye

Best ice-cream of the year:

Beating Zanoni’s of Vienna by a short head was the first ice-cream pit stop of the year.

Cycling on a sundae …

Best blog idea of the year:

A limerick a week. How else can one show one’s proficiency at celebrating #TeamDemelza in verse with an anapestic meter and strict rhyme scheme?

Why a limerick? Because ‘There was once a man who wrote poems …’

Best cycle ride of the year:

Finally, at the age of 24, Firstborn scraped her knee whilst participating in a physical outdoor activity. Her mother was so proud 🙂

Blood, sweat and gears …

Best health tip of the year:

… and from the Graun: Bike rides and hot baths – a fitness match made in heaven and it’s official!

Oh dear, I’m in hot water again!

Best impression of a marine mammal of the year:

Management performing dolphinarium tricks (we’d boycotted Marineland Mallorca whilst on holiday) with Firstborn as the ‘trainer’.

Does this trick make my bum look big?

Best meal of the year:

The most hotly contested category of all. It could easily have been the baked brie at the Crofters Bistro, Rosemarkie, or the scallops at the Applecross Inn or the mega-breakfast at the Hatton Locks café or the liver and bacon at the Tigh an Eilean Hotel, Shieldaig. But by a country mile, ‘hats off’ please to the Gasthaus Ubl in Vienna for keeping traditional Austrian cuisine alive and at its best. Roast pork, sauerkraut and dumplings like my Grandma used to make. Großartig!

“Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n’y a plus rien a ajouter, mais quand il n’y a plus rien a retrancher” – Antoine de saint-Exupery.

Best sausage of the year:

Another Viennese delight – mit brot und senf, of course

Absolutely the wurst experience that we had on holiday …

Best new toy of the year:

A micro-campervan. According to the Daily Mash, “as a form of accommodation it is slightly more expensive than The Savoy, but I think it’s cool.

Priscilla at rest (at the Clootie Well)
As aficionados of the movie ‘Priscilla; Queen of the Desert’ will tell you, calling it Priscilla certainly puts the ‘camp’ into ‘campervan’

Best fresh air of the year:

As sensitive bio-indicators of atmospheric pollution, these lichens growing on a wooden bench seat next to the main road through Lochcarron attest to the freshness of its air. Unusually for Scotland the air was still on the day this picture was taken, making it the best fresh air of the year!

I’m lichen it …

Best concert of the year:

No real competition here. Bellowhead on a Saturday night at the London Palladium during the band’s farewell tour. Simply awesome.

Folk music ‘rebooted’ or as I would say,”traditional music given a kick up the a**e!”

Best offspring pose of the year:

Firstborn and The Tall Child ‘having a moment’.

I never called you a mushroom. I said you were a fun guy!

And finally …

Best roof picture of the year:

Eavesdropping from the top of Stephansdom, Vienna

… a bad case of shingles?







Exhibition Time!

The red lights in the darkrooms at Gray’s School of Art have been burning brightly these last few weeks as students on the RGU ‘short course’ black and white film photography classes have been desperately trying to produce some prints worthy of inclusion in the forthcoming short course exhibition. It’s not just a photographic exhibition; the various courses that are run include everything from drawing to kilt-making. All levels of incompetence are catered for, even mine, and they all somehow manage to come together in a quite impressive show.

So, if you are close by Aberdeen from Monday 14 March to Sunday 20 March inclusive, take a look in Gray’s School of Art: Mon-Fri 9am-10pm, Sat 9am-6pm, Sun 9am-3pm. (Parking restrictions apply between 8am and 4pm on weekdays) .

This is an early test print of the dilapidated library at Inverkeithny in Aberdeenshire. I rather liked it and thought it was worth working on a bigger and better version with an eye to inclusion in the exhibition, but even at this stage it didn’t pass muster with the course tutor due to the distracting foreground foliage. Shows how much I know!

Inverkeithny Library
Inverkeithny Library