Photos of New York

I found New York a surprisingly difficult place to photograph.  To start with, everything a newcomer would find interesting has been photographed a million times before, unless you are prepared to head out to areas where your camera will get nicked and even then it’s probably been photographed already.  Finding something new in New York is difficult, and for a tourist almost impossible.  If I’m in a familiar city, or one not as spectacular as New York, I can take my time to seek out unusual things in shop windows or down small streets, but in Manhattan my eye was forever being drawn upwards to the large and famous buildings I was usually seeing for the first time.  I’m a tall guy anyway, and my eye is naturally drawn upwards above the heads of the crowds and into the buildings and other structures.  One person who commented on my photos of this trip asked “Where are all the people?” as there don’t seem to be any.  Mostly this is down to my not liking photographing people without their knowing it as a general rule (I could have gotten one great shot of a homeless black guy, but I really don’t like taking these sort of “poverty porn” photos), but also because of the effect I just described whereby my eye was continually being pulled upwards.

One of the other things I noticed was that with modern architecture using so much glass and steel, the towers in Manhattan often look a uniform blue from the reflection of the sky, and hence don’t look particularly good in a photo taken from street level.

Contrast this with the older style of brick building:

On this trip I also discovered – and this is probably the engineer in me – that I like geometry in my photos, particularly intersecting lines and repeated patterns.

In this regard, shooting in Manhattan was pretty easy.  Sometimes I didn’t have my SLR with me, so had to make do with an iPhone, the best picture from which was this one of the sun striking the Chrysler building as I made my way (where else?) to a bar in the early evening:

The full set of my photos from New York can be seen here.

The Bois de Boulogne

Following a June in which it poured with rain incessantly to the point I was beginning to feel nostalgic for Wales, July and August have seen some beautiful weather in Paris.  This week it has been in the high thirties, and everyone is complaining about the heat because Paris, being a city of mostly old buildings, doesn’t have much by way of air conditioning.  When the weather is nice on the weekends in Paris, people head to one of several parks in or close to the city: the Jardin du Luxembourg in the southern part of the city is particularly popular, as are the much smaller Square du Temple in the 3rd arrondissement and Place des Vosges between Bastille and Saint Paul.  In the sunshine these places fill up with people sitting on the grass drinking from bottles of wine in a highly sophisticated manner, and toddlers roam free as their parents ignore them.

But by far the largest recreational area in the western side of Paris, and the second largest in the whole city, is the Bois de Boulogne.  Despite suffering a reputation as being a place where prostitutes and transvestites hang out in the evenings, it still attracts thousands of people every sunny weekend, including enormous families with dozens of kids.  There is a  lot to see in the park: there are thick deciduous woods with miles of tracks for walking, running, and cycling; there are lakes and islands; there is a golf course, a hippodrome, tennis courts, and rugby and football pitches (I even saw a game of cricket going on there last year, played exclusively by people who looked Indian); and acre upon acre of grass to sit and do pretty much whatever you want.  I’ve spent two afternoons walking around it – one in June 2015 and another in July 2016 – and I reckon I must have seen a good two-thirds of it.  Anyway, this is all a preamble to my pointing you towards the photos I took on my more recent excursion.

The full collection is here.

Photos of People

Despite my saying in an earlier post that I don’t take photos of people surreptitiously, I have accumulated a neat collection of photos of some of the people I have met over the past ten or twelve years, with one or two pictures of strangers thrown in.  Some of these people I only knew briefly, some of them I’ve known for years, some I am related to, some I love, and some I don’t like very much at all.  I post their pictures not as a commentary on them as people, but because I think they are nice photographs and illustrate well the variety of people I’ve met along the road, such as my friend Kenny below.

The full collection can be viewed here.

Some Photos of Paris

Today, 15th August, is a public holiday in France – Assumption Day, whatever that is – and so I took advantage of the wonderful sunny weather to wander around part of Paris with my camera, specifically: from Charles de Gaulle Étoile, down Avenue Kléber to Trocadéro, across the bridge and around the Eiffel Tower and along Champ de Mars then across to Invalides and back towards the Grand Palais over the Alexandre III bridge.

Don’t expect to see anything you won’t have seen a thousand times before – I was mostly photographing world-famous landmarks – but the blue sky made for some good, basic photography.

More photos here, including those I took on previous wanderings through Paris.

Photography

One of the positives to come out of hanging around this artsy headcase that I mentioned a couple of posts back is that it prompted me to look a little closer at the art of photography.  I have always enjoyed taking photos ever since I bought a Sony DSC-R1 after much agonising when I was still living in Dubai.  Since then I’ve moved onto Canon SLRs, with the inevitable result typical among oil industry expats who worked through the last boom that the quality and cost of my equipment far outstrips my ability to use it.  Nevertheless, I have been able to take some nice photos.

A quick look at any half-decent amateur photography website or collection tells me this is not something I could do for a living and that whatever meagre talent I have is common to other amateur photographers numbering in the millions.  In other words, I’m not going to strut around Paris or anywhere else declaring I am an “artist”.  But looking back over my old photos, and with my putting in some effort when I was on a recent trip to the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana in a friendly competition with my ex-pal Angela (who was on holiday in Spain at the time), I realised I had some degree of what people call a photographic eye.

I have no idea where today’s photographers post their stuff, but Instagram seemed more like a visual form of Twitter and Tumblr a blogging platform for photos.  What I wanted was somewhere to post photos in collections, and from what I could tell Flickr was the best for that.  The only concern I had was that Flickr seemed to be big in the mid ’00s, and I felt I was stepping back 10 years by setting up an account in 2016.  It was a bit like setting up a MySpace account.  I noticed a lot of once-prolific photographers are now dormant on Flickr, and I did try to see if everyone had migrated to another platform but couldn’t really tell, and so I decided just to go with Flickr.

So, if anyone is interested, my Flickr photos can be found here.

There are probably two things I try to do to make my photos stand out.  The first is get myself to places where most people won’t go.  I took hundreds of photos during my time on Sakhalin Island, some in places which very few people will have been to.

View of the encampment from the top of the Piltun lighthouse, Sakhalin Island, Russia

To a lesser extent I also took a few photos in Nigeria which will be new to most people.

Shipwrecks, Ilado Beach, Lagos, Nigeria

 The second is during street photography, when I walk quite slowly trying to see a detail that others may have missed.

Graffitied building, 3rd Arrondissement, Paris, France

Being tall certainly helps in this regard as my eye-level is above most people’s, and being tall also helps in street photography generally because I can take photos over people’s heads when they’re crowding around something.

I also like to take photos of general scenery, some of which will be quite well-known landmarks, so don’t expect to see something new in every picture.

Toompea Castle, Tallinn, Estonia

I also try to avoid photography cliches.  I might not always be successful in this, but where I am aware of one, I try not to do it.  Something you hear a lot from amateur photographers is “I like to photograph people”, meaning they stand there with a super-zoom lens and take photos of people going about their business totally unaware they are being caught on camera.  Firstly, I think this is a bit of a cop out: it is not hard to surreptitiously snap somebody making an intriguing gesture or looking “human”.  Secondly, I once read a convincing piece by a photographer saying you should shoot people in 35mm or 50mm so they know you are taking their picture, or ask them for permission.  Anything else is cheating.  If you look at the best photos of people on the photography websites they are posed, or at least the subject is aware of the camera.

So if you’re interested, please do check out my photos, I intend to post a selection of each place I visit from now on.

A Trip to Adelaide

Given I shall soon be leaving Australia and unlikely to return for some time, I decided to do a bit of local tourism, with my first destination being Adelaide.  Other than it being the scene of an unimaginable slaughter a few weeks back, I didn’t know much about it and half the people I spoke to said it was lovely and the other half said it was full of inbreds.

I flew down on Virgin Australia, a flight of an hour or so, and as I found when I went to Sydney the domestic airports at each end were models of efficiency and organisation.  I have to hand it to the Australians, when it comes to making domestic air travel as painless as possible they have it nailed down, at least insofar as the airports are concerned.  With an absolute minimum of fuss I was checked in and at the departure gate within minutes.

I caught a taxi to my hotel which was situated bang in the middle of town on Hindley Street.  For the price it wasn’t bad (a fraction of the cost in Melbourne), but it was a bit dated and I didn’t bother eating there: hotel breakfasts in Australia, like everywhere, are a bit of a fleecing and so I made use of the McDonald’s over the road more times than was probably good for me.  I had arrived on the last Friday before Christmas Day, and there was much revelry in the air of the office Christmas party kind.  The bars in Leigh Street near my hotel were mobbed, music was pumping out of one of them, and so after a quick kip I went out to join the fun.  But first I needed some food, and I went up and down Hindley Street at least twice looking for somewhere to eat.  In doing so, I discovered that Adelaide’s busiest street (aside from Rundle Mall) consists almost entirely of:

  1. Strip clubs
  2. Asian massage parlours
  3. Adult video stores
  4. Hookah cafes
  5. Dodgy bars and clubs
  6. Dodgy takeaways

I couldn’t find anywhere that looked suitable to eat, so I went into one of the bars and ate a hotdog.  Coming out, I wandered about some more.  The streets were beginning to fill up with Adelaide’s youngsters, the girls of which were often slim and pretty (they wouldn’t stay that way long) and wearing next to nothing (like they do in Liverpool) and speaking in godawful accents (like they do in Liverpool).  At least half of them had tattoos.

The main attraction in several of the bars, according to the signage, seemed to be 24-hour poker machines (or pokies, as they are called in the excruciating local vernacular).  Clearly the gambling addiction in Australia isn’t confined to Melbourne.  For sure, you’ll find fruit machines in most English pubs, but they’re not advertised on enormous banners outside to the exclusion of anything else.  Half of these places were less bars than gambling dens which served alcohol.  I also saw Aborigines for the first time in Australia, and they didn’t appear to be doing too well.  They were a couple of old men and an old woman, all barefoot, and seemingly drunk in the middle of the street (more so than the rest of the locals).  One of the men had a bandage on his bleeding head.  The woman was dancing drunkenly in front of an elderly busker who was playing an electric guitar which had been smashed up.  It wasn’t a pretty sight.

I went into a packed bar on Leigh Street where I sat at the counter drinking something or other, before going to the next street where there was a Russian-themed bar.  I walked in and discovered the barman was from Nigeria, Port Harcourt to be precise.  The Russian theme didn’t amount to much, and so I talked to the barman about Lagos instead.  Shortly afterwards two young fellows came in and sat nearby and we got talking.  Turned out they were natives of Adelaide and once the inevitable ribbing about the cricket had finished, we got stuck into a fair bit of alcohol.  At some point some Nigerian mates of the barman came in and we had a jolly good laugh about Lagos (I forget what they were doing in Adelaide, but I think one of them might have been running a backpacker hostel, or something).  As the night moved on, an Australian girl joined the two lads and in with the general festivities.  After an hour or so, one of the lads and the girl went home and the other lad, Adam, and I went a-bar hunting.  We wandered into three or four packed bars, drinking and bullshitting in each one, and then at some point after midnight went into the Adelaide casino to prop up the bars there.  Whereas the Crown casino in Melbourne is impressive in size and probably style also, the same can’t be said for Adelaide’s.  It looked like a pretty seedy joint, half full of middle aged married or divorced men coming from the office parties and drunkenly trying it on with their middle aged married female colleagues.  It was painful to watch, but by this time I was getting pretty drunk and really wasn’t so bothered by my surroundings.

It got to a point, sometime around 2 or 3am, and the streets were an utter carnage of drunken revellers, when we decided to go to a bar I’d passed several times on Hinkley Street called the Woolshed.  We went in and I found myself in the biggest shithole since my days of drinking in Manchester.  The first thing that hit me was the smell.  Since the smoking ban, bars have gone from smelling of smoke to smelling of BO, stale beer, farts, and backed-up toilets.  It was honking.  The carpet was sticky, which is a sure sign of a certain type of establishment, and the music absolutely bloody awful.  There was a mechanical rodeo bull set up in one corner with drunk girls dressed in tiny dresses trying to ride it without any success, but attracting a sizeable audience nonetheless.  I poked my head in the toilet and found a proper, British club style arrangement: cubicle doors hanging off, graffiti everywhere, the seat ripped off, the porcelain cracked, both toilets blocked with bog roll, a pint glass in the urinal, and the whole floor covered in piss.  The whole place sent a wave of nostalgia over me for the many dives I have patronised, and I loved it!  I felt right at home.

And so Adam and I were off, drinking ourselves into oblivion, watching plastered, sweating halfwits trying it on with anything vaguely female, and who they outnumbered by eight to one.  Somehow I got talking briefly with some girl who looked about 20 who had two strange words tattooed on her inner wrists, which turned out to be the names of her daughters.  The music got worse, but the dancing – if you could possibly call it that – had no greater depths to which it could sink.  I stayed on the edges, guzzling bourbon by the tumbler, watching Adam try his luck with anything which passed his threshold of interest.  He was one hell of a drinking buddy, and I was mighty grateful for his company.  We went to the first floor level, up a ludicrously steep flight of stairs given the state of the customers at that point, which was packed full of people of all ages, shapes, and sizes.  One thing I like about these shithole clubs is they are egalitarian places with no pretentiousness.  I detest pretentious bars and clubs – Melbourne has them by the dozen – pretending to be as hip and trendy as Manhattan’s newest gay bar, when in fact they’re just your standard, boring dump with a lick of paint applied.  The Woolshed by contrast didn’t pretend to be anything other than an absolute, end-of-the-night dive and as a result everyone was there only to get hammered and, for a lot of them, to pick something up. Everyone was clearly enjoying themselves at any rate, and I didn’t see a sniff of trouble.

I saw lots of things which I really wanted to remember so I could blog about them, but alas my memory failed me in most instances.  I blundered into one group who had a teenage French girl with them, who had been sent from Paris to stay with her cousin and learn English.  Quite what sort of English her parents thought she’d learn in Adelaide, and quite what words and phrases she’d learn in the Woolshed at 4am is anyone’s guess, but I was able to speak French with her for a while.  My French language abilities are rudimentary in the extreme, but compared to everyone else in the joint I might easily have passed for Gerard Depardieu.  Eventually she cleared off to smoke outside with her friends, and it was pushing towards about 5am when I realised that the place was now half empty and I’d lost Adam.  At this point, or somewhere around it, I stumbled the short distance back to my hotel and went to bed.

The next day I thought I’d better do something productive to justify my coming to Adelaide, but unfortunately I looked around and realised it was already mid-afternoon.  That’s the problem with going out until dawn and getting up after lunch.  So I took a stroll up to Rundle Mall, the main shopping precinct, in spitting rain which was not what I’d expected: Adelaide had experienced one of its hottest days on record two days previously.  There wasn’t much to see, although I did stop to watch this guy play his guitar in the street, which was very impressive and his method was something I’d never seen before.  Australian shopping areas aren’t much to visit, and I was feeling pretty rough, so I decided to spend what was left of the afternoon in the cinema, watching American Hustle which, after a slow start, I quite enjoyed.  I went out that evening to get something to eat, again struggling to find a proper restaurant just by wandering about and looking, settling for a burrito at a Mexican-themed takeaway joint.  I tried to go back to the Russian-themed bar for a quick drink but found it closed for the staff Christmas party, and I really couldn’t be bothered to look anywhere else and so went back to the hotel and watched test match cricket between South Africa and India.

I got up a lot earlier the next day and looked at the range of brochures on display in the hotel advertising things to do in Adelaide.  The problem was, none of them advertised things to do in Adelaide: everything involved travelling outside for anywhere between 20 and 100km.  The things people recommended I do – mainly winery tours – were outside the city, and when I looked at the things for which you can book a day trip I wasn’t overly excited.  Most of them seemed to involve travelling an hour or so to a place where there really wasn’t very much, and none of them interested me.  Even the winery tours didn’t appeal for two reasons.  Firstly, wine in wineries is no cheaper in Australia than it is in a supermarket, which defeats the primary purpose of going on a winery tour: to get pissed cheaply on good wine.  And secondly, I’m moving to Paris in a few weeks where I will be drinking good wine until it comes out of my ears at a fraction of Australian prices, and likely doing plenty of winery tours over the course of the next couple of years where the wine is practically free.  So it wasn’t something I felt a real urge to undertake when in Adelaide.

Just to ensure that my trip didn’t just consist of me getting totally pissed and going to the cinema, I took a stroll down to the river, opposite the Adelaide oval which is undergoing renovations.  I was tempted to hire a pedal boat in the absence of anything else to do, but they were sorry looking things and customers were not allowed to take them out of sight of the hire point.  Then I looked at doing what was advertised as a river cruise, but when I enquired what there was to look at the best I could hope for was “grassy banks”.  Not even a kangaroo or a bunch of convicts.  The park area along the river was quite nice though, and I took a few photos mainly to justify having lugged the camera with me from Melbourne.

IMG_2621IMG_2626IMG_2627IMG_2628 I suppose it was a Sunday afternoon, but there really didn’t seem to be much going on.  My walk back to the city centre took me through the university campus where there were flyers advertising some Marxist snoozefest of the type which has been a stock feature of university campuses across the western world for about 5 generations now.  IMG_2629A Marxism conference promising “ideas to challenge the system”.  Really?  New ideas these, are they?  You’ve got to hand it to these lefties, they don’t give up.  A resilient bunch, and each generation seems to put forward enough numbers to pick up where the last lot left off.

I briefly went into the Museum of South Australia which, from what I could tell, was a museum of whale bones and Pacific Island cultures, before giving up on finding anything else of interest and going home.  Aside from a passable Indian curry that evening and the flight back to Melbourne, that was pretty much Adelaide for me.  Not really worth the trip on the face of it, but I did need to get out of Melbourne and get my mind off some serious work issues, and the night on the piss with my new friend in the Woolshed adequately served that purpose.  So I’m glad I went.