Month: May 2013

Looking Upwards

One of the lovely things about Spring is looking upwards from the base of trees at the new leaves shining bright green in the sun and the contrast with the trunk and branches. Today I took just a couple of shots as I was walking into Tunstall on a bright cloudy day, cool wind but mild. When I was getting them ready for this blog I looked at them in black and white as well, so I have put them in here as well.




Sunday Photographs




The top photo was taken at about 10.15am, the dandelions have gone through their first phase. The middle  is the wall by my kitchen. It is the only place in the ‘garden’ where anything grows as the remains of the potbank that makes up the garden are so bad. Around now either my neighbour or I start to clear this area on the top of the wall. This was taken on a sunny cool morning which should be getting warmer at 9.15am.  The bottom another taken at 10am and more bark!

Leek School of Art – memories revived


Yesterday afternoon I went to Leek and stopped outside my old college Leek School of Art, where I went in 1970 at the age of 16, and spent probably the most influential three years in my life. I stopped just to take a photograph outside, when I saw they had some of the plaster casts that inhabited the School in the foyer, I moved closer.


One of the current staff kindly suggested I go in and we had a chat about why I was there and my time there. I couldn’t stay long, so just took a few shots.

It was a quite overwhelming feeling, not of nostalgia, but of memory. I have previously written about the smell of oil paint which filled the senses when I first entered the corridor, that wasn’t there, but the quality of light in the old life room was.


ImageThis was late afternoon and looking at what I took there is a sense of pervasive calm and timelessness. In my time the cherub strangling the swan was next to the entrance door and in what I thought an amusing act of defiance I used to tie my scarf on it each day. I took little notice of these casts, they were left over from another era, and yet are still there overseeing the struggles of potential artists.


Leek School of Art was built in the bowels of The Nicholson Institute an Art Nouveau influenced building as can be seen on the gate of an attached building. The town was famous for textiles so design and arts skills very important. When I went most people were beginning a career in design or craft skills, fine art was less common then. The staff possessed very high quality technical skills and these they tried to pass on, I was not greatly receptive, I wanted a freedom of action, maybe not realising at the time that you can’t really have the freedom without learning the skills first, just look now at Damien Hurst.

I am reasonably pleased with these photographs and I asked to return to make more considered photographs. They will soon move and nearly 150 years of history will cease. But I hope the architects of the new building retain the qualities of light available to the students, it is so important, the large north facing windows offer a true light hard to find in new buildings.

The photographs were taken at 4.30 on a blustery bright afternoon.


These double gates were taken at a disused factory in Tunstall yesterday at about 7pm, the light was going but was adding to the colour. It reminded me of an abstract expressionist painting.


It also had a musical feel. It could be a score or stage set from the days when Cage and Rauschenberg were experimenting with Merce Cunningham. But it is just a 10ft tall rusting gate losing its paint but adding so much more!



Most days I wake up between 4.30 and 5am. I switch on the radio, if I haven’t gone to sleep with it on, listen to the World Service which then changes to Radio 4 at around 5.15. I follow the Shipping Forecast (no Sailing By in the morning!), then there is a News Briefing with a feature on what happened this day (today happens to be the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid in WW2), Prayer for the Day then Farming Today. Recently there has been a tiny programme on birdsong just before 6am, Tweet of the Day.

All this is seemingly useless to me:

  • I live around 100 miles from the sea
  • I have listened to news on WS or read it on a phone app by then
  • I have no religious belief or spiritual interest except for my characters
  • I live in the middle of a city
  • I hear very few birds around here

It is however a good accompaniment to my first cup of tea if I have bothered to get up and make one (note to self must get a Teasmade one day).


But it all gives very useful information which can be used later for writing, taking photographs or just improving my mind.

Today I was struck with today’s Prayer for the Day, as it felt so relevant to the way I think of how I write and photograph – the importance of seeing the ordinary. The photos on my blog are nearly all taken within half a mile of my flat. They are the things one walks past each day, the familiar. When I visit another place I am sometimes overwhelmed by the newness and end up taking what are not much more than the postcard view. But this idea to take photographs every day has made me look even more closely.

Rachel who I know from Renegades came and interviewed me on Tuesday, she is doing some research at Keele University, and when we were talking I said that I look at things as an artist, I see patterns, compositions, colour forms, lines. I try and reflect that in my photographs, I am not so arrogant to think of them as works of art, perhaps sketches at very best. But they are planned, I will often walk past places and wait for the best light or time of day.

It is may be the role of the artist in whatever form they work to look at the world in a critical and analytical manner, offering the viewer their view so they can look and maybe not see in the same way, but to question what they see, feel, hear.

Today’s photographs are of clouds again. Britain often has some remarkable cloudscapes, even here the sea and it’s weather does effect us, the sky is always there and we see it every day, admire its beauty, note its power, it is a remarkable part of being alive. Perhaps Japan is the same, look at the wonderful skies that appear in Miyazaki’s animations. We have big storms happening even snow in some parts. These were taken as I walked my dog Oskar at about 10.30am.



I have included today’s Prayer for the Day below, I do not share the belief but include it.

Today’s Prayer from Glenn Jordan

I was afforded a rare privilege the other day as I walked with my dog along the shore.  I saw the familiar with first time eyes.
It was sunset as I headed towards home, and the sky was a tangle of pinks and reds and purples while all around me were the familiar sights. Belfast Lough, stained with sky colours, opening to the Irish Sea and the coast of Scotland. Cave Hill and Black Mountain brooding over Belfast. The church-spired skyline of my home town, back-lit by the declining sun. Carrickfergus stretching to Kilroot Power Station and the shore by Whitehead, where my wife and I walked and grew to know and love one another. And I perceived it all and knew it as if for the first time.
I long for the innocence and excitement of my dog Tobey, who is ceaselessly delighted by the familiar sights and smells of our regular walk, and who frequently, daily in fact, seems to rejoice in the commonplace and everyday. Without that capacity I risk falling into cynicism and negativity and miss the glorious possibilities in the seemingly inconsequential.
TS Eliot writes,
We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

God of the surprising and the run-of-the-mill. God of the unforeseen and the undistinguished, make us mindful today of the beautiful in the ordinary. Amen.



Today’s photograph was taken at about 10am, a cloudy cooler day and it had been raining, it is of gates at the side of The Cheshire Cheese a now empty pub in Tunstall. There has been a pub of that name on that site for more than 200 years, it keeps opening up then closing again and is the closest pub to my flat.

These are the first gates I’ve taken for a few weeks, Tunstall seems full of well locked gates leading to places that can only be imagined. This one has at least three locks! Useful metaphor in writing and films. They can be used to bar/stop someone or something, or to open up, move on. John Ford is famous for using doors and gates, they had a great significance, they showed a border to peoples’ emotions, somewhere that ‘civilisation’ stopped or began. He planned these meticulously and it is important to read his visual language alongside the story when watching his wonderful films. One of his most famous uses of a door is the shot below from The Searchers. The character will not stop in the ‘civilised’ home, but leaves alone on a quest to find his own life, it is both the end and a new beginning, the door closes to blacken the screen and end the film. Not subtle? Maybe not but cinematic magic!



Magical time



Today’s photographs were taken early today, the sunrise down the street at 5.40am and the panorama of Tunstall Square at 5.50am. It was clear, sunny and mild with another warm day in prospect. There is of course a lot less light available than your eyes see, the camera on my phone is not adjustable enough to really get the feeling.

What is missing is the sound.

I love the early morning, I always have done, I can never understand the joy of lying in bed for hours. Somehow some sort of programming has occurred in my brain to make me an early morning person, perhaps the time I spent as a baby in Dr Barnardo’s in Bristol, where I would think a fairly strict 1950’s regime would have been in place. I was there for 18 months until my adoptive parents took me to their home in Stoke-on-Trent aged nearly 3.

I love that time in the morning. There is a special sound, a hovering silence broken by the first buses on the move, a milk float, people passing are silent on the way to work. When away working and staying in cities I loved getting up at this time and watching a city wake up, I especially remember Philadelphia, with street cleaners going up and down, workers for the hotels drifting in from the stations, street sellers setting up in time for the commuters. And Edinburgh during the Festival, with streets empty of performers and the endless leaflet distributors; and the northern light creating shapes of light and dark on the stone buildings before the madness of the daytime.

For most people there is a reason to be up that early, but for me it is a magical time, in many ways the best time to get to know a place, perhaps an equally good reason.