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From the Archive: Mud, Rain and Motorsport

By |2020-03-05T14:50:50+00:00February 28th, 2020|Categories: Blog, The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , |

From the archive returns with a photograph taken during the British Rally Championships in the late 1990s. The image has always been a favourite of mine but my relationship with it has always been a little complicated. It was from a project that was challenging, often wet and very muddy at times, and a good series of images of the rally scene during the late 1990s. Having said that, it was removed from the portfolio section ten years ago. Why?

The Photograph

This months photograph was shot in during the rally of Cumbria on a rainy and muddy stage during the 1998 British Rally Championship. Two teams dominated with Renault and SEAT fighting for the drivers and manufacturers championships. In the end, Renault won the drivers and SEAT took home the manufacturers later that year. No one really came close to both of those teams during the stages (apart from VW with two cars but they suffered from reliability issues) in regard to team size as well as performance. Early into the project, I had an idea for a photograph using slow shutter speeds combined with flash via slow sync flash. The camera was set to around 1/15th second and the flash froze some of the action. Blur and detail. Movement and energy. The key elements of motorsport, that’s want I wanted to capture in a photograph. With this photograph, I think I got pretty damn close.

The car was close. The photograph was shot with a 28mm lens on a tight corner where the momentum of the car was heading away from me. The flash came from my classic Vivitar 283, an outstanding flashgun which is still going strong. The circumstances were right for flash photography. The light was poor by this time due to the increasingly poor weather conditions. This was the final project I would shoot with Pentax cameras. The cameras, like me at the time, were starting to become a little worn out and on the rally of Cumbria, I began having intermittent frame advance issues with shots overlapping on the film. Just occasionally, but happening enough to realise that a camera was on its way out. Fortunately, I had a backup or two with me.

British Rally Championship 1998

This archive photograph comes from a photo project shot during two rounds of the 1998 British Rally Championship in Wales and Cumbria. Initially, the idea was to embed with a rally team and photograph the event from their point of view. Getting permission to access a team turned out to be impossible. Numerous phone calls were made but I never got past the secretarial defensive screen or even the chance to talk to a PR officer. Nothing. Totally blocked. I needed to come up with an alternative option. I can see now the reasons for not wanting to give access, after all, I could have been spying for another team, but at the time it felt unfair. It seemed simple at the time but really I went for a very complicated option that required so much work even before the photography started.

Plan B was the only other route. I was to cover the event as part of the media and this was the path I had to go down. There were no other options available. Press accreditation was gained and I was able to get the access to service areas that I needed. There were also other issues to consider. Getting to the rallies would be a logistical juggling act in its own right due to location and the speed at which the rally moved around. The previous motorsport event I’d photographed was speedway – a wonderfully close kind of sport that just requires trackside access. Rallying offers that close proximity to the action too but the geographical issues are huge. Just getting trackside can be difficult as often the locations are remote and spread out over a wide area. Following a rally is not easy!

Mud and Rain

Just reaching a rally location can be an ordeal in itself not to mention the weather. Cumbria delivered classic rallying weather with rain and dark clouds adding to the drama. It was great fun to photograph. Rallying is a colourful and passionately followed sport with fan braving all kinds of hardship just to see the competitors speed through a stage. As a spectator sport, there is probably none better. You just stand next to the track or road they are racing on. No spectator stands or fences in the way. It’s the perfect environment for the photographer wanting to get close to the action. All of the senses can take in the atmosphere too, from the bright colours and energy of the car, the terrific sound of the engines and popping exhausts through to the smell of oil and engine fumes. Petrolhead heaven!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking back I would have probably concentrated more of the fans than the event. The fans were as colourful and passionate about the sport as football fans are, though without a lot of the tribalism that goes with supporting a football team. Concentrating on the fans would have been far less challenging than trying to cover two rounds of a rally single-handed! I can see it now. Head and shoulder portraits shot on my Bronica medium format camera capturing the diverse and colourful persona of the late 20th-century rally fan. A great idea… shame it’s twenty-two years too late! Another alternative surfaced during the rally. The British Army had a Land Rover rally team that would have been great to document – especially as it was their last year of racing due to budget cuts. Sadly I only found out after talking to some Army lads in the pit area. All too late.

Tainted Love

Of all the projects I’ve completed the photography shot during in the British Rally Championship remains the one that still doesn’t quite sit right with me. Oddly I don’t really know why. It could be due to my near burnt-out state of the time. Maybe I just still associate the images with that period in my life. Alternatively, there was something about the project that I felt didn’t quite gel. Right from the start compromises had to be made due to a lack of team access. This changed the focus of the project right from the go. Later the sheer logistics of getting from stage to stage would also play its part. Was the subject matter just too broad that I’d had never been able to document it adequately? Maybe. Narrowing down the photography may have improved things. Who knows?

A full gallery of rally images hasn’t been seen on the website in over ten years and wasn’t even considered for addition to the site when I moved over to a WordPress powered website in 2011. I didn’t want anyone to see the photography. I’ve slowly come around to the photographs again though the project itself still doesn’t sit very well with me. In recent years I’ve had similar issues with other photographs but for very different reasons.

The project that got away? A failure? No, not quite, but it didn’t totally succeed either. Maybe that is the issue. You can’t win them all though. It might actually be worth going through the photo edit process again as I have with previous projects. See if I missed anything. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to consider adding at least some of the photographs to the portfolio section again. Time to come to terms with the flaws.

From the Archive: Mist, Music and Memories

By |2019-06-26T11:08:12+01:00June 25th, 2019|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , |

For this month’s From the Archive post, we head back to Norfolk in 2009 where the weather was almost as surprising as the news.

Mist, Music and Memories

Today marks the tenth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death and the memories came flooding back. Where I was and what I was doing all come back to me with it all beginning the news of Jackson’s death. I’m not really a fan but as a child of the eighties, Michael’s music was a big part of my childhood and teenage years.

In June 2009 I was in Norfolk on a rather lovely farm campsite. After a very sticky morning run through the humid air, I remembered a tweet I’d seen before going to bed saying Jackson had been hurt and was in the hospital. It was when I checked the next morning that I found out via Twitter that Michael Jackson had died.

I was relatively new to Twitter in 2009 so that was the first time that social media had informed me of a major news story before the more traditional channels.

New Nokia

The tweet had been viewed on my first smartphone – The Nokia 5800. The phone itself was great with decent features for the time and a Carl Zeiss lens on the camera. Not so great was the Symbian operating system that must count as one of the worst operating systems I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. Smart it was not. It wasn’t that intuitive either.

Nevertheless, the 3.2 Megapixels camera was pretty good and provided a good introduction to smartphone photography. Sadly there wasn’t much in the way of photography apps for Symbian though. I’d have to wait for the iPhone to get my hands on some good photography apps.

[Video] Boats moored at high tide – Blakeney, Norfolk 2009

Weather Cycle

Probably the most memorable aspect from ten years ago was the weather. Norfolk has a very diverse range of weather but the changes followed the same pattern for around ten days. You had absolutely no need to listen to a forecast. The fog coming in and out reminded me of the classic 1978 John Carpenter film ‘The Fog’ where a ghostly fog would roll in from the sea.

The mornings would start off very humid and misty with the sea fret remaining in place until late afternoon. On an evening a storm would arrive that would clear the air and then the cycle would start again with mist arriving back for the morning again. You could almost set your watch to it.

Blakeney Pic

The image at the top of the post was taken in the late evening at Blakeney after a storm had cleared away the mist. The light and moody cloud in the background give an indication that the mist was starting to build up again. The humidity would build overnight and by the morning you felt like you could cut the air with a knife.

Blakeney is a charming village on the north Norfolk coastline that is incredibly popular with tourists. The car park is usually always pretty busy but Blakeney provides plenty of space to unwind. A walk along by the river Glaven always helps to recharge the batteries.

The eerie sea fret at Cromer Pier, Norfolk 2009

Ten Years On

A decade on and the images show their technological age – though not as much as the video does. No High definition. The camera sensor was only 3.2 megapixels and in low light, the results weren’t great. In good light, though the camera produced good results.

The Carl Zeiss lens was superb though and something I missed when I moved onto the iPhone in 2012. The Zeiss lens was as sharp as a tack and it let enough light in to photograph most scenes. Twinned with a good camera sensor I think it would have been a formidable combination.

Back in 2009, I was just starting to use social media. I’d started using Twitter in January of that year and was feeling my way. It was exciting. Ten years later and my social media has grown to include Instagram. Now though I have periods of abstention to avoid burnout.

In 2015 the Norfolk 2009 images were added to Instagram as a way of archiving these early mobile images. The images can be viewed HERE

From the Archive: The Colwyn Bay Print

By |2019-04-19T12:53:10+01:00March 19th, 2019|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , , |

the seawall at Colwyn Bay, North Wales. In the background is the pier that was demolished in early 2019
Colwyn Bay, North Wales, July 1991

Background

North Wales has an important place in my photography history. It was where I purchased my first camera and also where I started taking my first pictures. A few years later, North Wales would also play a role in my quest to get a black and white print I was happy with. The image and subsequent print of the seafront at Colwyn Bay became an important technical milestone moment. I was finally starting to see my improving technical skills as a photographer and darkroom printer.

The image dates back to the summer of 1991. It was a fun and exciting time with plenty of photography experimentation. At the time I was a keen amateur photographer about to head away to art college. Nearly thirty years later it could be argued that, like most photographers, I’m still
trying to perfect my photography skills. The perfect image and print still appear to elude me, although I do think I get pretty close at times.

The image above, a photograph of a print I made in 1992, was the first strong indication that I was heading in the right direction. It was taken along the seafront at Colwyn Bay in North Wales in July 1991, but not printed until the following year. An interesting side note is that the pier seen in the background was demolished in 2018 after years of disuse. Originally built in 1900, the pier had been rebuilt twice due to fire. By the 1980s, however, the condition of the structure had started to seriously deteriorate. A new pier is due to open on the same site in 2020.

Camera and Film

The image was shot using my trusty old Pentax Program A with a 35-70mm Miranda zoom set at the 35mm wide-angle setting. The film used was TMAX 400 rated at ISO800 and developed in either Kodak’s D-76 or Patterson’s FX-26 Universal developer. I suspect it was probably D-76 by that time but cannot be totally sure as my darkroom notes from that period have been lost. At the time I was experimenting with a variety of different film developers trying to find a favourite. In late 1991, I finally came across Kodak’s TMAX developer that I’ve used ever since.

The Print

The technical aspects of the print itself have sadly been lost to the mists of time. It was definitely printed in the darkroom of the art college in 1992 but after that, the details get a little fuzzy. The photographic paper was either Ilford Multigrade resin coated paper OR Jessops’ own brand multigrade paper. I used both types of photographic paper during my college years. The Ilford paper was better quality but the Jessops paper was cheaper and produced good quality prints too.

Since 1992, the print has hung on a wall somewhere in the house as a fond reminder of those exciting early photo making years.

From the Archive: Beaumaris Couple

By |2018-02-12T16:58:17+00:00February 12th, 2018|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , , |

This image of a couple, lost in the moment on Beaumaris Pier, is one of my favourite photographs. It was taken in July 2003 during a visit to the town of Beaumaris, located on Anglesey, North Wales. The town has superb views looking over the Menai Staits towards the mountains of Snowdonia.

In 2003, i’d just started changing camera systems, going from a Pentax over to a Nikon system which limited my lens choices. The camera used was a Nikon F4s with a Tamron 80-210mm zoom set to around 200mm. The Tamron lens were especially useful during the stop-gap transition as the lenses featured the the Adaptall 2 mount system allowing a change of lens mount – just buy the Nikon adaptor to go from a Pentax KA bayonet to the Nikon AI-mount. Very handy and affordable as AI mounts could be found on e-Bay for under £20 each and you could sell the old KA ones!

Film stock was Ilford FP4. At the time i was using a mix of FP4, HP5 and Kodak Tmax 400 for black and white work. I later decided that I preferred the tones of HP5 film instead and went over totally to Ilford. An occasional roll of T-Max can be found in my camera bag though. T-Max dev has remained my film developer of choice , a constant in my black and white photography since 1991.

I’ve always loved the framing and the even use of space within the picture. From the handbag placed on the seat on the left, past the couple to the telescope, and even the harbour buoy on the right hand side, everything seems to be in its proper place. The picture is well balanced. The slight mist that day also helped create this dream like shore across from the couple. The picture just came together perfectly. For me, it represents the special moments within a relationship – sharing moments, places and feelings with someone you love.

The couple themselves were lost in the moment and had no idea i was there. I’d seen them as i approached the pier and i sped up slightly to make sure i caught the moment. The body language was just fantastic. They stood like that for some time, just looking out to sea, and i was able to get around five or six frames before i moved on.

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