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Visiting the Galactic Stormtroopers of Barcelona

What is the unlikely connection between an apartment block in Spain and Star Wars, one of the most successful film franchises in history?

antoni gaudi barcelona spain galactic stormtrooper

Read on…

Most people have heard of Antonio Gaudi, the Catalonian architect responsible for the design of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Work on this incredible Gothic and Art Nouveau church began in 1882 and continues to this day. It is hoped that it will be completed in 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death. Sometimes known as “The Cathedral of the Poor”, it remains his most famous work.

sagrada familia barcelona antoni gaudi spain

La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Gaudi designed many other buildings and one of the most well-known is the last private residence he designed. “Casa Mila” sits on the corner of Carrer de Provenca and Passeig de Gracia in Barcelona’s most fashionable shopping district and was completed in 1910.

These days, it is better known by its less than complimentary nickname, “La Pedrera” (The Open Quarry) due to its rough external appearance. Gaudi drew his design inspiration from nature and stated that there were no straight lines in nature.

Casa Mila was a controversial and much-criticised building that was not welcomed by residents of Passeig de Gracia at the time it was built. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Barcelona.

barcelona antoni gaudi la pedrera casa mila spain

Casa Mila or “La Pedrera” in Barcelona

Star Wars fans who have made it this far, I’ve not forgotten you!

I’m about to tell you something that very few of your fellow Star Wars fans will know about, so kudos for you awaits…

Let’s have another look at the white vents in the photograph at the top of the page. Is there something vaguely familiar about them?

In the 1970s, the American filmmaker George Lucas travelled to Barcelona. Like many tourists before and since, he paid a visit to Casa Mila and went to the rooftop of the building.

Here he saw these strange, almost menacing vents and they gave him the inspiration for the design of the helmets of the Galactic Stormtroopers in his forthcoming film, “Star Wars.”

The Galactic Stormtroopers’ helmets and body armour are amongst the most recognisable costumes in the history of cinema. They represent an unemotional force of terror. Or evil personified.

Quite what the deeply religious Antoni Gaudi would have made of this, I really don’t know. But since the whole Star Wars franchise is essentially a Good v Evil story, where Good ultimately triumphs, I think he would be pleased.

During a recent visit to Barcelona, we booked ourselves on a night time tour of the building, which culminates in a visit to the roof of Casa Mila. If you plan on doing the same, my advice is to use the elevator, rather than the stairs; the roof is seven floors up. The pain we go through for our readers!

If you thought the main part of the building was strange, what you see on the roof is stranger still.

Here, you will find a collection of skylights and staircase exits, chimneys, vents and water tanks, all in Gaudi’s unique, organic, style. There is an excellent “son et lumiere” each night, which shows these unusual features off at their best.

Camera information? First and third photos taken with an Apple iPhone 6 Plus. Hand held at night. Minimal processing done in the phone via the free Adobe Photoshop Express app. Second photo was taken with a Sony RX10 MkII with a 24mm-200mm lens set at 24mm. Exposure 1/800 second at f7.1. ISO 640.

 

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The Print

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This photograph was taken exactly 50 years ago in the year that England won the World Cup.

It was taken in the revolving restaurant on the (then GPO Tower) in London, which had opened in 1965. On the right is a gentleman called John Butters. On the left is a business colleague of his called John Matheson. Behind him is John Matheson’s rather earnest looking son.

That’s me. Age 6.

Fast forward.

My parents are no longer with us. I found this photograph in a box of photos that were in my parents’ attic when I cleared their house out in 2014. I can remember every detail about this, 50 years on. It was at the Ideal Homes Exhibition and my highlight of that event was meeting the boxer Henry Cooper. An absolute gentleman.

The lesson for everyone is – get your photographs printed, whether it is on your home computer / printer, one of the high street and supermarket outlets or by mail order.

I know too many people who have lost years of memories when their smartphone or computer hard drive fails. Don’t trust digital back ups of your most precious memories. Whatever format of digital media you back up onto now will not be around for the next generation. Remember floppy discs and Betamax video?

Yes – paper photos can be lost but I have a box of family photos that go back to before I was born and they still look good.

I have a rather Zen view of photographs. I feel that if people aren’t viewing them then they might as well not exist. I’m getting this one framed and will keep it in my study.

After 50 years of being in a box in the attic, that only seems right.

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A Year in Photographs – Southport RFC’s World Record Attempt

 

At the end of July, 2015, Southport Rugby Club set out to break the World Record for the longest game of rugby ever played and I was going to photograph the event.

The purpose of this was to raise money to buy a Physio Vest for the daughter of one of the players. She has cystic fibrosis and one of these vests costs £12,000. The players were confident that they could raise this money via sponsorship and decided that any surplus would go towards Alder Hey Childrens Hospital in Liverpool.

The players trained for three months in preparation for the attempt and, on the 31st of July, two squads of 23 players each, lined up at 3.00 pm to start the match.

They played full-on competitive rugby at a pace which nobody believed they could keep up for long – but they did. By the evening, over 800 spectators turned up to cheer the players on.

The following morning, I half expected to return to an empty pitch, as both teams needed to have at least 15 players at all times and injuries had been taking their toll. Two of the players carried on, despite having broken toes and one player even carried on with a broken leg.

But the two teams were still playing, despite the pain and exhaustion all the players felt.

The spectators came back and carried on cheering the players, who carried on playing full-on rugby until they reached their target. When they finished, they had played rugby for 26 hours, 36 minutes and 2 seconds. At the time of writing, this record has still to be ratified by The Guinness Book of World Records, but everyone at Southport RFC knows the boys did it and, in the process raised £28,000 for the Physio Vest and Alder Hey Childrens Hospital.

I doubt if I will witness anything like again.

A slideshow of some of my photos can be seen at YouTube

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The Kelpies

kelpie sculpture Scotland Falkirk

The Kelpies

Believe it or not – this is a colour photograph, despite looking like a Black and White image.

Meet Duke and Baron, two Clydesdale horses that were the inspiration for a sculpture “The Kelpies” that was errected in Falkirk, Scotland in 2013.

At its highest point, this sculpture is 100 ft high and each head weighs 300 tonnes. The project cost £5 million to create and, as well as being the largest equine sculpture in the world, they are the largest public artwork in Scotland.

In mythology, a Kelpie was a supernatural shape-shifting creature that often took the form of a horse. Sculptor Andy Scott based this sculpture on two working Clydesdale horses but the sculpured heads do seem to change shape as the light changes or as you walk around the installation. Made of stainless steel, the sculpture reflects the sky around it, which is why the grey sky that is reflected in the stainless steel tiles, makes this photograph look like a Black and White image. I’ve seen photos of The Kelpies that have been taken in bright sunlight and they look completely different.

If you are anywhere near Falkirk on your travels, we would recommend a visit to this amazing installation. It’s only as you walk towards The Kelpies that you appreciate the sheer scale of this work and they actually look quite intimidating at first. But when you learn that they are a tribute to the gentle giants of the equine world, which played such a vital part in Scotland’s industrial past, you see them in a different way.

Something tells me I will be photographing The Kelpies over and over again.

Photograph taken 4th September 2015 with a Canon Eos 5D Mk III and a 24mm – 70mm lens set to 24mm. Exposure 1/320 second at f 6.3. ISO 100.

 

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Retail Jeweller Magazine

magazine retail jeweller beaverbrooks

 

 

As a photographer, there is something rather special about getting one of your photographs used as a front cover of a magazine. Suddenly, thousands of people are goint so see an image you’ve worked hard to create.

I spent 28 years in the watch and jewellery industry and read Retail Jeweller every week (when it was a weekly publication) and then every month when it turned into a montlhy publication. It always had very hight editiorial standards.

In recent months I’ve been doing some work for Beaverbrooks the Jewellers, a hugely successful family owned company that started trading over a hundred years ago. It is currently run by Mark Addlestone (Chairman) and Anna Blackburn (Managing Director.) Over the past ten years, Beaverbrooks have been in the Sunday Times’ Top Twenty Best Companies to Work For.

I recently shot Mark and Anna in their HO in St Annes. Retail Jeweller were running an article on Beaverbrooks in their July edition and needed some photos.

What I didn’t know was that Mark was being awarded an OBE for his tremendous work for charity over many years.

I was doing another shoot for Beaverbrooks this afternoon and Anna told me that is the first time that Retail Jeweller has used a photo of two people from the industry as their front cover. In my (eveer so biased) opinion, they could not have picked a better couple.

Feeling privileged, once again!

Photograph taken 14th May 2015 with a Canon Eos 1Dx and a 24mm – 70mm lens set to 30mm. Exposure 1/200 second at f 7.1 using two Canon 600 ex rt Speedlites and a wireless trigger. ISO 100.

 

 

 

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Stumped!

cricket bales wicket stumped ball bat

I only began photographing cricket in the summer of 2013, though I’ve been a member of our local club for nearly 25 years.

The coach of the Under 11s team asked me if I would take some photos during a match. Actually, his precise question was “are you any good at photography?” I would have thought that the kit I was holding at the time (a Canon Eos 1Dx with a 300mm f2.8 lens) would have suggested that I took photography seriously!

All the parents have signed permissions for their children to be photographed and the results published on the Club’s website and Facebook page. For anyone who does photograph junior sport, this is something you need to establish first.

On a July evening at Southport & Birkdale Cricket Club, Ormskirk were the visitors and S&B were batting. I got several really good shots that evening, thanks to the excellent light, but this one stood out. The juniors take their sport so seriously and good sports photography is often just a form of portraiture. Seeing the Ormskirk wicket keeper roaring as he stumps the S&B batsman just makes me smile. It makes everyone who visits S&B smile as it’s now a 36″ x 24″ canvas wrap on the wall of the clubhouse. It was also chosen by my website authors, Amazing Internet, to be the landing page for this website.

Both sets of parents gave me permission to enter it into a competition, which I finally did in May this year. On Sunday, I learned that it had won a Silver Bar in the Guild of Photographers Image of the Month competition. Thanks boys!

Photo taken 16th July 2013 with a Canon Eos 1Dx and a 300 mm f2.8 lens on a monopod. Exposure 1/6400 second at f2.8. ISO 200.

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Backstage

Jack Corcoran Shooting Pigeons Manchester guitar backstage

Meet Jack Corcoran, lead singer and guitarist with Manchester indie band, “Shooting Pigeons.”

I took this photo of Jack just before he was about to go on stage at Manchester University Students’ Union, where they were the headline act.

It is a special privilege to be allowed to go backstage – whether it is to watch racing drivers in the pits as they get ready to go out and race or to watch a band as they go through their pre-gig warm up routines. It gives a photographer the chance to tell more of a story and show the building tension before a performance. In the same way I showed racing driver Wayne Boyd getting “into the zone” in a previous post, this is an image of the band’s front man getting “into the zone” before going on stage and performing in front of a packed house. Both take a special kind of self-belief.

Manchester bands have a certain persona which I would summarise in one word – “attitude.” Jack has it by the bucket full, which is why he is such a good front man.

When I shoot bands back stage, I usually go for a look that is reminiscent of late 1970s Rolling Stone Magazine coverage of bands. It’s a vintage look which is meant to reproduce the soft look of Ilford FP4 film (my favourite Black and White film back then.) I processed the photo in Photoshop, using On-One Software’s Perfect B&W actions, using an action called “Rugged.” It makes me want to get one of my Canon Eos 1 film cameras out and shoot some rolls of FP4 for old time’s sake.

On the night, the boys – nailed it.

As usual.

Photo taken 16th November 2012 with a Canon Eos 5D Mk II and a 17mm – 35mm lens set to 27mm. Exposure 1/200 second at f5.0, ISO 400, using a Canon Speedlite 550EX.

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The Old Canal Bridge at Sedgwick

Sedgwick canal lancaster kendal westmorland bridge snow lake district

When the M6 was built in the 1960s, the Lancaster to Kendal Canal was culverted in three places, effectively ending the canal at Tewitfield. Some “orphaned” stretches of the canal still remain navigable but from Stainton to Kendal the canal was filled in.

It’s easy to trace the route of the old canal because the hump back bridges that went over it still remain in place. In the village of Sedgwick, some four miles from the centre of Kendal, the old tow path remains in place, making this a popular route for walkers.

On a cold morning in early December 2010, we were walking our dog along the tow path when we saw the effect of light reflecting off the fallen snow on the side of the old canal bridge. Normally, the bridge looks very dark on this side but the reflected light illuminate the stonework, lichen and moss. In the distance, I could see sheep, trying to graze on grass that was covered with snow – all framed by the arch of the bridge.

To bring out the colours in the bridge, I processed the photo in Photoshop, giving the stonework a treatment similar to HDR (High Dynamic Range) but leaving the field and sky beyond alone.

Of all the photos that I’ve posted on Panoramio, this has had by far the most viewings. We’ve had snow in Sedgwick since I took this photo but have never seen light on the bridge that looks anything like this.

Photo taken 5th December 2010 with a Canon Eos 5D Mk II and a 17mm – 35mm lens set to 35mm. Exposure 1/800 second at f6.3, ISO 100.

 

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On the Route Napoleon

morgan route napoleon alps France drive lavender poppies Miscellany magazine

This is a photograph that I took in Provence, on our way down to the South of France. It would be used as the July 2004 front cover of the Morgan Sports Car Club’s magazine “Miscellany”, which I was writing an article for.

Most French roads are much quieter than British roads – until I started driving cars over there, I didn’t really appreciate just how big a country it is.

The Route Napoleon runs from Grenoble down through the Alps and ends in Grasse, just to the north of Cannes. It follows the route that Napoleon Bonaparte took when he returned from exile in Elba. It is one of the most exciting roads that I have ever driven on, demanding total concentration at all times.

Just before we started climbing into the “proper” Alps, we were travelling along a gently winding stretch of road, with lavender and poppies growing on either side and I spotted a view that I knew would make the perfect magazine cover. I stopped the car and rested my Canon Powershot G3 on the top of the windscreen and used the camera’s fold out screen to help me compose the shot. I wanted to get part of the Morgan’s louvred bonnet(s) in view and then draw the viewer’s eye  into the left-handed corner and on towards the small avenue of trees towards the edge of the photo. As soon as I took the shot and saw it in the camera’s screen, I knew I had a winner.

Traditional Morgans don’t have a boot and even the Aero models only have boots that will take a couple of holdalls, so space was at a premium on this trip. There was no way that I could carry a DSLR and lenses, so I took what I called my holiday camera – a Canon Powershot G3 along with us. Remember, this was ten years ago and the camera produced a mere 4 megapixel image, which is less than most modern smartphones. But it was still a good enough image to be used for an A4 size magazine cover. I used the camera throughout the trip down to the South of France and back up to illustrate my article.

If there is a moral to this story, it’s that you shouldn’t underestimate the potential quality of a photograph that compact cameras can achieve. These days, I use so much kit that I have to wheel it round in a roller bag but there are times when carrying very little kit makes it more likely that you are going to see the shot and grab it.

If you want to read more about the Route Napoleon, visit http://www.ultimatedrives.net/top-10-roads/details.php?route_ID=100009

Photograph taken 25th May 2004 with a Canon Powershot G3 and the equivalent of a 35mm – 140mm lens set to 35mm. Exposure 1/800 second at f 5.0. ISO 50.

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Southport Ladies Rugby team

Southport RFC Ladies rugby kit

In a year that has seen the England Ladies rugby team win the World Cup and Team of the Year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards, we thought it would be appropriate to post our photo of Southport RFC Ladies team.

Ladies rugby is a fast-growing sport in the UK and Lauren, Captain of the Soutport Ladies Senior team asked me to take a photograph that would illustrate an article that she was writing for The Southport Visiter, in which she wanted to kill off some of the stereotype images that people have about Ladies rugby. She wanted to put the point across that lady rugby players are no different to any other ladies.

My suggestion was to set up a shoot with a few of the players, showing them in the normal clothes they would wear for work or at home and then an identical pose, showing them in their rugby kit. To get the poese as close as possible, we would need to use “tethered shooting” where the camera is mounted on a tripod and linked by cable into Adobe Lightroom on my MacBook. That way, we could get the ladies into exactly the same pose as they had been in a few minutes before.

One of our favourite photographers is the American veteran, Annie Liebovitz. Her group shots of people are some of the best you will ever see and we both remembered a very striking shot that she had taken in 2001 for Vanity Fair of the Griffindor quidditch team about to go out and play in the first Harry Potter film. In that photograph, the team all looked very serious and, after Liz had got the Ladies into a similar pose, we tried some shots with the Ladies looking very serious. It just wasn’t them! So we went for a pose where they looked much happier and we knew we were in business.

Until the evening of the shoot, I hadn’t known that Faye was bringing her twin daughters along and that they too would be changing from normal clothes into rugby kit, but it was pure genius on her part.

The story was run by The Southport Visiter, along with the two photos.

Southport RFC now has a Senior Ladies team, an U18 Ladies team and an U15 Ladies team. Between the three teams, 7 of the players also play at county level for Lancashire and who knows when one of them will be the first Southport Lady to play for England?

Photograph taken 21st May 2014 with a Canon Eos 1Dx and a 24mm – 70mm lens set to 24mm. Exposure 1/250 second at f 11 using two Canon 600 ex rt Speedlites in Lastolite soft boxes and a wireless trigger. ISO 200.

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