Monday, 28 March 2016

Tommy, Mission 1101, Seaham Harbour

Hello again,
Another blog entry today - that's four in two days and that's got to be a record for me. My blog page gets neglected every now and again due to other online commitments, such as, Facebook, Twitter and more recently ... Instagram! Still finding my feet with some of those social network platforms, but I'll get there eventually. But yes, my Blog page is getting a bit of much needed TLC in the shape of another entry that brings you some of my recent images of Tommy, the very popular wartime sculpture that lives in Seaham Harbour, County Durham. I often find myself drawn to this statue and I've bagged some great shot of him recently. Visitors to my site may well have seen the page I have dedicated to Tommy. Night time visits is what captures my imagination the most and I quite often have the place to myself, unlike day time when visitors flock to see the big man. I've captured Tommy on camera many times, including the Candlelit Vigil image, which still remains my most popular Facebook upload to date, raking in more than 7,000 likes. Then there was the morning of all mornings when I photographed those amazing 'Mother Of Pearl' clouds, as a backdrop. One or two other shots spring to mind, but this blog entry concentrates on more recent night time grabs.

The shots you can see here were captured with two camera's - the trusty Canon 5D3 and a Sony A7S mirrorless affair, which, as the days and weeks pass, is becoming more of a primary body than the Canon. It's no surprise really, as the Sony is a master at pulling in night time shots with little or no noise, is much lighter and easy to handle, plus the manual focus is a dream to work with. I could go on and on, but less of the camera talk and more of the photographs, eh. The village green, where Tommy lives, has shops and a busy road to one side and the North Sea to the other. A cenotaph is situated a few yards away and one night I arrived to find a young girl spinning LED's to accompanying music. I politely asked if I could take a shot or two and she was more than happy to co-operate. One of the shots is shown here.

The Sony camera was shooting from almost ground level for some of my shots, with the tripod legs splayed and the centre column in a horizontal position. At best the camera was around 5 inches from the ground, which was ideal for grabbing a few shots from angles that I wouldn't normally shoot from. I think it all added to the drama and the subject suited it very well. Cars came and went, which is to be expected as the site is situated right next to a car park. Occasionally one car would pull up and face me with it's lights on. No problem really, until the driver decided to leave them on for a good ten minutes or so, ruining my shots. It was one of those 'Feck right off' moments. I bided my time and it wasn't too long before the car went on it's merry way.

Near the end of the row of shops is a fine chippery establishment. Downey's do a rather damn tasty portion of Fish n' Chips. Oh yes. Moolar handed over and it was down the hatch. Weshed down wi Coca Cola, it was time to head home with a belly full of scran. Ah well, all perks of being a wandering Mackem photographer (wink). For anyone who would like to know the background story of Tommy, here is a newspaper article (cut and pasted) to give you an insight into how the statue came to be ...

When his sculpture reflecting the sheer horror of World War One was lowered onto a seafront just a few miles from his hometown, Ray Lonsdale didn’t expect it to receive the welcome it did. The imposing metal sculpture entitled 1101 - owing to the fact the armistice went into effect at 11am on November 11, 1918 - stands 9ft 5ins tall at Seaham, in County Durham. The statue, built out of special corteen steel, was installed to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War and was only expected to remain in place for three months.
After winning the hearts of hundreds of visitors to the town, it could now be exhibited permanently. Around £72,000 has been raised to keep the 1.2-tonne statue in the town, and fundraisers are only £12,000 from their target. The Journal included it in its list of 100 great things about the North East - alongside more established landmarks like Hadrian’s Wall and the Tyne Bridge - and regular crowds are flocking to Seaham to take in the artwork. In the process, Ray’s work has been catapulted into the public eye and his journey from metal worker to fully fledged artist has been completed. He said: “There was always a big risk with Tommy because there was no sale for it. It was just a case of me biting the bullet and having hope that someone somewhere would buy it. There was no guarantee that it would have sold and it could have ended up sitting around for sometime.
“Finally great things happened and they are just about there with the money now.”
The artwork, which was installed in May has attracted hundreds of visitors to Seaham, many of whom have donated cash to the Save Tommy campaign. A Facebook page called Mission 1101 has attracted more than 4,000 members with many pledging to support to Tommy, which is situated on Terrace Green. “I was surprised by the level of support 1101 got,” said Ray. “I’ve had a positive reaction to a lot of my work but not by as many people as this. The whole town has pulled together to put money in the buckets and raise cash to keep it here. That is a new experience.”
After leaving school Ray, 49, of South Hetton in County Durham, qualified as a maintenance fitter and began working at Coles Cranes in Sunderland, which closed in 1996. Following the factory’s closure Ray set up his own steel fabrication business, where he produced bins, seats and railings for local authorities and private clients. He always had an interest in art and at school he was always encouraged to go onto to art college.
But it wasn’t until 2007 that Ray decided to start his career in art and changed the name of his business to Two Red Rubber Things. The father-of-two said: “In 2002 I got back into art and drawing on an evening and I decided to try and combine my work and interest. That’s when I produced my first piece. I got into a competition at the Biscuit Factory and I won the competition. “That gave me the confidence to try and do a bit more and over the next five years I completed more and more art work. There was a gradual change-over from steel to artistic steel work. “Someone told me that I would never stand a chance making it in the art industry unless I had a degree in art. I started college but I soon realised it wasn’t for me. “I decided to do things off my own back and that’s how I started and finally things were well received. I didn’t feel I had time to do an art degree. It would take seven years and I felt I would be wasting opportunities. I just wanted to push myself. I’m big on having a go and I never wanted to get to a point in my life where I would think ‘I wish I would have tried that. I kept the steel work going alongside the art work and it wasn’t until 2007 when I changed the name of the business and decided to take a chance with the art.”
Ray now has 30 life size statues under his belt and another six large scale pieces. These include The Big Dance at Gretna Green - a 14ft depiction of a couple’s hands - which was put in place in time for Valentine’s Day, a soldier on a bench at North Bay, Scarborough and the Filey Fisherman, in Filey. Ray, who lives with wife Bev, said: “I like to create work that people can take something from it. Public art should be for the public. I don’t agree that it is an artist’s job to educate the public about art but if they like it then it’s been a success. “I like people to look at it and appreciate it and appreciate the work that’s gone into it. I also like them to look deeper into it and find the story behind it. Previously I would make seats, bins and railings. I had to get used to people buying my work for the way it looked rather than for its functional purpose. It felt strange at first. I realised that people were having a positive reaction to my work and that’s something I got used to, which was nice.”
Ray is keeping quite tight-lipped about his next project but he admits he’s been approached by local authorities. He said: “I have completed a lot of drawings since 1101 and I’ve been approached by a couple of authorities with ideas but nothing has been finalised yet.” Leaving his full-time profession to concentrate on his dream to make it as an artist was a risk but Ray has not looked back since, citing his family’s support for helping make the leap. He said: “Bev has been fully supportive. She had a lot of faith in me when I didn’t. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be any of this at all.”
Until we meet again ...

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Another Fine Sunset - Copt Hill Barrow

'Family Trees'

One of my favourite photography locations is Copt Hill Barrow, Houghton le Spring, Tyne & Wear. Also known locally as the Seven Sisters (although there is actually only SIX trees), this Neolithical burial ground has many urban myths attached to it, so what is fact and what is fiction - who knows? One thing is certain though, at least in my humble opinion - this place is one of the most photogenic of locations, especially during the winter months when the trees have shed their leaves and take on an eye-catching silhouette, at the top of a local wasteland in my home town. Facing east at sunset is a 'must see' - especially when you're rewarded with a colourful sunset backdrop. Not much to ask for, you might well be thinking, but surprisingly enough there has been many of them over the 16 or so years that I have been making the short journey up there. Tonight was another of those occasions.

I arrived with plenty time to prepare, which is never a bad thing. At least four other photographers were strategically placed, eager for a slice of the cake, so to speak. I made up the numbers and fancied some of that cake too, so I waited it out and hoped for the best. It didn't disappoint. I grabbed a few shots before and after sunset, by which time everyone else had cleared off and I had the place to myself. A bit of field craft and the use of a filter brought me the best shot of the night. Combine that with the sudden arrival of a family walking over the mound and the magic was about to have its second coming. They seen me from a short distance and after a brief exchange they were soon posing for my
camera. How nice! And here it is, one of my favourite shots of the Copt Hill Barrow @ sunset, with the inclusion of a family to give a nice sense of scale to the shot ...


Astro Exploration - Hadrian's Wall Country

Hello again,
Another short blog entry for you today, as I catch up with a backlog of images from recent outings with the camera(s). My latest installment is another first for me - a visit to Cawfields, in Hadrian's Wall Country. With clear skies predicted we headed out and arrived around 7pm, parking at the edge of the water, with a fine rocky backdrop and a partially clear sky. The Milky Way could easily be identified as it arched above us and off into the distance. The place was deserted, which was no surprise. A nearby toilet block cast the only available light around us, which was ideal on a night like this. It really was supposed to be cold, yet I hardly felt a nip in the air. It probably was cold, as it should be on a mid February evening, yet it wasn't noticable once the camera came out to play. I think you switch off to these things once the cam is switched on! The stars shone very brightly indeed and many could be seen reflecting in the water in front of me. The Plough was easily identifiable, as was Orion's Belt and the Andromeda Galaxy, amongst others. Still water offered an ideal opportunity to grab a lovely reflection shot, with a nice cloud formation adding to the composition.

This is another place that I will most definitely revisit, for more of the same. It was a nice experience, treading where Roman's once did. An historic place in every sense.


Sunrise - Trow Rocks, South Shields

A rare sunrise outing for me in 2016. The location - Trow Rocks, a small cove near Graham Sands, South Shields. Another first, despite a previous visit to this location during an afternoon last Spring, this was to be my first attempt at capturing the sun rising to the west. It was a very mild morning and as soon as I walked out of my front door at 5.10am, I knew it wasn't gonna be one of those biting cold mornings that I usually associate with sunrise outings. Almost half an hour later I was on location at Trow Rocks and ready to capture another sunrise. The sky looked promising and as time slowly ebbed away I could sense this was going to be a productive morning. Not a great deal of cloud to the west, but just enough to breath some colour into a partially clear sky. The waiting game was on!

An elderly couple joined me as sunrise approached. I was more than happy to have what appeared to be prime spot in front of the jagged rock formation, so I quickly got to work and ran off a few test shots. The tide was high and it coincided with sunrise - a single factor that brought me to this spot today. Standing with my back up against the rock face, I was shooting as wide as possible without vignetting, due to the stack of filters I was using to balance exposure and capture the tide with a slow shutter speed. It worked well and it was another sunrise location ticked off. Here is two shots - one before, and one after sunrise. Only one task was left to complete - a visit to McDonald's for a breakfast wrap and a nice caramel latte. Needless to say, this was another box ticked and I then it was a simple case of driving home. Short, but very sweet.


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Mother Of Pearl Clouds - Part Two

And so to the second and concluding part of 'Mother Of Pearl Clouds'. If you read the first part of my blog you'll be aware of how amazed I was to see this rare natural phenomenon, let alone photograph it. Even now, a few weeks later, I still look back in amazement at something I will probably never see again in my lifetime, so I feel priveleged to have witnessed it on my doorstep, so to speak. I apologise for not giving my readers an insight into how these clouds form, and why. So, without further ado here is a bit of cut and paste magic, courtesy of those trusty people at Wikipedia ...

Polar stratospheric clouds or PSCs, also known as nacreous clouds, or mother of pearl, due to its iridescence), are clouds in the winter polar stratosphere at altitudes of 15,000–25,000 meters (49,000–82,000 ft). They are best observed during civil twilight when the sun is between 1 and 6 degrees below the horizon. They are implicated in the formation of ozone holes. The effects on ozone depletion arise because they support chemical reactions that produce active chlorine which catalyzes ozone destruction, and also because they remove gaseous nitric acid, perturbing nitrogen and chlorine cycles in a way which increases ozone destruction.  The stratosphere is very dry; unlike the troposphere, it rarely allows clouds to form. In the extreme cold of the polar winter, however, stratospheric clouds of different types may form, which are classified according to their physical state and chemical composition. Due to their high altitude and the curvature of the surface of the Earth, these clouds will receive sunlight from below the horizon and reflect it to the ground, shining brightly well before dawn or after dusk.

After a quick stop off at High Sharpley Wind Farm, I was back in the car and driving towards Seaham Harbour, a coastal town in the county of Durham. Within a little under ten minutes I was parked up at The Green, home of Tommy 1101, the corteen steel sculpture of a soldier, commemorating the first minute of armistice. Indeed another fine subject to use as a silhouette in front of the Nacreous Clouds. I had the place to myself, which was a surprise, so I set about the task of grabbing what would prove to be my last batch of photo's before the cloud show ended. The sun rose directly ahead of me, so I used Tommy to obscure it from view as I took my first shots. The last colours of the clouds diminished quickly as the sun rose next to them. The game was almost up. The blinding bright sun killed them off within two or three minutes, but by this time it was job done. I was more than happy to grab an hour's worth of shots, so it was time to find a petrol station, and quickly. The fuel gauge was well and truly in the red zone and me arse was twitching somewhat. Didn't fancy konking out and having to walk to the nearest station, especially as I had no idea where the nearest one was located.

I managed to reach Morrisons at Doxford Park, filled up and got myself home. Quick cup of tea then off to bed. Well... that was the plan, but plans rarely come to fruition, and that is exactly what happened. I t was after mid-day before I eventually hit the fart sack. A press guy messaged me via Facebook, wanting to use my images on the Daily Mail website, which was a first for me, so some quick editing took place and off the images went. It was great to one of my Seven Sisters shots appear on their web page later the same day. And that was that. It was all over and well worth reflecting on. Here is a small selection of the clouds at Seaham Harbour on that memorable morning in early February, 2016. My shots went down very well on Facebook, as you can see in the screenshot here. It's always an added bonus to be able to share my work and receive nice feedback in the process.

So, until the next time....AC

Friday, 4 March 2016

Mother Of Pearl Clouds - Part One

Photography is all about capturing the moment and I've been lucky enough to capture many special moments over the years. My recent interest in Aurora chasing has given me some very memorable experiences when photographing the sky, especially so near to home, which was something I never imagined possible. However, my recent sighting of rare Nacreous Clouds, also known as 'Mother Of Pearl', was something that eclipsed all of my Aurora sightings, without a doubt, so to capture it on camera was extra special and I'd like to share my experience with you, on my blog page. This rare event lasted a couple of hours at the most, but that was more than enough time to visit three locations close to home on a cold February morning in 2016. Luck was definitely on my side as the clouds appeared before and after sunrise, just as I was finishing a gruelling night shift at the Nissan Car Plant in Washington. I'd pre-planned a sunrise stop off before returning home, so my camera bag was already in the car as I left Nissan at 7.10am - good planning that gave me those precious extra minutes to grab some shots before the clouds disappeared.

As I drove out of the Nissan works car park I could see the commotion above, with a scattering of Nacreous Clouds sitting very high in the sky. I can only describe it as an oil spill in the sky, as rainbow coloured clouds presented themselves and this was a once in a lifetime experience for me and probably for everyone else I passed on the journey out of Washington. I saw many random passers by pointing towards the clouds in amazement, who, like myself, were in awe of the spectacle in the sky. As I exited the slip road from the A1231 I headed east, towards Shiney Row. The sky was particulary light for this time of morning, which was a surprise as the morning before was very dark, even 45 minutes before sunrise. Maybe the Nacreous Clouds were to blame. As I approached the roundabout at Shiney Row I was in two minds whether to turn left and head along to Herrington Country Park, or drive straight on and make my way towards the Seven Sisters in Houghton le Spring. I was aware that it was a massive decision and one that I had to get right. The hastily arranged plan was capture the clouds with foreground interest and I wasn't confident that the Country Park would offer what was needed, so as I drove onto the roundabout I made the instant decision to drive straight on. My choice had been made and there was no turning back!!!

As I drove through Herrington Burn, the sight above was quite surreal. More people could be seen standing at bus stops, facing the opposite way of oncoming traffic to marvel at the rainbow clouds above. Many others drove by, seemingly oblivious to what was going on, and probably not even bothered in the slightest had someone pointed it out to them. I was soon entering God's Country (Houghton le Spring) and preparing myself for my first opportunity to photograph the Mother Of Pearl Clouds. As the clock ticked down I was mindful that the spectacle could die off at any given moment. I mean, just how long would these clouds last before disappearing? I hadn't a clue, after all, I knew absolutely nothing about them, apart from the fact that they looked immense and this was a first for me and probably a last. Time to unleash the camera. I was now parked up at the Copt Hill watering hole, in my own back yard. What a place to photograph the phenomenon above, in my own home town! I legged it across the busy road and into the field, almost gannin' arse owa tit on the muddy path. And here I was, after a long hard night shift on a high speed production line, stuck in the middle of a pasture seeing the unbelievable with my own eyes. I'd gone from one extreme to another. When I was building cars at 6.45am and blowing out of my arse on the last bit of energy I could muster, I never imagined what I 'd be experiencing just one hour later!!! That's what I love about my hobby - expect the unexpected.

Bingo! I had made it - now on location at the Seven Sisters (Copt Hill Barrow), a Neolithical burial ground and an ideal focal point to throw into silhouette with an amazing backdrop of colour. It really doesn't come much better than this, and if it does, then I haven't been there yet. Surprisingly I had the place to myself, clicking away like the proverbial happy snapper. I was happy alright, make no mistake on that score. The wind was up and I had to press down on my tripod as I took my first batch of shots. I was shooting on relatively high shutter speeds and didn't really need the legs, but I was so engrossed in the moment that I simply carried on regardless and bagged shot after shot. I thought about jumping into the scene myself and firing off a selfie, but the winds would have surely blown the tripod over, so I back heeled the idea.

After 15 minutes or so I made the short drive along the road to a quarry entrance on the approach to High Sharpley Wind Farm. It was from this view point I could see right across to the horizon and the full show of Nacreous Clouds. This was the best yet - what a view to behold. I captured more silhouettes in the shape of the wind turbines, plus a man walking a dog along a bridleway. Good job I'd packed the long lens - a godsend! I hope you like the pictures as much I liked making them. They are shown here as Part One of my Nacreous Clouds blog entry, with the sequel coming next, featuring more shots that I captured at Seaham Harbour, home to Tommy, Mission 1101, which you know I have an affinity with through my photography. Stay tuned for that one. Coming very soon!

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