The Decisive Moment

 

One of the most famous photographers of all time is/was a little Frenchman who went by the name of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004). HCB was one of the original founders of Magnum Photos, and was a pioneer in the use of the small format of the Leica 35mm camera for reportage, and the first to coin the term “the decisive moment”.

 

He left behind a large legacy of iconic photos, but his most famous, Derrière la Gare Saint-Lazare (Paris 1932), was named ‘The Photo of the Century’ by Time magazine and set a record when its print sold at auction in 2011 at Christie’s for $590,455. This fantastic image is more commonly referred to as “the puddle jumper”, and perhaps best exemplifies the decisive moment, as time practically stands still with HCB magically catching his subject just as his heel was about to touch the water.

 

I don’t think there is a photographer since/ever who won’t try in some way or form to recapture that little bit of HCB inspiration when they come across a puddle – and with all that rain hitting Glasgow, when it finally did relent, the destination to head for is Exchange Square, near the rear of the GoMA, as that’s an ideal happy hunting ground to find puddle jumpers!

 

And our little tribute to HCB will be the last blog entry of the summer, as I get ready to pack my bags and head to the decidedly warmer climes of sunny Saint Louis in the American Midwest for practically all of the month of August!

 

Leica M6 Classic & 2.8/90mm Elmarit

Fomapan 200

HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 8:30 minutes)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

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Glasgow has always had a reputation as a city of buskers. A healthy folk music scene has provided the streets with a steady supply of acoustic musicians, and the city has never been short of drunk men with tin whistles, chancing their luck in shop doorways.

 

But one of my favourites is Alec Johnstone, Glasgow’s answer to Acker Bilk, the solo jazz clarinetist who can be found in his usual pitch in Exchange Place – just off the hustle and bustle of Buchanan Street – nearby the city’s famed Rogano Restaurant, where he once used to work.

 

Govan-born Alec has played his fair share of jazz clubs throughout the country and would easily pass as the doppelgänger of another Glasgow jazz legend, George Chisholm, though sans trombone and instead his trusty clarinet. And influenced by a lifetime performing in the smokey atmosphere of those jazz clubs, he’s a chain-smoker, and between songs, he’ll stop for a quick drag and will often rest his half-smoked fag on his clarinet, almost as if the instrument has also picked up the habit!

 

He always starts and ends each busking day with “Stranger on the Shore“, Acker Bilk’s iconic signature tune – originally called “Jenny”, and named for his young daughter – that became the second No.1 hit single by a British artist in the United States on the Billboard Hot 100 when it was released in 1962.

 

Leica M6 Classic & 2.8/90mm Elmarit

Fomapan 200

HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 8:30 minutes)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

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From one music legend to another, as we neatly segue from recently-departed Chuck Berry to long-gone Bob Marley, who came to fame with a juxtaposing rivalry during the rise of punk in the mid-1970s here in the UK. And Top of the Pops often took on a surreal feeling on a Thursday evening during this period as Marley, with his poetic words and rhythmic melodies, was often pitted against the mayhem, nihilism, and constantly gobbing Sex Pistols.

 

And last week, the reggae legend’s life was set to his own soundtrack, as ‘One Love: The Bob Marley Musical‘, written and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, opened to good reviews at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and now looks set for a London West End run and talks of it being turned into a movie.  This is the first musical of Marley’s life and features his greatest songs, including No Woman No Cry, Exodus, One Love, Jamming etc. 

 

The musical tells the story of a man propelled from rising reggae star to global icon, and is mostly set around the time when Marley’s beloved homeland of Jamaica is on the brink of civil war, and he’s called to unite his people as only he can with his music and his message of love and peace – and, as you do, he almost ends up being assassinated in the process!

 

Leica M3 & 1.4/50mm Summilux pre-asph v2

Sekonic L-308S

Kodak Tri-X (@250)

HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 8:30 minutes)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

 

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As I was photographing this shop window, a man passing by asked what I was doing. I replied that it was a beautiful window of ladies lingerie. He looked me up and down and said “No, son, there’s something wrong with you!” and marched off. It was pointless for me to explain that I’d read the book, A Vision of Paris, with photographs by Eugène Atget and words by Marcel Proust that contained a wonderful image of a similar little corset/lingerie shop.

 

But no matter what explanation, cultural, artistic or otherwise that might have been offered, his only thought was – and this is somewhat typical of Glasgow and Glaswegians here – “No, son, there is something wrong with you!” Good job then I didn’t tell him about my online habits, eh?  

 

So, in the spirit of Atget, this is how it turned out. 

 

Leica M3 & 1.4/50mm Summilux pre-asph v2

Sekonic L-308S

Ilford HP5+ (@250)

HC-110 (Dil.H – 8:30min)

Vuescan & Plustek 7600i

(Toning done in Analog Efex Pro 2)

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Apart from inventing the modern world as we know it, did you realize you also have the Scots to thank for Halloween as well? 

 

Halloween is a Scottish contraction of All Hallows’ Eve (All Saints Day) that first entered common parlance in Scotland in 1745.  At this time of year, when the days were at their shortest, it was thought that the ethereal boundaries which prevented faeries, witches, bad spirits, and the tortured souls of the undead from roaming freely in the real world were breached.  

 

Although he was not the first to describe the festival in print, Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, is credited with popularizing the concept of Halloween and the supernatural themes surrounding it. His poem ‘Halloween’, one of Burns’ longest, was published in 1786 and explores many of the festival’s eeriest stories and traditions. One of the lines, “what fearfu’ pranks ensue!”, makes mention of practical jokes at Halloween. 

 

And that brings us to the other Scots’ ‘invention’ associated with Halloween: the globally-recognised custom of trick-or-treating. Until recent times, this was known exclusively in Scotland as ‘guising’, gaining popularity from the late 18th century onwards. Children would disguise themselves as ghosts and evil spirits in a bid to blend in with the free-roaming undead. Simple treats, such as fruit and nuts, would be offered in return for a song or performance at a person’s door. 

 

And an early version of carved pumpkins first appeared in Scotland and Ireland during the 19th century. They were known as “tattie bogles” or “potato ghosts”, ghoul-like faces carved from potatoes and turnips – not a million miles away from modern-day carved pumpkins we see today – to ward off evil spirits.

 

But all of these Celtic traditions – widely believed to have originated in the USA via the large contingent of Irish and Scottish settlers – were soon to be, just like Christmas, commercialized out of all proportions Across the Pond by our American cousins.

 

Leica M3 & 1.4/50mm Summilux pre-asph v2

Sekonic L-308S

Ilford HP5+ (@250)

HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 8:30 minutes)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

 

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It’s time to raise your glass in honour of World Whisky Day today! Yes, of course, a special day that could only have been created by a Scot – and unlike many Scots who have lost a fortune on the water of life, the Young Scot who was the creator of this day of days recently became a millionaire on the back of his idea.

 

World Whisky Day – or even World Whiskey Day for our grammatically incorrect American cousins – is held on the third Saturday in May, and was established in 2012 by Blair Bowman, now 24, from his bedroom while studying in Barcelona, after he noticed there was a World Gin Day. After searching online, he was surprised to see that there was not an established annual WWD – so he bought the domain name and kickstarted the event by spreading the word via social media.

 

But like the whisky, it soon became a fast-growing global brand, and within twelve months WWD was annually attracting around 250,000 attendees to whisky-themed events in over 40 countries, with 12,000 followers on Twitter. And such was its growth & potential, last year a publishing firm, Edinburgh-based Hot Rum Cow, a drinks magazine, purchased the assets of WWD for an undisclosed fee, that was rumoured to run into six figures.

 

And he’ll need that money to buy one of the special bottles of whisky I saw released for today: the £20,000 exclusive 40-year-old Balvenie, which is sold in a handcrafted box made of 1786 Russian reindeer leather in collaboration with bespoke British shoe maker George Cleverly, that also includes two crystal glasses and a copper dog.

 

That’s just a little too rich for me – but I’ll raise a glass to celebrate today with my favourite tipple of Oban 14-year-old while watching the wonderful little Ken Loach whisky-fuelled movie on Netflix, The Angels’ Share.

 

Happy World Whisk(e)y Day!

 

Leica M3 & 21/4 Super-Angulon
B+W Orange Filter
Sekonic L-308S,
Kodak Tri-X (@250)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 8:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

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Batman’s been Smallvilled. The new TV series Gotham, is the latest incarnation of Batman’s origin story, and right now it sits delicately balanced on the knife-edge between simple second-tier programming and first-class trash. The only person that seems to be enjoying himself in the massed ranks of Gotham’s mafia chapter is the magnificently twitchy, malevolent and terrifying Robin Lord Taylor as The Penguin-in-waiting, Oswald Cobblepot, who again stole the show in this week’s episode, “Penguin’s Umbrella”.

 

The franchise has certainly come a long way since I watched the original sixties kitsch show as a kid, and marvelled at the dynamic duo – Adam West and Burt Ward; who, like me, haven’t exactly aged gracefully – as they would successfully Kapow! their way through villains galore every week. I even had a suit to be like Batman – and not too dissimilar to the one worn by the ever-so-slightly inebriated Caped Crusader in today’s photo, who looked all but Kapow’ed! himself on Halloween.

 

And with the telling evidence of an open umbrella laying beside him, it does looks as if Oswald finally won one. Ynuk, Ynuk, Ynuk. Excellent.

 

Leica M3 & 50mm Summilux V2
Kodak Tri-X (200)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 8:00 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

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For all you kids out there, as per my previous blog, the typewriter could well be making a comeback — that’s  t-y-p-e-w-r-i-t-e-r. Way back in the last century, people used to use these big, clunky metal things to, um, type. You didn’t need electricity, or a battery, a stable cellular or wi-fi connection or download it from the app store. You just needed an ink ribbon and some paper, and you could write words… well… legibly.

 

And if you are really old and made a mistake, you had a typewriter eraser – and if you don’t know what those are, here in Seattle, there’s the giant Typewriter Eraser, Scale X sculpture, that comes from the pop generation of art,  created by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen  Its located at the Olympic Sculpture Park, and the 19-foot-tall popular art installation is made of stainless steel, fiberglass, and painted with acrylic urethane.

 

I once overheard a young girl (I’m guessing aged around 10 or 11) seeing it in the park, and asking her grandparents, “What’s that?” “Oh, that’s a typewriter eraser,” came the reassuring reply. “Back before Wite-Out or eraser ribbons, this was how you corrected mistakes. The bottom wheel end is the eraser, and you uses the top end to brush the crumbs off the paper in your typewriter.”

 

The next question from the kid was, in retrospect, inevitable.  “What’s a typewriter?”

 

Leica M3 & 50mm Summicron
B+W  Yellow Filter
Sekonic L-308S
Ilford HP5+ (@250)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 8:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

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Tourists can be mistaken for not knowing its real name, but I would imagine most Seattleites, who’ve lived here all their life, and perhaps for eons have crossed it every day, wouldn’t be able to tell you the real name of the “Aurora” Bridge. It probably takes a smart-alec interloper, such as myself, to tell you that its real name is the George Washington Memorial Bridge.

 

But certain things stick, and the Aurora Bridge got its common moniker because it carries Aurora Avenue (Highway 99) across the ship canal from Queen Anne Hill to Fremont. The state officially dedicated the bridge on February 22, 1932 – George Washington’s 200th birthday – and the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

 

But whether Aurora or George Washington Memorial, it has a somewhat dubious last destination scene for the depressed by being the Northwest’s most notorious suicide site for over 80 years. It’s famously where many have ended it all with a 164-foot leap as they bid adieu to this cruel world. All of which is a great irony (and I don’t mean the steel girders), because I have always felt that the real beauty of this cantilever bridge is to be found from the stunning views underneath looking up, where all the artistic and architectural detail can be found.

 

Leica M3 & 21mm Super-Angulon f4
B+W Orange Filter
Sekonic L-308S
Kodak Tri-X (@250)
HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 8:30 minutes)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

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It’s one of the many little things in life that’s always puzzled me: Why do women invariably stand with their legs crossed like a giant X? Well, apart from the fact that, anatomically, they can do so, let’s consider the scientific viewpoint here, as once explained to me by a behavioural scientist. Standing with legs wide apart – according to the BS expert, I hasten to add – would be the human equivalent of the bitch in heat; the baboon’s fluorescent arse; the female cat screeching on a wall.

 

Animals dislike having to come second to anything, therefore a woman giving off ‘come and get me’ signals is likely to have been ‘used’, as it were, before. Because of this, the opposite stance comes into play – by deliberately crossing their legs, girls are taunting males by implying that they have not been previously ‘used’. This taunting acts to pique the male interest, and so the circle of life continues.

 

So there we have it, the ‘X Factor’ explained – just another of life’s little mysteries solved by reading this blog.

 

Leica M4 & 50mm Summilux V2

Leitz Yellow Filter

Sekonic L308-S

Kodak Tri-X (@250)

HC-110 (Dil.H – 1:63 @ 8:30 minutes)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan

 

 

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