The Nutcracker



Hundreds of cinemas across America have been switching over from their usual fare of romantic comedies and blockbuster action flicks to make way for a more unusual show: The Nutcracker ballet. Nearly a thousand cinemas, including at least one in all 50 American states, is expected to broadcast a high-definition live showing of New York City Ballet’s production of the classic Christmas ballet, which is set to Tchaikovsky’s famous score.


And whether traditional,  jazzed up or semi-nude, The Nutcracker is now firmly entrenched in the American seasonal landscape; much in the same way pantomime is to the British celebration of Christmas. There are 12 separate stage versions in Los Angeles alone, plus five in New York and seven in Chicago – and the number of stage production across America could also hit the thousand mark once all the small-town and amateur shows are included.


But The Nutcracker comes far from being uniform across the country. There is several jazz versions, and at least four have taken their inspiration from 1950s Harlem. A remarkable 33 productions feature live horses (what was it someone said about working on stage with children and live animals?). Even here in Seattle, apart from the traditional offering, there is the all-productions sold-out Land of Sweets, a burlesques version featuring semi-nude dancers and advertising itself as a “bawdy makeover” of the original – all a far cry from the ballet’s first performance in Imperial Russia in 1892, when it got its premier in St. Petersburg.


 The Nutcracker has come to dominate America’s Christmas experience. For this reason, shopping malls and high street shops are usually surrounded by giant toy soldier figures from the ballet, such as this one standing guard to one of the floors at Seattle’s downtown Pacific Mall.


Leica M6 & 50mm Summilux

Arista Premium (400)

Xtol (1+1 – 10 min)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan




Richard Beyer’s sculpture Waiting for the Interurban – located in Fremont, the Centre of the Universe – pays tribute to the old Seattle-Everett Interurban railway. Sections of the track can are still visible around town, a subtle reminder of a time before the rise of the automobile. I have always felt there is a sense of irony to this piece as the City of Seattle has spent much of the last two decades dragging their feet on how best to build a public rail system when in fact one was already in place some 100 years ago.


The cool thing about Richard Beyer’s art installation is that anyone is invited to decorate it as they see fit. Which is why most times it can be seen  all dressed up for a birthday – or this time of the year, a Christmas – party; or, in this photo, with a collection of books for a book drive. The only rules are to leave decorations be if they look new or fresh and no advertising slogans or corporate slogans.


Nikon FM2 & Nikon 50mm 1.4 Ai-s
B+W Circular Polarizer
Ilford HP5+ (@400)
HC-110 (Dil. H – 10min)
Plustek 7600i & Vuescan




As I recently walked past Nordstrom’s, Seattle landmark department store, they had their perennial festive frontage of one of the main window displays taken over with the arrival of Santa Claus and kids waiting to be photographed alongside the Big Man. It’s a time-honoured Seattle tradition: Grandparents and parents did this at Nordstrom’s when they were kids, and now they take their own kids – though times have changed, and along with getting the traditional photo, one of the parents can usually be seen taking their own instant family Santa selfie with the iPhone.


All of which led me to wonder what goes into someone wanting to be a Santa in the first place. Turns out I didn’t have much research to do, as I found a wonderful 2011 documentary streaming on Netflix called Becoming Santa, about a regular guy who decides he’s going to take on the role of Santa Claus for a season. Don’t be mistaken in thinking that this is some sort of dire Tim Allen festive frolic. But that’s almost what it is, minus the dire part and Tim Allen.


Instead, this festive crowd-pleaser is all about Jack Sanderson, a former producer’s assistant, writer and voice actor for Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place, who takes on the part of the Christmas mascot and finds out just exactly what it takes to represent him to the kids (sorry, I mean children – you need to watch the doc for this one). Sanderson gets his hair and beard dyed pure white and groomed much in the style of the Coca-Cola Santa; he then invests $600 on a made-to-measure Santa suit; and then enrols in Santa School. When he graduates, he’s given his certificate (which, if it were British, you could say he had three Ho! Levels – sorry, I couldn’t resist that pun) and then embarks on playing Santa for special events and charities.


But along the way, this is where the documentary comes into its own, as it sprinkles about the history of and facts on the said Big Man. Think you know all there is to know about the origins, controversies and cultural depictions of what was a very black Turkish monk called Saint Nicholas, aka Sinterklaas, aka Father Christmas? Believe me, there is much you’re unfamiliar with, particularly the bounty of info provided by a jolly old Civil War historian Santa, the racially controversial colonial holdover of the “blacking up” (think golliwogs and a certain brand of British marmalade here) of Black Pete in the Netherlands, and details of the first department store Santa.


Sanderson is hilarious, intelligent, honest and just sardonic enough to pull this off by being a perfect observer and participant in the whole affair without veering towards the Grinch/Scrooge territory. And it turned out not just to be a documentary one-off Santa experience for Sanderson – a year after the film was released, he ended up getting the best Santa gig in the world. No, not at the legendary Miracle On 34th Street Macy’s in New York. He became Santa for the Tiffany store in Hong Kong, earning himself $16,000 for working from Dec 1-24.


Leica M6 Classic & 50mm pre-asph Summilux V2

Kodak TMax 400

Xtol (1+1 – 10 min)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan





Words can be such particular things. Internationally recognised conceptual artist Ann Hamilton designed and fabricated 7,200 square feet of hardwood floor for the Seattle Public Library. The floor includes 556 lines of text, in reverse, in 11 languages and alphabets – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese – and consists of the first sentences of books found in the collection.


What makes the flooring particularly engaging is that Hamilton inverted both the characters and sentences, serving two functions: First, the floor references the history of book printing and moveable type. Second, with the backward sentences shown in relief, Hamilton provides a surface that invites people to crouch down in order to investigate and touch. “It refers to the history of print production, and it’s tactile underfoot,” Hamilton says. The idea of creating a similar floor using metal was floated during the project’s early stages, but Hamilton instead chose wood (maple), a more significant material in the history of printing.


Leica M3 & 50mm Summicron

B+W Yellow Filter

Ilford Delta 100

Sekonic L-308S

HC-110 (Dil. H – 10 minutes)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan




It’s official. The Seattle Seahawks are the creme de la creme of the NFL. Their latest 34-7 annihilation of the New Orleans Saints on Monday night gave the Seahawks a mighty 11-1 record and look unstoppable as the season heads toward the homestretch. The Hawks also extended their home winning stretch to 14 games, becoming the first team to clinch a berth in the playoffs and are just two wins away from snatching the all-crucial home-field advantage come the postseason.


Leica M6 Classic & 50mm Summicron
B+W Yellow Filter
Ilford Delta 100
HC-110 (Dil. H – 8:30 minutes)


Writing, as the late, great Scottish journalist Cliff Hanley remarked, is better than working.  What other job can you justify with the excuse that while you may not look as if you’re doing anything productive you are engaged in “research”?


But for almost 20 years now, the day job has been writing – or, as I like to put it: “filling white space every day for The Scotsman newspaper.”  So with that in mind, and with an always-loaded camera to hand, I’ve opted to move away from social media sites to take things a bit further by creating this blog that will see a fusion of words and film – analogue, of course.  The film, that is, not the wordy-parts…been too many years now since I used to bash out words (not to mention going through Tippex by the gallon) on a trusty old typewriter like the one photographed here.


Nikon FM2 & Nikon 50mm1.4 Ai-S

B+W Circular Polariser

Ilford HP5+ (400)

HC-110 (Dil. H – 1:63@10 minutes)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan