Around Sligo

Way back in May, when the weather was nicer and night time didn’t begin at 5pm, we trekked our way north to Sligo for a momentous occasion, the first “old guard” photo walk to take place in quite a long time indeed.

It is as it ever was, a flimsy excuse to meet up for dinner & drinks. But also to see some sights that I haven’t seen in quite a few years. First to Strandhill for that all important “I need to climb what hill” coffee, then onto Knocknarea. But first, a detour to The Glen, an amazing spot where I didn’t capture a single noteworthy photo. But just to prove that at the very least, Darren and I were there;

Back on track to Knocknarea, always an amazing walk.

The morning after a night well spent in the pub, back out into the world and over to Lissadell House.

Bit light on the photos of the gardens, as I always feel like I’m not getting anything new and end up just boring myself posting photos that look the same as anything I’d end up taking on the regular trips to Fota.

Bray Head Hotel

Admittedly, I had intended on skipping the part of last Saturday’s photowalk that took place in the hotel. My intention was to come along after the start and meet the crowd in Kilruddery gardens for some sunny sauntering and leisurely photo taking. As if to motivate myself to take some photos, I even cleaned my 5D’s sensor for the first time since I bought it several years ago.

On arriving suitably late in Bray and buying a cup of distinctly average coffee (meow, I know), I met up with the gang. Although an hour had passed since the start of the photowalk, they had only explored the first two rooms of the hotel. In the run up to the event, I did a little (very little) googling on the Bray Head Hotel. What came back to me were images of a deteriorating building which seemed even worse internally. The photos seemed to suggest that it was in a serious state of disrepair.

It was quite a surprise to walk into the reception of the hotel and find quite the opposite. Although downgraded to a guest house, the hotel has been maintained perfectly by the current owner. You feel like you have to adjust your clothing style back 50 years when you walk in the front door, it’s as if you traveled back in time simply by turning a door knob. The hotel has been host to several film crews for movies such as The Commitments and (as the owner pointed out) a story on the life of Jimi Hendrix.

It’s all still very much intact, kitchen, breakfast room, function room, two bars (one of which still serves the public), nightclub and more bedrooms than the owner has counted. As I walked solo down one of the dimly lit corridors, I couldn’t help but think I was an extra in “The Shining”. There was an eerieness in the quietness of the place and before long the layout of the corridors and doors to rooms seemed to suggest that Stanley Kubrick himself had a hand in designing the building. I can’t remember if this was all before or after David suggested that the hotel was “The Overlook Hotel” of Ireland.

Before I go on, if you haven’t seen “The Shining”, Kubrick designed the visuals of The Overlook Hotel in such a way as to screw with the viewers sense of space. Doors where they shouldn’t have been, rooms that were impossibly large given the layout of the building and huge open spaces where they had no business being. Stuff like that. There (is) was an excellent video on online that went through it in some detail but sadly Warner Brothers had it taken down. There’s a taste of what the video discussed here. Go get a copy of “The Shining” and watch that instead. It’s not that scary. Honest.

On the first few floors the rooms were all pretty much as in the photos on this post. It’s almost as if they’d been maintained this way for novelty value. There was some evidence of restoration and modernisation, mostly due to updated fire safety regulations, but it was few and far between.

On the fourth floor, we seemed to catapult forward 20 years. I believe I commented that I had stayed at £120 a night hotels in London that weren’t as well appointed. To be honest, even the rooms on the lower floors were more luxurious and modern than those in some London hotels I’ve stayed in. It was almost like being in a different building. After venturing out onto the roof of the hotel and taking some photos of the beach, I retreated back inside to the cool and shade of the fourth floor.

The owner showed us around a selection of some of the fancier rooms and the guest lounge. We (that is, the royal we) assisted in freeing some windows that had become stuck due to being recently painted. I even hung a net curtain or two. Had I a CV with me at the time, I’d have applied for the position of caretaker. On this occasion, I had to be content with the title of ‘useful man’. I’m happy enough with that.

A glance at the clock revealed we had been strolling around the hotel for over four hours and making the relatively short drive to Kilruddery was pointless due to their opening hours. Probably a good thing, neither I nor Julie have ever been there so we can go together at some stage in the future.

These and more photos are up on my pix.ie account. My thanks to David for organising the trip.

Avondale

A trip to Avondale park last year with Vlastik where I took the opportunity to use a few of the rolls of velvia in the fridge. I thought I’d get rid of the remaining slide film as my intention was to develop it then sell the Jobo CPE I bought a couple of years ago on ebay. I think I’ve had my fill of developing anything other than black & white and the Jobo, tanks, chemicals and all the E6 paraphernalia are just taking up space in the ‘junk room’. On that, if anyone is interested in buying a CPE plus, some tanks, spools and whatever else I’ve got, drop me a line.

One thing I’ve never quite managed is metering for scenarios like being in woods where you’re in & around different lighting situations. One minute we were in bright sunshine, then overcast, then under trees. As a result, quite a lot of the 5 rolls I think I shot that day are under exposed. I’ve dragged what I could out of them in scanning & post processing but alas, there’s only so much you can do. Pity, because one of the shots I really wanted was killed stone dead by poor metering, as you can see below.

What I captured compared to what I saw on the day almost made me lock the bronica up in a cupboard when I took the slides out of the tank. I believe I even said ‘I wish I had taken my 5D with me’. Another one below. I got the forest floor metered with some accuracy but sadly lost all the background. Let’s just say I meant to do it that way; Focusing the viewers attention on the tiniest of foreground rocks and not on all that messy shrubbery in the background.

Thankfully, and not to put me off shooting velvia again, most of the shots came out pretty much as intended. If that’s my skill/technique, a triumph of post processing or the hand of God during development is for the viewer to decide. It’s not too difficult to appreciate of the ease and forgiving nature of shooting digital when you come back from a day of film shooting and and up with crap. But that, of course, is an old story so don’t go sharply exhaling in exasperation and rolling your eyes at me just yet.

It does go right now and then and the film captures things in a way you only wished you could have seen them. While waiting for the sun to come back out I shot a couple of frames of this scene. The difference between this and the next shot, taken only about 3 seconds later, is amazing. Timing, or perhaps impatience to move on was on my side.

A low ISO film, a tripod, a cable release, ND filters and a river. No prizes for guessing what happens next. Vlastik may also have some mildly amusing photos of me getting into a precarious position on some slippery rocks and perhaps even more amusing photos of me trying to return to the safety of the footpath. I heard somewhere that it’s now been made illegal to not take ‘flowing water’ photos when the opportunity presents itself. That was tacked onto the ‘HDR Swan photo 2010’ legislation in congress I believe. (Forgive the in-joke).

That was pretty much our trip. An enjoyably sedate couple of hours spent wandering about taking conflicting light meter readings, arranging leaves, pine cones and other detritus while moaning about having to go back to work on Monday. If you haven’t already been to Avondale, I very much recommend it. It’s here, not too far from Rathdrum in Co. Wicklow.

Oh and as it’s my first post of 2012, happy new year.

That time of year

Been on a bit of an analog thing of late, thanks in no small part to the quantity of velvia scanned some weeks back. No updates in a while because I started a new job a couple of weeks ago and outside all of the settling in, trying to remember as many new names as possible and all that, I haven’t been hugely inclined to udpate the blog. These three were taken with the Diana fisheye lens that Julie got me some time ago for my birthday and/or Christmas. To tell the truth, I’d never successfully used it on the Diana before and it spent much of it’s time on my 5D thanks to the EF adapter that came with the gift.

I completely blew these out too but after some scanning luck and some wild slide bar wanging in lightroom, I got a somewhat acceptable outcome. Not to everyone’s taste I’m sure.  Subject wise, they are of course in the botanic gardens in Dublin on one of the last (or possibly the last) photowalk I attended up there while the place was under a blanket of snow about this time last year. The increasingly dark and cold evenings reminded me of these photos and have made me hope that the snow either stays away for as long as possible or doesn’t come at all this year.

Maybe some ‘novelty’ snow on Christmas Eve/Day. After that, I can’t be dealing with it.

Not very wintry but it was the next shot on the same roll so what the hell. The inside of the greenhouse at a much more friendly temperature.

Camden Again

I will eventually round up the photos from the Cork photowalk a couple of weeks ago. This is the last of them, another visit to Camden with the rest of the gang this time. It’s pretty much the same up there, although with the notable exception of several new rooms now being open to the public. Most of these rooms were hosting an art exhibition but there were one or two that were bare, as pictured above.

Although not very visible in the shot, the majority of the floor space in this room was converted into a shallow pool with several tiny boats doing laps. Yes, I thought the reflection was more interesting than the boats and chose to compose and expose accordingly.

Other than that, Fort Camden is as it was from our last visit so there’s no major updates. They did open one of the piers at the end of the impossibly long (and quite steep) staircase though and it is nice to see the place further developing. We were all treated to sunshine again for our morning at the fort, rounding off the Cork photowalk nicely. When those snowy winter months roll in I’ll have to start putting together some thoughts for Cork Photowalk 2012. Thanks to all that attended, great to see some new faces and of course equally great to see all the regulars. Hope you all enjoyed the day (and a half) out.

The full set from the photowalk is available on Pix.ie and Flickr

Church of St Anne

The second stop in last weekends 1.5 day photowalk in Cork, the church of St Anne in Shandon. I spent much of the time walking up there hoping it was open as on a few previous trips I’d found that the opening times were a little optimistic. As always, the claustrophobic and acrophobic were invited to remain at ground level, the climb to the top of the tower isn’t one that either of those two groups of people would particularly enjoy.

The view from the top is still as good as it ever was although I don’t think the photo below does it any kind of justice. It’s worth the couple of euro entry price to climb up there and see it for yourself.

Home from Home

When you’re not in your luxurious quarters, you’ll be able to roam the grounds, play some football, listen to your favorite bands on your very own state of the art music system, build sandcastles, enjoy dipping your toes in the cool Cork harbour water and wave at the locals. If you’re good, you might even get back to the mainland in 14 months. Yes, you’re on Spike Island courtesy of the department of justice.

If you’re there in 2011 however, you’ve either made a wrong turn in your yacht or you’ve paid for the pleasure of touring the now closed down (and mostly burned down) Fort Mitchell prison. They could go as far as to title it “Spike Island; More than just a prison you know!”

By the time I was old enough to comprehend it, I was told that the island visible off the coast of many of the seaside spots I grew up next to was a prison. Nothing more, nothing less. I wasn’t informed that before those times, it served as a monastery, a colony and a strategically important military stronghold to guard against unsavory types making their way into the inner harbour.

Neither did I know that it’s where “Little Nellie” (a Cork legend) was born. I can’t elaborate too much on that one, to me Little Nellie is mostly what I heard peoples parents threatening them with. “Eat all your potatoes or Little Nellie of holy God will come and get ya” and so on. It was either that or “we’ll put them in an envelope and post them off to the starving children in Africa”. Ah the 80’s were great.

It was strange being on the island after wondering about it for so long, much like the first time getting into Fort Camden. Spike was always that bit more elusive however as even with a telephoto lens or a pair of binoculars and some time spent in Crosshaven or Currabinny, it was still quite difficult to make out anything on the island except for high stone walls and lots of fields.

So walking onto the island for the first time, I was amazed to learn that it was more historically significant than just being a place to temporarily hold joyriders. Although we only saw them from afar (owing to a somewhat time restricted tour), we were told that there were houses, barracks, a church and a small town square. Almost hard to believe. It was all a bit confusing as we were lead around the winding path to the fort on the top of the hill. It was a place that people were born and grew up, where people were married and lived happily and then with a few more turns of the road, a place where teenagers were dragged in handcuffs and locked in cells.

Just as quickly it turned back into a military operation and it wasn’t difficult to imagine soldiers running through the narrow corridors of the gun room, loading shells and farting about with cordite. Then back outside into the bright August afternoon and it was a prison again. It’s all a bit confusing. The only two things I think I’d change about the tour are, 1; It was very wordy. Although our guide was a mind of information and very friendly, we were bombarded with names and dates in our frequent stops from landing on the pier to standing inside the parade grounds. That links in with 2; I think the tour is too short. Like maybe an hour or 90 minutes too short. After all the information is dispensed and the tour is led to some of the more photogenic parts of the fort, I’d like to see more than 20 minutes being allowed for people to be left to their own devices. 20 minutes to explore such a vast structure didn’t leave much time for anything other than a frantic dash to see a couple of rooms.

I can fully appreciate that the tour is in it’s infancy and given the opportunity, I’d like to raise a group large enough to return to the island on a private booking where hopefully a full mornings photography could be catered for. Given time and sufficient supervised access, Spike Island is a photowalk in itself.


A block (two photos above) where inmates were housed. The scene of a riot in August 1985 where prisoners took control of the block, burning it out.

Inside the outer gate

Coffee & Beer

The inaugural ‘Coffee & Beer Photowalk’ (so obscure you probably haven’t heard of it) took place today in Dublin city. The guest list was severely limited by a committee formed specifically to decide on the Coffee & Beer Photowalk guest list. They’ve since been disbanded due to allegations of nepotism. The walk was carried out at a determined pace, planned out with military precision and executed with such preciseness (if that’s even a word) that it would have made baby cheeses cry if such cheeses were added to the guest list by the aforementioned committee.

The rules of the photowalk are simple. Buy a camera, meet in 3FE, drink coffee, walk at an accelerated pace to Against The Grain and drink beer. Photos are entirely optional. I broke with tradition by actually taking some photos, mostly after the beer had been consumed.

I took the opportunity on the long, torturous yet delightfully sunbathed walk home to test out this new camera with results I’m not too ashamed of. For a maiden voyage anyway. My brief moment on the wrong side of the (luas) tracks was productive yet terrifying. Terrifyingly productive.

I refuse to blather on about the camera until such time as I’ve learned how to use it. I almost said ‘until I’ve read the manual’ but I think we all know that’s never going to happen. Suffice to say that working with a 35mm fixed lens is an entirely new experience.

More of this kind of thing is available for your immediate perusal on Pix and Flickr.