As a Trustee of Heage Windmill – and the guy who runs the website – I get to take a few photos, which is always a pleasure as the windmill is such a beautiful sight.
Not at the moment, though… due to a severe case of wet rot in the main timbers, the sails had to be taken down and sent for repair.
I tell you: a de-nuded six sail windmill is not pretty to look at.
However, thanks to the volunteers who launched the Trouble at Mill Appeal (TAMA) – and, of course, those who have donated to TAMA – there is light (and wind) at the end of the tunnel and it looks as if the sails will be turning again when we come to open on Saturday, March 26th.
Here’s a set of photos when I visited the factory site where we’ve been allowed to carry out some of the essential work.
The volunteer team have disassembled the shutters on the old sails, cut out the dead wood on the whips, and painted all of the sails and shutters. It’s a long painting job as each of the six sails needs three coats. At the time I took these photos, 15 had been painted.
The job then is to reassemble the shutters on the old sails and, as each of the shutters have been sponsored – with each sponsor allocated a number – those numbers need to be re-stencilled.
With my projected photo book of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site in mind, I spent an enjoyable Saturday afternoon photographing at Derby’s Silk Mill as six teams combined in the 2016 What If? Machine project.
Running since 2012, What If? sees the design, build and operation of a Goldberg / Heath Robinson ‘chain reaction’ machine.
Rube Goldberg and W. Heath Robinson designed contraptions with a simple objective but which were simultaneously ingenious, over-complicated and makeshift.
Remember the board game Mousetrap? If so, that will give you the idea.
This is a splendid, fun project involving – as you’ll see from my photos – whole families.
What If? is also a nod to Derby’s engineering heritage and it’s entirely appropriate for the Silk Mill with it having been re-energised as ‘The Museum of Making’.
Although my photos can’t show the six machines creating a chain reaction – that’s for moving film – hopefully they convey something of the eccentricity and ingenuity of the contraptions, not to mention their absurdity.
Mind you, as you’ll also see from the faces, all the teams took it quite seriously. There was some intense minds hard at work but it was smiles and cheers at the end.
Here is a gallery of some of the photos. If you want to see all 95, click here to go to my website gallery.
In the course of assembling an April issue article for Derbyshire Life on Derby Choral Union, I spent an enjoyable hour in the company of the choir, photographing rehearsals for their 150th anniversary concert.
I was soon absorbed in a friendly but very creative atmosphere as the 100 singers – under the firm and inspiring guidance of their musical director Richard Dacey – worked on Elgar’s Music Makers and – the highlight of their anniversary concert – a commissioned choral work by contemporary choral composer Kerry Andrews entitled Thy Flight Be Fleet: Trainsongs!
The composer has already been in touch with me, revealing that the train theme was suggested as the Derby Choral Union has its roots in the railway industry.
So, Kerry has composed a collection of linked movements which explore a train journey as a journey of life.
There’s railway-based text by James Joyce, Walt Whitman and Robert Louis Stevenson (probably his poem From A Railway Carriage) and, intriguingly, Kerry travelled around on trains, noting down sounds she could hear – the squeaking of brakes, announcements and tannoy beeps – using some of those for the orchestral music.
She has also mixed in folk songs. Sounds fascinating.
What makes this commissioned work even more exciting is that the anniversary concert will be held in Derby’s Roundhouse, the world’s oldest surviving railway roundhouse.
It’s on Saturday, April 30th at 7.30.
For ticket details, go to the Choral Union website: www.dcu.org.uk
Here’s a gallery of a few of my rehearsal photos…
These are exciting times as the Arkwright Society’s photographer.
I have just been to the soon-to-open Gateway Visitor Centre at Cromford Mills to take some more photos and saw, for the first time, the Richard Arkwright hologram.
It’s been very well conceived and executed, with Arkwright taking us through the story of how he transformed Cromford and, even more vitally, revolutionised our way of working.
This audio-visual is just a part of the new Gateway Visitor Centre which effectively forms the hub of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
The centre has a ‘soft’ opening on February 1st with an official opening on March 10th which promises to be a loud opening: Brian Blessed is cutting the ribbon!
Here is a gallery of the Arkwright hologram and a few from other rooms in the Visitor Centre.
Having just posted on Facebook the October image of my Belper Calendar – depicting Belper Farmers’ Market – I thought that the Facebook viewers would struggle to see the 12 images in the montage as they are a bit small, so I have reproduced them here. If you see someone you know, tell them about the calendar!
Wednesday… and I am itching to get out into the autumn sunshine to capture the richest colours I have ever known in this photogenic season.
I headed off down to Belper Mill and River Gardens, though after I took a few shots of the Horseshoe Weir, I noticed that the sun wasn’t at the best angle – there was no light on the weir trees at all – and shadows were harsh.
I felt deflated, especially knowing that I had missed glorious conditions just after sunrise a few hours earlier. I walked through the River Gardens and, apart from a golden yellow tree, saw nothing inspiring under the harsh sun.
As I stepped on to the walkway overlooking the pond before making my disconsolate drive home, my mobile rang. The way the day was going, it was bound to be a cold call. But no, it was Chris Peddy from the Derby Telegraph, ready to interview me about my crowdfunding appeal.
An appropriate place to talk about my Derwent Valley book, I thought, with the glory of the River Gardens around me.
As I was talking to Chris, I started to notice some wonderful, colourful reflections in the pond. There I was talking about Belper’s East Mill and, although it stood loftily in my presence, I was more taken by the abstraction of its shape and form in the water.
Suddenly, the day felt better. Not only was the Telegraph going to run a feature on me but also that phone call had delayed my stay and enabled me to spot infinite photo possibilities – I say ‘infinite’ because the ducks on the pond were continually breaking up the reflections.
The East Mill reflections struck me as poignant because this mill is degenerating; the movement in the water was splitting up the form and shape, making it look as if it was coming apart. It all seemed apposite.
As it turned out, I couldn’t have photographed it at a better time for my book on the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site as weather conditions were perfect – especially welcome for the night shots – and, for the first time, we saw a fantastic animation projected onto the Silk Mill, where the stories of the Joseph Wright Collection came to life.
After that opening, I had a ball snapping the Sauruses as they stalked the night time city streets. Saurus is a costumed stilt show put on by Netherlands-based street theatre group Close Act Theatre. The dinosaurs are 18 foot tall and each emits a terrifying wail and roar. Every so often, there was the release of a red smoke stick that created a surreal atmosphere perfect for pictures, as you’ll see on the right.
That image has just won me a Highly Commended in the Society of Professional Imagemakers’ Monthly Competition in the Events category.
Below is a gallery showing more photos from the opening night. All of these will be going in my book The Valley That Changed The World. If YOU have some Feste pictures (especially from previous years), you have a chance of getting them in the book. For more details – and to support my book project – check out my crowdfunding page:
Having put A cappella group YesterYear on a girder high above the Derby city skyline for their new promotional postcard (in homage to the famous 1932 image of New York construction workers), I then had to work on the other side of the card. I suggested to the guys that as their name was YesterYear and they were now on the tele – appearing on Gareth Malone’s The Naked Choir – why don’t we put an image of them on a TV set in a 1950s sitting room?
In the end, this proved as big a challenge as the girder image, mainly because the 1950s sitting room I found – in Norwich Museum – was perfect, apart from the fact that the wall wasn’t complete, as you’ll see in the photo. Completing the wall was really tricky because of the wallpaper pattern. To add to that problem, there was a modern intrusion on that wall: a large button which museum visitors can press to view 1950s newsreel footage. Note also the shadow cast by the lampshade… that was probably the trickiest bit of the job.
Taking a photo of the group, converting them to black and white and placing them up against a theatre curtain was simple enough but inserting that photo into the television screen was difficult, especially as there is a reflection of the curtain on the left hand side. I had to create a layer mask so I could bring some of that reflection back onto the screen. I think it looks pretty realistic.
When finished, I decided there was something missing: flying ducks! That was tricky, too, because my picture of the ducks was three dimensional but with no shadow, so I had to duplicate the ducks, fill them with black, place that layer just to the side of the original ducks and reduce the opacity on the black to make it appear like a shadow and give the impression that the ducks were placed on that wall. It’s only a small detail but essential.
It’s been a great pleasure to take photos again of East Midlands A cappella group YesterYear who you can see from this Tuesday September 22nd competing in The Naked Choir on BBC 2 with Gareth Malone. The group was looking at doing some fresh publicity shots owing to a change in line-up as well as the fact that they’re going to become world famous in Derby through being on the tele. The story of this latest main promotional photo (see below but not yet!) takes us back to 2011, when I was first engaged to do the guys’ publicity photos.
I had this particular idea of turning the formal group shot on its head and doing a subversive take on it. Thus, instead of posing with cheesy smiles, I got the guys to affect boredom, inattention, silliness… anything that showed they were opposed to the whole idea of a formal portrait!
The result was an image that gained me the runners-up prize in the Society of Professional Imagemakers Group Portrait Photographer of the Year.
Four years on and I’m sitting in the Exeter Arms discussing with Martin and Kev how we can top that image. I had an idea in my head but when Kev started talking, I knew he had an even better one. When in New York, he visited the Rockefeller Centre and beheld the famous photo of construction workers sitting on a girder having lunch. What makes the image gob-smacking is that their legs are dangling 840 feet in the air and none of them is wearing a safety harness. The photo was taken in 1932 – in the midst of the Great Depression – when apparently men were willing to take any job regardless of safety issues.
‘Can we reproduce that photo?’ asked Kev. ‘Let’s do it’, added Martin. ‘Er… ok’ was my enthusiastic response, realising I had just been set my greatest ever challenge as a photographer. Then, as I started to think it through, I became very excited. We were going to create a local version of that iconic image… with YesterYear wearing similar work clothes but appearing to be perched hundreds of feet above the teeming metropolis that is, er… Derby.
First of all, how to get the girder shot… I called my old neighbour Roger Carter of Carter Construction who kindly put me on to John Robinson of MJ Robinson Steelworks in Derby. John couldn’t have been more helpful. On the day of the shoot – with BBC East Midlands Today in attendance – we turned up to find they had a girder which looked just like the original. It was moved into place and held in position a couple of feet above the ground by a fork lift truck at either end so the guys could sit down, ready to be raised… no, not 840 feet in the air. It was about 8.4 ft. I climbed up into a work platform which was raised to about 10 feet and just to the right of the guys so I could get the correct angle of view.
To be honest, I didn’t think the photo was going to work, for the simple reason that instead of shooting 11 ‘construction workers,’ I had got 13 so they weren’t going to be quite so big in the frame as in that original image. However, because East Midlands Today were filming and we had gone to so much trouble already, it had to work. I was certainly pleased with the effort the guys put in to their work clothes, mimicking the overalls, vests and caps of the 1932 workers quite well. However, because of the two extra guys and the fact that they weren’t lookalikes, we decided not to copy the image too closely, just to generally reproduce a similar look and atmosphere.
Then came the second task: my background. I had to get as high as I possibly could in Derby whilst ensuring I had the city beneath me and there was only one possible vantage point: the top of Derby Cathedral tower. I wasn’t looking forward to it one bit. My fear of heights began when I climbed to the top of the Notre Dame on my honeymoon. Francine noticed that I suddenly took on the agonised look of one of the adjacent gargoyles. I told her I wasn’t feeling well and had this horribly irresistible urge to end my torment by throwing myself off. ‘What, after being married to me for only two days?’, she frostily enquired before realising that what had pole-axed me with fear was that only a very low wall separated me from the air high above Notre Dame Square. Funnily enough, I was alright at the top of the Empire State but that’s because you can’t possibly hurl yourself over the glass barrier unless you’re Dick Fosbury.
I was assured by Rachel in the Derby Cathedral office that I would feel ‘secure and stable’ and Alex, the Development Officer who kindly agreed to go up with me, was a calming presence as I climbed the 189 steps. Sure enough, it was better than I could have hoped for. No knee-high Notre Dame wall here. Not only was it waist-high but also there were two iron bars inbetween the stone crenellations. I felt even better when I beheld Derby city beneath me. Ok, it wasn’t exactly Manhattan but it still felt like a proper city skyline. I made sure I included the sky as in the original photo, snapped off lots of shots at different angles, and then prepared myself for the Photoshopping…
The bringing together of the guys on the girder and the Derby skyline nearly took all day but it was worth it.
Although I was using Topaz Re-Mask, there was a lot of similarity of tones between the guys and the background so I didn’t get a clean separation anywhere. So, I had to spend ages erasing bits of background from around the guys.
When I came to place the guys against the Derby skyline, my heart sank a little. I began to fear again that this wouldn’t work.
However, not only was it in colour but, if you look again at the original 1932 image, you’ll see that the workers are separated from the background by a mist. It’s a curious kind of mist as it comes to a halt just underneath the workers’ dangling boots and, at first, it made me suspect that these guys were, like mine, photographed separately, and stuck on a separate photo of the Manhattan skyline, with a darkroom whiz then joining them together, and using a lot of dodging to lighten the background – and around their boots – to give the impression even more of being 840 ft in the air. However, I have since seen photos of these workers walking along girders as if they were normal pathways. So, it is for real, though that mistiness is still curious.
I then felt a whole lot better when I converted both photos to black & white. I chose Topaz Classic – with Grain. Grain was essential to help reproduce the feeling that I had used black & white film. I felt better still when I finished working on the city skyline image. At first, I tried the ‘Fog’ effect in Nik Colour FX but it didn’t work. I needed to do some manual work myself. So, I created a separate layer, drew a selection around the background and up to the area just beneath the guys’ boots; and then filled the whole of that area with 50% Grey. Then, I created a layer mask and, using the brush tool, started to bring the background back. I then got the dodge tool out and lightened the selected area.
I then turned my attention to the guys. Looking at the original photo, I noticed that the workers were quite dark overall. The girder needed to be darker, too. So, it was out with the Burn tool, and having selectively darkened the area, I then applied even more grain to both the guys and the background. I was done. I was elated. I couldn’t believe that it could work so well. Ok, because you and I know it’s a fake, you might not be able to see beyond that – and I still look at it momentarily and think ‘is it convincing?’ but then I look at the original photo and even though it’s one shot, I wouldn’t be surprised if you are unconvinced by THAT picture.
Also, don’t forget that I had 13 guys to photograph and I could only get 212 feet above the ground, not 840.
So, that’s the photo to go on the front of YesterYear’s publicity postcard. I now have to work on the other side of the postcard. More Photoshopping as I give the impression the group are appearing on television in a 1950s sitting room… it’s a play on the name Yesteryear. Of course, they are on television for real this coming week – as one of the competing A cappella groups in Gareth Malone’s new show The Naked Choir. These guys are aiming high, and I’ve helped them do that in one particular sense!
To celebrate the Queen’s record-breaking long service today, here are a few of my pictures from the Royal Maundy at Derby Cathedral in 2010 (see gallery below). This main pic is my favourite image from the day, a shot no other photographer got.
Having stepped into the Royal limousine, off she went down the street to the Cathedral Quarter Hotel and I panned the camera as she went by, shooting several frames. This one was reasonably sharp and. better still, she has a beaming smile and you get a feel of the excitement of the crowd with their flags fluttering,hands waving and cameras snapping. Look at the bottom of the image and there’s the reflection of another photographer. So maybe I wasn’t the only photographer to get this image!
This was the biggest job of my career and, as you might expect, an anxious shoot: I was Derby Cathedral’s official photographer for this historic occasion. Messing up was not an option.
To be honest, this wasn’t my kind of work: this was press photography; and much more pressurised than wedding photography. At least during a wedding you can say to the groom: ‘can you kiss the bride again? I didn’t quite get the shot.’ But you can hardly say: ‘Your Majesty, can you step into the light here to shake hands with the Bishop?’
In the end, I got the pictures (with a lot of help from my assistant Ian Daisley who is now an even more successful pro than me) and was instrumental in the publishing of a souvenir brochure of the day. Basically, it was my idea and I earned nothing from it but I can hardly complain: I was well paid and it galvanised my career. I was engaged to shoot Princess Anne and Prince Charles in the next year when they visited Derby, plus Prince Edward when he came to Heage Windmill. After that, I was half expecting a call from William and Kate to ask: ‘will you shoot our wedding?’ That way, I would have completed the set.
By the way, I still can’t believe my good fortune: it rained the day before and the day after.