I think it’s fair to say that photography is more prevalent today and woven in the fabric of society than ever before and for those who are too young to remember was unceremoniously thrust head-first in to the 21st century as the onslaught of the digital age in the early-noughties took hold. Photography as a pass-time, a hobby or even an enviable job title has now become so mainstream it’s impossible to deny that capturing what we see, when we want and how we want has indeed taken the world by storm. We’re always at the ready to grab a quick snap with whatever gizmo we happen to have in our pockets; from point-and-shoot Kodak fun-time 5 dollar throw-always to high-resolution large-format digital-backed professional behemoths it’s obvious that the blue-chip industry were ready for the move too. Only in the computing world have we really seen such an aggressive technologically-stepped marketing campaign from these blue-chip giants as they churn out yet another platform, another version. The advertising proclaims higher pixel counts, more effective stabilization, less noise at stupendously high ISO levels, super-duper-zoomy-widget tech with integrated GPS and smell-o-vision! Okay maybe not yet but I’ll bet it’s just around the corner…
For many, the concept of ‘taking snaps’ is just that; it’s a mechanism we use to capture a particular moment we want to enshrine forever, whether of a fantastic family day at the seaside, a captivating child’s first birthday or the beauty of a grand parent’s last, the images stored as binary will stay with us, and our great grand children, for all time. For some, photography is a means of making ends meet, whether shooting wedding after glorious wedding, chasing celebrities around the inner streets of London, composing uncomfortable family portraits or covering the ubiquitous heart-shaped pregnancy the working photographer enables the public to record their precious moments with a professional flourish. And then there are the artists, those of us who see through-the-lens with our minds eye, who see an infinite combination of interlinking shapes and colours, who spot castles and dragons in the sky and who capture scary monsters hiding in the shadows.
Photography is many things to many people but most of all it is the recording of the world today that is paramount. With each click of the shutter and tagged upload to the Cloud we store another memory for future generations to search and enjoy. Maybe these memories will, one day, be rebuilt in gloriously tangible 4D when futuristic technologies are finally realized; we could extract the long forgotten scents lingering in the air, feel the powerful warmth of our young sun or the dark icy bite of arctic winds. Maybe. Maybe not, but I think of this every time I release the shutter, I try to capture the essence of what I’m experiencing in the hope that the viewer will better understand the subject i’m shooting. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but I always try… I will always try.
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A Photographer's Blog I: Brighton and a little bit beyond - Hardback full-colour 84 page limited-edition print run - SOLD OUT :*(
Ejected roughly from a loosely air-conditioned cab, we spill out into Kashgar’s arcaic sandstone market centre, the city now a forgotten gateway through the farthest reaches of western China to Pakistan. Fumbling for a battered Nikon I steady my rudely awakened body against a less-than-adequate lamppost and begin to take in the dusty sepia-infused atmosphere.
The cab splutters and pulls away leaving us stranded outside the peeling doors of an old hostel. Inside dimmly lit dormatories encircle a mosaiced open courtyard, a pack of motorcyclists from Beijing quietly fixing their metal steeds for tomorrows adventure in the wilderness, a European cyclist perched watching. We pass by a time-worn computer moaning wearily as an earnest traveller attempts, unsuccessfully, to check the weather forecast, and somewhere behind closed doors a hardy fridge hums happily laden full of locally produced honey beer.
Stashing our gear underneath razor-thin matresses there’s a momentary wrestle with an uncooperative window. Begrudgingly the ancient warped metal frame swings outwards and through a sea of dust motes dancing in the heavy air our first view of Kashgar streams through.
Tightly-packed low-rise yellow-brick buildings form dusty runways that coral scurrying people below from salon to Tabac, life partially hidden from view by a blanket of thick grey bubbling wood-smoke pouring from every architectural orifice. As the viscous smoke rises upwards it rallies and aggressively suffocates the black crenelated shadow that forms a biblical horizon. Momentarily poetic. Rescuing a couple more cameras we leave our precious gear packed and vaguely hidden in a varity of obvious places and take our first step out into the dense, smoky shadows...
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A Photographer's Blog 2: Kashgar and a little bit beyond - Hardback full-colour 84 page limited-edition print run - SOLD OUT :*(
We leave Tiger Leaping Gorge wide-eyed and content, our sleek black Sedan pulling away slowly like a slumbering Dragon as we over-watch the specks of minuscule tourists straining at the wooden walkway far below. Precariously suspended above a cascading torrent of water the pure energy erupting from the fathoms below is nothing short of godly, nothing dares step in its path. Passing fresh-faced and eager cyclists we now start our own ascent to the heavens, our Dragon’s wings beating slowly as we crawl up a road so narrow at times we wonder if we’ll make it at all. Higher we climb, passing through long dank tunnels and rocky narrow gorges, periodically waving to our cyclist compatriots who are now panting hard and peddling harder, salt burning their eyes, the sun their arms. Aggressive rain clouds gather with an untold urgency only to be corralled by the powerful rays of an adolescent star, it’s youthful energy smashing through the disobedient vapor setting the moist air ablaze and tempting out shy beads of water from the now thinning air. I wind-up the car window and wedge an 85mm out the small gap as bulbous water droplets batter the now saturated cyclists, it's evidently making their ascent an adventure they’ll not forget anytime soon.
Ever upwards we push, our black dragon leading the charge, relentless, effortless.
A dark grey cloud-line approaches fast as we reach a few thousand meters, peering through the dense veil of mist we try to make sense of the eerie shapes passing us by, nothing seems real, shapes extruded and elongated beyond recognition. Trapped in this event horizon for an eternity we suddenly emerge victoriously, smashing through the swirling ceiling of this no-man’s land we heave on-wards shielding our eyes from the captivating fiery orb greeting us with open arms. We wave once again to our cycling entourage, their spirits lifting now as the grey veil falls far below. One final push through a narrow stone-hewn gully and finally we cast our eyes on the ice capped peaks and lush green valleys of Shangri-La.
Gently lolloping hills bump and merge seamlessly in to one another as if boundaries were meaningless, a home to royally kept field systems toned in an array of infinitely diverse green and yellow hues disrupted only by the deep black forests mystically peppering the landscape. Majestic white wood-smoke hazily fills the crisp mountain air and settles nonchalantly above the petite farming villages nestled snugly in the valley creases. Glacial rivers meander from peak to platter, leisurely conversing with the old trees company only to the cattle who graze quietly along the water’s edge.
Snaking our way though this paradise on earth we pass distinctly Tibetan architecture, old wisened yaks tending the well-worked fields, bright yellow wicker hats set amoungst a sea of green vegetation, reds and blues and yellows and wood and grass and hay and cattle laid out for all to see in the auspicious royal green of Shangri-La’s summer.
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A Photographer's Blog 3: Shangri-La and a little bit beyond - Hardback full-colour 84 page limited-edition print run - SOLD OUT :*(
Nanjing Lu leaves nothing to the imagination, a capitalist monstrosity eating away at the very heart of China's communist struggle. The Bund, Technology Park, People’s Park, modern Pudong and even the French quarter follow in it's ravenous footsteps. It’s just not China, at least not the China I expected. Heading away from tooting taxis and angry hordes of money-wielding tourists I wander through the backstreets of central Shanghai, twisting and turning ever further from the glistening Metropolis and its Starbucks sheep.
As tall glass buildings give way to low-rise suburbia the street life builds, just a few side stalls selling Gerbils and freshly cut pineapples at first, then chatty hair salons and busy cafes, carpenters tapping mindlessly, antique traders screaming through megaphones, and suddenly you’re center-stage in an unfinished Sino-Shakespearean masterpiece. In Shanghai, the old China exists by thriving at street-level; hairdressers and butchers deftly slicing their meat as if the same, fish mongers man-handling yesterday’s catch from shallow coffins, dropping them on the ubiquitous scale-encrusted wooden chopping block, hacking and scraping until satisfied.
Toads hang in nets, gerbils share tanks with terrapins, pigeons display to the highest bidder, and crabs routinely make a bid for freedom while meaningless arguments distract their stall owners. Sound and colour visually erupt from all directions, cornered by crimson-red blood sailing its way down the gutter, passing glistening scales and entrails of all descriptions. Quacking ducks get plucked from tiny cages and plunged head first into boiling hell, their screech drowned by the latest romantic ballad to eject itself from the speakers next door. Volume at 11, naturally.
Happily no one seems to notice the lone wanderer, and side stepping a few unidentifiable objects I make my way past squirming shells, blue lobsters, hairy crabs and their less-hairy cousins tied up into neat little bundles ready to drop in the pot. Steam and incense bellow from cook-pots and cloud an already dazzled vision, and I finally step in something so viscous it almost takes my shoe off. Exhausted I find myself off the main thoroughfare and sit at a small table, order a cold Tsingtao with noodles and watch the chaos continue for an hour or two, everything ticking along just like clockwork.
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A Photographer's Blog 4: Tianjin and a little bit beyond - Hardback full-colour 84 page limited-edition print run - SOLD OUT :*(
Somewhere back on the outskirts of the jungle I crossed a desolate rail track, the civilization of the twin iron girders an eternity away now I finally hit the off road on my little 125cc scooter, Mayday. We slip and slide along a saturated muddy path, deep dark jungle either side towering two stories high, a chorus of insect chirps deafening the chug of an overworked engine.
Two girls sharing a bicycle pass by, the only people I've seen since I crossed the tracks. They smile knowingly, and pointing up the trail give me the thumbs down, but I’m too busy avoiding them and the pockmarked jungle path to pay much attention. Further down the jungle track and a derelict ten-story concrete block rises out the canopy, the bright blue corrugated roof contrasting with the lush jungle green. And then silence. I stop dead in my tracks, blood-red mud vomiting from the rear wheel, spray-painting the jungle wall with obscene graffiti. Mayday splutters, screams, and finally dies.
Stepping off Mayday, my once blue trainers have now taken on a distinctly syrupy red tone as I sink a foot into the mud soup, cursing my negligence but relieved the Nikons are still in one piece. Wading back, I assess the rather bleak situation and surmise in a most Bear Grylls manner that I’m a bit f*cked. No rope, no tools, and no people to help leaves me with a few dismal options, and with 70km to the nearest village, I honestly don’t want to start walking. Mayday had only sunk a foot or so, and while the mud was saturated, it wasn't too viscous. Pulling my legs free I leave a trainer buried deep, spend 15 minutes extracting it, and then penetrate the jungle foliage looking for nature's tools to plan my escape. It's the only viable option.
Time passes, maybe an hour, maybe two, I wasn't sure. It could have been days, but more probably ten minutes. Finally, I emerge with pockets stuffed full of leaves, branches and twigs underarm ready to exact Mayday's prison-break.
With a bed of leaves jammed deep under each wheel and a make-shift track of pathetic looking branches I summon Bear and Ralph for moral support, kick the engine to life and start jiggling Mayday for all she’s worth. Sweat pours. The rear wheel kicks, bucks and frees itself giving a jump of momentum to the front, both now free from the slippery mud, spinning wheels looking for grip on the meagre twigs. Cursing loudly in my best Chinese, I push Mayday one final time and burying the wood beneath she somehow finds purchase, ejecting victoriously onto dryer land. Mayday clatters to the floor, engine still turning and leaves me kneeling a foot deep in the mud, somewhere in the middle of the jungle.
Dripping with sweat, surrounded by graffitied jungle, sucking in heavy engine fumes, and burnt to a mid-afternoon crisp, I’m finally free and blissfully happy that I now might have a chance of getting home. I call that a win.
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A Photographer's Blog 5: Kampot and a little bit beyond - Hardback full-colour 84 page limited-edition print run - SOLD OUT :*(