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Twitter is marvellous. I was listening to the radio this morning and heard an article about Van Gogh’s reds fading to white, and possibly because he used cheap pigments as these were all he could afford. A piece of art history slowly disappearing. (Article on the science behind this)

 

The Post-it Wall © Brian Quan

The Post-it Wall © Brian Quan

 

And as I listened two things slid through in front of me on Twitter. First an excellent article on light damage and conservation, by Judith Haemmerle, Executive Director, Digital Game Museum, Santa Clara, California, featuring a simple visual experiment using Post-it notes to show the damage that can occur through exposure to UV.

“In our startup video game museum, everything is done by volunteers on a ridiculously limited budget. So it’s always a balance between collections care and – well, everything else. My biggest anxiety last year was light damage.

We removed half the fluorescent bulbs in the collections area and covered the remaining ones with UV shields; not too expensive, and it was work that was easy to get done. But the big expanse of glass in the room where we install our exhibits remained unprotected. No one was willing to tackle the exacting job of applying UV film, and having it done was far too costly, especially in a facility we were renting short term. We put in a display of items of interest but easily replaceable, and I worried about light. Then one day, our past stepped in to help……………..”

And then via Petapixel an article on how the Ricoh camera company, with the help from partners, has “returned 90,000 photos to victims of the 2011 tsunami in Japan”. This is being done through their Corporate Social Responsibility Policy, in the “Save the Memory Project”. Cleaning off water, mud and bacteria, gently removing dirt and then digitizing images, Ricoh staff have undertaken a massive task to reunite photographs with their owners or relatives. In a time when we’re reminded daily of “the tsunami of images that is going to swamp us all” it’s easy to forget how important just one image might be in reconnecting someone, some family, to their past, however dreadful the breaking of that link might have been.

Drying images © Ricoh

Drying images © Ricoh

 

All I can say is well done Ricoh. What a fantastic undertaking.

I use Ricoh cameras, have done for several decades. The first Ricoh camera I ever used, almost 30 years ago helped me change the life experiences of two marginalized men, shaping the last few years of their lives in ways I’d never have imagined possible (link). I chose the camera because it was easy to use, but also because the images it produced were astonishingly high quality, way better than its diminutive size would suggest.

 

Resident of care home, shot with a Ricoh © Malcolm MacPhee/Inside The Fort

Resident of care home, shot with a Ricoh © Malcolm MacPhee/Inside The Fort

 

And today I use a couple of very small modern Ricoh cameras. Why? Oh, you’d have to use one to know. But with it I can capture moments I’d otherwise miss. And with a wee boy to bring up, that’s a good tool to have in my pocket.

 

William in Florence, Italy © John MacPherson

William in Florence, Italy © John MacPherson

 

I’ve got a lot of photos of my son. I hope he enjoys them when he’s older, and it prompts him to add to the tsunami of images that surround us, by taking his own. I’m trying to teach him how, its slow progress, but I’ve starting by telling him how to save them, so he doesn’t lose them. Showing him old pictures of our family, like his great-grandmother and her radio, which is now our old radio, explaining to him these are images we’ve got because my dad saved the negatives. Negatives which William and I have scanned.

 

The old radio © John MacPherson

The old radio © John MacPherson

 

I think he gets it!

I think he has a sense of what photography does so well: it takes our present, and invests in it the richness of the past, for our future. So it doesn’t fade.

 

 

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You may have seen this film before. It’s an old one, made about 5 years ago.

If you haven’t seen it, find a quiet moment to do so.

When I watched it, it was the first film I was aware of that had been shot on a DSLR (Canon 7D) and I was mightily impressed. But I was more impressed by the story. It is beautifully told and profoundly moving.

It’s all about us, ordinary people and the little things in our lives that help us become big.  It stuck in my mind, maybe it will stay with you too.

 

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This is rather clever.

 

 

Shoot at a high frame rate, play back at a slower frame rate. And things become rather intriguing. Add some other stuff in post and bob’s your uncle.

There’s an article on No Film School all about it. And here’s a link to a short ‘making of’ video on Siska’s Facebook page, which is well worth watching too.

It would be all style and no substance if it wasn’t for the fact that the music ‘Unconditional Rebel’ is pretty darned good too. Nice one Siska!

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When I was little my dad, an avid fisherman, would take me with him on his outings. My mum never knew the stuff that went on, we two traversing slimy gorges that would swallow and never disgorge people, the dodgy river crossings that would tumble us into treerootsnag vanishings. A couple of fishermen acquaintances of my dad were ‘disappeared’ by ugly water during my childhood. But we didn’t succumb to those dangers, maybe it was luck, but I’d like to think my dad was smart. He was certainly smart about waiting. We’d go somewhere, and he’d fish, and I’d wait. And wait. And wait. Watching him wait, his rod in hand.

Fishing I realized very quickly was ALL about waiting. It often resulted in a fish, for dad. And for me a thorough exploration of the patch of ground I’d promised not to wander too far away from. And although I did amass a fantastic collection of stones, I wasn’t always sure I’d retrieved anything else from our forays, not like dad with the shiny bars of wrigglesilver he’d often haul from those terrifying gurgling cauldrons of spate.

Well I wasn’t entirely sure I’d retrieved anything until I was older, and started taking photographs. Then I realized.

Santa Fe, NM © John MacPherson

Santa Fe, NM © John MacPherson

 

I was a teenager, a novice photographer, sat in Santa Fe watching the world go by, when my gaze alighted on an elderly ‘character’ who was sitting across the square. He was somewhat anxious, as if waiting for someone. I was curious, so watched, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Just watching him waiting.

 

Santa Fe, NM © John MacPherson

Santa Fe, NM © John MacPherson

 

Eventually that ‘someone’ appeared and sat with him, and produced a bottle which was shared between them, but very surreptitiously as public drinking is illegal. It was a lovely discrete moment between two friends and some whisky. One little moment amidst the hubbub of the city’s comings and goings, that would have slipped by unnoticed had I not waited. And waited. And waited just a little longer.

 

Santa Fe, NM © John MacPherson

Santa Fe, NM © John MacPherson

 

On another occasion, 25 years later, I was leading a group of photographers through Utah, doing all the guiding, driving and entertaining for two weeks. Several days in, and I was exhausted with the traveling and day-to-day tasks of managing a group of people. We’d spent the day driving about, from viewpoint to viewpoint, each more spectacular than the previous. In the mid afternoon we reached Bryce Canyon. It was really spectacular. I got them together and said “I’m quite tired, we’ll spend a good bit of time here, it’ll give me a chance to get my breath back.”

I sat contemplating and taking the occasional photo; the group wandered.

After 3/4 hour one of the group, Larry, came over to me, wondering what I was doing. “Join me, sit” I said “and look over there –  tell me…what do you see?”

“Er..um…canyon, canyon, more canyon, lots of canyon” came the reply

“Yes, but the light, what about the light?” I prompted

“Light?”

“Yeah, the light….”

“It’s nice….er….am I missing something?” said Larry

“What’s it doing?” I asked

“Eh?” a perplexed Larry responded

“What’s it doing, what’s the light doing?”

“I’m not seeing much to be honest.” he said

“Keep watching….” I suggested “…over there….” pointing to some rock pillars…

 

Light on rock, Utah © John MacPherson

Light on rock, Utah © John MacPherson

 

Fifteen minutes pass, and several others of the group have joined us, attracted by the sight of Larry sat with me, and all are curious.

After another ten minutes Larry suddenly proclaims “Wow, that’s amazing!”

“What?” chorus the group “what’s amazing?”.

 

Light & shade on rock, Utah © John MacPherson

Light & shade on rock, Utah © John MacPherson

 

“The light, the light, the way it’s changed since I sat here” replies Larry “You need to wait to see it! You need to wait too! Damn I should have photographed that earlier!”

“Photographed what?” the perplexed group responded.

“Over there” says Larry…..“watch those stone pillars….just wait and watch!”

So we wait. And watch. And slowly it dawns on everyone that the light is indeed changing, or to be more precise the shadows are changing, that the magic, sometimes, is in the absence of light. Rock towers once in sun, then slowly darken as time passes and clouds shape-shift shadows over them, only to emerge starkly lit, theatrically so, against a shadowed background.

 

Light on rock, Utah © John MacPherson

Light on rock, Utah © John MacPherson

 

The group are enthused. The penny drops……………………

But it’s the slowly…………..tumbling…………..spinning of a coin that takes thirty minutes to hit the ground………..

They get it. All day we’d chased ‘drama’ – the thrill of the immediate – it became a drug, get there grab it, go here grab it, on to the next place, grab more. Now, we wait. Wait and let the magic come to us. Reward us for our patience and observation.

And as we watched, we discussed the wisdom of simply sitting, waiting.  Whether watching people interact, or watching the imperceptibly slow progress of cloudshadow there is always something to wait for. I suggested to them that these gaps between ‘events’ are not ‘nothing’, they’re opportunities to learn by observation, about the evolution of those little ‘moments’ that WILL catch our eye. Moments, which for the most part, don’t just suddenly happen, they have precursors, clues that the observant can take note of, and from which we may just manage to anticipate an outcome. But what you really can’t anticipate is how serendipitous these moments might be. Like fishing in some deep dark spate-river pot, unless you wait you’ll never know what lies within.

“F8 and be there” is a good old maxim. But “F8 and be there, and stay awhile” might be a better one.

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Experience

I saw experience yesterday.

It was eloquent, supportive, directive, but overwhelmingly caring.

I was visiting my mum, who has dementia. A close relative arrived, Kate, on her Sunday round of visiting all her contemporaries who’ve succumbed to strokes, dementia and other ailments that have necessitated institutional care. Kate is a stout 80 year old, fit as can be and sharp as a tack. She’s known me since I was a newborn, and has at various moments kicked my bottom and tended my injured knees. She joined us for a blether, my mum’s face brightening again, her face revealing recognition, but unable to form the speech that accompanies it, instead a stammerburble of smiles and lipshaped meaning that is clear enough .

A commotion arises in a nearby room: “…..happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Jessie, happy birthday to you…..”  “Must be a birthday” says Kate, “….ah yes it is…..it’s Jessie’s 90th…..” …..suddenly remembering.

 

Cake. Just cake. © John  MacPherson

Cake. Just cake. © John MacPherson

 

We laugh. We talk. Mum stammerburbles. And we all smile a lot. Mum is wrestling with the home-made cake I’ve brought – it looks innocuous enough, the red cherries on top catching your eye, but concealing stem ginger deep inside. Big cheek-tingling chunks of ginger, which ignite in your mouth after the eggyspongy ‘comfort’ sensation of the first mouthful. Mum revels in the mouthexplosion. And smiles.

A voice rises “Jessie, come on, please” A young woman staff member is taking Jessie to the toilet. Well, is trying to.

Jessie is not for cooperating: “Someone’s in my seat, in my seat, they’re in my seat, that’s my seat!” looking over to where we are all sat, in the main meeting area.

“Now Jessie come on, your seat is through in the other room” the staff member interjects and tries to steer Jessie towards the toilet.

“That’s my seat, MY seat, they need to GET OUT of it.” the very real desperation evident in Jessie’s voice coming to the fore.

“Look Jessie we’re going to the toilet, it’s not far now….” but it might as well be on the dark side of the moon for all Jessie cares. Someone is in her seat.

“Excuse me a moment” says Kate quietly to mum and me, gets up and walks over to Jessie and places her not inconsiderable frame directly in front of Jessie’s zimmer, filling Jessie’s visual field with wool and tweed, and smiles. “Jessie darling, what a lovely hairdo!” she proclaims. Jessie blinks.

“And that necklace, it’s quite beautiful, was that a birthday present?”

“My seat, she’s in my….” is cut off suddenly by…

“Your cardigan, is it new, it is new isn’t it? I’ve not seen it before, it matches your necklace, but oh my my your hair is so lovely today, I think you look quite beautiful…” and gently takes Jessie’s hands and squeezes them, and every time Jessie tries to shift her gaze away, chairwards, Kate gently caresses those hands, their skin paper-thin and sensitive, bringing her attention back to her. To wool, and tweed, and smiles. “Jessie I believe it’s your birthday today! You don’t look 90, I’d say 70 and not a day over!” and all the while laughing and talking and telling Jessie how lovely she looks, but ever so slowly, imperceptibly leading Jessie towards the toilet.

Jessie is beaming, her face alight with joy, at last recognizing herself in Kate’s words and reveling in the memory.

It was simple. Heartbreakingly simple. A little moment that mattered so much, on a trip to the toilet.

The young woman staff member looks at me, relieved, we both smile, “Watch and learn”  I say quietly “Watch and learn!”.

“I do…”  she replies, grinning “…and I am”

 

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ANGRY Poetry

I like whales and dolphins, and big fish.

I’ve been very lucky to grow up in a coastal area, and undertake a lot of work on the coast, and on islands, and consequently have had the good fortune to see various of these incredible animals up close, whether its killer whales leaping clear of the water, basking sharks sliding past my sea kayak or my local bottlenose dolphins that attract thousands of people to see them each year. Their presence is not something I’ll ever take for granted.

 

Visitors watch wild bottlenose dolphins on a cold damp day, Moray Firth, Scotland © John MacPherson

Visitors watch wild bottlenose dolphins on a cold damp day, Moray Firth, Scotland © John MacPherson

 

Seeing the animals is impressive enough but what never ceases to amaze me is the human response to these creatures. I’ve watched people with tears of joy on their faces after a huge dolphin has leaped clear of the water and stared them straight in the eye, and shared a waft of whale breath as a minke whale exhaled upwind of, and only a few metres from, the ferry to the Isle of Eigg one summers day, drifting a sour fishy mist over all of us delighted onlookers. Cetaceans are much more impressive in the flesh than on the pages of a book I have to say.

 

Juvenile bottlenose dolphin watches the people, gathered to watch the dolphins. Moray Firth, Scotland © John MacPherson

Juvenile bottlenose dolphin watches the people, gathered to watch the dolphins. Moray Firth, Scotland © John MacPherson

 

And now for an admission: I’m a closet poet. I’m going to finally step out of the closet and present one. I don’t write often, only when I’m angry.

Ok this is probably self-indulgent, but it’s not been written for you, only for me, and on behalf of my little boy William, aged 6, who thinks big things are fantastic, like dinosaurs, and whales, and dolphins too, and he’s been lucky enough to actually see the latter regularly.

And if you like it too that’s just a bonus. If you don’t like it, no sweat. They’re only words after all. But I guess what this post is about is how one thing feeds another, makes a connection or two, and produces something else that is perhaps a synthesis of it all.

 

Family have a wonderfully intimate and moving encounter with wild bottlenose dolphins, Moray Firth, Scotland © John MacPherson

Family have a wonderfully intimate and moving encounter with wild bottlenose dolphins, Moray Firth, Scotland © John MacPherson

 

I’m currently reading Tod Papageorge’s ‘Core Curriculum’ where I’ve delighted in his explorations of the links between photography and poetry, and where he remarks:

“….that at their best photography and poetry can share a near-blood relationship, a proposition easier to assert than to explain”.

And I liked that assertion of something I’d mulled over many times –  the way the simple words of good poetry easily slide into your head but leave much of their interpretation to be uncovered by the scalpel of your personal preference. Or prejudice.  Just like good images do.

A few years back I was photographing at an event in a run-down Edinburgh housing estate. Think Trainspotting, but in 3D and less colourful.  And there was a graffiti artist painting a huge whale mural on a wall, a whale that had a giant smile on its face.

 

Graffiti whale. Edinburgh. © John MacPherson

 

It made me smile too, because a few weeks earlier I’d listened to a Radio 4 broadcast about whaling featuring an apologist for the Japanese ‘scientific’ whaling industry, and he said

“It’s scientific, we dont waste anything. The only bits we don’t utilize are the brains and the blood. Everything else we use.”

And it had stuck in my mind. A simple throw-away line about their endeavours. And here I was a long long way from that rarefied world of ‘science’ that so easily justifies the destruction of an incredible living thing, and watching a ‘vandal’ actually create a whale, an irony that made me smile as I took the picture.

Some time later with the graffiti image in mind, I sat down in a reflective mood and recalled with some disquiet the apologist’s words, and this was the result:

They even sing (some people say)  

Some people say
Of dolphins
They must be just as smart as us
Of whales
A few are even bigger than a bus!
They even sing, some people say.

But still we kill them, often, in our nets
Shoot them, harpoons ripping into flesh
Pen them, try to make them pets

THAR SHE BLOWS! we cry with glee
But will our children?
Or will they never see,
Just weep, and ask
They even sang?

Some people say
To justify the things men do
It’s Scientific!
The only whale bits we don’t use
Are brains and bloody ooze

Brains and bloody ooze?
How apt I thought
Brains
The only bit that we don’t bloody use

 

 

(This post was previously published in 2012, and has been updated)

 

 

 

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