The dark night

Walking home from work, it’s now totally dark by the time I leave work, so I decided it was time to try out a couple of test shots with the new camera to see what it can do at night – it has a lot to prove as it’s smaller, less powerful predecessor got me some great night shots over the last few years, more often than not improvised on the way somewhere, so I didn’t have the tripod with me. These test ones were, like the old camera ones, improvised, setting the right mode and timer then resting the camera on a wall or ledge or railing, activating the timer and letting it go. The first couple of shots weren’t very good, very speckly, lots of ‘noise’, nowhere near as good as the old Fuji E900 I had for years. Then I realised it was only in the first part of its night mode and if I clicked the onscreen menu there were more advanced ones, so set one up, left it there with the shutter open for a bit and it seemed to work – this was taken with the camera sitting on a railing a the top of Granny Black’s Steps looking over the Grassmarket and Westport to Edinburgh College of Art, with the large windows all blazing:

Edinburgh College of Art & Wesport at night

I turned the camera around and down into the Grassmarket, over to the far side where there are more stairs (stairs up and down being a major feature of living in a city built on seven steep hills!) which lead up from there towards Lauriston, with the old Salvation Army homeless hostel on the right of the steps, now a wee designer hotel. Not the best framed shots – as I had to go with what angles I could get from the camera sitting on a flat surface rather than mounted on the good tripod it limits options a bit – but I’m still reasonably happy with these considering they were just test shots, sure I will do better night shots with the new camera in the time to come.

Grassmarket at night

Spring time in Scotland

It’s, Scotland, it’s Easter, it’s spring time… So, plenty of snow then… Walking in the Pentlands today, snow left from the dreadful weather earlier this week which dumped snow over a lot of Scotland and storms that have made a mess of a lot of bits of the coastline. Some of it has melted away but in the Pentlands on the edge of Edinburgh it’s still lying there, from light dusting on some spots to seriously deep snow in other spots, coming up our shins almost to our knees.

snowy Pentlands 01

Walking up the hill the skyline gave a great effect, making it look like the clouds were rising up from below the horizon:

snowy Pentlands 07

snowy Pentlands 011

Walking through snow is tiring, time for a breather; this also means time for Bruce the dog to scrounge a biccie from his master:

Gordon and Bruce on snowy Pentlands 02

You can see Edinburgh spread out in the background here (click for the larger version on Flickr):

snowy Pentlands 012

Ghosts in the Hollow

Photographer Jim LoScalzo toured lost ghost towns in the Appalachians, once thriving mining towns which became deserted when those mines closed down, leaving the decaying, abandoned structures as ghosts of the past, crumbling monuments to the everyday life of the many men who toiled beneath the ground and their families who they toiled so hard for (and often lost their lives for, deep below, away from the light of the sun and the caress of the wind). Link from Selectism, via Jonathan Carroll.

Ghosts in the Hollow from Jim Lo Scalzo on Vimeo.

Reminded me a little of a day wandering around Prestongrange mining and industrial museum, early in spring, not another soul around, just me and rusting rail tracks, the long-disused winding wheel and old machinery. Not quite the same as his piece with the abandoned homes but still that feeling of ghosts of people, of a whole way of life gone forever, although at least here people can still come and explore that part of their industrial heritage.
Prestongrange mining museum 3

I was also struck by another of his works, this time a more modern yet no less haunted ghost town, empty areas of New Orleans, street lights still working but few people returned or some neighbourhoods even devoid of those who once lived there...

Twilight in New Orleans from Jim Lo Scalzo on Vimeo.

Botanical

I’m enjoying some time off and lo and behold the grim, gray weather of the weekend vanished to be replaced by gloriously sunny, spring-like weather (although still pretty cool, if not actually frosty in the shade). Good lord, good weather on a week off? Gasp. And it’s that beautiful, golden quality of sunlight at this time of year, not the brighter, bleaching sunlight of summer (well, when we get sun in summer in Scotland…) while the air still has that clear quality from winter, a combination which is especially good for taking photos, I find, especially of some buildings. Yesterday the sunlight was complimented by a wonderfully clear sky, like a blue crystal dome, utterly cloudless, as I decided to head down to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Despite the fact I have lived in the city since the start of the 90s I’ve rarely been down to the Botanics, mostly because it’s never really been near where I lived or worked, nor is it close to any friend’s home I might be going to or any other place I might be visiting.

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 02

I ended up spending hours walking through the greenhouses, from the lovely original Palm House (above), which dates from 1834 and is a splendid example of the glass, iron and steel construction the Victorian period pioneered so spectacularly. Still gorgeous today – especially on a bright day – but imagine how much more impressive this structure must have appeared to the Edinburgh citizens of the 1830s, who lived in a city of tall, impressive stone buildings.In the Old Town towering stone tenements used the limited space effectively but also make for shadowed canyons; even the New Town with its Georgian splendour and much larger windows and wider streets still would not have this quality, a space flooded with huge amounts of natural light sparkling through glass suspended from a seemingly frail – but actually very strong – slim latticework of iron. Being midweek it was fairly quiet and I often had entire glasshouses to myself and it was delightfully peaceful.
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 07
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 09
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 10
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 16
I shot far too many photos as I toured through the various public glasshouses (there are others which are for research) from the Palm House through tropics and arid biospheres; I’ve only uploaded a few so far and will do the rest later, although I also shot a brief video in each of the glasshouses as I went through them and I’ve edited them together into a ‘virtual tour':



Poetry in motion

I’ve been on a bit of a poetry kick this month; Edinburgh City of Literature’s annual campaign this year (previous years have seen Conan Doyle and Stevenson used to boost interest in reading) is in collaboration with the Scottish Poetry Library. Carry a Poem is encouraging people to find ways of taking poetry around with them and sharing it; as well as giveaways of books and cards it also includes projecting verse onto public monuments and buildings, such as the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge (an institution which, coincidentally, digitally archives this very blog):

carry a poem - national library of scotland 02
I love this idea; in our northern kingdom night falls very early in the winter months and I think it is rather wonderful that as darkness steals across the land the very fabric of the city becomes a page for the poet’s art. For an ancient city such as Edinburgh it seems most appropriate; it’s a city of history and culture, part real, solid buildings and streets, part fantastical, drawn from the imagination of painters and writers and photographers and others and the written word is as much Edinburgh’s foundational fabric as her native stone and volcanic rock, from scholarly treatises penned by kings to the centuries of endless writers who have lived and scribed away inside her, their words shaped by the city but also shaping the city itself, re-imagining it, be it Burns or Stevenson or Hume or modern authors like Rankin. Even her streets have become pages, home to the written word:
Carry a poem - Royal Mile
How sad then that so many people walked past as I stopped to look at these scenes, words written in light and displayed on ancient stone, most of them oblivious to these little gems of art and life the city was offering up to them as they hurried home after the day’s labour. Even when these schemes are not running there’s so much that draws the eye, little stories beckon, little glimpses of history and lives and small delights and wonders if you but pause for just a moment. Look, here carved in stone it tells you Scott once lived in this building, that Stevenson drank in this howff. Sometimes my walk home may take ten minutes longer than usual as I pause to look at something (and usually try to photograph it too), but what’s ten minutes? Who cares if it’s home ten minutes later when those moment were spent not in the dull, mundane every day of work, home, dinner, washing up but in looking at something beautiful that most people are too blinkered to notice, a tiny splash of magic that made me smile.

Their loss. The city speaks if you have eyes to see and ears to hear and you haven’t closed off that sense of wonder that first is stoked in childhood but so many seal off in adulthood, letting it atrophy, assuming it a childish thing and always left afterwards with a tug somewhere inside for something they know they have lost but they don’t know what it is let alone how to recover it. Pity such people; they like to project an aura of being capable, practical, down to earth; often they affect to pity the dreamer as one who is a little addled perhaps or merely too indulgent, even childish. But they are the ones who are hollow within, closed, lost, stumbling through the world with their most important senses blinded to the wonder around them.

I think it’s why I love poetry; it’s like jazz, it stands outside of prose, although kin to it, it touches directly on sensation, experience, emotions in a way no other artform does, although many borrow from it for their own medium, which becomes richer for it. Poetry is one of our most ancient artforms – long before we wrote them down they were told orally (still the best way to experience a poem) and passed on, from the short to the truly epic, the longer ones memorised in verse because it helped the cadences of the storytelling and for the storyteller to recall it for their audience. Words, especially the written word, were seen by the ancients as being akin to magic, a symbolic way of interpreting and reworking some part of the universe. They were right. Since I’m on a poetry jag, here’s a lovely little animation by Julian Grey I found which accompanies former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins reading his poem Forgetfulness:

sunset

This afternoon, down where the River Esk flows out into the mighty Firth of Forth in Musselburgh, looking back across a very swollen high tide towards Edinburgh and the hills as the sun set behind the city and turned the world copper.
setting sun, the Forth, Edinburgh
Funny, but although I’ve been on the beach on the opposite bank many times I hadn’t been to this spot – just near the race course, behind the some houses, where there’s a bit of a peninsula made from the clinker and ash from the nearby power station. And for some reason right next to the junction of the two rivers there’s this giant blue arrow in a small park. Why? Turns out that it was originally put there right next to the river to let RAF bomber crews line up for their bombing run on a floating target out on the Forth. I had no idea this was here.
this way

Brrrsville!

Walking along the gorge of the River Almond by the weir and ruined old mill by Cramond, big chunks of ice floating in the river, large, flat sheets which the ducks were using to sit on, and huge rows of icicles hanging down from the overhanging rocks like enormous fangs. Couldn’t resist taking some pics and shooting a brief video 360; the roar of water over the weir and the current in the river below it were both very strong, presumably with some of the snow and ice melting into it (going to be a lot more of that over the UK when the cold snap actually lifts properly). The temperature was actually slightly better during the daylight hours today than it’s been recently, but on the banks of the nearby Forth the ferocious wind felt like it was straight from the Arctic. Still, at least it was good for the kite surfers who were having fun when we passed along the windswept and still icy prom.

icicles 06

icicles 01

The mysterious White Isles…


Somewhere, legend tells us, off the western end of the dark sea by the very edge of the known world lie the mysterious White Isles, a strange land blanketed in snow and ice where few may travel… How cool is this NASA satellite image of frozen Britain (via the BBC)? There’s barely a scrap of colour to be seen, the entire British Isles appears to be white (must be a BNP dream!). Check the larger version on the Beeb site, its beautifully detailed and clear, you can easily see Loch Ness and the Great Glen in the north of Scotland while the western coast of Scotland looks astonishing

4, 000 pictures

My Woolamaloo Flickr stream has just reached the 4, 000 images mark after uploading a few pics taken while out playing in the snow today, including these ones (below) as I enjoyed yomping across deep, almost unbroken snow on the rugby pitch at Meggetland sports centre – it was so nice and deep I could take big ‘Moonwalk’ steps (as in actual Apollo mission ‘kangaroo’ leaps, not Jacko style gyrations) as it cushioned each landing, it was great fun. Still wondering exactly how I managed to hit 4000 photographs and video clips and not sure if its something to be proud of or worried about. Although I am pleased that some have appeared on the BBC website and others have been shared to use on communal news sites by citizen bloggers, online galleries, various other sites and a handful even got borrowed, printed and framed for display at a community art project in Edinburgh. Which I have to say I really like – I’m old school internet, been online since 1991 and like many who started then still cling to at least a remnant of the ideals we had in the early days that it was a medium to empower ordinary folks to give them voice and share work and art online.

Meggetland sports ground, winter sunset 02


a pic from today, the sun settting behind the modern Meggetland sports centre as I was playing in deep snow on the rugger field.
The 4000 photos range from pictures of family and friends…
mum and aunt chrissy
Malcolm and Rhona's wedding 31
… to hundreds of photos and short video clips of Paris…
Rue Saint Andre des Arts by night
Louvre looking out of upper floor
Eiffel Tower looking down to Pilier Nord

…black and white work…
cycling piano man 2
she's been framed 1
Scottish Parliament from Arthur's Seat 2
skating 2
…images of Scotland, city and country and wildlife…
sea horses 8
Waverley at sunset 3
Merlin the owl 3
Iron road to the Highlands 20
Inchcolm Abbey with Saltire
…cute kitty cat pics…
Dizzy in the tulips 2
Cassie by fireside 1
…even the occasional celebrity…
ukulele lady 2
…and naturally lots and lots of pics of my beloved Edinburgh. In fact over 1500 of the city and over 600 of the Festival. Hmmm, guess it all does mount up!
summer sunset from Arthur's Seat 1
Edinburgh Tattoo cavalry horses 6
changing the signs 2
Tornado steams into Edinburgh 4
Edinburgh Castle, November night 2
Royal Scottish Academy Gerhard Richter exhibit
Alley piper and Saltire
Edinburgh Castle Fireworks night 2007 4
I make no pretense to be a proper photographer (sometimes I get very lucky with the odd shot though), I’m really more of a gonzo photographer – I just shoot anything that catches my eye from historic buildings to jugglers to everyday life to famous writers at the Book Festival; I don’t rework them in PhotoShop so what you see is pretty much what I saw, not re-touched, shot purely for enjoyment from the compact camera I almsot always carry with me.

Stormy weather

Down to Portobello this afternoon with my mate and his dog to let him have a run around off the leash on the beach (the dog, not my friend), only to find what was a cold wind in the city centre of Edinburgh was a howling gale coming right off the North Sea at Porty, whipping the waves up into big foaming gray peaks and slamming right into the sea wall so hard they splashed right up the side, across the Esplanade and hit the wall of the structure on the other side. That was when we decided to walk around the block at the worst bit :-) Pictures are a bit fuzzy, the wind was so high my camera lens, glasses and my face were all getting whipped by flying sand granules and salt spray, had to clean them repeatedly but within minutes they just got covered with a film of it again.
stormy weather 07
stormy weather 05
stormy weather 10
stormy weather 12

Christmas greetings from Scotland

After finishing work for the year I walked up a very snowy Royal Mile to the Castle gates. For the first time ever I had it all to myself, not another soul there for ten minutes, just me standing in snow that came over the toes of my boots, that soft scrunching sound that reminds you instantly of childhood playtimes in the snow. Just me and the cold and the snow and the Castle glowing in the night above the city, dusted with snow like icing on a historical cake. Below and around me views across the whole of Edinburgh, right out to the Pentland Hills. Freezing but incomparably beautiful. Merry Christmas from a snowy Scotland!

Edinburgh Castle, snowy December evening
snowmen on the Mile

Snowy Edinburgh

On the way home this evening after the last book group of the year and a nice drink, passing Princes Street Gardens, the Christmas lights, snow, Edinburgh Castle… This is my view on the way home and one of the reasons I love living here in one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.

yuletide Castle

yuletide Edinburgh