Retro Robots

The annual Christmas market and winter wonderland fair are running now in Edinburgh around the Mound and Princes Street Gardens, and of course I took a few photographs on the way home from work one evening. It’s not the easiest to shoot – a tripod is useless in the busy market so it means hand-held after dark photography and I don’t normally use the flash either, so a fair chunk simply don’t come out, but sometimes you get lucky, and this series I shot of a traditional toy stall with hand-carved wooden toys, the old tin-type toys, clockwork wind-ups and these gloriously retro, 1950s style robots. I was really pleased considering I was shooting hand held, no flash and at night that these came out so clearly

retro robots 01

In fact they got picked up by one of my favourite sites, BoingBoing, who ran a couple of them on their blog, which was rather nice

retro robots 02

wonderful toys

I do love the traditional toy stall, doesn’t matter how old you get there is something still magical about them that makes you feel like a five year old craving Christmas. And on a cold, dark, December night in winter how nice is to see this splash of colour, life and magic?

Edinburgh After Dark

With it being dark not long after four in the afternoon now it’s a lot easier to take night shots, without having to wait till much later at night and then stand around with camera and tripod as drunks come out the pubs! I was taking a few photos in Saint Andrew Square, one of two large, grand squares (along with Charlotte Square, home to the Book Festival each August) at either end of the Georgian-era New Town part of Edinburgh. In recent years the gardens in the centre of the square have been opened up to the public again and it’s a busy spot with folks coming and going, or using the garden paths as a shortcut to the other side of the square. I had been taking pics of the column and the new, small glass coffee store all lit up in the dark of a corner of the gardens when I looked behind me and realised that the wet, glistening path lined up perfectly with the vista of broad and rather posh George Street leading west, last glimpse of twilight still in the western sky. And I thought why have I never stood here and lined up this shot before? Especially at just the right time of evening where it is dark but with that last little light of dusk still in the west:

George Street, dusk
(as ever click to see the larger versions on my Flickr)

This is a zoom in on the statues that line the top of one the large, old bank headquarters on Saint Andrew Square – shot them before bathed in sunlight but not at night, the long exposure had the side effect of giving the fluttering flag this cool sense of movement which I was quite pleased with:

statues and very fluttery fluttering flag

And here’s Sir Walter Scott, seated between the enormous pillars of the soaring Scott Monument – again I have taken various shots and angles of Watty’s statue over the years but for some reason had never thought to zoom in and line it up so the illuminated clock of the Balmoral Hotel’s tower in the background would show over it like this at night, just noticed it while taking other pics nearby and realised it would make a nice picture. Funny how I have taken night shots around there so many times before but that perspective never occurred to me. One of the nice things about taking a lot of photos is sometimes you just see something you know very well in a different way because of the time of day (or night in this case), weather, season, just looking at it slightly differently…

Sir Walter and the Balmoral Clock, winter evening

Statues after dark

I’ve shot the Gladstone Memorial several times before, usually in lovely, bright light. Until recently it was inaccessible because of the seemingly endless mess the unwanted and ineptly carried out tram works – not content with blocking entire roads for years as they worked they even buggered up pavements and the small park in the West End where the memorial sits. Walking home from doing some night shots in the city centre recently I saw it was open again and as I was carrying the tripod I paused and thought – why have I never shot this at night? In the dark with only ambient illumination from streetlights several feet away the statues all around the sides of the memorial looked very different from the bright days I had shot them on before.

Gladstone Memorial after dark 01

The figure of a hooded lady particularly caught my eye and so I thought I’d quickly set up the tripod and camera again and try a couple of shots – quite a dark spot and the camera had to sit with the shutter open for a good while, drinking in every stray photon it could to come out with the above image. I was quite pleased with how it came out, especially shooting in black and white (I never use PhotoShop to greyscale my pics, if it is in B&W it means I shot it in B&W originally, I refuse to bodge or fake my images) – if you click on the image and look at the larger versions on my Flickr you can see it brought out the scant available light so well you can even see a couple of stars in the background. As it had come out so well I decided to take a closer shot and zoomed in – amazing how different the sculptures look after dark, almost creepy…

Gladstone Memorial after dark 02

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…

Remembering the Fallen 01

I usually try to take some photos of the annual Garden of Remembrance which is around the towering stone structure of the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens each year. This year I decided to try for some night shots again as I was pleased with how they came out last year, I thought somehow shooting this scene at night (well, early evening, street nearby still very busy, but sunset is by half past four now so you can start ‘night’ shooting at a reasonable hour then be back home in time for tea – there is an upside to the long, dark nights of winter). added something to the atmosphere, so went in with tripod and left camera lens open to drink in what little light there was till they came out, then since I had the tripod I walked my way back home, pausing to take more night shots of the city as I did, but those will be for another day.

Remembering the Fallen 03

Remembering the Fallen 06

Remembering the Fallen 08

Serried ranks of small crosses, drawn up neatly as if on drill parade, a poppy on each to remember the Fallen, many with hand-written messages from old comrades, friends and family

Remembering the Fallen 09

Moonrise Kingdom

I was out taking some night shots in Edinburgh this evening – I say night, but actually I started around half past four in the afternoon as the sun has set by then at this time of year! Looking over from Princes Street Gardens to the Old Town on its volcanic ridge I could see a half moon rising in the winter night over the Bank of Scotland headquarters on top of the Mound, where the road snakes up from the New Town to the Old Town. Magical scenes like this are one of the reasons why I love living in Edinburgh, it has the most beautiful cityscape in the world (click to see larger version on my Flickr).

winter moon rising over Old Town

Sunset city

It’s now fully dark by the time I leave work, but I shot this just before the clocks went back, just after sunset, shot from the Northbridge which strides across the deep valley between the Old Town and New Town, Edinburgh Castle atop it’s great volcanic rock, silhouetted against the setting sun. I love the views I get simply walking home from work in my city…

sunset silhouette

Isn’t she pretty in pink?

Jenners department store, the grand old dame of Edinburgh shopping, lit up pink at night to highlight the breast cancer awareness, something they’ve done for the last few years – quite a nice touch.

Isn't she pretty in pink 01

Close up of some of the handsomely sculpted caryatids on the richly decorated facade of Jenners

Isn't she pretty in pink 03

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…

fallen, but never forgotten 01

… the day the guns fell silent on the unbelievable carnage of the Great War. Each year the fallen from that dreadful harvest of death are remembered by the nation on Armistice Day, and all those who have fallen since. The Garden of Remembrance in Princes Street Gardens, by the towering stone edifice of the Scott Monument, opens each November to honour their memory. Sadly recent years have seen too many new names added to the rolls.

fallen, but never forgotten 05

The smaller crosses frequently have personal messages written on them by family, friends and old comrades, some from long ago (the other year I saw one which simply read “Uncle Alex, HMS Hood – gone some seven decades, but someone still remembers Uncle Alex and his 1400 odd shipmates who were annihilated in an insant on the pride of the Royal Navy), some from far too recent losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I zoomed in to take this one I saw that one of the crosses in the section for the Scots Guards that read “we miss you so much, dad and mum. We think of you every day”; some poor soul’s heart is broken, someone in power makes the decisions and sends the troops but they themselves never make any sacrifice, that they leave to families like that one. Perhaps it the sacrifice came from their own blood they would be less swift to send our forces into harm’s way.

fallen, but never forgotten 02

One of the crosses on the left here was dedicated to a father and son – the father lost in 1918 at Arras, his boy lost in the war that followed that one, falling at El Alamein in 1942. The sheer bloody waste of life, the father dying in a war, perhaps he thought at least if we win I will save my wee boy from ever having to endure the same…

fallen, but never forgotten 04

Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.

My subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity.

Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.” the war poet Wilfred Owen.

Edinburgh at night

It’s that time of year where it is now dark before I leave from work to walk home, but I don’t mind that – even when darkness falls Edinburgh looks wonderful and I enjoy walking night-time streets and taking in views like this, looking down from Granny Black’s steps to the Grassmarket behind the Castle, the blander new building on the far side of the square of the Grassmarket is a modern hotel, behind and above it you can see the wonderful old structure of Herriots school; these are all improvised shots, no tripod as was coming home from work so balanced camera on timer on walls and railings:

new building and the old

Another shot from Granny Black’s Steps, looking down into Kings Stables Road which leads off from the Grassmarket – the building in the background above with the very large, brightly lit windows is the back of Edinburgh College of Art:

King's Stables Road at night

Another one looking down into the Grassmarket – the steep steps you see lead up and come out at part of the old, historic Flodden Wall by Herriots School near the University; they also feature in the wonderful animated film by Sylvain Chomet, The Illusionist:

Grassmarket at night

And this shot I have taken several times at different times of year with different cameras over the years, but when I see it like this I simply can’t resist taking another one. The Royal Mile runs east (from the bottom of the ridge at the Palace of Holyrood and now also the Parliament) west up to the Castle. And because I walk home westward at this time of year there is that marvellous quality of evening where it is fully dark but there is a lingering touch of pale light left in the western horizon, so as well as a night shot (another improv one – set timer in night mode, left shutter open, camera balanced on top of traffic bollard; I think about 2/3 of my night shots are improvised like this when I see a scene walking about town) you also get some light in the sky silhouetting the buildings. And with people walking about the busy street you also get that ‘ghosting’ effect, which I must admit I rather like. This is my walk home – isn’t it wonderful?

Royal Mile, autumn evening 01

Royal Mile, autumn evening 02

enLIGHTen

Stopped on the way home last night to watch the launch of the enLIGHTen festival in Saint Andrew’s Square, three weeks of contemporary writers responding to quotes by some of the great figures of that powerhouse period, the Scottish Enlightenment (a period which produced science, philosophy and art which still influences to this day). For the next three weeks their words, animated, will be projected onto various elegant buildings and landmarks throughout Edinburgh’s New Town (which we still call new despite being older than the United States – we reckon time differently here). One of our contemporary poets opened the events with a reading (always best way to experience poetry, being read out by the scribe):

enLIGHTen Edinburgh 02

My literary chum Sara, formerly of the Edinburgh Book Festival, explaining more of the event:

enLIGHTen Edinburgh 03

And as it started some words from the great Scottish philosopher David Hume scrambled slowly up the tall monumental column in the middle of the square as well as being projected along the base – apologies for the picture being fuzzy, the lettering was moving and as I had come right from work I had no tripod to steady it (although as the text moved the tripod might still not be enough to get a sharp image):

enLIGHTen Edinburgh 04

enLIGHTen runs from 6pm to midnight until March 18th – you can find a map of the locations and more about the writers on the official site here.

And while we’re at it, here’s one I shot earlier… This was from Carry A Poem, a similar campaign two years back from the Edinburgh City of Literature crew, where famous poetical lines were projected onto buildings in the city, such as this piece of Byron on the walls of the National Library of Scotland, fairly brightened up a winter’s night, walking home and finding a piece of poetry written in light on the pavement or on a wall:

carry a poem - national library of scotland 02