Ten thousand photos

A few days ago I passed something of a fairly major personal milestone on my Flickr site, uploading image number ten thousand. Yep, the Woolamaloo Flickr, which I started back in March 2007, has now passed the ten thousand photographs line. I may have a bit of a camera addiction… Here is the picture that was number ten thousand, a shot taken at night on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, by the City Chambers where a bronze plaque stands as memorial to where the last home used to stand that Mary Queen of Scots, that most unfortunate of ladies, stayed in during her very final night in her capital city, in 1567:

Over the years I’ve posted all sorts of photos – architecture, modern and ancient, memorials, street scenes, Fringe performers, family, friends, cats, dogs, jellyfish, shots of villages, shots of cities, panoramas taking in swathes of cityscape from tall structures like the Scott Monument of Eiffel Tower, or detailed close ups of a fascinating little corner that took my eye, photos of famous authors, photos of pubs, shots taken in the bright light of day, or in the swirl of snow, shots taken at night, in colour or luminous, silvery black and white. The camera lives in my bag and so goes everywhere with me, pretty much, many of those thousands of pics are opportunistic shots, taken as I saw something interesting on the walk home from work, and Edinburgh offers up many potential subjects for my camera, be it the Castle silhouetted by the setting sun, snow covering the Royal Mile, the moon over the Old Town or performers from the Fringe performing on the street or something as simple as the wonderful colour the old stone buildings turn as the setting sun bathes them. And one of the nice things about being in this habit is that part of my brain is always looking at the city and the people around me with an eye to something that makes an interesting shot. And I say interesting rather than good, as I make no claim to be a great photographer, I simply like catching moments and sharing them online, and sometimes I get lucky with those shots and they come out fairly well.

I’ve had a camera since I was a very young boy – my Uncle Jim, my dad’s big brother, was a keen amateur photographer and as a primary school kid he got me my first real camera (other than getting to use one of dad’s, I mean, my own actual camera), one of those very 1970s, oh so neat Kodak 110 cameras. Remember those? Tiny little oblongs, the small 110 film dropped into the back onto the sprockets easily, unlike the hassle of unwinding a bit of 35MM film then trying to attach it to one reel and sprocket and wind on properly. Perfect for a kid to use. A few years later he got me my first 35MM, a Ricoh compact. Not like the ones that became popular in the late 80s and early 90s which were all automatic and self contained, this was a proper compact where you had built in light meter and used your F stop settings and so on, basically almost everything you would do with a full scale 35MM SLR camera, except for being able to change lenses – a training camera. After that proper 35MM SLRs, of which we had several at home – nothing fancy, just good, solid workhorses like the old Praktica. Came in damned handy at college, I didn’t have to borrow one from the department, I used my own and I knew what I was doing so could spend more time doing work at the processing end in the dark room (always loved that part – semi gloom, quiet, you never knew what you had till developed, was it good, was it blurred, too dark? And then that magical moment when onto a blank piece of paper an image would fade into reality).

First digital camera was the rather basic but cute looking Fuji Q1 – very simple, tiny memory (even with the added memory card – a whole 64 megabytes! Nothing by modern standards, what a difference even a few years makes) so that I had to ‘empty out’ the memory card frequently to keep space in it. I think the first card was actually only something like 16MB, but to be honest to someone who came from a film background this wasn’t a problem, I was used to having maximum of 36 exposures then time to change film, so being able to take a hundred wasn’t a restriction (these days it would be, so used to having huge amounts of memory cheap and accessible). I think, as my dad has observed sometimes at his camera club, those who never learned on film have a blaze away and hope something works approach. And while I will use the bags of memory you get today to take some extra shots of something if I have time, in order to cover myself (in case one or two don’t work), most of the time I line up a shot and take it. Sniper, not spray it around Tommy Gun approach. And unlike a lot at my dad’s camera club, I don’t spend hours in PhotoShop then tweaking and changing that image until it is as they want – I do most of my editing actually in camera, lining up and framing the shot, subject and angle I want so afterwards in processing all I really do is the odd bit of cropping, maybe fine tune contrast, brightness or colour balance, nothing I wouldn’t have done in the dark room in the film days.

I don’t monkey around altering my photos, I want to get as close to showing what I saw as I can, no fakery or touch ups. To my mind that is photography. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against digital imagery and manipulation, I see some great pics that way and like them, but to my mind that is digital imagery, not photography. Photography is a discipline as well as art and medium, and my version of it involves not reworking images in the computer later until I have something that wasn’t what I saw. Like I said I like capturing moments, be it someone laughing at the Fringe or the play of sun on an old building. I’ve moved through a couple more digital cameras since that first basic one (which cost more back then than a good compact would now). My previous camera reminded me of that advanced compact Uncle Jim got me as a boy, bit chunkier than most compacts because it had more features – like being able to do decent night shots and long exposures on the tripod, and I think I worked the poor thing to death, it actually packed in. Replaced with bigger, more advanced kit, what they call a bridge camera, much like a digital SLR but slightly smaller and you can’t change lenses, but other than that very similar. Full SLR and various lenses would not be as handy for me as I like to keep this in my bag so even during regular day I can just whip it out and get a shot if one presents itself, but also have it be advanced enough that I can work it. Of course as always there’s a newer, better, fancier one, and after several years with this very good one I have an eye on the new version of the same range, but due to advanced EPS (Empty Pockets Syndrome) it will be quiet a while before I can afford it, which is okay as the one I have is absolutely fine and certainly does me well.

So as I pass ten thousand pics and hundreds of thousands of views of my photos online I find myself looking back at it. Some of those pics I’ve allowed to be re-used – some charities have used them, some teaching projects have borrowed them, as have some graduate students for their work, couple got borrowed for a community arts project, some have appeared on the BBC and BoingBoing sites, even the New Yorker’s book blog, one was used for the poster for a science conference, a few have even appeared in books – one for a charity publication, couple of author pics I took were loaned to creators I know to use (the most recent one just appeared a couple of weeks ago, author using my pic as his headshot). Maybe one of these days someone will actually license on for real money! I doubt it, but you never know…

But every time I think of all those pics, the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of views of them I’ve had so far I think about Uncle Jim, wonder what he would have made of the digital age of photography, what he might have done with some of this kit (or would he rather have stuck to film?). And I also mentally thank him for those first cameras and and encouragement, and my dad too for his or maybe I wouldn’t be doing more than the odd holiday snap today. I also find myself looking back over it and it forms a kind of visual diary for me, preserving moments and places, and I often look through the archives and tweet pics that were shot on this day in previous years. Feels nice to be able to capture these scenes and even better to be able to share them online, and with that many views I must be doing something right…

Weird dreams…

For the last two nights I have very odd dreams – also unusual in that I actually remembered them fairly clearly, probably because I woke up a couple of times in the middle of the night, slightly discombobulated for a few moments sitting up in the dark with the dream still foremost in my mind, before becoming awake enough to realise it was just a dream. Then back to sleep and the dream continues – similarly when I actually woke up the dream was still running through my head.

Last night for some peculiar reason I dreamed I was making a documentary – said documentary involved, for no obvious reason I can think of, old folk artists the Alexander Brothers who we were filming on a kayak expedition. This kayak expedition started along the Scottish coast but soon moved inland where, due to severe floods, the towns nearby had been utterly flooded and we all paddled our canoes through the streets and, at several points, right through several houses, paddling along halls and into someone’s deluged living room, filming the brothers discussing climate change and the pleasures of both sea and the new urban kayaking in Scotland.

Edinburgh Canal Festival 2012 013

No, I have no idea where this came from, I haven’t been in a canoe since I was in the Boy’s Brigade at an outdoor centre (and that wasn’t yesterday!) and quite why this documentary was about the Alexander Brothers and kayaks I have no idea…

The night before that I dreamed my work told me that they were expanding the store above into the basement, so my desk down under the depths of the Bridges had to be moved even deeper down. I was taken on a long walk down a dark tunnel even deeper into the undercity below, where after a good half hour’s walk from my old desk we came to a floodlit area in one of the deep stone tunnels. It’s a bit of a walk to your desk, I’m afraid, they told me, then also added that I would have to put up with some noise and coming and going as there was an archaeological excavation going on just a few feet from where they had set up my desk. When I woke up in the middle of the night the dream was so strong in my head I was sitting there for a few moments thinking I’m not letting them treat me like this, must call my union rep… Oh, hold on, dream… And like last night, when I fell asleep again the same dream ran again. Not unusual for me to have odd dreams, we all have those, and the amount I read it’s not surprising I get a lot of them, but very unusual to remember them so clearly well into waking. And really, what the smeg was the canoeing through houses with a pair of old folk musician documentary about??

42

Today marks my ‘Douglas Adams’ birthday – 42. This, of course, means I now am perfectly at one with The Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything. Mind you, as anyone who knows where their towel is can probably guess, I still don’t understand the bloody Great Question, rendering it all pretty pointless (an apt metaphor for life, really – puzzling, frustrating, disappointing and pointless). At least I know my Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster from my Old Janx Spirit. I’m not really sure how I come to find myself at this age. On the one hand it seems like just the other year I was a happy mid 20s student drinking my way through college and quite happy, other days it feels like a lifetime ago. I suppose it was. Can’t say I especially feel like celebrating; truth be told I don’t really give a damn about my birthday, its on such an awkward day its a bit of an afterthought so it hasn’t really meant much to me in my adult years, different when you are a kid. And these days it doesn’t feel like there’s much reason to celebrate.

Gift ideas

‘Tis the season when every second bloody advert is from celebs from A to Z list hawking their wares: perfumes, endless comedy DVDs and books which are instantly sold at half price in the chain bookstores and supermarkets. I’m so utterly disgusted by the crass, obvious commercialism of all of this that I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon and endorse my own scent, Eau de Joe. Why buy a perfume that allegedly makes you smell like some Hollywood slapper when you could have Eau de Joe, with its peaty, single malt mixed with hints of 80% coco chocolate, must books and cat fur aroma.

And for that other perfect gift for Christmas why not select my new special Joe Stands Up comedy DVD. Its an hour long of me standing up in different poses, from bolt upright to nonchalantly leaning against the fireplace in my smoking jacket as I tap out my pipe. Order now and get the bonus extra disc Joe Also Sits Down. Truly something for everyone.

Okay, I’ll admit, these are shoddy, inferior goods designed simply to be bought by folks desperate for gift ideas for relatives whose tastes they don’t really know that well, just like every other shameless celebrity endorsed bag of crap, but at least I’m honest about it. And my comedy DVD would still be funnier than bloody Peter Kaye or Gavin and bloody Stacey. Hmm, maybe I should think on a range of action figures for next year…

Fog in Channel

Quite a while back I was asked by Tom and Simon Sykes if I’d like to contribute to a book they were putting together on British attitudes to Europe; its taken some time to get to print but its now finally been released (I just received my complimentary copy). It was quite nice to be asked (they had come across the Woolamaloo after the infamous ‘Bastardstone’s’ incident and liked my writing style) and it was unusual for me to be asked to write on something other than my regular subjects of books, comics or films (much as I do enjoy writing and talking about those). I’m also rather chuffed to think I’m in there with company such as Bill Deedes, Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell and Tony Benn (my late uncle, a solid socialist to the day he died, would have been delighted to see his nephew in a book alongside Benn). The guys wanted to have a spread of people and so a variety of thoughts and opinion and not just the ‘usual suspects’, hence why I was also approached; I drew on my own experience of an earlier Union to describe my feeling towards European Union, looking at the notion of being Scottish and British against the idea of being British but also European. Fog in Channel (the title inspired by the old weather report on the radio) is published now by Shoehorn Publishing.

Hogmanay

And so we click over to the final day of the year and also my fortieth birthday. Soundtrack for today: Clare Grogan (fworrr) and Altered Images with “Happy Birthday”, Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” (“got a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart… I’m a man and I’m a boy…”), The Cure’s “In-Between Days” (“yesterdayI got so old, I felt like I could die, yesterday I got so old it made me want to cry”), Queen’s “Who Wants To Live Forever?” and then nothing to do with age or birthdays I’m sticking on my namesake the jazz musician Joe Gordon.

Here lies Joe Gordon; no, he’s not dead, just full of champagne… Born at the height of the Swinging Sixties and the Space Age; unsurprisingly he has a soft spot for the Beatles and still at 40 harbours a great desire to be an astronaut when he grows up. 1967. Britain wasn’t even on the decimal system back then – I don’t remember the old money as it changed when I was very small, but I still have my first bank savings book, opened by relatives when I was born, and the entries are all in pounds, shilling and pence which I don’t actually understand. According to a card my mum and dad gave me in 1967 a pack of crisps would cost 1 shilling and 3 pence (about 6p modern style), a gallon of petrol 5 shillings and 5 pence, around 27 p modern (now the old money and the gallon are gone) and a pint of Guinness would have set you back 2 shillings and sixpence, or around 12 and 1/2 pence modern (and the half pence is long gone now too, of course).

Sandie Shaw won the Eurovision Song Contest in ’67 with “Puppet on a String”, the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released (still one of my favourite albums of all time and also one of the best cover designs ever), “In the Heat of the Night” won an Oscar (“they call me Mister Tibbs”), Elvis married Priscilla, Francis Chichester completed the first solo voyage around the globe and the QEII was launched. Louis Leakey announced the finding of ancient, pre-human fossils in Kenya, still one of the great sources of knowledge painfully peiced together on the very earliest days of humans and the species which lead to us back in the dawn days (there’s nothing like reading about a 600, 000 year old proto-human fossil to make you feel younger on your 40th). Jimi Hendrix releases “Are You Experienced?” Yes, Jimi, I am and thanks for giving me my theme tune, “hey, Joe, where you goin’ with that blog in yore hand?”

The Russians postured, telling their allied (actually controlled) states not to have full diplomatic links to what we used to call West Germany, while Israel went into the Six Days War and the US was embroiled in Vietnam. Of course aggression in the Middle East, Russian leaders posturing against the West and Americans getting themselves into the quagmire of an unwinnable war in a country that has nothing to do with them for dodgy political ideology are all mistakes we have learned from in 2007 and would never allow to happen today… Oh, hold on… Martin Luther King denounces the war (and of course he gets villified an killed) and Muhammad Ali refuses the military draft. They villify him too, but today who remembers the politicians who postured about, calling him names? But they remember Ali. Che Guevara meets his end but in doing so becomes immortal.

Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions was published, collecting some brilliant writing by Philip K Dick, Samuel Delany, Fritz Leiber and others. Ah, the days when Harlan was pioneering some great writing; sadly in 2007 he seems to be mentioned more regularly in connections with legal cases… The first colour broadcasts began in the UK (on some BBC2 programmes); I’m old enough to remember TV’s used to have little badges on them proudly proclaiming ‘colour’ (usually each letter in different colours in case you were especially thick and didn’t quite get it) and so did station idents. Today they all say ‘HD’ instead. Plus ca change.

The Summer Of Love year was also an apex in humanity’s drive to the stars – both NASA and the Soviet Union (another name gone since I was younger) were sending probes to Venus and the magnificently daring Apollo programme was literally going ‘where no man has gone before’. Jocelyn Bell and her colleagues using a new-fangled radio telescope discover a regular extra-terrestrial signal from the depths of space. Regular signal? Artificial? Alien life? Sadly it wasn’t ET calling but it was the discovery of the bizarre stellar phenomenon of the Pulsar. Her colleagues later shared a Nobel Prize (the discovery was written up in 68) but not Bell, a controversial move. She is now a Dame. The drive to the stars seems to have faded away and I’m looking at another year where I am unlikely to have a holiday on the Moon, dammit. In other scientific advances ’67 also saw Barnard perform the first heart transplant and the gloriously beautiful Concorde took her bow. Same age as me, but she’s gone from the skies; luckily I am still flying, albeit rather more slowly and with a much smaller nose. Moves to have me preserved for the nation in a museum have so far come to nothing.

1967, seems worlds away now, doesn’t it? And yet it was full of events still influencing 2007. Let’s hope 2008 gets more of the better influences from the past and not the negative. Sadly my birthday didn’t begin with me waking up sandwhiched between Monica Belluci and Winona Ryder, waiting for Nigella Lawson, clad only in a maid’s apron, to bring us breakfast in bed. Then again I did wake up knowing my family are healthy and with me, I’ve got friends and a decent roof over my head while there’s still millions who can’t say that. That injustice infuriated me as a kid and a younger man and it really makes me incandescent that in 2007 we still spend more killing people than we do trying to help those who need it. I dearly wish some of our so-called leaders would read more history and learn from it. 2008 will probably bring more mistakes repeated from the past, but let’s hope – let’s hope it gets better. Happy New Year to you all and Peace Out, y’all.

One hour to go

One single hour to go before I am no longer a thirtysomething. End of the year and end of my thirties, hello being a funky fortysomething. Thank goodness for my creamy Celtic complexion and youthful exuberance – with those most folks think I look only 39 and a bit… Nah, that’s not true, it seems to surprise a lot of folks who didn’t think I was that age yet, although of course they may all just be being polite, but frankly I’m taking it the positive way. Bottle of champers chilling nicely for the birthday breakfast as we speak, any excuse… Anyway, champagne for breakfast is something everyone should indulge themselves in from time to time and if you can’t do it on your birthday then when the hell can you? First time I ever had champagne at breakfast was way back in the mid 1980s in a hotel in Aachen in Germany and its kind of become a birthday ritual these days and why not? Got to live a little, especially at my age :-)

Dad continues to be on the mend – he seems a bit more tired than before, but that’s pretty understandable between the lethargy having to spend several days in a hospital bed can impart and the shock to the old system. He’s pretty upbeat and the final scans were clear (although he will go back in sometime in the next month or two for some routine further checks to make sure) but I think it has rattled him a little more than he lets on. We had a good Christmas together, the pair of us took every excuse to sit and watch the Wallace and Gromit repeats on the BBC while my mum tutted at us about enjoy cartoons at ‘our ages’, although by the time they were halfway through we heard barely suppressed sniggers coming from her direction, then out and out laughs from the woman who claims animation is for kids and not funny… Mind you that’s not bad going, it took us from the early video days (Betamax no less) to just a few years back to persuade her that Blazing Saddles was a comedy masterpiece (she finally gets it).

Ton of food was guzzled of course, all homemade – can’t beat yer mum’s cooking! My veggie main course this year was a delicious herb-stuffed pinenut roast in red wine sauce (again homemade). Mum’s meringue nests, cream, fresh fruit and some ice cream from the bloody excellent Equi’s (one of the best ice cream emporiums in Scotland) for dessert (although my cousins opted for the traditional Christmas pudding instead), all washed down with a bottle of Saint Joe. My mum couldn’t resist buying this bottle when she saw the name on it, although I don’t actually answer to that name to anyone except her and a couple of family members as I have hated my full name for as long as I can remember and prefer just Joe; anyone else using the full name will find themselves being ignored…


(Saint Joseph, the patron saint of mixing good chocolate and red wine)

As ever we all collapsed after dinner feeling as if we had swallowed a (delicious) cannonball, full, full, full… I always look forward to enjoying mum’s cooking at Christmas, but getting dad home on Christmas Eve made it particularly special. I could see him through a window as I was walking up to the house and boy was that a nice sight. We’re still trying to get him to take it easy, but mum and dad have been out a bit in the last few days and in fact they took me out for an early birthday treat lunch this weekend, which was good, off to the Bridge Inn at Ratho, which is a spot I first found years back when I used to cycle a lot and Brendan and I cycled out the canal towpath several miles out of Edinburgh, saw the village, the old humpbacked bridge and the canalside pub and thought we had earned a pint, found out they did food and that was it (incidentally Brendan’s 40th was a couple of weeks back – the party had a loose theme of dead rock stars and one guy came as Kurt Cobain; when he turned round he had fake blood and brains on the back of his head).

The menu was a bit disappointing – the veggie options were extremely poor which was annoying as we’ve eaten there many times and they usually had a number of options (I once had gorgeous hot peppers stuffed with fresh cream cheese from one of the local farms, shame they don’t do it anymore) so it was irritating to see a new menu that was so limited on the veggie front – most places tend to add more vegetarian options rather than reducing them. Still, I picked out a couple of simple items and enjoyed them with a decent beer from the Atlas brewery and it meant having more time to spend with the folks which is never bad.

Scary pics

You want to see something truly scary? This is an image from the 1984 yearbook at my school showcasing the leading lights – should that be LEDs perhaps? – of the (then new) Computer Club. The bright-eyed young chap on the left rear has recently captained the Academy’s first ever team in an inter-school computer quiz and beat the opposing team captain in a sudden death playoff, so you see it wasn’t just playing Manic Miner and Elite, although I bet I could have kicked hs butt at those too. Yes, that gurning grin belongs to me. Bloody scary isn’t it? Go on, you all have a good laugh, I don’t mind; just remember you all have scary images like this from your past hidden away too!

My mate Gordon is right next to me (these days we still prop up bars together) and there are my mates Malcolm and Bobby – we all still hang out together to this day and have contributed to the wealth of many of Scotland’s finest curry house owners over the years.

The Evil Herr Thatchler was in Downing Street and a mentally challenged warmonger was in the Oval Office, while we worried about terrorist attacks and anyone with a certain ethnic accent was suspected by the police who were always looking for more powers to deal with them.

I think at that point in time I had my Sinclair Spectrum with its mighty 48K memory; before that was my Texas Instruments 99/4a – 16K in 1981, very impressive! My mobile phone has many times this memory today… 6 years after this pic I would have moved on through my old Atari ST (wow, a built in floppy drive!!!! Hi-tech!) to a PC (30MB of real hard drive – astonishing… Now my portable USB drive has 512MB and I gave up counting the gigabytes in my laptop’s system, it is just silly). It’s the mid 80s and I’m reading something new called cyberpunk by a guy called William Gibson – he talks of a digital, networked future…

And on PC 6 years after this picture I would be introduced to the very basic internet and email (no web yet, pretty much all text based) of 1991. And one day I write a pastiche of a news item for a laugh and to let off steam and I email it to some friends around the world under the banner The Woolamaloo Gazette, born of sarcasm… It is later in the 90s and I’m hosting an author event with Bill Gibson, listening to his wonderful slow drawl and I’m plugging into that digital web myself.

2005; my long hair is long gone but the Woolamaloo Gazette is still there, now written on a dinky little laptop smaller than they keyboard of my old TI from 1981; I’ve lost a job because of my sarcasm and web access and got a much better one; now I’m being interviewed on freedom of expression on the web for CNN. It is indeed a funny old world…

An increasingly right wing nutter is in 10 Downing Street and a mentally challenged monkey is in the Oval Office and we are worried about terrorist outrages and the police are demanding more powers to deal with them while anyone from a certain ethnic background was suspected… Guess some things don’t change much… I’m still reading Bill Gibson.