A day at the beach…

Look, an actual day when it wasn’t howling a gale with the rain coming down horizontally!

a sea view 01

And it was also very mild, temperature-wise, in fact too mild for me to wear my winter coat, had to slip to something lighter. Such a weird winter, we’ve had endless storms of high winds and driving rains then spells where the temperature has risen so much we’ve seen daffodils starting to poke out of the soil (even in December!) and petals appearing on the cherry blossom trees, then back to winter chills and gales again.

coming and going

But this day was dry (it even brightened up a little later too) and fairly warm for a January day, and since that coincided with a weekend lots of folks hit Portobello beach and Promenade (lots of kids wobbling around on new skates or bikes they obviously got at Christmas but have had little chance to play on because of the lousy weather). Also gave me a chance to play with the new camera (lousy weather means I’ve had little chance since I got it, especially during the sort daylight hours), still getting used to it.

beachwalking the dog

there's treasure everywhere

I wasn’t the only one taking photos of course!

the photographer on the prowl 03

While others were lost in thought

lost in thought 02

And some just happy to sit down by the sea and relax…

relaxed

a sea view 04

And there’s always coffee and snacks from the Little Green Van to perk you up on your Promenade strolling

coffee from the Little Green Van 02

(as ever click the pics for the larger versions on my Flickr)

2015 in pictures

Having a week look back through my Flickr stream and decided to pick out some of my favourites from the photographs I shot during 2015. No theme here (other than being roughly chronological from January through to December), not the ones which got the most views on Flickr or anything like that, or even technically the best shots, just the ones I was most pleased with capturing through my lens last year.

This old, crumbling cemetery is St Machan’s, complete with ruined church, nestling at the foot of the Campsie Hills by Campsie Glen, and it looked especially atmospheric in the snow and that blue light quality we get on some winter’s days:

St Machan's kirkyard, winter 04

Out for a walk after dark back in January with the tripod, taking some night shots of the city – for some reason while I shot buildings and other scenes it was this simple shot of an enclosed lane which runs along the side of the Assembly Rooms, something about the angle, the lights and shadows, all screamed for a black and white shot:

well-lit lane 02

From the same winter photo walk, I’ve long meant to bag a pic of this shop, an antiques and pawnbrokers, I think, on a corner in the New Town on Queen Street, with these very distinctive eagle sculptures along the top, and as I was passing by with the tripod I thought now was the time…

Duncanson & Edwards at night

This was an improvised night shot on the walk home from work – no tripod since I was coming from work, so I set the timer for a long exposure and rested the camera on top of one of the small metal bollards along the Union Canal used for tying up barges, which seemed to make it steady enough for a long exposure – how cosy do these houseboats look?

floating homes

An afternoon in the local pub, this particular one doesn’t just allow dogs in, they don’t mind them being on the seats (as long as humans don’t need the space), and as we drank my chum’s greyhounds made themselves very comfortable, so I used the timer again and sat the camera on the seat next to them to get this low perspective shot in very low light:

sleeping pub pooches 03

March – should be springtime, but on the way to work as I crossed North Bridge (which strides over the valley the railway station lies in, connecting Old Town and New Town) early on a freezing morning, I saw this view of a snow-dusted Edinburgh Castle and paused to get a quick photo before heading on to work. These are the sorts of views I can get just going to and from work, another reason I love living in Edinburgh…

springtime in Scotland 02

I’ve taken many photos along the East Lothian coast near North Berwick as my chum often drives down there with his dogs for a good walk and I sometimes tag along. No matter how many times I’ve taken the mighty Bass Rock off the coast it’s always tempting to take another as the light and seasons change how it looks. Here though the tide was in, save for a small, flat spit of sand projecting out, and when I took the shot from this perspective it made it look almost as if the people looking towards it were walking on the water:

walking on water

In May dad and I were driving past Chryston and I had noticed a now closed petrol station – not unusual these days, so many have closed down, unable to compete with the ones run by the giant supermarket chains next to their stores. But what was unusual was that everything was still in place – normally the pumps and other equipment are taken away, leaving just the weed-strewn concrete apron behind, but here building and pumps, rusting, some burst open, all still in place, and on a bright day with good light, so we pulled over so I could shoot some images of this abandoned, rusting derelict:

this petrol station is no more, it has ceased to be 07

On the same day dad and I had driven out to Hogganfield Loch, a loch in a large park in Glasgow, which we used to go to a lot when I was a kid (it was very popular for boating and had nearby golf and putting greens), first time in years I had been there. No boating anymore there, but huge amounts of birds:

Hogganfield Loch 09

Out for a walk on a pretty cold spring afternoon in May, taking some pics, and as I passed Peter’s Yard, the Swedish bakery and cafe on Middle Meadow Walk, I paused to take a few “people watching” shots, and caught this rather nice moment between two friends sitting on the outside of the cafe:

sharing coffee outdoor 02

June arrived, Film Festival time for me, and this year the festival had asked me to write up some pieces for their site as they were showing Future Shock, a documentary about 2000 AD, and the comic’s founder and major UK writer Pat Mills was up for the screening to do a Q&A afterwards. I’ve met Pat a few times and he was kind enough to do a signing in our store before the film festival showing, where I snapped this pic:

Pat Mills signing Forbidden Planet Edinburgh 03

Late June and the Canal Festival and annual raft race came along just up the road from my flat. I took a bunch of shots but this was one of my favourite ones, as a band played on the old Leamington Lift Bridge – I think it was the smiles I captured in this shot that made me like it so much, they were clearly enjoying themselves:

music at the Edinburgh Canal Festival 05

Walking along the Union Canal near my flat during the early summer, always swans and ducks around on there, but this day an entire family out, the adult swans and these adorably fluffy-looking wee cygnets:

The Swan Family 02

Tom Gilzean is now in his nineties – despite this, this veteran is regularly seen on Princes Street rattling his cans to collect for charities, he’s raised more than £100k doing this. I’ve always wanted to get a shot of him at “his post”, so to speak, but never managed one, until I was on the way to work, the bus stopped at the lights right next to where he was just setting himself up, so I grabbed the camera from my bag and got this very quick shot through the window from the top deck of the bus before the lights changed and we moved off. Another reason why I always have the camera in my bag – never know who or what may present itself to you for a good pic as you go round town…

Tom Gilzean, charity fundraiser extraordinaire

Festival time and Edinburgh is bursting at the seams with tourists, performers and luvvies, and as usual I try to get as many shots as I can of the performers, who all congregate on the Royal Mile near the Cathedral, in a section of road given over to them during August, some doing excerpts from their shows on small open-air stages, others in costumes, walking up and down the Mile with posters and flyers to drum up interest (with hundreds of shows at the biggest arts fest in the world you need to fight for an audience). I always take a huge amount of shots on this stretch during August, but this performer from the Paperplay puppet theatre was one of my favourites, just as I was taking pics of her and some of her colleagues she turned just as I zoomed in a bit on her and gave me this smile just as I clicked. Sometimes the photo gods smile on your timing…

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 063

Another Fringe performer on the Royal Mile last summer, on one of the small stages on the street, so she was standing a bit higher than me, light was good and I managed to zoom in and get this portrait shot that I was quite pleased with:

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 081

More from the Fringe: sci-fi musical spoof Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens has become a regular visitor to the Festival, and I’ve snapped some of them in previous years, but this time they were doing a number from the show on one of the small stages and I caught this moment with one of the actors singing away:

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 089

Still on the Royal Mile during Fringe time (well, I said I take a lot of pics in August!) – I still don’t know if this was an actual couple enjoying a sudden romantic moment surrounded by the bustle of Festival-time Edinburgh, or if they were from a show and promoting it (if they were they didn’t have any obvious flyers or promo material with them). I was actually shooting some other performers, looked around, saw them behind me, whipped up the camera thinking dammit, they will have finished before I can get them in frame, zoom in and focus, but no, this clinch went on and on and it gave me the few extra seconds I needed to zoom in and capture this moment. I think this was going to be my favourite pic I took this year, but one I took a couple of months later just beat it (see further down):

ae fond kiss

August also means the Edinburgh International Book Festival and of course I was there, enjoying a number of events as well as chairing a couple of the talks as well. And catching up with fellow book people, such as the fab Sarah McIntyre. This was “backstage” by the Author’s Yurt, Sarah was getting ready for her own event and had just changed into her costume, so I grabbed some photos, including this one with her own badge for her Dinosaur Police:

edinburgh book fest 2015 - Sarah McIntyre 03

Back on the Royal Mile and a pair of very young but very talented ladies who were playing classical music in the street, lovely strong light and after shooting a couple of general pics of them with their instruments I thought I would try to zoom in a bit as I wanted to capture their expressions as they played. It’s not perfect, trying to balance strong sunlight on one side with shadow on the other, and she moved just after I had zoomed in a bit more to get that close up, so it isn’t perfectly framed, but hey, shooting live on the street you grab what pics you get and while technically not a great photo frankly I loved it because it caught her expression of delight as she played her violin in front of a Fringe crowd, and I’ll take capturing a moment over being technically proficient any day of the week:

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 0145

This was a pure chance shot – walking along George IV Bridge on a bright summer day, people sitting outside the bars and cafes having a drink and eating, I saw this couple having an animated discussion at their pavement table, sunlight right on them. I was on the opposite side of the street, in the shadow side, aimed camera and zoomed in across the street and had to try and grab a shot before traffic blocked the view, got this little moment:

animated conversation

September and a very warm, bright day – better than much of the summer had been, in fact, and so I went for a photo walk, ending up at one point on a busy Calton Hill, and the autumn light was so nice on the National Monument, and all the young tourists sitting on it in the sun, that I thought I’d try a monochrome shot:

Calton Hill, bright autumn day 03

A couple of comicker chums, Neil Slorance and Colin Bell came to do a signing, I was snapping away when they did this pose just as I clicked another shot:

Neil Slorance & Colin Bell signing Forbidden Planet Edinburgh 02

Late autumn, walking home from work on evening, that wonderful golden light we get on clear autumn days, and the long, long shadows because the sun is so much lower in the sky. I love the light quality here in autumn, it’s warm and golden, like honey on hot toast. This was the last half hour or so of daylight, sun sinking in the west, the east and north sides of the buildings sinking into deep shadows while the west-facing flanks of these tall, old stone buildings radiated that glowing copper light:

autumn evening in Edinburgh 03

Late autumn again, walking through the Meadows, unseasonably warm and again beautiful clear, autumn light, when I happened to just pass this chap making giant soap bubbles, so naturally I stopped for a pic. I love just coming across something like this, brightens the everyday world up a bit…

I'm forever blowing bubbles 03

Dad and I had a great day out visiting the Kelpies, the gigantic sculptures of these creatures from Scottish folklore, rearing up by the Forth & Clyde Canal near Stirling, quite wonderful to see. Would love to get back some time to do some shots of them by night…

Myth made steel 02

Same day out with dad, we had a quick visit to The Pineapple – I think you can see how this 1760s structure for the earls of Dunmore, near the Forth, got its name. It used to contain a hothouse for exotic plants being brought back by the many expeditions round the world at the time, the pineapple being an example of that (common to us now but then a sign of status, wealth and having travelled to far climes), while it looks down into a walled garden, which creates a micro climate allowing plants which would not normally survive the Scottish weather to flourish. The Pineapple roof is hand-carved and very clever – the projecting fronds also channel the water from it so it doesn’t collect and then damage the sculpture in winter by freezing. A wee hidden gem of a place:

The Pineapple 01

Into late October and a scene I have taken numerous times because I often walk home from work this way, straight up the famous Royal Mile. And by the end of October it is just becoming dark as I leave work – in fact the sun has actually set at this point, the streetlights are one, but there is a magical, extended twilight in autumn. I set the timer for a long exposure and sat the camera on top of a traffic bollard to steady it, pointing westwards up the Mile towards the cathedral. I’ve taken this shot several times over the years, but dammit, it’s so wonderful standing there that I just take another one to share anyway… This scene was much darker to my eyes, but I had a long exposure here, so the camera drank in what little light there was to give this brighter image, capturing what photographers call “the blue hour”, that moment when the sun has set but the western horizon still glows blue on a long exposure, only lasts a short time, but it’s wonderful when it does:

Royal Mile, blue hour

Autumn also saw a great visit from the entire Canadian contingent of our clan, including some of the younger kids who we hadn’t seen yet. At one point my uncle and I took some of them to the playpark nearby to let them run around for a wee while, and I took a bunch of pics, this one of one of my cousin’s wee girls became my favourite and probably my fave pic I took all year, just because she was so adorable and after shooting a bunch of her playing I finally got a decent close up before she moved out of frame again:

cousins at play 011

Winter and out for a shorter photo walk with dad, visiting the vast Necropolis, the huge Victorian cemetery on a small hill by the medieval Glasgow Cathedral, an astonishing place, terraced mausoleums going up the steep hillside, many large and ornate memorials, and from the top some splendid views over the city. It is reached from this, the evocatively-named Bridge of Sighs (so called because of the sighs and weeping of mourners accompanying funeral processions across the bridge taking loved ones from the vibrant city of Glasgow into this large city of the dead). An amazing place to visit:

Necropolis 012

Properly into winter and the annual festive market and fair in Princes Street Gardens had just opened, so after work I went on the prowl with the camera to take a few night shots around the market, and I couldn’t resist taking a B&W shot of these metal and glass candle holders on one stall:

glowing white in the night 02

Meanwhile, literally just a few feet from one of the brightly-lit entrances to the festive market, and all the lights, and shops and food stalls and happy browsers, this chap on the street, a reminder that not everyone gets to share in it all:

not all are included in the festive spirit

And once last night shot from the festive market – my new camera had arrived and was supposedly better at low light so I was desperate to try it out, but the weather had been so relentlessly awful, howling gales and driving rain, that most nights weren’t very suitable for a quick photo stroll after work. So when it was actually dry one night I had to go and play with the new camera – still getting used to it (unlike most bridge cameras it has manual focus and zoom options), and several times I could have sworn I had it in focus only to find out when I put them on the computer at home that the pics weren’t right, but that just needs more time getting used to the new picture box. This one came out very clearly though, especially considering it was a handheld shot at night with people moving around. Be fun to see if I can get as much out of the new camera as I did the previous one…

festive market 015

Spring blossoms in December…

Walking home today after a frankly dispiriting and depressing birthday (you know it’s not going to be a special day when the post arrives with several bills and no cards, not inspiring and it was downhill from there – should have stayed in bed and waited for the day to go away), passing the trees in the playground of a nearby school and more examples of how the bizarre weather is affecting plants: blossom petals appearing on the trees.

spring blossoms in December 01

These would normally be a March to April sight, but although we’ve been battered by gale-force storms repeatedly this month and lashing rain and floods, and despite those driving winds being bitingly cold, the actual ambient temperature has been way above what we would normally have in Scotland at this time of year. When I was home last week dad pointed out shoots of Daffodils pushing through the earth in the garden, this week I see spring blossoms in December. Strange weather, lately…

Fireside seat

Winter in Scotland, and one of the finest and simplest pleasures, sitting not just in the pub, but getting the comfy, cushion-strewn sofa right by the old stove, cosy, comfortable, ah, perfect…

a session in Teuchters 02

Waiting on chum and his dogs to arrive (the hounds, of course, after several minutes of demanding attention from me settled down happily in front of the warm stove for the rest of the afternoon), and leafing through a fascinating book while sipping a very fine ale by the fire on a chill winter’s day. The simple pleasures….

a session in Teuchters 03

Festive fair

festive market 02

It’s that time of year when the festive market, ice rink and fair is set up in Princes Street Gardens, as well as more in nearby Saint Andrew Square, so I’ve been trying to take a few night-time photos of it all on the way home from work, some with the freshly arrived new camera, but mostly with older camera as weather has been too foul since new picture box arrived to take more than a few pics so far, rather frustratingly. The upper parts of Princes Street Gardens and the Mound by the National Gallery are where the market stalls and food and drink stalls are, while the lower part is where the kid’s funfair is:

Princes Street Gardens decked out for festive season

festive market 03

I always enjoy trying to get some pics of the festive market each year, especially after dark (not a long wait for that given it is dark by about four in the afternoon this time of year) and trying to capture images of people and the items being sold. Since this means night shots but not using the tripod (too busy in the market and too awkward) and also not using the flash (too disruptive) it’s tricky to get a decent shot quite often, and a lot of what I shoot will end up being binned as useless, but sometimes they come out not half bad, like this display of metal and glass candle holders (click for the larger images on my Flickr):

glowing white in the night 02

And I like trying to catch some “street” shots, candid moments of folks interacting with the stall holders and food vendors, again often find many pics simply don’t come out, too dark and they are moving, so I get blurred or shaky images, but again every now and then some of them work:

festive market 01

nocturnal snacking 01

With it being such a very long, dark night this time of year in Scotland, it’s quite a welcome sight to have so much light and life against the winter blackness. This lovely old double-decker Venetian Carousel is especially pretty:

Venetian Carousel

While this other carousel is actually an open air bar (complete with the hobby horses):

life is a carousel

Other parts of town, such as the huge Dome bar and restaurant on George Street, or Ryan’s Bar in the West End are always lit up rather brightly for the festive season:

The Dome at night

Ryans lit up for festive season

But not everyone gets to enjoy the food and drink and lights and open-air market – this homeless man was wrapped up against the cold and sitting on the pavement just a few feet from one of the entrances to “Edinburgh’s Christmas”:

not all are included in the festive spirit

I’m forever blowing bubbles….

I'm forever blowing bubbles 03

Walking through the Meadows a couple of weeks ago during a sudden burst of warm, bright autumn weather, came across this chap making giant soap bubbles – I love finding little surprises like this as I wander round Edinburgh, it’s one of the reasons I always have my camera stashed in my bag, you never know what you might see just walking home from work… If you look at the lower pics, over on the far right you can just make out a bubble exploding into soapy shards, it must have popped just a millisecond after I hit the shutter (click on the pics to see the larger viewing options on my Flickr) I'm forever blowing bubbles 01

The Longest Day – Robert Capa and Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach on D-Day,

Jean-David Morvan, Severine Trefouel,

Photographs by Robert Capa & Magnum, translation by Edward Gauvin

First Second

omaha_beach_d-day_capa_morvan_bertail_first_second_cover

It’s not always easy to stand aside and be unable to do anything except record the suffering around one.”

I’ll be honest up front – Robert Capa has always been one of my photography heroes, a fascinating character who reinvented himself several times in his early life as he was forced to flee from one country to another, until he crafted the person of “Robert Capa”, which he thought sounded a bit more American and would help him make contacts for his work as a pioneering photo journalist (this at a time when photo-heavy magazines were just becoming common, a rich source of images for many in the days before television reporting). Despite being only a little over forty when he was killed covering the early stages of the Indochina war (which would later snowball in the murderous morass of the Vietnam War) in the mid 1950s, he was by then one of the most famous photo journalists in the world. Even before the Second World War he had been dodging bullets, armed with a camera rather than a gun, recording the Sino-Japanese war and the Spanish Civil War (where he became firm friends with Ernest Hemingway, but would also lose his partner Gerda Taro). During this period he took one of the most famous images of combat ever seen, the “falling soldier”.

robert_capa_falling_soldier

Iconic though the Falling Soldier image has become though, Capa’s “finest hour” was still in the future, on a grey, cold morning on the coast of France. The 6th of June 1944: D-Day, the greatest armada in the history of the world set sail from Fortress Britain. The Allies are about to attempt the impossible, to land a vast force of men and equipment in the face of an entrenched, determined, fortified enemy. Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah and Omaha: the invasion beaches divided between the British, Canadian and American forces. Many brave men would fall on this morning amid explosions and machine-gun fire or simply drowned before they could even touch boot to the soil of Occupied France. Intricately planned and arranged as it was, it was still a massive throw of the dice on which the fate of the free world would depend, and Capa, an inveterate gambler himself, couldn’t resist that. He managed to get himself assigned to the American troopships, destination Omaha Beach. Bloody Omaha, as it became known, the worst of all the D-Day landing beaches (half the entire casualties from the first day for all five beaches came from Omaha alone, it was that bad, thousands fell), and plans going wrong as men desperately improvised a way through the Nazi defences as their friends went down around them.

And Capa was there, camera in hand, in the very first wave, wading ashore as bullets ripped beach and men alike, soaking, cold, terrified, seeing American soldiers falling all around him, storming onto the beaches with the very first troops (from the famous Big Red One division). And he shoots his camera. Again and again he snaps picture after picture: one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the twentieth century is happening and Capa is right there, recording it, bearing witness as bullets bounce around him. He shoots four rolls before he makes for a landing craft carrying wounded back to the waiting ships, and even then the horror doesn’t end – there’s guilt at being able to leave, unlike the soldiers (I’m a coward he tells one injured GI, no, you volunteered to do this, you’re no coward the man tells him), the sight of the dead and wounded… The rolls of film make it to the Time-Life offices in London, but in an absolute disaster the rush to develop them leads to an accident. Three rolls are mangled, unusable. After all Capa went through, those images are gone. But that final roll? The developers pull ten images from that. Amazing images, our eye on the Longest Day, history recorded in grainy black and white, with hand-shake from movement and from terror (Capa used to joke that a combat photo should always have a little blur or shake in it), but filled with the enormous power of the image, reproduced endlessly, tiny moments of major history frozen forever by the camera.

omaha_beach_d-day_capa_morvan_bertail_first_second_01

And that’s what Jean-David Morvan and Severine Trefouel explore here, in this fascinating and unusual book, a long, landscape-format hardback which is half comics story and half photography book, the first half using the comics medium to explore the events leading up to and during those astonishing, world-changing moments of the 6th of June, 1944, the second half is a rich helping of wartime photographs by Capa and from the famous Magnum photography co-operative which he co-founded (not unlike Chaplin et al’s United Artists, it was a way for the talent to retain some independence but also to have support; it would produce some amazing images and nurture superb talent) and prose discussing Capa and his life and work and death. Both halves are compelling, fascinating and often seem like something made up for a film, but it’s all true…

omaha_beach_d-day_capa_morvan_bertail_first_second_02

The artwork is in a nice, clear line style for the segments before and after the events of D-Day: Capa preparing for the big push, a last moment party with friends and lovers in war-torn London (including Hemmingway – his girlfriend mistakes the writer for Capa’s dad when he calls him “Papa” until she is told it is Hemmingway’s nickname). And the landscape format allows for some good use of wider images – smaller, traditional frames for intimate moments of friends talking, then bigger images filling the whole landscape page, like a movie camera pulling back in a reverse zoom to show scenes like the busy harbour as the invasion forces prepare to leave Britain for their destiny, or in some cases those large, landscape-filling scenes continue onto the next page with a few regular frames over the top, again very filmic, like cuts between internal scenes between characters and wide-screen shots of the exterior around them. This also effectively suggests both the individual nature of the people involved but also how they are part of one, massive group effort about to do something truly Herculean.

And then there are the pages dealing with D-Day itself, which are, quite frankly, staggering. Much of the art here takes on dark, sombre, grey tones to match the dismal weather (too dark for good photos, quips Capa, preparing to wade ashore), and washes of monochromatic watercolour effects render much of this far muddier than the preceding clear line work, quite deliberately so, I think, an attempt to imitate the “blur” and “shake” of Capa’s photographs, shot while running, ducking from fire, shaking with fear and adrenalin and horror (decades on Spielberg would use these as his inspiration for the shockingly powerful opening to Saving Private Ryan). Several scenes draw directly on those legendary ten photographs, while others, when you pause and take them in more closely, reveal themselves to be those same scenes from the opposite perspective, such as the famous “man in the surf”, a GI crawling forward through the waves, seen as he is in the photo but also seen from a perspective behind him, looking to the hell of the beach, and amid the chaos, on one side, Capa, kneeling behind an anti-tank barrier for cover, camera held up, shooting the scene.

omaha_beach_d-day_capa_morvan_bertail_first_second_03

The landscape format also allows for an astonishing double-page spread, the vast invasion armada appearing out of the grey dawn, filling the entire horizon, And then something even more spectacular – a four-page gatefold, those four pages unfolding their long, landscape pages to reveal an enormous panorama of the invasion beach, sweeping from a Nazi gun emplacement on one end firing on the invasion, to one just captured at great cost by the GIs at the other end, the sweep of imagery between taking in ships lurching in high waves, being blown up, disgorging more men, bodies in the water and over the beach, men fighting, running, dying. It’s perhaps the most stunning single image in any comic work I have seen this year. I keep coming back again and again to take it in. It’s a piece of art that I know will be burned into my memory for a lifetime. It was too large to fit on the scanner, the only way I could get an image was to lay it out on the desk and stand over it on a chair with my camera, so apologies, this isn’t and ideal picture of that magnificent fold-put, but it was the best I could manage (click on it for the larger view below):

omaha_beach_on_d-day_morvan_trefouel_first_second_gatefold

If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

The second half of the book detailing his life and work is richly illustrated with his photographs from the war. Of course those iconic ten D-Day images are there, and it is fascinating to flip back and forth between the comic images and the actual photographs of that event. But there are many other images, still radiating power across the decades; bodies of the fallen on the beaches, burned out tanks and landing craft behind them, images of oh-so-young lads boarding ships in Weymouth harbour for the invasion, a young German soldier being taken prisoner, uniform and hat askew, piercing eyes and blonde hair, he would normally be a handsome young man, but here he looks like a young boy who has seen too much (which I suppose he was, really), the thousand yard stare of his face haunting, physically unharmed but clearly wounded somewhere deep inside. And there’s a detective story piecing together the true identity of the blurry “man in the surf”, the actual soldier, still alive, finally identified.

robert_capa_d-Day_man_in_surf

Although really, while nice to know, it doesn’t really matter who the man in that D-Day image was, he stands for all of his brothers-in-arms, he’s symbolically all of them, the ones who fell and the ones who came home bearing scars physical and mental. I’d like to think both Capa and those who served would see those images not just as individuals but as standing for all who did what they had to do on that long, long day.

Capa was a pioneer in believing that a few still images could tell a moving story, and to me it seems highly appropriate that a medium that does just that, the comics medium, should tackle this moment in his life. As with his photographs the comics medium allows us to perceive both a frozen moment, to take in all the details at our own speed in a way real life of moving film cannot, and yet is part of a sequence, connected to other still images, creating a narrative in our minds. Even in our media-saturated modern culture where anyone can shoot video which ends up on global news, the power of a few static images, photographs or comics panels, can still be tremendously powerful and effective in a way nothing else can.

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The book uses some of his own lines from his autobiography Slightly Out of Focus, and is also framed by the device of having Capa relating the story to a journalist over the phone. The journalist is talking to him for an article to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the D-Day landings. Capa was killed by a landmine while covering the Indochina war in May 1954, as former French colonies asserted themselves after the Second World War and made their bid for independence (in what would escalate later to the quagmire of the Vietnam War). It was just a couple of weeks before that tenth anniversary, a date he wouldn’t live to see – he was only forty year old. A camera was found in his hand; he recorded the world right to the last moments of his life.

Blue Hour

It’s dark well before I leave work at this time of year, but those short daylight hours and long, dark Scottish nights are not entirely bad news, because it means I get views like this “blue hour” shot looking up the Royal Mile (although I should add that western horizon was black to my eyes, the pale blue only came out with a long exposure):

Royal Mile, blue hour

An Edinburgh View…

It was the annual Doors Open Day at the weekend and as I usually do I went out exploring. Walked from the lower east end of the New Town back up through the Old Town and to Tollcross before going for a break, several hours of walking, exploring and of course taking photos as I went. I shot a gig of pics, still culling out the duff ones, but one set I processed quickly and uploaded to my Flickr, a set shot from a vantage point I didn’t even know existed. One of the places taking part in Doors Open was the old India Buildings, which used to be offices, including the civic registry office (so there was often a lot of confetti outside the doors). At the moment it is mostly empty, plans in hand to redevelop it into something cultural hopefully, so there wasn’t a huge amount to see inside (apart from a lovely central atrium). However once through a suite of empty, dilapidated rooms on the topmost floor there was a narrow spiral staircase in a corner, only wide enough (just) for one person), which lead up to a small attic room. And as I was thinking, is that it?

I noticed outside the open window a very, very small stone balcony, invisible from the streets way below, so narrow it was only wide enough for one person, so I clambered out the window and along it, and oh, what a hidden and wonderful surprise… Views across half the Old Town of Edinburgh… Including this view of Edinburgh Castle:

An Edinburgh View 01And down into the old Grassmarket area, which contains inns that were old even when Robert Burns came to stay in them, and beyond to the large bulk of the Edinburgh College of Art An Edinburgh View 04

And historic Greyfrairs church and kirkyard, witness to some pivotal moments in Scottish and British history

An Edinburgh View 05An Edinburgh View 010

Nearby across the roofs was the lantern top of the enormous Central Library – I’ve been to several literary events in that space (multiple level library room with all those windows so high up flooding it with natural light), but I’ve never seen it from this perspective before

An Edinburgh View 07Herriot’s School, looking very much like what you would expect to see if Hogwart’s had an Edinburgh branch An Edinburgh View 012

North over curving Victoria Street to the Royal Mile and the distinctively coloured historic structure of Riddles Court, which I’ve visited on previous Doors Open (amazing interiors)

An Edinburgh View 015And a view down into Victoria Street, which curves downwards from George IV Bridge down into the Grassmarket, and which is a splendid spot for observing the multiple levels Edinburgh’s Old Town architecture exists on as it straddles the steep slopes of the great volcanic ridge which runs down from Castle Rock to the palace. Normally I am looking up at this scene of multiple levels curving around and above me, but this time I got to look down into it all – quite wonderful experience to see it all from the perspective of the eagle’s eyrie An Edinburgh View 016

An Edinburgh View 018Ah, Edinburgh, you can still surprise me after all these years living here and give me such lovely presents to point my camera at (coincidentally I noticed I just passed the 12,000 images mark on my Flickr photo stream over the weekend). There’s history and geology and literature and more embedded into this hilly, volcanic terrain and towering, ancient structures which rise from the rocks (and often cut deeps into them too, to a world below…), such a remarkable city, no wonder I love living here. Edinburgh Old Town panorama vid

Cityscapes…

Last weekend Edinburgh basked in glorious, golden autumnal sunlight, so I walked up Calton Hill, not far from the east end of Princes Street and the spot the great Robert Louis Stevenson regarded as one of the finest for taking in picturesque views of the city. It was very busy with locals and tourists enjoying the fine autumn weather, and I decided to take some cityscapes looking out over Edinburgh. I’ve taken shots from there before, of course, many times, but Stevenson was right, it’s a wonderful spot for taking in panoramas of Edinburgh, and even though I have taken pics there before, the autumn light was so beautiful I couldn’t resist taking more. I find that happens often here, there are some elements of Edinburgh I have taken photos of many times over the years, same area or building, but different time of year, different light quality (and the light quality here is constantly changing, daily, not just the major shifts with the seasons). And anyway, can you blame me for taking more views of my city when it looks like this?

Palace of Holyrood, autumn dayThe Palace of Holyroodhouse – the palace is mostly a sixteenth century structure, home of the monarchs of Scotland and today the official residence of the UK monarch when in Scotland. It is, unsurprisingly, filled with Scots history, from Mary Queen of Scots to the mighty Robert the Bruce who held a parliament in the nearby (now ruined) abbey in the 1320s. cityscape, autumn day 04

I’ve always loved the oddness of this Playfair-designed building on Blenheim Place – it’s a typical neo-classical structure of the type common in the New Town (and this area was to be essentially an eastern extension to the New Town), but look how unusual it seems, pillars and steps leading down not to ground level but to the town houses below it…

cityscape, autumn day 07Looking northwest across the New Town, in the closer zoom (below) you can even see the tall palm houses of the Royal Botanical Gardens in the upper right background cityscape, autumn day 08

cityscape, autumn day 05Looking down eastwards, the fine buildings of London Road in the foreground, Leith and the docks then the mighty Firth of Forth in the background. In the closer zoom you can clearly see some of the industrial structures around the docks area, such as the tall flour mill, then the Forth beyond cityscape, autumn day 01

cityscape, autumn day 03

Looking south, towards the bottom of the Royal Mile in the Old Town, this is the Canongate Kirk, a 17th century church near the palace – the cemetery includes residents such as Adam Smith, Dugald Stewart and “heaven sent” Fergusson, the poet who died young and was claimed by Robert Burns as one of his main inspirations. In fact Robert Fergusson’s grave there unites three different literary Roberts – Fergusson himself, Robert Burns who campaigned for a better memorial for his brother poet, then much later Robert Louis Stevenson who planned to restore the then-crumbling memorial, “one Edinburgh lad to another”. He didn’t manage before his early death, but a literary society later did restore it and now a plaque on the grave notes all three writers. That’s Edinburgh for you, it’s built as much on writing and books and words as it is geology and history…

Canongate Kirk, autumn day

Fringe time

It’s August and it’s festival time here in Edinburgh, the city bursting at the seams as the Fringe and the International Festival kicked off over the weekend, the world’s largest arts festival now in full swing, and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the world’s biggest literary fest, starts next weekend (and I will be chairing a couple of events there again this year). Part of the Royal Mile is given over to the Fringe performers – with hundreds of shows it’s no easy task to get audiences, they have to fight for bums on seats, so they strut their stuff on the Mile, many in costume, some doing excerpts from their shows on the mini stages to entice audiences. It’s madly busy – almost literally wall to wall with people across the breadth of that historic thoroughfare – but it’s also a happy hunting ground for me to snap some more photos, and I tend to take a ridiculous amount this month (and the views on my Flickr tend to go mad as well as folks all over look for pics of the festival).

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 01The first pic I shot at this year’s Fringe, actually a couple of days before it officially started, but it was on my way home from work and I thought some performers may be out already (some preview show were running by then), and my first shot was this group of Asian performers posting up their flyers for their show. Just as I lined it up the lovely lady turned around, saw me and gave me a nice big smile and wave, which was a nice way to start my festival season of photos. Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 02

Sushi Tap 2, with their rather eye-catching neon pink costumes, hard to miss, even once the Mile filled up with more people over the weekend!

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 03Korean troupe Maro have brought Leodo: the Paradise to the Fringe Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 06

“Living” statue performer as a cyclist

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 07Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 010

Cabaret Farce

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 012Hibiki, a troupe of traditional Japanese drummers – wonderfully kinetic performance Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 013

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 016Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 017

John Robertson’s The Dark Room

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 018Follow the Faun! Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 021

Charming performers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 022Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 023

Of course all the hurly-burly of the crowds and performers and the summer sunshine can be too much for some – this chap just settled right down on the busy steps of Saint Giles Cathedral and nodded off

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 024Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 026

Waking Beauty, a look at fairy tales from a feminine perspective

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 030This musician was singing arias, which rang out beautifully clear even across the din of the busy festival street Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 034

With their black garb and white masks the performers from Baggage were just perfect for a monochrome shot

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 040Taiwanese dancers from Gaze of the Kavaluan Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 036

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 041Actors from Knowledge and the Girl, a reworking of Snow White for a more feminine and sexually mature audience Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 046

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 050Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 044

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 051Pirate gals from According to Arthur – they very kindly offered me a balloon too! Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 055

Singers from The Sweet Nothings, an all-women a cappella singing group

Edinburgh Fringe on the Mile 2015 052

More pics (and larger formats) over on my Flickr page under this tag for the Fringe pics