You can be sure of Shell…

At least that was the old tag-line for Shell’s ads many years ago said. On my way to work this morning the petrol station on Dalry Road just a few minutes walk from my flat I saw Greenpeace staging a direct action protest to draw attention to the plans of Shell (and other greedy corporations) to explore and drill for oil in the Arctic. Not content with allowing oil companies to start looking for oil in unspoilt wildernesses like Alaska (and let’s not forget the mess they made of much of the Alaskan coastline, or the more recent mess off Florida) they want to go into one of our last largely untouched regions (similarly greedy mega corporations are jostling to be allowed to do mining exploration at the other end of the world in the Antarctic – there is no place these greedy bastards will not happily despoil to add a few more millions to their bloated profits).

Greenpeace Shell protest Edinburgh 01

Apologies for the low quality of the photos – the bus I was on to work stopped right opposite the petrol station, where no less than six police vehicles had pulled up (amazing how much response a big corporation gets – in my old job if we caught a shoplifter we’d sometimes have to sit and keep them there for half an hour to an hour until a pair of coppers turned up, but an oil company, sure have vanloads of police to drag away a few peaceful protesters…) Pulled camera from bag and got four or five shots off out the bus window before it moved off, most ruined by other vehicles passing in the busy road, only these two came out passably and not framed well since all I could do was shove the lens up against the window to cut down reflections from the glass, but still, better than nothing. I did like the person in the polar bear suit! More on this story on the BBC site here.

Greenpeace Shell protest Edinburgh 02

More Festival

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Well last night was the traditional hour-long fireworks classical music concert over the Castle that marks the end of another year of the Edinburgh International Festival, with the Fringe and the Book Festival having finished the weekend before. It’s a huge display of pyrotechnic fun and luckily the threatening rain clouds held back till the end of the concert. Much as I love the annual fireworks (much larger than the ones at Hogmanay) having seen them many times I can’t really face watching them from Princes Street as there are tens of thousands lined up to watch and I can’t be bothered with trying to get through all of that each year. Used to watch from my friend’s old workplace which had a Castle view, they had a party with food and booze while we watched over the roofs of the New Town to the Castle, but sadly they relocated and their new place doesn’t have the view. So last year we watched from the Radical Road under the Crags on the volcanic bulk of Arthur’s Seat; this year I decided to try somewhere closer to my end of town and with the old S&N brewery finally fully demolished I realised that from the old humpback bridge on the Union Canal at Fountainbridge I’d get a half decent view.

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The Fringe may be over too (and Edinburgh has that ‘just taken down the Christmas decorations’ feeling – peeling flyers for shows now finished on walls and stands but the carnival is over and the fabulous freak have left town. A relief in some ways but also always slightly sad) but I shot far too many photos during August as usual – the section of the Royal Mile near my work is given over to performers to do little bits of their acts on small stages and to parade up and down, many in costume, trying to interest folks in the hundreds of shows competing for bums on seats, which gives a lot of opportunity for grabbing some interesting street scenes (in fact I still have some left to process and upload to the Woolamaloo Flickr – click the pics here to see the bigger versions on my Flickr).

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A gallant kiss on the hand for his lovely assistant:

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Even rain doesn’t stop the Fringe or the tourists – the tacky ‘tartan tat’ gift shops must do a roaring trade in these disposable rain macs for tourists who come to Scotland in the summer with a summer wardrobe only to find the rain!

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Offffff with his head!!!!!

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Championship level gurning from the Mad Hatter!

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Beautiful smile from this performer:

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Rockin’ around the clock tonight…

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And faery creatures prowl the street, casting their charms…

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And we even had Charlie Chaplin performing right outside St Giles where once the dour, miserable old bugger Knox used to preach:

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And a bit of skin always helps sell a show!

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And I managed a couple of shots at some Free Fringe shows too:

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And the Book Festival of course (I’ve already posted full reports & pics from those events on here and the FP blog):

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Festival time Edinburgh

Edinburgh is bursting at the seams as the Festival season gets into full swing (and I’m off to the opening night party at the Book Festival later this evening), the entire city buzzes, the streets are full of crowds and performers, but sometimes you just have to sit down for a break and a chat with a human statue (complete with seagull and pretend bird poo!):

human statue and wee girl

It isn’t just the Royal Mile that is thronged as the Fringe performers promote their shows, the Playfair Steps are normally a good shortcut from the Mile down to the New Town, past the National Gallery and Royal Academy, but during August it is packed solid with tourists checking out the craft stalls – nice if you are on holiday and can amble at a snail’s pace looking around, pain in the bum if you live here and need to get somewhere for a certain time!

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This lady performer on the Mound is very, very flexible:

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One thing that never changes at the Fringe, one way to stand out among the literally hundreds of other shows happening every single day – show some skin!

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Channel 4 News’ arts and culture correspondent Matthew Cain doing a report from the Royal Mile – the camera was a good 40 or 50 feet away so most folks in the crowd around him couldn’t see it, it made him look like he was walking through the crowd talking to himself:

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Traditional Japanese musician on the Mile

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With the city so astonishingly busy paramedics on mountain bikes are used to get round the crowds for emergencies to treat anyone who needs it until an ambulance can get there. Here’s one hard working bike-medic catching a quick coffee break among the Fringe crowds:

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Lady with her harp:

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It’s Edinburgh, Festival time and seeing a man in a kilt on top of ladders juggling knives on the historic Royal Mile is pretty much an everyday sight as I walk home from work!

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These Native American musicians are here playing on the streets during the Festival most years:
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Festival time

It’s August, it’s Festival time, the city is incredibly busy and the Fringe begins properly this weekend, although some performers have been doing preview shows for several days already. Came out of work yesterday a bit late, rainy day had gone and sun had put his hat back on, so I thought I’d de-stress by walking up the Royal Mile with the camera out and start bagging my first Fringe pics of 2011, got a bunch already, doubtless as usual I will take far too many over the next few weeks. First Fringe with the new camera, which technically is a better camera than my old, deceased on, but I got some great work out of that old one so the new one has a lot to live up to. Certainly worked nicely last night as I bagged my first couple of dozen Fringe pics with it, starting with this group from Diamond Dick, who were all dressed and made up in the style of 1920s silent movie folks:

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(I am such a sucker for that Louise Brooks style...)

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and this scene with the Fringe performers trying to bring a smile to an infant’s face was just to cute not to snap as it happened right in front of me:

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If it runs like previous years I’m sure I’ll have plenty more pics to follow through August on my Flickr, which has now reached to a ridiculous more than 6, 000 images level..

Classics on the Mile

Walking home from work on a sunny evening last week I had the lovely surprise discovery on the Royal Mile of a gaggle of classic old Bentley tourers, must have been out for a summer classic car rally, parked along the historic Royal Mile and in front of Saint Giles Cathedral at Parliament Square:

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Got to love the old fashioned big lever handbrake on the outside of the cab – I don’t know why but these always appeal to me:

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The classic British Racing Green colour that suits open top old Brit sports cars and grand tourers so well. Luckily the sun came out and all the chrome was gleaming in the evening sunshine. Love the big, leather straps on the bonnet too. Sudden urge to don leather flying helmet and goggles then race this lovely machine across the continent to Monte Carlo while trying to beat the fiendish cad Terry Thomas :-)

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One chap fired his Bentley up while I was taking pictures and did a u-turn, no easy task in something this size – they may be gorgeous and fast but they’re not exactly known for a city-friendly tight turning circle! I switched to video for a few seconds mostly to try and get a little of that engine noise, sounds like it belongs in a Spitfire :-) Lovely thing so just come across at the end of a day’s work, certainly made me smile, I do like when the city offers up little presents like this…

Loved this unusual semi-convertible in Parliament Square, which I am told is a Sedanca ‘Teardrop’ Coupe Bentley:

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classic Bentley on the Royal Mile 01

Ploughshares into swords

New artwork up on the side of Saint John’s church in Edinburgh and as with many of their previous works commenting on social and political issues it is bang on the money. I do appreciate their murals and the messages they send and that they are placed facing right onto busy Princes Street in the shadow of the Castle, where thousands can see it. I suspect many are too busy with their face buried in sending text messages to even notice, but I hope a few do see it and think… Always enjoy their artworks and appreciate them, you can find several more photos of previous works here on the Woolamaloo Flickr. St John’s is also a lovely wee oasis of calm in the middle of the city, even for us non believers – there’s a lovely cafe in the crypt (in the summer some tables are outside right by some of the old graves!) and a fine fairtrade shop as well, always a nice vibe around this church. During the Festival in August they hold an annual craft fair with the stalls strung throughout the old, tree-shaded graveyard, where you can walk around the stalls sometimes accompanied by the pealing of bells from their nearby neighbour Saint Cuthbert’s.

ploughshares into swords

Vivian Maier

One of my book group chums, Kay, kindly pointed me to this article in Chicago mag, about the street photography of the late Vivian Maier, most of her work found posthomously by John Maloof who was looking through boxes of belongings from old house sales and discovered boxes of prints and negatives. At first he had no idea who had taken them, but slowly, bit by bit, the backstory of this remarkable woman photographer’s past came out, along with her wonderful street photography. I love street photography – it’s one of those areas where the camera is the finest instrument, allowing quick snaps of everyday street scenes and people and buildings and activities, preferably candidly, no posing, just what your eye actually sees on the street around you, caught on camera, a little moment of everyday life frozen in time. And I love the fact that we can share these via the web now; there’s always the possibility that someone sees them and thinks wow, that’s my old neighbourhood from years ago, or oh my there’s me in the backround, or there’s old uncle Charlie on the park bench in your picture. I must admit when I do candid scenes I’ve sometimes had people see them on Flickr and recognise themselves or someone they know, or an old area they used to live in and leave a comment and it’s a nice feeling of connection (indeed long, long before the web we found some very old postcards in London, the old B&W ones with the crinkly edges, a street scene of people in Trafalgar Square feeding the pigeons – and there among them is my papa. How lovely to find such a thing). You can find more information and pictures by Vivian on the site specially set up about her here.

(photos above and below by Vivian Maier, (c) Vivian Maier Photography)

It’s funny, the candid photography of someone sitting or snoozing on a bench in a street or park seems to have remained a firm favourite with street photographers for decades. I think maybe it’s just a nice little, semi vulnerable moment when you see someone content in their own wee world, relaxing and watching the world go by, dozing or reading a book and you can get a totally natural, unposed candid shot. I’ve found myself naturally drawn to sneaking pics like that myself over the years, I think anyone who tries some gonzo street photography probably does. And you can’t really stage a pic like this – they have to be taken swiftly, shooting from the hip, not messing around for long with angles and settings, you need to get a pic quickly before being noticed if you want to capture that moment in its innocence, without the subject noticing and posing for the camera. Often this means you don’t get the best picture, from a technical point of view, but I’m more interested in capturing the moment than in technical quality of my photography:

Scottish winter sunbathing
(wee old man having winter sunbathing session in Musselburgh harbour)

reading in the spring sunshine
(woman sitting in early Scottish spring sunshine reading as the world passes by)

sitting on a bench by the sea
(couple of older gentleman relaxing during their respective walk/cycle along the promenade at Portobello)

I don’t know why I like street/gonzo/candid photography so much, perhaps it’s that feeling of capturing a wee personal moment, perhaps it’s the accidental intimacy it generates, reminding us that even in a busy city full of strangers there are little moments of lives just like our own happening all around us, sometimes intersecting with our own.

playing on the beach
(couple playing guitars on the beach at Portobello)

New Town in spring, pavement cafe

(street scene from Edinburgh’s New Town, summer’s day, cafe spilling out onto the street as young guy watches from nearby staircase)

The War Cry

Every Wednesday I’d see this wee, old Salvation Army lady in the doorway of Jenner’s department store on Princes Street, right across from the Scott Monument. She was there every week, winter or summer, hail, rain or shine. Back when Jenner’s still had a doorman (complete with livery and top hat) I’d often see him chatting to her. I don’t know why, but it always made me happy to see her there every week as I passed by on the bus to work. A couple of years ago I got a quick photo shooting from the top deck of the bus as it was waiting to move off. Just as I clicked the shutter a young woman walked into the frame and I actually liked the result: the old lady and the young, the old lady in her uniform doing her bit of duty, the hip young thing in shades, trendy clothes, ciggy dangling from her hands headphones on, away in her own world, the contrast between them appealed to me, even though it was the simple result of her walking by just as I took the shot, so I can’t claim I was trying to do anything clever here with my pic:

Salvation Army lady at Jenners close-up

Sadly I haven’t seen the Sally Army lady for a couple of months now. I keep looking every Wednesday when I pass on the way to work but she hasn’t been there, so it looks like she has had to stop doing it now – I don’t know if her age or health has meant she had to stop after all these years, but I do hope she is alright. I was used to seeing here there every week and I have to confess I found it almost comforting that this old lady would be there each week with the War Cry, there was something touching about it and it always made me smile to see her at her post. She was one of the little fixtures in my map of the city.

Al Fresco album browsing

Ambling through Edinburgh’s Old Town on a Saturday afternoon recently with a friend we noticed a stall set up on Middle Meadow Walk with second hand albums, CDs and DVDs. I used to go to second hand record shops regularly when I first moved here years ago, but prices for CDs and DVDs in places like Fopp or online have dropped so much over the years that the second hand places are often not worth it, although I do find myself still going for wanders through second hand and charity bookstores (and I certainly don’t really need more books, but it doesn’t stop me!).

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It’s funny though, as soon as my fingertips started flicking through the racks, especially the plastic-wrapped albums, it was like the fingers remembered this exercise from many years of browsing and I felt a curious satisfaction, half memories of browsing through old albums with pals in Glasgow or Edinburgh of a weekend in our late teens and 20s. An enjoyable way to spend some time; raking through boxes of second hand comics has a similarly satisfying feeling. And I think the fact you can come away with some purchases but only spend a small amount is kind of nice, especially with things so tight – the feeling of having bought something cool but not having made a hole in the wallet to do it. I think I came away with second hand White Stripes album and a jazz one by Courtney Pine, plus a DVD of The Goonies for the princely sum of about 7 quid. Then we wandered over the road to Sandy Bell’s for a few pints and listen to some live folk music.

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folk music in Sandy Bells 01