Friday, September 29, 2006

Flickr Scoring

I've been playing around a bit with Flickr scoring groups lately. The idea is that you post one of your pictures to a scoring group such as score me, or score me in detail, and other group members critically rate your picture. When you post a picture you have to rate the five previous pictures before yours too (to make it all fair). Now, I'm not sure if I like this. You do get lots of comments which is nice, and sometimes some pretty constructive feedback, but I've put up a couple of my favoritist, most proudest, pics and have received average, or even bad feedback. For instace my close-up elephant shot which I love hasn't been recieved too well, neither has my Paris ants, and particuarly not my little boy on the rocks which is a recent addition:

You see, I quite like how he's camaflaged against the wall and his gormless expression, but the flickr users want a closer crop and 'expression'. I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder. It is interesting though seeing what pictures really grab people, my Clouds on Glass for some reason has received lots of poker chips from the Flickr Poker Group. I like this group because when you post a picture the idea is that you then distribute 5 poker chips to your favorite five pictures posted that day, rather than just comment on the 5 pictures uploaded previous to your, so more choice. I'm going to keep playing around with the scoring groups for a little bit just to see which of my pictures are popular, I'm going to put up another shot I took of my Boy on the Rocks to see if the different angle, focal length, and colours (people seem to prefer Black and White), draw a different response. Don't think I'll keep doing it though, never been one for criticism.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I don't know why I have developed such a fascination with photography lately. I think it's something to do with being able to present snapshots of a life. Humans, in our society, have been conditioned to walk through our daily, ordinary lives looking for that special metaphoric photo. We are constantly looking for meaning, waiting for something to become 'perfect' in some sense. Sometimes things already are perfect, meaningful, but because of our preconceptions or expectations of the way things should be, they never appear to 'right'. It really is as if we are walking around, hoping/waiting/wanting for our lives to be a scene in a movie or to emulate that really great Ansel Adams shot. Most of the people I know are, in fact, waiting for each moment to be (seem?) meaningful...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Boat dwellers, horse dealers and alchemists

It's a watery, raffish, amiable, trickster-like world of boat dwellers and horse dealers and alchemists. The character of this part of Oxford is very ancient, quite unmistakable, entirely unique. (Phillip Pullman)

I love the curious world of Jericho and the Oxford Canal. It's a window into another existence quite separate from the pomp and circumstance of the academic buildings and university streets. It still has a fairytale feel to it, but a darker, more sinister one that gives you goosebumps. You can tell that ghosts prowl the terraced streets of Jericho.

As you move towards the canal, away from the trendy bars and resturants of Walton Street, walls start to crumble and weeds weave inbetween the iron gates and the cracks in the pavement. The sky is dominated by the romanesque tower of St Barnabas Church (1860), built in concern for the spiritual welfare of the new community which was developing around the university press.

The canal itself is a centre for a large community of people who live on boats. The setting is not far from the picture of gypsie boat-dwellers that Phillip Pullman paints in His Dark Materials Trilogy. One thing I love to do is to walk along the towpath and see the curious little alchemy boat yard site - wonky old buildings, rickety-looking stables that have been there for over 100 years. And, people use them, and work them - it's a useful place. Sadly it looks as if the boat yard is going to be wiped out in a bid to build 47 luxury flats which would earn up to £2m instant profit for British Waterways. I don't think the ghosts would be very happy with that.

The true glory of Jericho however is Oxford's most ancient, and most beautiful monument - Port Meadow. Older than the university and any building in Oxford these 400 acres of common land have never been ploughed and are home to a population of grass, thistles, ponies, cattle and geese. Every year a medieval custom takes place where the Sheriff of Oxford, and his followers, drive all animals off the meadow and into a pound. This is supposed to be a 'top-secret operation', so that owners without grazing rights cannot remove their animals at the last minute and escape a fine. But most years, news leaks out and many animals suddenly vanish before the Sheriff's arrival.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Baby you can drive my car...

I don't have a car. I can't drive. It is unlikely that I will ever have a car. I don't want one.

This is not to say I didn't once attempt to learn to drive. When I was 17 I had a go. Well more precisely I had a lot of lessons and failed my test. I hated driving, it was stressful. But I think my distaste was just my inner conscience telling me I'm not the type of girl who should be behind the wheel.

A few years on and with a greater environmental consciousness I remain unlicensed because firstly; I think there are too many cars on the roads, and secondly; I like the environment better with less cars. I don't want to be a hypocrit.

When I tell people I don't want to drive or own a car I'm generally met with a short bout of silence then one of three reactions:

1. Pity: "Oh my your poor thing, how can you possibly participate in modern life, let me offer you a lift." Quietly they are assuming there is something wrong with me: I'm either too poor to have a car, I have some kind of mental condition that stops me from driving, or shock horror, I've been banned for drink driving - best not to ask.

2. Fear: "Watch out for that one, she's a lentil chomping freak, bathes in recycled dishwater and is ready to chain herself to the local petrol station in protest of all fume emitting vehicles." The fearful folk react as if I've just announced I'm a local Taliban rep, not a non-driver.

3. Guilt: "Really, wow, that's so good of you. You know I keep meaning to give up my car, but little Jimmy has football practice on Tuesdays and it's a bit of a bus ride away, and I just don't know how I'd do the supermarket shop without it, it's just not practical you see." Addiction.

I don't ask for any of these reactions, not driving is just a personal choice I have made. I have no desire to force my opinions on others and I don't get a self-riotous glow from saying I don't own a car. I'm not churlish, if someone is going my way I'll accept a lift, and if at some point in my life I need to develop the skill to drive I will; but I still would rather not own a car. I like the environment with less fumes, I think people should drive less, but that's their choice and the government's responsibility to address.
Recently I was told, "don't you think it's a bit selfish of you not to drive?"

I'm still trying to work that one out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The kindness of strangers

Yesterday I got knocked off my bike whilst cycling to work. It hurt a lot and I banged my head rather hard and passed out. An ambulance was called and I was patched up pretty smartish on the spot. Unluckily, by the time I had come to and got over the shock of all the blood running down my face (from the tiniest of cuts I may add) I couldn't get hold of *any* of my friends to come and steer me in the direction of a hot cup of sweet tea. Mobile phones - what's the point if there is no one on the other end?? Luckily for me however it seems that just random people you meet on the street are willing to go out of their way to help a girl in need, I was well looked after by complete strangers, whose names I don't even know, soothed, calmed and maneuvered me to the safety of my office until I felt well enough to head home. People aren't that bad, they get a lot of stick, but every now and then something touches you to make you realise the goodness in human nature.

As a side note I am trying to tell myself that I look like Lara Croft rather than a silly bint who fell off her bike.

Bertie, is fine.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A blog on trust

What do we believe when we believe that a photograph is true? That it mimics what we would see with our own eyes, if we were standing where the camera was placed?

No camera records what you really see. Perspective, depth of field, angle of view, choice of film, choice of display medium - all manipulate what is there, all are deceptive to some extent. Every photo is a "falsification" in the sense that it compresses a 3 dimensional object onto a 2 dimensional image. Black and White is another interesting abstraction that could be argued to be a falsification of the "natural".

But there is a difference between 'deception' and 'alteration'. The first causes us to believe true what is false, the second makes different without changing into something else. Are either of these acceptable?

In the field of photojournalism, deception reguarly occurs, to either produce a more newsworthy photograph or to actually falsify the portrayal of events, to rewrite history as it were. For example, in Stalinist Soviet Russia, prominent party members that fell into disfavor were routinely arrested and executed, what followed was a careful eradication of these people from all historical records and photographs. The collective memory, over time, ceased to remember that they ever existed.

We live in an era in which images are carefully choreographed, when politicians use staged settings to further partisan goals, where the media do what they need to induce emotion and frenzy. Shortly after the events of 9/11, a story was widely circulated that swept the Internet into a storm. A camera that somehow survived the devastating collapse was found on a sidewalk. When developed, the film revealed a tourist on the World Trade Center, a low-flying plane in the background. Tourist Guy became folklore. The astute observer may detect the image as a fake. The North Tower had no open observation deck; it's not the right plane and it's flying at a different angle; also Tourist Guy is dressed too warmly for the weather. Tourist Guy has subsequently been identified as a 25-year-old Hungarian named Peter who wishes to remain as anonymous as possible. Tourist Guy is well on his way to becoming the most-Photoshopped person in history.

But photography as alteration, is that OK? National Geographic recently admitting moving one of the great pyramids 'a bit to the left' to enhance the composition of their cover photo. Kate Winslet complained that the doctoring of her February 2003 GQ cover photo was excessive, that her legs were 'about the third of the size they really were'. Is alteration deception, or is it just Art, a bit of tinkering in the name of beauty, a white lie?

When presented with a photograph we look and react with emotion and that derives from our trust in what are looking at represents the real. It is the same throughout human experience, after all, what do we believe when we believe a person is being true? That they are who they say they are, that they really mean the things they say, that their actions are representative of their feelings? Nearly everyone has been burnt at some point, yet often we continue to trust, even if we are deceived or experience alteration. At what point do we decide that we should no longer trust? At what point do we start seeing the great photographer as the great manipulator?

The Vanishing Commissar: Soviet dictator Josef Stalin with and without Nikolai Yezhov, commissar of water transport. Yezhov was executed in 1940.

Photo at top: After an Air Force attack on Beruit
In June 2006 Reuters withdrew this photograph after it was proven to have been doctored to include to include more smoke and damage.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Words and pictures, pictures and words

I'm in a bit of a quandary as to what this blog is about. It's not really an attempt at an online diary like the famous Petite Anglaise or Belle de Jour.
May be I could write more about my personal life, but its easy to forget that a blog can be accessed by thousands and thousands or people, some of whom know me, work with me, sleep with me - is it fair to drag them into my virtual world for all and sundary to see? There could be all kinds of fall-out. May be I will go down this path at some point, but now isn't the time.

This blog is a bit of a miss-match of my thoughts, the things that are important to me and the things I find interesting, all illuminated with pictures. But it is the pictures that give me ideas what to write about, not the other way around. I don't think - I want to write about air pollution and go take a picture of some clouds. It's more like I export the photos to my computer and think hey that one's quite good, hmmm it makes me think about that conversation I had with my guy the other day about how dirty the air is in Oxford...and so I write.

Is this blog about words or pictures? I'm finding it difficult to categorise. Am I trying publish words, or photographs? Well, neither, but both. Pictures with words. Words with pictures. You know.

I'm starting to think that may be there are too many words. Is it right to explain what a picture is about? Should it be more about interpretation (like a poem)?

This also gets me onto thinking about my gallery in Flickr and the tyranny of titles and tags. Do these force the reader/viewer to interpret the photo in a particular way? Do they mean more with no context?

Looking back I don't think many of my entries are specifically about the pictures that accompany them, rather they are about the words that the pictures draw out of me, my own interpretation of my own photographs, knowing where they come from yet taking something extra out of my viewing of them. Some are about specific events, and I guess those are more diary-like. May be I should drop those entries, or am I that bothered about being a puritist. At the end of the day should I choose to be either a picture maker or a writer?

Monday, September 04, 2006

At the Fair

I popped out to take some pictures of St Giles' Fair this evening. The St Giles' fair is held every year for 3 days starting on the first Sunday after St Giles Day (1st September) and has been going since the 1780's - getting bigger and more rowdy each time. I must admit I'm not too keen on fair, mostly because it's right next to where I work and my office, being on the ground floor, always ends up smelling of hot dogs and fried onions before Tuesday. And of course there is the repetitive squeals and disco fairground grooves drifting in. . .but hey I'm a fan of tradition and it's a real Oxford institution.

The fair was set up on the first day I started my job five years ago (happy anniversay to me!). Then they had a big wheel which was great! It went high above the spires and college rooftops of Oxford and you could see into all the hidden courtyards and secret gardens that the university keeps all wrapped up away from non-scholars eyes. There hasn't been a big wheel since then, which is a shame. All the rides seem pretty fast and topsy-turvey now which I just don't have the stomach for. But that is forgetting the "Galloping Horses" carasol which is really beautiful. At the start of the fair it receives a time-honored blessing from the local priest!

Any ways, I took lots of pictures that I've put in my Oxford Portfolio on Flickr. They aren't as good as I was hoping to get, it was just too crowded, but there are some nice colours and moving slow shutter speed attempts in there.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Enter the Butterfly

Last night, whilst I was in my dance rehearsal in Jericho, some nasty person put a puncture in my bike tyre. Now I'm pretty sure that it was an act of malice due to the fact that my back tyre was pretty bouncy and full of air when I went into my rehearsal and completely flat when I came out. Also when I tried to pump it up the air whooshed out straight away - not a slow puncture symptomatic of cycling around the back streets of Jericho. The gang of kids eying up my bike when I went into rehearsal also kind of suggests my preferred mode of transport suffered an attack.

Now, this has really annoyed me. My bike, known fondly as 'Bertie' is very dear to me. As you can see from the picture Bertie is a very friendly character of a bike who wouldn't do no harm to no one. I ignore the comments from my friends that Bertie is too big, or too heavy for me - he's not a racer or a mountain bike you see, not up there in the bike class elite . We go back along way together me and Bertie and this year we made a big step together - to actually cycle on the roads and not just the pavements, Bertie has taught me a lot about how traffic works.

Anyway, other than the pure inconvenience of not having my wheels and my distress at Bertie's mutilation, the little s**t who did this can not have imagined the effect that this childish act has had.

Enter the butterfly...

Due to the fact that I could not cycle last night, I had to catch the bus. Bus fumes are not regulated in Oxford thus my money went towards supporting the unwarranted destruction of the environment. Without a bike, I may be tempted to use a car - cars damage trees, well to be more precise me in a cars damage trees (just ask my dad about my first few driving lessons), oh and dry stone walls for that matter.

As I had just been dancing for two hours and the additional unpredicted amount of time I spent sussing out where all the air was coming from in my tyre, I was rather hungry. My feeding time long over due, I went to a kebab fan. Now I'm not proud of myself for this act, and I'm sure said little s**t will be happy to hear that he has contributed towards the escalating obesity problem in the UK, thus draining the National Health Service's resources (actually I'm not obsese, but the point is I could have been).

What's more, due to the stress of the entire situation, I lost my train of thought for my big research dissertation on educational technology in higher ed I am writing at the moment. I may have lost valuable conclusions, the educational environment will never hear of them, the uk will loose its competitive edge in attracting international students to study here, the economy will falter supporting the UK's quest for other peoples oil to keep our comfortable standard of living, further damaging international relations and contributing to the looming World War 3.

So there you go, you spotty 14-year-old brat. Now go to your room and have a good hard think about what you have done.