Wednesday, November 10, 2010


It’s been a while since my last post. Most of September and the whole of October were spent in the States, accompanying Sadie Green on her Winston Churchill Travel Award where I documented her journey of discovery tracing the export of North Devon pottery from the 17th and 18th centuries. I was also representing Bideford Bay Creatives in Manteo NC supported in part by a Networking Artists Network go-and-see award; developing a relationship between Bideford and her twin town Manteo through the arts. Whilst there I was posting to the

One of the similarities of both towns is their geographic settings as naturally sheltered harbours. Bideford 3 miles up from the Atlantic Ocean on the tidal River Torridge and Manteo on an island in the shallow Roanoke Sound 5 miles west from the thin, fragile, Outer Banks spit than shields it from the other end of the Atlantic Ocean. My photographic work in North Devon has been primarily in the sea caves along the rocky shoreline. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is 100 miles+ of sand, called, like our North Devon coast “The Graveyard of the Atlantic”. Both places have this unenviable title because of the 100s of wrecked ships on NC’s treacherous sand bars and our rocky reefs.

Global Warming, Climate Change and Sea Level Rise with the expected greater frequency and magnitude of storms will only add to the graveyard. The irony is that it makes great pictures. Whilst in North Carolina I spent many a late afternoon walking the Atlantic beaches and the closest to Manteo's was at Nags Head; here wooden houses, now condemned for living, seem to have been built on the beach. Whether this is a sign of climate change or of Man’s stupidity or both is unclear, but as is often the case with buildings they look their best just before they die.

A note on the photographs: The last 2 images in this post were taken by the light of a full moon and distant street lighting. Exposures were 1 minute long.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pinhole Workshops

There seems to be a lot of demand for Pinhole Workshops this year, either that or I'm in greater demand, either way is good. I've just completed a days workshop at the Dartmoor Life Museum in Okehampton, a wonderful place full of nooks and crannies where you discover treasures of the past.

The miracle of photography is experienced in its most heightened form through a pinhole workshop. I’ll never understand how I completed a National Diploma in Graphic Design and a HND in Photography without being taught about the pinhole camera. It wasn’t until I started teaching full-time myself that I learned about this subject. The amazing thing is, as my 7 students learned yesterday, that you start the day with a shoebox or biscuit tin and after about an hour using only black card, scissors, tape, a square of black plastic and a pin, you can make a usable camera.
Guessing the exposure takes a little longer (unless you do some complex maths), because every camera (or box in this case) has a different size, or distance from the pinhole to the paper negative (traditional photo paper). Fortunately, with everyone using the same pin, the ‘lens’ diameter is the same. Considering that the only adjustment to exposure was time, 3 of the 9 cameras made in the workshop made acceptable paper negatives at the first shoot. After another couple of tries everyone had a good exposure. Keeping the cameras still, through exposures of between 1 and 8 minutes with a little wind around, proved to be the next challenge. And the final challenge was getting an interesting image. The image below is a pinhole photo of her mum by a 5 year old called Ophelia and has the quality of Julia Margaret Cameron.

My next pinhole workshop is on Saturday 4th September at the Plough Arts Centre in Torrington and is for anyone over 14. Please get in touch with the Plough to book a place.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Back Photographing Bands

Peter Bruntnell our local North Devon singer/songwriter, who tours with his band nationally and internationally, is responsible for organising and mc-ing Monday nights at Lilico's in Barnstaple, part of the North Devon Festival through June. He'd asked me if I'd take some pictures, here are some of them. Pete's the one with the blue head.
Photographing musicians is always an interest of mine, especially in this type of intimate venue. Here I was essentially sharing the stage with the band, trying my best not to stand on the guitar leads, occasionally adjusting the levels on the mixing desk when prompted.
There's a similarity here with my cave pictures. I'm usually in a cramped uncomfortable position, I tend to shoot into the light which is extremely high contrast and the light level is very low compared with daylight. Unlike a cave where I can use a tripod and shoot at 1 second and 100 iso, here I'm restricted to in excess of 800 iso and shutter speeds between 1/15 and 1/30 sec, hoping to allow some movement but keep a sharp, clear, facial expression when the opportunity arises.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

around Combe Martin

Most photographers will look forward to sunshine, the weekend, or a time of day like sunrise or sunset. I look forward to the full moon and the new moon and note these in my calendar. A day or two after these moons heralds the highest and lowest tides, or spring tides, which occur every fortnight. A spring low tide, which always falls around 1 or 2pm in North Devon, gives me access to places at the waters edge that would be impossible to get to on any other day or time; places which are often totally hidden under the waves.

At the end of April on such a tide I went to the Combe Martin coast where the following images come from. The inspiration for the trip was an old postcard of Briary Cave at Watermouth. Postcards of caves are rare, this being the first I’d seen, and although I’d photographed this cave before I find that every time I explore a space the image comes out differently. Often this is because of that ever changing tide, light, season and the wave action on the interior of the cave.

The Combe Martin area has a very long history of mining. These 2 images were former mines, which probably starting out as caves before they were mined for silver, lead or manganese. They’re accessible, like many others, from the beach. The interiors of these ex-mines are often are usually rougher and more textured than a cave which is carved out by the force of waves throwing boulders against it’s interior.

This was a rich day’s photography for me. Usually I’d be lucky with one good result, but here I have four; and there were three other failed attempts also. These four images where made from 121 separate photographs in total. The overcast day and wet cave walls helped with the balancing of highlights with shadows. I was forever using bits of my hands as a shield to prevent light flare spilling into my lens, which nearly always points towards the light.

Three of these images will be part of my exhibition at Schooners tea and coffee shop in Appledore for their Visual Arts Festival 3rd – 6th June. I’m really exited about being a part of the festival which has an appropriate theme of ‘Coastline’ this year. If you’re reading this and want to know more you can download a flier at the following link: and come and chat with me in Appledore.

The image above is from a huge cave very near to Briary Cave. The headland seen through it is Great Hangman the highest sea cliff in England.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Potted History of Bideford

I’ve got really interested in history since living in Bideford; its history is heavily tied up with Art and America, two of my biggest passions. Bideford prospered in the 17th and 18th centuries through trade with new American colonies (it helped to set up) importing tobacco and exporting pottery. In the Autumn I shall be accompanying my wife Sadie on a research trip, sponsored by a Sir William Churchill Travel Award, to North Carolina and Virginia. She’ll be finding out where Bideford’s pottery went and making contact with artists, arts orgs and networks close to Bideford’s twin town of Manteo on Roanoke Island. For more information about her trip follow this link:

I’ll be looking out for visual similarities and differences between the two communities and environments. I’m hoping to find traces of North Devon in the old sea port towns, did our ships ballast, alien rocks and plants, get dumped on the beach, was it used as building material? Was anything else exported at the time, ball clay etc? I’ll be listening out for traces of local dialect with Devon words or pronunciations. Appledore smocks? I’ll be doing the same when I get back home, are there common place things here in North Devon that originated from the USA which we’ve forgotten about through generations since they got imported.

Also, in support of Sadie’s research, I’m photographing pottery. I started examining this craft when I was commissioned to photograph the ‘kiln in the park’ firing just before Christmas 2009. I’m now keen to make a good documentary record of potters who are still making slipware and using the sgraffito effect with red clay and white slip carrying on the tradition of North Devon pottery.

‘Bideford Pottery’, a family business of Harry Juniper, his son Nick and daughter Sue is the only pottery in town making pots instantly recognisable as North Devon ware. Everything is made by hand in a similar way to how it would have been done in the 17th century. So far I’ve been photographing Nick throwing mugs and a pitcher and also decorating the jug. Close by is the studio of Doug Fitch, another young potter with a huge respect for the local tradition who even sources local clay which he digs out. Doug also has a collection of old pots and shards from the time when pottery in this area was as big an industry as it was in Staffordshire. The images in this post are the start of the documentary which I intent to take with me to North Carolina to share with the arts community and potters in our twin town Manteo and throughout the State.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Teaching and Learning

I’ve just had 2 very busy days teaching, but what joy it is simply being physically tired rather than mentally drained.

This was a two-day residential at Beaford Arts Centre, teaching 12-14 year olds photography. It’s part of a programme that Beaford puts on for ‘gifted and talented’ pupils. Caroline Preston, who runs the Beaford Education Programme, and I led the course.

We started with a group exercise matching digital camera terms with symbols; this was a way of breaking the ice as the ten children were from all over Devon, some of them knowing no one else on the course. They did surprisingly well with only one matching pair the wrong way around. We use these symbols all of the time and quickly get used to what they do or represent but forget what they stand for.

Next we all converted one of the bedrooms into a giant pinhole camera. Three of the pupils blacked out the windows as I spent some time with individuals and their cameras making sure the set-up was optimised for biggest size and best quality and, looking towards the evening’s exercise, whether they were able to make a long exposure of 1 second or longer. With a large square hole, approx 4cm across we could see a very out-of-focus image on the wall. Caroline had a great idea to tape sheets of drawing paper onto the walls. I then demonstrated how an aperture works by gradually making the large hole smaller and smaller; the image on the walls became darker but also more in focus. As our eyes adjusted to the dark, after about 5 minutes, we were able to see the outside world, up-side-down, on the walls, floor and ceiling of the bedroom. The children found interesting parts and started to draw what they saw onto the paper using charcoal sticks. It was impossible to ‘see’ what you had drawn so there was a certain amount of faith involved in believing the image would be there once the light was turned on. I talked camera obscura, Aristotle (who wrote about this phenomenon 2,500+ years ago) and related it as best I could to its use to artists prior to the invention of photography. I also took a whole lot of 1 minute long exposures capturing the image and blurred artists in colour – the image to those inside the ‘camera’ looked black and white because the ‘rods’ were being used in our eyes instead of the ‘cones’.

When the light was turned on I was astonished at the masterpiece that had appeared on the walls; an up-side-down sketch of the church, trees and walls that made up the external view, were all there seamlessly drawn on the paper taped to the walls.

We had been given the opportunity to paste life-sized ‘joiner’ images onto a stark metal container that sat outside at the back of Greenwarren House (which houses Beaford Arts). This is related to the constructed images I do myself through, amongst other themes, the cave images of the North Devon Coast. I started teaching the making of full-sized joiners of people when I was working in a school on Tucson AZ where the only technology I could rely on was a black and white printer and some small digital cameras. The pupils split into groups of 3 or 4 and came up with ideas of how they, individually, would like to be seen on the container’s walls. Some wanted to play with scale and perspective, one fancied the idea of levitation and others thought of hanging from the roof or doing a handstand against the side. I gave some technical and artistic advice to help make the images work and they were off creating their art.

The photographs taken were quickly downloaded and printed out as contact sheets so that small joiner images could be made as a template to see if the life-sized one would work. At least half of the children retook their photographs after this stage, some of them making a number of sets to make sure one of them would be to their liking. Once finalised these were printed off on a black & white printer each photograph being a full A4 page in size. The white edges were trimmed and quite some time was spent joining the separate pages together with masking tape.

Once it was dark, the evening of the first day was dedicated to ‘painting with light’. We started off indoors, in a controlled space where everyone could try photographing the same lighting technique, like hooping a coloured torch around on a string or drawing around a body, giving someone wings etc. the children soon got the hang of it and were leaving their cameras on self timer and making various light patterns and shapes all at once. We then went outside, Caroline and I had a few ideas for images but they were hardly needed as the group of pupils came up with idea after idea and were allowed to run with them. Around 10.30pm we lit the blackened interior rooms of the house with various swirling colours and photographed it from the garden; after this we set about writing ‘Beaford Arts’ as we just had enough participants for the letters. This image is a combination of both ideas exposed for 1 minute each and combined in Photoshop. We got back indoors at 11pm and wound down to 11.30pm doing a little editing and enhancing of the images produced. The morning of day two was spent finishing off the joiners then using wallpaper paste to fix them to the container. This process was very forgiving as many an artwork fell apart at the last minute to be rescued with glue on the wall of the container. The collective result was awesome and hopefully, after the joiners are varnished, will last for at least the rest of the year.

For the rest of the day the ten children were split into two groups. One learned about traditional photography, made famous at Beaford by James Ravilious, through making photograms in the temporary darkroom. The other group enhanced and edited their night photographs and learned various digital imaging techniques. They then swapped.

Parents arrived at 4pm and were treated to a tour of the inside of the pinhole camera with charcoal sketches, slideshows of images on the children’s laptops, drying photograms, two exhibitions, one of James Ravilious’ work and one of my work, and the container outside full of joiners of the children.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Home Start Window - Bideford

I continue to get support from Home Start on Bridgeland Street, Bideford to dress their window and inside wall with images. This gives then something interesting on their wall to discuss and a partial shield from the stares of passers by, who hopefully look at my canvas instead. There is a 6 week turn-a-round of pictures, so the one above will be there until late-May.

Home-Start is a voluntary organisation offering support, friendship and practical help to families at home with children under 5. Home-Start recruits, supports and prepares volunteers who are parents, grandparents or have parenting experience to visit families who are under pressure.

The current print on canvas is of a place very dear to me that I visited recently on my birthday. It is Black Church Rock, Mouth Mill, North Devon. If Black Church Rock was in the USA there would be a car park at its trail head and an interpretive board explaining it geological history and deconstruction. This is an amazing piece of natural land art close to our foremost visitor destination, Clovelly; yet I’d be surprised if even 1% of it’s visitors ever experience it. This is one of the easiest parts of our wild coast to get to. A gradual walk down a stone track from Clovelly Court will take you all the way to Mouth Mill; and once on the beach a glance to the right is all that’s needed to see the spectacle.

Black Church Rock, as the name suggests, is constructed of very dark rock and the 24 photographs for this image were taken at sunset when there is a golden glow to the arches in high summer.Tthe rock face was exposed for longer than the sky to emphasise the colour it takes from the setting sun. The images were ‘stitched together’ on a computer using Photoshop.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Last of the Dark Nights

It was great to celebrate the end of the long dark nights of British Winter Time with a ‘Playing with Light’ workshop on Westward Ho! Beach. Apologies to anyone who, after seeing the centrefold in the North Devon Journal, had come down to Westward Ho! hoping to witness a light spectacular and missing us. I started the workshop in the warmth of the Waterfront pub, over a coffee, discussing the merits of various long exposure photographers and explaining various technical considerations for the camera. We didn’t get onto the beach until about 7.45pm where we made our way away from the lights of the village and far down the beach to the wetter sand near the sea. Even at this remote spot we attracted a couple of groups of teenagers who had been spending the evening playing around the pebble ridge. Both groups were keen to engage in our activities the first group of I think 6 had read the Journal’s feature and had come specially to get involved. The image above was made through a 50 second exposure each of the workshop participants and the teenagers had torches and Mike Bentley and I added some flash into the shot. Any of the people who participated in the making of this image can click on it to get a larger version for printing out.
A couple of weeks ago I ran a similar course at Spacex in Exeter. Here a lot of image making was achieved in one of their gallery spaces. It was designed for video art projection, blacked out with black curtained walls, so it was perfect for light graffiti. The image above was made by Claire Gladstone and describes the process through the 30 second exposure; the running around with torches swinging on string and flash fired from the sides at a low angle. I’ve cropped the image below because that to me is the part so totally full of life and colour.

I’ll be doing more night photography during a Beaford Arts residential over Easter and look out for the Bideford Bay Creatives Night Light Extravaganza which will hopefully be happening at the Westward Ho! Potwalloping Festival for the late May bank-holiday.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Good Publicity

“All publicity is good publicity” has a nice reassuring ring to it but I’m always a little nervous and excited when the press are interested in what I’m doing. Rosanna Rothery and her photographer partner Jon Bowen joined me with others at the end of last month for a ‘Playing with Light’ workshop. I was expecting the journalist to sit quietly in a corner observing and making notes and leaving after she had enough for her story. I was so wrong! Rosanna was an active participant in the workshop on a cold dank winter’s night on Westward Ho! Beach. You’ll see her in the Journal’s feature top right with angel wings. This particular image was made using 3 pairs of torch swinging hands, Sadie and Janis stand directly behind Rosanna, and a flash was used to freeze and correctly expose her against the night sky.

The main picture features three teenagers who had come down to the beach to see what was going on, attracted by the bright lights. They were very enthusiastic to get involved and this image of 30 seconds had a few of us scribbling with torches behind their backs, giving them saintly halos and adding a little white light on their faces so that we can see who they are. The Superman poses were chosen by themselves.

Here’s a link to the full article from the North Devon Journal 25th March 2010:

Sunday, February 28, 2010

2010 Photographic Workshops

When I started leading photographic workshops last year I thought it would just be a summertime thing that tourists to North Devon might enjoy, boosting their photographic skills and knowledge whilst on holiday. I hadn’t anticipated just how many local people wanted photographic instruction or that I would have already had two successful workshops this year; with two more ‘painting with light’ type courses in my calendar:

Tuesday March 16th 5.00pm-9.00pm at Spacex Gallery in Exeter

On Saturday 27th March 6.30pm on Westward Ho! Beach

I have been a fan of night photographers for some years now, inspired by Troy Paiva, William Lesch, Mark Klett and the Nocturnes ‘fellowship’ often based in the desert regions of the USA. Theirs is often a purist image, black or dark blue skies, moon and star trails, old abandoned ghost towns, romantic idyllic places to get away from the heat of the day to. Here in England a clear sky without light pollution is rare, weather is unpredictable and the winter night is cold.

Over the last couple of years I have also been fascinated with the experience of being out at night, far away from the lights. Walking without a torch, on invisible footpaths, sometimes your guide being a slight gap in overhead trees, dark grey as opposed to black, which you use for direction. Your spatial awareness vastly diminished and relying of the rods in your eyes to see a world in monotone.

Photographing at night can be like painting on a blank canvas, adding light, colour, texture and form to a desaturated scene. The whole process is very photographic. Where there is no light we can open a shutter for ever without a single photon of exposure. As soon as we strike a match we have an exposure. Making an image from light is such fun.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Interesting and Unexpected

What an interesting and unexpected end to the year, I was inundated with photographic work. My interest in a photographic job seems to have a direct relationship to its difficulty, photographing in the dark, extreme high contrast, unsociable hours; often visually stimulating but people ask “can you take photographs in this?” I’m a firm believer in ‘if you can see it, you can photograph it’ in fact I’d go further than this, I’m not really happy unless the photograph is better than the reality remembered.

One of my challenges was the documentation of a firing of Bideford’s community Kiln-in-the-Park. This was a joint project from the Friends of the Burton and Appledore Arts. The brick built kiln, which must be 20ft high is a rare example of such a large wood fired kiln in the UK. I was there whenever I could be from the building of the fence to enclose it, loading with hundreds of tiles and harvest jugs, lighting at 7am and bringing up to in excess of 1000 degrees c, to the grand opening almost a week later. As I obviously couldn’t be there 24/7 I had to anticipate the most photogenic moments in advance and get a general documentation of the process. One of the highlights was to be a flame out of the top of the kiln which sometimes happens so I made sure I stayed around as the temperature rose to it’s critical heat.

There was talk in the potting fraternity that if they didn’t work with clay they would all be pyromaniacs and there were many photographic examples of a fearless love for flames. The two pictures here are of Doug Fitch who has his own slipware blog:

Another challenge was photographing the alternative physical theatre company Jammy Voo They had been working on a new play at Beaford Arts Centre and needed documentary/publicity pictures. Their play writing is quite improvised, the script to start with may not even have a beginning, middle or ending, so their time together as a company, who live in various parts of Britain and Europe, was spent developing their characters and the play. There seemed to be a days worth of photography to fit into the ½ day with each new scene or location needing me to think on my feet to try and make the images say something about a play I knew little about. But it was quite a buzz and hopefully the final pictures made from merging 2 or 3 together will show the essence of the play.