- Zoe Gilby, the Jazz Singer with the silken voice
- Photographing the Musicians for the 2017 – 2018 Project
- The Willdora,
- Forthcoming venues
- Out on the Road
- Up Running
- The year of the Crafts People
- Portraits from the North East still up and running
- Latest news about our Veterans Project
- Portraits from the North East photograph WW2 veterans
- Portraits from the North East moves on
- Portraits Update, June 2015
- PftNE Exhibition Moves to St Nicholas Cathedral
- Thoughts on a Project well done!
Photographing the Musicians
The current Portraits from the North East project, North East Musicians, continues apace. Recent shoots have captured the work of jazz, brass and chamber groups. Three different genres of music sharing a common venue: Ushaw . Each these shoots has had a four-way outcome: images for Ushaw’s use; selected ones for the performers’ own use; images for the Project’s eventual exhibition and/or the online display and, lastly, photographs for me to work on for my own portfolio.
Anyone who has photographed musicians will appreciate that they all share a common love of music. Very few make shed-loads of money but they are happy to be out there, in the limelight, lost in the shared joy of performing. It is this quality that makes photographing them a pleasure to photograph. Their relationship to music and their commitment to being the best musically that they could adds a sparkle to the photos, gifting every image with passion. The good thing about photographing at Ushaw is that there is very little separating the musicians from their audience; and the audiences tend to be very knowledgeable. This relationship with the audience adds to the magic. The people who pay their money to come and see them perform become witnesses (even pilgrims) rather than mere casual guests.
So far, I have been granted almost total freedom to photograph what I feel is appropriate. There are restrictions, but they are simple: not to use flash or a tripod during a performance and to think carefully when to change position and how to “read ” the music so as not to distract with excessive shutter action.
There are other advantages when committing to a longer-term project. You come to understand the “structure” of a concert or performance. Like an avid sports fan who can anticipate when the action on the field will become that decisive moment, you can come to know when the ebb and flow of a performance will render the best results. As for coming back to a familiar venue, you come to know its eccentricities and lighting foibles. With a venue like Ushaw, which depends so much on volunteers, you can soon begin to feel part of the fabric of the place. The way these volunteers and staff react to you helps validate your presence; this in turn helps “settle” the performers. Explaining that you are there to support Ushaw’s management adds a further reassurance.
When it comes to the photography I have an advantage with my little Fuji X-E1 in that it is small and quiet. Using prime lenses limits me a little but the familiarity of them, their fast speed (f2 or f2.4) means I can work in lower light. One of the other factors I have discovered is that it is best to set at a high ISO with a fast shutter speed rather than rely solely upon a moderately enhanced ISO and a slower speed. The settings are usually at ISO 1250 (sometimes as high as 2000) and 1/60+ of a second. This seems to work well enough. What I have to watch out for is trusting the autofocus blindly. In some circumstances it will lock onto something shiny like a brass instrument and, with the focal length at f2, what you were originally aiming to photograph then becomes “soft”. In such circumstances I find it better to opt for manual focusing, often leaving it on manual when shooting becomes fast and furious.
Nothing is ever manipulated in the sense of adding or subtracting bits, though I admit to playing with tone and contrast, adding a vignette or sharpening a little. Using prime lenses in a situation where you might not be able to control the background or where you stand then cropping is something I do use. To turn the colour image into a mono I will de-saturate rather than use the PhotoShop Black and White facility. I have Nik on the bottom of the filter drop-down one PhotoShop. However, using Snapseed’s warm tone tool it does a good job of softening a face. Adding a warm glow also applies to the instruments and when the Da Vinci Quartet saw their photographs that was one thing they commented upon. Perhaps that also reflects not only their priority but is a sly way of saying the other aspects of the pictures were… what to say that is polite?
Photographs from Ushaw’s Jazz festival 2017. To enlarge any image please click onto the relevant image. Thank you
Built in 1901 out of Baltic Larch in Scotland, the motor fishing vessel Willdora, answered the call to go to the shores of Dunkirk in 1940 to help rescue the trapped survivors of the British Expeditionary Force. As time passes fewer and fewer of these vessels survive, the Willdora being an example. Rescued from total disintegration, she is now receiving the care and attention that such a brave and exceptional lady should, at the hands of a dedicated group of men and women, the Sunderland Maritime Heritage Trust.
The Willdora rescued 200 men from the beach and carried them back to larger vessels waiting off-shore. Returning for more troops she ran aground and remained there, an enforced sojourn in France for the remainder of the war.
Working with great care and integrity, the Trust is keen to reuse as much of the original material as possible. The first picture shows details of the hull of the boat. Using thin laths of larch to fill the gaps between the planks the hope is to make the Willdora ready to participate in the 2018 Tall Ships visit to Sunderland.
The members of SMH are a welcoming group of people. They are keeping many of the old shipyard skills alive and willingly share these skills with younger apprentices. Tony Griffiths, Dr John Clarke and I visited the site twice. The second image shows Tony talking with Martin Dent, the Trust’s treasurer. The third, fourth and fifth images are from Tony and show the other two members of the troika seeking out the best places from which to photograph the boat.
Now that the Witham Exhibition has finished, where do we go next?
After negotiations with the powers that be at various sites we have bookings at the following venues:
We have been offered the Pottery Room at Sunderland’s Museum and Winter Garden. This is a magnificent space complete with cabinets full of Sunderland Lustre pottery. Another big plus here is that we should be exhibiting at the same time as the prestigious Taylor-Wessing Portrait Exhibition is on display at the same venue.
See the photographs below.
To add to our good fortune, we have arranged for the exhibition to be on view at the Ushaw College; once a seminary for Catholic Priests, this magnificent Pugin building is now part of Durham University. The potential here is enormous and the venue is in the process of being made suitable for exhibitions.
For July and into August we will be exhibiting at Washington Arts Centre. This has a purpose-built space with superb lighting and crisp, white walls. There are also pictures attached below.
There are other venues we are pursuing and they will be detailed on the website as and when appropriate.
Tony Griffiths and Joanne Clarke travelled north, to Hexham, to photograph the acoustic guitar and mandolin maker, Stefan Sobell. Stefan is one of those magicians who produce musical instruments of superb quality whilst making it look easy, which it certainly isn’t. There are samples of photographs from that shoot below.
Dr John Clarke was amongst the group who went to photograph Marv at Muddy Fingers potters. There, Marv makes unique items for high-end restaurants and Michelin-Starred chefs.
For the past month, we have been exhibiting some of our portrait panels at the Witham Gallery in Barnard Castle. Fortunate indeed to have been given the chance to open at this modern gallery, recently refurbished with many facilities that make viewing any exhibition a pleasure. This is the first of our touring exhibition, and from the reception we have had, it would seem to have been a great success. There are several photographs below showing the exhibition and some of the visitors.
Here is how we were introduced at the Witham Gallery:
“Craftspeople of the North East is an uplifting and optimistic welcome to 2017. This exhibition of contemporary photography features portraits of eminent craftspeople from the North East of England, and has been put together by a group photographers from the Durham region who have made it their mission to photograph local people who have made an impact, in whatever way, upon life in the North East. In the case of this exhibition the photographers have focused their lenses on the talents of regional craftspeople.”
There are other venues where we will be exhibiting: in March we will be at Seaham Town Hall. Washington Arts Centre has committed to exhibit our full collection throughout July and into the first week in August.
For future venues we are meeting representatives of Durham University at their Ushaw College site soon and then members of Sunderland’s Museum and Winter Garden for a chance to display there. There are other venues in our sights so, please consult the website for further venues.
It seems hardly any time since we packed away the 100 Portraits of those significant people in the region and now we are half way through a project to record craftspeople in the North East. Not only is the photography going well but we already have venues interested in exhibiting our new photographs.
We started slowly with a couple of crafts men: James Mason laying a hedge and Joe McElwee working at his wood turning. With the visit to Stephen Lunn and his daughter Ashlee at their 300 year old smithy we had a sense of where the project might go and what we needed to photograph, so that we could best convey the sense of each craft. This would be a departure for us as we would need to produce a portrait but also capture the work practices and the end products of each crafts person.
After those tentative early days we photographed a wide range of activities including the restorative work of Harrison and Harrison (the Durham Company that rebuilds and restores organs). Whilst there, our two photographers were fortunate to witness the finishing of the massive pipe system that lies at the heart of the famous King’s College Cambridge organ.
Amongst other crafts we discovered a Corn Dolly weaver; a craft more readily associated with East Anglia. Travelling further afield we photographed wood carvers and bespoke furniture makers even a small company in Northumberland that hand makes the finest artist pastels. We were, and still are, welcomed everywhere we went. The two photographers who visited Hardy’s of Alnwick (makers of top fishing equipment) spent several hours being shown every aspect of the building of fishing reels and bamboo fly rods.
As with our portraits project, we have been able to witness the work of fine crafts people, producing the most amazing items. As with our previous Portraits Project we have tried to use only natural light which, being confined to the crafts person’s work place has often meant low light and difficult shooting angles. Each challenge has only pushed our photographers to produce better work.
After a successful month at the Blyth Arts and Leisure Centre and then a further month at Sunderland’s Museum, Arts and Winter Garden we have arrived at our fifth venue. On Friday, 15th January last Brian Blake and I, with the able assistance of Kate from the Museum and George (her boss), assembled the Portraits from the North East’s exhibition of 100 notable people in the entrance hall of THE Bowes Museum, in Barnard Castle. It should be there until Sunday 31st January. Not that this is the final venue, far from it! We have a promise of Ushaw College (Durham University) for later in the year and are still hoping for a venue in Gateshead.
Bowes Museum is a magnificent building and every element, from the façade to the monumental staircase to the various displays, marks it out as one of the great museums of the country and one of the many jewels in the crown of the North East, (www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk)
Our exhibition is to the left as you enter the building. To gauge what is looks like and how it arranged please see the illustrations below.
For all those concerned with the project, no matter how you were involved, a big “thumbs-up” from the man who helped put together the highly successful YSL exhibition and many others. Oh, by the way, we did float the idea that we could well have other exhibitions of a similar high quality in the not too distant future and they, too, might need a venue. That suggestion was positively received.
As for those exhibitions; we have the core of the Veterans’ of World War Two ready, having been displayed at St. Nicholas’ Cathedral in Newcastle. We are, however, continuing to photograph veterans to provide a more definitive collection.
Throughout 2016 we will be recording the activities of various crafts people who live and work in the North East. Already, we have nearly two dozen volunteers. More of these two projects in the weeks and months to come.
So far the project to photograph World War Two veterans is going well. Having a deadline by which to have everything ready does add a sense of urgency. As I write this we have two months to get everything processed and printed.
How have we done up to now? More than a dozen veterans have kindly allowed us to photograph them and listen to their stories. The results are pure gold! We have stories of humour and comradeship, of near death experiences and pride.
Every visit has results in splendid portraits, an hour or so of recordings and a group of people happy that they have been involved. Amongst those that have sat for us are veterans of D-Day, men who sailed with the Arctic Convoys to Russia, a Durham Light Infantryman who was captured whilst trying to reach Dunkirk in 1940 and spent the war as a POW, mostly in Poland, and a WRNS who worked on the famous bombe at Bletchley Park.
This project is intended to be as inclusive as possible. Included in this collection will be a couple of Bevin Boys; those who were conscripted into the coal mines. It is still a matter of some bitterness for at least one of them that they were given no choice and were not allowed to join one of the services. The process of selection was simple: one of Ernie Bevin’s secretaries picked a number at random from a hat. That single number determined if you were to go down the mines or not; if it happened to be the last number on one’s call-up papers. The Bevin Boy scheme lasted 1943 to 1948 and amongst those so conscripted were the footballer Nat Lofthouse, the actor, Mencap president Brian Rix and the comedian Eric Morecambe.
Knowing that there are others out there who served and yet we have no knowledge of we have enlisted the good offices of Sam Wonfor at the Journal to help spread the word.
To all those who given of their time willingly, a great big THANK YOU!
In a new venture, members of the Portraits from the North East group are photographing World War Two veterans who live in the region.
On 7th November this year, the Royal British Legion will be holding its annual Service of Remembrance in Newcastle Cathedral. As part of that service, we will be mounting an exhibition of portraits of the veterans
More about the Story so Far is on the About page here
Pictured: Roy Elwood FRPS, a veteran of the Russia convoys, with PftnE’s John Clarke on location
So far the Portraits from the North East project has held two successful exhibitions, the first at The Alnwick Garden, and at Newcastle Cathedral. The comments we have received have been positive.
“A great exhibition showing North East Success”… a visitor from Sunderland
“Great display – nice to learn about local heroes – more please” … a visitor from Newcastle upon Tyne.
“Inspiring! We are lucky to have these wonderful people in our region.” … a visitor from Norton-on-Tees.
“In a celebrity led culture it is refreshing to see others taking the limelight. Excellent and very informative exhibition. Well worth making trip to view.” … a visitor from Newcastle
The good news is the exhibition will continue touring across the region and will be opening soon in other venues.
More about the PftNE locations and dates will follow in further blogs.
Pictured: the exhibitions at The Alnwick Garden and St Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle
This time last year David Trout, Julie Ferry and I were the guests of Bryony Gibson DL and her Pug dog, Tulip. A great deal has happened since then. On Monday, we dismantled the exhibition in St Nicholas’ Cathedral. As I write this we are anticipating news of another North East venue for the next showing.
Our fame is spreading and our aim to record events and people for a North East audience is developing along new lines; specific areas of interest and new projects are being finalised. More coffee will be consumed as we grow as a collective and celebrate the region.
The Portraits group will continue to photograph and exhibit, developing from its humble beginnings into a voice that extols the wonderful variety and skills of people in the North East. More news of this to follow
In the mean time keep a look out for future venues for the original Portraits exhibition: one will be at Blyth’s Arts and Leisure Centre for the whole of October, and other opportunities are being explored. We will keep you posted.
John Cogan ARPS
Following the success of the Portraits from the North East show at The Alnwick Garden, the exhibition moves to St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle and will run from 18th May to 15th June
More about St Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle is here
Pictured: St Nicholas Cathedral and the exhibition
by John Cogan
It is now the custom that, at the end of any endeavour, you reflect and evaluate. It matters little whether that is a General Election or a photographic project. So, now the dust has settled a little, I shall attempt to put into words the impossible.
From the start, (back in late 2013) to now, the project became somewhat all-consuming. Like many projects, it started small with me approaching a few of the local “movers and shakers”. They were kind enough to agree and the demands placed upon them were minimal, yet the Director of the Sage put me on to Sir Thomas Allen, and from there life became interesting.
These initial forays were also solo efforts and this is where I came to the first momentous decision concerning the logistics of the project. Solo sessions were limiting. They were producing the kinds of results I didn’t want. Those early shoots were stiff and most of the images looked posed. This was partly my fault because I was new to portraiture and felt tongue-tied with the dual task of chat and snap… When it came to the big leap forward and the session with Sir Thomas Allen I needed a fellow photographer….. Read on
Pictured: on location – John Cogan and Sir Thomas Allen, John Clarke and Stephen Miller