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My year in twelve pictures

If Michael Jennings can roam the world taking photos, then I can roam London and nearby spots, doing the same. Here are twelve photos from my year, one for each month.

They are chosen, I hasten to add, as much to help me say things about what is in them and about digital photography as for their technical quality. Which is… rather variable.

The January photo is probably the most dramatic of the lot:


That’s the fire damage done to a building in Vauxhall, when a helicopter crashed into a crane and fell flaming onto the road, killing its pilot. All the photos I displayed at the time, here and here, featured the damage done to the crane, me being so very fond of cranes. But that’s the building, at a time when the clean-up had only just begun. I wonder how it looks now. I must go back there and check.

The February snap is one of many snaps I took this year and all the other years I’ve been wielding a digital camera (which is basically the whole of the century so far), of digital photographers digitally photographing:


The point of the above snap is that the digital photographer’s face is invisible. When I first started displaying pictures on blogs of digital photographers in action, I was fairly relaxed about showing people’s faces. But as face recognition software has become more and more of a news story, I have become ever more reluctant to hazard the anonymity of strangers.

My March photo is just a pure piece of fun. (Well, maybe not so pure.) I have hugely enjoyed digital photography ever since it got started, this kind of snap being a big part of the reason why. When you see something a bit weird/funny/intriguing, like this …:


… you can immediately photo it! I did a blog posting about this just after I took this picture, and another blogger (one of my favourites) thought some of that to be worth quoting. More fun.

Next up, from April, we have a picture I took at the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013:


At the time, what impressed me most about this event was the audience, and it was indeed very impressive. But I’d like to say something here about the speaker in action in that picture, at the far end of that big space.

It’s J. P. Floru, whose book Heavens on Earth is, I think, very good. Floru is young, intelligent, ambitious, and a very good and entertaining writer. His next book, or so he told me at the recent Adam Smith Institute Christmas Party, will be about Clement Attlee and the enormous new burst of momentum that he and his post-war Labour government gave to the British welfare state and to British statism in general, and all the grief and foolishness that this project brought in its wake. This is not a subject that free marketeers now write about or think about that much any more. But the left worships Attlee and itself for worshipping Attlee, and if the post-war Labour project was foolishness (which huge swathes of it were) then a book explaining all this in detail would really be something. That’s what Floru told me, and I entirely agree with him. I wish him every success with this book, if and when he gets around to writing it. If he does, expect mentions of it here.

The May photo was taken on the last Friday of May, at my Last Friday meeting of that month, at which the speaker was Aiden Gregg, who is to be seen top left in this picture:


I wrote about why I resumed doing these meetings in this posting here. So far, these meetings have been excellent, and I would like to express my thanks to all who attended, and in particular to those who spoke. In order, the speakers were: January – Sam Bowman, February – Michael Jennings, March – Richard Carey, April – Rob Fisher, May – Aiden Gregg, June – David Carr, July – Anton Howes, August – Patrick Crozier, September – Richard Carey (again – being asked back is the ultimate compliment), October – Preston Byrne, November – Marc Sidwell, December – Antoine Clarke. January will be Alex Singleton.

Also in the above photo you can see a lady called Devika and next to her, her newly acquired husband Simon, sitting to the right (as we look) of Aiden Gregg. Simon and Devika were married in April. I took many photos. The event and the weather were both superb. One of the reasons I got my meetings going again was for me to get to know some new people and make some new friends. Mission accomplished.

On to June. I find that railway stations are often very fine spots for indulging in photography. They are often quite high off the ground, above regular roof level, and there are often footbridges that will take you even higher. One of the better photographic stations in London is Hackney Wick, from the footbridge of which I took this picture:


That is a relic of the Olympics, in the form of what then remained of the basketball shed, now gone of course.

My July picture is of a perpetual fascination of mine, namely the Big Things, as I like to call them, that London has erected in such profusion recently. Here are the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin and the Walkie Talkie, suddenly erupting into view, as a set:


I like how you suddenly spot these Big Things in the distance, when wandering about with other purposes in mind. (More thoughts from me on this picture and on the comedic nature of these Big Things in this posting.) Not long after I took that picture, the Walkie Talkie scorched its way into the headlines by behaving as a concave mirror and sending death rays down into the nearby street. An expensive car got fried, as well as eggs.

2013 was the year I finally got my head around the Container Box phenomenon, by, among other things, buying and reading this book. I particularly remember going, in August, on a photographic walkabout with Goddaughter One (who actually earns money doing photography), and enthusing over a cup of tea about the book in question, suggesting that my school chum from way back, her dad, who is a structural engineer, might like it as a present. And then, when we got out of the eatery and drinkery we had been eating and drinking in, we photoed it:


Look what it is made of. There is a lot of this Container Box thing going on these day in architecture.

The September photo also has a Container Box theme. I took this on one of several expeditions I made to somewhere called Stanford-Le-Hope, which is in Essex. Why Stanford-Le-Hope? Because Stanford-Le-Hope is not that far from something called London Gateway, which will, when it is finished, be London’s new container port. Here is a picture of what it consists of so far, seen through an intervening pylon:


There are now just five of these big cranes. When London Gateway gets into its stride, there will be twenty four. I especially like to photo Big London Things while they are still being constructed, and this is going to be a very Big London Thing indeed, I think. In a few years time, when they switch from discouraging photography to encouraging it, the photos of this crane array will be everywhere.

October‘s photo takes me back to the kind of trivia already celebrated in the March photo. I seem to like photographing headless women:


One of the many joys of digital photography is that you can photograph entertaining nonsense like this, and giggle about it on and off for years afterwards, without ever having to buy such stuff.

November being November, in November the big London shops were already starting to unveil their Christmas window displays:


And there we see someone photoing one of the windows in Selfridges (here is the kind of photo they were taking), with a giant camera, aka a tablet. 2013 was definitely the year when taking pictures with huge cameras that aren’t proper cameras came into its own. Many scoffed at these tabletised snappers. Good on them, I say, except when they spoil the view for others, at an event.

I speculate that the arrival of digital photography has stimulated what you might call Temporary Art, by increasing the rewards available to Temporary Artists. Time was when your Temporary Art, once gone, was utterly gone. Now, the thing itself still goes, but the photographs of it can live on. This is surely one of the reasons why we are living in a golden age of Graffiti Art (or why Graffiti is now such a huge problem, if you reckon it a problem, as it surely is a lot of the time). It soon gets painted over, with other Graffiti Art. But your particular bit of Art can live on digitally. On January 20th, I will be giving a talk at Christian Michel’s about the Impact of Digital Photography. This is the kind of effect I will be talking about.

December, and another digital photographer. But this time the photographer is someone I am personally acquainted with, for it is Goddaughter Two:


Goddaughter Two and her Friend (see above) paid a flying visit to London earlier this month, from their home in Brittany. They came to London on the (very) off chance that they might manage to get themselves into either the Royal College of Music or the Guildhall School of Music, which are London’s two best music colleges. Both these young ladies are singers. Goddaughter Two is a mezzo-soprano, and Goddaughter Two’s Friend is a lighter soprano (of the sort that does Mozart and Richard Strauss – I love this kind of voice especially).

The blue vertical smudge to the right of (as we look) Friend’s head is one of my favourite London Big Things, the London Eye (or The Wheel as I prefer to call it), seen exactly sideways on. Beyond it, you can just about see, in the far disance, further to the right, the tower where the helicopter crashed in January. (And do you know what? I may have worked out what that Vauxhall Tower should be called. It looks like an aerosol spray can. Maybe that’s what it’ll end up being called, the Spray Can. Wish me luck with that, because I will need it.)

Getting back to the two lady singers in the above snap, of one of them snapping the other, there was no serious likelihood that either would succeed in their quest for a place at either of two of the world’s most prestigious classical music schools. But one of the big differences between people and people in this world is between people who are willing to be told, again and again: no, get lost, and those who prefer not to risk such indignity, or not on any regular basis. These ladies were willing to suffer rejection, and were in fact as near as dammit certain of being rejected. The Royal College, for instance, was offering about five places, but was auditioning many hundreds, in batches of thirty or more each day for about a fortnight. Good for you for trying, ladies! Both agreed that it was a great experience doing their various auditions, albeit very nervous-making. Both said they might well be back next near, to give it another go.

But at least Goddaughter Two got through her audition, to become one of the very few people chosen as worth thinking about from the day she did her audition, for the Royal College. So, the trip was not a complete failure for her, then. And Friend likewise remained in remote contention for a Guildhall place. Well done, great effort, jolly well tried, etc. etc. etc., blah blah blah. Great that you both got this far.

Then, a few days after they had returned to France, the news emerged. Goddaughter Two had got a place at the Royal College. Friend had got a place at the Guildhall. Magnifique.

A happy note to end on, I think you will agree, and a happy new year to all.

7 comments to My year in twelve pictures

  • the other rob

    A happy note indeed. A happy and prosperous new year to you, Brian and to all at Samizdata.

  • Graeme

    all those headless dummies are very true to the original ethos of surrealism (especially the march photo), before Andre Breton decided that surrealism was essentially Stalinism in action and therefore politically committed. I am not sure if there is a manifesto that says that surrealism is politically committed, however. As far as I know, surrealism is basically the juxtapostion of a sewing-machine, an umbrella and an operating table.

  • Mr Ed

    As the Vogon said

    “…counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor… ” hmm death’s too good for them!’

    Can anyone help me understand what will be loaded onto ships leaving the London Gateway? I am curious, as I hear little of what seems to be made in the South East of England.

  • Regional

    My mate and I have been discussing if we win the lottery hiring a canal boat with driver who’ll keep the beer fridge stocked and supplied with fresh prawns so when we’re thrown out of pubs on our journey we can fall into our bunks and not have worry about the Rozzas.
    Happy new years and the esky bottomless.

  • Haven’t been to London since college; hope I can go back while I can still enjoy it. Happy New Year!

  • Kevin B

    Mr Ed

    A surprising amount of stuff gets exported if not from then through the Souith East, including cars. Yes, we export eight out of ten cars produced.

    Brian, I look forward to seeing Goddaughter Two and Friend co-operating in something like this. (Probably the best duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano about.)

  • PaulM

    Ah! headless figures with no arms, where were you – Madame Two Thirds?