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Picture Stories

A few picture stories ‘& essays
Scroll Recent Posts‘ and ‘Categories‘ for more words & pictures combinations.

 

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Picasso: Challenging the Spin

A ‘combative encounter’ with Picasso and groveling art-speak.

I’m not Picasso’s greatest admirer and I went to the National Gallery’s Picasso  exhibition armed with my usual misgivings about the nature of Pablo Picasso’s so-called ‘genius’. Whilst I haven’t previously seen many of Picasso’s paintings in the raw, the ones I did make efforts to view, including Guernica, didn’t exactly scorch the depths of my being.
Anyhow, it was a once in a lifetime  opportunity and for that reason was not to be missed.

It is a cliché that Picasso was one of the (if not THE) most influential artists of the 20th century. But how you see his influence on the world of art depends on your understanding of what the true essence, purpose and pinnacle of art actually is.
For the sake of my own simple mind, I sometimes imagine art through the ages as being one long tapestry through time, on which the (varying shades of) genius of each generation has left its indelible mark. When we get to the beginning of the last century, much of the tapestry starts to get cloudy, as can be seen in Claude Monet’s ‘Water-Lillies’ in Tate Modern. Brush strokes then fragment as isms and ists spring up like ‘toadstools after a rain’, and art’s tapestry is blurred by murky footnotes and textual spin. Judging purely from Picasso’s paintings in The National Gallery exhibition, he was quick to seize upon deconstruction and what unfolded through the six rooms was less like a painter eagerly ‘responding’ to the past’s rich tapestry, as one ripping out the threads and re-weaving them to suit his own ends. And whilst the styles may flutter, the hub of the work on the walls was unchanging.

Two defining facets of genius are these:
Firstly, that it rarely (if ever) comes via a committee’s approval, and secondly, that compromise makes an uneasy bedfellow. Continue reading Picasso: Challenging the Spin

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Andre Agassi

Ode to Andre: An essay, which grew out of a review of Andre Agassi’s Autobiography, ‘Open’.

I first saw Andre Agassi play live at the French Open, in 1987. I was keen on becoming a tennis coach in those days, and I already knew about Andre. So when I saw he was scheduled to play Peruvian Pablo Arraya, I was first on the scene on one of Roland Garros’ outside courts. Another débutante was a tiny ball boy with red hair and a broad batch of freckles. The kid was full of energy and enthusiasm, but he looked nervous. It was a nice touch that Agassi put the youngster at ease and I immediately liked him for his consideration. Continue reading Andre Agassi

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Manchester – A Visitor’s Guide

Welcome to Manchester
A visitor’s guide to Manchester in pictures.

This is my City. I’ve been around its streets and clubs and pubs since I escaped the factory floor, with a job at one of Manchester’s best ever clothes shops.
I know its nooks and crannies. Its diamonds and its flaws. And so will you.
This is a small installment of what will hopefully be both a stunning and comprehensive visual guide to a great city.
Welcome to my Manchester. Continue reading Manchester – A Visitor’s Guide

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Northern Soul

Dex Drugs and Northern Soul

Looking back on a time of youthful excess, at Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca’s Highland Room.

It’s not often I can pinpoint what I was doing on a given date, let alone one from forty years ago. But I have near-perfect recall for the 23rd of September1973, which is the morning Wigan Casino opened its doors for the first of many Northern Soul all-nighters.

I’d arranged a ride in one of a fleet of cars heading on to Wigan from Blackpool Mecca’s Highland Room. But I ended up entwined with a pretty brunette from Burton on Trent, who, midway through the night, asked if I wanted to share her guest house room on Blackpool’s South Shore?
Indeed I did!
I forsook my lift to Wigan Casino’s opening night and spent whatever cash I had on her drinks. Come night’s end, she went to the loo with her friend and when I was the last person left in the Highland Room, it dawned on me that I’d been had-over for a half-dozen lager and blacks: the girls had done a side-shuffle through the alternate exit in the lobby.

At 4 am I was sitting on the steps of a deserted Blackpool Mecca and trying not to think about the good time my mates were having in Wigan. I was considering climbing the walls of the bus depot behind the Mecca and sneaking onto a comparatively warm yellow bus until morning (it wouldn’t have been the first time). But a local drunk wobbled past, on his way home from a lock-in at one of Blackpool’s working men’s clubs.
What’s up, lad? Nowhere to stay?’
I told him about my pretty brunette.
Come on. You can have the settee,’ he beckoned.

Latterly, I would’ve been wary of such an offer. But back then I was a teen schoolie, and I made the spot decision that this bloke was OK. He lived with his Ma in one of the streets off Bloomfield Road, and I sat chewing my face off on the living room settee until his mother got up. Withstanding my protests, she insisted on cooking me a full English fry-up: for reasons I am about to explain, getting it down my throat caused great difficulty, and for years afterwards I couldn’t look an egg in the eye without nausea.

 

Northern Soul Dancer - 'Phet Sweat and Talc
Northern Soul Dancers – ‘Phet Sweat and Talc

 

The elephant in the Northern Soul ballroom has always been amphetamines, often skirted over with a nudge and a wink and dressed up in blurry euphemisms; one such, from Blues and Soul Magazine in the 70’s, stated that ‘there was enough energy at the Torch to light up the whole of Stoke’.

Mmm. The detail omitted was that the energy was provided by amphetamines, manufactured to industry standards by pharmaceutical giants Riker, and Smith, Kline & French, which had been jemmied out of local chemists, or siphoned from your aunt’s bottle of slimming pills. Put plainly, ‘speed’ was as integral to the Northern Soul scene as the vinyl spinning on the decks, and without it there would have been no all-nighters.

Back in the day, my weekend started at the Blue Room at Sale Mecca on a Thursday, then on to Blackpool Mecca on Saturday night, Wigan Casino until Sunday morning, and ended in a twitching, exhausted heap after a Sunday all-dayer like The Ritz in Manchester, which still lives up the road from what was the Hacienda (and I passed it only yesterday).

After leaving school, I’d got a job at a textile mill and on my way to the 6 am early shift on a Monday, I was so delirious through lack of sleep I sometimes thought I was being followed…by my own shadow!

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Laura West, from the town where all the most original Northern Soul dancers originated… 🙂

Continue reading Northern Soul

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Everton Goodison Park

Goodison Park Everton

The brother of a friend tells a good story about Everton’s football ground.

In the days when he worked for a Spanish bank, he decided to take one of the bank’s bigwigs to a European night match against one of the Spanish sides. The fact that it was November 5th and bonfires were raging across the city didn’t raise any alarm bells, until they drove through one of the rougher parts of the city that now resembled a war zone.
Continue reading Everton Goodison Park

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Northern Soul: A Top Ten

Ten all-time great Northern Soul records.

A personal Northern Soul top ten.

I haven’t listened to some of these Northern Soul tunes since I was in my teenage spots, preferring as I did to keep moving, though it’s good to hear them again.
There were so many truly great Northern Soul tunes (many of them ushered in by Ian Levine in his 1973 and ’74 batch), that a definitive ‘best’ list is nigh-on impossible.
Anyhow, these few stand tall against the onslaught of time.
What measure have I used to judge ten of my favourites?
Most Northern Soul tracks were (under) three minutes of pure adrenaline, with a great intro designed to grab your attention from the off (or, more precisely,  the attentions of those who compile radio station play-lists).

As I did more of my dancing at Blackpool Mecca’s Highland Room than at Wigan Casino (where I did more ‘talking’), I suppose a good yardstick was how quickly I would sprint down the corridor of the Highland Room – and onto the dance floor – when I heard the first few notes.
Here are my corridor sprinters in reverse order. Continue reading Northern Soul: A Top Ten

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Highbury Stadium Arsenal

Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium on Match Day

Photographically, I have many regrets, especially in relation to those football grounds that have disappeared forever. But I’m super-glad I had the foresight to get to Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium, before it shut its doors to football’s paying public. Continue reading Highbury Stadium Arsenal

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South Beach Miami

Colony Hotel Ocean Drive, South Beach

I think this picture of the Colony Hotel at sunrise is amazing and not just because I shot it (print available here).

South Beach Miami. The Colony Hotel in a sumptuous light
South Beach Miami. The Colony Hotel in a sumptuous light

I’ve been many times to shoot pictures at the tennis tournament on Key Biscayne, just south of Miami, though I always ended up in some cheap and tatty dive on Collins Avenue or Indian Creek. Continue reading South Beach Miami

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Es Vedra

Es Vedra, Ibiza

The rock of Es Vedra, on Ibiza’s Cala d’Hort, was the body double for the Island of Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific and – amongst many other walk-on parts – it featured on the cover of Mike Oldfield’s Voyager album (not his best work). In fact, the house with the very impressive view of this Mesozoic slab was owned by Oldfield (and latterly by one of the well-known musical Manc brothers in sky blue shirts…allegedly). Continue reading Es Vedra

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Salamanca

A while ago I had an idea for a (grown-up) younger person’s novel, about the ghost of a Priest from the Spanish Inquisition, who – for his sins – had been condemned to tread unnoticed amongst buildings from his own time, until one day he meets….(hey, the idea’s too good to share).
But where to set it?
A trawl through my stack of guide books suggested Salamanca. Continue reading Salamanca

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Hacienda Manchester

I have no recollection whatsoever of these picture (other than I was going through a phase of colouring my flash with blue filters!), though I have the feeling I’d been shooting pictures somewhere else beforehand and managed to get my cameras past the doormen (maybe with one of G.L.’s many forged VIP passes!). Continue reading Hacienda Manchester

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Clitheroe

Clitheroe, Lancashire
Clitheroe, Lancashire

Like much of the Ribble Valley and Lancashire, the weakness of under-funded tourism-cum-marketing is also its endearing strength. There are some wonderful places to see and things to do around these parts. But happily for those of us who avoid the crowds, comparatively few folk know about them: if it thrives, it does so because of locals and surrounding villages, though the train brings in a good number of walkers. Continue reading Clitheroe

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Old Trafford: Red White and Black

Old Trafford RWB
Old Trafford RWB

Within a few minutes of nailing the moment to the idea in the image titled ‘Red Sea‘, the traffic left the Old Trafford car park on Sir Matt Busby Way and the three colours of Manchester United were now available to realise another  idea for a timeless image.
It took 3 months to get the perfect conditions to shoot this image. But like buses, you wait ages for one to come along… Continue reading Old Trafford: Red White and Black

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Manchester Cathedral: Ten to Seven

mancheste_2_CATHEDRAL
‘Ten to Seven’. Manchester Cathedral made more complete, by amazing light and an unsuspecting understudy.

In an ideal world (for photographers), people would look at an image and appreciate only the juggling of the various elements that make that hallowed image. Continue reading Manchester Cathedral: Ten to Seven

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Gabriela Sabatini

gabriela_sabatini-nu_3
Gabriela Sabatini, pictured contra jour in Miami.

On the main stadium courts at tennis tournaments, everything is staged and everyone is clambering for the same shots (and these days independent photographers would struggle to even get a credential… agencies are the new cartels). Continue reading Gabriela Sabatini

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John Rylands Library

John Rylands Library Deansgate.
John Rylands Library Deansgate.

The John Rylands Library, on Manchester’s Deansgate, has never seen as many Tories as it does in the film about Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour.  Apart from the Historic Reading room, the original men’s toilets is also made good use of, where Neville Chamberlain defies library rules by using the loo to take his morphine. Continue reading John Rylands Library

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Downham

Downham.
Downham.

There’s a subtle perfection about Downham, and throughout the stunning May of 2018 I’ve intended merely to pass through (on my way to Bolton-by-Bowland or the Trough), only to get hijacked by seasonal subtleties of light and texture that won’t let me go until I’ve done it some kind of justice. Continue reading Downham

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Whitewell & Forest of Bowland

Whitewell & Forest of Bowland.

The Queen has a fondness for the Whitewell Estate and the Forest of Bowland owing to their (combined) stunning beauty. And the reason they have retained their timeless natural beauty is because this is the Queen’s land – there will be no social engineering projects or new 1000 home developments here ! Continue reading Whitewell & Forest of Bowland

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Goya

Francisco de Goya

I’m tempted to state that anyone even remotely inclined towards artistic expression will know the pain of compromise, particularly if working with (and in) the media or on commercial commissions.
But this is perhaps less true now than it ever was, and here are two of the reasons why: Continue reading Goya