Month: July 2011

Song of the Week 2 – Skin & Bones by David J. Roch

I half-heartedly started a ‘Song of the Week’ thread on my blog the other week.  I’m setting myself the challenge of continuing with this each week (although I can’t guarantee it will be the same day of the week).  Essentially, it’ll be a song that I love.  It might be particularly significant that week, it might be a song I’ve rediscovered, a song that I’ve heard for the first time or just one that I’ve liked for ages and have decided to include.  Whilst running the risk of being mocked for some of my choices, I hope it will encourage my friends to enjoy listening to a track that I also enjoy and perhaps re-evaluate some they’ve ignored.  My music taste was once described as ‘eclectic’, as well as much worse, but if people see eclectic in a positive way after a few weeks of this then I’m happy with that.

This week’s choice is one that I discovered as a result of Sheffield’s Tramlines Festival, which took place over last weekend.  The great advantage of Tramlines being free is that you can try stuff out and see if you like the band or singer.  If you don’t you can move on to a different venue, and if you do then great.  Last weekend involved me enjoying bands I knew I liked, discovering something new but also listening to some more songs from bands that I only knew through one song before.  David J. Roch was someone completely new to me, but is a Sheffield singer with an amazing voice who does melodramatic songs that start quietly and then soar in to a dramatic finale.  Skin and Bones is the one single of his available via iTunes, (although there is an EP available too), and is typical of his style of music.  I saw David J Roch perform at Soyo during Tramlines and although I enjoyed it and it encouraged me to seek out his music, I don’t think the acoustics of the venue flattered him.  I have enjoyed his music a lot more since downloading it from iTunes.  Finally, there aren’t many singers who include the trumpet on their tracks, but David J. Roch does and it really works well and feels very Yorkshire even if the rest of his style of music doesn’t.

Enjoy…

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse’s death at 27 didn’t come as a surprise in many respects, but is still terrible.  Whether you liked her music or not, I don’t think anyone would deny that she was one of the most talented singers and songwriters in the country.  It’s even more sad though that we will only ever be able to enjoy the two albums and a few assorted other songs that she did.

Her first album Frank was a slow burn for me as it wasn’t a style of music I normally like and so I didn’t buy it for some time after it came out, but did on the back of Stronger Than Me, In My Bed and Take the Box.  But when Back to Black came out I was blown away and I knew I was a fan of her music and it’s without a doubt one of the best albums I own.  At about the same time I saw a session she did on television and it was amazing.  Back to Black includes some songs that will remain classic singles in the future – Rehab, Back to Black, You Know I’m No Good and Tears Dry on their Own.  Although, for someone with such amazing songwriting talent of her own, it’s ironic that perhaps her most widely played single is the cover version of The Zutons’ song Valerie that she did with Mark Ronson.  Mind you, it was a brilliant version of the song.

It’s sad to think that we won’t hear any more songs by her, although there is some debate as to whether her next album reached a stage where some stuff could be released posthumously.  There had in the past been talk of her doing a James Bond theme and it sounds as though she was lined up to do Quantum of Solace but her personal problems got in the way.  Sadly we will never know whether it would have worked out.  But frustratingly for the last few years just as you thought a new album was in the offing her personal issues stopped anything being finished and released.  That was the way her life was.

One of the memories I will always have of Amy Winehouse is her appearance on Never Mind the Buzzcocks.  Some of the content makes particularly sad viewing given what we know now, but it shows the fun and tragic side of her and given that Simon Amstell and Amy Winehouse have known each other for years there probably weren’t many people on television who could get away with the jokes he made at her expense.  The video below from YouTube show the highlights of that programme.

Photo credit: Bojars reproduced under a Creative Commons license

Norway

Like everyone I am shocked by what has happened in Norway.  It’s an appalling tragedy and the more you hear of the details the worse it is.  But it isn’t just the scale and appalling nature of what happened that for me is what makes it such a tragedy.  It’s where it happened – not Norway, but Utøya in particular.

I don’t know Utøya but it resembles that idyllic life that Scandinavians, whether Norwegians, Swedes or Danes, believe is an integral part of what being Scandinavian is about.  You like the outdoors.  You like nature.  If you don’t have one already, you want to live in a cottage on a wooded island in a lake or in the sea.  It’s just how life in Scandinavia should be lived.  It’s the equivalent of John Major’s old maids cycling to holy communion through the morning mist.  Now of course life for most Scandinavians isn’t like that.  The majority of people live in cities, but it’s still what many hanker after, and perhaps for a few weeks of the year it’s the way people do live. Certainly it was for the children who were on this summer camp.  The photo accompanying this post shows the island where the tragedy happened (credit: whoeslse_north) and I think it shows as much as anything can why the location of this event gets at the psyche of people who have any connection with Scandinavia or know it.  Not just because it is generally shocking.  Not just because you don’t expect this to happen in Norway.  Not just because it involved children.  But it is because it is an attack on the very ideal of what living in the country is about.  People outside of the country will characterise the country as peaceful, democratic, liberal and fair.  That’s all true.  But it’s also about nature and the environment, and why an attack on people enjoying this lifestyle whilst participating in the democracy the country holds so dear is so much worse.

On a more positive note is the approach of the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg to the tragedy.  This should be combatted by democracy.  A starkly different approach to the usual reaction.

London Street Photography Festival

Over the last couple of years I’ve gradually got more and more interested in photography.  Not just as a practical hobby, but also learning more about its history and the great photographers and visiting more and more exhibitions.  One of the genres I have grown to love is ‘street photography’ and so when I discovered there was a festival dedicated to it I had to go, and I did last Friday.

The London Street Photography Festival is in its first year and is at various venues stretching from Swiss Cottage to St. Pancras, with a few other venues around the capital such as Brixton, Clerkenwell and Bloomsbury.  This meant that I did a lot of walking by starting at Swiss Cottage Central Library at about midday and then gradually working my way to Clerkenwell via various venues on the way.  Sadly, by starting at midday it meant that I didn’t get to some of the other venues outside of this core area.  Maybe next year!

The exhibition at the Swiss Cottage Gallery in Swiss Cottage Central Library was called Polish Perspectives and featured three different photographers all originally from Poland but resident in London.  All had a very different feel.  Witold Krassowski started his photography during Thatcher’s time as prime minister and it shows.  The black and photographs have a slightly old fashioned grimy feel, even when shot recently and truly gives that sense of photography from a difficult time.  In complete contrast Zbigniew Osiowy feels a lot more contemporary.  Not just because his photography is in colour but also because the images are a lot more familiar.  They are of current everyday life, albeit from the point of view of a passer-by looking in, as opposted to Krassowski’s photographs that make you feel a part of the action.  The third photographer was Damian Chrobak whose photographs are more minimal, clean and simple and whilst still observing real life have a certain arty almost staged feel about them.  All three provided a great start to the day and got me thinking about my own photography as I headed to the next venue.

The next venue was actually venues and involved photographs by George Georgiou displayed on bus shelters from Chalk Farm tube station, down Camden High Street to Mornington Crescent tube station.  Sadly, my interest in what else was going on meant that I missed some and of course many bus shelters were full of people waiting for buses (not surprising really) so you couldn’t see the pictures very clearly.  But when I got to the bottom of Camden High Street, the Collective Gallery (which took me a bit of hunting to find), had the Seen/Unseen exhibition of both George Georgiou’s photographs and photographs from Mimi Mollica.  Both of these photographers had essentially bus journeys as their theme, showing either passengers waiting for their bus or the view from the bus.  This was a study not just in people’s ordinary lives, but also the ethics of public surveillance, both of which are conflicts for street photographers.  What was also interesting was the contrast in the photographs taken from the bus when you went through thriving busy urban locations to outer suburbia.

From there I headed to St. Pancras, via St. Pancras Old Church which I have seen for years from the train but never been inside before.  The next exhibition was one I was really looking forward to – Adventures in the Valley at Minnie Weisz Studio which is a study of the River Lea from Hertfordshire down to the Thames.  The reason I was looking forward to it stems from having discovered Polly Braden at the current exhibition of street photography at the Museum of London, where she also appears in the film talking about her experience as a street photographer.  Adventures in the Valley was a joint project with David Campany and gives a real sense of place to the hugely contrasting locations along the river.  What struck me most was how appropriate it was that I had just started reading the book Edgelands as that is what a lot of these locations were.  It is not just the life of the streets of the towns themselves that were captured, but also the overlooked spaces between them that were fascinating.  Perhaps similarly to Mimi Mollica’s photographs taken from a bus journey, these photographs taken along the same river show how much life can change just along on linear route, including the urban/rural contrast, beauty, ethnicity, social standing and so on.

Next was the centrepiece of the festival – Vivian Maier: A life uncovered at the German Gymnasium sandwiched between St. Pancras and King’s Cross stations.  What I discovered there was amazing.  Vivian Maier was a Chicago nanny who just enjoyed taking photographs, but no one knew the brilliance of her photography until she had died when her negatives were found.  Her photographs show a fascinating range of life on the streets of Chicago with ordinary people going about their lives and it really gives a sense of the city over the years.  The Vivian Maier exhibition moved on to Photofusion in London after the festival and so I recommend going to see it.  The German Gymnasium also showed the frontrunners for the London Street Photography International Awards all of which were amazing and you can see the photographs here.  It must have been difficult to judge as I personally found it hard to decide a favourite, but if I had to pick one I’d have gone with Julien Coquentin from Canada.

My original intention had been to head to the British Library for the Street Markets of London in the 1940s – Walter Joseph exhibition at this point, but I realised I’d been over-ambitious to visit the whole festival in one day.  So I abandoned this as the exhibition was running for sometime and headed to the London Street Photography Festival Student Awards at the Orange Dot Gallery on Tavistock Place.  When I said the International Awards must have been hard to judge, then this was even tougher and in this one I had a vote.  The one that immediately stood out to me (and the eventual winner was Tom Archer.  Not only was he a Sheffield Hallam University student but when I looked at his photographs I knew where he’d taken one of them and some others looked very familiar and I am sure I know most of these roads as they are in the western suburbs of Sheffield where I grew up but I can’t quite place them with any accuracy.  His photographs are quirky with a sense of humour but very subtle too.  They were pretty impressive.  I also liked the warmth and friendliness of Ibolya Feher who had picked one particular area and got to be accepted by the community, and this shows in the photographs that were taken as they showed real people going about their daily lives.  The other person I’d draw attention to is Chakib Hantabli who has a very different approach and creates photos that make you think, or rather you wonder what the people who are photographed are thinking.  Very thoughtful photographs and very well taken.

My final visit was the Street Photography Now exhibition at 18 Exmouth Market.  This felt a little bit like visiting the mecca of current street photography, with the images on display including some of the biggest names in street photographs, all coming from the book of the same name.  I bought this book about a month or two before and so the photographs were familiar, but the exhibition includes some photographs taken from a project at The Photographer’s Gallery.  Amazing photography that is difficult to summarise, but it was a very good way to end as it really reinforced my enthusiasm to go out and do my own photographs and to take part in the Street Photography Now Project which I wish I’d discovered earlier.

Quite a few of the exhibitions ended last weekend, but some are still on display until the end of this month although the majority finish this weekend, and so if you love photography then do go.  Actually, if you are just curious about the world around you from the obscure to the mundane, then also go.

Photo credit: The first photograph is my own and although it isn’t quite what I was trying to capture I like it anyway and it was taken in Camden Town on the day that I was at this festival.  The second photograph is copyright Polly Braden & David Campany.  Apologies to both if they would rather I didn’t use it (I will remove it if necessary), but I loved this photograph and I hope that showing it will encourage more people to take an interest in their photography.