It’s that time of year, if you are lucky and live near a bluebell wood, to go strolling through one of Mother Nature’s more enchanting realms. Delicate English bluebells form carpets of violet-blue beneath deciduous trees tinged with the palest of lime green.
I remember several childhood ‘bluebell’ walks. A couple were through the woods near Little Baddow, in Essex and another was an occasion when my family visited the woods near Butley Priory in Suffolk, decades before the remaining gatehouse was restored into a wedding venue.
But what if you live in the middle of a town?
Well, Holywells Park, Ipswich, does it again. The wooded area of the park may not be vast nor the ‘Bluebell Walk’ exactly long, but they are there, delicate, bluebells nodding gently in the breeze.
The Woodland Walk partly runs along one side of the park. On the other side of the high, brick boundary wall there’s Bishops Hill, also known as the A1156, busy with traffic. Yet as you walk on down into the peace and quiet of the park you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of a large country estate complete with a wildlife pond.
We’ve had some high winds and fast moving weather systems recently in East Anglia. Clouds, some with and some without rain, have been whipping across the Suffolk countryside.
These photographs were taken in less than a minute as we drove through the pleasant village of Little Glemham. It was almost a Hitchcock moment with the sudden darkening of the sky, but without the multiple flocks of birds.
And, then back in Ipswich on Monday, walking through Christchurch Park, it was all jolly waving daffodils in the bright spring sunshine . . .
and I spotted . . . a flashy, noisy bird who turned out to be camera shy!
Recently I have been sorting and collating and trying to delete some of my thousands of photographs. It’s what I call a New Year’s task and as usual I have already been completely sidetracked!
This time it was all St Gabriel’s fault or rather should I say the talented Victorian stained glass artist who created this work. I think it could possibly have been painted by somebody who worked for James Powell & Sons. It has an Arts and Crafts feel, and, the overall design of the complete window has a look very similar to the late-19th/early-20th century works by that famous, London-based stained glass makers.
It wasn’t so much the beauty of the window, although I really do love the restrained aesthetic of this style of glass, but I wanted to know who had made it and so the hunt began. I was sidetracked.
Disappointingly, I was not successful, however, I did come across a little thread of discord from 2005 regarding the taking of photographs within National Trust properties. The above stained glass window, that had captured my attention, can be found in the chapel on the Oxburgh Hall estate in Norfolk.
Inside the chapel there are a few artworks worth attention. There is the tomb of the 6th Baronet, Sir Henry Bedingfield, complete with a fine, marble effigy and alabaster tomb chest.
There is also a further stained glass window by Thomas Willement, this time featuring heraldic motifs and . .
there is an oddly, overblown altarpiece arrangement. This is not the original 1839 altarpiece. In fact the painted and gilded wooden structure we see today is a retable with wings that was purchased sometime in the late-19th century. It is unclear when and who put together the full arrangement with the upper retable, the sacrament tabernacle and the bottom, carved altar table.
As you can see from my photographs, when the wings are opened displaying scenes from the Passion and the life of St James of Compostela, the whole effect is unbalanced and out of proportion within such a small chapel. Flemish altarpieces from the sixteenth century are often seen these days in museums and art galleries, but originally they would have been erected in cathedrals or larger churches set beneath high vaulted ceilings and tall windows. Perhaps the entire Oxburgh construction was purchased during a moment of Victorian religious zeal. Strangely, according to the official guidebook ‘The retable was acquired by the National Trust in 1982 with the aid of grants from the Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Victoria & Albert Museum’ thirty years after Oxburgh Hall had been given to the National Trust. If you are at all interested in the baffling and convoluted arrangements for keeping some art accessible to the public you can read about the retable provenance here.
Now, after that minor digression, I come back to the issue of taking photographs, such as mine of the Oxburgh Retable, in National Trust properties. Back in January 2005, Simon Knott, who has made a fine photographic record of much of East Anglia’s church art, was visiting Oxburgh Hall. And, in 2005 photography was not allowed inside any National Trust properties for ‘security reasons’. However, Mr Knott attempted to photograph inside the chapel and was caught by the room steward. Mr Knott subsequently recounted this episode on his website. He was mildly critical of the NT’s over zealous no photography policy and then latterly received a sharp slap down in reply. Below is a glimpse back to those pre-selfie, pre-Instagram days!
Postcript, June 2005: Teresa Squires, House Steward at the Hall, was alerted by, as she put it, ‘a concerned National Trust volunteer’, and contacted me [Simon Knott] : I am most concerned about your puerile comments regarding the “sneak” photography. The National Trust has a No Photography rule for a number of good reasons, of which one is security. If you had taken the trouble to enquire of the steward, you would have found out that the No Photography rule only applies during public visiting hours, and an arrangement can be made to photograph for bona fide reasons at another time. Your irresponsible attitude is likely to cause others to think they can buck the system with impunity. Remember, the National Trust is a conservation charity, not a subsidised Government organisation. Yes, it is most unlikely that someone will steal this particular altarpiece, but art crime is on the increase everywhere. If you are truly concerned with recording and disseminating knowledge of church history, I would expect you to show a little more respect.
From commentary by Simon Knott
How times have changed! Fortunately, in 2009 the National Trust changed their policy regarding photographs. It is, of course, still no flash photography (so damaging to delicate artworks), but the sensible decision to permit paying visitors to photograph and share their experiences can only help attract more visitors to National Trust properties. Furthermore, sharing pictures of minority interests such as the needlework of Mary, Queen of Scots, can only be a positive addition to our shared culture.
Now it’s time for me to return to my original task and get deleting those underexposed, overexposed and just slightly out of focus photographs.
It’s interesting to see the civic responses to decorating public spaces at this time of year. Some Christmas trees work well for their locations. Down on Ipswich Waterfront the tree elegantly adds seasonal spirit to its setting whether it’s a drab December day or a winter sunset.
And some Christmas trees simply brighten the mundane places for all those travelling at this time of year.
However, some trees are magnificent in their own right only to have their charm reduced by a cluttered civic space that should have been spectacular. It is disappointing that the lovely tree in the newly revamped Ipswich Cornhill is being obscured by a large temporary marquee (which I have tried not include in the photograph). I see from our local paper that I am not the only one to consider this set-up a disappointing mess.
Of course, most Christmas trees are in people’s homes and it’s been seven years since I have had a tree at home. I think it’s probably because it will be my first Christmas in this old house and the Victorian bay is such an obvious and familiar setting for a decorated tree.
It was a little walk down memory lane as I unwrapped the forgotten ornaments for the first time in seven years. I have some of my mother’s decorations and memories of family Christmases with my mother and my grandparents filled the room along with intermittent showers of glitter and the scent of pine.
Every now and then Instagram gives us something interesting and positive. On Tuesday 26th June the media folk at Creative Review posted this intriguing photograph by a new young talented photographer, Annie Lai.
The post informs us that Annie (for those of you who might want to have a peak on Instagram she’s @annielai_) has only recently graduated from the London College of Fashion. She grew up in China, but spent her High School years in New Zealand, before taking up her place to study photography in London. I can see why Creative Review chose to feature her work as there is a hint of a retro quality about it yet overall it is most definitely new contemporary work.
Looking at this fashion photograph I feel I should grab my Art Historian’s hat and immediately delve into the world of Roland Barthes to consider why I am so taken with this image. Although it is not a blatantly emotionally charged photograph, I think its composition, tone and framing, and crisp lighting is engaging us more than the average fashion photo. I think it has both studium and punctum. Naturally, this is a subjective view and in Barthes’ musings on photography he suggests you can be interested in a photograph (studium) without it having that special quality/effect he called punctum:
A photograph's punctum is that accident which
pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).
from 'Camera Lucida - Reflections on Photography'1980
After considering why, for me, the photo has pricked me, I think it is very personal. Overtly, it has made me recall images of Twiggy and Edie Sedgwick that were splashed across the magazines from my childhood. Then, in a fleeting drift of linking memories radiating out from this recollection I arrived at recalling my childish thrill at wearing some new orange sandals. My sister and I had accompanied my mother on a visit to a home hairdresser. It had been a very hot day and she had dressed us in matching homemade turquoise and green paisley print mini-dresses. And, I got to wear my new sandals. Amongst the many events of childhood, a random moment on a random day was caught to become a poignant memory for me and it has been strangely evoked by this 21st century fashion photo.
As far as my own attempts at fashion photography go I think I have captured one decent shot in the last 1,000. Again, it’s all subjective, but I think this photograph probably works for more than just me as it is one of my popular pics on Instagram.
Last Saturday some seriously energetic folk climbed into their boats and spent the day racing in the Fresh Start Charity Dragon Boat Challenge. Dragon boat racing is an ancient Chinese tradition rowing to the rhythm of the drum and has grown into a global sport. On this occasion the racing was all part of a fundraising initiative to collect money for the Fresh Start Charity which provides support for children who have suffered sexual abuse.
Down at the Ipswich Waterfront 18 crews from a variety of local businesses rowed heats of 200 metres during the course of the day. The challenge was finally won by the Ipswich Canoe Club. I guess no shock surprise there!
But, of course, the big winner was the Fresh Start Charity as £10,000 was raised for such a worthwhile cause.
Here in the UK there has been a grass roots movement to deal with the epidemic of wasteful plastic excess. The introduction of a law to charge for single use plastic bags has been with us from October 2015 and since January this year the charge has applied to every new plastic bag provided by any retailer with more than 250 employees. I know it’s not ideal, but it is a start in the right direction.
There is also now a move to stop the use of plastic straws and plastic takeaway coffee cups. And, since January 2018 we also have a ban on the use of microbeads (very small plastic beads) in toothpastes and facial scrubs.
But, and it is a big but, what about all the plastic used in packaging especially in these online shopping days where goods are despatched from one end of the country to the other. The other day I had a surprise. The above box arrived for me and I thought this is rather odd I haven’t ordered anything remotely this size. This must be a mistake. So I began unpacking it . . . . .
And, yes, you’ve guessed it, from peering through all that plastic bubblewrap – a tile.
Yup, it was just a single 6 x 6 inches ceramic tile! I was flabbergasted, a single tile. Madness. (I must just point out that another tile sample I received also came singly, but in a custom fit, simple, recyclable cardboard box. Sorry no photo of that nifty packaging as I never dreamt I’d be writing about it!)
And, if you were wondering about the packaging I use to despatch my scarves, they are sent off in recyclable and degradable cardboard boxes with the outer white box made from 75% recycled material.
My mother is no longer with us, but, she still lives on in my memory. Of course, she was not always a mother and she had some fun times despite growing up during the war years. She was an entertaining storyteller and liked to reminisce. I remember her vivid retelling of how when she was a teenager she and a friend secretly went to a call for extras for a film and she was picked. Unfortunately, my grandfather was absolutely furious when he found out and would not allow her to take up the offer. When she was older she enjoyed amateur dramatics and particularly loved dancing. Naturally, as a teenager she liked to dress like the Hollywood stars of the day and people often remarked she reminded them of Rita Hayworth.
This will be the eighth Mother’s Day when I’ve not been planning a special lunch for her and it only seems like yesterday I was painting a silk scarf for her in her favourite colours. If she was still here today I think she’d like one of these scarves with plenty of old gold, mustard and a hint of chartreuse.
She used to joke she was a blonde in a brunette’s body. She was a spirited, golden girl with amber coloured eyes and one shade or another of blonde hair. Much missed.
During a recent visit home my daughter was trying out my new, preloved camera and the new, also secondhand, prime lens. You can see she was having a go at capturing the ‘infinite’ reflections disappearing down the tunnel created by a pair of mirrors opposite each other.
However, when I saw this photograph downloaded from the memory card it immediately reminded me of a very famous painting. My daughter’s photo had not remotely been an attempt to copy the original Manet painting. That would have been a technical feat, with the intriguing image the artist achieved on canvas, but I do think there is a familiar quality about this photo’s composition. I think that my daughter’s fringe, the mirrors and the cluttered sideboard are also significant details. A little slice of life imitating art, don’t you think?
Every two years the Ipswich Waterfront hosts a Maritime Festival. Held over a weekend the event is a nautical celebration featuring boats, international street food and a temporary fun fair.
Visiting boats line up along the quayside and the largest visitor this year was the Earl of Pembroke (1945) all the way from Bristol. Originally a schooner, the Earl of Pembroke was restored between 1985-1994 and commissioned as a three masted eighteenth century barque. You may have spotted her in Tim Burton’s film ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or in the TV series ‘Longitude’.
Another sailing beauty, the slender Essex smack Pioneer CK18 (built 1864), was moored up at the Waterfront joining some of the Old Thames barges (Victor, Thistle and Centaur) recently returned to the quayside for the Festival.
It wasn’t just sailing boats that were flaunting their nautical credentials. One of the last surviving steam inshore craft, Vic 96 (built 1945) was tied up alongside the tugboat Motor Tug Kent (1948).
This year’s theme was the recapture of Ipswich from the Vikings in 917AD and we did eventually spot a small group of folk with their historically accurate helmets and mail vests sitting at the back of the fun fair area. I am not sure authentic Anglo Saxon or Viking food would have been big sellers, but there were wild boar burgers, venison sausages, and a full hog roast available for hungry visitors.
Many of the ships and boats around the marina were decked out with colourful flags, but the best part of the weekend was the closing firework display. My photos were all shot through the rigging of the Earl of Pembroke.
I think the firework finale (below) flashing and banging over the ship gave a hint of what it might have been like in the past in the midst of a naval skirmish.
PS – Newsflash – July 2018 –
As of this year the Ipswich Maritime Festival is to take place annually. Perhaps this August I will get better firework photos!