Archive for the ‘Random Images’ Category

There’s a TV station dedicated to weather. You can have weather on your TV 24 hours a day. Imagine that! 24 hours of non-stop weather…

Alternatively you can live in the North Pennines – there’s more weather here than you can shake a stick at. Why anyone would want to shake a stick at the weather and what they thought it would achieve is beyond me.

As an artist working predominantly outdoors all year, the weather is a pretty major thing for me. Besides knowing if I’m going to get frozen or soaked all day, there’s the practical challenges of making sure the weather doesn’t prematurely destroy what I create, or make them dangerously unstable for visitors.

There’s been a fair bit of stormy weather here n the UK over the past month. It seems that there’s an unusually large number of these storms heading off the Atlantic for the time of year. Last week, as my house was being battered by winds in excess of 80mph the weather station on Great Dun Fell recorded gusts of over 120mph.

wind speed graph

The weather was calmer yesterday as I set off up to explore Great Dun Fell for myself. Despite living overlooking the Eden Valley I’d never walked up any of the North Pennine Fells on that side so this was a first for me. Great Dun Fell, at 849m (over 2,700 feet) is the second highest peak on the Pennines after Cross Fell and are the largest mountains in England outside the Lake District.

It was a reasonable day in the Eden Valley as I set off from the village of Knock, skirting around the back of Dufton Pike. Walking these fells is much easier than the Breadalbane hills I’d been doing in the Highlands lately. The footpaths are well marked and the main Pennine Way itself is well trodden and maintained. However, by the time I reached Knock Old Man (2,0o0ft) there was a good smattering of snow on the ground and some beautiful rime on the cairn.

rime on old man knock

From there it’s a straight line over the top to Great Dun Fell and with the cloud cover lifted it’s easy to see where you’re heading.

There are dozens of weather stations across the UK and you can track their readings live online at any number of sites. However, Great Dun Fell is a bit special. The readings now come from the radar station – the giant white golfball on the fells that’s a bit f a landmark from both the Eden Valley and Upper Teesdale. Back in 1937 George Manley set up the first mountain meteorological record station in a small wooden hut on Great Dun Fell. That spot of the North Pennines was chosen as this tract of Pennine hills has the most variation of weather in England. When he started his collection of weather data in 1932 he noted:

“I was attracted by the Northern Pennines, in particular around Cross Fell, as the most extensive area of bleak uncompromising upland that England possesses”

Manley's Hut

For ten years Manley’s weather station recorded sun, rain, wind and temperature data every three hours, 24hours a day – at the time the longest continuous weather record ever made. As well as a substantial record of mountain weather data, his station also led to the understanding of the ‘Helm Wind’ – a wind phenomena that only occurs around Cross Fell where violent, roaring winds appear to come from nowhere, even on otherwise fair days. In his research into historical records of the Helm wind there are some great accounts of sheep being tossed around like balls of cotton wool, and brussels sprouts blown off the stalks and ricocheting around the gardens.

The legacy of Manley’s work 849m up Great Dun Fell was the CET (Central England Temperature) – a record of mean temperatures going back to 1649 – the longest weather record in the world. So when the weathermen say it’s the coldest March on record – that’s Manley’s record, started on the North Pennines in the 1930’s.

More importantly the length and depth of the weather record is at the centre of ongoing research into climate change – the Moor House National Nature Reserve, in which Great Dun Fell lies, plays a crucial role in that research today.

gt Dun Fell radar

Nothing remains of Manley’s wooden hut now. It’s all long gone when the radar station was built in the ’80’s. What does remain though is the access road to the radar station. Once a track for the myriad of mineral mines on the high fells, it’s now a tarmac’d road and officially the highest road in the UK. It’s also the only road in the UK that goes up a mountain and stops at the top. Unfortunately it’s a private access road so you can’t really drive it. The height of the snow poles show just how deep the snow gets up here anyway.

highest road


This past year has definitely been a year of walking for me. I’ve always enjoyed walking but never considered myself a serious walker. I still don’t, but this year walking the landscape has been pretty central to my work.

Back in January I started a research residency on the West Pennine Moors. The first day’s walk caught the tail end of the January snowfall up on Darwen Moor with snow up to my knees.

deserted farm

Deserted farm on West Pennine Moors

February was a fantastic lull in the weather with some great long spells of clear, dry and often sunny weather and I got some great walks in over those moors and rediscovered my love of wandering with a camera.

The project finished at the end of March just as the worst of the winter weather hit and I was cut off for days behind 12ft drifts.

sledging coal

dragging coal to my house over a 12ft drift. Photo by Paul Kingston © North News 2013

However, by April the weather turned again and started a period of dry, hot and sunny days that seemed to last for most of the rest of the year. The end of April was the start of a joint project around ‘God’s Bridge’ on Bowes Moor. Besides being a great project for meeting other artists, it really got me out exploring my home turf – the North Pennines. The result of this project will be an indoor sound installation at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle in the spring.

mountain pansy on Bowes Moor

Mountain Pansy on Bowes Moor

By June, summer was in full flow and positively roasting when the sun got going. I’d anticipated a wet week installing the 20,000 jars of ink on Lindisfarne and the workstation was all set up under cover for the purpose. Although it rained only on the day the TV came day the rest of the show was glorious sunshine with sunburn and heat stroke the major hazards when it came to take the piece down.

_DSC9238 - Version 2

I spent the end of September on Öland in the Baltic sea creating a piece for an ancient forest. Once again the weather gods were on my side and gave me a fortnight of glorious late summer sunshine. The weather was turning however and by the second week the temperature had dropped significantly. The Pavilion for Listening to the Forest was the first piece I’ve made specifically to survive significant snowfall. The fabric is waterproof and under enough tension that rain or snow won’t pool on the surface. It should also have enough tensile strength to withstand a large amount of snow if any manages to settle on it. December had a brief snowfall in Southern Sweden so I know it’s still looking good, but can’t wait to see how it looks when the real stuff arrives.

Pavilion in the first snow. Photo ©Helle Kvamme

The last part of the year has been spent in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Scotland where I’ve been artist in residence since October. Once again it’s been great to get to know and understand the landscape on foot – walking along lochs and old railway lines as well as up some of the bigger hills.  In November I had a weather window of bright and clear conditions and managed to get up some of the less visited Corbetts (between 750 and 900m). The frosty air on the tops made for some cracking views of the surrounding mountains with the bigger ones getting their first real coats of snow.

view NW from Meall an t-Seillaidh

In early December the first of the storms to hit the UK came racing across Scotland. Glen Ogle – where I was staying, recorded gusts of 106mph, ripping down power-lines and felling hundreds if not thousands of trees which disrupted the area for days. Yet, less than 12 hours after those huge gusts, there was a gentle covering of snow on Glen Ogle and a clear,starry sky. With no power for miles and a dark cottage for the evening, I ventured out into the forests to play with some lights in the snow for my Christmas card.

red snow

In between all these projects I also created the ultimate version of the ‘Souvenir’ umbrella structures in Oxfordshire, built an installation from 4,000 remembrance poppies for a royal visit and worked on four other pieces that in the end never happened. It’s also been a year of research and development, not only for new work but professionally too.

souvenir in oxfordshire

It’s not been my busiest year and at times things have been very difficult. However, the time I’ve been able to give to each of the projects I’ve worked on I think shows in the final work and has made a year of good solid pieces. A lot of work has already been done for next years projects and hopefully sets a trend towards a more considered approach to my work.

I’ve got a good feeling about next year. It’s already looking busy – possibly the busiest its been for years. It’s going to be full on and really hard work. There’s some great stuff coming up – all will be revealed over the coming few weeks – and it’s all really exciting, but the proof will be if this time next year I can look back and be as proud of what I’ve achieved as have have been of this past year.

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It was another gorgeous day out yesterday, so with it being the weekend and all that I decided to go out exploring again. This time it was a walk along Baldersdale and up Goldsborough – the sister hill to Shacklesborough where I’d been a few weeks ago. It’s not as high as Shacklesborough, but the view from the top is arguably much more dramatic. You get the whole sweep of the Baldersdale reservoirs and right round into Teesdale, over to Barnard Castle, and it being so clear yesterday, beyond to Darlington. The loneliness of Cotherstone moor follows the final sweep round to Shacklesborough again on the horizon. No wonder the bronze-age folk liked it so much they built things up there – stone circles, chambered cairns etc. All long gone now.

self portrait on Goldsborough

The Millstone grits are impressive too. Big hulking chunks of grey with it old-age wrinkles and dramatic overhangs. A climbers dream, and in the late afternoon light they looked good on camera too.

goldsborough grits

The textures of the rock against the clear sky would look good in black and white I thought. I also wanted to try out a new toy I’d found online for recreating black and white film.


During the week I’d read an interview with Sebastião Salgado -one of the great monochrome reportage photographers. In it he lamented the demise of all the wonderful film, papers and chemistry he used to use to achieve his incredible images. However, he siad he now used the software from DxO labs to recreate the classic Kodak Tri-X look from digital files. Well, if it’s good enough for Salgado, it ought to be worth a try.

Sebastião Salgado

Photo © Sebastião Salgado/Amazonas

Back in the late eighties I used to work in a professional photographic lab in central London. It was a specialist black and white lab and at the time it was one of dozens of specialist labs all over the West End and the City. My department was film processing. It became my domain – processing hundreds of rolls of film for London’s advertising and PR photographers. Each type of film had its own process. Most of the film was developed in a big ‘dip’n dunk’ processor in Ilford ID11 developer. Different development and fixing times were given to different types of film, and we could also ‘push’ and ‘pull’ film stock up to 3 stops. On top of that I also used to do bespoke processing in a variety of other developers. There were dozens of film types and dozens of developers. The combinations were almost endless. Each film and developer combination would have their own characteristics. I really loved using Ilford HP5 for my own work, so I tended to keep the main processing set-up for really wide tonal scale and fine grain resolution on that. All monitored daily on a densitometer so that it was consistant from day to day.


my old darkroom in London

This attention to detail was important. These things mattered. Every photographer would have their film of choice and we’d work with them to get a bespoke process which gave them the final look they were after. No professional photographer would just use any old roll of film and expect to get consistant results.


the wetbench and some of the chemistry in my old darkroom

In time I also used to do bespoke printing jobs which needed particular paper and chemistry combinations. While the bulk of the work in the darkrooms was on resin-coated paper and developed in machines for speed and accuracy, I had a wet-bench and got to play with fibre-based paper and all sorts of toning processes. My favourite was split toning Agfa Record Rapid in Selenium toner. With a slightly stronger dilution you could part-tone prints where the selenium would act on the shadows first, and you snatched it out at the right moment to get rich purple mid-tones, deep blacks and cool highlights. It took a lot of skill and know-how to pull off with any certainty. I guess you could call it craftsmanship.

Most of those black and white films have disappeared now. Almost all the paper varieties have gone too, so there’s simply no way to do that stuff anymore. It’s mostly lost knowledge. Digital imaging is pretty ubiquitous now. It’s point and shoot lots, edit later. The forethought and preparation are gone. There’s no film stock to choose – checking all the rolls are the same batch to ensure consistency across the whole shoot. No clip-testing film at the processing stage to tweak the image brightness and contrast. That, along with peeling polaroids is in the past (alongside lunar landings and supersonic passenger flight).

film stock

some left over film – basically the stuff I never used very often

Still, the digital workflow is slowly opening up some of that finesse again. The DxO software does a really good job of replicating most of the workhorse film emulsions. It’s a bit like instagram, but with intelligence  I can now make my Pennine landscapes look as if they were shot on Tri-X. The extra contrast and sharp grain is all there, just like the original. Street shots can look like they were done on HP5 – a bit softer both in contrast and grain holding plenty of shadow detail. There’s a richness in the overall tonality which seems to lift it from the standard monochrome transformation. At least on screen they look a lot like film, and as most of the time they’ll only be seen on screen, that’s good enough for me. It’s good to use a bit of that knowledge again. I’m not sure most people could tell the difference – it’s fairly subtle, but to me it’s important.

The other little bit of digital kit I got recently was a film scanning attachment for my iPhone. It’s a series of stacking boxes with a built-in light-box and a tidy little app which allows you to scan your negs or slides at the touch of the screen. There’s a handful of built-in presets which help manage the colour from popular colour neg film stock. It’s not brilliant quality – you are photographing through a tiny plastic lens onto a teeny sensor, but it’s a great way to evaluate negs, and is OK for web-use.

contact sheet

one of thousands of contact sheets

I have thousands of rolls of negatives filed in a big cabinet. I used to meticulously label every sheet and attach a contact sheet to each page so I knew what was on each. However, a few dozen seem to have slipped through the net and I had rolls of negs which for one reason or another had never been printed, let alone seen as positives. It was great seeing these photos for first time after sitting unseen for years. Although a bit clunky, a bit soft and low-res, the iPhone previews at least give a fair idea of the potential of each frame.

There’s a couple of rolls of the Berlin Wall coming down…

Berlin Wall section

Last bit of wall in the West

boy with shrapnel collection

boy in East Berlin with his shrapnel collection

…and I’d completely forgotten about the rolls I shot of hand-made signs during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001.

closed footpath 1

closed footpath 2

At some point I’ll get to printing these properly – paper and wet chemicals of course.

But the thing that they made me think about, which is why I’m writing this post, is that those two sets bring home the real purpose of photography. That of capturing a moment in time.Those are both historic moments in their own rights, but smaller than that, each image is a minute moment in time of a larger culmulative moment.

My digital files now tell me what that moment in time is. The gritstone pics on Goldsborough were just 1/640th of a second. That’s faster than the bink of an eye. A really really small moment in time in comparison to a day, a lifetime even. In contrast, the gritstones took millions of years to build up. The geology of the landscape is a snapshot lasting epochs. I guess where I’m ending up today is thinking about the relative time of moments and capturing those moments. Can the time of photography say anything about the time of geology?

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The tree is up in the living room, there’s a fire roaring in the grate and strictly come dancing is on the telly. It must be that time of year again. There’s something reasurring about a big holiday festival this time of year. There’s nothing like it for slowing down and taking stock of the past year (more of that next time). It’s also the time of year I like to give a big thankyou to all those people who have supported me in their various ways throughout the past year, and look forward to forging new partnerships in the coming year.

Every year I do a crimbo card for the select few just for this purpose. Each year I try to do something while not blatantly Christmassy but seasonal, and frequently echoes something I particularly enjoyed doing over the past year. Back in 1997 the Independent ran a 3/4 page article on some of my cards (I remember underneath was a preview of a show by an up-coming artist called Martin Creed – I wonder what became of him?…).

It’s not a new idea and certainly not an original one. I’m not sure where I first got the idea from to do an annual piece, but plenty of artists and designers do their own every year. There was a section in Thomas Heatherwick’s V&A show this year all about his own cards – each a thing of beauty.

Christmas Card by Thomas Heatherwick

Christmas Card by Thomas Heatherwick

For the first dozen or so years’ my cards were hand-printed in the darkroom and either hand-coloured, chemically toned or printed on liquid photographic emulsion on random paper.


this one speaks for itself – again this was done in a wet darkroom and not in photoshop.

More recent images have been more colourful:


The year before was red too – shot just outside my back door one January.


It’s not always snow – this one on a frosty sunbiggin tarn in the Eden Valley


This one a montage in the Yorkshire Dales (again, done the hard way without photoshop).

This year I had been looking forward to doing something large and spectacular for the cards, however as the year moved on I still hadn’t got the technology working how I wanted it to, so that idea will have to wait another year. So at the last minute, after doing some frantic head scratching I figured I could do something white.

We’d had a bit of snow early on in December, but that had largely caught me out and I spent most of it working out how best to get up my track and get work done, than thinking creatively with it. With a change n the weather, there was forecast a couple of freezing nights with some early mist or fog. What I was hoping for was that wonderful thing when the overnight moisture freezes on every surface turning the landscape a cryslaine white. I would then create a piece made from hundreds of white balloons – much like the red piece I’d done earlier in Sweden, and shoot it low with a disappearing perspective in the background – maybe a track or even a sheep path. Something quite still and quiet. Maybe a little surreal, like a Storm Thorgerson album cover type thing.

A quick trip over to Darlington netted a hundred or so balloons – I’m sorry if you were after any that day, but I bought the last from every shop and market stall that had any. As the planned shot would be done at first light, and I’d have to move fast as the frost can melt quickly if the sun comes out, I spent the night before blowing up all the balloons. It wasn’t until the morning that I realised I couldn’t fit them all in the car, so had to make do with a much smaller piece.


However, despite all my planning and preparation, the weather didn’t do what I’d hoped it would, instead there was a light frost up i the hills above an inversion cloud just below. Ordinarily this would be quite stunning, but the cloud was rising fast and the inversion wasn’t stable enough.

My only hope was to get a nice bit of atmospheric moorland disappearing into the murk and cloud so I headed up to the Cumbria / Durham border in Teesdale.

The North Pennines are a severe border. The western side influenced by the wet Atlantic weather fronts, to the east the much drier but colder north sea systems. And so right on top of the border on the Teesdale side, the snow was still lying thick and white over large swathes of wilderness landscape. Where the rain had thawed and washed the snow away in Cumbria days before, the eastern side had remained dry and cold, the snow now frozen solid and the sky as clear as a bell and bright blue.


I must have spent a good couple of hours walking across that frozen wasteland shooting hundreds of pictures. The snow was so solid in parts I could position everything with ease as I left no footprints.

And so, here it is.

A study in white.


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The other week I finished installing a number of pieces at a school in Cumbria. Three pieces were linked in a linear way through a part of the school to explore the path of learning. The line started with a giant mirror polished into the bank of lockers and ends with a display theatre made from 3,000 red pencils. It was as always, good fun to do stuff like this. However, the biggest challenge was the permanence of the pieces. A school is not the most conducive of venues for art installations at the best of times, and especially challenging for me as most of my work relies on being temporary.


As I’ve written about in previous posts, most of my large-scale pieces are only ever up for 16 days or less. The benefits of this are both logistical – they don’t need planning permission for a start – but also allow me to make pieces with the  delicacy and fragility you can’t get in permanent pieces.

The downside to working with short-term projects is what to do with stuff afterwards. These can be enormous pieces – some measured in miles. Were they just to lounge around in my studio afterwards I ‘d very rapidly run out of room to make new pieces.

There’s also the issue I’m uncomfortable with creating more stuff for the sake of art. The world’s resources are finite, and I’m not sure that artists creating stuff is really helping.

So, when designing new pieces I build in a plan of what to do with it when it’s all over.

Back in the winter of 2009 / 2010, I created one of my favourite pieces to date: ‘Clad’. A derelict 18th century Welsh cottage was covered in the fleeces of two of the local sheep breeds to recreate the black and white timber frame so typical of the area. Around 300 raw fleeces were used in the piece. A chunk was provided by the Wool Marketing Board, whose main Welsh depot was just across the river from the piece. Others were supplied by local farmers, interested in how it could raise the profile of what they do.

As with a lot of my larger pieces, there was a lot of media interest. In particular the farming press and media. There was a nice feature on Ffermio on S4C – a bit like a Welsh language Countryfile – and a good programme on Radio 4’s ‘On your Farm’ – the longer Sunday version of Farming Today. As a rural artist I feel really flattered when my work features in the farming section rather than the arts bit. Although it was nice to get a glowing review in the Guardian too.

Farmers being good practical people, typically wanted to know if there was a practical benefit to the piece. I guess the cottage inside would have een warmer, but as it was structurally unsafe you’d never know. But it did get me thinking to what would happen to all the fleece afterwards.

detail of Clad fleeces

It was all raw, greasy fleece, in some cases straight off the sheep’s back. Being upland sheep breeds, the fleece was really good at repelling water – if it didn’t sheep would be squashed with all the weight every time it rained. The winter was one of those particularly snowy ones, so the fleece had a lot to cope with and I had no idea how well it would survive.

A chance conversation with Sue Blacker at the Natural Fibre Company led to the possibility of at least scouring (cleaning) the fleeces with a view to spinning some yarn. As it happened, the fleeces were still in a good condition when the piece was finally taken down, and a few months down the line still showed little sign of rot. So the bags of fleece were bundled into the back of my car – as many as I could fit – and I took them down to Cornwall.

sacks of fleece for scouring

The Natural Fibre Company specialises in scouring small quantities of fleece and spinning in to yarn. In doing so they have been instrumental in making it possible for smallholders and rare-breeds farmers to create woollen yarns and in turn raising the profile of small sheep farming in the UK.

All the fleece was scoured without bleaching to retain its natural colour, and spun into yarn for weaving into blankets.

From this point I could have sent the yarn to any number of commercial weavers o make the blankets. However, there was a story behind the original installation, and the subsequent fleece, so it was important to continue that with the blankets.

cladthrow detail

The yarn was then sent to Melin Teifi – a weaving company at the National Museum of Wool in Wales where the owner Raymond worked from a pile of photos of the installation to create a one-off pattern which matched the proportions of the original timber frame architecture. More importantly, the weaving style was the same as that which made the town of Newtown all those years ago.

In May of this year, the Port House – the little thatched cottage underneath Clad, was burnt down. The owners, while sad that a part of their family history is now gone, are proud of its moment of glory as an artwork.

Clad in the snow - photo by Mark Thomas

I also wonder – can the recycling of artworks help sustain the creation of new pieces?

I now have these beautiful throws which were once an artwork, and are now a work of the art of spinning and weaving. I’ve also got something I’ve never had before – something to sell. It’s all new ground to me, and it’ll be interesting to see how that works out.  I’ve decided to put all the money made from the throw sales directly into making new work in the hope this will lead to some kind of sustainable model for creating large-scale works in the landscape in due course.

The throws are available on my website here, and will also be sold through the Oriel Davies gallery shop in Newtown. More stockists are to come and I’ll update this as we go along. The ‘Beyond Pattern’ exhibition for which Clad was commissioned, ends its tour at 20-21 Visual Arts Centre in Scunthorpe from 3rd December until February next year. Details here.


Another common enquiry I have is for more information about past pieces. From time to time students at all levels seem to come across pieces and want to know a little but more – how things were built, where the ideas came from and so on. I’ve always been bad about keeping my website up to date, but I’ve finally made a start on cataloguing everything. I now have an archive covering the bigger pieces over the past five years. I’ve completed about  a third of those so far with a bit of background detail and a gallery of pics including initial ideas, scrapped ideas, research stuff and how pieces were made. Still a way to go – with over 50 big pieces since 2005 alone, it’s a fairly major task, but the start has been made…

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life in mono

I’ve just returned from a few days in Paris. It wasn’t really a holiday – I went for business for something I’m not allowed to tell you about yet – but I admit I did stay an extra night for wandering and recharging the cultural batteries. I have a bit of a thing about the Grand Tour – it’s been the reason behind at least three recent commissions – and I’ve an idea to explore the greater Tour to see if it’s still relevant to contemporary art and architecture. Still, it’s no surprise Paris was the stepping off point for this great art and architecture adventure. It still seeps culture at every corner and is certainly the bedstone of the city.

I love Paris.

It’s an affair that started many years ago – and I was more than a little horrified to work out just how many. I started out as a photographer. I did all sorts, but mostly stuff for the music mags and editorial pieces for the broadsheet weekend magazines. My passion for photography in itself was born by the work of the early 20th century French reportage photographers I saw at the Barbican ‘Art or Nature’ exhibition in 1988. From that moment on I was hooked.

Atget’s urban landscapes were haunting, timeless capsules – documents of places and things, often devoid of people. They had a real stillness about them. Unhurried and full of detail – stories hidden in corners and through half-opened doorways.

Jaques-Henri Lartigue did great sweeping panoramas full of blurry atmosphere in glorious widescreen. Cartier-Bresson had a darker view of the seedier side of Paris, Wily Ronis and Robert Doisneau almost owned the genre of what is now known as street photography with volumes of classic and well known studies of people living, laughing, kissing, dancing, yelling playing in the streets.

But most of all for me there was André Kertèsz. He saw the city through strong graphical compositions often abstracting the mundane, everyday into a series of lines and shapes.

…and of course, this one!

Over four or five years, while I was working in a darkroom in London, I would make frequent trips to Paris in search of this light and a desire to capture that spirit in way I could just never do in London. I also had the advantage of working in a specialist photographic lab so processing and printing film, was not only free, but crafting those images in the darkroom – fine-tuning the combination of film type and paper and toners – in search of the timeless quality of those great images.

D'Orsay_Clock (1990)

Street near Pigale

Street near Pigale (1989)


Paris Metro (1990)

l'actrice (1989) - I loved these stencil works in the Marais district - all a good 15 years before Banksy made his name

So, last week, arriving in Paris with my trusty (now digital) Leica, I found myself switching it to black and white mode and shooting in 35mm full-frame format. With demise of my favourite fim and photographic paper, this was going to be the closest I could get to that experience of my youth.

The Institute Arabe (2011)

Saxaphone Busker on the Metro (2011)

tourists at Notre Dame

It may have been more than a decade since I was last in the city, but it seems in some respects some things change very slowly. Out of the city centre, away from the coach dumping points, there is still chracter and beauty in hidden corners. Glimpses through half-opened doorways and people leading their carefree existence – the joi de vivre.

I may not be a great photographer, and the images may not be the timeless classics of Kertesz or Brassai, but for the first time in over a decade I’ve fallen in love with my camera again.

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paper trees

While I wait for bureaucracy to release the materials I need from customs here in China, here’s some trees I’m looking at for the ‘Boxed’ installation next week:

In the 1930’s, Chinese artist Chiang Yee visited the Lake District, armed with one pair of shoes his brushes, ink and paper – he ventured over the fells in solitude. He recorded his daily walks with paintings and poems in his own Chinese style. The landscapes of mountains and lakes was a familiar one to Chiang and fulfilled his longing for the Chinese landscape while in the UK. Chiangs trees are full of traditional chinese styling – with ‘welcome’ arms and add colour and texture to the grey, rainy lakes.

Arthur Rackham’s trees are full of life and character and often became self-portraits. His trees twist and turn, wriggling out of the earth to embrace and guide those who come across them. His thorny briars on the other hand knot their way across the pages enveloping and binding anything and everything in their path.

A paper cut tree at Shanghai gallery Island6 with interactive LED elements.

So pulling all those ideas together – here’s where the ‘Boxed’ tree is going at the moment:

needs work to be more windswept and twisted, but getting there I hope. Back-up materials arrive in the morning, so we’ll see where it all goes…

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In 2005 I installed seven large red balls on Grasmere in the Lake District. I liked the colour red before then or course, but for me that piece changed the way I look at the colour in the landscape, and in art in general.

Towing a ball on Grasmere

Balls to Grasmere - 2005

It was said that Constable and Turner would compete with each other at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Constable would do outrageous things like add a blob of red to a painting just before hanging. (oh! the rebel).

My first car was red.

Renault5 MkI - 1976

Red is a lucky colour in China. In the ’80s the first traffic lights appeared in Beijing causing much chaos – why should cars stop at red lights? It’s a lucky colour.

Souvenir - Shanghai 2007

Souvenir 2. Shanghai 2007

The installation on Grasmere worked as the red balls filled a gap in the palette of the landscape. In this way the colour works as a visual accent adding a focal point or point of reference within the landscape.

Red Cubes - Ullswater, Cumbria. 2010

Wrapped yew from colour workshop, Brockholes, Windermere, Cumbria 2009

walkway and jumping bridge in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, by Charles Jencks. Portrack, Dumfries & Galloway.

Lily - Tatton Park, Cheshire. 2010

Red form in the snow - North Pennines. 2010

Shelter - Newtown, Powys. 2009

There something about scale and colour I find interesting. Same as intense coloured environments such as Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Weather Project’ installation in the Tate Turbine Hall, and Annette Messager’s ‘Casino’ at the 2005 Venice Biennale. These installations, as well as the immense ‘Marsyas’ piece by Kapoor, have in their own way helped influence my attitude towards space and place through colour.

Marsyas by Anish Kappor - Tate Modern, 2003

'The Weather Project' by Olafur Eliasson, Tate Modern, 2004

Casino by Annette Messanger at the Venice Biennale 2005

Cloudcube - Lancaster University. 2009

Dotted - an installation in Robert Stephenson's historic factory, Newcastle. 2005

Eliasson used specific use of the colour in his 2007 Serpentine Pavilion, although not to the extent of  Jean Nouvel in 2010. Nouvel making great use of the variety of green within Hyde Park with which to juxtapose his rhapsody of colour.

Lamp detail from 2007 Serpentine Pavilion by Olafur Eliasson

Serentine Pavilion 2010 by Jean Nouvel

Serpentine Pavilion 2010 by Jean Nouvel

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