A New City

Looking out of a window on the first day in a new city

For me visiting a new city follows something of a regular pattern. For the first few hours, I don’t like it, wherever it is. That’s pretty much a given. It could be the holiday destination of your dreams – I won’t like it. They could be scattering orchid petals in front of me on the street – I still won’t like it. Period.

I’m generally the trip organiser. I tell myself I do it under sufferance but in reality, it’s a control issue – I think something would get forgotten if I didn’t do it. So because I’ve arranged everything I have this performance anxiety thing going on. My wife won’t like it, the hotel’s going to be a roach infested pit and we’re going to get mugged – the usual stuff everyone worries about.

A woman waiting for fries in a Berlin fast food store

However, once that’s passed and it is generally only a few hours. Then fairly quickly after that, I want to live there. Not lock, stock, and barrel sell our house and move. Just live there for a while, three months seems ideal. Long enough to get to know the place.

My fantasy, which is fully developed by now, generally involves renting a small apartment. I like the idea of an apartment because it’s easy to maintain, there are no distractions from the work in hand. I don’t want to waste my time gardening or sweeping the yard. I’m going there to be an artist nothing else. Once settled I’d spend my time wandering the streets with my trusty camera documenting the life of everyday man. In the evening I drink red wine and eat at a pavement café.

That’s not so unusual, I hear you thinking, everyone does that, from time to time. But for me it’s not time-to-time it’s every time!

A woman working late at night seen through an open window

This fantasy doesn’t always end when I leave the city. When I got home from visiting Eugene, Oregon, I spent several hours trawling rental properties online. Deciding which one I was going to rent like I was actually going to do it. I like the view from that one, but it’s a long walk from the town, that’s no good, I tell myself.

I picture myself like W. Eugene Smith trying to record the whole of Pittsburgh.

One property consisted of a small cottage at the bottom of the owners garden. I developed the story I was going to tell them about why I was there. As long as there’s no gardening required that would be fine. I’m not going to have time for gardening.

Hands tending a plant through an open window

The latest object of my desire was Berlin. We visited last month and stayed in a great hotel in Neukölln. We loved it. The streets behind the hotel were jammed with suitable apartments, it was ideal. A new city to explore my imagination ran riot. There are lovely little bars and a really welcoming atmosphere. I don’t speak more than the very basics of German, but that’ll come, I told myself, once you’re living here, chatting to people every day.

A group in a bar watching a football game

Maybe this fantasising is the sign of some malcontent in my life as it is. Could it be I just have an overactive imagination? I’m going to Bristol for the weekend soon, so if you’re interested in the state of the rental market give me a few days and I’ll be the man to ask.

A woman waiting on a u-bahn platform.

Record Store Day 2016

Rough Trade East on record store day

Beyond getting to see some new bands I like to start Record Store Day with a vinyl release to search for, even if my track record in actually finding it isn’t great. In the past this has included Radiohead’s 2011 12” release of ‘The Butcher and Supercollider’ and in 2014 Tame Impala’s, ‘Live Versions’. You guessed it, I didn’t get either.

This year was likely to be no easier. The object of my desire was The White Stripes highly regarded Peel Sessions, 15 years after recording they had been pressed into vinyl for the first time. Two disks, one white, one red. Reports on twitter said record stores had received their allocation only hours before they closed the night before RSD.

Rock couple in Rough Trade East

I’d planned a route through east London which would take me past three shops ending at London’s Record Store Day ground zero, Rough Trade East. Rough Trade regularly host in-store gigs and had booked a day of bands and DJs. The real pleasure of RSD for me is not what might be for sale, it’s the chance of catching an amazing set by an artist I’d never before heard of. Even if the music isn’t my taste there’s something about ‘the new’ that’s captivating.

Inside of Love Vinyl record shop

My route starts at Love Vinyl, just off of the Kingsland Road. They have a good selection of RSD pressings, but hadn’t received any of the White Stripes. One of the staff tell me an early customer had spent over £800 – that’s a whole lot of vinyl. I speak to a group of friends outside who are frantically calling trying to track down a copy of The Slaves ‘Are You Satisfied’. RSD can get you like that, especially if your favourite artist is involved. If you’re not careful a sense of panic can set in, do I go there or that other store which is closer but may be busier – what to do?

Sister Ray Ace on Record Store Day 2016

My next opportunity is Sister Ray Ace further down the Essex Road, coffee was calling me but now is no time to be taking breaks. As Sister Ray comes into sight I see there’s a queue, my heart sinks, but maybe that means there’s something worth queuing for – a little Jack maybe! Things are very organised, a girl at the door is letting a small number of punters in at a time. Even though it wasn’t on their list I still have to ask, but Jack is nowhere to be seen.

Two bearded men in Rough Trade East

..they’d received three copies of the White Stripes all of which were sold within 15 minutes of opening. Jack White had left the building.

I pull myself up, don’t lose hope now. I push on through the now drizzly east London. Left on to Bethnal Green Road, my brain’s begging for coffee, but Jack might be alone and waiting for me! Flashback Records comes into sight – no queue – that’s a good sign right? I get inside to be confronted by a scene reminiscent of the morning after a really good student party. There are a couple of forlorn souls searching for the vinyl equivalent of an old bottle of cooking sherry at the back of the kitchen cabinet. The staff are looking slightly stunned by the morning’s events. A sympathetic guy explains they’d received three copies of the White Stripes all of which were sold within 15 minutes of opening. Jack White had left the building (sorry for that).

The queue to get into Rough Trade East on Record Store Day 2016

Record Store Day 2016 ends the same way as it had every other year, without the main prize. I walk along Brick Lane to Rough Trade, I knew any copies they’d had would be well gone by now. I can’t help but ask never-the-less.

Chilean duo Magaly Fields playing Rough Trade East

On the bright side, I saw Chilean duo Magaly Fields who were new to me play a really stonking set. I also caught a DJ set by Blanck Mass – a bit too discordant for my taste but plenty of people were enjoying it.

Next year I’m sure I’ll be doing the same. Probably with the same lack of success – but still full of hope.

Fujifilm x-series JPEG files

A trio in close conversation in Tap coffee

 

Having read recently read Kevin Mullins’ article detailing how he set the custom film profiles on his Fujifilm X-series cameras I was keen to give it a go on my new Fuji XT1. Although I’ve been shooting with my X100s for some time it’s mainly been in RAW.

Fujifilm X-T1 jpeg file of a cup of coffee in Tap Coffee, London.

I was in Soho yesterday and decided to forgo the RAW, shoot JPEG and see how they came out. Let me be the first to say none of these are going to win any awards but they give a good cross-section of lighting situations.

Fujifilm X-T1 jpeg file of a patisserie shop worker admiring his wares

The commonly accepted wisdom is that JPEG files just don’t give the necessary flexibility in editing.

By virtue of the fact a RAW file includes all the available data and a JPEG doesn’t, then the RAW file has to be the safer way to shoot. However do we always need that additional data?

If I’m shooting for a client then, yes, I’m going to buy the insurance of a RAW file. But if I’m just shooting some street photography as I wander Soho on a Saturday afternoon, then on the evidence of these shots, for me, JPEG is good enough.

Fujifilm X-T1 jpeg file of a darkly light London street scene

Kevin details how he sets his custom settings in his post. I found when I used his settings on my X100s I was losing all the detail in the blacks. As the XT1 has the same sensor as the Fuji X100s I decided to back off the shadow settings a little. These are the settings I used:

Black & white (using the B&W+R film simulation)
Highlights -1
Shadows +1 (KM: +2)
Sharpness +1 (KM: +2) – this change more to see the difference than any science.
Dynamic Range (Auto)
White Balance (Auto)
Noise Reduction -2

Fujifilm X-T1 jpeg file of a man drinking in the Milk Bar, London

Generally, I’m really happy with the look. It’s far more to my liking than JPEGs from my Nikon D700. The blacks in these shots aren’t as dark as on the test with the X100s. If I were going to use these elsewhere I’d like to increase the contrast a little, so it could be my metering that was at fault on the first test. Maybe I’ll give Kevin’s settings another go.

If you’re using the Fujifilm simulations I’d be interested in hearing the settings you’re using?

The World through my Holga : New York

view under the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge from Roosevelt Island

I thought it was time for a little bit of colour around here. I’ve been sorting through some recent shots prior to an overhaul of the web site. In the process, I’ve come across a few Holga shots that I haven’t posted before. No matter how digital I get I still love the look of the world through the simple lens of my Holga.

The first three were shot in Manhattan and the last one was a farm we passed while we were lost somewhere in the Catskills in upstate New York. I remember this very fondly as one of my favourite parts of the trip.

You can see the full Holga gallery here.

The store front of Russo's café, Manhattan

Store front of a Beauty Bar in Manhattan, New York

A tumbled down red barn in New York state

Riding the San Francisco streetcar

A rough sleeper on the San Francisco streetcar.

This guy was in quite a bad way. He’d lost more than the skin off of one of his knees at some point and was wearing the sort of ground in dirt you don’t get in a few days – he’d been sleeping rough, as we euphemistically call sleeping on the cold, unforgiving ground, for some time.

Coming from London I suppose I’ve got used to seeing people sleeping rough on the streets, maybe I don’t always notice them. To a degree they’ve become part of the fabric of the city. I was far from prepared, however, for the sheer number of those inhabiting every public space in San Francisco.

Coming from London I suppose I’ve got used to seeing people sleeping rough on the streets, maybe I don’t always notice them.

Our friend here was in better health than many, he was drinking, yes, but he was lucid, he was aware of what was happening around him. So many seemed to occupy a world of their own. In some way with us and yet somewhere else at the same time. I’m sure drugs have a lot to do with it. But it seems far too easy to dismiss it as something they brought on themselves.

I had to remind myself I was on vacation in one of the wealthiest cities, in the wealthiest country in the world. This is California in the United States of America. The home of the dot com billionaire, California alone has the world’s eighth-largest economy.

Surely it can do more to help him and the hundreds like him.

Street Photography: Princess May boot fair

Part of an ongoing ‘Sunday Morning series’, shooting street photography at the Princess May boot fair. It saves me from hanging around aimlessly while my beautiful wife is looking at the clothes (again).

Street photography: A man & his daughter at the Princess May boot fair

I’ve struggled back and forth between colour and black & white. My eye defaults to b&W for street photography too easily, I’m aware of that, and this market is generally bursting with colour. But then that b&w looks so clean, classic and so beautiful. However that colour it does catch the eye… there’s red in there you know. You see how it goes. I tried to resist the dark side but in this instance I just couldn’t ….

Street photography: A man searching for bargins at the Princess May boot fair

Street photography: A group talking at the Princess May boot fair

Street photography: A woman in a headscarf at the Princess May boot fair

If you’re ever there on a Sunday morning I’m the guy with the camera and the ‘I need a coffee‘ look. Come over and say hi.