Mar 312011

A family bereavement saw me back in the UK last week for the funeral. The next few posts will have a distinctly British flavour, relating to my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent and London.

A week ago I attended an evening concert at St Martin-In-The-Fields Church, more about that in a subsequent post. During the intermission I went outside for a cigarette. The church frontage offers a vantage point from which to survey Trafalgar Square, the site of Nelson’s Column.

Nelson's Column, London, England. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Like most cities in the world, London has floodlit many of its famous old buildings. The domes of the National Portrait Gallery on the north side of the square were bathed in a soft light. But Trafalgar Square itself was shrouded in darkness. It struck me that it would be a good idea to illuminate the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson that stands atop Nelson’s Column.

When Nelson reportedly said: “I see no ships.” I am not bloody surprised. It’s too damned dark to see anything.

The floodlighting of Nelson’s statue would provide a point of focus in the nightly gloom and enable it to dominate the square as it does during the hours of daylight. It would also make for a great nighttime photograph.

I suppose the argument against such a proposal these days would be that such expense cannot be justified. For all of Britain’s current economic plight, it didn’t strike me as a country scratching around for its next loaf of bread. The wealth is still there, it is just a question of tapping into it for the common good.

If any Londoners read this post, may I suggest that you contact the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and put forward my idea.

Come on, Boris! You know it makes sense.

Mar 132011

Stoke City did it. Don’t ask me how but they managed to defeat West Ham United 2-1 and secure a place in the FA Cup semi-finals where they will meet Bolton Wanderers.

Stoke are now just one game away from an historic appearance in the FA Cup Final Despite the club’s long history, it was founded in 1863, an appearance in an FA Cup final has eluded them. The nearest they came was in the early 1970s when in successive seasons they met Arsenal at the semi-final stage of the competition and lost on both occasions following a replay.

I well remember the agony of those encounters and for that reason have little time for Arsenal. I was so pleased when Barcelona dumped them out of the Champions League and even more delighted when Manchester United knocked them out of the FA Cup yesterday.

As for today’s game, it was a close run thing and the last 10 minutes were tense as Stoke reverted to their characteristic sitting back when in the lead thus allowing West Ham to launch attack after attack. But Stoke’s defence held firm.

In fact, you could say the entire victory was down to the defence. Stoke’s attacking players have lost the plot when it comes to scoring goals. Even Matthew Etherington managed to miss a penalty. Both of Stoke’s goals came from set pieces, it’s the only way they know how to find the back of the net.

German central defender Robert Huth, one of manager Tony Pulis’s better signings, converted a long throw from Rory Delap to give Stoke the lead. That was cancelled out by a goal from West Ham’s Frederic Piquionne who blatantly handled the ball before chipping a shot over the advancing Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.

It took a thundering free kick from full back Danny Higginbotham, driven at pace about six inches above the ground and through the defensive wall, to ensure that Stoke reached the FA Cup semi-final stage for the the first time in 39 years.

In an all-round battling performance by Stoke, the only disappointment was the woeful and inept performance of record signing Kenwynne Jones, perhaps one of Pulis’s worst ever signings in view of the amount of money spent — £8 million.

Sunderland were laughing all the way to the bank on that deal. I doubt Stoke could get £80,000 for Jones if they wanted to sell him. His first touch is woeful, he lacks power in the air, is too easily knocked off the ball and seems to be on a different wavelength to the rest of his team mates.

The only time Jones should be allowed on the pitch of the Britannia Stadium is when the grass needs cutting. On second thoughts, I doubt he has the application and concentration to perform that task.

I hope Jones proves me wrong in the semi-final but I have a feeling it will take hypnosis to turn him into a footballer of merit.

Personal problems — a messy divorce — have been cited as the reasons for Jones’s drop in form, just one goal in his last 16 outings. If that is the case, why is manager Pulis picking him week in, week out?

Still, today is not a time to dwell on the shortcomings of Jones, Stoke City and manager Tony Pulis. The team won and stand poised to make history for the club.

Wembley here we come!

Mar 112011

I could be driving along one of the back roads of Florida and suddenly see a barn exquisitely lit by the setting sun. I stop the car and take several photographs to ensure that I capture the scene exactly right.

Moments later I am surrounded by police cars and placed under arrest to face a first-degree felony charge that carries a 30-year prison sentence and $10,000 fine.

Does that sound too crazy? Not if a bill before the Florida State Legislature gets passed.

Senate Bill 1246 by Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, would make it a first-degree felony to photograph a farm without first obtaining written permission from the owner. A farm is defined as any land “cultivated for the purpose of agricultural production, the raising and breeding of domestic animals or the storage of a commodity”.

If the bill is approved, it will come into effect on July 1 this year.

The Florida Tribune broke the story and it has since been followed by PhotoRadar and appeared in the Canon EOS 1D/1Ds/5D forum of DPReview.

Media law experts say the ban would violate freedoms protected in the U. S. Constitution. But Wilton Simpson, a farmer who lives in Norman’s district, said the bill is needed to protect the property rights of farmers and the “intellectual property” involving farm operations.

He is concerned that members of PETA could pose as farm workers in order to secretly film agricultural operations.

Jeff Kerr, general counsel for PETA, said the state should be ashamed that such a bill would be introduced.

“Sen. Norman should be filing bills to throw the doors of animal producers wide open to show the public where their food comes from rather than criminalizing those who would show animal cruelty,” he said.

Judy Dalglish, executive director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said shooting property from a roadside or from the air is legal. The bill “is just flat-out unconstitutional not to mention stupid,” she said. 

Simpson agreed the bill would make it illegal to photograph a farm from a roadside without written permission but did not think that “innocent” roadside photography would be prosecuted even if the bill is passed as introduced. 

“Farmers are a common-sense people,” he said. “A tourist who stops and takes a picture of cows — I would not imagine any farmer in the state of Florida cares about that at all.” 

Sen. Norman has since gone to ground and has been unavailable for comment.

Legislation of this kind begs the question, what is it that farmers have to have hide? And if they are hiding something, doesn’t the public deserve the right to know?

Whatever happened to America, Land of the Free?

Mar 082011

As a former newspaper man, more and more these days I find myself despairing of the fall in standards in journalism. Poor spelling, incorrect facts and serious omissions seem to occur with greater frequency in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

A day seldom goes by without me shaking my head at the computer screen and muttering, “What is happening to journalistic standards these days?”

Today, I learned of the death of Sir Arthur Bryan from the Obituary section of The Daily Telegraph. Sir Arthur was the former chairman of the world-famous pottery firm Wedgwood. From a humble background, he rose through the ranks of Wedgwood and also became the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire.

Sir Arthur’s name was often mentioned during my childhood. Like me, he was born and raised in Penkhull and attended the same school as my late mother. She often used to reminisce of times when they used to play together in the school playground.

In its obituary, The Daily Telegraph correctly stated that Arthur Bryan was born on March 4, 1923, at Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent.

Eager for more information, I checked out the This Is Staffordshire web site of the Stoke-on-Trent newspaper, The Sentinel.

In the web site’s tribute to Sir Arthur, The Sentinel’s Louise Psyllides wrote: “Sir Arthur, who was born and brought up in Stoke-on-Trent, joined Barclays Bank at Trentham aged 17 after leaving Longton High School.”

The local paper could not be more specific as to Sir Arthur’s birthplace than to state Stoke-on-Trent?

How did the omission of Penkhull get past the news editor, the sub-editor and editor?

And where is the internal logic of this story? It specifies the Stoke-on-Trent district of Trentham for Sir Arthur’s first job but cannot state the district where he was born and grew up.

This poor standard of journalism makes me recall one of the stone hands, a man called Dennis, when I worked the stone sub shift on The Birmingham Post.

It was the job of the stone sub to catch the errors that occasionally slipped past the chief sub-editor. Sometimes, the errors were real howlers.

As Dennis was cutting the bromide of the corrected version of the story to be attached to the page, I would say in an apologetic tone, “We can’t get the staff.”

In his Brummie accent, Dennis disagreed. “We can but they are crap!”

Fifteen years on, it would appear that the pithy words of Dennis still ring true for The Sentinel and a great many more newspapers the world over. What is worse, those running the newspapers do not seem to care.

As for The Birmingham Post, it ceased to be a daily morning newspaper in November 2009 and became a weekly, or should that be weakly, publication. I guess it was a good thing I left in 2000 and came to America.

Mar 072011

As much as I enjoy using the high contrast B&W scenic mode of the Ricoh GRD III, there are times when it doesn’t quite deliver the goods. I happened across an American classic car the other day parked in King Street, Riverside. It looked such a mean machine that I was drawn to it instantly.

My first shot was captured in RAW and converted to B&W with Silver Efex Pro in Photoshop CS3. The red filter was applied to preserve details in the sky.

Ford Fairlane. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The second shot was taken in the high contrast B&W mode.

Ford Fairlane. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

I was surprised at the way the sky and background was blown out in the high contrast mode, which I feel lessens the overall ambience of the shot, although the car looks good.

The car had no badges or marques and it was thanks to people on Blipfoto and my brother-in-law that I finally managed to find out the make and model of this car.

It is a 1957 customized Ford Fairlane and these types of cars are often referred to as “lead sleds”. Lead sleds have all  side mouldings shaved off and filled, as well as having the suspension lowered. They are built for style rather than speed.

Mar 012011

Today, as Welsh men and women the world over know, is St David’s Day. Natives of Wales sport either a daffodil or leek in their buttonhole to mark the day of their country’s patron saint.

Having spent many school holidays as a youngster in North Wales, I have a strong affinity for its landscape an interesting mixture of mountains, valleys and coastline. Whenever I visited Wales as an adult, which was frequently since I only lived 60 miles away, I always felt at one with the place, almost as if it was my spiritual home.

With these feelings in mind, I managed to capture of a shot of a daffodil in the front yard of a house in Riverside.

St David's Day Daffodil in Riverside. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

While processing the image in Photoshop CS3, I accessed iTunes and listened to Bryn Terfel, accompanied by the Orchestra of the Welsh National Opera, singing songs associated with Wales — Men of Harlech, Cwm Rhondda, and others — which culminated in a rousing rendition of the Welsh National Anthem — Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadu (The Land of My Fathers).

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Full Version)

Happy St David’s Day!