Jul 282011

The past few weeks have seen me glued to the PBS channel watching a rerun of Ken Burns The Civil War to mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the conflict. I remember first watching the documentary back in Britain.

Burns made full use of contemporary photographs to illustrate the carnage of war and of how life was lived in America from 1861 to 1865. And apparently during the conflict, photographers and photography businesses made a good living. However, when the war ended, the bottom dropped out of the market.

Thousands of the glass negatives were never printed but sold off to become the glass panels in conservatories and greenhouses, the images eventually fading from the glass due to the continued exposure to sunlight.

I have had my own problems preserving images this week. On Monday, I was working on processing images shot on a visit to St Marys, Georgia, on Saturday. I had just finished a B&W conversion and hit Save. A dialog box sprang out informing me that the image could not be saved because there was insufficient space on the hard drive.

Sure enough, the drive devoted to photographs was showing just 45MB of free space.

Since then I have been working through my folders in Adobe Bridge culling those images that have never been processed, for obvious reasons, or those that do not quite come up to standard.

Of late, I have gotten into the habit of deleting all superfluous images at the end of processing. It is a great pity I didn’t start that practice back in 2009. It is a chore and imagine many of know exactly what I mean.

Work has ceased on processing the images from St Marys, which featured the town’s Oak Grove Cemetery, which dates from 1778. I have managed to process a few.

Canon 40D. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

In keeping with my interest in The Civil War, I happened across the grave of a Confederate soldier who had served with the 4th Georgia Volunteer Cavalry.

Canon 40D. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

James Wilson was in D Company, also known as the Camden Chasseurs. St Marys is located in Camden County.

A fascinating account of the history of the 4th Georgia Volunteer Cavalry, also known as Clinch’s Regiment and The Wiregrass Fourth, can be found at Amy Hedrick’s Web site GlynnGen.com.

Oak Grove Cemetery also contains the graves of a number of Acadians. Forced to flee in 1755 from their native provinces of Novia Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in Canada by the British, the French eventually found them a new home on the island of Saint Domingue. But they were forced to flee the island in 1790 when the native Haitians rebelled against the French.

Canon 40D. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Many Acadians found a new home in Lousiana but a few made their way to Georgia and St Marys, which became their final resting place.

More information on the Acadians in St Marys can be found at a Web site called The Crypt, set up Camden County.

Please feel free to comment.

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Jul 212011

I had an errand to run on Tuesday. The Monday night grocery shop had missed out on one item. So I ventured out with the Ricoh GRD III attached to my belt. There really is no excuse for not having this camera with me at all times and that is one of the reasons I like the GRD III so much.

I needed to visit the Publix supermarket in Riverside. I tend to avoid its car park. For one thing, it is always crowded; for another thing the parking spaces are tight. When they were marking them out, they obviously didn’t consider people with a Bentley Continental. Just kidding!

Car parks and parking lots are also locations where the normal rules of driving and the concomitant care and attention seem to have no place. Parking on that crowded and small parking lot is asking for trouble in my opinion.

I decided to park on the street a few blocks away. I figured that would give me a better chance of shooting a few photographs of things that caught my eye. And so it proved.

May Street provided me with these two shots.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.


Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

I snapped this one as I was about to enter the grocery store. It was shot from the hip and the final image is the result of cropping in Photoshop CS3.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

This final shot was taken as I made my way back to the car, following a different route along Oak Street. Am I the only person who tends to follow two different routes to get from A to B and back to A again?

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The B&W conversions were performed with Silver Efex Pro.

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Jul 172011

When the Copa America was due to start at the beginning of July, I checked out the TV coverage. South American teams are always a joy to watch, playing a brand of football where the emphasis is on skill.

The schedules of ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel quickly revealed that they were passing on this competition. My last hope was the Spanish channel Gol-TV but it too offered no coverage. It looked as if I was destined to miss out.

On Saturday night, I saw The Guardian’s report on the Uruguay versus Argentina match and learned that Uruguay had won 5-4 on penalties to reach the semi-final stage of the competition.

I was both pleased an annoyed. Pleased that my favourite team of the last World Cup, Uruguay, had won through; annoyed that I had missed the opportunity to see the likes of Forlan, Suarez and, of course, the best football player in the world, Lionel Messi of Argentina.

I did a Google search, typing in “Copa America on TV USA”. The search threw up an entry on by bleacherreport.com, entitled Copa America 2011 TV Schedule: What and When to Watch. Perfect.

I discovered much to my chagrin that the entire competition had been televised live on the Latino Univision channel. I do not speak Spanish but when the likes of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are playing I can put up with the Spanish commentary..

The schedule revealed that Brazil were taking on Paraguay this afternoon, with Chile versus Venezula kicking off in the early evening.

Brazil create an unexplainable ambiguity in me. I am the first to admit they are one of the best footballing sides in the world but they are perhaps too good and machine-like, tending to sweep opponents aside with ease.

For that reason, I did not tune in when Brazil’s match kicked off at 3:00 pm. But 30 minutes later, growing tired of sorting through images taken yesterday, I decided to sample Univision’s coverage.

I joined the match with the score at 0-0.

With Paraguay playing in red and white stripes, as a Stoke City supporter I find myself drawn to supporting them. And the similarity between Paraguay and Stoke City extends beyond red & white stripes. Paraguay play like Stoke City. They have an organized defence, closing men down quickly, and hitting long balls to lone striker Valdez. Right back Veron with his shaven head even reminded me of Stoke’s full-back Andy Wilkinson.

Paraguay defended brilliantly and when Brazil did penetrate the wall of red and white shirts, they found goalkeeper Justo Villar in unbeatable form.

In the hour of the game I saw, he pulled off five brilliant saves to keep his side in the game. On the one occasion when he was beaten, a teammate headed off the line.

The scoreline remained at 0-0 until full-time. Thanks to Villar’s heroic display. In cricket, one can describe a captain’s innings, alas football has no equivalent phrase but captain Villar certainly led from the back.

In extra-time, the game boiled over and Brazil’s Leiva and Parguay’s Alcaraz were sent off – the former for an over-the ball challenge; the latter for wading in with his fists to exact justice on behalf of the injured party.

The period of extra-time ended 0-0, although Valdez did have the opportunity to snatch victory in the closing minutes but he opted to volley a shot rather than bring the ball under control and pick his spot.

But more drama was to follow in the penalty shoot-out. Brazil, usually the masters of every footballing skill, were suddenly reduced to mere novices. First, Elano took a kick that had the trajectory of a field goal in the NFL.

Barretto stepped up to take Paraguay’s first spot-kick and the chance to pile the pressure on Brazil. He put his shot wide of the left-hand post.

Then Villar reproduced his unbeatable form of the previous 120 minutes, diving to his left to beat out Thiago Silva’s spot-kick.

Paraguay’s Estigarribia powerful shot gave his country the lead.

Brazil’s Santos had the chance to restore parity but blazed his shot high over the bar and then turned away and pointed at the penalty spot and an imaginary divot.

Riveros blasted into the roof of the net to give Paraguay a two goal advantage.

When the hapless Fred fired wide of the post for Brazil, it was game over. Copa America champions were out of the 2011 tournament in the most dismal of circumstances – four penalties taken and four penalties missed.

After the game, Paraguay’s jubilant captain Villar paid tribute to his team’s fighting spirit.

“It is difficult to analyse,” he said. “Brazil were much better and we had to defend ourselves.

“We had almost no opportunities to score, but we fought a lot. Order and focus were the keys of the game.”

The last sentence was straight out of an interview by Stoke City manager Tony Pulis.

For Villar’s sake, I am glad Paraguay won. I am also glad that I found the live coverage on Univision. It was a cracking match, entertaining throughout and with a dramatic finale.

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Jul 122011

At the weekend, every time I brought out my Canon 40D it rained or so it seemed.

On Saturday I planned to take a photograph of a roadside sign that I saw last week when driving back from Camp Milton.

The day started off sunny but the forecast was for rain later, so I faced a balancing act of not going too early in the harsh light but not leaving it too late until the rain came.

At 3:30 pm, the sun was still shining and the fleecy clouds look far from menacing. However that was the view from the back of the house. When I came to set out, the view from the front of the house was a lot different. The sky was slate grey but the clouds were still fairly high. I reckoned the rain could well hold off for half-an hour.

I drove to the location, a journey of 15 minutes, and parked up about 50 yards away. I got out and had only taken two steps when I felt the first spot of rain. I pressed on thinking that if I was quick I could get the shot before the heavens truly opened. I was right but the light was dreadful. I bumped up the ISO on the Canon 40D to ISO 400 and got a shutter speed of 1/6 sec at f/5.6. It was pointless taking a shot. I didn’t want a high ISO or a narrow depth of field.

I could have tried a shot with the Ricoh GRD III but those raindrops were getting more frequent.

On Sunday afternoon, I planned to set off to a different location to reprise a shot I took last Monday. I locked the front door, turned to walk to the car and noticed raindrops hitting the front path. Thwarted again.

The rain eventually eased off and a couple of hours later I was able to get out and take the shot I had in mind but ended up shooting it with the Ricoh GRD III.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

I did use the Canon for a second take on this shot. Last week, it was taken in bright sunshine.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

On Sunday, the light was flatter and I lost the heavy shadows.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The B&W conversions were made with Silver Efex Pro in Photoshop CS3.

The trouble with digital cameras is that they are not as robust as the film cameras of old, with the exception of the top end DSLRs, which are weather-sealed.

When I worked on newspapers in Britain, I recall photographing a football match at Gigg Lane, the home of Bury FC, one winter’s evening when the rain poured down for several hours. I was situated behind the goal for shots of the goalmouth action, if not a goal. When play was down the other end of the field, I cradled my Minolta XD7 and 70 – 210mm zoom inside my Barbour waxed-cotton jacket. A lens hood fitted permanently to the zoom kept raindrops off the lens.

I got well and truly drenched that night. Unloading the film at home, I noticed water in the back of the camera, enough water that it actually poured out. I left the camera, with the back open, in a warm room. By next morning, it was dry and functioned like it had done before.

In similar circumstances, I fear my Canon 40D, like a great many DSLRs, would have simply packed in and probably been damaged beyond repair.

Let’s face it, cameras these days are really computers with lenses attached and no one would set up their PC outdoors, exposed to the elements.

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Jul 082011

I sat through most of How The West Was Won (1962) the other night and the song Home In The Meadow, sung by Debbie Reynolds, struck a chord. It is an adaption of the English folk song Greensleeves that dates back to the 16th century, possibly even earlier.

Whenever I am overcome by a wave of nostalgia for England, I tend to play a CD featuring the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. As Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams plays, I close my eyes and instantly conjure up an image of the rolling English countryside – a generic image of fields with cattle grazing or seeking the shade of a majestic oak tree.

Last weekend something approaching that mental image met my gaze when I visited Camp Milton, a historic site within Jacksonville’s city limits. During the U.S. Civil War, the camp at one point was home to 8,000 Confederate troops – a bulwark against possible Union expansion into central Florida.

Heading back to the car, I witnessed across the road a scene reminiscent of the kind I used to see in England – cattle grazing in a lush pasture. A run-of-the-mill shot in England was treated by me as if it were an exclusive shot of Pippa Middleton.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Such pastoral scenes have been rare since I moved to the United States. In Texas, I became ensconced in suburban America and remote from fields and streams, farms and country lanes, which had been just a 10-minute walk from my house in England. In Jacksonville, my daily routine is confined to the inner city areas of Riverside and Avondale.

The English tradition of a run out in the car to the countryside does not translate to my part of America because the fields, woods, streams and lakes are not as accessible.

After 11 years living in the United States, I have still to find the equivalent of an Ordnance Survey map showing public rights of way. I fear the concept of public footpaths across private land is an anathema in states where the motto “Don’t Tread On Me” holds good for a great many folks.

Access to the countryside is largely restricted to state parks and historic preserves – no, that is not Robertson’s jam from the 1920s. Grateful as I am for that access, it is a little too organized and regimented for my taste, although better than no access at all.

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Jul 062011

Like millions of Americans I spent part of Monday evening watching the Fourth of July fireworks.

In previous years, my wife and I have headed to a vantage point in Riverside, Jacksonville, to watch the display.

This year was different. My stepdaughter and her husband have recently moved into a high-rise apartment across the St Johns River from downtown Jacksonville. The apartment unfortunately does not overlook the river but it is located close to the heart of the action.

We sat on the Riverwalk and watched the barges loaded with the fireworks glide into place.

The barges are positioned about half a mile apart. We sat about a third of the way from the barge to our right.

When the display started, the fireworks burst almost overhead; the loud bangs reverberating off the apartment buildings. It was an awesome spectacle.

What followed after the fireworks display was equally memorable and I had the perfect view from the apartment’s balcony on the 18th floor.

I had heard of the term “gridlock” but never before witnessed it.

The traffic along Riverplace Boulevard was backed up in both directions as far as the eye could see. If Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office had a plan to deal with the traffic, it clearly wasn’t working.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

A police motorbike blocked off access straight ahead along Riverplace Boulevard in order to allow cars to exit the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza. That made sense, although a parking lot to my right did not receive such preferential treatment.

When 75 percent of the cars on the Crowne Plaza parking lot had left, the police officer moved his motorcycle and then proceeded to control traffic at the Flagler Avenue/Riverplace Boulevard intersection. That too made good sense and the traffic started to flow a little more freely.

Five minutes later, the police officer left his position, climbed on his motorcycle and drove away. It could have been that he went to answer an emergency call but surely other police officers were held in reserve for just such an eventuality. It looked to me as if he had come to the end of his shift, simply pulled up sticks and left. The scene at that intersection then resembled chaos, it was everyone for themselves. Turn lanes were used by some drivers to gain a 50-yard advantage over those people stuck in the regular lanes.

This event occurs every year. I should imagine the number of people who turn up is pretty much the same each year – a lot. The roads certainly haven’t changed in the past 12 months, so it kind of baffled me why Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office hadn’t devised a plan to deal with the volume of traffic. Well, it had and it was inadequate.

Among the cars stuck on Riverplace Boulevard was a Mini Cooper with the checkered flag roof, which stood out from the rest of the vehicles, making its progress easy to monitor. It took the Mini Cooper 25 minutes to cover 100 yards.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

For Jacksonville’s finest, this was not their finest hour.

These shots were all taken at ISO 1600 and then processed in Photoshop CS3, using the noise filter. I did an overall noise reduction and then reduced the noise in each of the three colour channels. The results would probably not stand up to being printed at a size larger than 10 x 8 inches.

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Jul 012011

One of the greatest difficulties I face as a photographer is deciding whether to present an image in colour or black & white when the subject does instantly lend itself to one or the other.

All my images are shot in colour as a matter of course. I well remember chief photographer John Fairclough, on the weekly newspaper I worked on in the 1980s, saying that by shooting in colour, the shot could always be printed in the newspaper as black & white but the reverse was obviously not true.

In those days all news photographs appeared in the newspaper as black & white images. Colour was only used for the occasional fashion feature or a Royal visit.

I think my love of b&w photography stems from growing up with b&w images in newspapers, as well as b&w television. Sometimes I get a surprise on the Turner Classic Movie channel when I discover that an old movie I saw back in the 1970s, and which I automatically assumed was shot in b&w because of its vintage, was in actual fact shot in colour.

I also like working with an image in black & white. With Silver Efex Pro, and the various controls it offers, I can play about with an image, tweaking various parameters to get a black & white image just how I like it.

A good example of the kind of conundrum I often face arose from the trip to Fernandina Beach last weekend.

This shot of the man silhouetted on the jetty and the view across the St Marys River under a marvellous evening sky has an instant appeal in colour.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

But when the image is converted to b&w in Silver Efex Pro, it takes on a totally different quality and one that I think is more personal.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Each version has its own merits and that is where the difficulty arises, deciding whether one outweighs the other sufficiently enough to deseerve its inclusion in a gallery. I suppose an easy way out would be to present both images, as I have done here, and let the viewer decide.

But I feel it is my role as the photographer to decide. In presenting both versions, I would simply be passing the buck at best, lacking in conviction with regard to my artistic vision at worst.

When making choices from a wide selection, be it cameras, cars or whatever, I can usually narrow my choice down to two, leaving me with some agonizing soul searching as to which one I choose.

Now can you understand why I have such difficulty sometimes in choosing between b&w and colour, the choice is already down to two to begin with.

I often think my indecision over making a choice from two things comes down to being a Gemini.

That’s my excuse and I am sticking with it.

Leave a comment to say whether you prefer the b&w or colour version. I would welcome the feedback.

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