The weather had been kind to us last weekend. The SLOW photography group drove south in two cars to Lymington and sailed across The Solent to Yarmouth, on the north west of the island. We spent the night in the 1930s style Shanklin Hotel. It was after all August, the height of the British summer, but the beaches in Shanklin and Ventnor weren’t even crowded.  The local deckchair attendant on Shanklin beach was rather perplexed and told me that usually, by mid-August, the weekends are overcrowded with beachgoers, and  he would have rented out all his chairs. Today, he spent time playing by the shore with his daughter and grandchild, a cute little blond.

The group spent over 2 hours walking along a stretch of seafront about 500m long, lined with tea shops, amusement arcades, gifts shops, cafes, and those that sell ‘swimming paraphernalia’, like blow up crocs, rubber rings, lilos, flippers, and colourful beach-balls.

I brought my trusty Rolleiflex along to shoot a couple of rolls of 120 film and since it was a SLOW approach, a lot of time was taken up with observing the crowd, chatting to some, and making contact with potential portrait sitters. Andy chatted to Joe, the friendly pedalo-minder, and we got some portraits of him posing in front of his hire sign. Katalin shot a series of Joe kicking a beachball.

Late afternoon, we headed out to the south cliffs of Compton Bay, and waited for the glorious sunset. Fernando, the conquistador of the sweeping long-exposure ‘guru’ demonstrated how to shoot a dramatic sunset, with graduated filters, bubble-levels, a sturdy tripod, and most of all, vision and patience. Vasuki made sure she had her 2X and 4X ND filters also, and managed to smooth out rippling waves in rock pools with her 5D Mark 2, and made friends with a huge dog.

The next day, we decided to pay a visit to Dimbola Lodge, in Freshwater on the south-western coast of the island. This is the childhood home of Julia Margaret Cameron, the celebrated Victorian portrait photographer. There is a permanent museum there and a revolving exhibition. On the way we stopped by Ventnor esplanade. The beach was still quiet at 10:30am.

An elegant and handsome retiree with wavy silver hair sat enjoying his coffee in a beach front cafe in Ventnor, obliged to have his portrait taken by the group. A hip surfer dad and his kids hung out in a fully restored red VW camper van also allowed us to photograph the interior of his ‘pride and joy’.

From Freshwater, we proceeded to hike towards The Needles, the most visited spot on the island. These are craggy sharp stacks of chalk that rise out of the sea on the southwestern most point of the Isle of Wight, used by sailors and shipping as a reference point. The view is breathtaking.

The IOW has a certain unspoilt charm about it. We found the locals friendly, the food to be of a very good standard, and the scenery simply outstanding. The weekend went by too quickly, and being an exercise for restraint, thoughtful photography, we found ourselves challenging our observation and compositional skills often.

Who’s up for Blackpool next?


© Steven Lee 2011

We will be visiting and photographing the seaside towns and coastal areas of the Isle of Wight this coming weekend in what I term as SLOW Photography.  Bringing back the skill of observation, composition and pre-visualisation techniques back into our practice, instead of the ‘click, chimp, and delete’ style we are so used to nowadays in digital photography. Its August, the peak of the British Summer, so expect lots of bright and colourful beach images and dramatic landscapes.

We hope to pay a visit to Dimbola Lodge, the home and museum of one of Britain’s celebrated Vitorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron in Freshwater.

More later.

GROUND ZERO : Tottenham

A week after the most violent and widespread riots in London and in the UK for over 25 years, I urged myself to go have a first hand look at the place where it all kicked off, that is Tottenham High Road, in north London. Last evening, I tossed and turned in bed, just willing myself to go check out the situation on the ground and meet some of the local traders and shopkeepers that had been affected. A little voice kept urging me to ‘take camera’ and ‘go shoot’ Tottenham one week after.

Monday morning, I sms’d  Zarina, a video journo who runs and suggested the idea to her. We met up and tubed it up to Seven Sisters where we walked the half mile north towards Tottenham High Road.  It is after all, over 1 week since the fires were lit and a sense of normalcy has returned to the streets. Without careful observation, one would not have guessed anything significant had happened. As we approached the flashpoint (the Police Station), we could see some shopfronts boarded up, some fire damaged was evident, black charred facades and melted signage.  Many glass frontages had some damage but were left as they were. Almost all bus shelters had their glass sides broken, including telephone booths. Most local authority buildings like the youth centre, job centre and housing offices were completed burnt or seriously damaged and were closed. The road section where the double decker bus was set alight melted away and had just been resurfaced. The pub adjacent to the burning bus had all their windows panes melted due to the heat. Workmen were busy installing new glazing.

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I, like so many, have read the hundreds of column inches of news that have been written about the riots in the press and online, listened to hours of news and radio coverage, debates, and discussed at length with friends about the causes, reasons, justifications of these horrific uprising of humans against humans. I had to experience it first hand. So far at least 5 people have died, hundreds have been made homeless, hundreds of stores looted, millions of pounds lost, families wrecked, over 2,500 rioters arrested, many charged and imprisoned, many buildings, cars and stores fire damaged and destroyed.

The riots spread from Tottenham across many parts if London, including Enfield, Croydon, Clapham, Wood Green, Notting Hill Gate, Kings Road, North End Road, Peckham, Ealing and many other spots, plus in other UK cities like Manchester, Birmingham, and Nottingham as well over several days. Of course, the causes will be debated ad naseum by politicians, the police, sociologists, celebrities, journalists, etc.  None will the be the wiser.

It was as if an airborne virus has infected, spread and triggered off some people, and a temporary antidote had been found. There is still tension in the air that one could feel. It was surreal, as if walking in a fog.

Ask any Tottenham local.

Urban Kings

Pete Irving © Steven Lee

Urban Kings Gym is a new state of the art martial arts and boxing gym in the heart of Kings Cross. Opened about a year ago, the gym looks more like a lounge club than a typical ‘sweat n sawdust’  fight venue. Andy and I were invited to make some portraits and abstract studies of the staff and management team, which may end up as wall prints or on their website. Bunmi, our contact is running the therapy and massage outfit there and is pretty useful as a boxer too.

These are portrait from a series, which I made of Bruno, the Trainer Manager and Pete Irving who prides himself with his awesome tattoo motifs. He is the BJJ and MMA trainer.

Photographed with the Fuji X100 with the built-in ND filter at 640ISO.

Love is in the air!

Finally, Summer weather has descended over the UK. For good is a hard thing to ask, perhaps for the next week at least. Please. It has been so wet and miserable over the last couple of weeks, I thought this year we are skipping Summer, and headed straight towards Autumn.

Amy Winehouse R.I.P

Simon McGregor-Wood, ABC News © Steven Lee

Drink, drugs and raw talent don’t mix.

Now that I have said it, I’ll let it go.

Being Sunday, and a beautiful sunny day, I wandered up to Camden town, more particularly, Camden Square to pay my respects to Amy Winehouse, the 27 year old London music icon who unexpectedly died yesterday here at her home. Camden Square is about a 10 minute walk from Camden Town, and is an upmarket residential area of terraced mansions and bungalows, surrounding a leafy garden square, with a children’s playground in the centre. Although I do not follow her music I realise she had an originality in her sound and style, having won 5 Grammies with her second album ‘Back to Black’. As a naturally gifted artist her demise is a sad and tragic loss to the British music world.

She’s been dubbed the Billie Halliday of our time, combining a retro-Detroit sound with modern jazz and RnB vocals. Her father is also a brilliant jazz musician in his own right. She has only produced 2 albums, but none in the last 5 years. For more details about her life, please visit here.

CUBA series : Yank Tanks

No photography trip to Cuba would be complete unless there are some photographs of old American cars, one of the main attractions of Havana. Chevys, Fords, Lincolns, Cadillacs and various other forms still continue to roam the streets despite some of these machines having gone way past their sell-by dates. We came across some fully restored fine examples of these 50’s glories, and also some really clapped out ones. Most, if not all have had their innards replaced by more modern Japanese or Chinese truck engines and their attraction aren’t to be missed. Mainly used as taxis to ferry locals, some carry tourists for sight seeing trips around Havana. Kinda cliché to photograph, but not unlike visitors grabbing shots of black cabs and red phone boxes in London. Here are some casual snaps of these Yank Tanks. I just love their bright colours amongst a back drop of crumbling earthy buildings.

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Yank Tanks by Steven Lee, 2011

CUBA series : Cubanos by Andy Craggs

At the dancehall, Cienfuegos, Cuba © Andy Craggs, 2011

Andy decided to tint a series of portraits in selenium to create a moody and enigmatic feel for his ‘Cubanos’ subjects to avoid being derivative. He photographed mainly with a 80mm F1.2 Nikkor AI manual lens on his D3 body, providing incredible small depth of field, which is his signature style. These intimate portraits were made on the streets and alleys of Havana, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos.

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Cubanos by Andy Craggs, 2011

I had my portrait taken…by a 111 year old box camera!

On the last Sunday before our group left Havana, I met Pepe on the steps of Capitolio, the state building in Central Havana. I was intrigued by the contraption of a camera he was fiddling with, basically, a large box, covered by pieces of paper torn from magazines, on a wooden tripod. A quick smile and a “Ola, and we chatted in English. I discovered he was operating his grandfather’s 111 year old camera obscura, or box camera, ..and…he can take a photo with it, and produce a pretty instant print for me in less than 5 minutes..slightly wet print, mind you, but a REAL silver gelatin print and not a Polaroid! He went on to show me how he can process the paper inside the box after he had exposed the paper by opening the ‘shutter’, a plastic bottle cap for 1 second from the cheap scratched lens at the front. You see, there are two small shallow trays inside the box, which processes and washes the print, then he slides open the tray from the back of the camera, and continues to fix it in another tray! Finally he dunks the print (still a negative image) into a bucket of water to rinse it.

Watch the birdie!

That’s not all! Because the first image is a negative print, he then proceeds to re-photograph this print by placing it onto a bracket in front of the lens. Suddenly, his portrait lens converts into a macro-focusing one. Pepe then adds some ‘old trickery’ to the print by sticking a fake Capitolio dome above the portrait, sticks some reversed “Cuba” and “Havana” letters and voila! (He calls this Photoshop) A perfect portrait of me sitting in front of the Capitolio is completed.

Another few minutes pass by, and he is busy processing the final ‘positive’ print inside the camera and hands it to me still wet. All the show for 2 CUCs!

Simply amazing stuff. I got Pepe to do our group photo after that.