16th May 2019

In the week since I last visited Watling Wood the beginnings of summer have taken hold. A month ago it still appeared to be recovering from winter, barely buds breaking on the tree branches. Now the branches hang with the weight of full foliage. Life in Watling Wood is at its most abundant. As I slowly manoeuvre between the trees, rabbits hop away into the undergrowth. Pink apple blossoms promise coming fruit, cherry trees already bear the beginnings of their crops in amongst the last of the falling petals.

The ground is dry, the depression of the stream and pond cracked through lack of water, but the long slim stems of iris’ are breaking through the soil and reaching into the blue sky. The wood is a foragers paradise, young tender nettles spread across the woodland floor, autumn leaf fall filling them with nutrients, wild garlic fills the air with its aroma, joined by the fresh scent of water mint as it breaks under foot. Bird song fills the air and the sun, it backlights the greenery, the blue of the sky against the yellows and greens of the shimmering leaves makes it perfect.

3rd May 2019

With each day that passes at Watling Wood, the greenery is now expanding. Trees are exploding in velvety young leaves, flowers and buds are blooming, underfoot aquatic mint crushes, releasing its aromatic scent. Brooding clouds forecast with rain, pass by without a spit. Alex Davidson talks to us about what the wood means to him.

23rd April 2019

Watling Wood 23 April 2019

As the Easter bank holiday sun recedes into working week haze, spring has truly taken hold at Watling Wood. Blossom has all but faded and chartreuse green buds have sprouted in its place. The last of the catkins are falling and fresh growth is abundant. Between the trees, lush young grass is almost a foot high, obscuring the wind fallen deadwood, another winter gone another summer beckoning. In the week that has passed, the wood has changed dramatically. Those slow weeks at the beginning of spring where the changes were almost unnoticeable are long gone and each day reveals a wakened wood stretching its branches for the sky.

15th April 2019

The onset of Spring is becoming more obvious each day at Watling Wood. Blackthorn blossoms dust the tracks with petals. Newly grown branches reach skyward with sprouts of yellow and green that stand bright against the black bows that have not quite yet felt the effect. The puddles and rivulets of runoff are beginning to evaporate in the spring sun and brisk breezes. Bird song fills the air and the sound of distant traffic seems much more distant today.

9th April 2019

Watling Wood, Leadgate, 9th April 2019

Winter skipped past Watling Wood, a couple of days of intermittent snow dusted across the open spaces, enough to soak the ground, the months so far have been warmer than expected. The local warnings that it was going to be a ‘bad winter’ this year failed to materialise into bad weather. A few days of rain accompanied by the ever present Pennine wind and spring is upon us .

Even with the warmth at the beginning of this year though, spring has held back, resisted the urge of an early start. Perhaps Watling Wood is sheltered in some way compared to the surrounding area where the buds have been prevalent for a number of weeks, but after weeks of visiting in the hope of a change from the naked, forlorn trees, finally I was rewarded with Blackthorn blossoms and sprouts of greenery beginning to show everywhere. Underfoot is soggier than I have seen over the last year, but nature is thriving in it. Sun breaks through the brooding clouds to give sunlit glimpses of emerald leaves framed against the remnants of Autumn, the blossoms glisten as they shimmer in the gentle breeze.

5th March 2019

A brooding sky hangs over Watling Wood. The lack of obvious signs of spring is disappointing. A few buds on the Hawthorn, a few catkins and pussy willows. The first day of meteorological spring went by four days ago and with the unusual warmth the last few weeks has produced, it would be easy to imagine blossoms and buds on every tree. Alas a few more weeks are needed, it would seem, before spring truly takes hold in the wood.

10th February 2019

It’s the first time in two months I have been to Watling Wood. Life has changed dramatically since the last time I visited and so has the wood. The trees look sparse, naked, devoid of their autumnal leaves. In their place though chartreuse green sprouts are beginning to break their buds and catkins swing in the cold wind on long, thin branches. The heavy rain of the last week has filled the stream and ponds reflecting a blue spring sky. Bronze leaf fall is giving way to spikes of daffodil stems and the dainty white heads of snowdrops.

Quinoa

Overjoyed to receive the news that our film ‘Quinoa’ has been nominated for A Royal Television Society Award. The short form film made in 2018, has been well received already, but this is an incredibly high accolade. Written and Directed by myself, Simon Green, Cinematography by Sarah Mitchell, Sound by Jamie Hissett and Lighting and other stuff by Rodrigo Figueiredo ‘Quinoa’ is a film about relationships.

We find out on the 23rd February if we have won an award.

4th December 2018

A frost laden morning, when I awoke I knew I needed to stop off at Watling Wood, it would have to be quick, have to be hurried, which I didn’t want it to have to be, but with the world washed white outside I felt the urge to stop to create some images.

On the way to the hospital to collect my wife, who was being discharged after some investigations, I pulled in at the side of the road and promised myself half an hour, no more. I had to be decisive, walk immediately to the area where I was likely to get the best shots and then be on my way.

Suzanna would have loved the frost, would have loved sharing the experience with me.

I overran, sent a hasty message to my wife, jumped in the car and headed to Durham. We waited six hours before she was finally discharged! Spent the day waiting with bags packed.

Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a downward spiral. On 4th December my wife was given a diagnosis of cancer. On 23rd December she died at Willow Burn hospice in Lanchester.

22nd November 2018

The rain spit from the heavens as I moved slowly between the glistening trees. The saturated moss gave gently under my boots as I negotiated windfall branches. Not a breath of wind blew. The hum of bypass traffic, travelled through the trees, background beat to bird song and the drip rhythm of the rain. The deer darted into the distance, paused a moment to watch me, then continued into the depths of the wood.

16th November 2018

Watling Woods in The Fog

Dense fog enveloped the streets outside, and the early morning trip to Watling Wood was made slowly and with headlights. Darkness almost didn’t clear, the sky remaining blue with early morning cloud cover. The trees and grasses dripped, cobwebs glistened in the low light, deer flashed past in the undergrowth, too quick to be captured on camera. The fog separated the landscape into disintegrating layers, plants and trees in almost silhouette enshrouded in grey. Other than the distant main road traffic floating over the stillness, the wood was silent. 

10th November 2018

Over these past weeks I have been getting to know Watling Wood intimately, spent early mornings in the gloaming, afternoons stalking the light and evening hours in the dark making long exposure images . I have witnessed the tails of deer as they move silently away from me into the trees, red kites hovering overhead, hares and rabbits carrying out their daily routines as though I wasn’t even there. 

Recently I have been slipping between the trees, to find hidden wonders in the heart of the wood, glimpses of light through the boughs, the last golden leaves clinking to rain blackened branches.

27th October 2018

27th October 2018

You knew the night before there was probably going to be snow in the morning, beyond the deep grey, glowing sky and the sudden drop in temperature, just a feeling, like it felt at Christmas time when you were a kid. In the morning the snow had covered the ground, a few inches of crisp and even, but the air was warm so I knew it wouldn’t last long. As soon as the light started to show I made my way to Watling Wood. It didn’t disappoint. The bows bent under the weight, the tracks were free of footprints. I spent a good few hours caught in winter wonderland.

13th October 2018

Watling Wood Leadgate

Leadgate had been on my radar for a while, thanks to Facebook, I had followed the many community activities and events for probably eighteen months or more. A message to Leadgate Taskforce and I am on my first guided tour around Leadgate. First time also of becoming really aware of Watling Wood. What a stunning hidden gem of a place. With a bit of knowledge about the history it has become apparent this is the right place for a photography project in the village.

In 1995 under the guidance of Professor David Bellamy OBE local children and members of the community planted some of the first trees. A number of years later a proposal to build on the land was accepted, but stopped by a petition with over a thousand signatures from local people.

Now twenty three or so years since it was planted Watling Wood really is a wood, the trees are maturing, deer, foxes and red kites are a few of the wildlife that have settled here, but maintenance has been left to the local people and with little funding and little support it is a difficult task. 

For me it is the perfect place to document, highlight and raise awareness of. While I could document the mining operation just along the road that has had swathes of media attention, this community built, community maintained piece of woodland is potentially at risk and there are people in the locality that are unaware of it’s existence. With the continuous house building going on in the area, our green areas are being eradicated quickly,

I am not an environmental warrior, but I do appreciate how valuable small areas of land like this are to communities. I was told how the local council wanted statistics of how many people used the wood when a community interest order was applied for. How exactly do you measure those numbers? People walk their dogs at six in the morning, ride their horses, others come to watch the sunset in isolation, teenagers gather here, people transit across the area heading to and from work. There is no doubt Watling Wood is used, look at the footprints on the tracks, the hoof and paw prints.

It is a relatively small piece of land, surely there should be no other reason needed to preserve it than that it is a wonderful, natural place.

Habitat

An ongoing project comparing the places that people live. As world populations grow, our places of habitat are becoming progressively smaller, the gaps between them narrower, the buildings ever taller. As employment opportunities become scarcer, people move towards the cities, the areas already overpopulated, forcing the division of those habitats into even smaller spaces.

‘This Is Stanley’


A life changing project for me, ‘This Is Stanley’ started as an idea for a small photography, but grew exponentially into an hour long documentary and an exhibition of over two hundred photographic images. Over six months with the assistance of one of the creators of Stanley Fringe, Kevin Reay, I interviewed, photographed and drank tea with over a hundred people who worked and lived in the town of Stanley.

The documentary film depicted different viewpoints of the town from people of all age groups and the images showed them in their working and living environments. The film showed at a premiere on the 31st July 2016 at Stanley Civic Hall to an audience of four hundred people. The exhibition continued for the following month, before travelling to several other venues in the area. Now two years since the initial release I am releasing the film online, mostly for prosperity but because since the film was made so many things have changed in the town. The need for investment that residents discussed in the film, is now beginning in part to happen and hopefully it will be the beginning of change in the town.

There was some resistance to the film initially, but through a number of key people championing the film, it became a successful project.

Jacob’s Ladder – Analysing the meaning


The 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Tim Robbins is the story of a Vietnam war veteran who is “plagued by bizarre and violent hallucinations” (Jacob’s Ladder, 1990).
The film for me is one of the very best representations of mental illness and in particular Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in film. Even though Jacob’s symptoms are the result of something other than PTSD, the paranoia, confusion and darkness that Jacob experiences on his decent into hell is probably the closest to my personal experiences of mental illness.

Jacob’s Ladder begins as a “Vietnam” film, titles in the opening scene inform us it is set in 1971 in the Mekong Delta. We see the protagonist Jacob Singer (played by Tim Robbins) and his unit “attacked”, and then a confusion of bloody, convulsing bodies in what is later revealed as a drug induced psychosis and the subsequent fallout. Jacob then wakes on a subway train in 1975 and the film moves to Jacob’s life post Vietnam where he is suffering hallucinations and the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): “nightmares, recurrent recollections and flashbacks or physiological distress” (Wedding, Boyd and Niemiec, 2009:19). A sign on the wall of the subway train “Hell – That’s what life can be doing drugs” alludes to what is about to come and what the film is really about, connecting Hell with the drugs given to the soldiers in the film.

Initially the film appears to be a traditional Vietnam veteran film in a style similar to The Deer Hunter (Cimino, 1978) or First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982) but quickly the direction begins to change as Jacob’s hallucinations and flashbacks become worse. The Vietnam war is used as a device to tell a story that is about spirituality and death hidden within a narrative about mental illness and war, although this is made intentionally ambiguous, by jumping around different story lines.

There are three story lines running concurrently, through intercutting, in Jacob’s Ladder; Jacob’s life before Vietnam, the events during his service in Vietnam and his life after Vietnam. Cinema of the Occult (Fry, 2008) discusses similarities to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where the main character is shown the past, the present and a possible future, but in Jacob’s Ladder the film moves from one story to another in flashback or dream like sequences, only coming together in one scene where Jacob is thrown into a bath of ice water. “As the narrative progresses, the past of Vietnam and the present of New York have roughly equal status, and it is difficultly to know which is the hallucination and which the reality” (Ruffles, 2004:193).

Jacob is on a journey throughout the film, the train and train tunnel at the beginning of the film, driving the postal van, a car chasing him down an alley way, strapped to a hospital trolley being pushed through corridors in the hospital, the taxi journey and finally arriving at his destination and climbing the stairs with his son; a metaphor for Jacob’s journey through Hell and to what is revealed at the end of the film as his death. Writer Bruce Joel Rubin explained that “Jacob’s Ladder is the story of a man killed in Vietnam [and his] journey into death” (Building Jacob’s Ladder, 1991) the journey through the hospital is Jacob’s “Journey into Hell” (ibid).

The film’s story is constructed from various theologies of death “overlaid on the Christian imagery is an essentially Buddhist philosophy” (Ruffles, 2004). “The film’s symbolism derives from literary and biblical allusions and at the outset, these references suggest both to the viewer and to Jacob, that we are in Hell” (Cinema of The Occult, 2008). The film’s title refers to the biblical story of Jacob’s Ladder, the dream of a connection between the earth and heaven by the biblical Patriarch Jacob in Genesis 28:10-19. An alternate title to the film is “Dante’s Inferno” (IMDB, 2018) a reference to Inferno, part of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, “Adrian Lyne has used Dantean material to shape his cinematic vision of the Hell of a disordered mind” (Iannucci, 2004:11).
In the film Jacob is seen looking at images of demons by Gustav Doré in The Divine Comedy. Inferno refers to Hell as nine circles of torment within the earth, the realm of ”those who have rejected spiritual values by yielding to bestial appetites or violence, or by perverting their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellowmen” (Barolini, 2014). In Jacob’s Ladder “bestial appetites and violence” refer to the violence in Vietnam: to his relationship with Jezebel, his “human intellect” the doctorate that he has replaced by working in the post office; Jacob’s chiropractor, Louis (played by Danny Aiello), mentions that Jacob “spent six years getting a PHD and then went to work for the post office” (Jacob’s Ladder, 1990). Purgatory is defined by the Catholic Church as: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (The Vatican, 2017). Louis, refers to what Jacob is experiencing in a similar way quoting Christian theologian Meister Eckhart  to Jacob:

“Eckhart saw Hell too. He said: “The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you”, he said. “They’re freeing your soul. So, if you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth” .

Louis in this scene is shown from Jacob’s perspective as he lies on the chiropractor’s couch, a light behind Louis’  head like a halo, symbolising his role as Jacob’s guardian angel or spirit guide, Jacob even suggests this by saying “You know you look like an angel, Louis: an overgrown cherub” (Jacob’s Ladder, 1990). Even the role of a Chiropractor fits with part of the Biblical story of Jacob in Genesis 32:35 of a dream in which he wrestles with God or an Angel “and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint as he wrestled with him”

Jezebel (Elizabeth Peña) burns Jacob’s photographs, she physically burns away all his memories, his attachments. Lyne explains the story is about “Jacob holding onto what he remembers, holding onto his guilt, holding onto his pleasures, his desires, everything that makes us hold onto life in an everyday experience, holding on to your breath, to your identity, to your sense of self” (Building Jacob’s Ladder, 1991).

The religious symbolism continues throughout the film, many of the characters have biblical names; Jacob, Sarah (the wife of Abraham), Jezebel, in Christian lore “she misleads my servants to be sexually immoral” (Revelation, 2:20), Michael, who also acts as a guardian angel to Jacob, pulling him away from an exploding car, was an Archangel, the neighbour Sam (Samuel) was a biblical prophet who worked under Eli, Eli and Jed (Jedidiah) were prophets as explained in the film by Jacob to Jezebel “they’re biblical names. They were prophets” (Jacob’s Ladder, 1990).

At the end of the film the audience is left with Jacob lying on a field hospital bed, one of the medical staff commenting “he looks kind of peaceful” and “he put up a Hell of a fight though”. A conclusion that could be made, is that New York was Jacob’s mind attempting to make sense of his life as he died in Vietnam. Screenwriter Rubin explains “ The horror of the movie would be in the revelation that hope is Hell’s final torment, that life is a dream that ends over and over with the final truth, that life was never real, that we are all creatures trapped in eternal suffering and damnation” (Building Jacobs Ladder, 1991). However Jacob knowing details about the use of “The Ladder” on soldiers in Vietnam cast doubt upon this scenario and suggests that perhaps that too, was part of Jacob’s hallucinations: “If New York is a death reverie, then Michael’s information is part of it (…) it is a part of Jacob’s imagination. But the ladder’s reality means that New York life is real as well, throwing into doubt the final image of Jacob dead in the field hospital” (Ruffles 2004:195).

The final touch to ensure an ambiguous end to the film is the closing message about the use of the drug BZ in Vietnam. In the Horrors of War (Miller 2015:93-94) Thomas Robert Argiro describes the real world effects of BZ poisoning “Deterioration in the level of consciousness, hallucinations and coma occur subsequently (…) the individual becomes delirious and in that state is unable to distinguish fantasy from reality”, perhaps everything in the film is Jacob’s “deterioration”. Jacob’s Lawyer even accuses him of making up his whole situation “I checked with the Army’s Bureau of information, you never even went to Vietnam”.

The film also has a political message about the US Military’s treatment of its soldiers in a theatres of war and outside of them. It dramatises “the real horrors of war” (ibid:103) . Drug testing on soldiers and the plight of PTSD “which is also frequently accompanied by psychotic hallucinations, among Veterans of Vietnam and other conflicts”. The Doctor in the film significantly always absent, reflecting “the problem of veterans failing to receive the necessary counselling or therapy” (ibid).

 

Barolini, T. (2014) Purgatorio 26: Human Sexuality Available at: https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-26/ (Accessed 09 May 2018)
Buckland, W. (2009) Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema New Jersey: Blackwell
Building Jacob’s Ladder (1991) Directed by Charles Kiselyak [DVD] UK: Guild Film
Caruth, C. (1996) Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History London: John Hopkins Press
Catechism of the Catholic Church (2018) Available at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm (Accessed 09 May 2018)
Dickens, C. (2004) A Christmas Carol Illinois: Project Guttenberg Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm (Accessed 9 May 2018)
First Blood (1982) Directed by Ted Kotcheff [film] UK: Columbia-EMI-Warner
Fry, C. L. (2008) Cinema of the Occult Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press
Iannucci, A. A. (2004) Dante, Cinema and Television London: University of Toronto Press
IMDB (2018) Jacob’s Ladder Available at: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0099871/ (Accessed: 9 May 2018)
Jacob’s Ladder (1991) Directed by Lyne, A. [DVD] UK: Guild Film
Matelski, M.J. and Street, N.L. (2003) War and Film In America North Carolina: Macfarland & Co.
Millar, C. And Van Riper, (2015)  A.B. Horrors of War – The Undead on the Battlefield Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield
Paul Meehan (2010) Horror Noir: Where Cinema’s Dark Sisters Meet North Carolina: Macfarland & Co.
Revelation 2:20 Holy Bible: King James Version (2011) Honley: Collins
Rosenbaum, J. We Love It When They Lie [Jacob’s Ladder] (1990) Available at: https://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/1990/11/jacob-s-ladder/ (Accessed 09 May 2018)
Ruffles, T. (2004) Ghost Images – Cinema of the Afterlife  North Carolina: Macfarland & Co.
The Deer Hunter (1978) Directed by Michael Caminno [film] UK: Columbia-EMI-Warner
Wilson, J.P., Friedman, M.J. and Lindy, J.D.(1990) Treating Psychological Trauma and PTSD New York: Guilford Press

Representation of Class in “I, Daniel Blake”


For an independent film Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (Loach, 2016) was relatively successful. It was the eighth highest grossing UK independent film of 2016 (BFI, 2017:4 ) and won Loach the Cannes film festival Palme D’or and five BAFTA awards. The film tells the fictional story of fifty nine year old Daniel Blake (played by comedian Dave Johns) who after a heart attack “must fight the bureaucratic forces of the system in order to receive Employment and Support Allowance” (IMDB, 2016).

Although the film was applauded by some, the discussion about the message of the film became divisive. It was paraded by left-wing journalists and politicians as evidence of the effect of austerity, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called it a showcase of the “institutionalised barbarity against often very vulnerable people” (Official Jeremy Corbyn Channel, 2016). The Guardian’s chief film critic Mark Kermode in his review entitled “A battlecry for the dispossessed” (Kermode: 2016) called the film “a polemical indictment of a faceless benefits bureaucracy that strips claimants of their humanity” (ibid).

In contrast Camilla Long in The Times calls the film “misery porn for smug Londoners” and writes that “for all its (…) condescending attempts at teeth-gritting realism, it feels unreal”(Long: 2016). Iain Duncan Smith who receives, by name, a very specific, personal verbal attack in the film said in a BBC Radio 4 interview that it was a “human story full of pathos and difficulty” (BBC Radio 4: 2016)  however, it focused only on “the very worst of anything that can happen to anyone” (ibid).

Toby Young’s review in The Mail (a right-wing newspaper) criticises Loach’s political standpoint, titling the article:  “Why only lefties could go misty eyed at a movie that romanticises Benefits Britain” (Young: 2016). He compares the characters in I, Daniel Blake to those in the Channel 4 documentary series Benefits Street (2014) “Daniel is a model citizen. At no point do we see him drinking, smoking, gambling, or even watching television” (ibid) and “Katie, too is a far cry from White Dee, the irresponsible character in Benefits Street” (ibid).

While Benefits Street (2014) portrays most of it’s characters as benefits fraudsters through selective editing, Ken Loach’s depiction of the people on benefits is comparatively sanitised. They are portrayed as clean and well intentioned. Even Daniel’s young neighbours are portrayed as “helpful and caring” (Willis: 2016) and “their petty scams are revealed as simply a way to make ends meet” (ibid).

Daniel is portrayed as a hard worker, who has been put in a difficult position and struggling with the bureaucracy of an Orwellian government. Even beneath the titles though at the start of the film, his comments are sarcastic, swearing at the woman asking the questions. This is how he talks to people throughout the film, such as swearing at a woman in the library trying to help him, and is almost at odds with his clean character but perhaps an opportunity for Dave Johns to promote himself as a comedian. Those sat across the desk from him in the Job Centre are also caught up in the system but in Loach’s world they are undeserving of respect and it is okay to speak to them in that way. Many of the characters in the film are heard swearing perhaps a suggestion that the people portrayed are angry. It is one of the few similarities between those characters in I, Daniel Blake and Benefits Street.

Camilla Long’s opinion that the facts were “cherry-picked” seems appropriate, almost as though the best headlines for Loach’s political agenda were selected for maximum impact and many of the situations in the film are arguably unrealistic or exaggerated.

A blog article by the Child Poverty Action Group called Advising Daniel Blake (Child Poverty Action Group: 2016) says they were “pleased to be able to provide script advice” (ibid) for the film and then goes on to explain the benefits process, including how some of the facts in the film are incorrect such as having to “spend thirty five hours a week looking for work” (ibid) and, even though Daniel’s lack of ability with a computer is a pivotal plot device, he could have “made a claim for JSA on the phone” (ibid) or a “paper form could have been sent out to him” (ibid), though this would have compromised the plot of the film.

The film fails to recognise, with the exception of food banks, the numerous charities that support societies most disadvantaged, including the Child Poverty Action Group. Food banks may be the exception because they are used by left-wing politicians as a measure of a broken society. Jeremy Corbyn spoke about “hundreds of thousands being driven to food banks” (Labour Party: 2015) in his 2015 Labour conference speech. To compound this view further screenings of the film were held at food banks. The distributer “appealed to grassroots organisations to put on screenings” (Hind, 2017:4), “around 900 times since the cinema release” says Ken Loach (Gearon, 2017).

It is arguable that Loach’s representation of the people in I, Daniel Blake is almost as biased as the one in Benefits Street. It defines people in a very polarised way, there are no shades of society in the film, there are the honest, downtrodden people on benefits and then the people who work for the government. As pointed out in Camilla Long’s review Daniel doesn’t smoke, drink or gamble and neither do any of the other characters. Even the way that they are dressed polarises the characters in the film. The working public are in scruffy, plain clothes, the “bureaucrats” are in suits or uniforms. The “bureaucrats” are shown as emotionless and unsympathetic with occasional well placed exceptions, such as the woman in the job centre who helps Daniel.

The casting of the Job Centre Office Manager, was very carefully done. The female actor is wearing a military veteran’s badge and a Help For Heroes badge. The character’s main role in the film is to reprimand a colleague, who she towers over, telling her it is “unacceptable” (I, Daniel Blake: 2016) to help Daniel and telling one of the staff to call the police when Daniel spray paints the wall of the Job Centre. It seems as though the military connection is being discreetly used to suggest the job Centre is run like a military organisation.

It could be argued that it is a fictional film, but in a copy of the script handed by writer Paul livery to Damien Green MP he wrote “we stand by every single incident as a fair reflection of what is going on today” (I, Daniel Blake Facebook page: 2016). The film feels more like propaganda dressed up as socialist realism. It portrays the “lower classes” as faultless and government workers as bureaucratic and unsympathetic and little in between.

Samantha Lay suggests that “It is difficult to separate practice from politics (…) It is also important to recognise that a film-maker’s politics influence their preferred mode of cinematic expression” (Lay, 2002:10). Although Loach has been made variations on this films themes for decades, both Loach’s and Laverty’s political leanings are somewhat divorced from this film. They both have a legal background, Laverty is a Lawyer, Loach was educated in Law at Oxford. It is questionable as to whether either Loach or Laverty have a real understanding of what the people portrayed in the film are going through. Both are arguably middle class, looking into the lower classes through their perception of what it is like. Is it possible for them to show a realistic representation of the working classes? It could be suggested that it will always be coloured by the relatively comfortable lives they have had.

Loach was also the founder of the political party Left Unity “founded because the main parties support (…) deep cuts in public spending”. It is in Loach’s political interests to portray the people in the film in the way that he has. In all of the articles and academic sources that I have viewed about I Daniel Blake, Loach’s connection to Left Unity is never mentioned. Although they also have their own political agendas and it is in their interests to show the film as they have, this alone gives credibility to critics such as Young and Long criticising the “political agenda” (Long: 2016) in the film.

In summary the film has raised questions about the UK benefits system, but does so by representing the lower classes in an ideological way, splitting them into those on benefits, portrayed in this film as angry, but hard working and honest, and those working for the state who are portrayed as unsympathetic and by-the book. At the heart of I, Daniel Blake is a weighted political message disguised as social realism. It doesn’t set the lower classes against the upper classes, instead it sets the “working classes” against each other.

 

Bibliography

BBC Radio 4 (2016), Iain Duncan Smith reviews I, Daniel Blake [Online Video]  Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04ddw4g (Accessed 23 February 2018)
Benefits Street (2014-2015) Channel 4 television

BFI (2017) UK Films at the Worldwide Box Office Available at: http://www.bfi.org.uk/sites/bfi.org.uk/files/downloads/bfi-uk-films-world-at-the-world-office-2017-08-22.pdf(Accessed 15 February 2018)

British Heart Foundation (2017) Preventing Heart Disease – Stress https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/preventing-heart-disease/stress (Accessed 8 March 2018)
Department of Work and Pensions (2012) Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/223050/incap_decd_recips_0712.pdf. (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Gearon, C. (2017) Ken Loach attends Bristol screening of I, Daniel Blake Available at: https://www.bristol247.com/culture/film/ken-loach-attends-bristol-screening-i-daniel-blake/ (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Hind, R. (2017) I, Daniel Blake: Case Study Available at: https://moodle.queenelizabeth.cumbria.sch.uk/pluginfile.php/240612/mod_resource/content/0/166%20Daniel%20Blake.pdf (Accessed 23 February 2018)

I, Daniel Blake (2016) [Facebook] 3 November Available at https://www.facebook.com/IDanielBlake/ (Accessed 15 March 2018)

I, Daniel Blake (2016) Directed by Ken Loach [Film] UK: Sixteen Films

IMDB (2016) I, Daniel Blake Available at: www.imdb.com/title/tt5168192 (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Jones, S. (2017) I, Daniel Blake reveals the rich complexity of literacy – and why it matters Available at: https://theconversation.com/i-daniel-blake-reveals-the-rich-complexity-of-literacy-and-why-it-matters-72554 (Accessed 23 February 2017)

Kermode, M. (2016) ‘I, Daniel Blake review – a battle cry for the dispossessed’ The Guardian, 23 October, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/oct/23/i-daniel-blake-ken-loach-review-mark-kermode (Accessed 25 February 2018)

Labour Party (2015) Jeremy Corbyn’s full speech to Annual Conference 2015 [Online Video] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHGEnYChJYM (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Lay, S. (2002) British Social Realism: From Documentary to Brit-grit Columbia: Wallflower

Long, C. (2016) ‘Camilla Long on film: I, Daniel Blake and Keeping Up with the Joneses’ , The Times, 23 October 2016, Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/camilla-long-on-film-i-daniel-blake-and-keeping-up-with-the-joneses-5f763wmrx (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Lord, A. (2016) Advising Daniel Blake Available at: http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/advising-daniel-blake (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Mazierska, E. (ed.) and Kristensen, L. (ed.) (2017) Contemporary Cinema and Neoliberal Ideology London:Routledge

Official Jeremy Corbyn Channel (2016) [Online Video] Jeremy Corbyn – I, Daniel Blake, Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DLbWo0N83c (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Palmer, S. 2015 ‘Benefits Street: reviews and reactions’ The Telegraph 12 May 2015 Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/tv-and-radio-reviews/11597197/Benefits-Street-reviews-and-reactions.html (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Schofield, N. (2016) I, Daniel Blake: Corbynism on celluloid? Available at: https://notesbrokensociety.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/i-daniel-blake-corbynism-on-celluloid/ (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Seymour, T. (2017) ‘I, Daniel Blake ‘doesn’t represent reality’, says jobcentre manager’, The Guardian, 10 February 2017, Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/feb/10/i-daniel-blake-doesnt-represent-reality-says-jobcentre-manager (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Willis, A. (2016) I, Daniel Blake: Ken Loach tells Britain it’s time to kick the political door in Available at: http://theconversation.com/i-daniel-blake-ken-loach-tells-britain-its-time-to-kick-the-political-door-in-66657 (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Wright, J. (2016) The 3 biggest meltdowns from journalists who just realised Ken Loach’s new film is smashing it Available at: https://www.thecanary.co/uk/2016/10/25/3-biggest-meltdowns-journalists-just-realised-ken-loachs-new-film-smashing-tweets/ (Accessed 23 February 2018)

Young, T. (2016) ‘Why only Lefties could go misty eyed at a movie that romanticises Benefits Britain, says Toby Young’ The Mail, 28 October 2016, Available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-3869182/Why-Lefties-misty-eyed-movie-romanticises-Benefits-Britain-says-TOBY-YOUNG.html (Accessed 23 February18)

Miss Communication


A couple of weeks break between photography workshops, meant I could take a trip to Cornwall to produce another short film. With the help of Dave Laity and his family, we put together the short (less than 10 minutes) thriller over the space of an incredibly full week. Long days and late nights of location scouting / auditioning / shooting and back home to another week of editing and colour correcting, before returning to the Colour Your Life workshop I have been running.

The film was zero budget, shot entirely on Nikon DSLRs and minimal equipment, props were made from what we had lying around and the final footage was edited using Adobe Premiere Pro.

The film was screened and nominated for best fiction at The Newlyn International Film Festival 2018

Realism and Citizen Kane


The term realism comes from the literary and art movement of the nineteenth century, which “rejected traditional forms of art” (The Art Story, 2017). Realists rejected “idealistic images and literary conceits” (ibid) and chose to bring the margins of society and everyday life into their work, often portraying life’s more “unpleasant moments” (ibid). Philosopher Georg Lukács defined a realist as someone who could set aside “his own prejudices and convictions and describe what he really sees” (Armes, 1970: 19). The popularity of realism in art grew with photography, with its ability to capture the likeness of life and to produce images that recorded the world objectively. Film was the perfect medium for depicting real life, with its roots in photography but with the added dimension of movement it could almost mimic reality. André Bazin wrote that only a photographic lens was “capable of satisfying the deep need man has to substitute for [an object] something more than a mere approximation” (Bazin 1967: 14).

The earliest exponents of film and cinema such as the Lumière brothers saw the opportunity to capture life as it unfolded. However even while the technology was in its infancy, differing opinions about how the medium should be used were developing quickly. The Lumières were producing films including the forty-six second La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon (1895) and fifty second L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de la Ciotat (1895), which were documentary in their style. The Lumières had come to film through photography. Contemporary filmmaker Georges Méliès was creating more fantastical and theatrical styled films such as Une nuit terrible (1896) and his best-known work Le voyage dans la lune (1902). Méliès was a well-established stage illusionist and had previously experimented with technologies such as automata to create his stage shows and “saw immediately film’s ability to change reality” (Monaco, 1981: 236).

The contrast between film’s abilities to present either an illusion of space and time through composition and manipulation or the preservation of that same time and space, have historically been used as a basis to classify, compare and study film.

Siegfried Kracauer stated:

“If film grows out of photography, the realistic and formative tendencies must be operative in it also. Is it by sheer accident that the two tendencies manifested themselves side by side immediately after the rise of the medium? As if to encompass the whole range of cinematic endeavours at the outset, each went the limit in exhausting its own possibilities” (Kracauer, 1960: 30).

A debate began around whether film should reproduce the seamless continuity of time, or be manipulated for effect through the use of editing. “Controversy over the structure and importance of the shot and the cut, of the shot vs (sic) the cut, forms the bedrock of film theory” (Hill, 2000: 13). There was a division into “two nearly mythical camps of thinking about editing: those represented by Soviet director and theorist Sergei Eisenstein and those following French critic André Bazin” (Cook, 1982: 319).

Bazin thought that editing was manipulative and forced the filmmaker’s views upon the audience. He believed that “excessive dependence” (Ibid) on montage and editing violated “the essence of cinema” (Ibid) and encouraged filmmakers to rely less on montage and tricks and to preserve the illusion of reality through long shots, deep focus and continuity devices such as matching cuts when editing was necessary. He was also appreciative of everyday details, apparently trivial events and small moments that accumulated into an overall effect. For Bazin “cinema’s ‘evolution’ is a continuous progression towards providing more convincing representations that mirror the complexity of our real experience of the world” (ibid).

He believed the audience should be allowed to make decisions for themselves, unlike in Hollywood cinema that “presupposes analysis and choice” (Bazin, 1971: 81).  He argued that “The narrative unit is not the episode, the event, the sudden turn of events, or the character of its protagonists; it is the succession of concrete instants of life, no one of which can be said to be more important than the other” (ibid). He compared film to theatre, suggesting that if a film were played on the stage it should have the same meaning to the audience, that changes by the camera would have no effect on the story. He wrote of two broad and opposing trends in cinema between 1920 and 1940: those directors who put their faith in the image and those who put their faith in reality. Bazin also discussed the role of “plastics” (ibid) or everything that makes the film, the set, the lighting, the makeup in imposing the filmmaker’s interpretation on the audience.

Eisenstein took the opposing viewpoint. In his films, he used editing effects such as montage and rapid cuts to create shock and conflict, to create meaning, to provoke a particular reaction from the audience, to address history and for political statement. He used editing to “reorganise reality” (Cook, 1982: 319) such as in the “Odessa Steps” sequence in Battleship Potemkin (1925). The continuity of time becomes secondary to the impact that the editing has, so much so that some shots are repeated and there are inconsistent jumps in the positioning of some of the people in the film “the temporal and spatial relations are purely fictitious” (ibid).

In his 1949 book Film Form (a compilation of his essays on film), Eisenstein lists types of conflicts. He writes how differing shots can be brought together to create different types of conflict and how movement and the use of metaphor, association and abstract elements such as symbolism could be used to gain an emotional effect. He wrote: “Formulation and investigation of the phenomenon of cinema as forms of conflict yield the first possibility of devising a homogeneous system of visual dramaturgy for all general and particular cases of the film problem” (Eisenstein, 1977: 55). He relates film to music, how the build-up of different tones in music and their impact against each other “becomes one of the most significant means of affect” and that “We find the same thing in optics, as well. All sorts of aberrations, distortions, and other defects, which can be remedied by systems of lenses, can also be taken into account compositionally providing a whole series of definite compositional effects” (Eisenstein, 1977: 67).

Both Bazin and Eisenstein reference more traditional art forms in their discussions of film, both referring to Picasso among other artists and their influence in the realist movement. Both of their visions on cinema are described as “painterly” (Hill, 2000:16). The difference between Bazin and Eisenstein is that Bazin asks the spectator to look at and put the parts of the image together, to achieve understanding through contemplation. For Esienstein, the viewer must respond to the “invisible space” (ibid) between “images in conflict” (ibid). Eisenstein’s concepts dominated film theory for a short period through the 1920s and 30s, Bazin’s ideas had a much more powerful and long-lasting influence.

When silent films came to an end in the late nineteen twenties with the first feature length “talkie” The Jazz Singer (1927) directed by Alan Crosland, German and Soviet cinema had done everything they could with plastics and montage.  “Through the contents of the image and the resources of montage, the cinema has at its disposal a whole arsenal of means whereby to impose its interpretation of an event on the spectator. By the end of the silent film we can consider this arsenal to have been full” (Bazin, 1967: 26).

At the end of the 1930s, films were being edited in a consistently “Hollywood” style: montage, soft-focus, close-ups and conventions of editing. “The classical Hollywood style (…) asks that form be rendered invisible; that the viewer see only the presence of actors in an unfolding story that seems to be existing on its own” (Hill, 2000: 13). The style became institutionalised and it was easy to keep making films in that way, Eisenstein recognized this as a capitalist version of his own work: “a form that placates its audience, foregrounds story and characters, satisfies and creates a desire in the audience to see (and pay for) more of the same” (ibid). It was also economical to reproduce. The “Hollywood” style became more than aesthetics: it was also economics, politics and ideology.

In an article in Screen Journal in 1972 Patrick L. Ogle discusses a number of influences on realism in American cinema. These include documentary films and “similarly realistic work of (…) photojournalists” (Ogle, 1972: 48) like Henri Cartier Bresson, “in magazines such as Life and Look” (ibid). While America was turning film into an industry during the twenties and thirties, in Europe filmmaking was seen as an art. Ogle credits Jean Renoir in France for his influence in moving “American cinematographic styles in a more realistic direction” (ibid) describing Renoir’s “very realistic” (ibid) work that “tended towards the preservation of a greater depth of field” (ibid) and the inclusion of “realistic background activities” (ibid).

Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) was to mark a change in the direction of filmmaking. Bazin wrote that “The influence of Citizen Kane cannot be overestimated” (Bazin, 1967: 33). Orson Welles not only broke the conventions of Hollywood film, but absorbed them into Citizen Kane. Most significant was the use of depth of field to render whole scenes in relatively sharp focus. Rather than regular cuts, long shots are used instead, often with a fixed camera, the actors moving within the frame to indicate their importance within the scene. Welles did use montage, but in a different way, particularly to show passage of time, he used it as part of an abstract method of storytelling as he also did with soft-focus and close-up shots.

Realism as a concept in film studies is important in understanding and explaining Citizen Kane because realism was a driving force in what Welles was trying to achieve with the film. In an article in American Cinematographer in February 1941, Gregg Toland (the cinematographer that worked with Welles on Citizen Kane) goes into detail about the techniques used in the film but describes how realism was the key objective: “the picture should be brought to the screen in such a way that the audience would feel it was looking at reality, rather than merely at a movie” (Toland, 1941). He goes on to describe how the sets in the film were purposely built to have a role as vital as any of the actors and “helped trace the rise and fall of the central character” (ibid) and the concept that all parts of the film should flow together so well that the audience were unaware of the filmmaking technique or apparatus.

Although realism was the objective in the filmmaking process, its execution was anything but realistic in the way that Bazin had originally theorised. There are many instances within the film where camera trickery and manipulation in editing were used to achieve that “realism”. Orson Welles, through Toland, became a master of cinematographic illusion, his work arguably closer to the fantastical work of Méliès than the realism of Lumière. Although he achieved a realistic look through the use of huge depth of field or “deep focus” and in doing so returned the power of interpretation to the audience, he often achieved the deep focus through clever tricks. For example, the shot of Kane sat at a typewriter with Leland stood in the background was created by the joining of separate shots of each actor. Combinations of optical printing, matte painting and animation were used to achieve numerous shots. “The curtain wipe, an optical printing effect was used to great effect in Citizen Kane. In the opening shot at the Thatcher Library, the statue of Thatcher is a miniature. By a skilfully concealed curtain wipe, we move to the base of the statue, which is an actual set (…) As printed it appears as a single continuous shot” (Carringer, 1985: 92).

By the late nineteen forties Bazin’s discussions in cinema were moving away from realism and towards Auteur theory. In What Is Cinema? Bazin states that Orson Welles’ appearance marked the beginning of a new period in film “Citizen Kane is part of a general movement, of a vast stirring of the geological bed of cinema, confirming that everywhere up to a point there had been a revolution in the language of screen” (Bazin, A. 1967: 37).

Bibliography

Armes, R. (1971) Patterns Of Realism. London: The Tantivy Press

Bazin, A. (1967) What Is Cinema Volume I. London: University of California Press
(1972) What Is Cinema Volume II. London: University of California Press
(1991) Orson Welles: A Critical view. Los Angeles: First Acrobat

Carringer, R.L. (1985) The Making Of Citizen Kane. London: John Murray

Cook, P. (1982) The Cinema Book 2nd Edition. London: BFI

Eisenstein, S. (1977) Film Form: Essays In Film Theory. New York and London: Harvest/HBJ

Gray, G. (2010) Cinema: A Visual Anthropology. Oxford: Berg Publishers

Hill, J. and Church Gibson, P. (2000) Film Studies: Critical Approaches. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Hollows, J., Hutchings, P. and Jancovich, M. (Eds.) (2000) The Film Studies Reader Oxford: Arnold

Kracauer, S. (1960) Theory Of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality. New York: Oxford University Press

Monaco,J. (1981) How To Read A Film Oxford: Oxford University Press

Mulvey, L. (1992) Citizen Kane London: British Film Institute

Ogle, P.L. (1972) “Technological And Aesthetic Influences Upon The Development Of Deep Focus Cinematography In The United Statesin Screen, Spring

The Art Story (2017) Realism Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/movement-realism.htm (accessed 02 December 2017)

Toland, G. (1941) American Cinematographer (February) Available at: http://whyalmost50.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/realism-for-citizen-kane.html (accessed 02 December 2017)

Tudor, A. (1972) “The Many Mythologies Of Realism” in Screen, Spring

Willemen, P. (1972) “On Realism In The Cinema” in Screen, Spring

Raging Bull – Title Sequence


Raging Bull (1980) directed by Martin Scorsese with Michael Chapman as director of photography, is far from the style of contemporary films such as John G. Avildsen’s Rocky (1976) and Silvester Stallone’s Rocky II (1979). The film does not dwell on the training and fighting as you would expect from a film about a boxer and as boxing films had done in the past. Raging Bull is a film that says much more about the character and personality of its main subject, Jake LaMotta, than it does about his skill as a boxer. The boxing is almost secondary to LaMotta’s life outside the ring.

The title sequence of the film sets up the idea of LaMotta being a “raging bull”, an animal in a cage while in the ring, but also as a metaphor for his life, never able to get away from the things that haunt him, his questions of masculinity, sexuality and self-doubt and being otherwise alone.

This section of the film is such a simple and effective way to start the film. It uses the minimum of action and camera movement to achieve its intention. It is also quite different to the rest of the film. Raging Bull contains dynamic camera work throughout, often handheld, often from unusual angles, in close and personal with the characters and the title sequence has been shot in a completely different manner. Here there is little movement and what there is, is limited and shot in slow motion.

The title sequence is reminiscent of the 1949 Robert Wise film The Set-up where under the titles, through the ropes, only the legs of two anonymous boxers are seen “dancing” around the ring before one of the fighters falls to the mat. However, the title sequence of Raging Bull is heavily stylised in comparison to that of The Set-up.

The title sequence of Raging Bull introduces us to LaMotta, warming up in the ring as music from the opera Cavalleria rusticana plays. The opera is about a soldier who returns from war to find his fiancé has married someone else. The Intermezzo, the particular piece of music is about a duel to the death between the two men (Targioni-Tozzetti and Menasci, 1902) so seduction, betrayal and violence, as well as a battle to the death, fit very well with some of the film’s overall themes.

At this point in the film the viewer is distanced from LaMotta, as we progress through the film and get to know him we also become closer to him in cinematographic terms, the shots often close-up, particularly in the fighting and intimate scenes. Here we see LaMotta as a stranger, shrouded in shadow, making judgement on him from a distance, like the other characters in the film do. Because he is almost in shadow, it is almost impossible to know if it is LaMotta we are watching. Our only clue that it could be him, is Robert De Niro’s name immediately preceding the shot.

Compositionally, LaMotta positioned on the left third, gives balance and space to the titles, without unnecessarily drawing away from him, but at the same time removes him from the centre of the ring, traditionally where the hero or winner would be at the end of a boxing match. Jake is in his corner as though awaiting the opponent, for the fight to start, getting ready for the battle that continues in the rest of the film, the winner, as yet, undecided. His opponent could be in the ring and we just do not see him, the tight crop does not include the opposing corner, or the opponent could be LaMotta himself, a fight between the man inside and outside the ring.

The entire title sequence shows a static long shot of a boxing ring and a boxer, shadow boxing in slow motion. The music gives a balletic feel, suggesting that LaMotta is graceful, dancer like and in control in the ring, when in reality, as shown in the following film, he was a particularly brutal fighter with the ability to absorb punches until he gained the upper hand.  This elegant, “in control” moment in the film though is representative of the ring being the only place that LaMotta can act aggressively, the only way he knows how, the way that he was brought up.

In this shot and others in the film, thick fog or smoke hangs in the air giving an almost dreamlike quality to the shot. Although at boxing matches the arena gets very hot, the heat of the lights, the heat from the audience, the boxers, it has almost been overdone here, as though we are viewing a memory. The story could be a flashback, a memory of Jake’s, it could be that this is how he remembers it, the fog, obscuring the audience, obscuring everything outside the ring. It could also represent the fog of war, the red mist that is associated with violence and aggression, but also uncertainty, doubt, the clouded judgement of both the audience and of LaMotta both in this scene and the rest of the film.

Most of the film was shot in black and white, which gives a period feel to the film. Set in the forties but shot in 1980 as a tribute to classic Hollywood films, but also for nostalgic reasons “connected to the depiction of Italian-American male characters, anti-heroes that are symptoms of the failure of the American Dream” (Cook, 2004: 167-8). LaMotta fits this description perfectly, although here the impression of calm and coolness is given rather than of failure. Scorsese also “wanted Raging Bull to have a tabloid look, like Weegee” (Biskind, 1999: 389). Weegee was a photographer who documented New York and its crime scenes during the 1940s. His photography was black and white, gritty and depicted often gruesome reality.  Weegee also plays a timekeeper, the first person seen in the title sequence of the 1949 film The Set-up (Maltin, 2015).

The title sequence is the calm before the storm. There is a build-up in any boxing match: the warm up, the long walk to the ring, waiting for the fight to start, as this scene is the build-up to the storm of the film. The “Raging Bull” locked in its cage is waiting to be unleashed upon the world, the ropes, bar-like in their dark, static, geometric lines. Even those lines of the ropes act as a cage within a cage, a ring within a ring, entrapping the boxer.

In the background of the shot, the flash of flashbulbs from photographers: the press capturing the spectacle that is Jake LaMotta, the trapped beast pacing its cage. The flashes are like moments and incidents in LaMotta’s life. The straight line of people at the side of the ring are like a jury waiting to judge Jake on his actions, the way that he is judged throughout the film, tying to the theme of redemption which arises in the scene immediately following the title sequence and to the biblical quote at the end of the film.

Jake continues his graceful dance, ignorant or unaware of those outside the ring, silhouetted against the fog that obscures the onlookers, isolating him even more from the outside world. His face can hardly be seen beneath his hood, perhaps to anonymise him, so that he could represent anybody, the viewer, “the everyman”. “You could take anyone, you see; the ring becomes an allegory of whatever you do in life,” Scorsese is quoted as saying (Friedman, 1997: 115). This silhouetting also shows LaMotta as a beast, less than a man. “Jake LaMotta, the Bronx Bull, is a throwback to primeval man. A barely civilised human beast” (ibid.).

The lettering used in the main title, “Raging Bull” is bright red, red for blood, danger, anger, aggression, a label on the cage of the boxing ring, like the label on the cage of an animal. It jars against the black and white of the scene. It arrives suddenly, filling the right two thirds of the frame, those not occupied by LaMotta, captured between the bars or ropes, just like LaMotta himself. The text is all in capitals, the larger R and B of the respective words strengthening the impact. The words “Raging Bull” have no space implying the violent and obsessive nature of LaMotta in the film, like two boxers clashing, the two parts of LaMotta’s life colliding. As another suggestion of the violence to come, when the titles for Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty appear on the screen, LaMotta throws punches towards those names, as though referring to the way he treats their characters in the film.

Not only does the title sequence of Raging Bull leave the impression of LaMotta as a “Raging Bull” behind the bars of the cage, but they confirm his isolation and give suggestive pointers for the film about to commence. This is a very simple shot, but each element has been brought together to give suggestive pointers to rest of the film. Framing and positioning have been used to suggest LaMotta’s loneliness and isolation, and to portray him as a caged animal, the true “Raging Bull”. The titles have been coloured and placed to reinforce all of that, even the typeface has been chosen, coloured and positioned to add even more to the suggestion of aggression and violence, while seemingly interacting with the character in the ring.

Bibliography

Biskind, P. (1999) Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, London: Bloomsbury

Christie, I. (2003) Scorsese on Scorsese. London: Faber and Faber

Cook, P. (2004) “Martin Scorsese And Postclassical Nostalgia” Screening the Past: Memory and Nostalgia in Cinema, Oxford: Routledge

Friedman, L.S. (1997) The Cinema of Martin Scorsese. Brighton: Roundhouse

LaMotta, J., Carter, J. and Savage, P. (1997) Raging Bull My Story, Boston: Da Capo

Maltin, L. (2015) The Classic Movie Guide. London: Michael Joseph

Extract available at: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/406/The-Set-Up/notes.html

Perkins, W. (2017) Dan Perri – A career retrospective. Available at http://www.artofthetitle.com/feature/dan-perri-a-career-retrospective/ (Accessed 30 Sept 2017)

Targioni-Tozzetti, G. and Menasci, G. (1902) Zanetto and Cavalleria Rusticana. Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/14370/14370-h/14370-h.htm (Accessed 30 September 2017)

Firmament


Our latest short film, the three minute “Firmament”, produced as part of the Digital Film Production Course at Sunderland University. A film about life and death it was shot on Tunstall Hills to the South of Sunderland City in minus two degrees centigrade and our actors Luke Davies and Rachel Meredith did a fantastic job in delivering their lines through chattering teeth.

Particular thanks goes to Luke Davies, who learnt his part in twenty four hours when he stepped in at the last minute to replace the original actor. It took four hours to shoot the film in its entirety, it is amazing how the freezing cold motivates you. Below are some behind the scenes photographs from the shoot and rehearsals.

Guy Mackenzie – The Guitar Collector


Guy Mackenzie is an avid collector of rare electric guitars, new and old from around the world but particularly classic electric guitars from Great Britain. He has around 200 guitars in his collection and has been interviewed by numerous publications and television programs about the collection.

On a recent visit to Cornwall for another film project I had the privilege to meet Guy and film him talking about his guitar collection.

Mobile Phone Photography


Mobile Phone PhotographyI’m (kind of) a purist when it comes to photography, a snob some would say. I have traditional values, expose and focus manually, I shoot film (some of the time), I am certainly not a point and shoot kind of person and I have never bought a phone on the quality of the photos it could take. But recently that has all changed, I have found myself looking for a pocket size camera that can come somewhere close to a dslr on image quality and while I was looking I have found myself pushed towards buying a phone rather than a point and shoot camera (not very purist at all).

The benefits of phone over point and shoot are firstly, the size: even a point-and-shoot camera can be bulky in comparison. A phone is designed to slip into your pocket and although it does require some adjustment in shooting style compared to a traditional camera, this alone means that it should be easier to have with you all the time “The best camera, is the one you have with you.”

Phones have a whole bunch of other uses besides photography that cameras don’t usually have; the ability to immediately edit and upload to just about anywhere, apps such as The Photographers Ephemeris that can give you sunset and sunrise times, tell you which way the moon or sun is rising or setting and show you maps of the shoot location and that is without mentioning the phone and text messaging ability. A huge selection of apps for editing / sharing / aroura forecasting / weather that can help with your photography.

So with that in mind I began the hunt for a phone to replace my five year old Motorola. After looking at various options, I opted for the Hawaei 9p Lite, 12mp main camera that supports Raw shooting, has a large screen, much larger than I’m used to. It took a day or so to get used to it, to change my style of photography to fit the phone, but with Lightroom mobile app installed, the results have been superb and taking the images as uncompressed DNG files produces images that are as good as most digital cameras.

There are some down sides of course, high quality zoom is limited, noise is a little more apparent at the highest ISO settings, but weighed against that is; the ability to get superb close-up shots, within millimetres, without any specialist equipment; how discreet the camera is (so many people are walking around staring at mobile phones these days, that no one notices if you are taking photographs or not); size, convenience and that allow you to have it with at all times, oh and of course you can make calls on it as well.

For me my phone isn’t going to replace using more traditional style cameras, but it has opened up for me the opportunity to get images that I would otherwise would have missed.

Composition


In photography how you photograph is just as important as what you photograph. To really improve your images each element needs to be considered and composed to give the best result.

The rules of composition are a set of guidelines which help you to produce more pleasing and interesting images. Although they are called the rules of composition, they are not set in stone, but when you are starting out in photography, it is a great place to begin. The main purpose is to help compose an image that draws the viewers eye to the important elements of the image. The following are rules, ideas, tips to help improve the strength of your images.

The rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is used to achieve balance in an image, by dividing the viewfinder into nine imaginary areas using a grid of two horizontal and two vertical lines (many digital cameras have the option of a grid in the viewfinder or on its screen). The main elements of the scene you are photographing are placed at or near to the intersection of the lines. The main objective is to avoid placing of a subject directly in the centre. A prime example of where this works particularly well is in photographs of landscapes with a horizon line. If the horizon is placed on the centre of the image it usually unbalances the image and the eye jumps between the two halves.

Rule of Thirds  Rule of Thirds  Redcar Steel Works in the sunset.  Rule of Thirds  coastal_photography_008  simon_green_260915_010  Rule Of Thirds - Photography Composition Rule Of Thirds - Photography Composition Rule Of Thirds - Photography Composition

Leading Line

Leading lines are physical or suggested lines which lead the viewers eye into the image or direct them to look at a particular area of an image. Leading lines are everywhere in the form of fences, walls, roads, in portraits the arms and hands of the subject can be placed to produce leading lines or suggested lines can be formed by the direction that the subject is looking in. Lines help to prevent the eye from wandering around the image. They can be straight or converging, curved or s-shaped. Diagonal lines can also add a feeling of motion to an image drawing the eye into or across the image. Leading line in the form of suggested shapes in an image can help to hold the image together and prevent distractions. Group portraits are a great example of where this works particularly well. Arranging your subjects, or moving so that your subjects form triangles and diamonds, helps to form strong images.

Leading Line - Composition  Leading Line - Composition  Leading Line - Composition  Leading Line - Composition  Canberra War Memorial

Simplicity

Less is more, remove distractions, anything that is unnecessary take out of your composition. Simplifying an image can strengthen the subject. It is important to identify your subject and remove anything that isn’t contributing to the image, if there are too many elements in your image it will be difficult for the viewer to identify the subject. It is also important to be constantly aware of your subject’s background. What seems to be a great image while capturing can be ruined by a distracting background. Often a distracting background can be removed just by moving position slightly and a complicated image can be simplified by cropping out the unnecessary details.

composition_simplicity_003 Composition Simplicity Composition Simplicity Composition Simplicity Composition Simplicity   Ripples - Composition simplicity      Composition Simplicity

Colour

Selective use of colour such as a bright, highly saturated main subject surrounded by lighter, pastel tones will add immediate impact to an image. Colours that compliment each other or colours of a similar tone, will also make a pleasing image. Some times lack of colour can create a strong image, soft shades and low tonal ranges can create just as much impact as highly saturated colours.

Composition - colour  Composition - colour  Composition - colour  Composition Colour  Yellow Field - Colour  Beech Tree

Point of View

We are used to seeing everything at eye level and so changing to an unusual view point can add interest and impact to an image. Shoot lower and higher, shoot at an angle, look down on your subject to make it appear more vulnerable, look up at a subject to increase scale and add a sense of power. Get down on the ground to get an insects point of view of things, especially nature. Shooting from a different angle can help to remove a distracting background.

 Composition - Point of View  Composition Point of View  Australia_2015_050  Composition - Point Of View    cosmos cottage  Melbourne Cityscape - Composition - Point of View

Cropping, filling the frame and active space

A simple mistake to make, is making your subject too small in the frame. Tight crops can help to make the subject obvious, make it easier to exclude distracting backgrounds and create impact. That being said though, some subjects need space. Empty space in an image can suggest movement, give sense of openness and cause the viewer to look at particular elements. An object in an image, a car for example with the space in front of it will give the sensation of the movement of the car into the space, space behind the subject will force your eye out of the frame, which you don’t usually want unless you want the viewer to move to another image. The direction that elements in your image are facing is important, in portraits in particular, your eye is drawn to where the subject is looking. This can be used to move the viewer’s eye to other elements in the image.

Composition - Fill the frame  Jaguar - Automotive photography - Composition - Fill the frame  Automotive Composition - Fill the frame  Severn Valley Railway - Composition - Fill the frame  Composition -space  Composition - Space  Street Photography Australia   Severn Valley Railway - Composition - Space  Composition - Space

Pattern and Texture

Repetitive pattern and texture add realism to images adding depth and three dimensional qualities. Patterns are created when elements such as shapes, lines, tones repeat themselves they can even be produced by light and shadows. Patterns can be found in natural and man-made subjects and give a sense of balance and rhythm to photographs. The key to exploiting patterns is to exclude everything but the pattern. Once you have started creating successful pattern images, you will begin to see patterns everywhere. Texture in an image can evoke memories of how the subject feels. Contrasting textures also work very well, smooth and rough, metal and concrete, man-made and natural.

Composition - Pattern   Taken Hostage - Composition - texture  Composition - Texture  concrete stairway - composition - texture  Composition - Repetition  Composition - Repetition  Photographic Composition TexturePhotographic Composition Texture Photographic Composition Texture Photographic Composition Texture Photographic Composition Texture Photographic Composition Texture Photographic Composition Texture

Symmetry

Certain subjects lead themselves to being symmetrical. Symmetry like patterns can be found in man-made and natural subjects and with a strong point of interest can produce strong images. Often breaking the symmetry though can make a stronger image than with the symmetry alone. Symmetry can often be found in reflections which make fantastic images, they add realism and depth to images and produce a natural repetition.

Composition Symmetry Symmetry Composition Reflections Composition Reflections  Composition Symmetry composition_reflective_landscape020 Composition - reflections  Composition - reflections Blyth and Cambois Piers composition_symmetry_040

Framing

Framing elements of an image  in a physical or suggested frame helps to lead the eye into the image and helps to hold the parts of the image together. The frame could be tree branches, the gaps in a fence, a doorway, a window.

  Photographic Composition - FramingPhotographic Composition - Framing Photographic Composition - Framing Photographic Composition - Framing Photographic Composition - FramingPhotographic Composition - Framing Photographic Composition - Framing 

Scale

Something of a known size in a photograph, can add scale and help to establish the size of your subject. A person stood next to a huge building or object can add a sense of awe, the size of a small subject can be emphasised if it is surrounded by large things.

Composition - Scale Composition - Scale Composition - Scale  Composition ScaleSycamore Gap, Hadrian's Wall

Motion

Suggested and actual movement add a whole different aspect to an image, it can bring an otherwise static image to life through the use of motion blur and light trails. Adding movement to an image is usually achieved through low shutter speeds with the camera still, to capture the moving object blurred or panning, following the moving subject with the camera so the subject is static on a moving background. Slow shutter speed photography at night can also be used to capture light trails created by moving vehicles.

composition - movement  Composition Movement  Severn Valley Railway - composition - movement  composition - movement  composition - movement  Seven Eleven Rush Hour 

Experiment

In the age of digital photography where cost is not a restriction on the number of photographs we can take, it is easier to experiment. Do the safe shots, take the photographs that conform to the rules, but then try something different. Change all the settings, use different focal lengths, different viewpoints, mess around and something unexpected may happen. Experimenting with the camera controls is also a great way to learn, making mistakes, happy accidents, blurred, over and underexposed will help to improve your understanding of photography.

Hero


Did you feel like the hero,
as perceived by the press?
Were you proud of your uniform,
as you marched through the city?
Were you a protector, a warrior,
proud to be at your country’s defence?
Were you brave and fearless and strong?
Not when I saw the bodies piled high,
for the sake of race or religion.
Not when we uncovered,
the mass burial sites,
of mutilated women and children.
Not when I saw,
the cities in ruin,
and the towns burnt down to the ground.
Not when I saw the civilian dead,
blown up by a bomb meant for us.
Not when my friends,
lost most of their limbs,
from an improvised explosive device.
Not when my buddy,
took a round to the head,
and I witnessed the life leave his eyes.
Not when I was followed,
all the way home,
by the ghosts of the injured and dead.
Not when I hide,
away in the house,
because I’m frightened
of what’s waiting outside.
Not when I’m afraid,
to fall asleep,
because they are there
in my nightmares as well.
Not when the memories
and flashbacks and dreams,
turn my home,
into a prison cell.
Not when I frighten,
my wife or my kids,
because I’ve got no one to tell,
about the bombs or the bodies,
the death or the war,
that turned my life,
into a living hell.

Colour Your Life Introduction to Photography


Colour Your Life Photography Course

I will be running an introduction to photography course at the Lodge in Blackhill Park, for 10 weeks on Wednesdays starting on Wednesday 5th July. The course is part of the Arts On Prescription service provided by Leisureworks for Durham County Council. The photography course will focus on photographic composition and is suitable for all levels from beginner to advanced enthusiast.

SCI-FI-LONDON 48 Hour Film Challenge


Recently (eighteen months or so) my work has been taking a swerve towards moving image. It has been a tough decision that I have been fighting with internally on a daily basis: trying desperately to cling on to stills photography that has been part of my professional and personal life for twenty years. In the battle for my passions though, moving image has become the victor, catalysed amongst other things by SCI-FI-LONDON’s 48hr film challenge which took place this weekend.

At 11am on Saturday, my wife, son and I sat in Wetherspoon’s stocking up on the calories that we knew we would need to survive what would no doubt be a long and sleepless weekend. I logged into the SCIFI-London website and read out our brief:

Title:  Son of the Father
Prop: Paper – a character reads what is written on it (handwritten or typed), folds it up
Dialogue: Try to keep your thinking inside the box, just for a change.
Science (optional): Engineers discover some initials on a new-found nano particle

We started brainstorming, scribbling down ideas, but we knew pretty quickly what we were going to do. I’d already had the idea and thankfully the brief fitted with it very well.

I spent the morning writing a script, by late afternoon it had been read over and fine tuned and we filled two cars with equipment and headed out to the shooting location for our evening shoot. We hoped that by getting it done on the first night, any problems that arose could be resolved on the second night.

We worked until one in the morning, with only a couple of minor glitches, the shoot went surprisingly well and we had a good laugh as a family. Today (Sunday) I have edited, put a basic sound track together, created sound effects and basic visual effects and put together the finished film. We are almost a day ahead of the deadline and the film is ready to be submitted.

I don’t expect anything to come of it, I don’t expect our little, nothing budget film to win anything, especially when there are massive scale film studios competing as well, but it has been a brilliant experience and has solidified my desire to shoot films.

Planning a scene – Exercise


Short script and storyboard exercise.
NFTS Explore Filmmaking – Week 2

1. Write a short script

  • Character 1 is already in a room.
  • Character 2 approaches the room, opens the door and comes in.
  • They have a very brief conversation in which Character 1 gives Character 2 an object and then Character 2 leaves the room.
  • Consider how you are setting up character, theme and story.

2. Block out your scene
3. Film the scene

Click to open script PDF

What A Year!


At the end of 2015 I could not have imagined what a year 2016 was going to be. I was struggling to take hold of anything in my life and make it work. 2015 had presented some progress along with the usual difficulties that mental health problems bring, but nothing truly significant. Within days of the 1st of January though, previous possabilities became fruitful. Workshops and photography projects, meeting new people, becoming part of groups and interactions, spoken word performances and exhibitions, film premiere, travel, my life that had been mostly uneventful for several years became hectic.

And it was all over in a flash. The events of the last year have proven that maybe I do have a purpose (i’m still not sure what it is) and perhaps I can take control of the problems that have plagued me for several years; that there is a new chapter opening in my life.

Below are a few of the many images that I have taken in the last year.

I wish


I wish for time to slow down,
for the hours to stop fleeting by like seconds
and the seconds to stop rushing past like insects on the wind
For the ink in my pen to never stop flowing
for the inspiration to make sense when I transfer it to the page
For the future to stop trying to surprise me
for my plans to make it to the end without some unexpected wrinkle
twisting it to something else
For the results to materialise without so much stress
For the effort to be worthwhile without being overshadowed by doubt
for it all to be less of a gamble when there are kids and family and loved ones involved
For the landscape to keep offering itself to me
and to keep finding hidden locations that I have never seen before
sunsets I will never see again
whispers of waves that will never speak to me the same again
For the flowers and plants in my garden to keep growing
to stay alive even though my fingers are not really that green
For the stability to remain
for the security to never fail again
For the striving, the endeavour to be worth it all in the end
For my mind to stop churning
For my consciousness to stop overworking
For the concern for everything
that doesn’t matter or that I can’t do anything about
no longer keep me awake
For my family to be safe in their beds at night
and their lives in the day
For the turmoil that is still chasing me to finally lose its way
to be left behind me only as a reminder of how bad things can get
For someday to find my peace

Winter approaches


Winter approaches
tiptoes into autumn
icy fingers
working their way into
sunlit bronze days
frigid breath tucked in valleys
blanketing fields
rising from star lit nights
encroaching on dark mornings
frosted shadow cast over crispened grass
lushness paled beneath encrusted dew
as the last of sugared colours tumble
from stark silhouettes of naked trees
Amber spills onto the cracking spider’s webs
on puddles captured by winter’s chilling touch
and sleeted rain cascades onto
waves of fallen leaves
sealing spring beneath
bleached years end
solidified beneath a crystal sky
beautiful in its harshness

EPOTY Exhibition


Environmental Photographer Of The Year CompetitionEnvironmental Photographer Of The Year CompetitionIt was only with a suggestion from fellow photographer Bernie Petterson, that I even entered the Environmental Photographer of the Year Competition in the first place. Then once entered I completely forgot about it, until an email message whilst travelling in Croatia a few months later, informed me that one of my images had been selected for the final exhibition. It still didn’t really sink in. I emailed the full size image as requested and again forgot all about it.

Then I received an invitation to the opening of the exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society in London hosted by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a hero of mine since I was a child. I never really thought much of it, I was busy at the time putting the final touches to my ‘This Is Stanley’ project and the busiest I had been for a long time and I didn’t really think I had achieved much in the competition and so I didn’t go to the event in London.

Three months later preparing for a week in the Lake District and I come across an article online about the competition and how the exhibition has now moved to the Grizedale Forest in the Lake District. The article also mentions that it is an exhibition of the shortlist of 60 final images from 10,000 entries from all over the world.

A few days later and we are looking at my image, printed and displayed beautifully in a whitewashed room. I am stunned, I wasn’t even sure that my photograph was even going to be there. It’s not that I have never won anything before, it used to be a common occurrence ( including Landscape Photographer of the Year, Commercial and Advertising Photographer of the Year several times amongst others). Eighteen months earlier though it had been three years since I picked up a camera. I had convinced myself that I never would again.

Okay so I didn’t win any of the top prizes or anything like that, but to have an image in the shortlist was a reminder of how much things have changed in the last year and how much my family and I have achieved.

uk.news.yahoo.com/environmental-photographer-awards-2016-shortlist-135404245.html
matildalong.tumblr.com/post/145305883168/environmental-photographer-of-the-year-awards-2016
https://weather.com/news/news/environmental-photographer-of-the-year-photo-contest

Environmental Photographer Of The Year Competition Environmental Photographer Of The Year Competition

North Road Gym Boxing Show


North Road Gym Boxing Show 28th October 2016

I have been filming and photographing the fighters at North Road Gym for a few months now. The morality of boxing is a contentious issue, especially with the death of professional boxer Mike Towell less than a month ago. With this project I hope to expel some of the myths and show, at least the local population, the positives of their local boxing club.

I don’t need to try hard at all to find positives at North Road Gym, who run junior and senior training sessions four nights a week. The hour and a half sessions are packed with incredibly fit, motivated individuals, both male and female, who would rather be there getting fit than out on the streets drinking or worse.

The junior training sessions use exercises and activities that are enjoyable, the senior training sessions push everyone to their limits. I know, I tried and my limits were pushed long before the rest of the group were.

I guess when I first started the project, there was some expectation of young lads fulfilling the ideals of pushy fathers, forcing them into something they didn’t want to do. Thats what many would want you to believe. But that is not how it is at all. Without exception all of the fighters (ultimately that is what they are) are inspiring. They are fit, healthy and motivated, there aspire to do something better, to achieve. All of that would not be possible if the coaches were not motivated as well. To some the coaches have been mentors in life not just in the gym.

It’s not just the fighters and the coaches that are motivated, it is also the parents, friends and families. With the threat of sale by the landlord, they all pulled together to raise funds to buy the building.

On Friday 28th October North Road Gym held the first of their annual shows. A packed out Stanley Civic Hall played host to clubs from all around the area, for eighteen fights, all under the watchful eye of medical staff, a Doctor, judges and a referee. The fighters are all incredibly supportive of each other, polite, grateful for the opportunity.

North Road Gym


The start of a project at North Road Gym in Catchgate. An inspirational group of people who have recently raised the funds to buy the building so that it can continue to be used by local youngsters. The boxing gym has trained champions, but it is not just about winning, it is also about inspiring young people to keep fit, to use their time proactively and give them something to be proud of.

www.northroadgym.co.uk

Fog


I had been stuck in the house for years: encased in four walls, unwilling to loosen my grip on safety and security, frightened to face the world. And yet now when I was beginning to find my way back to life, when all I wanted to do was leave this place with a camera and take photographs, the fog laughed at me as I gazed out of the window hoping for a shaft of light to cut through the all enveloping damp. I waited and waited, stared at a screen in disinterest, whiled away the time with too much tea, until I could no longer wait.

I took my camera and a single lens, lightweight, unencumbered by bags and paraphernalia, a single lens reflex slung over my shoulder on it’s vintage strap. I wandered the backstreets and shortcuts that I wandered as a teen, retraced my memories, meticulously considered each image that I captured, let the cold numb my skin as the fog seeped in.

Home


I never would have believed I would return here.

As a teenager, all I wanted to do was escape. It seemed I was surrounded by an entire community with no future, motivation or enthusiasm for life. The energy drained out of them by the demise of the Steel Works that I had never seen, never knew, the heart of the town they called it.

The moment I had the chance to leave, I did. Travelled the world, getting as far away as I could, eventually landing in Cornwall, golden beaches, rugged coastline, ancient monuments and craggy moorland, but as much as I pretended, it never truly felt like home.

After twenty years I fled again, dragged my family five hundred miles to leave the past behind. To go to the place we said we would never return to.

The town has changed, Middle street, charity shops and cheap stores, a shell of what it used to be. Where WoolWorths once stood proudly on Front street, the councils one stop shop. A Wetherspoons’ now takes pride of place on the crossroads, where the market used to be. The other pubs are the same, some of the names changed, but otherwise the same sticky carpets and dirty glasses. The Freemasons Arms is identical, even the dirty, flaking paint appears to be original. I remember being asked for ID in there on my twenty first birthday as fifteen year old girls plastered in make up strolled past.

On the outskirts a retail park grows daily, draining the town of business or encouraging growth depending on your point of view. The new Tesco superstore pretends to blend in to the surrounding countryside, its quickly fading timber cladding doing little to camouflage the two foot tall red letters, two acres of tarmac car park and petrol station. A KFC, a Macdonalds, a B&Q and rumour has it a Primark soon.

At the edge of town is an embankment. Twenty years ago it was covered in iron slag and crushed concrete, the remains of The Consett Iron Company. Now its an inadequate strip of grass and trees preventing new build housing estates from merging into each other. Littered with dog mess and beer cans, its not the greatest place to walk, but up on the side of the hill, you can see over the new houses, far beyond the superstore, across the valley to the rolling hills of Northumberland.

In the other direction, houses new and old nestle like a smile along the valley, flanked on either side by green fields and hills, solar panels and satellite dishes glint in the sunlight like gold teeth. Moorside and Castleside romantic names for unromantic housing estates that spill into the green, virtually unchanged in twenty years. Old post war prefabs have been torn down and in their place ugly red Barrett homes, but otherwise compared to a hundred other places in Britain, Consett has remained relatively untouched by the spreading plague of new houses.

Beyond the houses to Rowley and Waskerley in the distance, hill silhouetted against hill, more fields and countryside all the way across the Pennines and nothing but a handful of wonderful old villages until Penrith.

A few miles from the house I live in, amongst the valleys and moors scattered with the remnants of forgotten industries, freedom on a mountain bike. Down tracks and cycle paths, across the bare black scars cut into meadows edge and down loose gravel hills, through streams and mud and lines of pine trees, the possibility of continuing for fifty miles without meeting another soul a reality. Pausing in remote solitude, to watch clouds undulating over the patchwork of stonewall separated colours. It never fails to impress me, to inspire me, to fill me with awe. This is the place I call my home.

‘This Is Stanley’ Premiere screening


Regardless of how hard I work or of how much effort I put into a project, I always doubt how successful it will be. Almost every day for six months I was either photographing, filming, editing or planning the project that would become ‘This Is Stanley’. There were some problems along the way, some resistance, negativity, there were even times where I wanted to give it all up and walk away. There was also the mental health problems that have hung around my neck for the last five years and continued until the last day of the project. It was only my stubbornness that got me through; when someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me more determined to do it.

On the 31st July 2016 my first feature length documentary film ‘ This Is Stanley’ showed at the Civic Hall in Stanley, County Durham. Until the moment that the lights dimmed and the projector started, I was convinced that it would fail; that something would go wrong and the project would be a disappointment. Thankfully that did not happen though and thanks to the hard work of everyone involved the night was a huge success. The Hall was packed, the response was incredibly positive and people are continuing to visit the exhibition and watch the film on TV screens at the Civic.

It is not over yet by any means. The exhibition continues throughout August and we are currently looking at other venues to show the film and exhibition.

additional photographs by David Mills

Northern Echo


Almost a full page spread in the Northern Echo for my ‘This Is Stanley’ film and exhibition at Stanley Civic Call, County Durham. The film has its premiere screening on Sunday 31st July 2016, the Exhibition runs throughout august.

Northern Echo press Coverage 'THis Is Stanley'

One Hundred Graves


1st of July 2016 is the 100th anniversary of The Battle of the Somme. Of the 100,000 soldiers who joined the battle that day on that first day, 58,000 became casualties and over 19,000 died. It was the worst day in the history of the British Army and is still the greatest loss in a single day for Britain.The battle ended on 18th November 1916, 12km had been gained with 400,000 British casualties.

15,000 members of the Durham Light Infantry fought on the Somme by the end over half had been wounded, killed or reported missing.
In March this year I visited the battlefields of the Somme in France. One hundred graves is a selection of the huge number of images that I took of the graves of soldiers from that battle.

Men from several generations of my family served in the DLI. As a former soldier myself, I think it is incredibly important that the sacrifice these men made is remembered; that we should never forget the consequences of war. Unfortunately some are already forgetting and the closure of the DLI museum in Durham is going to ensure that future generations have nothing in this country to remember them by.

I run my hand over the letters cut into the limestone
discoloured by the passing seasons,
name fading into history
dissolved by time like the memories
of a young man who fell one hundred years ago
I feel our hands touch over the generations
in this short lived reminder
last remaining memory of this fallen soldier
There is no one left to remember
he was his parents only child
he was too young to have a wife or children
lied his way through recruitment
became a man on the battlefield
ending his bloodline in the mud
I leave a cross of remembrance
signed with my name
because if I had been born one hundred years earlier
it could have been me in this grave

Zeljava Airbase, Croatia


Željava Airbase, Croatia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Željava_Air_Base

The ordnance survey map was wearing thin along the creases. It had been folded and unfolded in a dozen different configurations. The scrawled pencil marks and highlighter lines were now fading after a long week and our journey of several thousand miles traveling around Croatia with little more than a hire car and a couple of tents.

Our final location before returning to Split, to hand back the car and fly home, was the most exciting of the trip. After lakes, forests and mountains, abandoned hotels and bombed out buildings, all in an incredibly diverse country, this was the prize we had been leaving until last.

Less than an hour from the Plitviče Lakes National Park, hidden down perilous country lanes, Željava Airbase was the pinnacle of our trip. I served as a soldier with the British Army in Bosnia and my return to Yugoslavia has been partly motivated by a need to revisit in peace time, but for Walt and I traveling had always been about adventure; about finding those ‘off the beaten track’ locations. It wasn’t just about urban exploration, but about experiencing places that few people ever have or will see.

Željava Airbase fulfilled that requirement wholeheartedly. On the border between Croatia and Bosnia, built under a mountain, it was one of the largest underground airbases in Europe. Built between 1948 and 1968 it was designed to withstand a direct hit from a 20 kiloton nuclear bomb. The airbase was used extensively during the Yugoslav wars and was partially destroyed in 1992 to prevent re-use.

The lonely shell of a disused Douglas C-47 (Dakota) airplane introduced us to the criss-cross of unused runways. There was a surge of adrenaline and excitement as we drove onto the cracked and overgrown concrete and found our way to the main entrance of the airbase. The area is still heavily land mined even twenty years after the war, so we were careful not to drive or tread anywhere that was not solid concrete. A few years earlier someone was blown up and killed while picking mushrooms at the airfield. We never admitted to each other our apprehension as we looked into the gaping darkness, a beckoning mouth in the side of the lush green of the mountain. Loaded down with camera equipment, torches, batteries, more torches and a gas stove for mandatory tea stops, we moved slowly and carefully into the tunnel system.

It was dark. Even within feet of the entrance the light quickly faded into black. The darkness seemed to consume the light from the numerous torches we were carrying and the aftermath of every tacky eighties horror film I had ever seen began rampaging around the inside of my head. The cool air was thick with dust and the smell of cordite and concrete lingered in my nostrils. As our eyes began to adjust we could see that the cavernous hangars were precisely carved into the rock; huge rooms that arched above like windowless cathedrals. The airplane shaped blast doors which had been blown by the advancing Serbian Army, were now silent rubble and twisted metal reinforcement.

Using our cameras on tripods, slow shutter speeds and careful use of torches to illuminate the concrete, we painted images with light. We moved from room to room, careful not to fall down the gaping access holes where cables had been stripped in the past.

A couple of hours in and our first cuppa. Standing in the dark, in silent contemplation. Complete silence, no traffic, no people, no noise at all, with the exception of the occasional drip of water. It was like the most extreme version of getting away from it all. In the middle of nowhere miles underground, nobody even knew we were there. Completely at peace. That is until the nineteen eighties horror films start to play on your mind again.

We negotiated rubble and boulders that had fallen from blasted ceilings and trenches filled with water, taking time to get the best angles and lighting we could. Each room was different, some filled with rusting pipes and cables, others with long seized generators, many with old machines with no way to identify what they once were. Some rooms were littered with user manuals and log books or unravelled rolls of aerial photographic film. We continued our slow journey in the dark until our cameras and torches were on the final dregs of battery life. Exhausted we exited the tunnels twelve hours after we entered to a sun setting over the Dakota at the entrance.

These images were produced by ‘painting with light‘ during a ten hour exploration of the airbase. Using LED torches and a three minute exposure at ISO 400/800, we   painted in light to what was otherwise complete darkness. The photographs of the entrances were taken using a combination of ambient and torch or ambient alone.

Zeljava Airbase Croatia


Željava Airbase, Croatia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Željava_Air_Base

The ordnance survey map was wearing thin along the creases. It had been folded and unfolded in a dozen different configurations. The scrawled pencil marks and highlighter lines were now fading after a long week and our journey of several thousand miles traveling around Croatia with little more than a hire car and a couple of tents.

Our final location before returning to Split, to hand back the car and fly home, was the most exciting of the trip. After lakes, forests and mountains, abandoned hotels and bombed out buildings, all in an incredibly diverse country, this was the prize we had been leaving until last.

Less than an hour from the Plitviče Lakes National Park, hidden down perilous country lanes, Željava Airbase was the pinnacle of our trip. I served as a soldier with the British Army in Bosnia and my return to Yugoslavia has been partly motivated by a need to revisit in peace time, but for Walt and I traveling had always been about adventure; about finding those ‘off the beaten track’ locations. It wasn’t just about urban exploration, but about experiencing places that few people ever have or will see.

Željava Airbase fulfilled that requirement wholeheartedly. On the border between Croatia and Bosnia, built under a mountain, it was one of the largest underground airbases in Europe. Built between 1948 and 1968 it was designed to withstand a direct hit from a 20 kiloton nuclear bomb. The airbase was used extensively during the Yugoslav wars and was partially destroyed in 1992 to prevent re-use.

The lonely shell of a disused Douglas C-47 (Dakota) airplane introduced us to the criss-cross of unused runways. There was a surge of adrenaline and excitement as we drove onto the cracked and overgrown concrete and found our way to the main entrance of the airbase. The area is still heavily land mined even twenty years after the war, so we were careful not to drive or tread anywhere that was not solid concrete. A few years earlier someone was blown up and killed while picking mushrooms at the airfield. We never admitted to each other our apprehension as we looked into the gaping darkness, a beckoning mouth in the side of the lush green of the mountain. Loaded down with camera equipment, torches, batteries, more torches and a gas stove for mandatory tea stops, we moved slowly and carefully into the tunnel system.

It was dark. Even within feet of the entrance the light quickly faded into black. The darkness seemed to consume the light from the numerous torches we were carrying and the aftermath of every tacky eighties horror film I had ever seen began rampaging around the inside of my head. The cool air was thick with dust and the smell of cordite and concrete lingered in my nostrils. As our eyes began to adjust we could see that the cavernous hangars were precisely carved into the rock; huge rooms that arched above like windowless cathedrals. The airplane shaped blast doors which had been blown by the advancing Serbian Army, were now silent rubble and twisted metal reinforcement.

Using our cameras on tripods, slow shutter speeds and careful use of torches to illuminate the concrete, we painted images with light. We moved from room to room, careful not to fall down the gaping access holes where cables had been stripped in the past.

A couple of hours in and our first cuppa. Standing in the dark, in silent contemplation. Complete silence, no traffic, no people, no noise at all, with the exception of the occasional drip of water. It was like the most extreme version of getting away from it all. In the middle of nowhere miles underground, nobody even knew we were there. Completely at peace. That is until the nineteen eighties horror films start to play on your mind again.

We negotiated rubble and boulders that had fallen from blasted ceilings and trenches filled with water, taking time to get the best angles and lighting we could. Each room was different, some filled with rusting pipes and cables, others with long seized generators, many with old machines with no way to identify what they once were. Some rooms were littered with user manuals and log books or unravelled rolls of aerial photographic film. We continued our slow journey in the dark until our cameras and torches were on the final dregs of battery life. Exhausted we exited the tunnels twelve hours after we entered to a sun setting over the Dakota at the entrance.

These images were produced by ‘painting with light‘ during a ten hour exploration of the airbase. Using LED torches and a three minute exposure at ISO 400/800, we   painted in light to what was otherwise complete darkness. The photographs of the entrances were taken using a combination of ambient and torch or ambient alone.

Craghead Colliery band


As part of a project on the town of Stanley, County Durham, I attended one of the practice sessions of Craghead Colliery Band. The band comprise of local people of all ages and takes part in competitions and events throughout the year. The practice took place at the Craghead Victory and Social Club, in an upstairs room painted red and green, which was flooded with sunlight.

www.cragheadband.co.uk