Thursday, January 31, 2008


I took a break today. I needed a break from the marathon walks. Luckily, it was raining with high winds while I was resting so I didn't miss out on much.
I made a promise to myself before I left on this trip that I would go out and shoot everyday, so far I have not broken that promise and I wasn't going to today. I went out for a short walk. I got nothing of any interest recorded on my memory card. I walked home, defeated.

I was just on the verge of giving up and sleeping until Sunday (when I leave for Paris), when an opportunity was presented for London to redeem itself...a trip to a bar in northeast London called Shunt. I read some reviews online, it looked really cool. Even if there was a cover of 5 pounds, it looked like a really good time, so we went.

The bar/theater itself is actually located IN the London Bridge tube station, the entrance is a small unmarked black door hiding behind the blur of suits heading to and from the train. As soon as we stepped through the door, it was like another surreal world had been unfolded before us, the hustle and bustle of the station had been left behind, we were suddenly on the threshold of an awesome night. 

We paid the cover and began to peruse the list of tonight's events. They had something called Airphoria, sounded cool and it was free so we signed up. There was also a vaudeville show at 10:15, sounded cool and it was free so we signed up. We then turned and headed into the dark, cavernous interior of what has to be the coolest bar I have ever seen.

As you enter, this is what you see...

As you look right and left into each passing archway, you see projections of English Whippets on the walls, an exhibit of photographs from a local artist.

More whippet photos were displayed throughout the space...

I read on the flyer that you actually get into Shunt free if you bring your whippet and yes, there were a few people who actually did bring their dogs along for a night out. Two of the whippets there were actually models for the project and one was affixed with a "whippet-cam" that would display a view of whatever the dog was seeing onto a tv monitor housed in a cage. It was funny to see that CCTV had even made it's way onto the back of a pooch.

The main space that you see when you make you way in looked a little something like this...

But that was just the beginning, the entire space was enormous. Extra tunnels and caves peeked up around every corner, there seemed to be no end.

Turns out, Airphoria was a zipline that hurled you from 20 feet up into fog and 2 very bright lights. It was awesome, to say the very least. The "pilots" were hilarious, strolling around sipping Coronas saying:

"Welcome aboard ladies and gentleman to flight 1224 departing at 21:00 hours. Screaming is encouraged on this flight as it will increase endorphin levels and enhance the feeling of euphoria as you plunge to your deaths, cheers!"

Last up was the vaudeville show. When the time came, the DJ made an announcement and another small door was opened reveling a performance space with around 45 seats. Everyone crowded in and the show began. As short (only about 15 minutes) as the show was, it was funny and entertaining and was a perfect way to top off the night.

We left a nice tip for the bartender, he was a classmate of Jesse's and had been giving us discounted drinks all night, and headed back to the tube. Once stepped out of the little black door back into the station, I couldn't help but laugh as the hustle and bustle of the London Bridge tube station filled my ears and eyes once again. It was an amazing night in an unforgettable space. If you are ever in London, go there, it has made my entire stay here worthwhile.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

London : Brought to you by CCTV

Today got off to a rough start. I was trying and failing to find a hostel to stay at in Paris for a few days before I met up with Julie. It seems almost impossible to find a decent one that is also affordable. The cheap ones all had terrible reviews and the ones that did look promising didn't have any rooms available during the time I needed. I gave up. It was only one thing on my list of chores before shooting.

I set out for the nearest STA Travel to book myself a train ticket to Paris. It took me a little while to find the place but at least, $130 later, I had accomplished something. Finally, I could shoot. But where were we off to today? My legs ached and my feet begged for a break, but not today. I needed to clear my head of the morning's frustration and decided that a (seemingly) short walk to Piccadilly Circus might be fun.

Eventually the pain in my feet subsided and I was able to walk without a limp--pathetic I know.
As I walked, it was impossible for me not to notice the multitude of CCTV cameras that were stuck to every upright structure imaginable. Light posts, buildings, fences, even trees weren't safe from Big Brother's all seeing eyes. 

I decided to find some stats on just how intense the surveillance is in this city:

"According to the latest studies, Britain has a staggering 4.2million CCTV cameras - one for every 14 people in the country - and 20 per cent of cameras globally. It has been calculated that each person is caught on camera an average of 300 times daily."

Take the cameras and cops, mix in a few crazy drivers, cook with some left side of the street driving and you get a recipe for paranoia that was firmly set in me by the time I reached Piccadilly.

I was in a strange mood today, I just wasn't in the right mind to go out and shoot. There was too much floating around in my mind, unsettled, unfocused. I continued on with my walk, hoping these feelings would eventually subside. 

Piccadilly Circus and all streets leading into and out of it are well, insane. Like a mini Times Square, it teemed with tourists from around the globe posing in front of the historic landmarks. This was the last place I wanted to be. I snuck into a Tesco to grab some snickers bars to snack on before heading home.

Overall it was a less than satisfying afternoon of shooting, hopefully to be made up for tomorrow. I think I'm done seeing sights, I need to get away from the crowds and the cameras for awhile...  

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

15 Miles

So today I decided I would go for a walk, see the sights. That walk turned into a 6 hour, 15 mile odyssey around London.
I walked past Buckingham Palace, through Trafalgar Square, over the Thames, past the London Eye, over the Westiminster Bridge and also took a gander at Big Ben/Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

It was a punishing walk, my feet are very sore and in need of some assistance from the Underground tomorrow I think. First allow me to share some photos from my journey, then I will tell a brief story about two encounters I had today.

So, story time, I'll try to keep it brief.

After leaving Trafalgar Square, I headed down a side street towards Embankment, where there was a bridge I could cross to get a view of the Thames. As I walked down this side street, I noticed 2 police officers moving towards me on the other side of the street. I immediately began searching for a composition on the other side of the street for them to "walk into." I found this one and took a test shot: 

The black pole had a CCTV camera on top of it that I was planning on shooting and merging into this image once the final pieces, the cops, came into position. The cops never did come into position. Instead, they crossed the street and walked right over to me, asking why I was shooting the building. It wasn't the easiest question to answer so I just said "Art?" Turns out the building was the "OLD WAR OFFICE BUILDING" and taking pictures was a no-no. My bad. I figured it wouldn't be a big deal as there were other tourists snapping away happily all around me. The cops were nice and didn't make a big deal out of it, they were just following procedure, I got a souvenir out of it too.

On my way home, I was walking along next to a high stone wall that had an enormous amount of barbed wire and spikes all over it. I thought it was a little ridiculous and it looked kinda cool against the sky so I stopped and took literally ONE picture, and then moved on. 

About 2 minutes later a cop taps me on the shoulder as I'm walking and asks me to stop. Turns out the wall was the back wall of the freakin Buckingham Palace garden and that I was seen photographing the palace's "security measures." Here we go again. I showed the officer the single frame I took, he calls for his buddy on the radio and a few moments later a police car pulls up and a young officer hops out. 

"Is that a 2.8?" he asks. I confirmed his suspicions. 

"Nice, cool, cool, I have a Nikon D80. Speaking of which, I really need to get out and start shooting more."

You can see where this is going. Two nice guys, more procedural paperwork, another souvenir for me.

It was a long day, a long journey, and I learned a valuable lesson:

In London, nothing goes unnoticed, so don't take the picture unless you...
a) are sure it isn't a government building or 
b) don't mind collecting yellow slips of paper with your name and contact info on them 

More from London tomorrow...thanks for reading.

Monday, January 28, 2008

London : Not Cheap and Cheerful

After a week of stunning hospitality, I have been snapped back into the reality of England: things cost about 2.5 times more here. A Burger King cheeseburger is $3, as is a cup of tea. A snickers bar is almost $, my friends, is no longer free and easy. I will have to spend tactfully and eat sparingly, just a few days until I get to Euro country...then its only twice as expensive! 
Anyhow, my day started this morning at 7am. Everyone piled into the little loner Benz, ready for the hour ride into London. Unfortunately my backpack was a little too big to fit on this trip so it had to stay behind in Surrey, scheduled for a 6pm delivery tomorrow. I took with me only the essentials, camera gear and computer: all 20 pounds of it. Probably not the best idea. I took a brief nap at Dyane's home in South Kensington before hopping on a bus around 10:30 bound for the Vietnamese embassy; I had to pick up my visa. 

With my one errand out of the way and nearly 8 hours of time to explore, I set out into nearby Hyde Park. About 15 minutes elapsed before my bag was starting to weigh on me, I just can't shoot with that much weight on me, it just kills my eye, I take crappy pictures, it's a fact. I stopped by the big lake to hang with the pigeons and other assorted water fowl. There is nothing quite like walking into a group of a couple hundred pigeons and just letting them surround you, cooing. Eventually you hear nothing but the deafening collective "coo coo coo" of the pigeons...just try it sometime.

Moving right along...

I had left the pigeons and began making my way around the edge of the pond when I noticed a little puppy yipping and chasing after a few of the ducks on the side of the pond. It only took a few charges before he went careening into the water after the birds. His owner came running to the rescue, pulling him out of the water as he struggled to stay afloat. The little dog trotted around the woman happily and began to shake himself dry...

As I moved through the park and back into the streets, I realized that it has been almost a month since I shot in a real city. I had to get back into my groove...

By the time I had found my groove, I had also found a neck ache and a frozen right index finger, I needed some warmth. Luckily, here in England museums are free! I decided to pop into the Natural History Museum and see what was up in there...

This is the fossilized egg of a Madagascan elephant bird, it is the largest known birds' egg to have ever existed. This particular egg measures 88 centimeters around its long circumference and 76 around the middle. 

Here's the cool part: It has a capacity of nearly 9 litres - the equivalent of about 200 chickens' eggs. Thats a lot of omelets. 

Elephant birds were giant running birds that stood up to three metres high and weighed over 500 kilograms. Hmm, sounds like the inspiration for Big Bird on Sesame Street if you ask me...

They were all dead by around 1650. Bummer

Well, that's all for now folks. As usual, there are more photos posted on flickr, i'll be out shooting all day tomorrow so stay tuned for more from London.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Last day in Surrey

And so, the first leg of my journey is coming to a close. Tomorrow I will be headed into London bright and early to begin a 5 day exploration of one of the world's great cities. 
Being my last day, I decided to stay close to home, to make sure I wasn't overlooking anything that was, quite literally, in the backyard. As I set out for a stroll around the estate, the sun was already low in the sky--it was only 12:30pm! I shrugged my shoulders and started to shoot.

Found a couple donkeys hanging out in a field, they were curious but not what I would call friendly.

The one subject I keep returning to as I move around Surrey is undoubtedly the trees. I have never seen trees like the ones here, they are simply awe inspiring. I climbed up in a few and just sat for a bit, admiring the twisting limbs of these giants. 

After I returned from my walk, Michael, the girls and I set out in the car. Our destination was a "stately house" not far from Farnham that was open to the public...just not when we went. The house was closed when we got there but we decided to go and explore the neighboring park while we were there. It was an enormous area of land which had around 1000 deer living wild on the hills. We spotted them as we moved along the path, hundreds of them grazing as a large herd.

I am still going through the 50 or so shots I took these were two that jumped out at my on the LCD and later in Lightroom.

As I gather my things together tonight and prepare to move back into a big city environment, I can only hope to keep up the pace I have set for myself here in Surrey. I have been shooting and posting everyday and have dozens of shots that I am very happy with. It has been a productive week.
Since free wireless is tricky to find these days, but I will be doing my best to post as often as possible, probably every couple days.

Well, I'm fresh out of things to blab about so I'll sign off. Thanks as always for reading and please comment if you see something you like/hate or have any questions. I love hearing what you guys think.

Pub, Plans and Scary Noises

So today I had my first "English Pub Experience." It wasn't all that cold today so we decided to grab a table outside and brave the mild temperatures while we sipped our drinks. The girls immediately started dancing and running around to keep warm while I bounced my legs to keep the chill away. 
I ordered a hot salted beef sandwich and a pint of the local brew, Hog's Back Ale, which Michael informed me is brewed using hops that are grown on Hampton Estate--where I am staying. The sandwich was good and the pint of Hog's Back was even better! Really good stuff. 

The rest of the day was pretty lazy, I spent most of it planning my trip to London on monday morning and my trip from London to Paris on friday--it's time consuming but someone's gotta do it.

I did manage to finally get out and shoot a bit tonight, or rather this morning, at 2am (roughly 40 minutes ago). I began to walk through the pitch black night towards the gate at the side of the yard when not 2 feet away from me a freaking pheasant screams in my ear and takes off. Needless to say, it SCARED THE CRAP OUT OF ME, I nearly fell over. 

After recovering from my pheasant attack, I managed to click off 3 shots before I started to hear EXTREMELY odd noises behind me in the field. The sounds were an odd blend of crow, goat, and something along the lines of werewolf. When you are standing there waiting for your 2 1/2 minute exposure to finish and then process, freaky noises like that can really throw you for a loop--it scared me back in side, that much is for sure.

So of the 3 exposures, I got 2 that I am happy to share; not too shabby!

The second one there was about a 2 1/2 minute BULB exposure. That means I had to hold down the shutter button while counting to 137 while also "painting" with my flashlight on the side of the brick building. I was shocked that my guesswork and painting actually produced something worth saving. It was the first and only exposure of this shot.

It's real late so i'll sign off for now. Goodnight and goodluck.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Day of Rest

Today was a day of rest for me. After 3 days of consecutive 5-10 mile bike rides, I needed a day to relax and edit/organize the multitude of photos from this past week. I did have a chance to take a couple portraits of the girls tonight though. Both Tessa and Julia turned out to be quite the eager models and begged me to change their hair color and put Dior and Chanel logos on their favorite photos. I even photoshopped Julia's Dior shot onto a billboard on 7th Ave. for her to send to her friends.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Waverley Abbey

Guess what I did today? That's right folks, one more 4 hour bike ride.
I got off to a somewhat later start than usual, leaving the house just after 2pm. As I rode, I noticed that the sun was quite low in the sky and then it hit me, the sun sets at around 4:30! How could that little fact possibly slipped my mind? I immediately picked up my pace, I had a destination today!

Last night I noticed an interesting spot on my road map, an abbey nearby which had the remains of its original building still standing in the fields around it. Sounded like a good spot to check out so I saddled up for the third day in a row and hit the road.

As I raced the sun to the abbey, I stopped once to say hello to these guys:

And once more, across the street from the abbey entrance, to photograph this spot:

This shot was taken handheld at 1/8 of a second to blur the water.

I entered the abbey as the sun was just starting to dip behind the tree line, I knew I had to move fast if I wanted to capture this historical site. I was the only person there for nearly an hour.

The Waverley Abbey was the first Cistercian abbey in England, founded in 1128 by William Gifford, the bishop of Winchester. During its first century of existence, the abbey founded six monasteries and, despite the members sent away to run those monasteries, had 70 monks and 120 brothers in 1187. 

A few hundred years later in 1536, during the rule of Henry VIII, the abbey was forced to shut down and the stones from the buildings were used to build homes in the surrounding villages. Today, very little of the original abbey structures remain intact.

In the above picture, there are 2 cubes of stone. As I sat on the nearer of the two and enjoyed a snack of Sun Chips and water, I took a minute to absorb the history of what lay around me. Almost 1000 years ago, the very place I sat was smack dab in the middle of the monk's dormitory. Their beds would have been all around me, lamps would be burning in the recessed holes next to the windows (which still remain today).

As I moved through the remains, I stumbled upon a river that ran behind the complex. It was completely silent as it flowed past, I had no idea it existed until I was standing 3 feet from it. I moved along the banks a bit before coming across a collection of strangely shaped concrete mounds:

I later learned that these mounds were actually tank traps, put in place during WW2 as part of the "GHQ Line." I read on to learn that the ruins and abbey had actually been used as as part of the line of defenses that England set up during the war. Pretty cool I think. 

I began to head out of the ruins but on my way noticed an enormous old tree with twisted, gnarled roots; I had to investigate. As I walked around the tree I noticed a small holly bush nestled within the roots. The tree's dense branches blocked the little light that still existed in the sky so I cranked the shutter down to 1/15 of a second and framed the shot. The ruins can be seen, out of focus, in the background of the shot.

As the sun sunk below the horizon, I took a moment to reflect upon what I had observed and learned walking around the ruins in that hour. To be in such a place of history, to walk where hundreds of years ago monks had been farming and living, was really something special. I think what really allowed me to fully enjoy this site more than anything else was the fact that I was completely alone. I was able to absorb it all without any expectation, without the distraction of a guide or others around me. I was exploring history and learning through observation and imagination. 

As I left the ruins, I could not ignore the sky. I took these on my way out:

Every day when I set out on my ride, I think to myself, "how can I possibly top yesterday?" It seems that every day that I am here I manage to find a new adventure, a new feature of the English countryside ripe for the shooting. As I head into the last hours of the day, I can only imagine what tomorrow will bring.