#462 – Mechanical Landscapes Website Relaunch

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So after two years of wrestling with my Zenfolio hosted http://www.mechanicallandscapes.com, I’ve ditched it and moved to Squarespace. While I can’t fault Zenfolio’s customisation options, it drove me round the twist sometimes, and despite doing everything recommended on the SEO front, traffic was next to nothing.

So I’ve cut my losses and built a much simpler site that looks broadly similar but has been much easier to setup and seems to be a lot smoother to navigate. As a concept, it’s the same format as before – a showcase of a selection of my black and white work, plus one or two other bits and bats that I will be adding to over time.

Please have a look and let me know your thoughts!

http://www.mechanicallandscapes.com

gallerys

Gallery pages. I might well add some more to this, but am tempted to keep it simple.

projects

Projects and commissions – only one so far, hope fully more to come…

exhibitions

Exhibitions – three so far, need to pull my finger out with arranging some more!

talks

Talks – got a few coming up!

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#455 – Vernon Carus Revisited

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I visited Vernon Carus’ old Penwortham Mills site back in 2007, not long after the site had closed and work transferred to a new factory round the corner from my house in Chorley. At the time, there was a full time security guard on site who kindly let me wander round for a couple of hours. The main mill was mostly empty and I couldn’t find access to the weaving sheds that contained the remaining machinery. Thereafter, the site went into decline after security was withdrawn, and eventually, the sheds were demolished. The site was bought for redevelopment, but no progress has been made due to the appalling lack of access and the mill has just sat there slowly decaying. It’s been bricked up to make access harder, but to be honest I’ve already been round and don’t fancy risking my neck trying to get in somewhere that’s just a bombed out hulk.

I’d bought a new compact camera so as the place is only 20 minutes away, I thought I’d swing by to have a look and test the camera.

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It was very hard to get any external photographs of the mill in 2007 as there was a lot of single storey buildings in the way. These have since been cleared which makes photography easier. You can see where the north light windows in the shed roofs would have been.

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Looking across the empty wasteland that was once boiler houses, offices and weaving sheds.

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Zooming in a little more. This is where compact cameras come into their own, having a small lens diameter that can fit through gaps in fences and being able to zoom in a lot.

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I used to think this was the base of a chimney, but in hindsight, I think it’s actually a staircase, given how close the windows are to it. I think it may have been this one, but it’s been 9 years since I took that and can’t remember it’s exact location in the mill.

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Vernon Carus Cricket and sports club is more or less opposite the mill and is still very much active. I think they also have a fishing section that uses the old mill lodge behind the factory.

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#454 – Shadows of the North website

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Although I already have two (paid for) websites and two (free) blogs, I’ve decided to build another one, which is a website using a free WordPress blog as its platform. It was mainly to see how quickly it would take to put a website together for a group I’m a member of (answer – surprisingly quickly although I’ve been using WordPress for a good few years now so I know my way round), but it looks quite good, so I’ve kept it going as a showcase for my northern mill images.

If I was starting out with theviewfromthenorth.org today, this is probably the option I’d take, but back in 2007 I knew nothing about websites and Photium allowed me to get a respectable looking website online quickly, and it’s served me well ever since. I’d never even heard of WordPress at the time!

So this is Shadows of the North, I bought shadowsofthenorth.com a couple of years ago and I may yet pay the £8 a year to formalise it as the url for the website, but at the moment it’s just as is. The template is a bit limiting, but it’s a free one, so that’s what you get. It looks ok though.

https://shadowsofthenorth.wordpress.com/

 

#445 – Samsung Galaxy S7 Shoot – London Road Fire Station, Manchester – 3


Final selection from London Road. Not much else to say really that I haven’t already said. A word or two about the phone – yes, I was being paid to shoot these photographs, but that aside, I was very impressed. The HDR mode was immensely useful in these high contrast conditions, and the screen was fabulous. These photographs have all had some processing in Lightroom and Nik Color Efex to lift them, but the pictures straight out of the phone were more than usable. If I was being fussy, then I’d say that when printed A3 on photo paper you can see a loss of detail, but let’s be honest – how many camera phone pictures are ever printed? The overwhelming majority never even leave the phone other than to be shared on social media.

I used a Joby Griptight mount to fasten the phone to my tripod (which I already owned) and this allowed me to experiment with longer exposures where required, but for the most part, I hand held.

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Layers of history

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Green door into a green room 

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You’d have hoped there wouldn’t be many fires in a fire station, but best to be prepared, yes?

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And from a different angle.

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Laundry room I think, looking out onto the modem offices of Manchester on the other side of the street.

#444 – Samsung Galaxy S7 Shoot – London Road Fire Station, Manchester – 2

London road fire station is an amazing site, arguably well ahead of its time in that it was a multi purpose building featuring a fire station (plus accommodation), ambulance station, bank and a coroners court in one large triangular site in the heart of the city. It served as a fire station until the 1970’s and the coroners court was open until 1998. Since then the entire site has been derelict – owners Britannia Hotels having two planning applications accepted but failed to act on them. The city council grew frustrated and threatened compulsory purchase before Allied London stepped in to buy the site in 2015.

We were escorted by Ian the site supervisor and although we had 3 or 4 hours on site, we only really saw some of the highlights – it really is a huge place. But it was full of history and the decay gave it a real charm. It wasn’t decay in a kind of desolate / apocalyptic / roof collapsing / style like say Huncoat Power Station, rather it was more of a controlled decay, somewhere that had been largely emptied of furniture but then locked up and forgotten about. And yet, this is a huge building in the centre of the city, directly opposite Manchester’s main railway station with trams and buses running past it, and the city’s skyscrapers overlooking it. In that respect, the quietness was a form of sanctuary from the huge changes and gentrification that the city has seen in the last 20 years. And yet, all this will shortly change as the building undergoes redevelopment, so it was fascinating to be allowed to see it. Many thanks to Ian and Phil at Allied London for the opportunity.

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Training room – this was completely unlit, so I had to use a 10 second exposure (the max it will do) on a tripod and light paint it. There was various bits of extraction in the room so I imagine it was possible to fill the area with smoke to create a realistic training environment.

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The entrance to the fire engine garage.

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Closure notice for the courts.

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Courts stairwell

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Courtroom

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A lovely ceiling, albeit damaged with damp.

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Lovely tiled entrance to the courts.

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Prison cells. I think there were about 8 in total.

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Fire exit.

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Notice in the ambulance garage

20160307_092955-EditOld poster on the ambulance garage wall. I seem to recall the character being called Welephant when I was growing up in the 80’s.

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One of many decrepit corridors.

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This was a social club for the occupants, and quite big it was to.

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Gymnasium / dance hall behind the social club.

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Bar seating – might need a bit of re-upholstering, but it’ll be fine, I’m sure.

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The Green Bar

#443 – Samsung Galaxy S7 Shoot – London Road Fire Station, Manchester – 1


Opportunities pass, they don’t pause, someone wise once told me. It was one of those passé sound bites that stuck with me and would spring to mind whenever an opportunity appeared, or more regularly when I failed to take one and regretted it after.

So when out of the blue I was contacted by a PR agency who were working with O2 and Samsung on the launch of a new phone and wanted me to take some photographs with it in an urbex style, I had a decision to make. The shoot was going to be the following week, at several locations that hadn’t been arranged in London and Manchester, on the same day, with a mobile phone that I wouldn’t get hold of until a couple of days before the shoot. Naturally, I said yes – being plucked out of complete obscurity by a multi-national doesn’t happen every day, so might as well seize the opportunity.

I’m not a pro, so I didn’t need the work in fact I had to take a day off but I was both intrigued and concerned about the possibility of shooting low light urbex style photographs with nothing but a phone with a tiny sensor. They say that constraints breed creativity, but this could really be a challenge. One of the reasons I bought my D700 – one of the earlier full frame Nikons – in 2009 was its low light capability. Couple it with a fast prime or a stabilised lens and its superb for urbex and allowed me to travel light without a tripod. The downside to this is the fact that it’s a right big lump of a thing, and I’m quite liking my Fuji XT-10 for its small size and excellent image quality.

I was curious to see how the Samsung fared compared to a proper camera. Purely on grounds of size, I took the Fuji with me as I had a bag full of stuff and the Nikon and lenses wouldn’t fit.

I’ll give a concise history of the Fire Station in the next post, but the day started at 7.30 meeting the Site Supervisor – the property is owned by Allied Properties who kindly allowed me on site to photograph (yes I know that getting permission isn’t in the spirit of urbex, but 1) it’s a commercial job and things have to be done properly and, 2) I’m more interested in photographing a place than getting my kicks from being somewhere illegally. If you want to see some photographs taken whilst trespassing, then have a look on my website http://www.theviewfromthenorth.org.20160307_070141-Edit

More through habit of having explored many places, I headed for the top first, which meant the top of the hose drying tower.

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I think this was the chief fire officers office, a generously sized circular affair on the corner of Picadilly and Fairfield Street. 

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Shadows of decay

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Married quarters.

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A child’s bedroom in the living quarters.

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More wallpaper, a lovely floral self peeling type.

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From memory this was the laundry on the top floor. Some lovely light in here.

I won’t lie here – the quality of the images isn’t as good as that off my Fuji XT-10. But I didn’t expect them to be. They are damnes good though.

However, given that the vast majority of mobile phone pictures are only ever shared online or don’t even leave the phone (83% of photos remained in digital format in 2012, don’t know how that looks now), that really isn’t going to be a major factor. Viewed on the marvellous screen on the phone, the pictures look great, and look pretty good on my 24″ monitor as well. A4 prints look OK, A3 ones from ISO50 images are acceptable at a reasonable viewing distance. But this is with my critical eye that is used to seeing printed images from a full frame DSLR or an APS-C sensor CSC, so when you consider the size of the sensor it’s more than acceptable. And it maybe moot anyway considering how many actually will be printed.

So a full frame DSLR and an arsenal of quality lenses vs a camera phone – no competition surely? Hmmm, it’s not quite as straightforward as that. I have a highly capable DSLR and a crop sensor CSC, plus a load of lenses that over the past ten years have cost me thousands of pounds. Most people don’t. But what the S7 is, is a very capable camera in your pocket, that is also a phone, and that people will get on contract for maybe £50 a month or whatever the tariffs are. Many people don’t have cameras anymore as the camera on their phone is good enough, and it has the added virtue of fitting in your pocket and being with you virtually all the time. And if something is this good now, it’ll be interesting to see what the next generation brings along.

#432 – Rossendale Mills – Albert Mill, Haslingden 5

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I mentioned in my previous post about the east Lancashire mill towns being located in valleys or on hillsides. In some respects, it’s similar to the coal mines in the Welsh valleys – although in this instance it is geography rather than geology that dictated this. The textile industries initial growth was powered by water wheels, and given that valleys tend to contain rivers, these valleys were the ideal location. I’m simplifying things here as there were other factors as well, but there is certainly an abundance of these valleys that are / were densely populated with paper mills, bleach works, dyeworks and textile mills. And due to their steep sides, the rural moorland is always within sight. In my talks I speculate that the industrial landscape is the backdrop to northern lives, although in some areas like this, the backdrop is the harsh juxtaposition of man made structure and nature.

This is the same mill and chimneys as in the previous photographs, but from a higher vantage point on the steep sided valley. With this photograph, I wanted to show the juxtaposition of the typical elements of the east Lancashire urban landscape – mills and chimneys, terraced roofs and moorland, oh, and of course, dark clouds.