The 2017 Orchid Festival at Kew Gardens,4 February – 5 March 2017
A taste of the stunning and colourful celebration of India’s vibrant plants and culture.
Cartier Bresson,Eve Arnold,Robert Capa,Robert Frank and Vivian Maier to name but a few, have all been associated with its name and the body of work created with this photographic tool has spanned over many decades.
In an era where photographic quality and longevity seem to be taking a back seat, in a world obsessed with the quick fix and inherent obsolescence and yearly upgrades, it seems the ubiquitous smartphone has dominated the requirements of the masses.Even internet service providers are struggling to cater for the deluge of every day images flooding the internet and it is allegedly rapidly running out of capacity in its current form.
Interestingly there appears to be a rekindling of interest by many in the younger generation that have read and learned about the photographic legends of the golden era of photojournalism and are kicking back against the digital world that cocoons them.Many are seeking to learn more about the old techniques of dark room printing and the power and minimalism of black and white photography.
Film appears to be making a come back and even the film industry is turning away from the current vogue to use video and returning to celluloid in a bid to recapture that classic 35mm look.Such is rumoured to be the case in that of the new Star Wars Film currently being filmed at Pinewood Studios in the UK.
The legendary Kodak film Tri-X, famous for use by such photographers as David Bailey,Don McCullin,Anton Corbijn and Sebastiao Salgado,is also gathering resurgence of interest,especially for those seeking that natural film grain and rich blacks and whites that add character and depth to an image,a complete contrast to the digital, rather clinical, grain free effects of todays digital offerings.
Indeed a close friend who had a fridge load of date expired film has found that it was purchased enthusiastically on ebay by fans of Lomography who love the psychedelic effects of the film in their Holga and Lomo cameras who cannot get enough of it.
Many are now stepping off the digital merry go round and seeking out classic film cameras to shoot their important pictures and memories, after all its easy to scan a negative for internet purposes and you can keep a negative for archive purposes for hundreds of years, but when your hard drive dies or becomes obsolete thats a big problem,who can remember zip disks?
Over the decades I have used many cameras,but one that I have a special fondness for is the Leica M6 with a 35mm F2 Summicron IV pre aspherical.
This lens has become known as the “King of Bokeh” among rangefinder aficionados.
A true jewel of a lens,this optic is possessed of a unique set of characteristics that almost give the lens a life of its own.
When shot wide open this lens gives an extraordinary creamy bokeh(Japanese Bo-ke),a term coined by the japanese to describe the out of focus or blurry background effect when a wide aperture is selected.It also gives a wonderful glow in the specular highlights and a full range of tones that really jump out of the picture giving an almost 3D quality frequently described as the Leica glow.It is almost as if the lens maker has dropped a tiny pipet of bottled nostalgia onto the front lens coating and all images suddenly seem in some way like a captured frame from a dream sequence.
Mechanically the optic really is a dream.It has beautiful click stops,silky smooth focus and a full array of depth of field settings,enabling a photographer to take full advantage of setting hyper focal distance and pre-setting the camera for street photography.
I also like the 90mm Elmarit f2.8 which is ideal when you need that extra little bit of reach or a tight portrait and the gorgeous Elmar 50mm f2.8 is a cracking pop out pancake lens in the old tradition and style for keeping in a discrete pocket.
In modern times the Leica M6 body may not seem the most ergonomically designed of film cameras and the loading procedure can be a little bit more time consuming than opening the back door of a typical 35mm film SLR, however in my opinion this is not what rangefinder photography is about.If you require a camera to rattle off 12fps and send the images directly online via a wifi connection to your laptop then you are looking in the wrong place.However if you are the kind of person for whom the internet is a mere after thought and you want a small discrete camera that can be hand held to stunningly low shutter speeds and which is whisper silent and doesn’t draw attention,and if you enjoy doing your own black and white prints or thrill when you get back your prints from a lab,then this could be for you.
The Leica rangefinder is for people who prefer to smell the roses and enjoy life at a more laid back pace while taking the scenic route.It is for those who may relish the pleasure of sitting in a cafe watching the world go by while enjoying the pleasure of winding on the gears of a classic precision photographic instrument,almost like a swiss watch,that instills you with confidence in its design and the quality of its build and optics.The enjoyment of following a classic ritual from an age of elegance that makes you feel that taking pictures with it should be more thoughtful and considered.
In essence,shooting a Leica rangefinder eventually becomes an almost Zen like experience as one can see all the action prior to the subject entering the frame,preset the focus using hyper focal distance and use experienced judgement to set the light levels.Combining all these elements successfully creates an almost instantaneous extension of your mind and eye and culminates in a single understated whisper quiet click!
They are such mechanical wonders that they do not even require batteries.In my opinion thats quite something in this modern age.
It takes practice and discipline to master this technique of course,but the reward is there for those patient enough.
Indeed Leica cameras and their lenses are not cheap and seeking out the classic lenses is a costly affair.However of all the cameras on the market they are clearly an investment and you will almost certainly find that the camera or lens you buy either holds its value or becomes more valuable as the years pass by,the problem is that you probably will not want to sell it anyway as it becomes very much a part of your life.
There is also something pleasing knowing that in all likelihood that rangefinder will still be shooting when those digital wonders are are long gone into the annals of upgrade history or are relegated to the status of expensive paperweights.Indeed a battered and bronzed Leica with years of usage,has a certain beauty and appeal to it that is quite frankly priceless.
A sensational bank holiday weekend at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey watching the fantastic Wings and Wheels event, an absolute gem in the air show calendar,celebrating its 10th Anniversary. Wings and Wheels combines fast cars with stunning flying demonstrations. There was a fantastic range of aircraft and cars on show as well as World War II re-enactment societies and displays. There was a awesome display by the Breitling Wing Walker “amazons” who at times, were showing steely eyed skill as they held on without harnesses and inches from those deadly propellors and amazed the crowds.At one point they almost touched hands while flying inverted,remarkable!
Iron Maiden rock star Bruce Dickinson made a surprise appearance and hopped into a World War 1 Fokker Triplane and duelled his Great War adversaries around the airfield in a simulation of a world war I air battle. Also present were the famous last two remaining Lancaster Bombers,one from Canada,bringing a nostalgic tear to many eyes as they flew with a battle of Britain fighter escort. There were also many cars speeding around the race track including a Ford GT40 a variety of classics and supercars and a selection of motorbikes,some with side cars,tearing around the track famous for its role in the Top Gear TV Series.
A short video clip of an Apache Gunship and the British and Canadian Lancaster Flypast shot on a Lumix LX7 compact camera:
More images from Dunsfold can be viewed here:http://…/p763200112 Copyright Kerry Davies/All rights reserved.
Usually Ascot with its iconic Grandstand is the venue for horse racing diary events throughout the year but on the 16th and 17th of August it was the venue for the Red bull Air Racing World Championships, an entirely different high octane action sport like motor racing in the sky.It showcases the skills of elite pilots from around the world in very nimble tiny planes that tear around the race course,very much like aerial jockeys ducking and diving between huge inflatable obstacles and missing by the skin of their teeth.I witnessed the practice session on Friday 15th 2014 and I must say,it is certainly a hair raising event.In between storm clouds and blue skies,the light was certainly quite something and a 300mm Nikon lens made it all the more dramatic.
Also present were an RAF Chinook carrying out manoeuvres nobody would believe possible with an aircraft of this size,dropping,climbing and virtually nose down vertical,quite remarkable!
There were also Breitling Wing Walkers and a fantastic rare display from Spitfire MH434,the Spitfire of the late Ray Hanna, probably the most famous remaining Spitfire in the air today,with a list of wartime actions and movie roles to its name.
More on MH434 here:http://www.mh434.com/history/index.html
All Images copyright Kerry Davies/No unauthorised reproduction.
It was 1991 and the world had just seen the end of the first Gulf War and the political maps of the globe was being rewritten,the 1980’s were now a distant memory and the future and the unknown beckoned.I was 20 years of age and had been fully enjoying one of the best periods that teenagers have,that wonderful time between working in any meaningful career and being tied down by any commitments and with just enough cash in your pocket to set off on shoestring expeditions to wherever caught your eye on the world map.I had a few years previously set off on a backpacking trip to Morocco that had taken me traveling by train and rickety bus across Europe and into the African continent by ferry and on a circular route that took me to cities with fabled and exotic names, Fez,Ouarzazate,Tangiers,Marrakech.
The trip took me into the Sahara on the back of a camel and gave me many great experiences of world travel along the way.
I was bitten by wanderlust and there was no way of stopping me.It was simply a matter of putting together a small amount of money and finding another destination worthy of heading off to,the more exotic the better and if it was harder to get to then even more so.
On this occasion I had set my target on Petra the legendary rose red city half as old as time.Such a fantastic place certainly fired up the imagination. I had spent the last few weeks traveling down the Nile from Cairo by train and had taken in many of the well trodden sights along the way.The Pyramids,Luxor and Abu Simbel among a few.
I had crossed the Sinai on a local bus and found myself at the coast port of Nuweiba.I had bought a ticket for passage to the Jordanian port of Aqaba on board a ferry full of migrational workers and was now heading towards my destination.On board I had been chatting with a few fellow Europeans,a German backpacker and a travelling artist who had more than a passing resemblance to the great Dutch artist Rembrandt.
The two were enthusiastically discussing their journey and Rembrandt was showing his remarkable sketches,collected over several weeks while traveling leisurely down the Nile.Rembrandt(as I will refer to him from now on) had been sketching both the locals and the remarkable Egyptian monuments along the way and had gathered a stunning portfolio of work.We were all and very much traveling on a shoestring and after several hours the ships horn announced our arrival at the port of Aqaba and we all joined the immigration line for entry to Jordan.After getting our visa stamped (and unbeknown to me our Egyptian Visa Cancelled) our German colleague made it clear he was going to spend the week in Aqaba and Rembrandt was heading to Petra like myself so we set off to find a guest house and split the costs.
Aqaba was a lively town,the evening was spent telling tales of our journeys and chatting with the friendly locals in french style cafe’s usually with the odd picture of Saddam Hussein on the wall.One shop owner had a well practiced tale to tell of his time working with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif when they had filmed Lawrence of Arabia at the nearby Wadi Rum.I spent that night keeping a sharp eye on a mosquito on the roof and listening to the cockroaches clicking under the bed,comforted in the knowledge that the previous night in Nuweiba it had been 20 cockroaches living in my shower pan clicking a concerto all night and now it was only the one,luck me!
The next day we ate a french style breakfast of bread and cheese and tracked down a minibus driver who agreed to take us the Petra.At this time the were very few tourists in Aqaba as it was just after the Gulf War and there was still the climate of fear affecting the tourist industry.The locals were very glad for any trade they could drum up and we had the rickety old minibus to ourselves for a half decent barter. Rumbling into Petra late that evening after nightfall we found a small guest house with room and settled in for the evening.There was time for exploring in the morning.And even better no Cockroaches. With the abrupt awakening of soaring desert temperatures and a cockerel crowing next door I ate breakfast quickly and wandered outside.The excitement to view this fabled destination was at a peak.Men in colourful traditional garb were herding horses up and down in the small village road outside and it was very clear that this wasn’t going to be another tourist trap experience like Egypt where you have to fight off an army hustlers the moment you stagger out of your hotel.Here everyone was very laid back and seemed unbothered that you were a westerner.If they had something to sell you the Bedouin would ask you several times and let you be.It was going to be a great few days after several weeks in the land of the Pharaoh and not a papyrus scroll in sight!
It is no surprise that nobody had known the way to this legendary Nabatean city until it was found by a 27-year-old Swiss explorer called Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. Burckhardt’s great ambition was to discover the source of the River Niger. In England in 1809 he secured the backing of the Royal Society for a journey across the Sahara from Cairo. Burckhardt went to Cambridge to start learning Arabic so that he could pass himself off as a Muslim. On his way east, in Malta, he heard of a Dr Seetzen, who had set out from Egypt into Arabia in search of the lost city of Petra, but had been murdered and took up the challenge himself, only this time disguised as a local.While on his way south from Nazareth to Cairo,along with a group of traders and some sheep and goats.Local people were chatting about ruins in a narrow mountain valley a short distance off the road that passed through the desert.It was near the supposed tomb of Aaron the brother of Moses.Burckhardt disguised as an Arab explained that he wanted to make a sacrifice of a goat to Aaron and persuaded a local guide to take him to the ruins.On arrival he was awestruck at what he saw,but left in a hurry heading for Cairo fearing that his true identity may be discovered and that he would meet the same fate as Dr Seetzen. Every now and then as we headed down the desert track a tribal horseman would ride past us bidding us “Salaam!” as they rode past.We marvelled at the bizarre rock formations and the Obelisk Tomb as we passed it on our left.It was sensory overload and we most certainly were out of our comfort zone toto!
Looking around, and scanning the horizon the landscape was unlike any I had seen before,it was almost like the setting from a fantasy of science fiction epic.Vast rolling hills of epic proportions in the distance with a stunning spread of colours.I wouldn’t have been surprised if characters from Star Wars had pottered around in front of me,such was the alienation of the spectacle in front of me.Indeed Petra was chosen as the main film set in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and one can see why. Wandering down a dusty path we made our way down into the area that was originally the Grand Caravan trail into the city known as the Siq, a narrow canyon approximately 3/4 of a mile long that leads the traveller into the heart of the city of Petra.As we approached the Siq entrance, we notice an ancient dam on the left that had protected the ancient city from flash floods and enabled it to prosper.The Nabateans were masters of water control and this is what made the city work.The rock walls that lead this canyon into the city are literally scored with small water channels and cisterns that would have provided free flowing water here in the desert. Walking down this cobble stoned road over 2000 years old is one of those moments in life to relish.The excitement builds as the canyon winds and twists and slowly narrows and you notice carved offering alcoves to ancient Gods along the trail.
And then you see it…..!
Slowly but surely the light in the distance changes and the stunning facades of one of the most remarkable buildings in the ancient world opens up in front of you! The sight of the rose red Treasury building in Petra is simply priceless. There was not a sound at this time,no tourist buses and ipad waving tour groups that are the curse of modern day travel ,world events had made this destination very much off the beaten track and therefore not an option for the average package tourist at this time. We had it to ourselves.
Just two people standing there and connecting with an age old scene reaching across time and…… silence!
A short walk to the right of the treasury we wandered our way past the street of facades lined with tombs galore.The Treasury is but one of the amazing sights in the lost city and it would take days to fully explore the region.All along the surrounding mountains are thousands of tombs ranging from the common people to huge megalithic Royal Tomb structures giving a taste of how amazing this marvel of ancient civilisation must have been in its glory days. Established as long ago as the 300BC this town has seen a lot of history. The home of the Nabateans,an ancient Aramaic people that controlled much of the spice trade routes through the area and worshipped gods such as Dushara and al Uzza,faceless block gods that later became more human like as the Romans eventually dominated the region. Facing us was the splendour of an ancient amphitheatre carved out of the rock,surprisingly Roman in appearance but very much Nabatean.My companion,Rembrandt ,couldn’t help but fulfil one of his wishes and recite the poem by John Burgon,an ode to the ancient city.
It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.
John Burgon, 1845
Overwhelmed by the sights of that day we retired back to our hotel for food and drink and an evening of Chess a game much liked by the locals. The following day ,refreshed,I wandered alone along the ancient colonnade street ,a once grand spectacle now in ruins because of flash floods over the centuries this old high street even shows the old chariot tracks in its ancient cobbled road and reminds me of the ancient and tragic city of Pompeii. Rembrandt at this time was endeavouring to sketch the ancient ruins and I went canon EOS600 film camera in hand wandering alone in this ancient valley. Along the way a young girl and her little brother came out of what appeared to be a cave and showed me her herd of goats.We communicated as best we could and wandered on our way with a salute of “Salaam!”
Photographically the region holds a picture on every corner and I cannot over estimate how overwhelming it is with words alone,it truly has to be seen to be believed. Later that afternoon we clambered up the carved steps that led into the mountains and passed an old lady serving mint tea.heaven knows how she got there but after quite a climb her mint tea was very welcome.At the top of these rather precarious steps is another ancient wonder very much like the Petra treasury known as the Deir or Hermits Cell.From here you can also get splendid views into the nearby valley Wadi Araba. As we viewed the splendid structure a thunder storm rolled in out of nowhere and we took cover in the Hermits lair.
The following day I bid farewell to Rembrandt as he continued on his epic journey back to Europe through Damascus and Turkey sketching as he went.I was heading back to Cairo and back on the migrant boat.He sent me a postcard when he completed his journey.
I have travelled a lot working as a photojournalist over the years since then,however one thing that will always be fixed in my memory is that first sight of Petra that rose red city half as old as time.
Twenty years later while wandering around the Egyptian section of the British Museum I bumped into Rembrandt again by coincidence,still sketching Egyptian monuments in the main Egyptian hall.
I worked on a fascinating story yesterday that brings into question ones priorities when face with the work/family dilemma that faces families worldwide in these times.It concerns a British entrepreneur Simon Cohen who’s international communications company,Global Tolerance http://www.globaltolerance.com/ who represent the Dalai Lama,who has decided the secret to happiness is to give his company away,rather than selling out so that he can stay at home and look after his children. Please see the link in the Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/11024519/Entrepreneur-gives-away-company-rather-than-selling-out.html www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2721853/Dalai-Lama-s-PR-man-holds-Willy-Wonka-style-auditions-decide-charity-away-spend-time-family.html
Back in the 1970’s when I was a youngster I remember rushing excitedly to the local corner sweetshop to spend my pocket money on Hammer Horror movie bubblegum cards which at the time was all the rage.(http://wp.me/p1ZPuc-2Jx)
It gave a glimpse of risque movies that we were far to young to view and before the days of video and DVD, were not able to see anyhow except on the occasional late night black and white TV showings like “Dracula” and “Curse of the Werewolf”and “Quatermass and the pit”,which sent us running to the bedroom terrified.
Later as we grew up I watched with fascination as a TV series from the same film makers produced called the Hammer House of Horrors (http://www.hammerhouseofhorrortvseries.co.uk/) and looked forward to such horror instalments as “The House That Bled to Death” and”Guardian From The Abyss”.
Later in life I was lucky to meet Christopher Lee in the course of my work in Los Angeles and listened with fascination as this giant in the acting profession recalled prose from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, prior to his role in the film, during an interview in a Los Angeles hotel.
As the years passed I moved to London and rekindled my interest in filming that had taken place over the years.I became aware that many of the film locations from the classic films I had been a fan of were filmed in locations in the areas of Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and the High Wycombe area and I spent some time tracking down a few of these locations. The bulk of these films were made at Bray Studios in Bray,Berkshire, a giant in the film industry that diabolically has now fallen into decline despite the surge in British film making at nearby Shepperton and Pine Wood.Films Such as The Mummy(1959), Alien and The Rocky Horror Picture Show where also made here and it is facing its own horror story of being turned into a care home by developers.(https://www.facebook.com/savebraystudios) Incidentally the location of the Gothic Style hotel in the Rocky Horror Picture Show portrayed as Frankenfurters mansion was indeed the Oakley Court Hotel right across the road from the Bray Studios.(http://www.oakleycourtwindsor.com/) Indeed whole area around these studios supplied the film industry with hundreds of film locations for years and it is quite fascinating to find that a sleepy village where you are quietly munching your cream tea was indeed a film set for a Satanic horror movie chase or the stamping ground of one of the Mummy horrors that unwound on the silver screen. One such location was the Hellfire caverns in the village of West Wycombe,located just off the A40 road.As you approach the village you see a sinister looking Mausoleum perched on the hill overlooking the quaint English village below.The Mausoleum was in fact used as the setting for the 1976 Hammer film “To the Devil a Daughter” starring starring Christopher Lee, Nastaasja Kinski, and Richard Widmark.The nearby Hellfire cavern was probably the influence for the film”Taste the Blood Of Dracula”. West Wycombe and the Hellfire Caverns indeed are one of those places where reality indeed is stranger than fiction. West Wycombe Park, Caves,Mausoleum and St Lawrence’s Church with its mysterious golden globe on the spire were all constructed in the mid-18th century by Sir Francis Dashwood, founder of the Dilettanti Society and co-founder of the notorious Hellfire Club which met at the George and Vulture Inn in London. The Hellfire Club with its club motto, Fais ce que tu voudras ,(do what thou wilt), would certainly have raised eyebrows and the attention of the tabloids,had they existed at the time.It was a secret society in the 18th Century that allegedly included Benjamin Franklin among its many high profile visitors. Dashwood and other high-powered politicians and society members,originally formed a club then known as The Knights of St Francis of Wycombe. They first used Medmenham Abbey, eight miles away from West Wycombe. Later on,the rather more discrete caves were allegedly used for nefarious orgies and black magic that included the presence of female”guests”referred to as nuns. Entering the creepy church like entrance of the caves you wander into the darkness occasionally stumbling across strange carved rock skulls and phallic symbols ,the whole place has a creepy atmosphere that is enhanced by the knowledge that a lot of strange things are alleged to have happened here over the centuries.As you pass through the caverns you enter the Banqueting Hall,the Miner’s Cave and finally, across a subterranean river aptly named the Styx you enter the final cave, the Inner Temple, where the meetings of the Hellfire Club said to have been held.This final cave is said to lie 300 feet directly beneath the church on top of West Wycombe hill. According to Greek mythology, the River Styx separated the mortal world from Hades, and the Inner Temple directly beneath St Lawrence’s Church signifies Heaven and Hell.Indeed it seems that all the landmarks here are linked in a symbolic manner known only to the secret society and one cannot help but suspect that the caves open to the public are only the tip of the iceberg and that there are many more hidden away in this enormous hillside.There are even rumours that members would pass unscrutinised into the caves as the moon rose and night fell via connecting tunnels from the village inn the George and Dragon and that the caves and the Inn are haunted by a servant girl called Suki that walks the corridors and caverns. In all a truly spooky place and a great day out.
A glorious sunny day in August and what better a place to visit than the former home of Rudyard Kipling the author of such classics as The Jungle Book and The Man Who Would Be King. Set in the rolling countryside of the Sussex Wield,just outside the village of Burwash,it is a wonderful 17th century Jacobean house that was his home until his death in 1936. The house is now cared for by the National Trust and is open to the public. You can wander unhindered around the splendid oak beamed interior left very much as the great man left them. His own writing desk is left pretty much as if he has just popped out for an afternoon tea,scrapped sheets of paper containing his writings piled high in the litter bin opposite his desk,even his own Rolls Royce is on display in the nearby garage for viewing. The rooms are full of artefacts that reflect Kipling’s association with the East. The gardens are a spectacular affair,sunflowers ablaze and fresh vegetables and herbs in the allotment growing in abundance. Here you can pick up one of the kindly offered blankets,borrowed to visitors,and enjoy a picnic on the spectacular lawn surrounded by its rustic charm. My visit coincided with the national commemorations of World War One. Hundreds of events are taking place across Britain to remember the “Pals”-groups of friends,neighbours or colleagues who joined up to form their own battalions in World War One.In the spirit of the event, the lawns at “Batemans”,which is the name of this splendid house,had a wartime biplane parked in its midst and a gathering of tents as re-enactors from the Great War Society sent us back on a trip in time to the beginning of the First World War. Mostly volunteers,they gave authentic displays and explanations of the weaponry from the period including pitched battles that stunned the crowds and sent the gunfire and explosions thundering across the landscape.Truly spectacular and a fitting salute to the man who wrote many classic about the period and who indeed played his well documented part in the Great War.More images can be viewed here:http://…/p830052178 Images Copyright:Kerry Davies/No unauthorised usage/All Rights Reserved