Caer-r-r-dydd, Cymru! (Cardiff, Wales)

(English below)  Nid wyf wedi penderfynu ar hyn o bryd beth yw’r swydd hon mewn gwirionedd; ffotograffiaeth neu deithio … felly ychydig o’r ddau …

Nid wyf erioed wedi bod yng Nghaerdydd ac eto trwy gydol fy mywyd, mae’r Gymraeg a Chymru wedi bod yn rhan o lawer o atgofion. Fy brwsh cyntaf gyda’r Gymraeg oedd tra’n i’n gweithio fel darlithydd yn Saesneg mewn prifysgol yng Ngwlad Pwyl. Yng Ngwlad Pwyl?? Roedd gan yr Adran Ieithyddiaeth Saesneg Bennaeth a oedd yn “Celt-ophile” go iawn ac roedd yn ofynnol i fyfyrwyr gymryd tair blynedd o Gaeleg Cymraeg neu Iwerddon i gwblhau eu gradd. Roedd fy ngŵr, ar ôl gorffen gradd o’r fath, wedi cael gorchymyn eithaf cadarn o’r Gymraeg ac yn aml yn darllen straeon megis “Y Lindysyn Llwglyd Iawn” yn Gymraeg i’n bechgyn bach. Yn y dyddiau hynny, y ‘gair gyfrinachol rhyngom ni y gallem adael parti diflas neu sgwrs oedd “tatws” yn Gymraeg! Mae’n debyg bod fy nghyfenw yn enwog yn ogystal ag enw brodyr fy mam-gu (Gethin), felly mae’n debyg y bydd Caerdydd yn le lle’n hwyrach neu’n hwyrach, byddwn yn dod i ben … fe allwch weld ble mae hyn yn mynd….

A few weeks ago, my husband and I, plus in-laws, spent an incredibly beautiful two weeks in a Georgian village, called Freshford; in the middle of the Somerset countryside, just 15 minutes by train from Bath.

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I have never been to Cardiff and yet throughout my life, Welsh and Wales has been a part of many memories. My first brush with Weslsh was while working as a lecturer of English at a university in Poland. In Poland?? The Department of English Linguistics had a Head who was a real ‘Celt-ophile’ and students were required to take three years of Welsh or Irish Gaelic in order to complete their degree. My husband, having finished such degree at such university, had a pretty solid command of Welsh and often read stories such as “The Very Hungry Catepillar” in Welsh to our little boys. In those days, the ‘secret word” between us to leave a boring party or conversation was “potato” (“tatws”) in Welsh or the sayings of “dim problem” or “Rwy’n hoffi toffi coffi!”, which I still say now (to myself). Years previous to getting married,  I had been to a wedding in Brest, France, where everyone, including the children, were running around speaking Welsh, Cornish, Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, Breton or any other variety of Celtic lingua-franca. My dorm room at the local school even included a full-sized harp in the corner! My surname is apparently Welsh as well as my grandmother’s maiden name (Gethin), so I guess Cardiff is a place where sooner or later, I would end up visiting…. you can see where this is going….

So, setting out for a day trip on my own on this Bank Holiday, while the rest of the crew were out cycling around Somerset, I only knew four things about where I was going:

-they speak Welsh

-it is on the water

-there is a castle

-and on a Bank Holiday Sunday, it is extremely unlikely to arrive at your destination and then depart from the same place using the same mode of transportation (the English seem to delight in shutting down major sections of track and road on the only days were families can have fun together).

I wasn’t diappointed – by any of the above…the train only went as far as Newport, next a coach to Cardiff, then arrival at a rather dismal train station with a rather dismal walk under a railway bridge, up a hill, across deserted streets and along to a pedestrian mall filled mostly by pubs, which were being cleaned up after a busy and messy Saturday night. Not the most encouraging of beginnings. Followed by the comment of the counter girl in the only open cafe (Starbuck’s) of “Have you been here before? I’m English, what do you think of Cardiff? Not so nice, is it?”, all was not looking too good…. well, not yet anyway.

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In the sunshine, and after a coffee, Cardiff  (Caerdydd) turned out to be a rather lovely place to be but you had to look for the gems hidden away around corners and through alleys. Hidden between the facades of old buildings are narrow entrances into magical Victorian laneways (arcades) topped with glass roofs and lined with plaster cornicing, tall, wooden-framed windows and pretty lanterns (also found a fantastic vegetarian cafe where you can sit “out” under the glass roof, surrounded by Welsh conversation: Crumbs Cafe, Morgan Arcade).

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And, yes there is a real castle in the middle of the city…

 

Beside the castle is a very pretty park where you can take a boat to the waterfront “Mermaid Quay” area on Cardiff Bay – the “locals” told me it was faster than taking the city bus to the waterfront.

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It was a real suprise to hear how many familes and children are now speaking Welsh as their first tongue in the park and how much “Welsh pride” is to be seen on the streets (and an idea just in case you don’t know how to dress your Welsh child for their first day of school…). I was having difficulty with the post-processing of the red hair of the little girl I saw walking down the street until I looked again at the original shot and realized that this was the actual colour of her hair! Beautiful red.

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Sailboats, the Norwegian Church (where Roald Dahl attended), music, singing, sunshine it was hard to start the journey back to Somerset… so “Yn agos at Loegr” (“time to go back to England”), for as a lovely English friend used to say with her crisp, perfect vowels, “its teatime“….

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**PS….why has this post wandered into the ‘travelogue’ genre and less about photography? Welll… I am still having a technical love-hate relationship with my new lens (actually more hate than love) as it is a manual focus, and the ol’ eyesight is fading with old-age, and I don’t like the results I have been getting, and, and, and….. I know it is a case of practice and more practice but for this trip, I relied on my iPhone with varying results (resolution ?? definitely for one)….I think I still need more practice…. Hwyl am nawr! (Bye for now…)

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Alpenhorn Sunday

New Year’s Day was glorious – a bright blue sky, sunshine and cold! Perfect for a walk around town with my dearest, followed by coffee by the fireplace at a favourite downtown cafe. Little did we expect the Marktplatz to be full of alpenhorn players getting ready to “ring” in 2017 with a blast!

Alpenhorns are native instruments to Switzerland, Austria and other alpine countires, where they were orginially used to communicate between mountain villages. They have a special sound that evokes memories of mountain walks and Swiss folklore (Alepenhorn World Record).

Basel is basically flat Basel-The Pocket Metropolis, no tall, snow-capped mountains in sight, so to find over a hundred alphorn players in one place was a rare treat – and a lot of fun! One of the musicians explained that theyhad come from all over Switzerland and had connected by email to create this impromptu concert. My favourite of all – the curly alpenhorn – a real individualist!

*For a better look, click on any photo to view in gallery format.

Chalk and Cheese…

How I love this British English expression! I learned it when I lived many years ago in London, and somehow it has stayed in my vocabulary. It means to compare two things which are completely different from each other  – with a rather ironic tone. I still have a little giggle each time I use it.

Lately, I have been in London making my annual  creative “pilgrimage” to Central Saint Martins University of the Arts for courses in photography and printmaking, so there has not been a lot of time for looking through the shops. The huge number of tourists on the streets and the hot weather have also been deterents. I did manage a day out with my youngest son who needed an “update” to his student wardrobe, so we visited Primark (sheer claustrophobic madness!) and afterwards a little detour to Liberty for mummy and a look around through the fabric (haberdashery – another British word I love!) department. Actually, any excuse to vist the iconic Tudor building which houses Liberty  (liberty.co.uk/…etails/article/fcp-content) is a good excuse, as the shop’s architecture is incredibly beautiful, not to mention their scarves and other lovely flowered things.

I thought it was an intersting contrast to take similar photos from a mezzanine above the main shop floor. Both locations were captured within 40 minutes of each other.

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Benches along the Thames

I always love walking along London’s Embankment, across the Golden Jubilee Bridge and then down around the Southbank Centre (southbankcentre.co.uk). The Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre, National Film Theatre, impromptu music, skaters and street music – it is all there in full colour…except when it suddenly turns grey and drizzly. Then a monchrome mist descends and casts its damp gloom over everything. Londoners, being the hardy souls they are, don’t let a bit of grey get in the way of enjoying a Sunday afternoon out. Here and there, it is still possible to find pops of colour as people sit on benches facing the river and watch the boats go by.  At the moment there is a special instalation of bright orange variations of park benches scattered around the Royal Festival Hall. Called Modified Social Benches (southbankcentre.co.uk/…/modified-social-benches-1001665) by the Danish artist Jeppe Hein (jeppehein.net) these variations on New York City urban architecture try to break the down “those behavioural patterns in public space, since even contact-avoiding people allow bodily closeness in limited space. With its modifications, the benches transform its surroundings into places of social activity and foster dialogue between the users and the passers-by.” (taken from the Southbank Centre website). 

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A bench’s influence on the interactions between people and their urban surroundings didn’t seem to be limited to the orange installations, other more traditional benches also serve their social purpose well…

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Portraits in an (hopefully future) exhibition…

It is almost August and time to think, reflect and choose a summer photography course to push me and my camera to the next level. Last year, I went to London to take a short course at Central St Martins University of the Arts (arts.ac.uk/…/photography-ideas-and-practice) – an amazing experience! Here, for the first time in my life, I was able to find my place, focus (excuse the unintended pun) on what I wanted to do within photography and stretched my technical and creative abilities in new directions. Highly reccommended! This year, I have the opporutnity again and I have been going through the extensive summer offerings; courses in developing, portraits, urban photography, fashion…what to choose??? Over the year, I have also been reflecting on what my greatest creative challenges and frustrations are – and it definitely whittles down to lighing and portraits. It is here where I find most of my ‘series’ ideas directed and find myself struggling with the technical frustration of not being able to capture more than a fairly standard image. I want to capture more of the personality, the stories and the uniqueness of the people I see in stronger, more creative, and maybe even more daring ways than I am able to do now.

For several years now, I have also tried to visit the BP Portrait Awards at the National Portrait Gallery (npg.org.uk/whatson/bp2016/exhibition.php) in London. Looking at the winning paintings, I find great inspiration staring out from paper and canvas. These images provoke questions; Why was this one chosen over that one? What is it that makes me come back to see this one mutiple times? Why does this one evoke this feeling? etc. Never have I come away from this annual exhibition without strong impressions which stay with me for months. The catalogues also serve as a kind of textbook to look at, to see what can be learned and applied to the pictures I take (and no, I know I am definitely NOT on the same level as these portraits – yet), as excellent examples to learn from.

In organizing my thoughts and aims for this year’s course, I went through my old photos to chose some of the portraits which I felt were ‘on the way’. Not all of my favourites are here but I thought that these ones were representative of what I am able to do at the moment.

 

Did it!

Overcoming obstacles is difficult and takes courage, overcoming one’s own insecurities (yes, we all have them, those “Am I good/talented/creative enough?” moments in life), requires a deep breath and some reckless daring….so I dared. I entered a big competition for the first time; the Magnum Photography Awards 2016. Will I win? Probably not BUT this particular competition gives feedback on the photos submitted….good learning and practice for the next moment of bravery. If anything, be inspired and use this as the first step and the encouragement for getting your own creative endevours “out there” somehow; enter a competition, create a new photo or art blog, curate a small exhibition at home and invite friends. All good practice and good fun!

Please have a look and please share…. https://www.lensculture.com/magnum-photography-awards-2016/event-submission/203218?utm_campaign=62-submit&utm_content=submit&utm_medium=social&utm_source=fb-social

The Mizpe Ramon Crater

Mizpe Ramon is fascinating place in the Negev desert. I’ve never been to a desert before, and the trip from Jerusalem to Mizpe Ramon is one that I will not soon forget. The desert landscape is mistical and after while, it starts to really affect you as you travel through the sun. scrub and sand. Have you ever seen an oasis before? Now I really understand the meaning of the word….

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My husband ( I love this photo – he is laughing as his towel is blown in the wind)

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and I decided to treat ourselves to a a few days at a beautiful hotel called “Beresheet“. The hotel is built on the edge of an enormous natural crater that stretches out towards the horizon and down from a dizzing height. The hotel is meant to resemble a desert village with little cottages and townhouses made from local stone. There are wild ibixes that roam the grounds and surrounding desert, and tomorrow I am hoping to be lucky enough to take a few photos of them. Tomorrow also brings with it an evening photography workshop hosted by Irus Hayun-Rosenfeld, a local photographer.

Here are some of the results from our trip down and an evening spent behind my lens…..and by the pool… (more tomorrow……)

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…just one more page???…

Jerusalem is in the middle of replacing its older bus shelters with a new modern design; complete with LED arrival boards and more comfortable benches. These new urban street furnishings are a welcome addition to a thriving city where the ancint meets the old, the old meets the new.

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But what do you do with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of old bus shelters and benches?

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Turn them into community reading stations! At the end of the street where I am staying, (by the old train tracks that have been skillfully ‘upcycled’ into walking paths), there is a new addition since my last visit. Two old bus shelters, complete with benches, have appeared and are now filled with books! Local residents are free to donate or take any books they like and there are benches to sit and peruse new treasures. Volunteers from nearby tidy up and check on the book stations daily.

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There are people there all the time; looking for books, driving up to drop off boxes of books and sitting with friends with a cup of coffee. Genres run the gamut from cookbooks to crime thrillers, art albums to childrens storybooks printed in a world of languages; English, Hebrew, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, Arabic, German… and even Japanese!

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Love it!  So far, I’ve picked up quite a few new titles to schlepp back in my suitcase! Maybe this is an idea you can use to start a reading station in your community??

By the way, I am trying something new in this post – adding a slideshow.  Please let me know how you like this feature in a photo blog (or is it better just to display all of the photos “gallery” style??).

How I feel today…

Photography has a powerful influence in my life and thinking – it helps my confidence and self-esteem to grow, allows me to explore my thoughts and relationships to the places where I live and the people I know, and provokes me to challenge the conceptions and opinions I hold in new and bolder ways. My camera can be a mask, a magnifiying glass to society or a window on the the world.

Lately, with the sudden and unexpected loss of several very special people in my life, including my father, my camera has been a valuable tool for exploring my emotions and feelings in ways that words cannot. This capture happened quite by accident and I didn’t even notice it until I downloaded some old photos. It captures the way I am feeling lately. Each time I look at it, I can see myself as each of the ‘characters’; am I the one needing support and feeling alone or the one walking away, so lost in their own thoughts that they can’t notice someone else’s needs?

There is a lot of grainy ‘noise’ in this photo and I think that it is symbolic of the formless, grey ‘noise’ that can fill our thoughts and hearts in times of saddness and loss. It think I will keep it in this one.

….oh and by the way, it is a beautiful, sunny, warm day today – I think it is time to get out into the light now and find some happy things to capture this morning!

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The Colours of Nuit Blanche

Toronto turns into an art-lover’s dream for one night in October when it hosts “Nuit Blanche” (http://nuitblancheto.ca) – a curated free-for-all from 8pm to 8am.

Wandering though downtown streets from Nathan Phillip’s Square to Harbourfront, the city pulses on all sides with colour and crowds of creatives mixing with party-goers, theatre buffs and those just trying to squeeze into the last place on the crowded streetcars.

The beautiful textile installation displayed in the main hall of Union (Train) Station is by a young Toronto artist named Amanda McCavour (http://amandamccavour.com) and is entitled Pattern Study 2015.