Museum of London

I visited the Museum of London for the first time recently. Like many museums and art galleries in London, it is government subsidised meaning that you can get in for free! It takes you through the history of London from the pre-historic era, through Roman occupation, medieval times, early modern London, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century changes, right up to the modern day. It showcases everything from cultural, sociological, economic changes, highlighting the changing styles, fashions, and decor of the day.

Below you can find a little selection of striking details that I came across at the Museum. Guess what they are!

Filth (2013) | Movie Review

James McAvoy made a bold decision when he decided to take the role of Bruce Robertson, a bigoted, debauched, corrupt, immoral Edinburgh detective, desperately scrambling for a promotion by screwing over his colleagues. The film is based on the book of the same name by Irvine Welsh, the author behind Trainspotting, another book-turned-wildly successful film. Welsh’s work is characterised by a brutal portrayal of life in lower class Scotland. Trainspotting is about the lives of drug addicts, whilst Filth is about the corruption of law enforcement. The book and film deal with weighty topics, often in a tone of pure black comedy. Misogyny, mental health, betrayal, crime, degradation, hardship, and violence are a just a few of the themes. What makes Filth stand out, though, is how purely nihilistic it feels.

Bruce Robertson is an Edinburgh cop determined to get a promotion in his department in order to win his wife back. By screwing over his oblivious colleagues and playing them against each other, Bruce thinks he can nab the job as Detective Inspector. But the deeper he gets involved trying to undermine his colleagues the more obvious it becomes that he enjoys the hedonism and can’t quite keep things straight in his own mind, which makes for some seriously dark subject matter.

James McAvoy is absolutely brilliant. He nails the role. He can be utterly repellent, bitter, angry, violent, and still be sympathetic. That takes real skill from an actor, because Bruce Robertson is vile. There are no two ways around it. For all his problems, he is the most nihilistic, nasty, hopeless, manipulative, generally gross character I think I’ve ever seen in film. He delightfully skips through life drinking away his misery by degrading everyone he meets and occasionally crossing the border in to seriously fucked-up territory. Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, he is established as a child rapist and there’s really no coming back from that. So, for McAvoy to portray him in a way that can genuinely pull on the heart strings takes real talent.

The film, for all its gratuity and casual nihilism, is hard to take your eyes off. I can’t put my finger on why. Something about it, though, rang true. Life is hard and this film takes that concept and kicks you in the gut with it. Anyone who has experienced mental illness of one form or another will almost certainly find something to relate to here and it is not a pleasant experience to do so. Under all the rambunctious debauchery and seething misery, there’s something painfully human here. Every one has a dark side and has done dark things and this is a cold mirror of that distilled into something more potent. Like A Clockwork Orange before it, this is hard to like but easy to love.

The look and feel of the film is great, too. The sets, costumes, camera moves and direction match the frenetic pace. It made me laugh to see Edinburgh represented as such a cesspool since my only experiences of that gorgeous city have been really beautiful – but then cities have a way of hiding the darker aspects of life from you until you stumble over them. That said, regardless of tone, anything set in Scotland is worth a watch in my opinion!

Filth is highly recommended viewing for anyone with a strong stomach and an amoral streak. This will titillate and gross you out, but ultimately it has a beating heart that makes the dark comedy ever so slightly tragic.

Liverpool Street, Sept. 2014

This September has been warm and mild and it still feels like the end of summer, rather than the beginning of winter. Because of that I’ve taken advantage of the weather and gone on a few trips to London recently. I took my Canon 600D with the 40mm f/2.8 lens and did some street photography as I wandered around the city.

Black and white street photography doesn’t capture the sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly colour of London’s character, but it represents the endless texture of the city: limitless reflections in lit windows, layer upon layer of brick and dust, the curious mixture of old and new. These photos are a small attempt to capture that spirit.

You can see more of my street photography here.

Village Stroll

It’s been a beautiful weekend to say goodbye to August. So to chill out, relax, and enjoy the sunshine, we decided to have a little village stroll! To see my street photography, you can check out my street photo Tumblr. But below you can find some snapshots of the beautiful market town of Hitchin and its lovely little shops and architecture.

 

Film Photography Projects

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I have just received two new SLR cameras that I purchased through eBay for about £30 each, with lenses included.

When I first started studying photography, practising film photography with the Olympus OM10 – my first analogue SLR – was a huge learning curve. It was challenging and therapeutic and cheap! Since then, though, the winder on my OM10 has been a bit sticky and my photos aren’t always coming out very well because the film can get trapped. But, since I already had a few manual FD lenses that I use via an adapter for DSLR video, I figured it would make sense to order some film and a new Canon FD SLR for a low price on eBay and do some film projects!

I now own the Canon AE-1 Program, which is in exceptional condition, and which I am using with my Canon FD 50mm f/1.4, and also the Canon FTb – also in amazing condition – with a Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 and a Canon FD 28mm f/2.8. I ordered some cheap ISO 200 colour film for summertime photography, from Kodak, which I’ll be using for my early tests. And then I’m waiting for some more expensive and higher quality Ilford ISO 400 black and white film to arrive, which I’ll be doing some street photography with. I’ll also be doing some fun Fujifilm Instax projects too.

In the next couple of weeks I hope to have some blog posts up with my experiences and results and hopefully some great shots! It’s going to be so much fun.

(The photo above is an iPhone shot from my Instagram. You can follow me there if you fancy.)

Summer Skies

Summer days are full of warm light; that dusky skyline refracting pinks, oranges, reds, and golds across the cool blue vista above like the crystal clarity of chilled wine in a glass. When the sun begins to set and the shadows lengthen, the worlds enters the golden hour. An hour when nature, architecture, and landscapes are bursting with texture, colour and life. It’s a photographer’s dream. So I took my camera out one evening and explored this twilight world of balmy breezes and golden clouds and the results are below.

For higher quality versions of my photo work, please visit my photoblog or 500px portfolio.

Wrest Park

The nineteenth-century stately mansion, Wrest Park and it’s grounds, resides close to the village of Silsoe in Bedfordshire and not too far away from where I live. It was a balmy summer’s evening, so I grabbed my camera and we took a stroll around the house in the golden hour. For better quality pictures, or to buy prints, you can visit my photoblog or my 500px portfolio.

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Book Review | Deathless by Cat Valente

Deathless (Deathless, #1)Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

MINOR SPOILERS

Deathless by Cat Valente is a retelling of a classic Russian fairytale, known as The Death of Koschei the Deathless or Marya Morevna. The original tale has many versions and variations due to a long oral tradition, as well as books, films and published sources like Alexander Afanasyev’s folktale collection. The story follows the immoral Koschei, an immortal being who kidnaps young women. Ivan Tsarevitch is married to the beautiful Marya Morevna, a warrior, who leaves their castle to go to war. As she leaves she makes Ivan promise he will not look in the dungeon, but curiosity wins and he finds Koschei chained to the walls. Marya was one of the young women kidnapped – one who escaped him. Koschei tricks Ivan into freeing him and steals Marya. Ivan must overcome Koschei’s deathlessness to defeat him and win her back. The original tale is one of war, death, and love.

Cat Valente’s retelling of the story is a wonderful addition to the already rich canon. Choosing instead to focus on Marya Morevna herself as the centre of the story, Valente creates an incredibly interesting heroine whose story of girlhood, war, and innocence lost is as twisted as it is heartbreaking, as fascinating as it is disturbing, as warm as it is pitch black. All of the traditional elements are there, including some stolen from other tales, and they come together wrapped up in a tale of war, love, and death that is inter-weaved with modern day Russia. By combining a dense tapestry of sociology, politics, and psychology in this fanastical world, Valente is able to draw parallels between the themes of the story and the endless march of history. One of the most impressive aspects is the way she dissects the nature of fairytales themselves – the desire to retell a story over and over, to learn the same lessons, to live the same thrills, until such a time that a catastrophic shift emerges in culture or society that changes the way the story is told forever. Valente’s own retelling is an example of this. By making the story about Marya, the story can reflect something new.

To pick apart the themes of this book is a hard task. Whether it be the twisted, desperate, imbalanced, and painfully sad war of love between Marya and Koschei, or the bittersweet sting of mortality that rings through the pages as Marya and Ivan fall in love, or the sheer breathlessness of industrial death, the story offers up so much to think about, to question, to dwell upon. It’s a book that thoroughly deserves a second read and will no doubt offer much more to ponder and contemplate. The smallest of touches can offer the most pleasure to a reader. The sad situation of the rusalka is a particular touch in this book that I am really fond of.

Besides the story itself, however, the prose is absolutely beautiful. Sparkling with fluid and vivid descriptions of stark urban landscapes, colouful fantasy worlds, memorable characters, and little scenes that are worthy of being captured in a painting, the book overflows with unique imagery that brings the world to life with visceral clarity. The prose, from the very first page, is like a fine feast that you simply dine on. Honey and wine. Ice and smoke.

Cat Valente has instantly become one of my favourite contemporary writers and I will be seeking out the rest of her work. For anyone who loves a dark fairytale, a fable about war and death and – ultimately – life, this book is a treasure chest of wonders.

// Goodreads //

Book Review | 52 Weekend Digital Photo Projects by Liz Walker

52 Weekend Digital Photo Projects: Inspirational Projects*Camera Skills*Equipment*Imaging TechniquesMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

Digital Photo Magazine is probably familiar to all new DSLR users and it certainly helped me out a lot when I was first getting into photography. So when I saw this book on sale in The Works for only £3.99, I decided to was an absolute bargain. Filled with ideas for photographic and Photoshop projects to test the boundaries of a photographer’s imagination, technical limitations, and to inspire creativity, this book offers lots of fun and practical ways to fill your free time with photographic goodness!

The book has several different sections that offer tips, advice, and challenges is several different areas of photography. It follows the structure of the seasons, which all photographers will appreciate – after all, how often have you found your creativity stifled by miserable winter weather? Offering specific ideas and challenges suited to the weather conditions available helps. Along the way it explains and introduces the newbie to technical staples of photography and explains key concepts that beginners might not have grappled with yet – white balance and exposure compensation being prime examples. It covers indoor and outdoor shooting and even covers the use of speedlights. There’s a handy section that talks about the necessary kit required, discussing tripods and more.

It also offers one of the most accessible introductions to Photoshop. Photoshop is a notoriously difficult software to get used to for beginners and many texts are dry and full of technical detail. Here, though, the fun and practical challenges will help photographers get used to Photoshop whilst engaged with a creative activity rather than through swallowing dry chunks of abstract information.

It’s not perfect. People will more than an intermediate grasp of phgotography might find it a little basic, but it isn’t aimed at them as an audience. Beginners will find it fun and inspiring. Everyone else will still surely find the ideas, tips, and suggestions very valuable for how they encourage and inspire new ideas.

For the photographer in your life, this is a bargain and a book that will help pass hours dipping in and out and creating great photos.

Book Review | Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith

Wreck This JournalMy rating: 2 of 5 stars

Keri Smith’s Wreck This Journal is really an exercise in letting go. The catharsis that many people seem to feel by totally breaking the unwritten rules about destruction and books and order and creativity is part of this journal’s appeal. The idea is that you get the journal and, rather than filling it with writing and observations, you loosely follow the destructive instructions to inspire creativity, live life differently, and simultaneously “ruin” the book.

Lots of people probably feel a real sense of relief from being able to rip apart a book. Emotive responses no doubt range from guilty pleasure to delighted glee. It’s not merely the way it makes you think and feel differently, though. The book also inspires a totally unique kind of creativity. Everyone’s book will end up looking completely unique to the person who made it. It also shakes up your daily routine by making you do things for no reason. There’s an aspect to it that reveals a person’s mind, attitudes, and personal tastes. For those who find their lives stuck in a rut, this book will shake up your lifestyle, make you question assumed truths, encourage you to think differently, make you do things you’ve never done before, help you find new ways to be creative and artistic, and much more depending on your personality. It really does offer a lot for those who need a new outlet.

However, for all the positives, not everyone will appreciate this. At £7.99 RRP, this is quite a pricey product if the intent is merely to destroy it. I have never been a person who is particularly uptight or orderly, so I didn’t really feel much cathartic pleasure in the instructions. It felt a bit pointless. Also, the fact that it encourages you to really rip the book up rather than create something beautiful out of it felt a bit nihilistic and left me feeling flat. (This is totally subjective, of course, you can literally do whatever you want with the book.) If the book’s instructions were a little more artistic, social, or questioning, I think I could have loved this. As it is, it just isn’t for me.

For those looking for a new way of thinking that will shake their creative lives up a bit, this probably makes a good novelty gift.

Physical Books | Random Thoughts

In the past I’ve talked a little bit about how much I love books on this blog, but my love of books has morphed and changed over the years and I’ve come to a sort-of revelation about why.

When I was very young I was guilty of the abundant book worship that you find amongst people who self-diagnose themselves with that awfully-named condition of being a bookworm. It consists of discovering that you like to read books, then subsequently that you adore some books so much you can’t put them down, then having to fill the void left by the last book with a new one, then spending all of your free time reading and getting increasingly furious when people interrupt you, then starting to deify books to the point that you cannot bear any kind of “vandalism” to their physical form because you perceive it as a grievous slight on the book. Ultimately, you end up sort-of considering the physical form of a book rather sacred. This leads to weird rituals about book-keeping – the way you order them on their shelves, clean them, hold them even – until you start thinking that people who fold down pages instead of using a bookmark are the personification of Satan himself. (And they might be, to be fair.)

But, in the end, you find you have developed a curious attachment to books as relics and objects – not just for their primary function, which is to deliver you a story.

By the time I finished studying English at university, my bookly love had waned slightly. Carrying heavy textbooks from class to class each week (The Norton Anthology of Shakespeare, anyone? Look it up.) became a back-breaking misadventure. Trying to read humongous text books before the next lecture became an endurance task for the biceps. And trying to find books that had been out of print for years became the London-library-hopping equivalent of the quest for El Dorado. Eventually the internet and the Kindle app on my smartphone were the only viable solutions with such a huge reading list. I started thinking about all the wonderful stories I’d read for free on my iPhone Kindle – Henry James’s lesser-known short stories, re-readings of the Brontes – and I was slightly peeved at my former self for being so obsessed with physical books. That abundant book-worship started to seem a bit masturbatory, if I’m being blunt. And so I’ve regressed slightly and find myself less concerned about occasionally bending a book spine or scuffing the cover.

But then it all changed again. I was reading up on Shakespeare – because he’s an interesting fella, dontcha know – and I learned about how his works were eventually disseminated and it got my mind racing. On QI they once discussed a theory about how the Romantic poets may have had hallucinatory experiences just from reading books alone because books are transitory objects – they actually start decaying once they are made because the paper is instantly affected by the acidity of the ink – and they have mould on them. In old books, this can cause hallucinatory effects on people. This instant decay seems to directly juxtapose the fact that books are often the way through which the words of authors survive beyond the bleak mortality of human life. It was the case with Shakespeare. His plays were compiled and published as the Folios and Quartos and that is how his work survives today. Without those publications, his contribution to literature would have been lost. In fact, one of his plays was lost. So it is only through the endurance of physical books and their relevance as evidence, relics, objects, things, that we know what Shakespeare once wrote. Similarly, the world’s first recorded story was found in an ancient ruined library in Sri Lanka. And the chequered history of the human race destroying these centres of knowledge is significant. And becomes even more significant once you realise that those books were already in the process of a slow march toward decomposition. It seems like a profound reason to love books as things as well as stories. Especially as they have such a physical affect on us in return. (As Rupert Giles remarks in the first season of Buffy: “Books smell musty, rich. Knowledge gained from the computer has no texture, no context.”)

In recent years, I’ve found myself considering that there is a widening between the way we see books and ebooks. Ebooks are convenience, ease, but books are artefacts and possessions. When I realised how much I loved George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, I bought all of the books as a special boxed set. Despite the fact that they are pretty chunky books I bought them as books instead of ebooks because I knew I’d want them forever. There is a permanence to books that ebooks cannot give you – it is that certainty of form, context, survival, and yes, smell. I once adored books as though they were sacred because it gave books such a wealth of meaning in my life and my self-imposed identity of “bookworm” (still think it sounds super gross) but after re-learning that the value of books should only first be measured from their content, I’ve yet again found myself falling in love with books as books. I’m a reader and a bibliophile and I don’t think that’s going to change. Libraries are treasure chests of adventure, romance, drama and philosophical truths, but they are also graveyards for the thoughts of the greatest minds the world has seen and even they will one day return to dust. It’s so sad, but it makes me happy I live in an age where I can have a mini library of my own while I live.

Book Review | Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for AlaskaMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

Looking For Alaska is not the first John Green novel I’ve read and I think I was spoiled slightly by reading The Fault in Our Stars first. The latter is an exceptional book that I won’t do a disservice by meagrely trying to explain all of its merits here. Alaska, however, whilst sharing many of TFIOS’s thematic content and ideas, is a very different book. It took me a while to really appreciate it, but ultimately it’s another reason to love John Green’s work.

Miles leaves home to go to his dad’s old boarding school, looking for, in a dead man’s words, the “Great Perhaps.” He is searching for something bigger and more exciting than his life offers him. Instead he meets a bunch of very real teenagers with very real problems and the endlessly fascinating Alaska – who he immediately has a crush on.

The story explores relationships, friendships, adolescence, loss, sex, and much more and does so in a way that completely acknowledges how hard those things are to deal with without romanticising big issues or condescending to the audience. When I was the age of the characters in the story, I felt quite often that stories aimed at my age group were trivial and sometimes slightly warped in how they oversimplified the problems of adolescence, but this book does not do that. It acknowledges that teenagers experience problems as hard and deep as adults do – sometimes brutally. The way it deals with the psychology of guilt, grief, and the uncertainty of life is particularly profound for a YA novel.

A must-read for John Green lovers; a should-read for teens everywhere; and a pleasant surprise for everybody else.