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Touring Britain bit by bit with a pair of boots, a few bicycles, a lot of trains and a bag of lenses. I take pictures and then I write about them.

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abandoned places and things architecture bristol coastal cumbria dorset events highlands history industrial lake district lakes london mountains not the uk photo essays photography politics protests rural rural decay scotland somerset structures the north uk urban urban decay wales westcountryall tags

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Sun, 26 Sep 2010

Los Lagos


This time last year, I was cycling around the lake district, Los Lagos, in Chilean Patagonia. I was there with Computer Aid International, who refurbish old office computers and send them to schools, hospitals, and development projects around the world, including the small city of Osorno in Los Lagos. Below are a selection of out-of-context and out-of-order extracts and photographs from my record of the week. All profits from sales of Chile prints go to Computer Aid.


There is a crazy old lady in the aisle seat beside my window seat. She speaks no English; I speak no Spanish. In attempting to establish that, yes, I do wish to access my seat, and, oh, right, you're just going to sit there and invite me to push past then, we each continue to happily speak our own languages at each-other. Once settled in, we compromise on German, since, between us, we don't quite have enough to hold a conversation. She spreads her elbows and proceeds to snore through the take-off, waking once we're airborne in-order to poke excitedly at the airline magazine. By some coincidence, this month's magazine includes a feature on our ultimate destination, the Chilean lake district, which explains in English roughly what she had been attempting to tell me in German — that the region has a fascinating and noble history of German immigration and the harbouring of Nazi war criminals. We're given a dish of pink meat product and damp potato slices, which I poke at. The crazy lady points at each item on my tray in turn, looks at me hopefully, before taking them, starting with the desert. She disappears, not to return until breakfast, and I fall asleep.


After lunch we are given the choice to continue up the one in ten climb to the Raihuen crater. Half of us continue, two turns up, one slide back, on the soft black volcanic sand of the zig-zag hill, under and back-under the creaking ski-lift. Christine, who has been telling us that the secret to good speed and stamina is "cadance" and the "correct use of the gears", walks to the summit. This is, of course, not actually the summit of the volcano, but it is the summit of the road, which ends in a pile of black grit, a snow plow, some sparse brown alpine vegetation and a mud splattered portaloo. Rodrigo (our guide) decides that the location is so delightful that there really isn't any need to continue along the frozen path to the crater, and that there will be no better spot for a photo opportunity. There is indeed a spectacular view south along the cordillera, taking in the volcanoes Puntiagudo and Osorno, and west down the valley and over Lago Rupanco. But a glance at Google Earth tells us that the real reason we're not continuing is that Rodrigo has taken a wrong turning, and is quite lost. The road to the crater was three miles back.


From the river, the dirt road climbs a short hill and turns a corner before running in a perfectly straight line through conifer plantation for five miles or more. With heads down into the strengthening wind, we all begin to string out again. I accidentally find myself some way out to the front, with miles of empty road ahead, and the only source of any sound behind, downwind. So one of the now filled fish trucks stealthily creeps up on me at a speed that I estimate to be "too fast for this track". The driver doesn't seem to know how to deal with cyclists on the road, and, I learn later, has been swerving in and out to overtake everybody one-by-one — despite there being no oncoming traffic to keep out of the way of. As he swerves left to pass, the truck tips a little, and all of the water flows to the left, spilling out on the far side. As it is passing, the wave bounces back to the right, spilling out on the near side. Somehow, all the fish get lucky: avoiding finding themselves under our wheels.


More photos can be found in the Chile gallery.

[Tag] Tags: chile, llanquihue, los lagos, mountains, not the uk, patagonia, rural, south america, the life of steinsky

Mon, 20 Sep 2010

Protest The Pope!

Protest The Pope!

Yesterday, upwards of 10,000 people marched through the streets of London to protest the pope. The roads were closed from Hyde Park Corner to Whitehall, where speeches were given outside Downing Street. It was a carnival -- everybody dressed up, wrote witty placards, told jokes, and danced and sang. But we were there to make serious points -- points that not everybody who heard about the march got.

Suffer Little Children
Sage Advice

Many of those on the march are to some extent anti-religious, and the media gave a lot of attention to Richard Dawkins. Most were probably some variety of non-religious. But the march was not a march against the religious or even Roman Catholics: the religious who marched with us and the Roman Catholics who gave speeches were not out of place. Rather, the march was to highlight the many bad things that the Pope says and does. Really terrible, awful, immoral things. Amongst the most appalling things said by anybody in contemporary international politics.

Ben Goldacre

One of the most evil things that The Pope does was explained best by Ben Goldacre. The Catholic church, under the explicit instruction of The Pope, actively sabotages effective public health campaigns for controlling HIV infection. Bishops in sub-Saharan Africa and South America tell lies so absurd that they should be laughed out of public discourse: in Mozambique, where one in eight of the population is infected, the church has invented a vast conspiracy theory and teaches that infection is actively spread by condoms; in Colombia, where infection rates have not yet caught up with Africa and could be kept under control, bishops make ridiculous claims about condoms being full of holes that let HIV through -- a claim that was ably refuted by the hundreds of inflated condoms floating over the march (hint: viruses are thousands of times bigger than oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide molecules). This was not about a petty or academic disagreement. This is about a bizarre and arbitrary dogma that contributes to the deaths of millions of people every year, and the one man who could put a stop to it.

Spinning Pope

Another of the most evil things that The Pope does was explained by Johann Hari. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was for 25 years in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in this role encouraged and enabled the systematic protection of thousands of sex offenders, and the cover-up of their crimes. The Pope has not merely inherited an organisation that has a problem: he was and is the problem. He could have stopped these crimes; instead he allowed them to happen. Any other organisation under competent, responsible, ethical leadership upon learning that their staff are rapists report them to the authorities that can prevent them from raping again. And if they didn’t -- if the director of a company thought that transferring a sex-offender to a different office would make everything OK -- then we prosecute them for obstruction of justice. The Pope even now thinks that child abuse is something that the church should handle itself, and considers it “deplorable” that the Belgian Police or justice system should think that they have any role in the investigation or prosecution of sex-abusers.

General Disapproval

The Pope and the Vatican are homophobic, and spread homophobia in the Catholic Church and in politics around the world. In 1986, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote the letter to bishops on the “pastoral care of homosexual people”, which is the document that many well meaning but dim Catholics use to justify to themselves their own role in homophobia. Ratzinger used the age-old tool of cults, ideologies, and dictators: he redefined his opponents as the troubled victims of mental disease and violators of a fictitious “natural law”, and his followers now cheerfully tell themselves that they are doing gays and lesbians a favour by denying them human rights. But the Pope’s homophobia is not merely a case of ruining the lives of gays unfortunate enough to be born into Catholic families, or restricting the careers of gay priests. The Vatican has repeatedly interfered in the politics of nations and international organisations in ways that can not possibly be reconciled with their claim to care for gay people, even as sick people. In 2008 they opposed a UN declaration for the decriminalisation of homosexuality which aimed to end the laws that in many countries still treat homosexuality as a crime punishable by death. In 2009 they interfered in Italian politics to oppose a bill that would recognise violence against gays as a hate crime, because, they said, it would give homosexuals “special rights”. The same is happening in Poland, South America, the EU, and everywhere that the Catholic Church pokes its way into politics. If the Pope really believes that homosexuality is a mental disorder, than it follows that he defends the practice of hanging the sick in Iran, stoning the sick in Saudi Arabia, and imprisoning the sick for life in many other countries; that he thinks attacking sick people in the street is just fine.

It's the frickin POPE!

These are not the only harmful teachings and actions of the Pope and the organisation that he directs. They are merely the three that strike me as the most outrageous. They are three policies that the Pope is directly responsible for or deeply involved in. They are policies that he had and has the power to change. But he doesn’t. He has the effrontery to say he feels “deep sorrow and shame” for child-abuse while refusing to address the policies that caused the scandal, refusing to acknowledge his own central role in it, refusing to cooperate with the police and authorities and organisations who are trying to put right whatever can still be put right.

The Pod Delusion
Pope Kiss My Ring

The Pope was invited to the UK on an official state visit, paid for by British taxpayers. He was supposedly here as our guest; not as head of a church but as a head of state and diplomat with whom we wish to cooperate and develop our relations. We spent £10-14 million on his visit at a time when infrastructure projects are being mothballed and councils are literally switching off the lights.

This is a Pope who plays an active role in the spread of untruths that will lead to many millions of needless deaths from a cruel disease, and the entrenchment of poverty in third-world Catholic countries. No head of state that does that should be welcomed as somebody with whom we can cooperate in delivering international aid and development. The Pope was and still is central in the decades long international criminal cover-up of sex-abuse and the protection of child-rapers. The director of an organisation that behaves this way should be subject to an international arrest warrant, not an invitation on an ell-expenses paid luxury visit and dinner with the primeminister. And the Pope is a homophobe, teaching homophobia and defending violence against gays and lesbians. Nobody should be allowed to preach that hatred to our politicians unchallenged.

To mistake these objections to the very specific bad things that the the Pope has done for a general knee-jerk or “militant” anti-theism would do a great disservice.

Protest The Pope!

There are more photos in the Protest The Pope flickr set.

[Tag] Tags: demonstrations, events, london, photo essays, protests, religion, the pope, uk, westminster, whitehall

Thu, 2 Sep 2010

Location: Arno's Vale Cemetery

Arno's Vale

In the 1830s, on the eve of the Victorian era and with maturing industrial and agricultural revolutions and a growing empire, Britain's urban population was booming. Around the country people were leaving the land for the historic port cities and industrial new towns; the mills and potteries and mines. And they kept dying, as people do. The old parish churchyards, designed for small and low density settlements, and already with several centuries beneath them, were overflowing. Literally: new burials were taking the plots of old; burials were stacking up; decaying flesh was somehow ending up in the water system, and diseases were spreading. In 1832, parliament passed laws to legalise — encourage — private cemeteries; not small churchyard burial grounds, next to people's houses and shops and wells, but great out-of-town parks. In London, the magnificent seven — most famously Highgate Cemetery — were created.


In Bristol, the population had doubled in the three decades since the turn of the century. Its dead suffering from the same issue of post mortem accommodation as those of every city, a shareholder company was formed in 1837 to establish the park cemetery at Arno's Vale, on the Bath Road, two miles south-east the city centre and on the then outskirts of the city. The gently sloping site was landscaped in the Arcadian style, with neo-classical mortuary chapels and entrance lodge by local architect Charles Underwood, and the first burials were made in 1839.

Tomb of Ram Mohan Roy

Nine years earlier, the Indian writer and reformist Raja Ram Mohan Roy had come to Britain as an ambassador from the Mughal Emperor. A lifelong campaigner against sati, the Hindu tradition of widows immolating themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres, Roy was seeking to influence British lawmakers who had the power to uphold or overthrow the Bengal governor's decree of 1829 outlawing the practice. He died of meningitis in Stapleton, then a village just beyond the northern limits of Bristol, where he was buried. Supporters and admirers felt that his basic resting place was suitable for such a great man, and in 1843 was moved to the new cemetery at Arno's Vale and reinterred in a Bengali-style "chatta" tomb, one of the most impressive and unique of the cemetery's listed monuments.

Arno's Vale

In total there are 25 Grade II* listed monuments — statues, obelisks, mausolea, and war memorials — alongside the four Grade II* listed buildings. A driveway leads between two entrance lodges, sweeps past the doric non-conformist chapel, past rows of obelisks and statues and up to the grand corinthian-style Anglican chapel, set on a rise to one side. Then, behind the grand buildings and monuments, paths wind away up through trees and denser fields of more modest memorials. And these densely filled plots were almost Arno's Vale's downfall: it got full, and at exactly the wrong moment.


In the mid-1980s, at the height of Thatcher's societyless Britain, plots were running low at Arno's Vale, and business was drying up. Still an independent company, the owners needed to make some efficiency savings, and downsize their workforce: the gravediggers and gardeners had no place left in this business. The cemetery began to be taken over by nature, and by vandals. But the owners did have a good idea for saving the company. They noticed that, while the burial trade was looking down for them, they did happen to have a valuable asset: 45 acres of almost pristine development site on a main road and only a mile from the main railway station. Attempts to build on the site were blocked with the help of campaign groups, but the buildings and monuments continued to decline until the owners finally packed in the business and locked up in 1998. Even, so they didn't let their assets go without a fight when the city council put in a compulsory purchase order for the neglected land and its crumbling listed buildings. Arno's Vale finally became public property in 2003. These pictures were taken in 2006, not long after the peak of the cemetery's gothic phase, when the buildings were boarded and monuments overgrown. Some vegetation clearance had already begun at this point, but most of the restoration work had yet to begin. Since then, all of the buildings have been repaired and reopened.

Arno's Vale

More pictures of Arno's Vale can be found in this gallery.

[Tag] Tags: arnos vale, bristol, cemeteries, gothic, photo essays, uk, urban decay, urban, westcountry

Sun, 4 Jul 2010

Victory Flashmob


The terrorists photographers gathered at New Scotland Yard today for a victory flashmob. (Not a protest — those require a permission slip from the authorities these days.) They stood around outside (ironically, just in the shade, where it was difficult to get a nicely lit shot), talking and laughing, and intimidating the police with their threatening lenses. They were gloating.


Because on wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights refused the UK's application to appeal their finding in Gillan and Quinton v. UK, making binding the finding that anti-terrorism stop-and-search violates the right to respect for private life guaranteed by the Convention on Human Rights. A succession of home secretaries and police throughout the ranks have been complicit in systematic intimidation, invasion of privacy, and the hindrance of thousands of people going about their jobs and hobbies and daily life.


The government has been found guilty of great evil: a creepy authoritarian disregard for human rights and individual privacy. And now they have to stop being evil, and we can all move on. But lets not forget in all of this that they have also been guilty of great stupidity: the stubborn pursuit of absurd policies in the face of all evidence and reason. Five years ago on wednesday, real terrorists killed 56 people in this city. And in response to such a serious and real threat the government and police have been pursuing the ludicrous policy of harassing the likes of street photographers. That's stupid and evil.


(Pictures taken with the Sigma 10-20; edited with some difficulty in RawStudio and gIMP on my slow 2 yr old netbook, because I haven't gotten round to replacing the broken motherboard in the desktop.)

[Tag] Tags: bad policies, events, london, new scotland yard, photographer not a terrorist, photography, politics, protests, sigma1020, stop and search, uk, westminster

Mon, 14 Jun 2010

Grant Museum to close


amphibians! snake!
fish! Australopithecus
Neanderthal snakes!

Matt Brown reports that the awesome Grant Museum of Zoology is to close on July 1st. The Grant Museum is a hidden gem. It's tiny, and shoved away somewhere deep within the labyrinths of UCL, between Totenham Court Road and Gower Street, near Goodge St tube. There are no signs. You might need a guide to find it.

But it's a fabulously old fashioned bit of academic natural history. Victorian, even. Skeletons and pickled specimens in huge old jars on tightly packed shelves. There's charismatic macrofauna stuffed into this small room, surrounded by smaller specimens, from the every-day to the long extinct. There's Thomas Henry Huxley's Tasmanian Tiger specimen, brutally hacked to pieces and stuffed in a small jar on a bottom shelf.

And it has the perfect light. A few small windows, partially obscured by the dense collections, and some old fashioned small, warm, bulbs.

The Grant Museum will reopen next year. But it will be in new, modern, enlarged premises. It's an active academic workspace; teaching and research require this progress. But it will be a shame if its unique charm is lost along the way. Catch it while you can -- weekday afternoons, 1-5pm, free entry, if you can find it.

[Tag] Tags: animals, grant museum of zoology, london, museums, uk

Sun, 13 Jun 2010

Law In Action: Owning Your Image

In this week's Law In Action, Joshua Rozenberg looks at an assortment of issues around the law and photography -- starting with the issue of interference in citizens' rights to pursue their hobby of street photography without harassment. The opening sequence is of Rozenberg and Grant Smith (of getting arrested fame) getting hassled by a building manager who confidently tells them that they can't photograph her building without permission (clarifying, "you can't film inside this building", prompting the wonderful reply, "oh, am I inside your building, then?"), and that they wouldn't be able to photograph the street without clearing the data protection requirements.

My own office's manager signs off every email (invariably marked "Urgent", and with "Urgent" in the all-caps subject line -- "Urgent: The south toilets are closed for maintenance, please use the north toilets"; "Urgent: Please don't leave tea-spoons in the sink"...) with her name and letters -- the impressive title of "Member of the British Institute of Facilities Managers". The Institute's website offers courses in facilities management. I guess office managers can learn how to confidently and intimidatingly bullshit about the law; how to confidently project an absurdly inflated sense of the importance of their role; and how to confidently look busy with all kinds of invented official business.

Why do so many office managers think it's acceptable to make up absurd lies that not only insultingly insinuate that practitioners of another profession are too incompetent to discover and understand what the law says about their profession, but lies that also lead them to incorrectly accuse those professionals of acting illegally? Those are pretty serious insults, and pretty serious allegations. Why do office managers think it's part of their role to go around making them? Why do they think it's useful to anybody that they tell these lies? And why do they think that an acceptable response to being challenged and educated about how these are lies is to call in the police?

Because the police are still telling them that it's useful for them to do so. And they still haven't provided the slightest credible evidence to support that position. The police are actively encouraging office managers to waste police time. To waste time and public money that could be spent keeping London's streets safe from criminals and terrorists.

The programme moves on to discuss the use of photography and filming in surveillance. Do listen again, while you can -- link expires Thursday. Grant Smith's photos from his encounter are here.

[Tag] Tags: bad policies, grant smith, jobsworths, law, london, media, office managers, photographer not a terrorist, photography, police, politics, radio 4, reviews, stop and search

Sun, 13 Jun 2010

Location: Moel-y-gest

There's a hill at Portmadog behind the Black Rock Sands, a moel, Moel-y-gest.

Black Rock Sands

A 200 metre grey and green granite lump.


Paths weave through the lower slopes, past the grazing sheep and dairy cows.


Converging, often merging into the heather and bracken, meandering through the rocky plug of the peak.


Where you can finally stop for a rest on the iron age fort, above the estuary of the Afon Glaslyn.


Look back.

Black Rock Sands

Peer down on Tremadog.


As the sun dips behind the true mountains of Snowdonia.


And the evening clouds roll over the rippling ridge of Lleyn Peninsula and disperse out over the Irish Sea.


And the long summer grass shivers in the dying light.

[Tag] Tags: moel-y-gest, mountains, portmadog, rural, snowdonia, uk, wales

Thu, 10 Jun 2010

Location: Millennium Bridge

Ten years ago today, a new bridge across the Thames was opened in central London, between St Paul's Cathedral in The City and the recently opened Tate Modern and Globe Theatre attractions in Southwark's Bankside.

Millennium Bridge

The media loved it: another public project that perfectly fit their millennium story, the story of hugely expensive and over-budget government initiated construction projects providing absurd and unloved attractions. Like the Dome, or the "Millennium Wheel". Do you remember the ridiculed and ridiculous Millennium Wheel? Who thought a giant ferris wheel opposite parliament would be a good idea?

Millennium Bridge

After the big tent and the crazy carnival ride, the press thought they'd seen it all. And then, six months later, The Wobbly Bridge was opened, over-budget -- of course -- and late. And, due to an engineering oversight, the bridge rocked. The 100,000 people per day walking upon it caused synchronous lateral excitation: people stepped, the bridge swayed in time to the steps, the people stepped in time to the sways, the bridge swayed further. So two days later, the bridge closed again. It was two years before the problem was fully fixed.

Millennium Bridge

But none of the millennium projects ever did quite fit the farce invented by the newspapers. They succeeded in dampening enthusiasm somewhat for the Dome; but the ferris wheel proved so popular that it became it a permanent fixture, running near capacity every day for ten years. The bridge had its construction issues, but the story was quite the opposite of the badly managed public works project bailed out by the taxpayer: the bridge is built and maintained by Bridge House Trust -- the 700 year old owner of Thames Bridges that has so much investment income that it can afford to fulfil its charter of maintaining London river crossings while building new ones and giving away a surplus to charity.

Millennium Bridge

And the bridge has been a huge success with locals and tourists alike, perfectly placed between attractions, but also a convenient route between the transport hubs of the south bank and the employment hubs of the City. During rush hours it is saturated; tides flood across, several thousand people at a time. And its unique design has been a success: designed to keep a low profile and leave a clear view of the cathedral and the skyline, the short stocky concrete pillars and the gentle steel curves that cradle the deck are much loved.

Millennium Bridge

But the most important and most loved feature of the bridge -- another feature that was unique at the time that it opened -- is that it is a pedestrian-only bridge. The Millennium Bridge represents a wider welcome improvement in the central London environment: a fight back against the anti-social practice of bringing cars into the centre of the city, the reclaiming of street space for people, and generally making it easier and more pleasant for people to get around and to enjoy the city -- especially along the river. It's a job that is very far from being complete, but after the Millennium Bridge opened, the twin pedestrian Jubilee bridges were constructed between Embankment and the South Bank Centre; and there has been massive expansion to the riverside paths. Progress seems to have been slowing lately. It seems like a good time to remind people what a difference the Millennium Bridge made, and how much still needs to be done to fix the streets of central London.

Millennium Bridge

Where and when to shoot it? The obvious spot is on the south side, looking to St Paul's. The bridge deck divides at the south side, such that you can shoot the bridge deck and pedestrians, but also the river and piers beneath at the same time. You will notice that Sir Christopher Wren made a mistake in designing St Paul's: because it is not built perfectly perpendicular to the bridge, when one lines up the shot for symmetry, one finds that the dome of the cathedral appears slightly to the left of centre, rather than appearing exactly above the bridge piers. Other good spots to shoot are from the beaches on either bank at low tide, and also from the top of St Paul's, if you can get in sufficiently early in the morning or late in the afternoon to prevent shooting directly into the sun. The cafe balcony in Tate Modern also looks down on the bridge. The view from Southwark Bridge rarely makes exciting photos. Shooting on the bridge itself would be difficult during the weekday rush hours.

Millennium Bridge

[Tag] Tags: architecture, bridges, london, millennium bridge, photo essays, river thames, structures, uk, urban

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