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[About me] About the author

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 westcountry all tags

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Tue, 10 Mar 2009

Grant Museum of Zoology


amphibians! snake!
fish! Australopithecus
Neanderthal snakes!

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

Tue, 3 Mar 2009

Creativity and science

Somebody said something rather odd the other day. It was in response to the observation that I know a great many scientists and mathematicians who are also amateur photographers. Their suggestion was that photography was a good way to express one's creative side.

Now, there are a few dozen photographs in my collection that I'm particularly happy with. They are technically competent and have a modicum of aesthetic value. But if they demonstrate creativity is is of the most trivial variety, and in pitiful quanta. That is not to say that photography can not be creative; only that amateur photographers rarely display any significant quantity of it. We create images that have been created before, follow formulas and fashions, and imitate each other's styles. And so what. Amateur anything -- painting, poetry, music and sport -- is about having fun, not about creating world changing work.

Science, on the other hand, has everything to do with creativity. A scientist's job is to replace a package of ignorance with a package of knowledge. Scientists do not create facts -- a task so simple that it is left to the science-fiction writers. Rather, the facts are already there, waiting to be discovered. The task of the scientist is to create the hypothesis -- to ask the question so out-there that nobody has ever thought to ask it before -- and to create the experiment that will test it.

The achievement of Watson and Crick -- determining the structure of DNA -- is often derided by those who rightly wish to celebrate the achievements of Rosalind Franklin. Franklin performed many of the difficult experiments whose results were crucial for determining the structure of DNA. According to some, Franklin was doing clever physics and chemistry while Watson and Crick were playing around with toy molecules. Watson and Crick did eventually get the structure by building a model, with a small amount of trial and error involved.

In reality, Watson and Crick got to the model by being creative. They created ideas and hypotheses from data such as x-ray crystallography and knowledge like nucleotide ratios and properties. They had the creative idea to have the toy molecules built and to cut out the tedious and time consuming experimental work that would be required to fill the remaining gaps by simply trying out variations until they found the one that worked.

Nobelist Harry Kroto does not feel like a great scientist because he doesn't know everything. He enjoys science, but thinks that all he is any good at is designing logos and posters. Harry: your designs are, ah... nice. But your science is where you are creative. And that is why you are a great scientist.

Bugger knowing everything. What fun would science be then?

[Tag] Tags: creativity, philosophy of science, photography, science

Thu, 1 Jan 2009

Photoshop is cheating!

I only use a camera like I use a toothbrush. It does the job.

- Don McCullin

All of the photographs on this website and my flickr stream are Photoshopped. I adjust the contrast, fine tune the white balance, and tweak the sharpness. I clone stamp out dust blots and power lines. I apply graded layer masks to create dramatic skies that did not really exist. I am quite happy to share this fact. Some people, for reasons best known to themselves, would think this a shameful admission.

I can not explain those people who consider the use of Photoshop to be a form of "cheating", except to speculate that they must be cretins. Perhaps they think that once a photograph has been through Photoshop adjustments, it is not a true representation of the scene that was shot. It is not what they saw. They must think that cameras themselves are objective instruments. Well, since when has any photograph looked like what you saw? You have a camera that takes photographs that match your eye for depth of field, sharpness, colour perception, focal length, field of view, distortion, and tonal range? A fascinating machine that must be, but what a boring range of images it must take.

Cameras are not objective. Their construction determines dozens of deviations from the world as we see it, and photographers take advantage of these to picture the world as the human eye could never see it. The human eye has no telephoto, no macro, no panorama. Cameras can do noir , with monochrome and grain, or vivid sunlit landscapes in colours that we do not see. Add a tripod and they can do long exposures of dark details and flowing water, or ultra-fast exposures of bullets frozen in the air. Add filters and they can see polarised light or the infrared spectrum. Add lensing and they can see particles in an accelerator, or galaxies thirteen billion years in the past. No Photoshop needed.

Perhaps it's not that cameras are objective, it's just that photographers should not need to use Photoshop. They should be able to get the right image using their skill in handling the camera. A good photographer should be able to create the right image by intelligent use of aperture and shutter speed, filters and lighting. Using Photoshop is an admission that one failed to use the camera properly. Like Ansel Adams didn't fiddle with his pictures in the darkroom. Like photographers haven't been dodging and burning, cropping and airbrushing for more than a century. Photoshopping isn't new. It's just easier and better than it was.

In the right hands, a cheap Russian film camera can take some nice photos (nice photos that look nothing like the world as we see it,incidentally). A great musician can make a cheap acoustic guitar produce beautiful music. But what a boring world it would be if every photo was made with a Lomo, and every piece of music played on an Argos guitar. Where would rock and roll be if quality amplifiers were considered "cheating"? Imagine if film and television techniques were considered to be cheating, and that a talented director should be able to produce a good drama just by putting a stationary camera in the perspective of an audience member at the theatre. Imagine if Watson and Crick's model was a cheat, because good scientists should be able to figure out structures just by pondering on x-ray crystallography pictures?*

Why would anybody who wished to produce something of quality refuse to use the tools available to them?

 * oh, wait, some people think this, too.

[Tag] Tags: bad arguments, photography, photoshop

Sun, 28 Sep 2008

The Big Busk

Photographs from London's Big Busk are here.

The Big Busk

[Tag] Tags: events, festivals, london, music, south bank, uk

Sat, 6 Sep 2008


Oh. Wow. Currently lead item on the Daily Mail Sci & Tech pages:

[Tag] Tags: badjournalism, ban this sick filth

Fri, 9 Mar 2007

Vote for me!


Vote for the Garden of Rest at Arno's Vale for the "Entropy" theme of the next JPEG Magaizne:

  • Vote here!
  • Update: I took a better photo, vote for this shot of Arno's Vale for the Entropy theme of the next JPEG Magazine instead!

  • Vote here!

Arno's Vale is a large municipal Victorian cemetery in Bristol, England. Over several decades the cemetery has become seriously overgrown and derelict. The chapels are boarded up and unsafe, and in places the woodland is getting quite thick and mature. Since it was featured on BBC Restoration a few years ago it has recieved some funding, and in places has been tidied up, though much more funding is required to restore the buildings. This was taken in early November 2006.

[Tag] Tags: arnos vale, bristol, jpeg magazine, photography

Tue, 9 Jan 2007

Site updates

OK, so I spent the best part of four weeks completely rewriting the site from scratch. There's still various little bits of tidying up to do, but it's mostly there. The main thing I need to do is fix the Firefox specific CSS - firefox doesn't understand "inline-block" yet, so while the blog is looking good on Opera and IE it looks a bit yucky on Firefox. The new site software is much more powerful and based on a wiki. Visitors can "suggest" edits, which won't go live until I approve them. I've created a new biology section which I plan to fill with little biology reference cards, if I ever find the time, and I've set the biology namespace up so that the edits of any registered user (see login box top-right of front page) don't need approving before going live, so you're all welcome to contribute to the cards.

I've also completely redone the photos and photoblog sections to use the Flickr API, rather than being hosted on Cotch. Some of the older links to photos and galleries may be broken, but I've been working through fixing them. I hadn't copied all the old titles, descriptions and keywords over to flickr, so at the moment there are still a lot of photos with little to tell you where they are or what they're of, but I'm working on that too.

It has been so long since I've written anything for the blog! There's a years worth of changes to the photos section: new galleries for Cincinnati, Boston, Oxford, Weymouth, Portland, the Jurassic Coast, and so on. Since May photos have been taken with a Nikon D50 + 18-200mm f3.5-5.6g dx vr, rather than the old point and shoot, which had reached the end of its useful life. There has been quite a bit of interest in buying prints and licenses, so I'm thinking about setting up a prints + posters page somewhen soon.

I was also too busy to bother writing anything for the blog last year. I have several things lined up though. They may trickle in over the next few days/weeks, when I get a moment. I should probably do the bugs in the RSS feeds first though!

[Tag] Tags: meta

Sun, 13 Mar 2005

Earth From The Air

Earth From The Air

Earth From The Air

An exhibition of photographs by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Earth From The Air is touring the country. It's currently in Millennium Square, Bristol, next to @Bristol, and will be for a few weeks. The photos, of which there are examples here, document the growth of the human population and the effect that has on biodiversity, climate, pollution, health etc, and is a reminder that war, famine, disease and pestilence aren't dead. The exhibition is also at Birmingham town hall until Nov 8th.

[Iraqi tank graveyard]
Iraqi tank graveyard in Kuwait

[Tag] Tags: environmentalism, photography, reviews

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My other blog is a...
  • Science blog! A blog about cancer cell and molecular biology, coming soon...
  • Skepticism blog! I contribute to the group blog Lay Science on the nature of science, skepticism, and bad arguments.
  • Science publishing blog! It's called Journalology and it's a group blog about publishers, journals, papers and data.
  • Fiction blog! Where I make stuff up, coming soon...
  • Cycling and transport policy blog! I run the group blog At War With The Motorist, where we look at evidence-based urban planning and transport policy, and ride bikes.

Follow them all here.

Find me here...

Creative Commons License All text and photography on this site is Joe Dunckley 2001-10, except where stated otherwise. Text and photos are released under the terms of the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license, meaning that you may reuse, remix, and republish the work for non-commercial purposes, on the condition that a credit is given to "Joe Dunckley/" and you make it clear that the work is released under this license. See this page for more detailed conditions. Contact me to enquire about commercial and editorial use.