Notes from underground

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Archive for the category “photography”

The Midwich cuckoos: dresses and mannequins

We go into Woolworths to buy hummus because tomorrow is Wednesday, and there are two mannequins near the door, with little girls’ dresses. Val says that when she was little girl she would have loved to to have a dress like that. I barely notice the dress, I am struck by the mannequins, which look like something out of a horror movie, the Midwich cuckoos or something.

I stopped to take photos of them. As we leave Val mentions the dresses again, and how she liked them. I said I was so struck by the eyes of the models that I hardly noticed what they were wearing, and she was so struck by the dresses that he did not notice the eyes at all.

We walk down the mall, discussing how people rarely make their own clothes nowadays, and think of our family history research, where the occupation of so many people in 19th-century census records was given as “dressmaker”. Back then it was probably rare to buy clothes off the shelf.

Well, there’s my photo, but the eyes are far less scary in the picture than they were in reality. They look as though they are peacefully sleepwalking, but in the shop the eyes were fiercely glittering. Perhaps I should have turned the flash off.

But it is interesting how people can look at the same things, and yet see something completely different.

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, what saw you there?
I saw a little mouse under a chair.

Cherie’s Place » Avebury

Avebury is a fascinating site that connects to other prominent features in the ancient landscape. What remains of the Avebury Circles is largely reconstructed. In the 1930s Alexander Keiller having purchased the site of Avebury and part of West Kennet Avenue started to excavate the site and in time restore the site to some of its former glory. Where stones had been removed he placed concrete plinths to mark their former position. The outbreak of WWII put a stop to the excavations and restoration. Sadly the excavations have never been resumed.

via Cherie’s Place » Avebury.

Thanks to Cherie for a fascinating description and some beautiful photos.

Avebury

via Cherie’s Place » Avebury.

One of the reasons that I found it so interesting was that I first learnt about Avebury in a series of stories about moles — my review of the first book in the series follows below.  The moles had a religion connected with stones and silence, and so Avebury, with its standing stones, was a kind of holy place for them. The moles also had special ceremonies on longest night and shortest night, and so it seemed appropriate that last night (or is it tonight?) was the longest night here, and the shortest night at Avebury.

The series of mole books unfortunately seemed to deteriorate as it went on. I got the impression that the author wrote the first one because he enjoyed it, and the others because he was under pressure from his publishers to produce sequels. The second and third books weren’t too bad, though not up to the standard of the first, while the last three in the series were dreck.

But anywau, many thanks to Cherie for posting the information and the pictures at such an appropriate time.
Duncton Wood (Duncton Chronicles, #1)Duncton Wood by William Horwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On reading this for the first time, it seemed to have been inspired by the popularity of Watership Down by Richard Adams. What Adams did for rabbits, Horwood does for moles.

The system of mole tunnels under Duncton Wood is large, and moles in one part hardly know those from other parts of the system. There also some parts of the system that are almost forgotten, and there are also some customs that have been forgotten as well, so that the moles are using their centre, the silence of the Stone at the centre of the system. This enables a cruel tyrant, Mandrake, to take over the system.

Two young mioles, Bracken and Rebecca, the latter Mandrake’s daughter, meet, and eventually embark on a liberation struggle.

The moles are given a philosophy and a mythology that is very human, and yet it somehow does not seem to diminish their moleness.

View all my reviews

 

A tale of two cameras — or is it three?

In August 2008 I bought a new digital camera. It was a discontinued model, a Samsung S630, going cheap. It was an improvement on the one we had, though. It had a zoom lens and autofocus, and 6 megapixels, whereas the old one was fixed focal length, fixed focus, and 4 megapixels.

It worked fine for a couple of years, and then started to get unreliable. It wouldn’t take photos, it wouldn’t shut down half the time, and so my wife and I bought a couple of new ones to take on our holiday last year, Olympus X44. They were similar to the Samsung, but had 14 megapixels, though we kept them set on 8 megapixels for ordinary shooting to save disk space.

Here they are:

Cameras1

That one was taken with my HTC ChaCha cell phone.

But I have since discovered that that the Olympus has its own problems. The autofocus seems to be pretty erratic, and produces pictures like this:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Samsung, on the other hand, seems to have started working again. Replacing the batteries, rather than simply recharging them, seemed to do the trick.

The Samsung is also easier to operate.

It has a knob on the top that you turn for the main settings — auto everything, movies, reduce camera shake, manual setting and so on.

On the Olympus, these settings appear on the screen, except that in bright sunlight you can’t see a thing on the screen, not even the picture you’re trying to take, so you just have to hope for the best. Even when you can see the screen, finding the setting you want can take a long time, by which time whatever you want to take may have vanished. A killer wildebeest could have cantered away. The hit-and-run driver could have run long ago. With the Samsung, one turn of the knob and you’re there — movie, still, whatever.

But the cell phone camera seems to be more reliable than either! It even takes movies, with sound.

The past as it was: rare color photos of Czarist Russia

Most of us have, or at least have seen, photos taken about 100 years ago: ourgrandparents and great grandparents in stiff poses, the women wearing enormous Edwardian hats, the children looking like miniature adults. The photos are black and white or sepia, and it is hard to imagine that our ancestors lived in a colourful world.

Hat tip to Ad Orientem: Rare Color Photographs of Czarist Russia:

The Library of Congress has a display of photographs taken by the royal photographer of Czar St. Nicholas II online. Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was given special funding and transportation by the Czar, including a private train, with the commission to create a photographic record of his vast empire.

But when we see them in colour, kids look like real kids:

Back in those days colour photographs were taken only by professionals, and were expensive. They were only used rarely, for book illustrations and things like that, because of the cost. A special camera was used, which took three negatives either simultaneously or in quick succession, through red, green and blue filters. These could then be projected on a screen through filters (rather like early video projectors, which had separate red, green and blue lenses), but were usually used for making colour plates for books.

It was only after the First World War that colour film became available for amateur use. At first there were many different processes. Some were additive (red+green+blue), like Dufaycolor (one can see a lot of them in 1930s National Geographic magazines). These had the filters built into the film — OK for large format negatives, but the pattern of the filters was intrusive in 35mm film, rather like an enlarged 0.5 megapixel photo today. So subtractive processes, like Kodachrome and Kodacolor, were developed in the 1930s and 1940s, where the silver in the image was replaced by coloured dyes in the development process. The problem with this is that dyes fade, so a lot of old colour negatives and slides have faded and lost much of their original colour.

But Prokudin-Gorskii used a camera that made colour-separations with three negatives, using silver, not dyes, and, by using digital techniques, the colour is as fresh as the day the pictures were taken. And so we can see Edwardian (well, actually Nikolaivian) pictures showing what the people really looked like a century ago.

It’s a fascinating collection, and you can see more here.

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