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November 30, 2008

Doing time

In the steep cobbled back streets of Holmfirth, behind the church,

photo: Freitag.

lies the old gaol. The locals used to call it the Old Towser, except, being from Yorkshire, theyíd say tíOuld Towser.


And here it is again, in a photograph I took 33 years ago:


Both photographs were taken with a Nikon, the old picture with my first 35mm camera:


The latest picture with the D200:


I got the ladders out and among the dusty boxes on the dusty shelves I dug out my first cameras. I wondered if my old Nikon lenses would fit the new Nikon Ė and they do. Whey Hey!

The old lenses are manual so thereís no metering or auto-focusing to be had. But then all that electronic jiggery-pokery does sometimes rather muddy the act of taking the picture.

Time was you just had three things to deal with: the aperture, the shutter speed and the focus. And these were dealt with physically with turny-rings on the lens or camera body. It was a simple, direct, dynamic process.

Now, for heavenís sake, there must be millions of combinations amongst all the multi-function buttons, plus two display screens to look at as well as the viewfinder.

Posted by john at 07:52 PM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2008

Fog or Mist?

On Friday the Met. Office forecast said Saturday would be foggy until 15:00hrs., then misty. This needed clarification.


Fog [fog, fŰg] n. a cloud like aggregation of minute globules of water suspended in the atmosphere at or near the earthís surface limiting visibility to less than 1 km.

Mist [mist] n. a cloud like aggregation of minute globules of water suspended in the atmosphere at or near the earthís surface limiting visibility to more than 1 km.

Here at the Bankfield Bureau of Scientific Investigation I find this kind of opportunity impossible to ignore. So rising late and enjoying a leisurely breakfast I went out into a crisp, still frozen, afternoon and groped my way through the aggregation of minute globules of water suspended in the atmosphere to the Large Field at the back of the mill.

Hammering a post in the hard ground at the edge of the field I strode out boldly until Iíd measured one kilometre. I turned, peered into the fog and indeed couldnít see the first wooden post. I consulted the watch, it was 14:37.

I waited.

And while I waited I took a few photographs.

Emley Moor television and radio signal relay tower

Farnley Tyas from Castle Hill

waggon mist.jpg
the trees you can see in the middle of the mist in the previous photograph...

Then, imagine my delight, as the watch crept to 15:00hrs the far post slowly came into view as the fog became mist. [honest]

Posted by john at 10:10 PM | Comments (1)

November 28, 2008

Coincidence, synchronicity or just random

A few weeks ago, for reasons known only to the inner workings of a deranged mind, I decided to re-read Peter Wrightís 1987 exposť of the British Security Services:


Wright worked for MI5, and describes his frustrating and somewhat embittered search for a mole in the upper echelons of The Service.


George Smiley worked for the Secret Intelligence Service, or as itís known MI6. And, in John Le Carrťís 1974 novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, worked tirelessly to uncover a mole in the upper echelons of The Service.


James Bond works for MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, and last night, in the local Odeon, he was to be found riding rough-shod over the celluloid in a tangled story entitled the Quantum of Solace.

Last night, after returning, somewhat exhausted, from the cinema, I picked up the novel Iím presently reading, the said Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, turned the page and found this sentence:


Coincidence, synchronicity or just random Ė you choose.

Posted by john at 07:53 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2008

Símore on drips

When Iím painting I want it to be paint. That is: I donít want to go down the whole Dominique Ingres getting-rid-of-the-brush-strokes road. So I have big brushes and leave big brush marks on my paintings and more often than not drips, runs and splatters. I want to see some of the energy involved.


I think itís also a fear-of-finishing thing. When something is finished it feels just that, finished, over, dead, no more. I like stuff to stay alive. [There are those who would suggest this is to do with my dad dying when I was 17, but how can we tell where these things come from.]

So even when Iím painting dancers white, to dance their white dances in the blue light, I leave a bit unfinished and dripping.


Itís maybe part of an identity thing. This is what Iím doing and this is me doing it. I donít know. All will become clear in time. [or not]

Posted by john at 03:50 PM | Comments (0)

The Limelight

Time was I trod the boards, but it was a brief time. I soon realised that I preferred being back stage to being on stage. So, in 1986, when Nigel Pickard asked me to be on television, in the programme No73, I said no, thank you.

Doesnít stop me from dressing up from time to timeÖ


JC as Estragon, from Samuel Beckettís Waiting for Godot, 1988

Posted by john at 02:58 PM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2008

Dusty Days

Trawling through the dusty boxes, up on the dusty shelves, I came across some of my college work.

A couple of photographs:


Marian, in Leeds, when Sara Moon was all the rage.


Judith, in Holmfirth

Then I found a picture of me, taken, by whom I know not, around the same time I was taking the above:


me, JC, in Henryís flat in Liverpool.

Posted by john at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2008

Bankfield Gloaming

warm colours in the cold night air above Huddersfield

Posted by john at 04:42 PM | Comments (0)

Great Filing Systems of Our Time [and Indeed Our Forefather's]

In a world dominated by Excel and a time ruled by spreadsheets and cell formulae it's good to know that the simple spike is still the best way of keeping your receipts in chronological order prior to the quarterly accounting.


Posted by john at 01:11 PM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2008


Tricky blighter, Johnny Perspective.

Siege of Tripoli, 1289, unknown artist

It took a while for painters to work out what exactly goes on in the distance.

Laurentius de Voltina, late 14th Century

Trying to come to terms with the duality of perspective and the fact that the man standing next to you, who is the same size as you, is now tiny wee. As we can see here:


To us, this looks ok, and normal and we make all the right assumptions about the distant man being probably about the same size as the front man

But here is the distant man, cut and pasted, next to the front man:


When youíre working on a panel, itíd be really hard to paint the distant man that size, it would feel like the second image Ė ludicrous. When you just have an empty panel or a blank piece of paper, itís difficult to believe the measurements Ė your eye tells you lies, aided and abetted by your mind, which, after all, is only working with recognition and perception not truth.

It wasnít until the 16th Century that artists got to grips with perspective, your man Raphael is oft cited as the first to truly unlock the puzzle, when, at the age of 25, he painted this:

The School of Athens, fresco, 1510 - 1511

It took Father Dougal slightly longer:

Once artists got the hang of perspective, they started to play games with it, adding itís illusionary powers to their tool box. Lots of perspective effects populate the world of optical and psychological illusion. One of the best is the Ames window, conceived by Professor Adelbert Ames.

Posted by john at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)

Mother and child with Harlequin


Who are these people? And whatís going on?

It was painted in the 18th century by an unknown Flemish painter.

Harlequin and his cohorts, Pantaloon and Columbine among them, were popular figures in the 18th Century, before Top of the Pops. They were part of a theatrical combo who worked under the rules of the Comedia dellíArte, an Italian manifesto which aimed to bring the raunchiness back to the theatre which, by the 16th century, had become very formal and staid.

In some stories Columbina married Harlequin, and indeed this could be the case here ,judging by the progeny. Or could it be that the figure on the right is the husband and father, and Harlequin is the lover Ė or indeed the real father. I guess weíll never know.

And what about the figure on the right? It looks almost like it could have been added at a later date.


Whoever painted this was still in the dark about proportions. Itís odd that for all the artistís skill of looking and seeing and putting down a likeness they omitted to notice that a babyís head is significantly larger, in proportion to its body, than that of an adult.

This was a trait often seen in the 13th and 14th Century, when artists still had to work out the intricacies of proportion and perspective.


Madonna and child, Giotto c1320, tempura on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Posted by john at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2008

The music

Itís always tricky. Do you write the music then shoot and cut pictures to it? Or do you shoot and edit then write music to fit?

With drama it tends to be the latter, as the music is under-scoring the drama, though you often have a piece of music in mind while shooting. But with a dance pieceÖ well the dancers canít dance to no music. Having said that, I donít film long sequences to music, I tend to cut short sequences to the music in post production.


So in this instance Ian Sanderson, whoís writing the music for the film, sent me a collection of samples from which I selected a few with the right feel and tempo for the various sequences.


The dancers worked with the samples and I cut a rough sequence together. Ian and I timed it down and he is now away writing a few new sequences and re-mixing some of the existing samples.


So in the mean time I waitÖ

Posted by john at 10:42 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2008

from day to day

Oh! Lordy, lordy,
no matter how often it happens,
and it happens a lot,
as you will know,
if you've been reading these diaries,
it's always difficult when,
one day it's


the next it's


then it's



But I can't complain because


helps pays for


Posted by john at 08:19 PM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2008

Another day of white paint and flour


I use Cryolan Aquacolor for the body paint, lovely stuff, but itís difficult.


As painters found for four hundred years, until Ingres came along, itís difficult to lose the brush strokes. So we, unlike Ingres, who used skill and a 400 year learnt technique, use flour, plain white flour.


This serves two purposes Ė it acts as a mild abrasive, smoothing the white body paint and affectively removing most of the brush stokes, it also creates a wonderful soft dusty texture to the skin.


On the down side the fine flour plays hell with the camera so Iíve got to be careful to keep the airborne flour in another part of the studio.


The result is the smooth white flesh tones I have in many of my photographs and more recently in my films.

Iíve written before about why I paint the figure white, and not come to any conclusions. Suffice it to say I just love the look, itís graceful and timeless and is a good staring point to begin to look at the power complexity of the human form.


Posted by john at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)

Muscle action

Filming continued in the studio last Friday, with two more dancers from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.


Joelle and Lucie putting all the muscles mentioned in the previous post to good use.



Posted by john at 01:14 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2008

List of muscles in the upper body that may be called upon for filming


Latissimus Dorsi
Splenius Capitis
Pectoralis Major
Biceps Brachii
Obliquus Externus
Triceps Brachii
Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus
Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis
Pronator Teres
Flexor Carpi Radialis
Flexor Carpi Ulnaris
Palmaris Longus
Extensor Digitorium

to name but a few

There are six muscle groups which pull and tug at the complex system of levers and joints which generally enable us to pick up an egg and make an omelette:

adductors Ė turn limbs in towards the body
abductorsĖ turn limbs away from the body
pronators Ė turn limbs downwards
supinators Ė turn limbs upwards
flexors Ė contract limbs inwards
extensors Ė expand limbs outwards

It takes a stack of posh computers to make a robot arm pronate itís robot hand, and we can do it, with both hands at once, while doing any number of other fancy tasks.


Clever thing the body.

Posted by john at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)

Meanwhile back in the cutting room...


...the dance film progresses at the speed of an Ice Age.

Still testing, experimenting, sampling, talking to the composer and cutting rough sequences together. Possibly three more days filming to come.

Posted by john at 12:44 AM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2008


Or How To Play Tennis In Four Easy Lessons:



with thanks to Harvey

Posted by john at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2008

M & M Fruitfulness


How cruel is nature when Autumnís brittle thorns pierce the chilly leaves as they fall through the fast approaching winter winds.

Posted by john at 03:20 PM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2008

Two worlds

What it looks like in the film:


and how we got there:





Posted by john at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2008

the film and the photograph

Here's the original photograph:


and here's Elodie translating it for the film:


and not a bad job considering the first image was captured in a moment during a turn and Elodie had to create the position then hold it for ages while I tracked and panned and generally faffed about with the camera and the lights.

Posted by john at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2008

Dancing Day two

working out a sequence

Elodie and Marie rocking the white paint



Posted by john at 11:38 PM | Comments (0)

Are you Hoovering?

Yesterday was the first day of filming. Well, yesterday wasnít the first day of filming, really, because, as you may know if youíve been keeping up, Iíve been filming lighting tests, wig tests, dry-runs, auditions and the like. So yesterday was technically the First Day of Principal Photography. But that sounds rather too grand.

I have a problem with jargon. Basically I donít like it because itís exclusive and creates elites and cliques. But there are some times when it can be useful.

To say, for instance, that I spent the evening looking through all the film that I shot during the day is clumsy and long winded. With jargon [which came from the camera assistants rushing back to the studios with a print from the negative stock developed after work had finished so the directors could see what the camera operators had been seeing all day] I can simply say I watched the rushes and people know what I mean. Though I think that sounds pretentious too, and is not entirely accurate because Iím recording on tape and no-one is rushing anywhere.

Are you still Hoovering if youíre using a Dyson? Tell someone you spent the afternoon Dysoning and confusion might ensue.

Jargon seeps into everyday use as people try to show theyíre part of each specific group, and so it is slowly diluted. Language is an ever evolving medium used for communication, and if communication occurs, then the language used is correct, whatever it was that was said. But when jargon is used to denote superiority thatís not so good. And it happens all the time, in whatever group youíre in, whether it be knitting circles or motor racing.

Posted by john at 11:14 PM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2008

Dancing in the mill

Two dancers from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance spent the day in the studio.


Dancing in the Dance Film With No Title. Oh, it's got a working title: Torsos 4.


But I must be able to come up with something better than that, surely.


Posted by john at 11:41 PM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2008

Cleaner, cameraman and choreographer.

In that order. First I assume the mantle of the former and don the cleaners hat to make sure all is spick and span ready for filming tomorrow.

Wash the floor, hoover the back-drop, polish the dolly wheels, label the tapes.


Cut the gels, fold the skrim, clean the lens, undust the lights.


Posted by john at 11:45 PM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2008

More lighting tests

Tricky business shooting white figures against a black background. It's a sort of all or nothing situation. Got to get the exposure just right, not too much flare, not too much contrast, not too heavy shadows. Doesn't help we're using coloured filters either. There'll be some tweeking to do in Final Cut, I guess.


F4 seems to be about right for now.

Posted by john at 10:42 PM | Comments (0)

November 02, 2008

On the desk

My desk, this morning,


while planning the shots and sequences for the dance film

Posted by john at 07:10 PM | Comments (0)