Would you believe it, a whole nine months have passed already. This month we crossed the 100-days-to-go point and oh boy, I really need to find some other things to photograph.
Much of the warm and settled weather is now behind us and we now stare down the barrel of another 6 months of darkness and rain. Would you believe it, this post is already eight days late, so better squeeze something out.
As months go, it was pretty uneventful, apart from the very end. The last week of September was spent nursing a poorly cat, who spent the weekend at the emergency vet after being mauled by a dog. He has nerve damage to his front leg and a load of bite marks around his chest. He’s a stubborn old thing though and has handled the ordeal like a champ.
Speaking of dogs, I did have a visit from the black dog earlier this month. It has been a while, but I could feel it creeping on for the past few weeks. You can’t do very much when you’re in the middle of one –they suck all of the vitality out of you, everything feels like an ordeal, but the fog inevitably lifts and gives you a chance to reset and figure out where you could have done things differently.
Thoughts lead to feelings, which inevitably lead to behaviours that result in altered thoughts again. These can either be good or bad, a virtuous circle if you will. If you neglect physical activity or diet, or live with clutter, this can create a feedback loop that is difficult to get out of.
I’m fortunate that I know enough about myself now that I can usually find my way through it and I can see it for what it is, but if you are struggling, please reach out to someone, whether that is your doctor, a friend or your local mental health service, if you have one.
Being September, Autumn is starting to show its face again. The leaves are starting to fall from the trees, but the temperature has other ideas. It has been very warm lately, which is probably a good thing as the cost of energy seems to be spiralling out of control.
I must say, I am looking forward to winter though. As I’ve got older I’ve started to appreciate not being constantly hot and sweaty, or needing another shower after a short period of physical activity.
I don’t have too many new music picks for the month unfortunately, apart from one. Armored Saint released an album in 2020 called Punching The Sky. It’s excellent.
If you’ve not heard of Armored Saint, you may have heard John Bush from his time in Anthrax (the best period of Anthrax, I’ll have you know). Bush is a great frontman and a classy metal vocalist and Punching the Sky is a fine album. There’s also a new Ministry album out, but that’s a story for October.
Ok, that’s it for September’s ramblings. On with October…which we’re nearly halfway through already. Oops.
This past year I’ve been doing something I didn’t think I’d be doing again. After getting rid of all of my CDs, DVDs, books and anything else that wasn’t bolted down, I’ve been re-buying many of them.
Whilst streaming can be great for discovering things you might have missed, it’s all too easy for an album or song to disappear from your chosen streaming platform when you just need to listen to it again.
I started buying CDs in the early 90s. The first one I ever bought was Megadeth’s “Youthanasia”. It was a great album and, because I was relying on pocket money at the time, it was my only CD for a very long time.
I played that CD to death. Well, when I say to death, I mean to the point where I couldn’t face listening to it again –and I still can’t some 30 years later. The CD was completely unharmed and would still work today if I hadn’t minimised it.
Some months ago, I wanted to listen to Type O Negative’s last album, “Dead Again”. I went onto Apple Music, searched for it in my library and there it was, greyed out. “Sorry, this album is no longer on Apple Music”. Really? Why?
Well, between the release of “Life is Killing Me” and “Dead Again”, the band changed record label and for whatever reason, Dead Again disappeared from streaming services for a while. It has come back again, but mostly because there are still members of the band still around to maintain its legacy. Pete may no longer be with us, but Kenny and Johnny are doing some great work with Silvertomb.
However, we are talking about relatively recent albums here. What will become of much older works that are left to the mercy of record labels and the estates of deceased bandmembers? If you have the CD (or vinyl) you no longer have to worry about it. What about bands that released one great album and then disappeared?
The 90s was a fertile ground for niche metal bands. Drain, Face Down, Pissing Razors –many of them riffing on trends established by the bigger acts of the time. Face Down were often called a Machine Head tribute act; Drain toured with Fear Factory during the Demanufacture tour but sounded rather like Dirt-era Alice in Chains; and Pissing Razors followed the double-bass orientated groove-metal style of Fear Factory.
Drain’s “Horror Wrestling” has completely disappeared; Face Down are still around, but “Mindfield” isn’t; and Pissing Razors’ self-titled album has just returned to streaming services and the band is still around and producing music.
Music aside, there is a lot to be said for having a little booklet of artwork and lyrics to read through on the trip home from the shop. Having a disc that sounds great and will last for decades is also a bonus. So, how do you have the convenience of streaming with the security of physical media?
Plex is a service that you can run on a NAS (network attached storage). You load it up with your mp3 or FLAC files; any movies you’ve bought from places like Vimeo On Demand; install the apps on your phone, streaming TV box etc and just start listening.
It also means that if you’ve bought anything on Bandcamp, such as some classic vaporwave or mallsoft you can stream them from Plex as well.
If you want to sync music to your devices for offline play you’ll need to shell out the £4 per month for Plex Pass, but with that you also get access to a load of very niche movies –mostly B-movie horror flicks from the 80s.
Of course, there are downsides to rolling your own streaming service. For starters you’re going to have to deal with the maintenance involved in running a NAS. There are going to be periodic firmware and app updates to contend with. I have a QNAP NAS and most firmware updates remove the SSL certificate you use when you login to the server’s back end. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a nuisance.
You also have to deal with power outages. Removing power from a NAS suddenly is rarely a good idea and you’ll have to wait for it to do a thorough check when you turn the power back on. A UPS (uninterruptable power supply) is on the shopping list.
Plex also releases software updates regularly, which usually have to be done manually as the version on QNAP’s own app store is much older than the current version.
The upside is that I have plenty of space for all of my music, camera RAW files, scanned 35mm negatives (massive TIFF files); GoPro footage and anything else I produce over the next few years. If the worst happens and I lose my files, I still have the discs to fall back on.
I’ve long considered myself quite fortunate that I was born at a time when everyone shot film and I was well into adulthood when digital came along. My first digital camera was a Fuji Finepix A204 with a whopping 2 megapixels.
However, after a string of digital SLRs I picked up a film one back in 2012 –a Nikon F80. It cost the princely sum of £50 from London Camera Exchange and it’s fantastic. It takes two CR123 batteries that last for months (literally, not figuratively) and it does everything you’d want a camera to do. Pair that with a negative scanner and you’re set –providing you can find a lab that still processes film. Sadly I got back into it too late for Kodachrome. I’d love to have shot some of that, for those amazing bold reds you’ll see in the works of Saul Leiter, Ernst Haas and Fred Herzog.
You may groan, but there’s a lot to be said for waiting until you’ve finished a roll to see what you’ve got, then going through the process of getting them scanned and put up on Flickr. It’s exciting in a way that digital often isn’t.
Yes, it may appear more expensive if you shoot a lot, but you have to take the cost of the camera into account, plus the ever-present push to upgrade. A £50 SLR, a £100 50mm F1.8 and a roll of whichever film you want to use. It leaves plenty of change for processing, batteries and more film.
On the other hand, I have hard drives full of files of digital photos that I’ll probably never publish –shots I’ve taken in the hope they might work out. They didn’t, but yet they still sit on a drive somewhere.
Yes, digital content is certainly convenient, but it’s easy and often forgettable as experiences go.
Sometimes things need to be a challenge, sometimes you need to spend time working out the kinks; sometimes you need to remember the journey there, not just arriving.
I’m going to show my age now, but 30 years ago a raft of really important albums were released.
Music, like most forms of art, can transport us back to what was probably a simpler time and for me, 1991 was a much simpler time –apart from the existential horror that is puberty.
However, the grunge scene was starting to find its feet in the USA, pushing the hair-metal off to the side and giving us some astonishing albums to boot.
Temple of the Dog
In April 1991, Temple of the Dog’s self-titled and only album was released, seeing the late, great Chris Cornell join forces with the equally great Eddie Vedder, who would both have albums released later that year –Pearl Jam’s stunning “Ten” in August and Soundgarden’s “BadMotorFinger” in October.
Unfortunately I didn’t discover Temple of the Dog until much later in life –the only way to listen to anything that wasn’t mainstream in 1991 was to either take the chance on the cassette or CD, or hope to see it on Beavis & Butthead or Noisy Mothers in the early hours of the morning. We didn’t get the internet until the mid 90s and Napster didn’t arrive until the early 2000s. Even then it still took hours to download a single song.
What I did hear is Pearl Jam’s stunning debut album Ten, Nirvana’s Nevermind and in the metal sphere, Metallica’s self-titled “black” album. Truth be told, Guns & Roses was my gateway into hard rock and metal with Appetite for Destruction. My sister made a tape for me, with Appetite for Destruction on one side and Metallica on the other side, without telling me what was on side 2.
That would set me off on a path that shaped the rest of my life. My best mate would introduce me to Pantera, Fear Factory and a host of others and things just escalated from there really. Time spent learning the guitar and drums soon followed and well, that’s a story for another day.
In 1991 Use Your Illusion 1 and 2 were released, which would feature on 1991’s big blockbuster movie, Terminator 2.
This is just a handful, of course. There was also the Red Hot Chili Peppers “Blood Sugar” album; U2’s “Actung Baby”; Sepultura’s “Arise”; Ozzy Osborne’s “No More Tears”; PM Dawn’s “Of the heart”; Van Halen’s “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”; and many more.
Best of all, I still listen to a lot of these regularly, 30 years later. That’s the great thing about music. It is with you from one decade to the next and can transport you back to those simpler times at will. There may always be songs on heavy rotation at pivotal times in your life –for better or for worse. They’ll always be with you —providing you still have the CD.
Where is the time going, eh? It’s September and we’re heading back into the darkness and well, slightly colder rain.
It also means that we’re closing in on 100 days to go until the end of this current photo-a-day project.
One big reason for forcing yourself to shoot every day is that whilst there will be days where you really can’t summon the energy to shoot, you do anyway and sometimes things work out.
I had many days where the motivation was in short supply this month, but on those days my subconscious seems to come up with a plan.
These lemons were the result of subconscious me deciding that shooting some stuff from the fridge on the surface of a mirror seemed like a good idea. Luckily I had three lemons in the fridge –rule of odds ahoy! Oddly, it seemed to work out ok.
I did get out for a few walks, but I’m a little bored of walking the same circular routes over and over. This month I took a walk around the other side of the tracks, onto the industrial estates and hunted for some new subjects.
One thing I did do this month is get some photos printed. I have a store on Fine Art America where you can buy my photos printed on all sorts of things –including phone cases and shower curtains.
I had a large-ish print of what I’ve dubbed “Red Forest” sent out to me, rolled in a tube. From ordering it took around 4 days to arrive and is on some good quality paper. I’m quite impressed.
On the subject of printing, a few photos from this month have been added to my inventory, which is always a good feeling. At least if I decide to stop shooting every day come January I’ll have banked some reasonable shots from all this.
With that said, even though some days feel like a bind, forcing myself to create “something” is good for my overall wellbeing, so I might stick with it in 2022.
Feel free to head over to the store and have a mooch around. In the meantime, on with September.
Well, these monthly updates seem to be getting later and later, but I am still plugging away at this photo-a-day project. However, there was a little fly in the ointment this month.
Towards the end of July, my camera took an unfortunate dunk in the river and hasn’t quite been the same since.
Same old, same old
One thing about doing one of these projects at a time when people aren’t doing their normal things is that you end up going around and around in circles. To be honest, I’ve probably mentioned this already in previous updates, but such is the circular nature of life in the early 2020s, everything feels like it has been done before.
Fortunately, now that I’m double-jabbed I have braved some new-yet-old places that I’d not visited for a while. I took a trip to town on a couple of occasions and grabbed some shots of Castle Arcade.
Whilst much of the world has been on fire this month, here in South Wales we’ve been having a mixture of scorching heat and torrential downpours. As a youngster I used to like the really hot weather, but middle-aged me is far more partial to the rain.
The heat has been stifling, but the rain has been overwhelming the gutters and bouncing off the pavements. Still, I’d take that over what has been going on in much of southern Europe and the USA lately.
This month I treated myself to yet another 50mm prime. To be honest, this is starting to get a little absurd, as I now have three, although one is a Jupiter 8 from the 1960s.
I’m using a Nikon Z6 at the moment, but I’ve been using it with an f-mount lens and the F-to-Z adaptor. I thought I’d dispense with the adaptor and get a Z-mount 50 instead.
The new lens is optically a step above the old AF-S model, but is also better weather-sealed. This is fortunate, because I would end up dunking both the camera and the new lens in the river at the end of July. This was not my finest hour.
The lens is fine, fortunately. No water made it into the lens, onto the sensor, battery compartment or card slot, but the screen on the back is completely dead. The whole thing is on its way to Nikon for repair.
In the meantime, I’ve managed to get a second Z6 for a bargain price, so I’ll use that whilst the other one is being repaired.
The month started a theme that would play out over the course of the month. I’ve spent a lot of time this month feeling rather nostalgic for my younger years –the 1990s in particular.
The 90s were where my lifelong love affair with metal really started to build, the band Fear Factory in particular. My best mate and I would listen to their legendary second album Demanufacture over and over. We’d also watch Terminator 2 rather a lot, which was sampled liberally by Fear Factory on that album.
Metal inevitably led me to buy my first guitar and teach myself to play it. I got myself up to a reasonable standard before briefly joining a band. However, the band had trouble nailing down a drummer, so with money I had in savings I bought a drum kit…and taught myself to play that.
The band I was in recorded a few demos, played a number of gigs in Cardiff and Swansea, including Clwb Ifor Bach, Sams Bar and Swansea University but eventually fizzled out as my interest waned and the others shifted towards electro-pop. They were good times, but this year has reminded me just how much music has been a part of my life.
Fear Factory actually released another album this month –Aggression Continuum. Fittingly, it’s the last album with the original vocalist, as he’s had quite enough of the drama that has been unfolding behind the scenes since Fear Factory’s inception, but it’s an excellent way for him to bow out. A good album.
Frustratingly, I had quite a few days this month where my brain and I weren’t on speaking terms. I didn’t get out anywhere as much as I should have and I paid for that.
The good news is I did get my second vaccination, so that’s comforting. Once the slight weariness has worn off I’ll hopefully start venturing further from the house. I’m well into the stage where I have to check I’m not posting photos that look like ones I’ve already taken.
When you stay within the same area it’s easy to fall into the trap of taking the easy options and sticking with what you know. The hard part is looking at things in a different way.
You may or may not have seen a little-known mini-series on the SciFi channel called The Langoliers. It was a TV adaptation of a Stephen King short story called Four Past Midnight.
Anyway, it tells the story of a disparate bunch of people who fall asleep on a plane ride and wake up to find that everyone else is gone. After a bit of detective work they discover that they’ve entered a rift in time and are a few minutes behind the rest of the world.
Well, that pretty much sums up my May anyway. Apart from the plane ride and the disparate bunch of people, obviously.
Lots happened, I think?
I reached the end of the month thinking it was all quite dull, but looking back it appears we had an election, a lot of rain and some new music to listen to.
This month we had the Senedd elections here in Wales, Scottish Parliament elections in Scotland along with mayoral and local elections in England. There wasn’t a lot of change for us, apart from the Ayn Rand enthusiasts losing their seats in the Welsh Parliament, so that’s good.
I had a bit of a shopping spree this month. I picked up a few books to read –Michael Lewis’ “Boomerang”; Morgan Housel’s “The Psychology of Money”; and Scott Galloway’s “Post Corona”.
Michael Lewis’ book “The Big Short” was very entertaining, so I thought I’d try another. The other two popped up as recommendations, but the Scott Galloway book seems particularly relevant at the moment.
There was a lot of rain this month…so many of the photos I took had a certain look to them. That of overwhelming dampness.
I shouldn’t be too surprised, I am in Wales after all, but even so, on the back of a very dry April it is a bit of a shock to the system. It’s what the plants sorely needed though.
Fortunately I’ve grown to love shooting in the rain. The outside world becomes much more peaceful; there’s a lot more life in the woodland streams and the local industrial estate looks positively dystopian.
Speaking of dystopia, Gary Numan released a new album this month. It’s called Intruder and it is excellent. Gary Numan’s work occupies that middle ground between riff-heavy industrial music created by the likes of Fear Factory, Die Krupps and Front Line Assembly and synth-pop like Chvrches. As I’m quite partial to both, it’s right up my street.
As we reached the end of May things started to brighten up. Temperatures rose to the high teens and early 20s just in time for the bank holiday.
I go into June feeling a need to re-set myself again. I’ve somehow lost sight of the plans that I had going into the month and have begun drifting again.
I did take one positive step though –I’ve deactivated my Facebook account and removed the Facebook page for my other website. I’m trying to be more conscious of the time I’m spending online and aimlessly scrolling Facebook doesn’t seem like a particularly good use of it. Hardly anything I see in my news feed these days is from friends. It’s mostly ads…and clickbait that my friends have reacted to.
The next mission is to extract myself from Youtube and Twitter. Wish me luck…
A Perfect Circle were a band I regretfully failed to give a proper airing. They emerged in the early 2000s when “new metal” was starting to hit the mainstream. However, unlike a lot of other bands that were around at the time, A Perfect Circle seem to have aged far better than most.
This track is on their 2018 album “Eat the Elephant” and is a standout track in a largely solid album. Why I’m sharing it here is because the video is particularly relevant for the times we are living in.
Despite being more “connected” than ever, as a society we are arguably further apart than at any other time in my life. Pictures on a screen are not a substitute for a real connection.
Social media platforms may have started out as a means of connecting people, but they have gradually transitioned to an advertising platform that gets between you and the people in your life.
April was an interesting month, for both good and not-so-good reasons. I had my first COVID-19 shot and even went to the dentist as well, so that’s good. There’s a reassuring hint of the normal life creeping back in.
With that said, there’s a lot about the past 12 months that I’d like to keep, but perhaps with a little less languishing and uncertainty.
This month I’ve rediscovered my long-forgotten Last.fm profile. As social networks go, one primarily focussed on discovering new music is one I can get behind. I’ve accumulated over 37,000 scrobbles on the site over the years, but this month saw a new entry in the form of Porcupine Tree.
A progressive rock band from Hertfordshire, England, it featured Steven Wilson on vocals and guitar, plus the excellent drummer and fellow Gavin, Gavin Harrison. I’ve picked up their last two albums (“In Absentia” and “Deadwing”) on CD and they’ve pretty much been on repeat for weeks. It’s a shame they decided to call it a day really.
As mentioned earlier, there were a couple of milestones this month on the route back to normality. My first of two jabs happened a couple of weeks ago, giving me a bit of a sore arm but at least some partial protection from the virus that brought the whole world to a standstill a year ago.
There was also a dental checkup and a couple of trips into the office to add to the feelings of normality. However, before lockdown my main mission was to clear away the debt I’d built up over the years. I’m not proud to say there was quite a lot of it a few years ago and there has always been some since buying my first car at around 21 years of age, but after selling most of my worldly possessions and living on a very strict budget for a few years I cleared the last of it in May 2020. Yet, apart from a brief “yay” I never really acknowledged that fact. It just passed by, only to be replaced by the next problem or hurdle that lay before me.
It meant I was able to buy the camera I’m using for this project with my own money, which was a nice feeling, but I still feel like something is amiss. I feel the need to get my teeth into something new, but I don’t yet know what.
Spring has been taking its sweet time this year. There has been hints of change in the air since February, but the trees remained stubbornly bare and the forest floor was just as barren, but finally the forests are alive with the sounds, smells and colours of spring.
I’ve been keeping a really close eye on the garlic this year. Truth be told I’ve become a bit of a garlic-bore of late. I have many, many photos of Ramsons in various stages of growth cluttering up my photo library, but they’re now starting to flower and it’s probably time to stop…
As we head into May I have little sense of what is in store. Here in Wales we have a Senedd election coming up on the 6th May, but after that, who knows. In the meantime, here’s a slideshow of the month just gone. Now, on with May.
As months go March was pretty good, at least in the photographic sense. Spring was most definitely in the air and the sunshine we did have had a touch more warmth in it than we’d have in “winter” mode.
However, I’m already feeling as though I’m exhausting the points of interest within the neighbourhood. It’s been a year since we retreated to our homes to wait out the pandemic, but I get the feeling that it’s still not quite done with us yet.
I’m starting to reach the limits of the equipment I have where water is concerned. It’s a nice problem to have, but it’s just too bright in the evenings at the moment. A tripod and an ND filter has been added to my shopping list.
Fortunately, there’s some water in some very dark places…
I decided to return to the mine tunnel, the former Cwm Dws Colliery that I shot last month, but spent a bit more time setting up the shot using some flat rocks I found nearby. It is said that the tunnel goes back around 400m into the hillside, but the light only penetrates through the grate for a few feet. This was with a 30 second exposure too.
This month I also got the chance to take a look around a local carpenter’s workshop. Arthur has been keeping himself busy here for half a century already and his shed was filled with interesting pieces.
As we head on into April I am very much hoping there will be some travel outside the town that I live in, but if not, I guess limitations breed creativity, don’t they…