• Wasdale Head & Great Gable

    Up in Cumbria for last couple of days and managed to get out for a bit of a walk with my brother, Simon, yesterday. Took a cautious drive up to the end of Wasdale and then walked up to the snow line on the lower slopes of Great Gable - a proper mountain shaped mountain. The light was so sharply defining every single tiny contour, rock and boulder of the mountains and the low sunlight sweeping up the valley gave great saturation to the winter browns and greens. We gazed up at the craggy peak of gable & just for a moment flirted with the idea of hitting the summit, but the common sense sensor kicked in - we knew we barely had enough time, as it was already mid afternoon and without ice axes or crampons tackling serious snow was out of the question. Still, when you're sitting on the lower slopes, protected from the bitter wind, basking in winter sunshine, there is something of a temptation. Reluctantly we retraced our steps, but I still have some handsome shots to mark the day.

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  • A photographic gem from the past

    Many years ago I used to own an extensive collection of Victorian photographs, collected over about 30 years, and they were a fascinating record of the life and times (principally of the middle classes admittedly) of Victorian Britain. Part of the fun was the treasure hunting aspect, with the chance of a great find the constant lure, but as more and more people wised up on the value, both historically and financially, of old photographs the pool began to dry up. Unable to find new images the collection went into a kind of stasis, and eventually, tempted by an offer I couldn't refuse the collection was sold on.

    Ever since that time my interest in vintage photographs has not waned and every so often something exciting will turn up....but rarely. Imagine my excitement on Christmas day when I unwrapped a large buff coloured photograph album, bulging with photographs from the early 20th century. Jan had dropped on this remarkable collection in a charity shop and could hardly contain her excitement at the discovery. And rightly so! Here is a collection of photographs by one W.H. Thomas, who appears to have been a very gifted amateur keen to document the world about him in the early years of the 20th century. Yes, there are plenty of photographs of friends, family, pets, home and holidays, but there is so much more. It appears that our Mr. Thomas worked for a period at Avonmouth Docks near Bristol - there are many shots of the day to day activities around the docks. He also appears to have been particularly interested in ships and boats of all descriptions - from the ocean going liners and battleships to submarines, racing yachts and paddle steamers. He travelled around South Wales and the West Country a fair bit documenting his excursions, even going up to London too, but what really makes this album sparkle are the obscure documentations, the weird events and even the occasional 'art' photograph. There are over 1,000 photographs in the album and I am having a glorious time trying to discover more about Mr. Thomas and his family. I am coming to the conclusion that in another life I would have been an archivist of some sort. It's a sad reflection that so many family albums like this must have been thrown out in the past, so I feel relieved that this splendid document of life almost a century ago has been saved for posterity. I am gathering that Mr. Thomas and his wife appear to have had one daughter, probably born around 1920, so perhaps this album has come from the deceased estate of that daughter (she would have been getting on for 100 if still alive today). It's all conjecture at the moment, but I'm going to do my best to find out more.

    Studying the background detail to many pictures is illuminating. In WHT's casual group photograph of his family sitting waiting for a train on the station platform he appears to have captured the essence of the individuals and their interrelationships - sister sits, beaming, cuddling her English setter, wife (or perhaps still girlfriend) looks a little shy, slightly abashed by the moment, grandmama pointedly ignores the whole business, lost in slightly grumpy contemplation, while mother dotes on her boy with his photographic passion. In the background we can see that the station belongs to the London & North Western Railway and the poster gently suggests to travellers that they might like to consider taking 'Early Holidays' as there is 'More sunshine in June than there is in August'. Frustratingly, the board on the right has just been clipped through the date so we can only see 19, but one suspects this would have been around 1910.

    Have a look at just a few of the images copied so far. More to come at a later date.

    Oh, and happy new year to you all.

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  • Identifying tree in winter

    Just arrived - latest issue of LandScape Magazine with a story they commissioned on identifying trees in winter. I wrote the piece and was able to sell a few pictures to them as well - mainly the details of buds and bark. Sadly, most of the tree portraits came from Alamy, but that's the way of the world right now - big magazine groups have all cracked these bulk buy deals with Alamy and the like. Great for the mags. Not so hot for the photographers....the days of making a living out of stock photography a distant memory for most people. However, I am pleased to say that the magazine did fall for my dps opener of an oak tree at sunrise. Lovely to bring to life a Kodachrome that I shot near Bracknell in Berkshire some 36 years ago...on the way to do a hotel brochure photoshoot if I remember correctly.

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  • Frosty morning finds

    I am continually fascinated by all the hidden details of patches of ground that I feel I know intimately. Different seasons, different kinds of weather and light and even my own receptivity from one day to the next draws me to certain elements; often things that are easily overlooked or taken for granted. When you are almost over familiar with a place it's all too easy to walk along with your brain closed off and your eyes seeing nothing new, nothing noteworthy or exciting, but there will always be something there if you tune in. It might be a fleeting glimpse of an unusual bird, a flower or a butterfly or beetle you've never found before in this place, but equally it might just be the play of light on something relatively commonplace. A couple of days back a late morning hop with the pups on my most local of Commons - Bromyard Downs - revealed frost hollows where the sun hadn't quite reached and, probably, at this time of year never would before dusk. Here the browned, spent vegetation of the old year lay crystallized, rigid, every contour etched with hoar frost. Something relatively mundane, brown, dead revealed a hidden beauty.

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  • Illustrated London News in the 1850s

    Stumbled across some rather tattered old copies of Illustrated London News the other day - two massive beaten up volumes for 1852 and 1856. Sadly, these were without the lovely whole page colour plates that were occasionally issued for special events, but still contained a wealth of fascinating wood engravings and accompanying stories. Even the small - ads are a fund of information. Some of the better images have already been photographed and added to the archive and I thought you might enjoy seeing one or two. ILN was probably the most complete view of the Victorian world, updated on a weekly basis. Just the thought of all those people employed to make the large woodblocks for whole page images 14" x 9" and even double page spreads almost twice the size, week in week out, is pretty mind boggling.

    Monster seen off The Cape of Good Hope:

    The "Princess", Captain A.K.N. Tremearne, ship's log 15th September 1856 - 'At one p.m. saw a very large fish, with a head like a walrus, and twelve fins, similar to those in a blackfish, but turned the contrary way. The back was from 20 to 30 feet long; also a great length of tail. It is not improbable that this monster has been taken for the great sea-serpent. Fired and hit it near the head with rifle-ball. At eight, fresh wind and fine.'

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