An Afternoon at Fort Scratchley

Fort Scratchley canonCannon outside the fort

I went on a group photowalk around Fort Scratchily in Newcastle yesterday afternoon. I’ve not done that many group photowalks before and I enjoyed it. It was nice being with other photographers and I think other people seemed a bit more comfortable around us as well which was nice.

The weather held off for most of the time, before absolutely bucketing down. I was well and truly soaked by the time I got back. It made for some interesting and atmospheric photos though so I can’t complain too much.

Fort Scratchley is an interesting place. It sits atop Flagstaff Hill, giving good views over the Tasman Sea and the Hunter River, and was originally built in 1882 to defend against a possible Russian attack. It’s probably best known for returning fire during the shelling of Newcastle by the Japanese on June 8, 1942.

It’s a museum now and an interesting place to spend an hour or two wandering around. It also still keeps the seafaring tradition of firing a gun in tandem with a ball drop, which happens at 1pm every day and is interesting to see.

I’ll have to go back for a proper tour at some stage, hopefully when the weather is a bit better.

Most of the photos came out quite well and the overcast sky lent itself particularly well to black and white photos. I wanted to give them more of a contrasty, filmic look and I really like how they came out.

A few of the photos had rain spots on them as well but I actually quite like the effect. It reminds me a bit of the discolouration and scratches you’d get with film sometimes which I find interesting.

So that was my Sunday. Hope you had a nice weekend too.:)

Fort ScratchleyApproaching Fort Scratchley

Fort Scratchley

Looking towards Newcastle

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Painterly Sunset

Painterly SunsetI took this image a few evenings ago near Belmont wharf. It was a lovely sunset but I’ve shared several similar photos recently so I thought I’d try one of my more artistic edits with this.

Basically what I did was edit it normally, then I edited it again to strip out most of the detail, resulting in an image a little more like a painting than a traditional photo. It doesn’t always work but I like the effect here and how it accentuates the colours and the calmness of the water.

I’m still trying to think of a name for these kind of images. They’re not really paintings but they’re not traditional photos either. At the moment I’ve been calling an image a “painterly” but I’d appreciate any suggestions?

Image © CJ Levinson 2016

The Lake at Night

The Lake at Night

At night
The world seems different
Quiet and still
Like a calm ocean

I took this along the lakefront in Belmont the other night. It was dusk and the streetlights had just come on, creating this beautiful foreground glow with the last light of the sun dying over the lake.

It was actually so well lit that I needed to do very little editing afterwards, which is rare for a night shot. This was a 1 second exposure by hand as well and I’m impressed with how sharp it turned out.

Photo and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016

Sitting by the Window

CJ by the Window

Each morning
I look in the mirror
And fix my mask
To face the day

I took this photo yesterday. I wanted a photo for a new profile pic for my social media sites and possibly for an about the author photo. I’d been meaning to practise taking more self-portraits as well (mainly to experiment on myself first so I can feel more comfortable directing lighting and poses) so I thought this would be a good start too.

I’m usually quite difficult to photograph so this is quite a good one for me. Most photos of me come out looking a little strained and flat. The reason is because it’s quite hard to capture a posed photo of someone when they’re in pain a lot of the time; sitting still and holding a pose is difficult and I usually look better in more spontaneous photos. They tend to capture the real me, not the me hiding his face behind a mask.

I think we all wear masks in life; there is the real us and then there is the persona we want others to see, the mask we wear to project an image we find desirable. I find with chronic pain that is doubly true as I don’t want people to see I’m in pain and so I have a carefully created mask I wear that I only take off when I’m alone or with very close family and friends. It helps to hold me together in public and let me function when the pain is awful and for me, my smile and my sense of humour are my mask. They help deflect questions and attention and tell people I’m okay.

The haiqua above is very much a reflection of my daily routine; before I go out or see someone, I always look at myself in the mirror and make sure my mask is in place. Sometimes it is harder than others depending on how much pain I am in or how tired I am but I never go out without practising a smile and making sure it is in place.

Ironically though that mask usually tends to fail with posed portraits like this. I can’t sit still and hold a pose for long very easily and trying to hold a smile in place tends to end up looking rather strained or flat in the photo. That’s why I quite like this photo as it doesn’t have that look and for once I got it without having to take a few dozens photos to capture it. That could have been luck or maybe it’s that I’m now starting to understand more about posing and so I’m starting to get better at capturing the real me sooner.

I could have done more with it; some gentle lighting across my face would have softened my face and removed some of the shadows under my eyes and a flash might have created a little more separation. But to be honest I didn’t want to do any of that. This is close to the real me and the real me usually does have those flaws and shadows from being tired and in pain. If the goal was to try to capture the real me then removing those wouldn’t be an accurate representation.

I also like that there isn’t too much separation and you can see the photo frames and some of my books etc properly. They’re a part of my life and I wanted to show that too and make it more of an environmental portrait.

CJ by the Window 2

I took this photo at the same time and converted it to black and white in Lightroom afterward. I like it as well, particularly the black tones, but you can probably see my expression is a little more strained in it. I thought it was a useful comparison anyway.

Photos and Haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016

From the Archives

28-10-2013

Time is like water:
Shapeless
It winds a
nd flows
Changing all it touches

I was going back through my archives earlier tonight and found this photo amongst them. It’s from October 2013 and I took it near Tamarama while exploring the Sculpture By the Sea exhibit.

I’m not sure why I never processed it… the composition and light are interesting and I can’t imagine not wanting to do something with it. The only thing I can think of is that I took a lot of photos that day and had a lot going on as well so maybe I put it aside meaning to get back to it and never did.

Either way I like the photo and how it came out. The colour of the water is beautiful and it has just the right mix of mood and atmosphere to go with the vibrant colour. I’m glad I went back and processed it.

I have a number of other photos in my archives I haven’t processed yet, including some from that day and the trip to New Zealand last year as well. I’ll have to go back through them properly… hopefully there might be a few more forgotten gems too.

Photo © CJ Levinson 2013, Haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016

Which Door would you Choose?

So I came across an interesting post on Facebook earlier today. It asked a question that in turn got me thinking about something else. So I thought I’d borrow the idea and explore it in a bit more detail on the blog.

First, here’s the scenario the post described:

You find yourself in a corridor with seven doors. Each of the doors leads to a famous magical world: Narnia, Neverland, Wonderland, Hogwarts, Camelot, Middle-Earth, and Westeros.

Which door do you go through? Why do you choose that door?

I guess I found it interesting as when I was young I used to daydream a little about this kind of thing. Quite often I used to imagine I was in Sherwood Forrest or Camelot and I loved using my imagination to make me feel like I was really there and not in my bedroom or back yard. This doesn’t seem all that different from those childhood fantasies.

What would I do now, given the choice as an adult? Where would I love to visit and what would I love to see? Maybe the beauty of Rivendell or the grandeur of Camelot? The fun of magical London or the breadth of the Wall?

I find that idea really fun to think about but, funnily enough, treating it seriously for a moment, I don’t think I’d actually want to go to any of those worlds.

When you stop and think about it and place them into context, all these worlds are wonderfully imagined, magical places but they’re also all torn apart by war and strife. That’s the nature of fiction, that it needs conflict to drive the narrative, and that’s often what interests us about these worlds as backdrops – but that becomes very different when you think about these places as potentially being ‘real’. While a child might dream of playing and adventuring in those worlds, for an adult they probably wouldn’t be as attractive and likely would be very dangerous.

I guess if you were to imagine a real world equivalent, it would be a bit like visiting Syria at the moment; it would be a wonderful place to see and learn about but probably not that safe and not somewhere most people would choose to go.

Given that, I find it quite hard to answer the question. All of the places would have incredible beauty and interesting landmarks, so it would be hard for me to decide simply based on that also.

So I guess this is how I would answer and why:

For me Narnia would be first out as, no matter how interesting that world is, it’s basically set against a never-ending religious civil war and there is enough of that in our world. And Neverland is a pretty weird and dangerous place when you think about it, so that’s out for me as well. Wonderland is too trippy for me and Westeros is a pretty hard land where everyone wants to kill you, including George RR Martin, so that’s out too.

That leaves Hogwarts, Camelot and Middle-Earth. Hogwarts is nice but there’s a really dark undercurrent to those stories too and as much as I love Camelot, there’s an awful lot of betrayal and loss.

Which leaves Middle-Earth. While there’s fighting, there are also long periods of peace and a quiet life in the Shire sounds like a pretty good option overall. Plus there’s a lot of beauty in that world.

That’s more or less how I answered on Facebook as well, except with a little more humour.

I spent a while reading through the comments afterwards as well and something occurred to me while reading them. The choices were split pretty evenly on the whole, except for Hogwarts and Middle-Earth which both had a slight advantage, but the most interesting thing was how the answers often seemed to reflect bits and pieces of people’s lives and personalities.

For instance, people who chose Narnia often said they did so because they related to the themes in the world, while others who liked Neverland said they liked the innocence of the story, and Hogwarts because they would have loved to have escaped like Harry did when they were young. And so on.

I find that fascinating, how a simple question can reveal so much about us. It reminds me of some of the tests psychologists use and I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere something like this is actually being used that way.

I thought about it for a while and came up with this to describe the traits based on the choices people made and the reasons they gave. I’m obviously not a psychologist so this is obviously highly unscientific(!) but these traits definitely seemed to come up again and again in the answers which I thought was interesting.

Narnia: someone who is quite religious or enjoys religious themes. Neverland: someone who is a child at heart and has a sense of wonder about the world. Wonderland: someone who is attracted to more offbeat, eccentric subjects and thinks outside the box. Hogwarts: someone attracted to escapism and wishes they could be/could have been someone else during their life. Camelot: someone who is a bit of a romantic and a traditionalist and often wishes for simpler times. Middle-Earth: someone who seeks beauty and/or adventure and is a bit of a dreamer at heart. Westeros: someone who enjoys testing themselves and/or has experienced pain and loss.

I doubt those would be accurate for everyone but they corresponded with a lot of the answers and I’d say they’re accurate for me as well. I would definitely describe myself as a bit of a dreamer, and I’d say I’d also relate to some of those reasons for enjoying Harry Potter and the Arthurian stories too at different times in my life.

Overall I found the question and the answers really interesting and it’s funny how something like a simple Facebook post or a blog quiz can reveal so much about us.

Sometimes I wonder what historians in five hundred or a thousand years will make of a lot of the data we’ve put online and what it will tell them about our lives. Because that’s what we’re actually doing by keeping a blog or updating social media, we’re creating a collective tapestry of life that will far outlive us. Which is a bit scary when you think about it. But pretty amazing too.

I imagine a lot of it will seem very pedantic and self-absorbed (because honestly, a lot of it is) but at the same time things like blogs and social media will be a real boon to them, showing what our interests were like, our speech and writing patterns, clothing, politics, etc. Even a simple question like this might provide a huge amount of insight.

Something to think about the next time we write a post or share something on Facebook or Twitter.

So which door would you choose and what do you think it says about you? I’d love to find out.:)

Beautiful Bag End

Bag End.jpg

In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a Hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. ~ JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit

It’s been a year this week since I went to New Zealand and I’ve been going back through some of the photos I took during the trip recently. I found this one today from Hobbiton which I’d always liked but had never really done much with. 

It’s of Bag End, the set of the Hobbit-hole home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films. 

Hobbiton is an incredible location and Bag End is definitely one of the highlights. It really is as beautiful as it looks in the films; even more so actually as you can see all of the details that just pass too quickly on screen to take in.

If you ever get the chance to go I’d highly recommend it. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Photo © CJ Levinson 2015