Sunday, March 31, 2013

Winter's Wave of Waste

The fight goes on:  Plastic does not go away, it simply goes somewhere else.

The Easter long weekend signals the start of the tourist season here in the South West of the UK, and over the next seven months a whole economy will be running off the back of our beaches.  And they're in a right state.  Last weekend there were two consecutive beach cleans on my local beach, Polzeath, and at the end of it all there were still multi-coloured bits of plastic in the sand.
On the Friday the local VMCA (Voluntary Marine Conservation Area) did a litter pick on the beach, and then on Saturday there was another one organised as part of Surfers Against Sewage's Big Spring Beach Clean.  At the end of it all you could still turn over any one of the big piles of rotting seaweed (natural and normal) and at the bottom, where the sea lice have decomposed the seaweed into a stinking mush, you could scoop up a big handful and it would be full of tiny particles of plastic.  They were almost impossible to pick out; all of the volunteers were just picking up the visible pieces of plastic - those big enough to grab with rubber gloves on and, usually, the brightly coloured and highly visible pieces.  All of the tiny pieces of clear plastic remained for another day, and that's the sad fact of the matter; you could spend all day every day picking up all of the tiny pieces of plastic and each high tide would just wash in even more.


These little pieces of plastic, often called "nurdles" or "mermaids tears", come from a variety of sources.  Many are the small pellets used in the primary production of injection moulded plastic products such as buckets, bins and things like that.  You know when plastic products have that little circular blob somewhere on the bottom with a kind of stringy bit of plastic hanging off it?  That's a product that's been injection moulded, a process where tiny plastic pellets are heated up and squirted into a mould.  Other tiny plastic particles come from things like face-scrubs and exfoliators.  Yup, those tiny beads that you rub into your face to clean it are actually plastic, and they go down your plughole and end up, eventually, in the sea and on the beaches.  One positive point is that Unilever announced in January that they will remove all plastic microbeads from their products by 2015.  It's a start I guess.

So what's the problem with such tiny pieces of plastic?  Out of sight, out of mind no?  Definitely not.  Plastic acts like a sponge to chemicals and toxins, absorbing them and carrying them around.  Fish, shellfish and seabirds ingest the plastic and it often fails to pass through their digestive systems, so they accumulate plastic and the toxins that they carry.  We eat said fish and shellfish, and the process of bioaccumulation stops with us, the apex predator.  Of 504 fish examined in a recent study undertaken by a team from the University of Plymouth and the UK Marine Biological Association, more than a third were found to contain pieces of plastic less than one millimetre in size.

Sir David Attenborough can say it far more eloquently than I can.

Part of an outdoor art installation on the beach in Rio constructed entirely from discarded plastic bottles.  This was an exhibit for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) from which the EU pledged to be at the forefront of efforts to reduce marine litter.

Beach litter isn't a particularly pleasant subject to photograph.  I've got a whole folder on my hard drive full of images of beaches covered in plastic, bits of fishing net, bottles and dead birds.  It's grim.  This May 21st I'll be giving a presentation on Marine Plastic Pollution for Polzeath VMCA at the Tubestation in Polzeath, and whilst I'm certain that they could have got somebody in who is much more of an authority on the topic than me, I've definitely got enough images to illustrate an hour long talk.  It will be publicised more nearer the time but if you're in the area then you're more than welcome to attend.  I have a feeling that I will be preaching to the converted however I've been keeping a few choice images back and I hope that I'll be able to make it as interesting and engaging as possible.

For past rants about the subject of marine litter and plastic on our beaches (they're becoming an annual feature on here) and for hints and tips on small things that you can try to do to make a difference, please click through to read previous posts "Give Up SUP's" and "Pick Up 3".  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Explorers Club

 Oh, now here is a club that I wish I could get in to.  The Explorers Club was founded in New York City in May 1904 by a group of men active in exploration, at the request of Henry Collins Walsh.  It's aims were to "unite explorers in the bonds of good fellowship and to promote the work of exploration by every means in it's power".  It is an international multidisciplinary professional society whose members are committed to the scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space.  But membership is hard to come by.  For instance, amongst the accomplishments of it's members past and present are titles such as "first to the North Pole", "first to the South Pole", "first to the summit of Everest", "first to the deepest point in the ocean" and "first to the surface of the moon".  A daunting set of hats to hang one's own up alongside, I think you'll agree.

Their Headquarters, at 46 East 70th Street looks like the the club house for some sort of exclusive society from the start of the last century; which in essence, is exactly what it is.  The virtual tour on the club's website shows trophy rooms filled with the sort of artefacts and curiosities that should technically class the place as a museum.  Many of these Trophies are the taxidermied remains of beautiful and rare animals that these days many of us consider grotesque and unnecessary, but at the start of last century were considered necessary proof of a scientific discovery and a requirement in order to determine each new exotic discovery's place in the biological order of things.  But stuffed animals aside, who doesn't want to hang out in a place place with dark, wood panelled drawing rooms filled with wingback chairs, trinkets and curiosities, a place whose staircase is lined with portraits of famous explorers and which has a dedicated flag room.  I quite fancy the idea of turning up, ordering a drink and sitting down in between Indiana Jones and Jaques Cousteau.

The Trophy Room.

Roy Chapman Andrrews (1884-1960) personifies the typical 20th Century explorer.  He spent his entire career at the American Museum of Natural History, which he eventually became the director of, as well holding the presidency of the Explorers Club from 1931-1934.  He led five expeditions to Mongolia's Gobi desert and discovered the first ever fossil of a complete nest of dinosaur eggs.  And he wore a rad hat.

A few weeks ago, on March 16th at their annual Explorers Club Dinner, the Explorers Medal was awarded to filmmaker James Cameron (of Titanic and Avatar fame) for his 7 mile (11km) dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.  The annual dinner is famous for it's exotic menu which this year featured delicacies such as goats eye martini, pickled bull penis and strawberries dipped in white chocolate with black maggot sprinkles.  

All of a sudden, the local pub doesn't quite cut it does it?

All images courtesy of The Explorers Club apart from James Cameron, via National Geographic.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Arrival of Approaching Lines

If you dig on the the words/images/movies side of surfing almost as much as you like the act of riding a  wave itself - if you have a bedroom chock-full of stacks of old surf magazines and you're reducing your attention span by incessantly goggling 3 minute surfing shorts on the interweb - then this weekend is like waking up to see the first lines of a new swell marching in.

Approaching Lines is a collective of surfers who between them churn out a wide range of words, images, movies, artwork, design and music, headed up by Chris Nelson and Demi Taylor.  Chris and Demi are the directors of the London Surf Film Festival, and between them have edited numerous surf magazines and authored a number of books and surf guides (Surfing Europe and Cold Water Souls to name just a couple).  They're perfectly placed to craft and collate interesting and relevant content to satiate your appetite for wave riding cultural goodness.  As such, I am still bemused as to why they approached me to contribute.  I am massively honoured though, and really made up to see my work alongside the work of some really talented people such as Tim Nunn, Mark Leary, Chris McLean and Calum Creasy to name but a few.  
The idea, as Chris explained to me, is to create a platform to share the stories of surfing from our corner of the planet with surfers from our corner of the planet, to provide an alternative to the Californian and Australian mouthpieces of surf culture;  Stories of surfing that are real, true and accessible rather than sensationalistic or aspirational, and work that transcends the internet, spilling out into printed pages, special events and trips.  Here it is in Chris', far more concise and eloquent words:

"Approaching Lines is about ideas – big and small. It’s about the lines we draw in the water, the words we’re compelled to put down, the inspirations and images we want to share. It’s the lines traced on a finger-worn map. It’s about championing creativity, celebrating the makers and the doers; the artists and artisans, the films and filmmakers, the waveriders and purveyors of the glide. It’s the people and places that stoke the fires. Approaching Lines is a chronicle of our times and tides. It’s a haven for tall tales, and home spun yarns, a place to share. You can find us online, or at our regular socials and happenings. And we’re suckers for the smell of the freshly printed page. Above all Approaching Lines is about the stories, the stoke and the surfing."

The site went live a couple of days ago, and there will be new stuff going up all the time so it's one to bookmark and keep checking back on.  
The first social event is the Slyder Cup, an annual "friction affliction spring convention" where fins will be off-limits:  it'll be all about bodysurfing, mat-surfing, alaias, paipos and laughing and having fun.  It'll be going down at Lusty Glaze in Newquay on Saturday April 13th.  Bring yourself and something to catch a wave with, there's even a "run-what-you-brung" expression session planned if you want to catch a wave on a fast-food tray or inflatable pool toy.

So stop reading this, click through to Approaching Lines and have a dig around all of the good oil on there already.  But please come back to An Tor Orth An Mor next Sunday...

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cloudy Bay: The Best Brief Ever?

 Summer's on it's way...
 Shooting for Cloudy Bay wines, so Dave gets a shot of a cloud in a glass of wine.  I hope that they appreciated this shot as much as I did!

"I'll send through a brief, but basically we need you to shoot Cornwall looking beautiful, a fishing trip, foraging in the hedgerows, and the hotel and it's Michelin starred chef.  I hope that's alright?"

Er, yeah, no problem!  Cloudy Bay Wines run popular foraging weekends from their vineyards in the Marlborough region of New Zealand's South Island and were setting up a series of similar weekends here in the UK based in Cornwall for Summer 2012.  The idea was for guests to spend the morning out on a local fishing boat, casting lines and pulling up lobster pots, before heading off with the Wild Food School just up the road to learn about all of the edible loveliness that grows in our fields, hedgerows and woodlands.  They then took all of their ingredients back to their hotel, the  lovely  boutique Driftwood Hotel on the beautiful Roseland Peninsula on the south coast, where Michelin starred chef Chris Eden and his team would prepare it into an incredible meal and the sommelier would match their meal to the Cloudy Bay range of wines.

 Aboard the Madeline Rose, coming back intoSt Mawes harbour.
 Tight lines...
 A successful haul of lovely looking lobster!

It was pretty much an ideal brief from a commercial client, shooting subject areas that I know and enjoy in my own back yard.  I roped in a friend, photographer David Williams, to help me out and last June we spent a really fun day from dawn through to dusk on the Roseland Peninsula, charging around with a car full of camera cases and lights and taking it in turns both behind and in front of the camera.

 Hedgerow bounty!  
 Me picking elderflowers for Dave's camera.

The images were used for various press UK releases and to illustrate articles in several magazines and online over the summer and autumn which meant that I've had to sit on them for a while.  But it's starting to hint at Spring around these parts and I'm getting excited for some outdoors sunshine time doing a lot of the things that are in these photos.  Namely, enjoying Cornwall.

 The Driftwood dovecot, and the choices of the compass.
 Sous Chef and saffron
 Head Chef, the Michelin starred Chris Eden who paused for approximately 30 seconds for me to shoot his portrait.
The countryside of Cornwall's Roseland Peninsula.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Venetian View of a Flooded Future?

The buildings overflow the islands, teetering over the canals and crumbling slowly from the unsteady effects of time.  Canals replace roads and laneways, weaving through the city and linking the islands: if you imagine a major city under flood, with water covering the roads and pavements then you can imagine the centre of Venice.  There are no cars or mopeds here, just a road and rail bridge from the mainland that terminates in a station and car-park/roundabout immediately upon reaching the first of the islands.  From here you either walk or float to your destination.  This applies to everyone and everything; wake up early enough and you can witness the garbage barges, the hotel linen boats and the milk boat doing the rounds, not to mention the crane-wielding barges of the building companies working so hard to stop the beautiful old pallazos and grand houses from sinking into the lagoon.  Even the ubiquitous gondolas which carry camera-toting tourists around the city are just ornately dressed up versions of the highly functional (and identical) traghetti boats that ferry the locals across the Grand Canal.  This is a city that floats.  It's married to the sea.

Does Venice offer us a view into a flooded future?  Some sort of glimpse at a world several feet deep in water of our own creating?  There is no doubt that Venice is stunningly beautiful; for a long time the Venetian Republic was one of the most powerful empires in Europe and controlled trade between the West and the East.  But since the mid-1700s Venice's economic might has been dwindling, towards it's current state where the city has to rely on tourism for 70% of it's income and the population is at an all-time low thanks to the offer of drier, more spacious and cheaper to maintain homes on the mainland.  Venice has a melancholic undertone to it; it's a memorial to it's past glories and the feeling of the discrepancy between what once was and what is now, is hard to avoid.  Was it a victim of it's own success?  

An amalgamation of one hundred and eighteen mudflat islands in a lagoon in the North West crook of the Adriatic Sea, the fabric of venice is stitched together by around four hundred bridges, the largest three of which span the Grand Canal, the broad waterway that effectively splits the historic centre in half.

Two hundred thousand people once lived on these islands, which would explain why there is no scrap of natural space.  Narrow alleyways occasionally converge on squares whose sides are briefly bathed in the sunlight that evades the man-made canyons between buildings for all but a short time either side of midday.  The cities buildings are built right up to and over the edges of the low islands, with foundations in the mud and brickwork lining the boundary with the water.  No space is wasted, and there wasn't much to begin with.  In it's heyday the high concentration of people living and working in the centre led to the development of a culture of mask wearing; there was little if any anonymity to be found in Venice.  With a mask covering their faces, the poor could mix with the rich, debtors could avoid their creditors, and love affairs could be conducted in secret.  Masks became so popular that at one stage a law was passed to restrict their use, but they are woven into the story of the city.  These days they appear for Carnevale, the extravagant festival that fills the ten days before Lent, but which usually starts early and finishes late. 

The gondola is the Venetian equivalent of London's black hackney taxis or New Yorks yellow cabs.  It is estimated that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were between eight to ten thousand gondolas moving along the waterways of the city, but these days there are just over four hundred and almost all of them exclusively carry tourists.  They are propelled by a single oar (they aren't punted as the water is too deep) which is held in an elaborately carved oar lock called a fórcola.  The fórcola allows the gondolier to utilise eight different oar positions for propelling and turning the boat.  Because the oar is always located on the starboard side, gondolas are asymmetrical boats with a longer port side to compensate for the one-sided propulsion. 

So what of a city built into the very water to which it is married?  Venice is a grandiose city, beautiful in it's fading glamour that draws on a history of lavish opulence and masquerade balls.  It's like some sort of steam-punk opera, a vision of the future dressed up as the past.  But I like islands and I like boats, and Venice has lots of both.  The absence of vehicles in a city is bizarre, particularly in Italy where the buzz of mopeds is ever-present, and is something that takes a while to sink in and accept.  It's really pleasant to have travel options distilled down to walking or catching a ferry, and for Venetians it's completely natural.  Of that, I am quite envious.

Kate doesn't really like having her photograph taken, but having a camera semi-permanently pressed against my face means that every now and then I turn around and catch her off-guard.