Monday, March 16, 2015

Sibling Harmony

A few years ago I listened to a documentary on the radio about sibling harmony - the singing sort though, not the sort illustrated by two brothers restraining themselves from punching each other.  It looked at how the combined vocals of siblings produced a much more natural and almost inseparable harmony than that produced by any other group of singers, no matter how good their individual voices.  One of the main reasons for this is because siblings share so many physical features, such as the shape of their noses or the colour of their eyes, and so it stands to reason that their voices will be similar too.  Add to that the fact that these voices resonate within physically similar chambers in the mouth and nose which amplify and colour the tones, so that the singing of brothers and sisters is of a similar timbre.  That's nature taken care of, but "nurture" factors such as accent and vocal intonations will also play their role in ensuring that when family members sing together their voices blend together as one.  Just think about the number of famous singing family groups since the 1940s.  And then add the Staveley-Taylor sisters to your list, better known as The Staves.
A few summers ago I had the pleasure of photographing The Staves at an acoustic gig on a beach here in Cornwall, organised by my oldest friend Alex.  He recently worked with the singing sisters again to produce a couple of Take Away Shows with French music videography pioneers La Blogothèque, and the results are wonderful.  Take a listen, and a look too.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Trials and Tribulations

Man, machine, and a whole lot of mud.  Whether the challenge is to coax a vintage car non-stop up a series of muddy hill stages, or manoeuvre a motorbike over boulders and through rivers without putting a foot down, trials events require great technical skill, mechanical know-how, and an intimate connection between a vehicle and the person controlling it.  I've attended a couple of trials events over the past couple of months, carrying a couple of old cameras (one 35mm SLR and a 120mm TLR) loaded with black and white film with the intention of shooting some of the more interesting (read: old) vehicles that I spotted.  I got the roll of 35mm back from the lab a little over a week ago, and wanted to share a selection from my winter wading around the woods in gum boots following the noise of engines.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Terrariums: A Garden in a Glass

Indoor Ecosystems

A couple of years ago I read an article in an Australian magazine about a lady in Melbourne who had left her job to make terrariums for a living.  Until that moment I had no idea what a terrarium was.  It turns out that a terrarium is my kind of gardening, ultra low maintenance and an opportunity to let your imagination have a bit of exercise.  Essentially, a terrarium (or “bottle garden” as they’re otherwise known) is a plant or collection of plants in a glass container that is usually sealed thus creating a mini biosphere.  Condensation forms on the inside of the glass and then trickles down to water the plants in a continuous and completely natural cycle.  I have a patchy track record for keeping plants alive, so something that doesn’t require any input from me gives the greenery the best chance of survival.

"The Search for The Giant Buddha", for Kate

You can also create scenes in terrariums, kind of as you would in a goldfish tank, adding ornaments or figures to make the whole thing a bit more engaging.  If you’re making a terrarium as a gift for somebody then this aspect of it allows you to tailor it to the recipient.  I’ve made a few now – two as gifts and one for myself just because I’d collected too much moss and felt bad about throwing it away, so I stuffed it in a kilner jar and carved a little Easter Island Moai from a lump of foam to make it more interesting before sticking it on my shelf. 

My mossy Easter Island Moai terrarium

Want to make a world in a jam jar?  Here’s how:

·   Find a suitable (lidded) glass container that has an opening large enough to get your hand into so that you can actually plant stuff in it.  Charity shops are great sources of weird old glassware, or you could use a kilner jar, old coffee cafetierre etc etc…
·   Put a layer of small pebbles or gravel (I would never condone pinching a pocketful from a driveway…) mixed with “horticultural charcoal” (I crunched up some charcoal rescued from the bottom of our fire) about 2cm deep at the bottom of the jar.
·   Cover this with a piece of fine metal or plastic gauze so that the soil doesn’t just fall through and fill in the gaps.  Sourcing this is probably the most difficult part of the entire process.
·   Add 5cm or so of moist potting soil on top and tamp it down a bit.
·   Go and buy some plants.  You need to select plants that are preferably “dwarf” and prefer high humidity and low light, so stuff like ferns, fittonias (nerve plants) dwarf ivies and miniature orchids.  Don’t go for cacti or succulents if you’re putting a lid on it.
·   Forage some moss to fill in the gaps (probably wear a pair of gloves), but don’t import any creepy crawlies into your miniature world.
·   Make some holes in your soil and plant in your plants, tamping the soil down around each one.
·   Add some interesting “stuff”.  In the past I’ve put in a little sandstone Buddha head statue with a couple of turn of the century “explorer” railway figurines stuck to the top, pulled a broken camera lens apart to use the aperture movement as a gateway for zombies, and modelled an Easter Island moai.  Let your imagination run with it, do something that will make you smile, and don’t blame me if you end up with an account at a model railway shop or a permanent digital record of the fact that you once googled “nazi zombie figurines”…
·   Water the plants lightly with one of those spray bottles, and then close the lid.  If condensation forms on the inside of the glass then it’s working nicely.
·   Place your terrarium out of direct sunlight – most of the plants inside are probably “forest floor” plants so don’t like direct sunlight much. 
·   Every few weeks take the lid off to let a bit of fresh air in.  When you put the lid back on check to see if condensation forms again, and if it doesn’t then give it a little squirt of water.  Basically, your terrarium will let you know if it needs a drink.
·   Enjoy your maintenance free indoor garden!

The Zombie Apocalypse, for Alex

You can find a load more information about terrariums here.