Getting it on with Mary Quant - Timeless Portrait Photography at the V&A by Shaun Armstrong

Images from a day of practical portrait photography with Owen Harvey at the Victoria & Albert museum.

The theme was to be “timeless portrait photography” and as I hope to do more posed work as a counter to my more natural reportage, this seemed like a great opportunity to learn in a different and stimulating place. There was also access into the Mary Quant exhibition and as I love 60’s art and culture - happy days.

©shaun_armstrong_2019_V&A-7516.jpg

The session at the V&A started with a meet-everyone-else round table of introductions and there was a full range of folk from beginners to keen amateurs, and all really nice people. Even the ones with Leica’s.

©shaun_armstrong_2019_V&A-7497.jpg

After a great presentation by Owen Harvey on his work documenting sub-cultures in UK & US (and a brownie point for me for spotting his Taylor-Wessing portrait) plus some experimentation with flash (not a fan of the controlled studio and strobes but there you go) we had some time to view the brilliant Mary Quant exhibition before working in groups around the V&A to find interesting portrait opportunities using available light.

As I looked around the Mary Quant exhibition, which is quite dark with mainly display lighting, I could see the visitors were mainly women, and ones with style too. Whilst I normally prefer the candid shot, the light wasn’t up to it and I’ve never really been brave enough to just stop people and ask to take their photo. But I thought, heck I’ve got special permission to be here with a camera, I’m trying to take myself out of my comfort zone and as this isn’t even part of what we supposed to be doing, what’s the worse that can happen as long as I’m polite?

So, after a little gentle stalking and a recce of where there was some useful light and background I dived in and was pleasantly surprised. No one hit me. Here are my favourites, including one lovely lady who was dressed from head to toe in original Mary Quant garb.

©shaun_armstrong_2019_V&A-.jpg

We then moved onto the group work and went about the V&A taking it in turns to photograph and be “models” - this I was not expecting preferring to be the other side of the lens. I also let myself do a little candid street work, as old habits and all that…

©shaun_armstrong_2019_V&A-7510.jpg

Afterward the day was over, our SD cards were imported to a group file and a selection of “best shots” quickly drawn out for Owen to review and feedback on as we went around the group. Some really good feedback on my work, including a few of the Quant shots which no-one knew I’d taken and which raised a few eyebrows. 10 years in to professional photography I still have terrible imposter syndrome but really cool to get some nods of appreciation from fellow professionals and enthusiasts.

©shaun_armstrong_2019_V&A--2.jpg

Some more images from the day. All shot with natural light on location using a Canon 5DMKIII and Canon 100mm 2.8L lens.

Thanks to everyone who let me photograph them.

What’s it like inside the newly refurbished MK Gallery? by Shaun Armstrong

Review and images from inspired inside the new contemporary art gallery, meeting and exhibition space MK Gallery in Milton Keynes.

©shaunarmstrong_mkgallery-2587.jpg

I’ve been a regular visitor to MK Gallery in Milton Keynes over the years and have been following the expansion and refurbishment programme with interest until March 2019 when it finally reopened its doors. So I wandered along to have a nosey and to capture a sense of the new space with reportage photography.

©shaunarmstrong_mkgallery-.jpg

The shiny metal box with its feature windows already sits well with the other iconic building shapes at the eastern end of Central Milton Keynes and when the outside landscaping is complete it will be both a gateway and a destination location.

The interior space has been beautifully conceived (6a architects) comprising clean white-box exhibit spaces, areas of exposed concrete and bright primary-coloured steelwork and signage to complement the light, urban feel. More Pompidou than pomp. With the addition of a fine cafe space, expanded shop and spacious Sky Room meeting/exhibit/theatre/meeting space with lovely views across Campbell Park and beyond it already feels right at home.

©shaunarmstrong_mkgallery-2557.jpg
©shaunarmstrong_mkgallery-2496.jpg
©shaunarmstrong_mkgallery-2579.jpg
©shaunarmstrong_mkgallery-2529.jpg

As you can read in my earlier posts I find as much, if not sometimes more, photographic inspiration from space and the people that weave around it than the exhibits, not that these disappoint. On the contrary the inaugural exhibition “Lie of The Land” is both eclectic and informative.

That said, I did find equal muse in the building and the people…

©shaunarmstrong_mkgallery-2516.jpg
©shaunarmstrong_mkgallery-2531.jpg
©shaunarmstrong_mkgallery-2503.jpg
©shaunarmstrong_mkgallery-2508.jpg

See my full gallery of images from my first visit to MK Gallery.

A visit to MK Gallery (free entry / membership benefits available) is highly recommended and I look forward to popping in again soon…

Tourists USA by Shaun Armstrong

Observing and photographing the visitors to popular attractions in the USA.

I’ve talked in a previous post about my inability to attend an art gallery or museum without being drawn into photographing my fellow visitors. They are always interesting and, more often than not, dressed with more panache that I can manage. Not always the same with tourists outside in hot weather.

Carrying my observing-the-observers burden on a road-trip to Western USA yet again the folk around drew my attention despite the grandeur and iconic settings…

©shaunarmstrong_usa-9839.jpg

Sunset in Monument Valley. Folk positioning themselves ready for the unfolding rich splendour. These massive, but also small in context, buttes warm up into all sorts of rich reds, oranges and browns as the sun sets. Helped by some aesthetic clouds it is a wonder to behold.

I just loved the way everyone was having their own moment, even from behind, and there’s a natural balance in positioning that draws you in I think.

©shaunarmstrong_usa-1427.jpg

Viewpoint Golden Gate bridge, San Fransisco. Hundreds of people pile into this car park / visitors rest / viewpoint to get an identikit we-went-here shot. And fair enough if you’re passing through, rather than having walked from Fishermans Wharf (well worth the effort) it’s safer than the bridge itself.

It’s actually not that great a view, photographically, but amazing how people don’t invest a little time walking to get a better photo or just a better view . The cheery people on the left will no doubt be delighted when they see their image of them, a foggy bit of the bridge and three strange ladies in their shot.

©shaunarmstrong_usa-0428.jpg

Holy heck it was hot. The Neon Museum or Boneyard, Las Vegas Nevada. Tucked away at the north end of the city sits a collection of bits and bobs of signage from over the years and it’s splendid. The stories of the old casinos, days of the Rat Pack and how lights and design evolved is captivating. I had the pleasure of a large, extended family of Mexicans on my tour and even they clamoured to get into the shade at any opportunity…

I was in abstract photo heaven here, see some of my images in the Neon Boneyard gallery.

©shaunarmstrong_usa-0002.jpg

Horseshoe Bend, Paige AZ. A walk of about 1/2 mile across an area of sandy pathway/wilderness brings you from a small car park to what is probably one of the best and most spectacular views; even better than the Grand Canyon in my opinion as you can see from the ridge to the bottom. Not that you can see it in this shot…

When I first did this walk in 1997 we were there with about six other people and didn’t see that many more in the small dusty “car park” where we parked with one or two other vehicles. Back then it was “off the grid”. Now (2017) the car park is massive, busy and there were perhaps a few hundred people filing / shuffling to and from the ridge edge (in 100 degree heat).

And when I say edge I mean edge; the drop from this rocky outcrop is straight down hundreds of metres. That’s a one way trip. You can’t photograph that in any meaningful way, nor the view really, but everyone tries to. I believe the plan is now to manage people and put up rails. It’s a shame, as you will feel you are looking at a view rather than being part of it as it used to be…

Hollywood Boulevard Walk Of Fame. Just your usual street characters and only one looking at a screen…

©shaunarmstrong_usa-0689.jpg

Death Valley, California.

Not dissimilar to Monument Valley : the car park, the wall, the view, the shot. These wild spaces are so beautiful and worthy of off-piste exploration and contemplation but when that’s not possible at least the viewpoints provide extra layers of interest to the street photographer.

See more of my Tourists USA images, including some colourful characters met on the way in my Tourists USA gallery.

Roman Vishniac at The Photographers' Gallery by Shaun Armstrong

Yet again caught up in documenting the visitors to an art exhibition, this time at The Photographers’ Gallery.

©shaunarmstrong-4241.jpg

It’s been a while since I’ve visited The Photographers’ Gallery and not since the major refurbishment a few years ago. I was drawn in particular to the Roman Vishniac Rediscovered exhibition in association with Jewish Museum London. Covering a body of work from 1920 to 1970 but focussed mainly on his powerful reportage work of the impoverished and oppressed Jewish community in inter-war Germany. This photography commission was aimed originally at raising awareness of the Jews in the 1930’s, against the backcloth of rising fascism. The subsequent events of the second world war made these images even more important as historic documents of a way of live now lost and like all good reportage, show observed elements of real life shot with the skill and aesthetic of a great reportage photographer.

Covering two floors of the Gallery, it also covers the period of his move to the US in 1940 where he documented Jewish families relocating and settling into their immigrant lives and his subsequent portrait work and his lifelong interest in biology and advances in colour photomicroscopy.

Roman Vishniac Rediscovered is on at The Photographers’ Gallery until 24 Feb 2019

However, I again failed to stop myself being drawn in to taking candid iPhone images of some of the other visitors to the galleries - always interesting people who, weaving in amongst the fixed displays never fail to bring out the reportage photographer in me. Including Mr Beret who punctuated each stop-and-look movement with a firm thud of his walking pole…!

Hidden History - Orford Ness, Suffolk by Shaun Armstrong

Secret atomic testing base still has secrets to tell…

Sleepy Orford Ness. In the background the multi£ US cold-war listening complex - Cobra Mist

Sleepy Orford Ness. In the background the multi£ US cold-war listening complex - Cobra Mist

©shaun_armstrong_-1279.jpg

I recently spent a day, with a good friend, exploring the large area of essentially shingle and marsh off the coast of Suffolk, known as Orford Ness. Originally a natural spit of land created through long-shore drift (check your school Geography) and now a nature reserve under the control of the National Trust, in between it was the site of cutting-edge military research.

Boarding a small boat from the quaint seaside village of Orford, with its castle, agreeable restaurants and specialist food emporiums, the (literally) three minute water crossing takes you to another world.

Despite its quiet and desolate beauty, many of the part-destroyed buildings remain still largely intact but spread across acres of flat, but eerily wavy, shingle; an attraction for my interest in documenting the shapes, details and textures offered by intriguing places + spaces.

All images shot with Fuji X-Pro2 and 23mm 1.2.

Read more about my places + spaces work

These Walls Tell Stories : Photography Exhibition and limited edition prints / postcards by Shaun Armstrong

These Walls Tell Stories : Hat District Photography…

©shaun_armstrong_Hat_District-1248.jpg

This project all started when I saw a number of old hat factories and spaces were being restored and reimagined to provide new and vibrant multi-use creative spaces for …

Luton, Bedfordshire is close to where I live and for many years was the centre of the UK’s hat-making industry. As trends and production techniques have ebbed and flowed since the 17th century, the industry eventually compacted. Whilst Luton still has a specialised hat industry, many beautiful buildings were left in disrepair or under-utilised.

Luton Culture had a vision to continue this process of adaptation and reinvention putting together a programme of restorations and refurbishment in the heart of the town, to be known as The Hat District.

Following exciting meetings with Luton Culture I was delighted to be commissioned, via my business and project photography business Mubsta Business Photography, to document the buildings and this exciting process of transformation over a two to three year period.

The project covers documenting the spaces before, during and after alongside the process of specialised work and industry plus the change in the streetscape as they evolve.

©shaun_armstrong_-1482.jpg

This first exhibition though focuses on capturing details and abstract elements pre-restoration. The patterns created by the diverse materials and building layout as it start to change

A selection of 6 images will be available to buy as a set of postcards during the exhibition and certain images as limited editions of signed A3 prints.

Please do drop in if you’re passing and follow on your chosen social spaces for updates and more information. #thesewallstellstories

These Walls Tell Stories in collaboration with Luton Culture and presented by Matthew Shaul of The Departure Lounge, takes place at the Storefront in Luton (an old hat factory showroom) between 30 Nov 2018 to 14 Dec 2018 (Wed-Sat 1:00pm to 6:00pm). **EXTENDED to 21 December 2018**

Pictures and Picasso by Shaun Armstrong

“Essentially there is only love. Whatever it may be” Pablo Picasso

©shaun_armstrong_tatemodern-10.jpg

Every artist or creative should make time to view the work of others, especially those who are successful in their chosen field and better still if not of the same genre. It stimulates new ideas and routes to more unique experimentation within your own skill-set. And for me, no visit to London is complete without a visit to Tate Modern where there is usually something interesting or challenging to see.

This visit gave an opportunity to see the “1932” exhibition of works by Pablo Picasso during this key year of creativity and output but also “SHAPE OF LIGHT : 100 Years of photography & abstract art” exploring the evolution of creative approaches to image creation.

Here are a few quotes I liked from Shape of Light :

“Why should the inspiration that comes from an artist’s manipulation of the hairs fo a brush be any different from that of the artist who bends at will the rays of light?”

Pierre Dubreuil

IMG_3099©shaun_armstrong.jpg

My only aim was to express reality, for there is nothing more surreal than reality itself. If reality fails to fill us with wonder, it is because we have fallen into the habit of seeing it as ordinary”

Brassaï

IMG_3095©shaun_armstrong.jpg

Whilst I enjoyed the Picasso retrospective , I found myself more intrigued by those viewing than the work itself. The photographer’s curse I guess; not really be able to be somewhere interesting without seeing images you want to capture…

People are just fascinating, so here are some moments of (indoor) street iphonography…

Welcome to my new website! by Shaun Armstrong

©shaun_armstrong_london_art_fair-6065-1.jpg

I've been looking at a change for a while and the design and functionality of Squarespace was what I needed for my personal work and plans. It's still a work in progress in parts, especially around the blog, which my old set-up didn't do as well as I wanted, but more to come here.

You will find examples of this personal work, commercial projects I'm involved with and on the blog views and opinions across a range of topics, but likely to feature photography (art and technical), music, culture, heritage and technology.

I'm currently working on artwork for sale, images for licensing and books. If you'd like to work with me in any way please do let in touch and tell me more!

I hope you like the new site as much as I do. All feedback welcome!

Shaun

Oct 2018

Iain Carstairs - a reflection. by Shaun Armstrong

The passing of a gifted and visionary man I was pleased to have known.

As I walked back to the car-park through Bedford today, having been discussing art and documenting an installation at The Higgins museum, I happened to walk past Frescoes cafe in Mill Street.

The thing that makes this building special, if you're not local, is it sits at the end of a terrace of old shops and upon that end wall is the most marvellous painted fresco and a plaque dedicated to the artist, Iain Carstairs, which I stopped and looked at more than usual, as I'd heard Iain had been ill.

I learnt some two hours later that Iain died overnight peacefully in his sleep. His battle, both physical and intellectual, with cancer had ended.

Iain Carstairs - www.scienceandreligion.com
Iain Carstairs - www.scienceandreligion.com

This fresco was the first one of three he did in Bedford, using traditional but challenging techniques; the others decorate the end of his home in Gladstone Street and which featured in the news a couple of years ago, and the last at Beauchamp School completed last month, with his daughters help I believe.

ITV News item...

"Meet the man from Bedford who's painted a fresco on the side of his house"

I am proud to say I knew the man, but also saddened that we had lost touch these last years as our paths took different directions.

I first met him when I worked at Bedford i-Lab from 2005-2009 where he based his successful travel software business. He was at once someone who had clearly had an exciting and rich life, but who embraced new ideas and pleasures. He kindly took part in a video we made about the place and talked about how he enjoyed the companionship offered by the community of small businesses and the friendships it spawned.

He was also a generous man. After a great driving day, organised for the local Mayor's charity in 2008, at Palmersport (Iain being the only person to turn up with a full race-suit for go-karting!) he invited me and James Hart back to a private driving experience. The three of us enjoyed hospitality, a tour of the garages and had the track and some single-seat racers to ourselves that glorious evening.

And I still have a Caterham T-shirt that he casually gave me as he was just passing my office one day.

A while later, after I had left the i-Lab, I went to a bar in Hitchin to meet him and some friends to see and photograph some of his early artwork, based on Jimi Hendrix, that he had on display there.

Whenever he talked of art, music, science or religion or, as was his won't, conspiracy theories, or indeed anything, I recall it was with an innate sense of awe, detail, passion and tenacity to get under the surface of whatever it was and then master it, however complicated. The research, care and dedication he put into both the science and art of the frescoes for instance, was mind-boggling.

His blog (formerly www.scienceandreligion.com, now sold on I think) which I followed with interest if not always comprehension, documented his views on many things, including his renewed battle with cancer and his global search to find a cure. I hope it is kept up for others to read.

His last post, from January 2016, was typically "Iain" and talked not only of the science of coffee (!) but his plans for the Beauchamp School fresco.

A fitting extract from another of Iain's blogs in October 2015...

It’s natural to hope your work has some influence for the good, but you also suspect it’s a very diffused thing, almost subliminal – a drop in the bucket for those drenched by TV and big budget films vying for attention.  So to find what you did with a paintbrush on a rickety scaffold has really influenced someone can be daunting, especially when you remember any shortcuts you took.  Say, during a freezing Christmas Eve snowstorm with water running down your neck and lime water eating your skin, panicking over no time to buy gifts and cards now long forgotten, as the shops began to close and the light grew dim – now you understand those hours saved hurrying up cheated someone, somewhere, out of something.

Inevitably, there are two morals coming our way.  One – if you believe in something, you must give it everything you’ve got, because someone, somewhere is going to appreciate it – and those people are precisely the ones you’re working for.  And the other – if the school wall I’m hoping for is made available, it must become the best thing I’ve ever done!

My thoughts and condolences to all who knew him and like me will remember him fondly.

RIP Iain Carstairs 2016

Shuttleworth Collection Engineering Day = Grown Up Sheds by Shaun Armstrong

IMG_7169_mubsta.com_.jpg

There's something alluring about sheds. Havens with tools and tins and the gathered detritus of many hours tinkering and whittling. Attempts to fix or create, successfully or otherwise - in relatively undisturbed tranquility, save perhaps an old paint-spattered radio. And mugs of tea. And if you breath deeply, the smell of oil and wood-shavings. We're not talking Shoffices here - wooden garden workplaces with desks, books and wifi - but the sort of place where organisation means over-use of a Dymo label printer on old tubs and tins to reveal their assorted contents - nails, tapes and bits of electrical items that are sure to "come in handy" one day.

My Dad had such a shed-cum-workshop which as his gathered spoils and projects increased, he made it larger - cutting it in half down the middle and inserting a higher, pitched perspex roof to let more light in. As you do.

Sheds come in all shapes and sizes and whilst the ones at the Shuttleworth Collection of aircraft and classic cars at Old Warden, Bedfordshire are more "hangars", the principle is pretty much the same.

Every year they open up the engineering shed hangar to show their works-in-progress and for the engineers (the stars of the show along with the airplanes) to share their enthusiasm and chat to the visitors young and old.

DSCF4325_mubsta.com_.jpg

This was my first visit to Shuttleworth, so camera-wise I only had my little Fuji 100s and my phone, but was amazed how many people were gunned up with all sorts of kit - tripods, off-camera flash and more DSLR's with the brand and model stitched into the strap than you could shake a selfie-stick at. But when you think of how close to classic warbirds (especially the last flying Hurricane that saw action in WWII) you could get, plus see the innards of a Spitfire in bottom-up rebuild, you could see why there was such enthusiasm.

DSCF4335_mubsta.com_.jpg
DSCF4328_mubsta.com_.jpg

Aside from the main focus (and smell) of the planes, I was more fascinated by the people - visitors and team, and the details of not only the machinery but life in the workplace not normally set for public "display". The quizzical technical interest of the more mature gentleman down to the families and children marvelling in the unusual sights of design, materials and finish, was fascinating.

DSCF4375_mubsta.com_.jpg

Here are some of my images from the Shuttleworth visit, spanning visitors, engineers and details of classic craftsmanship.

Air Space, IWM Duxford - Official Pre-Build Footage. by Shaun Armstrong

778A0139_©shaun_armstrong-e1452943426175.jpg

Rare footage from AirSpace, Imperial War Museum, Duxford with Spitfire test pilot Alex Henshaw.

The following video was shot by me in March 2005 at the start of the building of "Air Space", then a new indoor space for Imperial War Museum, Duxford in Cambridgeshire, UK, to house and showcase many iconic British planes, including Lancaster, Spitfire, Vulcan and Concorde and also tell the story of aviation for future generations.

Whilst there were some press photographers there, I don't think it was formally filmed (I may be wrong - no doubt someone will tell me) nor was there the legion of mobile documenting tech there is today, feeding into social media! So having dug out (no pun intended) the footage, thought it worthwhile to edit it a little bit and share; if my video and audio friends in particular could please excuse 2005 production quality.

A time capsule containing a selection of local and aviation artefacts was buried under the new location, before the build commenced, and as a supporter of the project (my late father had worked on many of the iconic aircraft during WWII in RAF Bomber Command and later at RAE Thurleigh in Research & Development) I went along to see the ceremony.

The event included a short but poignant talk by VIP guest Alex Henshaw, MBE, the original Spitfire test pilot and a short display by the iconic WWII fighter, despite the drizzle

Sadly, Alex Henshaw died in 2007, aged 94 and never saw Air Space open to the public.

Alex Henshaw on Wikipedia

Imperial War Museum, Duxford