I've always coveted an Aston Martin. Whilst Bond was cool in a DB5 I didn't really get the clunky, boxy, Prince-Charles-beloved barges of the 1980's even though they were built just down the road from where I live, at Newport Pagnell. But when the latest Vantage came along - what a sweet car. And when they shoehorned in the V12...!
Ferraris and most Italian marques, come to that, always seemed a little too "look at me" by comparison albeit the pic on my old Top Trumps (a flattering pic of a red Ferrari 365 GT BB against some rocky desert backdrop) did stir. So with a hatful of preconceptions and little (no) experience of actually driving the things, I set off to Silverstone "The Home of British Racing" to cash in an Experience Day voucher driving these marques back-to-back in anger.
Silverstone as a venue is pretty well geared up for this sort of thing now after Bernie gave them a rocket over F1 and they moved away from the old airfield tin-sheds-and-mud affair to something more fitting. As you wind your way around the perimeter track for what seems like miles and past the fancy Porsche facility, you're welcomed and organised in a nice shiny, and busy, Visitors Centre. After looking at the various large racing-heritage displays (great photos) I was ushered into the briefing room with the other suspects to basically be told to behave and not break anything. Guess the last thing they want is some adrenaline-fuelled wannabee trying to gymkhana their way around the course...
First up was the Ferrari 430 - a flappy paddle-shift beastie. I've not driven this way before, so the combination of this, a low cabin, roll-cage, helmet and a guy right next to me telling me to do things counter-intuitively didn't really enable me to capture the "spirit" of driving an Italian Stallion over the few laps you get. The experience was all a bit too mechanical and as for the car I was really surprised at how sluggish the up-shifts were. Bapping down the Hanger Straight and hoping for some rifle-shot shift just didn't happen. More of a click-pause-bump with too much a drop in revs, not the scream your expecting from a Ferrari. Perhaps with a couple more hours to get the feel of the 'box and where to find the limits would have helped. Possibly. The other problem with a way-sorted chassis and grippy rubber is that unless you're feeling the edge, it's just a bit..er, "boring" on such a large wide road.
Next up was the Aston. With a manual box. Yes! With the benefit of having had a few sighting laps in the Ferrari and one less new element to think about, off we went. What a sound. My instructor this time was a little more supportive to me "pressing on" as he could tell I had no problem in using my right foot, sighting apexes and could drive quick. This was waaay better and I actually felt I was in tune with the car and making the most of the track (50% of the famous F1 circuit), finding the lines and using the car fully to improve my progress. Amazing.
When we pulled up after some fairly swift laps and overtaking many slower drivers, the instructor complimented me on my commitment and said that he was happy to let me push harder as I was driving well. Cool. What a buzz. I'll have one in blue please...
So, on aesthetics and theory (which most of us only really ever judge supercars and hypercars on - unless you work for EVO magazine or Top Gear, or are minted) I would have chosen the Aston Martin. After driving them, albeit briefly in unnatural surroundings, I would stick with the Vantage if someone forced me to have one. Whether this was the order of driving, the unfamiliarity of paddle-shift or a genuine preference I don't know, it was only a taster, but it looked, felt and sounded right.
Back in the real world, the family and I climbed up into our Toyota RAV4. Not quite the same but it does its job perfectly. That said I'm lucky to drive a Nissan 350Z GT Roadster I enjoy every single mile even now. It's a keeper. Perhaps because the more you get used to something the more it feels part of you. It's not lavish by any means and very much an old-skool, front-engined, real-wheel drive thing with a strong engine and a communicative chassis. And with the roof down you can't beat it for the money. It looks the biz and feels special, to me anyway.
"a rich man is one who knows he has enough"
A little dreaming is not a bad thing. Within my photography world I love observing the detail in well designed objects that have purpose and beauty, especially cars - lines, curves, shapes, badges and wheels have a particular fascination. I use these elements to inspire some of my abstract artwork "artAuto" such as this Aston Martin One-77 wheel.
I think if I go on a track experience again I'll go for proper racing cars - fit for purpose tools rather than adapted road-cars. On the road, I'm quite happy with the 350Z and hope to take it on some adventures and trips, more of which to come...
Why I'm a photographer.
I'm writing this around the 70th Anniversary of Operation Overlord, 6 June 1944; D-Day - the start of the end of the Second World War. It's a time of special remembrance, especially for the few veterans that still survive, and an opportunity for those not there to be reminded of the achievement and sacrifice.
But in addition, D-Day has a more poignant meaning for me as I was on the Normandy invasion beaches in 2008 when my father was critically injured in a fall at home. I never got to speak to him again. That event was the start of a sequence of events that reshaped my own history and journey, so every year I draw parallels...
The loss of a parent, besides the obvious emotional impact, is in a way like becoming a parent - a part of you changes; you evolve and you can never be the same again and no amount of information or good advice can prepare you. But after the dust has settled, it also gives you insight and perspective to life and perhaps a little wisdom.
Some six months after this event, I also lost my mother in equally sudden circumstances and was at a cross-roads career-wise so I chose to make my living as a photographer and artist.
It's not always been an easy path and "photographer" doesn't really sum it all up, but it has and continues to be full of challenges, great people and exciting opportunities and I have no regrets.
These are some of the last images I took in a much quieter Normandy, before "D-Day" and they continue to inform my work and style today...
Barbados is a fascinating, beautiful and colourful part of the Caribbean. I wanted to photograph it for those who live, visit and enjoy the locations and culture. Ranging from windswept sandy beaches, interesting buildings, boats and back-waters to flora and general life, my images seek to capture topics in an interesting and artistic way. There are many images out there normally associated with this mainly holiday destination - posh hotels, sunsets, palm-trees, swimming pools and the like - but I prefer observing the elements of normal life, an unusual building a stranded item in a strange location or just business as usual. These are the real parts of a place and a test of its unique character which makes it different and individual. That said, there are my observations on the usual suspects too!
My book of Barbados photography on Blurb.
All images are shot "as they were found" and in natural light; the decision to shoot being based on the content, context, shape and colour or combinations thereof, leading the viewer to think a little more about what they are seeing and how it fits into the local day to day life. Street photography with a positive edge - in addition to the images the book has a story section at the back where I share my thoughts behind each image. No image was harmed by Photoshop digital compositing!
You can have a preview of selected pages below and buy it in hardback or e-book form. Individual Barbados images can also be licensed for use. Prints and products in development but if interested please do contact me.
The second series of the highly successful drama “The Bletchley Circle” started airing on ITV on 6 January 2014 which means I can start to reveal the embargoed behind-the-scence reportage I was lucky enough to be able to capture for Bletchley Park when they were outdoor filming there in June 2013. It was only a few years ago that the WWII work and legacy of Bletchley Park was still a closely guarded secret. It is now pretty much well known across the world as the “home of the Codebreakers” and the cradle of modern computing. It has also been woven into mainstream drama and film as a rich source of stories but a major drawback of the film “Enigma” was that none of the Bletchley Park scenes were shot on location. No so with the latest Hollywood film “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly (not allowed to shoot this one – boo) or the ITV drama The Bletchley Circle which was critically acclaimed in 2012 (which I was – hooray!).
In all things I'm interested in form, contrast, shape and the way these interact creating visual beauty. I'm drawn to parts of man-made items, especially machines for my artwork. This could a high-performance supercar, a classic aircraft, a musical instrument or a piece of iconic equipment such as an ENIGMA enciphering machine.
I look for the details and capture them in an image before using a number of digital colouring and patterning techniques to make them bold and interesting pieces of artwork.
My abstract artwork (or rather "extract")* collections are developed from an image to produce art, albeit with honest roots, rather than works that are photographs in their own right.
I'm not a fan of Photoshop as far as digitally cutting, pasting and compositing is concerned preferring to know that the image beneath the treatment is still the originally chosen capture of a real thing and therefore its story has integrity. This is valuable whether you are buying an image because you are a fan of Porsche, or wish to show your business products off in an challenging way.
When created as part of a commission through my business image solutions, these works form part of the "decorate" service, building collections that adorn new buildings and people-facing spaces and helping tell stories too.
My self-generated galleries are evolving based on opportunities and partnerships, but my initial work is based on high performance cars and is known as artAUTO.
* I heard an interview with famous photographer, Ansel Adams who said photographs could not be "abstract", as they capture something that is actually in existence, rather than the free hand or palette of an artist who can be truly abstract. Instead photographs can be "extracts" and that is what I choose to do, even if they are not obvious literal views of the subject in any way.
Always been drawn to Pop Art in one form or another, I guess as it's a visual touchpoint for the 1960's - a period of challenge, experimentation and free thinking after the austere, post-war 50's. Whether that's bold and iconic British music and fashion via Liverpool and Carnaby Street, cool machines like the Jaguar E-Type, Ford Mustang and GT-40, Saturn V rocket or SR-71 Lockheed Blackbird; icons like JFK and the Rat Pack or Sean Connery as James Bond…the sixties rocked, or rather, swung. What a treat then to stumble, quite literally, across an exciting exhibition of iconic artworks on display at the swanky Christie's in Upper Bond Street entitled "When Britain Went Pop". For the first time in a long tome pieces by 18 artists including Peter Blake (of Sgt Pepper cover fame), Derek Boshier, David Hockney, Eduardo Paolozzi (not Enrico Palazzo from Naked Gun ;) and the quite achingly beautiful Pauline Boty, la belle de pop-art who died tragically at the age of 28 in 1966, had been brought together.
After just checking this wasn't some private sale-viewing space where they expected me to pony up a large amount of cash, I wandered around the three expansive floors, by myself mainly (aside from a good number of stern looking security guards, suitably juxtaposed in suits, ties and starch against the wild, colourful abandon of the works they were minding) drinking in the vibrant works.
An added bonus was a side room showing the 1962 film by Ken Russell "Monitor - Pop Goes The Easel" a very artistically shot and slightly trippy documentary about four of the artists, their work and the "swinging scene" which I enjoyed as it featured many of the artworks on show as they were being made in the studio and/or in their 60's context with the artists which really added impact and connection when looking at them again close up and personal. Worth a watch when you have 45 mins to spare - link below.
Fearful of being ejected onto the street should I try to photograph the works, as is the threat with most (usually photographic, ironically) exhibitions I've been to, I took none until on the way out I asked to use my phone to photograph a statement on the wall about the pop art genre and to my surprise was told I could take photos, as long as I didn't use flash. Thanks to Christies for supporting the spirit of creating art from art, I went back around with my Fuji. I've a few personal projects on the boil artistically and this was a great inspiration.
I was first fascinated by the Apollo moon projects as a small lad and have fond memories of building an Airfix Saturn V rocket (which stood about 2 ft tall, rather precariously) and doing a fancy round Apollo XI jigsaw; having a name like "Armstrong" also helped (no relation). The Spitfire, Concorde, the Space Shuttle and a Dad who worked on fascinating aircraft R&D projects, from WWII refits to bomb the Tirpitz to Tornado in the 1980's, also helped fuel an interest in all manner of fast and high flying machinery, which as I reflect has weaved into many things I'm involved with today.
I'd also developed an interest in the UK's heritage and not insignificant success in breaking speed records, most notably the "Bluebird" achievements of the Campbell's, Malcolm and Donald and his eventual water-speed tragedy at Coniston Water. Other blog posts I suspect.
Jumping on a bit - when, at an event I was at in Sept 2013, former land speed record holder (1983 - 1997) Richard Noble was asked a question "why are you trying to go even faster when you (ThrustSSC) already hold the record?" "Well, he answered, we heard the Americans were planning to beat it so we needed to push even further!" Legend.
Back a few years I was at a car show, drooling over all manner of things automotive, when I came across the Bloodhound SSC roadshow with Noble and Co building interest and generating partnerships/funding for the new project. The target aim to break 1000mph in South Africa in 2012 pushing on from the 1997 record, set by Thrust SSC with Mr balls-of-steel Andy Green at the helm at a gentle 763mph. I wanted to find out more and signed up to be a Gold Member of the "1k Club" to get info and be better involved.
2012 didn't happen but a few weeks ago I went down to Avonmouth, Bristol to attend an update presentation, hear about the project and see how the car was coming along - what a challenge of engineering and people! The updates from Richard Noble and the team were informative and enlightening and some of the statistics and work being undertaken clearly shows how the project is taking hold globally...and boggling the mind. It sits fully in the UK's STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) education agenda and is engaging and inspiring a generation from theory, to technical, to innovation via design and just taking on big ideas - brilliant. I'm getting involved with this too and that'll feature here later - subscribe for updates or follow me on Twitter (@shaunarmstrong)
Target is 2015 at Hakskeen Pan in South Africa...the journey continues!
It is my pleasure to be Official Photographer for the biennial IF Milton Keynes International Festival. For 2012 I covered 39 events over 11 days from the 5:30am craning in of the Boat Project to the embers of the final evening and pretty much everything in between.
Here are some highlights from 2012...
We Are Bedford was a community of local volunteers working together to make a difference to physical spaces. Hustled along by founders Kayte Judge and Erica Roffe, two people passionate about making the most of their home town of Bedford, this was to be done by transforming unused buildings into vibrant hubs of artistic activity by thinking creatively and being proactive; values I was delighted to support through artistic, documenting photography. Their first event, The Castle Quay Weekender, was held on 19-20 March 2011 and saw a fairly recently redeveloped, but under-occupied, area in the heart of the proposed cultural area of the town, transformed by artists, musicians and performers. It attracted over 2000 visitors! A real success and a demonstration to many people of what could be achieved “in the public domain” if you put your mind and a lot of hard work in.
That We Are Bedford event and its outcomes helped the founders generate funding from the RSA that led to further events and activities during 2011, spin-off groups and critical acclaim…plus through no coincidence all the units being let 1 year later.
See what is was all about below. This was quite an early bit of street /performance for me and there's post production elements I would be better now, with a little more experience under my belt, but you get the vibe :)
I first heard about The Duke Spirit from my cousin's lad Matt when he told me how his drummer mate Olly couldn't make his wedding due to his band having to fly, at short notice, to USA...huh? Rock and Roll!! *makes that horn sign thing with hand*.
It would so good to photograph them! Hang on "Duke Spirit Release Kusama EP - Mini Tour planned in Feb" Get the proverbial in...I wonder whether..."Matt, you know all the lovely wedding stuff I did, well......?!)
Fast forward to a wet and dreary Guildford; me, The Duke Spirit and some cold ones, in the brightest yellow kitchen you have ever dared imagine, backstage at "The Boileroom" shooting the breeze about, of all people, Alan Turing and even more bizarrely how lead singer Liela Moss's Mum had met his housekeeper at the doctors once (!)
So, after a few covert shots backstage, just a few as all a little new and not wanting to be a pest...to the gig. Great. Loads of people but managed to charm/push my way to the front and got into a nice stress position as the stage was only about 2 foot off the floor with two large central girders "being removed in the refurb!" Lighting was a little, er "subtle" as well and Liela Moss is a mover, so wide open/high ISO and hang on tight...
Love the music, been too long since I've been to a proper gig and really enjoyed it - it was a bit of a warmup for the tour and NME Award show in London the next day but great crowd reactions. Mucho thanks to Olly, Liela, Luke, Toby & Marc for their hospitality and signing my EP :)