An acorn matures: Book launch of Little House on a Peace Line (Tony MACAULAY)

An acorn matures: Book launch of Little House on a Peace Line (Tony MACAULAY)
by Allan LEONARD for Shared Future News
27 June 2017

The Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts was the venue for the launch of Tony Macaulay’s latest edition of growing up in the contested space of Northern Ireland: Little House on a Peace Line.

Essays Photography

Book review – Women of Vision (National Geographic)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Women of Vision accompanies a travelling exhibition of the same title, curated by National Geographic. Both celebrate the work of eleven inspiring female photojournalists, featuring nearly 100 images, ranging from social issues, effects of war, and changes in our natural habitats.

Renowned American news journalist, Ann Curry, begins the foreword with words, “Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered the father of photojournalism…”, explaining how a photographer’s vision is influenced by one’s experiences and emotions. And how these will be different due to gender.

To a degree, that is certainly true. For example, I cannot imagine a male photographer gaining access to record moments such as young girls and their adult husbands (“Too Young to Wed”, Stephanie Sinclair), a woman-owned beauty shop in Zambia with a customer breast-feeding a child (Lynn Johnson), or a girl in diaper and makeup in advance of a beauty pageant (Jodi Cobb).

But none of the photographers fit any female typecast. Some may have had to accept a “girl’s” work assignment from their editors during their career. Indeed, Lynn Johnson stills sees a gender divide: “It’s an issue at every level: with what you decide to shoot and how you’re received. Then you have to decide, are you going to make it an issue?”

But all excel in the outstanding quality of their work on display here.

Indeed, this edited selection reveals the diversity of approaches and subject matter that one would expect in the wider genre. Why wouldn’t it?

For example, as Lynsey Addario explained: “Everyone covers wars for different reasons. Some are in it for the adrenaline rush, some for the exciting lifestyle, and others because they care. For me, it’s about telling the story of human suffering and getting those images to policy makers. I hope to effect change.”

Likewise, Maggie Steber said:  “To me, the story of Rhodesia was not about the front line, where I would have gotten killed. It was about how the society was changing.”

Storytelling is a compelling motivation for several of these photographers.

Describing her project photographing immigrant broccoli pickers in northern Maine, Amy Toensing said that it was the first time she realised that she could tell a story through a sequence of images.

Several others describe their method of familiarising themselves with the subject matter. Erika Larsen, for example, spent three years immersed with the Sami people of the Arctic Circle for that project. 

Meanwhile, I identify with Carolyn Drake’s midpoint approach: “The most interesting time on a project is when you’re on the border between being an outsider and an insider — able to separate from it, but also identify with it.”

Regardless, photography becomes addictive. 

As Lynn Johnson said: “I don’t think you understand; I have to do this.” Or as in Lynsey Addario’s just-published memoir, It’s What I Do.

And now we live in an age when so many more people are creating and consuming images, in which some fear the craft of photography is getting lost.

But Kitra Cahana would counter this, by her embracing of 21st century technology:  “My hope is to wed photography with more voices beyond my photographic voice, to be an all-in-one journalist, to tell stories that are fully rounded,” by meshing it with other mediums.

And as Diane Cook explained: “Taking pictures is not just pushing a button. Like a musician, you have to practice and be tuned and have the instinct to respond in the moment.”

Photography is about learning through experience (Carolyn Drake), and getting what’s inside your heart out onto the photograph (Amy Toensing).

So Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ lives on. What Women of Vision achieves is a revelation of this process amongst an exemplary group of influential photographers of our day.

See following panel discussion among the photographers, chaired by Ann Curry:

Essays Photography

Book review – British Life Photography Awards

British Life Awards - British Life Photography Awards Portfolio 1

The British Life Photography Awards: Portfolio 1 is a catalogue book of the winners and finalists of an inaugural event “to capture and share” the perspectives of photographers from all walks of life.

The inspiration for the contest comes from the “amazing democratisation” of photography in the 21st century.

Homer Sykes, a self-described documentary photographer of half a century, provides a foreword, in which he describes the journey of discovery, “getting up before dawn, going to bed too late, being out there, experiencing, learning, thinking on your feet and trying to understand how we live, work and play.”

This is complemented by a brief introduction by Caroline Metcalfe, who calls upon photographers in Britain, “Rather than look overseas for potential material, … stay at home and shoot stories that we know are just waiting to be made.”

The judging panel reveals an impressive collection of accomplished photographers, many with work for various travel and lifestyle magazines and newspaper supplements.

And this is the shortcoming of this presented portfolio of work.

The images are all good, but like much of British life itself, it’s an eclectic mix of the editorial and the artistic. Many images would easily grace a Condé Nast publication or a Sunday magazine; I don’t need to buy a book to discover this talent.

What interested me more were the fewer images that demonstrated some individuality of the photographer, one’s own perspective on life in Britain.

Yellow Rain (c) Linda Wisdom @CreativeWisdom_
Yellow Rain; used with permission (c) Linda Wisdom @CreativeWisdom_

Images such as Heather Buckley’s “Tea at Birling Gap”, with a hatted women’s head emerging from a teapot; Linda Wisdom’s “Yellow Rain” (one of the best in the volume, in my opinion); Gerard Collett’s “Orange, White and Blue”, of two identical older women, sitting across from each other, putting on makeup at the same time; and Zoe Barker’s “Lazy Days”, not an Instagram tilt-shift filter, but authentic 120-format film print.

So while I don’t regret acquiring this first edition — I’d like to learn more about the next contest — I can’t recommend it. The pictures may be pleasing, but the selection incoherent (why so many from a single naked bike ride event?). A more critical slimmer volume of images and/or photographers may have brought more inspiration for the rest of us about to go out to shoot more stories of British life.

Essays Photography

Book review – World Atlas of Street Photography (Jackie Higgins)

20150525 World Atlas

I have not studied photography formally, but take solace that many of the 100 photographers featured in this thorough volume of the urban landscape and its people have learned their craft from the harsh realities of the street.

Nevertheless I may be utterly under-qualified to provide a meaningful critique of this very considered book, The World Atlas of Street Photography, published by Thames & Hudson.

Author Jackie Higgins has done a masterful job. The structure of the book is geographical, by world region. Each photographer gets a page or two, with a pertinent selection of his or her work.

As one would expect, most images feature people. Some are candid; others are posed. And some photographers concentrate more on the physical environment — the human influence without the presence of any inhabitants themselves.

What I like is that there’s no need to read the book from cover-to-cover. You can peruse the pages and stop and inspect more of what captures your eye. (Perhaps not unlike the behaviour of a practiced street photographer.) The biographical entries are well written and easy to digest.

Max Kozloff sets the global scene in his foreword. I particularly like his statement of how “photographers have reacted with a discursive strategy of their own”, including a response to “post-modernist scepticism towards documentary forms”.

Because street photography tells stories, of the photographer and the photographed. Some stories are easier to decipher from the images than others, but story telling is one of man’s longest-running habits. Long live the documentary style, updated for the 21st century.

And that is my only mild criticism — there is no modern signposting of any of the photographers. Perhaps these acclaimed artists are beyond Flickr and Tumblr, but I would have appreciated links to at least portfolio websites. There’s also no bibliography or further reading section.

Yet The World Atlas of Street Photography should be on any self-respecting street photographer’s bookshelf. Jackie Higgins achieves her objective of showcasing illuminating juxtapositions, as she puts it, providing the reader with ample inspiration and insight of a wide variety of techniques and styles.

It is a true atlas of the street genre.


Book review – Time to Fly (Neil O’BRIEN)

Neil O'BRIEN motivating us at NI Biz Camp
Neil O’BRIEN motivating us at NI Biz Camp

I had the pleasure of meeting Neil O’Brien at a NI Biz Camp event in Belfast, April 2013. I immediately liked his sense of humour: “Sending me to a relaxation course is stressing me out!”

Yet behind his Irish wit is a concise, distilled lesson plan of proven suggestions to motivate yourself to the next level.

Essentially, each of us has a comfort zone. Tricky thing is, if you decide just to stay in it, it’ll keep getting smaller as the world moves on. Neil has some strategies to help you act outside your comfort zone.

His book, Time to Fly, is an easy-to-read digest filled with methods, exercise plans, summaries and encouragement, all sprinkled with signature humour.

What I particularly liked is that I am able to remember some key points. Reference points, if you will, that’ll keep you closer to 10/10 on the self-worth scale, and away from the 2/10.

Time to Fly really is inspiration in a nutshell (to cite another reviewer). Be good to yourself — get Neil’s book!

20150120 Time to Fly cover


Book review – Coffee with Jesus (David WILKIE)

WILKIE David - Coffee with Jesus

I came across Coffee with Jesus on a display table at the front of a Barnes & Noble bookstore. Just as well, as I doubt I would have perused the religion section to discover it.

Coffee with Jesus originated online, under the consortium Radio Free Babylon. It is a irreverent perspective of Christ in everyday — American — lives, with our Lord dispensing his eternal wisdom on the flawed mortal characters presented in this graphic novel. There’s Carl, Lisa, Ann, Kevin and Joe, each of which author David Wilkie provides pseudo-biographies.

And of course there’s Satan, who taunts Jesus with nicknames like the Boy King, dogmatic Galilean, the Nazarene.

I enjoyed Coffee with Jesus and its theological humour. (Needs to be more like this.) Certainly there will be some who will take offence in putting words into Jesus’ mouth, but the joke is surely at them?

That is, I’m reminded of a small notice stand at a church coffee shop, which declared, “Christ is okay; it’s Christians I can’t stand.” The Word is the message, however delivered, whether the Sunday sermon or a good piece of levity served with a cup of Java.

20140708 Coffee Jesus - Dead Serious


Book review – A Week at the Airport (Alain de BOTTON)

20140114 Week at Airport

Perhaps poignantly after just returning from a long and splendid transatlantic Christmastime holiday, and getting back into routine in the return to work, I finished Alain de Botton’s book, A Week at the Airport.

A Week at the Airport is a short and compact book (“Slender enough to pack in your carry-on”, Daily Mail). It can be considered an addendum of sorts of his previous book, The Art of Travel (from which one learns that de Botton is a home bird, really; see my separate review).

I’ve always liked Alain de Botton’s use of illustrations and imagery interspersed with his narratives. In this case, Richard Baker adds wonderful value with his insightful photographs.

A Week at the Airport is just that — the chief executive of BAA granted the author unrestricted access throughout the world’s busiest airport, Heathrow.

“In such lack of constraints, I felt myself to be benefitting from a tradition wherein the wealthy merchant enters into a relationship with an artist fully prepared for him to behave like an outlaw; he does not expect good manners, he knows and is half delighted by the idea that the favoured baboon will smash his crockery.”

Thankfully de Botton does behave himself and doesn’t offend the airport staff, or perhaps more importantly, the security folk at the Border Agency.

The book is divided into four sections, reflecting the main dimensions of our airport experience — Approach, Departures, Airside and Arrivals.

I like de Botton’s philosophical insights into the otherwise mundane, or at least those aspects of daily life that we usually don’t think twice about.

For example, airport hotels. Even with their poetic menus, which de Botton does his best to elevate, an airport hotel is functionary; unlike their countryside siblings, you don’t select an airport hotel for its environmental surroundings.

Though there’s no harm in trying to appeal to aesthetic beauty. Terminal 5 “wanted to have a go” at replicating the experience of arriving at Jerusalem’s elaborate Jaffa Gate, to welcome those who have travelled great distances to the promise and prospect of a new country.

But baggage retrieval and finding your car in the parking lot (or silent taxi transfer) quickly erases such euphoria.

de Botton’s strength is inserting the human condition in every aspect of life. Lest you think he doesn’t really recommend airport travel, de Botton is an unfailing romantic (and thankfully so). When he describes our human encounters — in this case with hotel staff, fellow passengers, border control agents, and those we’re departing and reuniting with — de Botton evokes the universality of our existence. At least those of us who have ever experienced airports.


Breadboy book launch


Breadboy is Tony Macaulay’s sequel to Paperboy, growing up as a young teenager in Shankill, West Belfast. I was delighted to be invited to the book launch, having also been to the one for Paperboy, three years ago.

Like then, friends and colleagues gathered, this time in the basement of Eason news shop,  literally a stone’s throw from Belfast City Hall, the focus of much recent unrest over a community relations matter of the display of the Union flag. To paraphrase Macaulay’s book’s introduction — reflecting “a city still feeding off ancient rivalries”, while perhaps “well past their sell-by date”, still appetising for some.

Patsy Horton from Blackstaff Press began by remarking that they wished they had published Paperboy, now recognising the power of Macaulay’s voice in telling the story of life as a young person during dark years of the Troubles.

20130314 Breadboy IMG 6069

Tony Macaulay read generous extracts from his new book. For those of us who read his previous book it was a comforting reminder of the cast of characters; for others it was an engrossing invitation, with Macaulay speaking in vox in situ.

20130314 Breadboy IMG 6079

After giving his thanks and acknowledgements, there were a few remarks by Mr Wesley McCreedy (aka Leslie McGregor). This was a live reminder that these books are honest accounts of actual events, superbly told:


Discussing e-books on BBC Radio Ulster Saturday Magazine

You never know where a blog posting will end up — on the back of my praise for Libraries NI making available e-books for loan via the Overdrive mobile application, I was asked to participate in a discussion on BBC Radio Ulster’s Saturday Magazine programme, presented by John Toal.

The panel included Helen Osborn (Director of Service Delivery, Libraries NI), author John Bradbury and yours truly.

Helen argued that this service has the potential to increase the number of new users, as well as adding value to the many reasons why current users go to their library.

John prefers the tactility of a printed book, and to browse his books physically, while I argued that I used to be this way with my music, but now enjoy the convenience of having a large library available to me anytime, electronically.

I did confess that I had to get over the irrelevance of page numbering in e-books, but this took me two minutes and I don’t think about it anymore.

But for me the most important point wasn’t weather you read a printed book or e-book, but that this additional service by Libraries NI should encourage more reading, in itself.

Our 15-minute conversation went very quickly. We all could have easily talked about this topic for much longer!


Borrowing e-books from Belfast Central Library


Well, the ability to borrow e-books from any public library in Northern Ireland somehow missed me. I only discovered this via an article in the magazine Tap!, in a review of the iPhone app Overdrive.

It’s genius.

But you will need a real library card at a participating library, whether in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom or the USA — it’s a widely adopted borrowing system.

Overdrive works on Mac or Windows desktop, and on mobile devices iPhone/iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7.

First, simply download the Overdrive app onto your device.

When you open the app, you’ll be asked to “Add a Library”. Clicking that link brings you to a search field where you enter location details (e.g. “Belfast Central Library”). Then, you’ll be asked to enter your real library card number.

And that’s pretty much it. Back in the Overdrive app you’ll see your list of libraries. Clicking one brings you to that library’s e-book checkout service (where you follow that library’s instructions).
For Libraries NI, you login with your library card number. You can then browse all available e-books and audiobooks, which are available to borrow for 21 days. You can check out up to 9 e-books at a time.

You add desired books (which are dependant upon availability at the library; you still may have to compete against other borrowers!) to your basket, then proceed to checkout where you then download to your device.

Pretty straightforward after linking up your library to your Overdrive app.

I’m impressed, as it restores a link with my local library. Hope that Libraries NI can gear up their promotion campaign, though, as I only discovered this by accident.

FYI here is what I’m e-reading now from Belfast Central Library: