Author Archives: Karen

About Karen

musings on everything from art, travel, food, architecture, beer & all the stuff in between.

Master of Photography – Sky Arts

If you’re not familiar the show, or the format I urge you to go on catch up tv services and watch this now before reading on. I liken it to many other similar formulaic shows, not quite Big Brother, but think Next Top Model or X Factor even. Basically a group of photographers from across Europe apply to take part in a TV show where each week a person with the subjectively weakest set of shots gets eliminated from the challenge. In fact is very much like X-factor except that there are no ‘joke’ entries for the audience to laugh at. Everyone selected has good skills whether technical or creative or both. There is a variety of backgrounds to the contestants with series 2 including a young woman I think just 18 as well as a war photographer and a professional who’d previously photographed Paul McCartney.

Each week the contestants are set a different challenge and then ‘mentored’ by a professional photographer whilst editing their final shots. This series featured Martin Parr and Steve McCurry to name but a few, and of course there are ‘celebrity’ judges this year in as well as the returning sharp tongued Oliviero Toscani there was also Darcy Padilla and Guardian picture editor Caroline Hunter.

I really enjoyed the first series, whilst I know a lot of people can find these cheesy, I find seeing how a set of different people approach the same task really interesting, and often find myself thinking what would I do in that situation? (Answer: mostly, it’s a blank… hence why I wouldn’t stand a chance in one of these competitions). A lot of this is not just about skill, but about creativity and imagination under pressure. And the situations to me aren’t all that realistic, for example I can’t imagine that any publication would go to the trouble of paying a photographer to travel all the way to another country but then only give them 2-3 hours, in the middle of the day, with a limited boundary to ‘capture the city’. However other challenges such as meeting a celebrity having 20 minutes to create a rapport and shoot, isn’t that too far out there ~ and for someone like me, utterly terrifying – not the celebrity part, just meeting a stranger and being expected to build a rapport immediately – for this particular challenge I found the actor Clive Owen very down to earth, but obviously uncomfortable with some of the photographers, he was clearly great at being directed – and part of being a good portrait photographer is being a good director also. I found a lot of the challenges in this series were of this nature [short lead in time to build trust], and some of the phrases I heard over and over, ‘not close enough’  ‘too removed’ ‘too impersonal’. It definitely felt that the judges encouraged a fairly aggressive nature to ‘get the shot’ and that just doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, and I refuse to believe that’s the only way to get anything worthy.

So aside from the opportunity for some once in a life time mentoring and the kit room. Have I not mentioned the kit room yet? Basically the photographers have their pick of equipment, across the range of top brands, leicas are always popular… which whilst it seems like the things dreams are made of, wouldn’t you opt to go with the system you know best? It would be different if you were given the time to learn the equipment but given the nature of some of these challenges I personally would go with the camers I could use blindfolded. So yes, as well as these perks each challenge is set in a different European country and this series the challenges were:

Travel (Sicily)

Rush hour (Hambug)

Celebrity feature (Rome, with Clive Owen as the celeb)

Erotica (also in some country house in Europe)

Paralympic atheletes

Street Fashion (London during Fashion Week)

Home Sweet Home (home towns, inner selves aka the Self-portrait episode)

Human landscape – European people and their diverse environments – or as the tv show put it, marginalised people, including travellers in Dublin, Sami people in Finland and Macedonian farmers.

Unfortunatley the Sky Arts website isn’t forthcoming with lots of info about the series or photographers, hopefully it will give more information in future or maybe its due to the scandal* surrounding one of the finalists? I found the series equal measures inspiring (thinking about attemping my own versions of the challenges) to intimidating (I could  never do that etc. etc. self doubt ad infinitum)

.*mild drama

If you’ve seen the series I’m keen to hear your thoughts – favourite photograph/photographer? Do you love/hate the series?

 

 

Review: Looking For Alaska

 

I don’t know how he does it? Maybe John Green has a secret line into my heart so he knows exactly when and where to tug?
Without giving away huge spoilers, this is essentially a book about growing up, friendship, choices/not-choices. About dealing or not dealing with death.

The story starts with Miles Halter choosing to leave highschool to attend a boarding school instead. Not having many real friends at his old school, he quickly finds the sort of friends, that honestly, I’ve only read about in books. The book itself doesn’t even cover a whole school year, yet is well paced. I feel I could draw you a map of Culver Creek school, if I could draw well, I can smell the woods they hide out in.

I don’t know what else to say, exept Green manages to smash my heart into a million pieces (again ~ first time was with the Fault in Our Stars) and pick them up and put them back together and all without me hating him. He writes beautifully, and I do find myself wondering just how much is autobiographical and how much is pure imagingation.

If you’ve not read it, I’d highly recommend it – 5/5.

New Music Monday

I realised today that I don’t often post about music on my blog which is really weird, considering that I listen to music pretty much every day and that me and my husband plan most holidays around gigs both here and abroad. So I figured I would do well to start sharing some of my favourite music.

Starting off with an artist I literally discovered 2 days ago, one of those cool things that happen on twitter , where you see something by chance, follow the trail and discover something new.

Just one of (there are many) favourite artists Olafur Arnalds replying to someone (the tweet quote doesn’t really work that well), I thought Aerocity had an intriguing name (ok I was also curious about this person who doesn’t own a record player) and followed his bio discovering his bandcamp page where I grabbed a free track download of Stranger (see below) which I loved so much I  then bought the Escapism EP as well.

I will say, his style reminds me of Olafur Arnalds stuff a fair bit, maybe that’s why I like it. Self described as neo-classical glitch, I can’t say fairer than that, lots of strings too… I’m a sucker for violins and stuff that like that. I’ve listened to it all evening, which seemed to go perfectly with the sun setting. I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic like that too.

let me know what you think of it in the comments?

To read-a-thon or not

Like the last Dewey’s readathon I’ve ended up double booking myself but this time I’m not beating myself up about not making ALL the hours. I’ve had a great day out with various friends and lots of belly laughs, so it’s now midnight and I’m finally joining in the readathon challenges before heading to bed :

Mid-Event Survey!

1. What are you reading right now? The city of lost souls

2. How many books have you read so far? this is my first, but I normally only get through 1 or 2 standard length novels

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? See question 1, I stayed up reading the prior book in the series until nearly 2am so, pretty excited 

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? I spent most of the day being way sociable with friends and decided to be chilled out about it

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? always how many books other people can read, so fast.

Record Store Day in Oxford (and music shopping in Oxford)

Tomorrow (April 22nd) is the tenth anniversary of Record Store Day, I think I first heard about in 2012 or 2013 and if you’ve never heard of it, quite simply put it’s a day designed to encourage people to shop at independent music shops. They do this by getting hundreds of artists on board to release special and limited edition records (but also sometimes CDs and tapes make it) that can only be bought in Independent record shops or in their own words

A Record Store Day participating store is defined as a physical retailer whose product line consists of at least 50% music whose company is not publicly owned. In other words, we’re dealing with real, live, physical, indie record stores – not online retailers or large corporations.

So if you live in Oxford there’s a couple of choices in the form of Truck store and Blackwell’s Music. There is also Rapture (sister store to Truck) but that’s out in Witney, so if you’re visiting Oxford city centre for the day, these are your options and I’ll give you the run down having visited both in 2015 specifically for RSD (In 2016 I was in Newcastle for the weekend, and yes I checked out a few stores there and came back with a few extra records for my collection), although I’ve shopped in both quite a few times over the past couple of years (when i’m not buying directly from artists or bandcamp).

Truck Store, 101 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1HU

Probably the more well known for RSD, and yes the same Truck who run Truck Festival – the queues here start early, we arrived around half 7 one morning, the shop opening at 8am – we were kept warm with their in house coffee shop taking orders down the line (it was a really cold April morning) and got in the store around 10am. I’m not really familiar with the many possible formats for running a record store day event, but Truck allow a handful of people in the store at a time to browse. This means if a group of people decide to browse for half an hour, tough you’re stuck outside, as far as I remember there wasn’t a particularly logical order to the RSD stock, so it meant literally looking through everything they had for RSD to see if they had what we wanted (yes for 1, no for 2 others). My previous experiences back in Manchester with Piccadilly Records were vastly different (people start queuing the evening before for a start, in fact as I write this people have already been queuing for several hours), they provide people in the queue with a photocopied list of what they have in stock, when items sell out it’s shouted down the queue, so if you’re queuing for that one illusive item and it’s gone, you don’t have to waste another few hours in line only to be disappointed. Another thing I like is that they also hold all the RSD stock behind the counter, so you have to go in and ask to buy/look at it – this leaves the rest of the store free for customers browsing for non-RSD items (and yes there were plenty) and also helps the queue go faster.

Queues outside Truck store 2015

Blackwell’s Music Shop: 51 Broad St, Oxford OX1 3BQ

Your second option in Oxford, Blackwell’s music :  I’ve not been here first thing on RSD, but it doesn’t strike me as somewhere that would generate large queues, and it doesn’t seem to get any press. So last year my husband sauntered down to Blackwell’s at lunchtime and picked up what he wanted, no queuing or fuss. The year before after queuing at Truck, then going to warm up and have breakfast at Tick Tock, we decided to swing by Broad street and found that the sold out items from Truck were here in stock. Obviously they don’t stock a huge range, but they do a fairly wide range of genres and we’ve picked up AIR and Jesus and Mary Chain here along with some RSD slip-mats. The staff are really friendly and it’s a proper music shop in that it sells sheet music, instruments and some pretty cheeky music inspired gifts (a Chopin board anyone?), they can also order stuff in for you.

Other places for record shopping in Oxford

The Last Book Shop Jericho, 25 Walton St, Oxford OX1 2HQ

As well as being one of my favourite book shops in Oxford, the Last Book Shop also has a second hand record section (top of the stairs that go down to the second hand book section), it’s proper crate digging, whether you find a gem or not is anyone’s guess but prices are sensible. They also sell coffee, cake, the aforementioned books – new books are £3 each or 2 for £5, large second hand section in the basement.

Gloucester Green Market, 78 The Heyes, Oxford OX1 2BU (map address)

Open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays – I think Saturday is the best day for records and music although there are stalls on a Thursday selling old records, the guy who is there on a Saturday has a really good selection spanning plenty of genres – also the whole market is a good place to shop for vintage, handmade, quirky stuff.

Fopp, 96-97 Gloucester St, Oxford OX1 2DF

OK not independent (well not anymore), the recently opened Oxford branch is conveniently located on Gloucester Green Market so you can kill 2 birds with 1 stone if you visit on a Saturday. Good range of vinyl as well as CDs, DVDs, books and good prices, as they’re now owned by HMV they can afford to be more competitive. For me Fopp fills certain gaps that Truck leaves in terms of range but is by no means comprehensive for my tastes. Side note it has a very good foreign DVD range, particularly Nordic/Scandi noir Tv series.

Charity shops

Oxford has a plethora of charity shops, really I’ve never seen anything like it in a city so small. I pretty much only visit them for books, but plenty sell records, obviously this is another crate digging expedition to find anything worth while – and the Oxfam shops here are very switched on so you won’t necessarily snag a ‘bargain’. In fact some prices are just ridiculous, one ‘vintage’ shop that shall remain nameless had a box of ‘vinyls’ (yes really) priced from £5, for items that wouldn’t sell at a record fair for 50p!

Review: On A Small Island

On A Small Island
On A Small Island by Grant Nicol

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can’t remember when I last gave a book 5/5? However I felt that this feat of Nordic Noir deserved it simply for leaving me feeling utterly hopeless! I found myself staring at the page, thinking ‘he (Grant Nicol) wouldn’t really do that… would he? well if you want to know, you’ll have to read it and find out for yourself! If you’re partial to crimes and emotions being resolved, loose ends nicely tied in bows, then maybe this isn’t the book for you. Without giving too much away, this is a dark tale set in Reykjavik and the surrounding areas and centres on a young woman Ylfa, her two sisters and their elderly father. The story is told in the first person from Ylfa’s perspective which works really well, and for all intents and purposes you would assume that she is the main character of the book. However as I was browsing the follow up books in the series, I noted that they are subtitled ‘The Grímur Karlsson Mysteries’ Grimur being the detective in this series. I have to admit it struck me as a little strange that someone who in all honestly played such a minor part in this initial book would be the defining character of the series, but we’ll see – hopefully the character gets developed more in the follow up The Mistake I’m about to start…

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Review: Oblivion

Oblivion
Oblivion by Arnaldur Indriðason

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I only noticed that it’d not read this book when tidying up my wish list, hastily ordered because I couldn’t believe I’d missed another instalment of the ever pensive Erlendur. It didn’t take long to realise that this was a prequel, the book cover features an eerie looking blue lagoon, not the fun n frolic-y one we’re used to seeing in tourist photos, and as the first crime unfolds it becomes apparent it was set before the blue lagoon existed as a private entity.
The story (or stories as there is never just one thread in these books) are centred around activity related to the air force base at Keflavik, a murder and a missing persons cold case. This gives you some insight into Elendur’s fascination with missing persons whichs is a constant thread woven throughout the later series even if you’ve never read any of the other books that reveal the whole back story. So you can read this as a standalone book and not feel like you’re missing out. The other story is investigated mostly by Erlendur’s mentor, Marion Briem – which again fills out some back story missing from the later set books. I’m hoping that this continues – as I feel that this would be a really interesting addition to the series. I dont want to say much about the story as I feel that this would spoil the plot too much, but as usual the plot is a slow boiling stew with the tension mounting more than I expected towards the final few chapters and I really didn’t want to stop reading but had to go to work!

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