Portrait of a Roundabout

Swan, Billy Mill and Cowgate — when strung together, these names could perhaps be mistaken for the title of an obscure new advertising agency.

Instead, if you ask a Geordie to name three roundabouts, I expect those are the names that would spring to mind first.

Hen, an old pal of mine, recently asked me if I’d make a photograph of Cowgate Roundabout, which lies at the northern end of Newcastle’s central motorway.

Even though it’s certainly a local institution, this could be perceived as a slightly odd request. There is, however, a simple reason behind it…

You see, when Hen was only fifteen years old, his father — Jimmy Henderson — passed away.

Jimmy used to work for Newcastle City Council and one of the only lasting relics of that time is his contribution to the construction of Cowgate Roundabout.

Hen even retrieved this treasured print of the construction crew, taken in the late 1960s just before work began:

The Cowgate Roundabout Construction Crew

The Cowgate Roundabout Construction Crew

Jimmy Henderson, one of the Newcastle City Council team who constructed the Cowgate Roundabout

Jimmy Henderson, smiling away in the middle of this crop…

It recently transpired that a £3m improvement plan has been given the green light — a plan that includes the removal of Cowgate Roundabout as we know it today.

With works due to start this summer and months of disruption ahead, it was time to get moving with our photograph of the site.

So, we mobilised Neena very early on Sunday morning. Our aim was simply to record the roundabout — usually extremely busy — in a peaceful state without any traffic.

In memory of Jimmy Henderson, our efforts resulted in this finished plate :

Cowgate Roundabout, Newcastle upon Tyne, shortly before its demolition.

Cowgate Roundabout — in memory of Jimmy Henderson. (Half Plate Ambrotype)

Behind the Scenes…

We made a lovely morning of it, not only loading Neena with the necessary photographic paraphernalia but also making sure we had a stash of fine coffee and treats.

Here are three of the images I shared on my Instagram feed at the time…

Jack Lowe on Instagram

Hen enjoying a coffee and pastry between plates. See the family resemblance with Jimmy, above?

Jack Lowe on Instagram

Standing in the doorway of my ambulance — a sentence I never thought I’d write.

Jack Lowe on Instagram

The vantage point.

My New Ambulance

It’s been a curve-curve ball of a week…

A while back you may remember that I was inspired by the work and adventures of Ian Ruhter who makes huge Tintypes in The States using his old blue van as a giant camera — a van he affectionately calls The Time Machine.

If you haven’t seen his now-famous Silver & Light video, I’ll include it at the bottom of this post for you. Watch it. You’ll love it.

At the beginning of my own journey in wet plate collodion, I’ve been fantasising about the kind of vehicle I might own one day to use as a mobile darkroom. So, I’ve been keeping a weather eye focussed on eBay to get an idea of what’s out there for when the time comes.

As you might imagine, there’s a plethora of weird and wonderful machines available. Two weeks ago, a decommissioned NHS ambulance came up for sale and I knew instantly that it would be perfect but, in all honesty, the timing felt too soon.

Mournfully, I watched it slip away — sold to some lucky buyer who I now envied…

Envy isn’t a pleasant emotion, so I quickly expelled the memory from my consciousness and endeavoured to move on. I managed that until eBay sent me a tantalising email stating:

“An item you were watching has been relisted.”

Shucks. Now it felt like destiny. The urge was strong to see if I could possibly bring this wondrous vehicle into my life. And thus, to cut a long story short and after a marathon return trip to Cheltenham yesterday, it became so.

This vehicle — shortly to be my wet plate collodion darkroom — is simply incredible. A ready-made lab on wheels. It’s built solidly, crammed with loads of  gadgets and has effortlessly awakened childhood memories (mainly involving Lego, toy cars and Ghostbusters).

The previous owners named it Neena — get it?

Anyway, I can’t wait for the adventures that lie ahead. Here it is — my new ambulance:

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion DarkroomJack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

Jack Lowe's Ambulance / Wet Plate Collodion Darkroom

As promised, Ian Ruhter’s Silver & Light:

Chasing Shadows

We find ourselves in the midst of an extremely topical Northern Lights season once again, with comparisons potentially being made to The Great Solar Storm of 1859.

Aurora Borealis, Great Solar Storm of 1859, Boulogne Pier, Northern Lights

‘The Aurora Borealis, seen from the pier, Boulogne’, an etching I found on eBay a while back made around the time of The Great Solar Storm of 1859…

If that were to happen again, it would surely look pretty but it would also wreak havoc in a world that now relies so heavily on an electronic infrastructure.

As I was reminded last night, chasing the Aurora Borealis can be hard work — sometimes like chasing shadows rather than fantastical laser light shows.

The lure of glorious rewards keeps me motivated but, as hope fizzled out once again in the small hours, I’m glad I appreciated my beginner’s luck chasing the Aurora in 2012.

Here’s are the words I wrote at the time on another site o’ mine

 

Holy Aurora! The Northern Lights Venture South

[23rd January 2012]

 

Last night, I received a phone call from my Aurora-chasing friend, Reed Ingram Weir.

Apparently, the facts and figures were all pointing to a stellar show by The Northern Lights.

If I was to finally witness this natural phenomenon, now would be the time to jump in the car and make the sixty five mile journey north on the A1.

It would have been all too easy to settle in for the night on a Sunday evening but I was soon experiencing an intense urge to make the trip.

Aware that digital cameras can pick up early signs of the Aurora much more easily than the human eye, I quickly nipped to the top of the house to photograph the Northern sky.

The giveaway green haze hovering above the Newcastle horizon convinced me that it was time to go and meet Reed on the Holy Island causeway:

aurora borealis, northern lights, newcastle upon tyne, north east england

A faint green haze above the city, the moment I knew I had to drive North…

I grabbed a friend who I knew would also cherish the experience, though neither of us could ever have been prepared for the scene that greeted us.

Nearing the turn-off for Holy Island, the sky had become alive with huge columns of light, folding and weaving like waves of fabric.

Words can barely describe the emotion that overcame me — it was all I could do to keep the car on the road with such a spectacle taking place in the cold air above us.

Vast slabs of vertical green light gave the Northumberland night sky an epic cathedral-like appearance and all for a fleeting fifteen minutes or so…

As we arrived on the dark causeway, I must confess to feeling a little jittery.

The light show was beginning to fade already but it still looked sensational as it receded.  I managed to capture these images while the performance played out:

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

Gentle scenes from the Holy Island causeway as we arrived…

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

Vertical shafts of light began to appear once more…

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

…the sky then appeared to fold and crease like fabric above the glow of Berwick upon Tweed.

In all honesty, the intensity of green captured by my camera surprised me.  However, it seemed to match up with the photographs of others.

When watching this beautiful show, I didn’t see green, I saw a bluey-silvery-grey. I thought that reciprocity failure might have come into play, so I tried some very short exposures.

Yes, the images were very under-exposed but the green colour still prevailed.  Even the ‘quick and dirty’ capture made at ISO 3200 (the image at the top of this post) immediately showed the Aurora-green piercing through the urban haze.

It seems that more intense displays further north, in and around locations such as Tromsø, literally drench the surroundings in a glorious green light.

Thankfully, at times, we were able to see the green for ourselves during pinpricks of higher intensity.

Indeed, as we were arriving, I’ve already mentioned the great slabs of green light standing tall like huge, futuristic, architectural pillars in the sky.

So, this sparked a further spine-tingling question in my mind: When the intensity levels of the Aurora are reduced further South, why is that we observe a bluey-silvery-grey colour, yet we point a digital camera at the Aurora and the intense green prevails?

Is the camera able to render information that we cannot perceive at these lower intensities?  I’m sure there will be answers to this but I simply enjoyed pondering them while standing in that icy cold theatre.

I expect Professor Brian Cox would know the answer. If you know, feel free to enlighten us by leaving a comment in the box at the end of this post!

And so, the curtain gradually fell on the performance. The graceful, pulsing light faded away yet still lingered, maintaining a hold on us and making it very difficult to set off home.

aurora borealis, northern lights, northumberland, holy island, north east england

The performance draws to a close with one last needle of brilliant light.

And let’s not forget the beautiful sky to the South, so dense that Orion (often obvious at this time of year) is almost lost among its neighbours:

night sky, stars, orion, northumberland, holy island, north east england

The stunning Northumberland night sky with Orion in the centre.

Some say that viewing the Aurora Borealis is life-changing.

Would I agree? Yes, without a doubt.

I haven’t been able to shake the experiences of last night from my mind, not that I’ve wanted to.

Furthermore, it’s taken me most of the day in grabbed moments here and there to attempt to put those experiences into words.

I’m still not sure that I’ve succeeded.

As I put my boys to bed this evening, I peered North from the window once more. Nothing.

The Aurora Borealis was gone for the moment but I shall never look at the sky in the same way again, day or night.

I love this video clip below, the Aurora Borealis and Australis as seen from the International Space Station.

It seems appropriate to sign off from this post by leaving you with this beautiful footage…

Bridge Gazing

Wandering in the lower reaches of the Ouseburn Valley here in Newcastle, it’s impossible to miss one of my favourite locations — a spot where a collection of fine bridges has spanned the valley in some way shape or form since the 18th Century.

To stroll among these marvels of civil engineering is breathtaking, a sensation akin to gazing at an art gallery laden with Old Master paintings.

Byker Bridges, Photography by Jack Lowe

Byker Bridges, 2003

My favourites are the 280 metre 1839 railway viaduct and the 800 metre long 1982 Metro light-rail bridge, both from very different times but both individually stunning.

I’ve really missed having access to this part of our local habitat…

Over the last couple of years, the railway viaduct has undergone a £10million refurbishment during which time the surroundings have become a no-go area; a scaffolding-clad 24/7 hive of bustling industry.

Metro Bridge, Photography by Jack Lowe

Metro Bridge, 2003

We’ll be able to wonder among this gallery again soon, however, as the scaffolding is finally coming down.

The rejuvenated viaduct looks truly resplendent in its new raven-black coat.

Ouseburn Viaduct, Newcastle upon Tyne

The scaffolding comes down, March 2013

The Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle upon Tyne, Google Earth

The Ouseburn Valley as seen by Google Earth (the railway viaduct is still covered here).

In a couple of years or so, when the scarred landscape has had time to recover, I’ll look forward to rephotographing this favourite spot…

— Signed Prints

I make prints of Byker Bridges and Metro Bridge that are numbered, signed and embossed — you can buy them directly from my Cornerstone Collection.

Snow Business

Today, the sun’s been shining and the snowy weather is fast becoming a distant memory.

Some scenes captured over the last few weeks as I trudged around in the white stuff…

Wintery view of the snow in Newcastle upon Tyne from Heaton overlooking Jesmond Vale

Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne

Wintery view of the snow in Newcastle upon Tyne looking down the Byker Link

Snow clouds loom over the Byker Link, Newcastle upon Tyne

Wintery scene from Newcastle upon Tyne to Gateshead as seen from the Byker Link

High rise flats bathe in the skinny sunlight across the river in Gateshead

Wintery sunset from Newcastle upon Tyne to Gateshead as seen from Jack Lowe Studio

From my studio, another stunning wintery sunset over Gateshead

Wintery view of the snow in Newcastle upon Tyne from Heaton overlooking Jesmond Vale

From the sanctuary of our home…

The Jazz Café, Newcastle’s Parisian Corner

Video

Following on from my post last week, you are now among the first to be able to view Duncan Davis’ tribute to his old mate of 35 years, Keith Crombie.

Last Monday, Newcastle came to a standstill as Keith’s friends joined him on his last journey from Pink Lane, through the city centre — a tiny bit of which he transformed into his own corner of Paris, the Jazz Café.

Perched 130ft atop Grey’s Monument in the icy weather, I was honoured to be able to help Duncan film the extraordinary funeral procession.

So, it’s Sunday morning…time to pour your favourite hot beverage, take your seat at the Jazz Café and settle down to enjoy Duncan’s tribute to a Newcastle legend.

 

Crombie’s Last Stand

I didn’t know Keith Crombie.  I’d been to his famous Jazz Café once, a long time go.

If nothing else, I gleaned this much about him — everyone seemed to have an opinion about Keith and he certainly seemed to have an opinion about everyone.

Keith Crombie's Jazz Café, Newcastle upon Tyne, on the morning of his funeral

The closed doors of Keith Crombie’s Jazz Café in Pink Lane, Newcastle upon Tyne, on the morning of his funeral…

Over the last year or so, I’ve been keeping tabs on a beautiful documentary my ol’ pal Duncan Davis has been been making about Keith (you might remember Duncan from this post).

Duncan had an acute awareness that making this film should be a priority, not least because Keith was knocking on in years.  Then, on 29th December 2012, Keith passed away at the age of 74.

News soon started to filter through that there was to be a horse-drawn funeral procession through the city.

There seemed to be a gentle buzz of excitement.  Everybody seemed to know about it (apart from the police, it would seem).

A fitting farewell seemed imminent for Keith, to stop Newcastle in its tracks as he slowly passed through with a jazz band and dedicated crowd following behind…

Photographed from the top of Earl Grey's Monument, Newcastle upon Tyne, Keith Crombie's funeral procession passes through the city centre.

As seen from the top of Grey’s Monument on a snowy day, the horse-drawn coffin, jazz band and crowd makes its way along Grainger Street…

A fitting end for Duncan’s documentary too and I was flattered that he asked me to help film the last sequences of Crombie’s life.

While Duncan worked in and around the crowds, the perfect perching place for me this morning was surely atop the 130ft Grey’s Monument, smack bang in the city centre.

So, with the necessary permissions gained, I was allowed to climb the 162 spiral steps to capture a unique perspective on the procession.

Photographed from the top of Earl Grey's Monument, the snow descends on Newcastle after Keith Crombie's funeral procession.

The procession is over and the snow descends on Newcastle…

The views were extraordinary, of course, and the weather was icy.  The memories of seeing Keith’s horse-drawn coffin pass slowly through town to the tune of the accompanying jazz band, along with hundreds of folk, will stay with me for a long time.

I can’t wait to see the final film, which is being cut by Duncan as I write — I hope to be able to share it with you here some day soon…

— More Views from Grey’s Monument

North view towards St. James' Park from Grey's Monument, Newcastle upon Tyne, by Jack Lowe

North view towards St. James’ Park from Grey’s Monument

South East view towards BALTIC and the Millennium Bridge from Grey's Monument, Newcastle upon Tyne, by Jack Lowe

South East view towards BALTIC and the Millennium Bridge from Grey’s Monument

South West View from Grey's Monument, Newcastle upon Tyne, by Jack Lowe

South West View from Grey’s Monument