Its been a while since my last blog but in my defence Ive been busy and its been a bit of a career landmark.
In my previous life I was a software engineer and I studied at Queens University Belfast for four years, first doing a BEng (batchelor of engineering) degree and then an MSc (Master of Science) degree.
My first job was in a local software company and I then went on to work in 2 more software companies before a change in circumstances brought about a change in Career after 9 years as an Engineer. In 2001 I took my first photography job working for a local photographer before going it alone a year or so later.
So in late September 2010 I am now a photographer longer than I ever was a Software Engineer yet I have just completed part of a commission for companies involved in Software Engineering. Not quite poacher turned gamekeeper and yet not quite a busmans holiday either. It was good to catch up with old colleagues and catch up quickly, far too quickly, with the old profession and its current issues.
Deep down Im still an engineer, I’ve always been an engineer which is a strange thing to say in this profession, but Ive always had an artistic side as well. That was never able to manifest itself fully in my previous career yet the era of digital photography, website generation, online marketing, email, ftp, image editing and distribution and all those good things keep the engineer in me happy.
Ive always been a problem solver and one of my first jobs in software was in a team tasked with ‘firefighting’ the ‘hot issues’ of the day. Now I dont miss the management speak, particularly as since then I’ve taken photos of real firefighters and whilst Im not wishing to denigrate my previous profession, the words used are incongruous with the job.
Through my later jobs I got involved in recruitment, customer bids and processes, corporate training, writing specifications, interpreting client briefs, investigating client issues and dealing with clients across the globe. I cant really say my job as a photographer is any different to that with all those skills being very portable indeed and just applied to different areas.
Perhaps thats why I have grown and progressed the business, because I brought those skills with me and adapted them. Maybe its just coincidence but either way it didnt do me any harm.
The access all areas press, red carpet and general swanning around with the gorgeous people isnt really the image you think of sitting outside a hotel in dublin in the snow at 1am as you try to wire your photos into an office on the west coast of the states.
Bit like my last couple of software jobs were we had US offices and you were on call until 2am in case any problems arose. Of course in one job we also had offices in the Phillipines and Australia. What do you mean you arent available 24/7? No different to now when people from all across the globe who are on deadlines and who want photos asap dont really care what timezone you are in. ‘Im just ringing to see if you are in?’ ‘yes its 4am, where else would I be’. ‘Can you email me this photo?’, ‘Yes, as soon as I get my eyes open I’ll be on to it – oh and you will need to pay in advance by paypal’. Sounds very glamourous indeed
When I tell people what I do, particularly those in IT professions they say they long for a job where they arent sitting in front of a computer all day and dont have to pull all nighters. Wishing away the long winter nights sitting at 2am trying to find a pizza place open in Belfast…
Well sorry folks I have news for you, I was up at 8am and its 12am now and Im still at the computer, writing a blog no less
During that time I had to run to the doctors as I did ankle ligaments in at the weekend. Sorry, no sick leave or sick pay here its put up or shut up.
One of the biggest wrenches for me was the leaving a very well paid, stable job with holidays, and sick pay and healthcare and overtime and… …and then I remember being paid to take photos of naked women on a beach in Tenerife mid January…. …money isnt everything.
I love my job and I hope that shows. I loved being an engineer, I just didnt particularly enjoy the environment but looking back on it I had had my time and it was time for something different. Im now at the same stage in my photography career but I dont have the same urges. Maybe its got to do with reinvention and changing business approach every few years.
Some photographers try to blame the GWC idea – guy with camera. It appears that anyone with a camera can call themselves a professional photographer, couple of hundred quid on a camera, 6 quid for printable business cards and 30 quid for a cheap website and away you go, you are doing weddings but I remember people who had a home computer calling themselves computer programmers and asking if I could sort them out with a job. No different and that doesnt give any credit to clients who should be able to look at a photographers website, look at the images, the craft in the photos and the message behind the photography to differentiate between the chancers and the people who will build a relationship.
I learned that in my IT days when dealing with clients, it was about building relationships, getting a bond of mutual trust instead of trying to sell them something. Yes you are still selling but you are selling them something that will benefit them, which in turn will benefit you, everyones happy. I try to do that with the photography and that has been borne out by the number of long term clients I have and equally the long term relationship they have with me. They know they can ring me at 11pm and that I will take their calls because its probably important, important to them, their business and ultimately their families and lifestyle. You do go the extra mile for people you have a relationship with and its that closer bond I like with being self employed rather than working for a large corporation. Of course I could have got that within the IT industry by setting up myself there, but then again Ive seen people in tears holding their daughters wedding photos or getting their baby to smile on camera or a public relations person ringing me to thank me for getting their company in the paper with a good photo. No-one ever congratulated me on a line of C code, or a good subroutine in COBOL or sorting out a java error.
I started radharcimages because it interested me, right at the start of a recession when the market for the type of photos I was producing for it had started drying up, so its on hold, not cancelled. It will be resurrected occasionally although if climate change has its way all the pictures will have to be retaken to reflect our monsoon seasons.
Ive no idea what the next 9 weeks will bring never mind the next 9 years. In 9 years time if Im still here I’ll be approaching 50 and who knows I might have bought myself a pair of braces, grown a big belly and taken up wedding photography full time. Maybe I’ll actually buy a euro millions rollover ticket next week, win it and then head off round the world in a very big boat.
It really is up to me, its about trying to predict the future, I will live or die by my own decisions and I have no-one to blame but myself. Perhaps thats the key, thats the reason why Im still up writing a blog at 12am, or maybe Im just nuts.
Either way its going to be interesting…
…and isnt that what its all about.
more County Antrim stock photos here
more Belfast stock photos here
more daily life stock photos here
more Ireland stock photos here
No-one living in Belfast can fail to recognise that the city is built around the river. The city is built on the river and even in the river. The vast majority of the city centre is built on about 50 metres deep of mud flat sludge over the sandstone bedrock. Like all old major cities it grew up around the river and the river has been its lifeblood and so Belfast Lough is the approach to the city that many a visitor, immigrant, emigrant has seen. Perhaps its most famous product the Titanic was born on the river and there are markers still to this day in the Lough used to judge its speed.
In my lifetime Ive never been low down for any length of time in the lough, the ferries to Liverpool, Scotland and the Isle of Man usually have great height and so you have a distinct birds eye view of what is going on. Similarly for the approaches to the harbour airport, its all below you.
Mooring my boat in Carrickfergus and doing some initial exploration of the lough from the water has given a different view of the approaches and with a little imagination gives an idea of what it was like for early settlers and invaders arriving, both early and late.
The limit of The Port of Belfast is the fairway channel marker buoy. Beyond this point you are under the control of Belfast Harbour and navigation is controlled and not a place for me to wander at random. Entrance to the Harbour itself is tightly controlled and photography restricted so no view there folks.
The marker buoy sits on an imaginary line between Grey Point and Carrickfergus Castle, two historic locations which guard the entrance to the approaches to Belfast.
Many people know Carrickfergus Castle, built by the Norman John De Courcy in 1177 it has dominated the entrance to Belfast for over 800 years. It has been attached, besieged by many nations and used as a military outpost right up to World War Two. Normally visitors have a view like this, the view of the castle from the harbour..
However any attacker seeing this view, probably first had to see this view…
Coming up the lough in small boats, when the mist clears the cannonballs start raining down on you, getting to the harbour area is some achievement. Leaving the outer harbour walls aside and the buildings behind, this view has changed little in that 800 years. 700 odd years ago as you rowed up the lough, armour at the ready then this looms out of the mist you have to wonder who’s bright idea was this? Probably not one of the people doing the rowing around you.
At the opposite side of the lough is Grey Point and this has a more modern defensive outpost in Grey Point Fort. The fort was built between 1904 and 1907 and housed naval guns for naval defence of the lough. The original searchlight positions are still on the shoreline and even the white markings are still visible on the rocks of nearby shorelines which gave distance markings to the gunners. The current guns are a recent installment, bought from a similar battery in Cork after the grey point guns were sold for scrap in the 50s. It doesnt say anywhere in the history if this sale involved a metal merchant transaction or they were loaded onto the back of a big lorry.
Grey Point Fort never saw any true action during either war, well not strictly true, shortly after war was declared the over eager gunners fired a shot across the bows of a merchant ship who was yet unaware that war had been declared. Hmmm.
Just up from Carrickfergus Castle is Kilroot Power station which is a giant of a building on its own. It can supply up to a third of the electricity in Northern Ireland. Its a dual coal and oil fired power station, both of which are supplied from deep water berths in the sea. The coal loading area is close to the station and the Cloghan Point oil jetty is over a kilometre long about 3km up the coast. Its a massive impressive structure, particularly when up close in a small boat. Although the fishing near it isnt bad at all!
Between the coal and oil terminals theres another small nondescript insignificant jetty. It belongs to the equally blandly named Irish Salt Mining and Exploration company. Deep below the surface is a massive salt mine which taps into the underground salt seam which streches under the atlantic, all the way to Russia. If you have driven on gritted snow bound roads in Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland and parts of the East coast of the USA then some or all of the salt probably came from this small jetty.
During the bad conditions last winter I tried to get access to the mine to photograph it as the UK was running out of Salt and the Kilroot Mine was working 24/7 to try and supply enough to keep the roads gritted. The road to the mine was just nose to tail with lorries taking the salt throughout Ireland. Now a very well known (and probably affluent) news agency had secured the rights to photos in the mine, so like the local tv stations I was stuck with taking photos of the road or looking around for old aerial stock photos. So heres the photo for next winter as viewed from the sea!
A little past the Cloghan point jetty is the town of whitehead and then the Blackhead lighthouse which is the point where the County Antrim Coastline leaves Belfast Lough and reaches the Irish Sea. As somebody scared of heights I went to the edge of the clifftop a few years ago for some photos and it looked like a long way down. From the sea the cliffs dont look half as scary, nor does the famous coastal path. Although I wouldnt like to be on either in anything more than a breeze.
more County Antrim stock photos here
more Belfast stock photos here
more daily life stock photos here
more Ireland stock photos here
…well lough really.
As Ive mentioned before Ive recently bought a boat. Ive always wanted a boat, primarily to go sea fishing in so this year I got the opportunity and went for it. The boat itself is almost as old as me but with a bit of elbow grease, some rewiring and tinkering about with the engine Ive a quite usable speedboat….
…well if it didnt bloody rain all the time I might have, so next week its going in to get a custom all over cover fitted. Maybe then I’ll get to take it out more than 4 times in 6 weeks.
The last good opportunity to take the boat out was on the 12th July when my fellow countrymen made a liar out of me with my last posts. Good to see that recreational rioting is getting full media recognition and maybe it will be Northern Irelands gold medal sport in the 2012 olympics.
Having bought the boat and spent a couple of weeks redoing wiring, replacing all the safety gear, polishing and cleaning the boat up Ive been taking a pragmatic approach to taking the boat out on the water. My nephews enthusiasm to see its maiden voyage cross one of the most dangerous stretches of water on this island to Rathlin Island has had to be tempered though. A couple of hours out on Lough Neagh will suffice. Having said that though the first day I took it out I did enough miles to go to Scotland and back and realised that Lough Neagh is more like an inland sea than a peaceful lough. Its the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles and that doesnt say much when you are reading it but out in the middle when the wind picks up you realise what that actually means.
The Lough was said to be formed when Irish Giant Finn McCool took a dislike to his Scottish Giant neighbour and scooped out a large load of soil and stones and threw it at the theiving git as he made off home. Finn missed by a large margin and the large lump of soil landed in the Irish sea and became the Isle of Man. Always a better story than the actual geological history of the lough.
Its hard to get tourist information about the lough itself and Ive recently found out that is because it is owned by the Shaftesbury family. Apparently back in the dim and distant past some English King gave it to another English lord and it has been passed down through their family. Most of the people here thought it was owned by the State including northern Ireland water who take about 40% of the countries freshwater supply from the lough and thats thrown a spanner in the works for privatisation. Hence all the islands are private as Shaftesbury estates own the lake bed and some of the surrounds. One of the islands, Coney Island was purchased and then donated to the National Trust and now Craigavon Council.
So you can get loads of information on the bike circuit of the lough, the canoe trail but very little else about the inside of the lough.
The Lough itself has a lot of interesting features including Coney Island and Rams island with its round tower. Theres also an old World War 2 torpedo testing station which is now crumbling and a nature reserve full of nesting terns and other birds. Seemed a reasonable enough place to test torpedos from the nearby factory in antrim. Just load them up and let them fly across the lough!
Theres a couple of marinas as well, mainly Ballyronan and Kinnego marina and the Shaftesbury connection is probably the reason why a body of water that large is so under utilised compared to other lakes in other countries, certainly the Fermanagh Lakelands have more tourist facilities and information in a much smaller area.
More photo trips will follow now that Ive started to get the handle on this powerboating lark and will start to risk more than a floating compact in an underwater housing
I have to say though that although the idea for the boat was to go sea fishing and to give different photographic perspectives to local landmarks from the sea/water, the idea of just going out into the lough and sitting when the sun shines is definitely appealing.
more Belfast photos here
more Ireland photos here
more transport photos here
more Lough Neagh related photos here
I havent been fishing in years… Or should I say hadnt.
Back in my late teens/early twenties I used to go fishing quite a lot. It started when a schoolmate’s dad took us up to the Toome canal for a days coarse fishing and I was hooked (sorry I just had to get that in somewhere). I then got myself and my wee brother a fishing license for trout fishing and we used to get the bus up to Stoneyford reservoir and fish there for trout. Well fishing is stretching it a bit, we used to sit by the side of the reservoir and either get sunburnt or get wet waiting for the one bus home. I can only remember fish putting in an appearance once and lets just say it wouldnt have fed a family of one, never mind 5 and a dog.
When I turned 18 I needed an adult fishing license so started going sea fishing instead (which was free) and Ive sort of been at that ever since (well maybe with an almost 20 year break).
Last week I took it upon myself to take a day off (sort of) and get the fishing rods and equipment out of the loft, clean them up and go fishing. I always look after my stuff so most of the equipment was still in as good a condition as the last time I packed it away so other than some bait and a new small tackle box I was ready to go.
One of my favourite fishing spots was on the rocks at Limerick Point in Cushendall. Having travelled the world I still have to say that you will struggle to find a more beautiful spot on this earth than the north east antrim coast when the sun is shining. And today the sun was shining.
Once again I spent a lot of time drowning ragworms and scaring the life out of seaweed but with the sun shining and the small waves lapping over the rocks there really was a ‘this is the best place in the world to be right now’ moment. Yes I had to stand on the end of the pier as my gammy leg wasnt up to crawling across the rocks or it was but I know it wouldnt be coming back in the dark and despite the possibility of dying a cold lonely death on the rocks in one of my favourite places in the world, the fear of not dying and having to be rescued by lifeboat and maybe ending up on the news on a slow news day was definitely a fate worse than death.
A lot of things have changed in the 20 years I was a regular here. There are more people walking past, more houses, more lights on the horizon. Alongside the smell of seaweed, that ozoney smell of the ocean there was always the smell of the turf fires drifting down over the rocks when the wind changed to offshore. Now most houses have oil fired central heating yet one or two still lit up their fires and wafted their smell my way. I was also a regular here during the troubles which always meant packing and unpacking the car at least 4 times (leaving home, police/army checkpoint on the way up, at the spot, checkpoint on the way home, arriving home), now not so much. I used to dig my own bait, back in the days when I was young, fit, healthy and skint. Now Im neither young nor fit nor healthy and at 9 quid for a 4-5 hours worth of ragworm, I might be skint again sooner than expected.
Id forgotten so many things, was fishing better at low tide, high tide or on the flood? It didnt seem to matter I was getting small bites all day so there was still a bit of the old magic there. Lots of small fish that I was giving a good expensive meal to. Id forgotten how to strike a bite, how to wait for the right moment then bang, then reel tomorrows supper in. At this point in time tomorrows supper was going to be kelp and partial ragworm.
Technology has moved on although my 20 year old equipment was working well (I shall refrain from making comments about my 40 year old tackle working well too – that would be just wrong). But 20 years ago I wouldnt have understood facebook, never mind provide status updates from the rocks. Last time I was here it was pre mobile phone (well for me anyway). I lit up my chinese anchor lamp. Id always wanted a proper tilley lamp which was belfast made, ever since I was in the cubs back in the mid to late 70s and our scout group had one. So on to ebay and I purchased one – sad I know. Nostalgia can be expensive with a smart phone with ebay and paypal bookmarked.
My anchor lamp was a source of pride, cheap chinese copy of things back in the day without ebay where cheap chinese tat can be bought in every supermarket. I had a nasty introduction to paraffin hurricane pressure lamps when I put my hand on the top of it and leaned down to make it steady for pumping. I swear the anchor trademark was burned into my palm for years. I could have just cried but had enough wit not to stick my hand in seawater but used one of natures own antiseptics…. turning the situation around the top of the lamp turned out to be a great place to heat sausage rolls, 5 years later I heard someone had developed an attachment to heat sausage rolls and cook bacon. Another fortune lost as I sat down to a cappuccino from a packet. 20 years ago if you wanted variety in coffee you could choose from Nescafe or Mellow Birds. Now heres me complaining about the quality of the cappuccino in a packet. Pass the prawn sandwiches.
At the time of all my fishing travels I was an engineering student so used off bits of material to make things for fishing. Buying the latest magazine 20 years on I see the idea of cutting diamonds of aluminium sheet and attaching them to weights to avoid snagging is now under patent, as is the wee strap to stop your line flying off, as is the…. well you get the message. Another fortune lost.
20 years on my new tackle box has a wee light in the lid. Now thats clever. Why didnt I think of that too?
I had bought a couple of the snap break chemical lights for my rod tips to see them in the dark basically because I’d left the load of them I have at home. The new ones were smaller and as I was running out of bait I stuck one on the hook, I was still getting bites. You know someone should adapt that idea and patent it….
I met two “young lads” fishing on the spot where I used to be one of the two “young lads”. Circle of life and all that. I remember the old guys who fished would talk to my dad. My dad never fished, he just liked the peace and quiet and to watch his sons getting on with it. I often wondered how he chatted to the other old fishing guys but I guess I know now, he probably just talked about football, dog and horse racing and other such things.
I used to go fishing with various male friends. You would grunt to each other when you met up, discussed a bit about football, bait, tactics, women then sat for 4 hours in complete silence and not once did the thought cross your mind that the other person had fallen out with you. I made the mistake of going fishing with a couple of different girlfriends once. Not at the same time I hasten to add but that would have been funny, probably ending in my drowning, either forced or deliberate. More than 90 seconds of silence was usually ended with the words ‘what are you thinking’, to which the correct answer never was ‘my boots must be leaking as my toes are cold’. ‘that bait might need changed’, ‘could I win if I fought a shark’ or finally ‘if you ask me that one more time you are going to need a lifejacket’.
20 years on and although much has changed, much has stayed the same. Its still the same man pitting wits against fish and losing. Although I have to say if it wasnt for the invention of camera phone techology I’d have no proof of my days catch, one single dogfish, and have to go on about the one that got away (fish, probably a conger bit clean through my line).
(excuse the crappy phone cam photo)
Ive missed fishing, Ive spent far too much time away from the peace, the quiet, the contemplative time and just sitting there smelling the sea and turf, listening to the waves lap in and just being at one with the world.
It wont be 20 years until the next time.
more fishing and angling photos here