Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Ten From Ken!

Avebury Stone Circle, Wiltshire

We had seen Ken Harrison with his camera at Lightwoods Park Festival and the Mary Portas Pilot Walk so when we got chance to speak to him at the recent Heaven 17 gig we asked him about his photos, his love of 80s music and his connection to Bearwood.  Ken sent us 10 of his brillant photos too!

The photos on your website are amazing. Where do you get your inspiration from, what do you like about taking photos and how long have you been taking photos for?

Thank you; I’m chuffed whenever I get compliments. Many things inspire me, whether it’s a desolate beach, a crowded city, an old building, a prehistoric stone circle, or even a new concrete, steel and glass tower.

I have been taking photographs since my teens, but didn’t make anything happen until I bought a “proper” camera in 1993. For the first few years I was playing around with it, taking landscape and building pictures and experimenting with black and white film (which worked far better for me as I have a low level of colour-blindness) and especially Infrared film. In 2000 one of my architecture pictures won a prize in the Millennibrum Birmingham Photo Competition ran by Birmingham Central Library. With the prize money, I bought a second hand roll-film camera (more on that later) so that I could get better quality images.

In 2006 I really got going (as I had finished my university stuff) and started taking lots more photographs, and learned how to process my own film and make my own prints. As most people had switched to digital, I equipped my darkroom for a very small cost, and was also given a couple of hundred rolls of film by a friend who had “gone digital”.

Taking photographs allows me time and space to research different locations, get out and about, see different places and people and get creative. My day job does not allow so much of the creativity, so whether I’m standing in a landscape at dawn or dusk watching the sun rise and fall, or in the “pit” at a music venue shooting a band, I’m in my element.
John Lydon, PIL

We love your live music shots. Which websites, magazines etc do you take photos for? Is it difficult to emulate the atmosphere of gigs in your photos?

I shoot mostly for Birmingham Live  and for Gig Junkies websites who are Birmingham based and pair up photographers and reviewers for images and reviews of gigs so that you really get a feel of the performance. I have also contributed to other local websites and am always on the lookout for working with other publications.

Gig photography is difficult, far more difficult than sticking your iPhone (other camera phones are available!) in the air as I quickly found out when I started doing it officially. Often getting a good photograph is difficult as some shows have very difficult lighting (lots of red or blue and subjects being backlit so you can only get silhouettes) and/or lots of smoke. Add to that the time restrictions (at best you only get the first three songs to shoot and are then escorted from the venue by security) and other artist particular foibles (you can shoot from one side, or no-close ups etc. etc.) and oh yes, no Flash! Feel the pressure?

Midge Ure, Ultravox

Like us you’re a big fan of 80s music. If you could take photos of any bands or singers from that era who would you choose and why?

I am a big fan of anything vaguely electronic (if it’s got a keyboard…I’m there), plus punk and new wave and I have been lucky to see many of my favourite artists over the last twenty odd years and more recently with a “New Wave” of reformations/anniversary tours of classic albums I missed first time around. I have photographed many of them by taking in compact cameras stuffed in a pocket, but am now trying to get to “officially” shoot them all.

On one hand, I would love to shoot the bands in their heyday, (going back some 30 years) when they were all in their youth and still in good health (or even still alive), but as time travel is not yet possible I have to stick with the present day and those that are about.

I have recently shot Ultravox (who are my particular favourite band) John Foxx, Heaven 17, Howard Jones, Steve Strange, Nik Kershaw, Blancmange, The Stranglers, Public Image Limited and lots of others. I also shoot outside of my particular genre because it has opened my mind up to a lot of other music and some interesting new bands like Metronomy, Twin Atlantic and many others.

Mark Chadwick, The Levellers

If pressed for an ultimate, it would have to be David Bowie, with so many iconic images and sounds; it would be a joy to capture something of his character. Sadly, I think we won’t be seeing anything from him in future as he appears to have faded out of the business, but I live in hope….

I would like to shoot Gary Numan (as it was a set of pictures from his Pleasure Principle Tour that secured my initial contact with Birmingham Live!) OMD, Kraftwerk. I’ve already got my name in for Simple Minds 2013 tour, and will be trying to do Depeche Mode next year too. Although The Rolling Stones are touring…that’ll be some show!!

Miles Hunt, The Wonderstuff

You exhibited your photos of listed buildings in Smethwick at the Smethwick Heritage Centre in the summer and we understand that you have recently photographed The Waterloo Hotel in Cape Hill. What was it like taking these photos and what do you think should be done to save these beautiful old buildings?

A Picture of Smethwick Exhibition

The project took shape over a couple of years, when time and access to some locations became available. Taking a walk around Smethwick is like walk through history and some of the buildings I was allowed to enter were surprising to say the least. For example Soho Foundry, tucked away at the back of Avery’s in Black Patch. The entrance to the foundry was unassuming, dark and dusty, but walking into the brighter expanse of the Pattern Shop was like walking into a cathedral, this immense silent space being softly lit due to the dirt stained rooflights. Chances Glassworks is another such place, also unused, but rich with history.

Soho Foundry

Smethwick is full of such places, many that are forgotten, unloved and neglected as the industries that created and sustained them have long gone. The GKN works on Grove Lane shut down years ago and is due to be bulldozed for the new “Super Hospital”. And here lies the problem, the buildings in my project were “listed” so have some sort of protection, but are not immune to getting vandalised and burnt down. Once this happens even being “listed” does not protect it from demolition and the subsequent erasing from public awareness for only memories and memorabilia to be behind glass in a museum.

Many such buildings in Walsall have recently suffered this fate. For even one of these places to survive it takes major commitment over a long period to raise awareness, find a sustainable sympathetic use, obtain funding and get something brought back into use and managed properly into the future.

Soho Foundry

Sadly, given the state of the economy, the general lack of investment and the ability to find suitable alternative for many of these buildings, I think that many such places will not survive. Although as I write this, there is some good news; The Waterloo Hotel has been sold at auction to a buyer for £144,000 who now has a huge repair commitment. The new owner will need a sympathetic eye on the history and the beauty of this iconic building, a big input from Sandwell Conservation officers and a large cheque book to bring the building back. I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

Waterloo Hotel

We understand that you are going to be taking photos of the progress of the Lightwoods House and Park restoration project. What do you think of the plans and what do you think the project means to Bearwood?

I’ve been involved with the project since before the building came back to Sandwell from Birmingham Council. I photographed the building and talked about what I had found. The building was in a sorry state at my first visit and had clearly not been looked after.
During the restorations, I will be taking a set of photographs each quarter so will be able to show the changes to the house and park over time. This will make a great long term project and hopefully I will be able to exhibit some of the pictures.

I have been to many of the consultation events and know the amount of work that has gone in to make the project happen. I think that the team have come up with the best possible uses for the building and park, but of course the community of Bearwood and the wider area need to continue to support it. Bearwood certainly needs a shot in the arm, something to bring people in, particularly to improve the trade on the high street. I think the restoration will go some way to do that and will make Bearwood somewhere to go to.

Do you use a particular camera? If so which one and why?

I use three different cameras, dependent upon my subject. I have a professional Nikon digital camera for the gigs, as film would not be practical or speedy enough to publish. My first digital camera was very quickly found wanting, so made the investment as soon as I could. Typically, Nikon announced an upgrade to the model within a few days of my purchase, so my 12 month old camera is obsolete. Having said that, the image quality is great and will last me a good while yet, so will not be joining in the annual upgrade race.

For the landscape and architecture pictures I have an old roll-film camera (a Mamiya M645 with a wide angle lens almost permanently fixed to the front) which is around 40 years old, weighs a ton, but is a joy to use. All of the listed building pictures were taken using it. Also have a Minolta X700 35mm film camera which is around 30 years old which also gets dusted off occasionally. The digital camera also acts as a useful back up when shooting with the film cameras as I can instantly see what I have taken and I can also get some quick shots online while I work on the film pictures.

Do you prefer taking photos the old fashioned way and developing them in a dark room or taking them using a digital camera and posting them on the internet? Why?

I like both, but prefer working with film. The immediacy of digital has many benefits, particularly when I have got some good gig shots to publish and a deadline to meet. I don’t tend to do much Photoshop type work on my pictures, typically some minor adjustments or cropping but the most I do is convert some of the gig pictures shot in poor light to black and white.

For my personal work I love using the old cameras, with their slower way of working and idiosyncrasies due to their age and the type of film used. It is an experience to develop film and print up big black and white prints in the darkroom there is something very magical about watching a picture appear in the developing tray, I never tire of it. Interest in film is enjoying something of a resurgence latterly with Lomo and Diana cameras being produced and special film to go with it. Even the use of programs such as Instagram is encouraging people to try the real thing rather than use a computer. I held a workshop on film processing a few months back and will be planning some more shortly.

Who is your favourite photographer and why?

For landscapes it has to be Dave Butcher, a Derbyshire based photographer and master printer. Dave shoots beautiful landscapes on black and white film. His work in the Derbyshire Peaks and Lake District is beautiful. I have three of his books and the pictures are superb on his website.

For music photography there are some great people around, many of whom I have met over the last couple of years working in and around the West Midlands and many more based elsewhere in the UK who I have “virtual” contact with via the social media networks.

Gary Lornie is probably my favourite, as he has been a music photographer since my teens, when he started out in Liverpool hanging around at “Eric’s” club and shot many of (and was and still is friends with) the local bands coming out of the city at the time. His photography is great, and has a massive archive of superb images, many of which are online here.

What one piece of advice would you give to an amateur photographer who has just started taking photos?

You don’t need the latest gear, the best camera you have is the one in your hand.

Shoot anything you can, experiment with different subjects, find something you have an interest in, try and find your own view on things.

You’ve been the official photographer for events in Lightwoods Park. Is there anywhere you particularly like taking photos of in Bearwood? Why?

Bearwood and the surrounding areas have lots of green space, Lightwoods Park, Warley Woods etc. Lightwoods Park is of particular interest not only because of the restoration project, but also due to the level of activity with the recent events and local interest in making the park something special.
Colin Hall and band outside Lightwoods House

What’s your connection with Bearwood?

I’m a born and bred “Brummie” and I moved to the area a few years ago after I married a Smethwick girl. I now have a Black Country passport and feel very much at home here.

What do you see as the future for Bearwood? What changes would you like to see happen?

I would like to see Bearwood be again the vibrant, bustling place I remember from my youth, with the park and house restored, with thriving businesses in the area and lots of people wanting to be here. I think the changes should be the investment of people’s time, energy, passion and certainly investment in local businesses, by the people and the businesses themselves. The enthusiasm and passion are clearly visible…you only have to look at the recent Mary Portas Pilot. People got up and did something...I would love this to continue

Mary Portas Pilot March

Please tell us your Bearwood All-Star. In other words what, who or where makes you smile in Bearwood?

Its back to the previous question I think. There are a number of local groups that are coming together to make stuff happen in the community. It shows me that people love the place they live in and that there is a good community spirit where people are willing to put themselves out. I’ve been involved with some of the recent events which have got me doing stuff I perhaps wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do. Lightwoods Festival, The Drive-In movie, The Mary Portas march down the High Street have all given me the chance to make my own small contribution for the community also.

We always have to ask this question.....what makes Lightwood’s chippy’s chips orange?

Do you know, I’m not sure….must do a taste test…..be back soon….”Collects keys off the table, walks out of front door….crunch of gravel as wheelspins off in the general direction of Bearwood…”

If you want to see some examples of my work, please visit me at;

Web: Ken Harrison Photography
Web: Birmingham Live!
Web: Gig Junkies

1 comment:

  1. Ken....I too am an electronic music fan and the first album I bought in 1975 was Kraftwerk's: 'Autobhan'.....wir fahn, fahn, fahn, auf der Autobahn' etc.etc. closely followed by 'Trans Europe Express' in 1977....brilliant stuff from the seminal seventies for electronica....I also had albums by 'Tangerine Dream' I especially like their soundtrack to the film: 'The Wages of Fear' about 3 guys driving a truck containing tonnes of Nitro-Glycerine across the Amazon Basin to a Gold Mine...absolutely spine-tingling electronics IMHO! Did you know the hottest tix in London at the moment are Kraftwerk's retrospective at The Tate in February which are changing hands for over £400 quid each...? I liked Heaven 17 and their best song: 'Temptation'...a great voice from the lady singer reminding me of Heather Small at her blastin' best...I also liked Phil Oakey and The Human League and 'Don't you want me...?' and the less well known, but better song IMHO: 'Human'! Absolutely brilliant! What is it about bands from Sheffield?....Heaven 17; The Human League and latterly the excellent 'Pulp' and the eccentric Jarvis Cocker...who else would or could invade the stage in protest at 'Jacko'!!! Keep up the good photo work Ken....I am a Bearwoodian too, hailing from Willow Avenue....I am writing a piece for South Birmingham and Gem Media, based in Highfield Road: 'Gem Magazine' on my old school George Dixon Grammar School in City Road, Edgbaston....how much would it cost me to commission you to take some decent photos/images of the old 'Gothic Pile' my old school George Dixon which is a listed building like those you described above....one of which the SOHO Foundry I am fascinated by as the home of Matthew Boulton and James Watt's manufactures, along with the Chance Glassworks in Smethwick? By the way, do you ever do any sporting work? My rugby club the Old Dixonians Rugby Football Club is celebrating its centenary 1913-2013 with a 'Grand Centenary Dinner' at the Botanical Gardens on September 14th 2013 and I am doing a talk entitled: 'A History of the Old Dixonians Rugby Football Club 1913-2013 on the previous Wednesday 11th September to the Smethwick Local History Society at the invitation of Mary Bodfish and Dorothy Williams at The Brearwood Baptist Church at 7.30pm if you are interested? We would need a photographer for the dinner an dwe are planning some celebratory representative matches which we may need a sports photographer for? I have some photos of George Dixon School taken from a book entitled '100 Years at City Road: A History of the George Dixon Schools' written by my late history teacher at the school Laurie Reading and his friend my old Geography teacher and now retired after 37 years at the 'Chalk-Face, Deputy Headteacher at GD : David Housley who co-authored the book with Laurie Reading. Could you let me know....Best wishes and kind regards....keep up the good work in Bearwood and Smethwick
    Keith Bracey 07552 758 710 email:keithbracey1@gmail.com