Iceland panoramas

iceland Panoramas
Iceland has such a big dramatic landscape that you struggle to fit it into a regular sized photograph.  I tried a number of panoramic shots when we were there in the summer of 2013 and I’ve recently come across them again whilst reorganising my photo files – so I’ve done some touching up on them.  My camera doesn’t have a fancy piece of software to make a panorama so these are all made from separate, overlapping, frames stitched together using DoubleTake.  It wasn’t a sunny road trip and it was very windy sometimes so these shots were snatched whenever it was possible.  The top image in the composite is looking north at 11pm watching the sun dipping slowly towards the horizon.  We were up in North-West Iceland at Skagafjörður.  The middle image is the view of Borgarnes just as you enter the town from the west.  The bottom image shows clouds peeling off the icecap at Snæfellsþjökull.

Lenticular clouds above þjðrsa river

On our first drive out east from Reykjavik it was so windy I had to hang on to a fence to stay still enough for the five images in this panorama.  The winds blowing of the Atlantic produced these spectacular lenticular clouds forming in the lee of the Vatnajökull ice cap.

Loose leaves from Kenya

Sitting on the shelf in my studio are four stamp albums.  Three of them belonged to my Dad and the other belongs to Helen.  He gave her these albums and I have them all for safekeeping.

The post’s called loose leaves because in Dad’s ‘swops and to be included’ album are a few Kenyan stamps lying loose.  This got me wondering whether they were on the letters I sent Mum shortly before he died in 1994. Maybe I had sent her more afterwards?  I really couldn’t remember.  Perhaps they were meant for Helen’s album that was started in 1990 when we were on sabbatical leave in Durham and my Dad got her interested in collecting stamps?

First, though, I had a good look at the stamps in the Kenya section of my Dad’s ‘world’ album.  This is a good old-fashioned ring bound ‘Liberty Postage Stamp Album’ dating  from the 1950s.  A clue to that comes on page 75 where the section for Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika describes them as a ’A British Colony and Protectorate in East Africa’.

Title page

Title page

Page 75

Page 75

Dad, being the thrifty person he was, used the old computer printout sheets I had given him on which to attach stamps I sent.  These came on my regular (weekly) letters to him and Mum, I would also include any stamps that I’d saved for him.

Plants and 'specials'

Plants and ‘specials’

It’s quite remarkable to see the stamps that I’d purchased, watched torn off their sheet, then licked and stuck down on an envelope and, lastly, seen being franked on the heavy wooden counter of the post office.  And where were the post offices?

In the early 1980s the main Nairobi post office was located at the top of Kenyatta Avenue.  I vividly remember going there immediately after Helen and Jeannie were born (in Nairobi Hospital) to send telegrams home to Mum and Dad giving them the good news:

’17 Sanctus Road Stop Stratford-Upon-Avon Stop England Stop Helen Elizabeth born 25 Feb Mother and Daughter doing well Stop Rod’

’17 Skipton Road Stop Embsay Stop Skipton-in-Craven Stop England Stop Jean Mary born 10 April Mother and Daughter doing well Stop Rod’

It was there that we bought stamps and posted letters, aerogrammes and Christmas cards.  Parcels from relatives in England were also collected once you’d received the notification that something has arrived – you always hoped there was no duty to pay!

Not surprisingly you can see the franking ‘Nairobi’ on a good number of the stamps.  Another one I expected to see was KenyaWestlands – because we shopped in Westlands regularly and sure enough it’s there – along with Ruiri from the time we lived out on Ruera coffee estate from 1983-5.  They’re both found in the bottom row of flowers stamps.  Elsewhere on these pages you can make out stamps franked Lower Kabete, Malindi, Mombasa and Machakos. In the page below you can see the green Tourmaline 2/- stamp that was always a favourite of mine as was the purple 1/- Amethyst.

Rocks and minerals

Rocks and minerals

The looseleaf stamps almost certainly postdated 1994.   They were probably sent to me in South Africa and I will have sent them on to Mum.  On the 10/- Cinnamon-chested Bea-eater I can make out the Thika postmark so this was probably sent by a Kenyatta University colleague or friend from the coffee estates around there.  The 50/- Yellow-Billed Hornbill is post marked Gigiri so I’m pretty sure this came from Backson Sibanda, a former PhD student,  who was working at the UNEP headquarters there.  Unfortunately I can’t make anything out from the 100/- Hadeda Ibis stamps.

The last stamps are on an aerogramme sent to me on 30 June 1997 by David Roden. He was running the Marich Pass field centre in West Pokot.  I’d recently visited him – it was a memorable trip – and he was writing to acknowledge receipt of the geological reports I had sent.


Aerogrammes had four panels and three folds, you wrote your letter and then folded them up and sealed them with small flaps along the side.  If I remember rightly they were cheaper than letters!

Atlas of Kenya: Ethnic Distributions slideshow

Way back in 1990 I went on sabbatical leave to St Mary’s College, Durham University, and produced an Atlas of Kenya.  I specifically wanted to map where ethnic groups lived at independence (1963) and where they lived in 1979 at the end of President Kenyatta’s government.

I used the 1962 and 1979 population censuses to do this. Dai Morgan of Durham University, and formerly Head of Geography at the University of Nairobi, was an invaluable help with the 1962 census data and maps from that date.  I had managed to collect similar maps and census information for the 1979 census when lecturing at Kenyatta University in the early 1980s.  South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) funded me as I managed to persuade them that it would be interesting to see what happened in post-colonial Kenya with a view to thinking similar trends would happen here in South Africa.  Lastly Joan Kenworthy kindly hosted us at St Mary’s and we had a memorable six months there.

I’ve been able to put the maps into a slideshow – something that was impossible in 1990-1 when we worked on the Atlas.  Then we used very early Geographic Information Systems technology to digitise the maps, manually adding in all of the data and plotting the 80 maps (using pens) on an A0 sized HP plotter. The maps and final report produced for the HSRC can be downloaded from the links below.  What’s more interesting is to let the slideshow load and then see the patchwork of different ethnic groups (Kenyans would say Tribes) and how they spread after independence.

The slideshow is large (75mb) so needs quite a lot of time to load if you are on a slow internet connection but you can also download it.  It’s best viewed full screen at High Definition.

Ethnic Kenya 1962-1979 Vol-1 Report

Ethnic Kenya 1962-1979 Vol-2 Atlas

Cover Concept for ‘The Cull’

I’ve been working on some cover concepts for Harry Owen’s upcoming collection ‘The Cull: new and resurrected poems’.  It’s taken a while to get to the finished product but now both Harry and Amitabh Mitra, who’s publishing it through the Poets Printery, are very enthusiastic about this one.

The Cull: full cover

The basis for the cover is a picture of Harry taken in front of the fig tree in his Grahamstown garden.

Harry Owen

I wanted to show him literally embedded in nature – that reflects the subject of this collection of poems – and experimented with Adobe Photoshop Mix on my iPad. I selected a couple of pictures from earlier this year when I went to the Maasai Mara and superimposed them over him so that the textures mixed together. Amitabh had suggested that I used some red in the cover so I added a garish sunset as the final layer.

I mirrored the final image so that it could act as both the front and back covers and then added borders and text.

Covers front and back

Covers front and back

We had worked earlier with the same idea but using a landscape image for the front cover – that’s what’s shown in the slideshow here – but rejected that as the book will be in the standard portrait style with dimensions of 3 x 4.

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I really like the way the elephant’s trunk and tusk merge with Harry’s face in this one.  There’s plenty more animals too – giraffes, vultures and a hyena!


Nordic Noir

We spent a week in Tromsø at the end of October and were blessed with lots of cold clear weather.   The days were short, the sun was always very low and so we saw lots of colours that you never get here in South Africa.  This lone birch was standing by a part frozen lake with icy mountains beyond.  It had lost all of its leaves and the mix of blues, grey, white, black and brown was exquisite.

Lone birch

Lone birch

It inspired me to start working with mirroring and multiple layering to try and evoke the colour palette I was seeing.  I did a lot of this work using Adobe Photoshop Mix – a new process for me to learn – and I’m really pleased with the results.  Nordic Noir 1 illustrates how I started with the one image and then produced ever more complex symmetrical overlays. The contrasting blues, peaty browns and grey really catch the Arctic light and landscape.

Nordic Noir 1

Nordic Noir 1

The second panel takes one underlying geometrical theme from Nordic Noir 1 and produces a wonderfully rich variety of colour combinations.  I’ve never worked with this range of colours before and I can’t wait to print these images.

Nordic Noir 2

Nordic Noir 2


Summer Nights – Festival Gallery Exhibition

In a couple of month’s time Grahamstown’s Festival Gallery hosts its annual end-of.year exhibition.  This year the theme is Summer in Miniatures – artworks have to be no bigger than 30 cms.  I’ve decided to try out a submission with the idea of ‘Summer Nights’ and use a selection of four night pictures taken this past southern hemisphere summer.

The first two were taken on Ganora Farm which is just outside Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo.  Summer Nights 1: Angel and Obelisk was taken in the middle of the night when there was no moon.  I wanted to catch the Milky Way stretching directly above the rock and quite by chance I caught the light of my head torch that I was using to light-paint the top of the obelisk.  Summer Nights 2: Compassberg Star Trails was taken on a night when the moon was full which is why the landscape is so bright.  It’s a one hour exposure looking north to Compassberg mountain and has beautiful star trails arcing across the horizon.

Summer Nights 3 and 4 were both taken looking south from Mountain Drive, Grahamstown: so they are overlooking Featherstone Kloof.  In Summer Nights 3 I was joined by a firefly that flickered briefly past my right shoulder and up into the sky.  It’s another picture taken when the moon was full so I hid beneath a rock overhang to avoid getting direct moonlight on the lens.   For the last picture, Summer Nights 4, I highlighted Pride Rock from underneath with a bright LED as there was no moonlight to bring out the foreground.  The lights on the horizon are from Port Alfred 60 kms away.

If they’re accepted for the exhibition they’ll be priced at around R2500 for a framed print but I can supply a high resolution digital image for half of that. Contact me if you are interested.