Ceiling Of The Week
The only picture of me taking a ceiling snap, back in 2016. I'm in Kempley (see below) in one of the many priceless medieval artworks that Herefordshire and Gloucester have to offer, cunningly disguised as churches.
The camera is the Hasselblad Super Wide Camera with the awesomely sharp and almost nil-distortion 38mm. The camera not only permits a wide view of a ceiling, but has a handy self-timer so I can get out of the way. It is medium format so image quality is high, and I glued rubber pads on the back of the magazine so it can sit vertically on any surface.
The only drawback is a maximum shutter speed of 1 sec. Any more than that and I have to crouch next to the camera, put the lens cap on, lock open the shutter and remove the cap for the allotted time. Very old school.
Taking pictures of ceilings for me goes back to 2005, although I didn't start doing it in a more obsessed manner until 2009, I currently have 1168 in my library, almost all on medium format high resolution film. That I do them at all is partially due to the building up of a good, jasper-specific image portfolio over the years, and partially due to one of the reasons I take pictures at all, which is I think the same reason why and how I write my books - revealing something that is not first apparent.
Ceilings are kind of a lesser viewed commodity, especially when they seem innocuous or dull. While large buildings frequently have exciting ceilings, small buildings - or even structures of any sort less so, as craning your neck is just not something humans are wont to do as it's just ore usual and easier to look horizontally. That a whole new world of visual opportunity opens up is probably what excites and interest me - the same was as I reconstruct ideas for my books.
While neither police units nor nursery rhymes are particularly exciting, put them together and there is a whole new way of looking at things - and concepts being highly promiscuous, a whole host of exciting opportunities just scream out to be used. It's probably why I take pictures of me waiting for lifts, too - and a whole tranche of other odd subjects not yet touched upon.
It's also a sense of doing something different. Users to Instagram may note that when I am travelling I often tweet 'Hotel Lobby Carpet Greats' instead of more usual subjects, and then even build false narratives around the carpets, as though I were something of an expert, and that in a trip to New York, it is the floor coverings I am looking at, and not the Chrysler building.
It's a way of seeing, and also a training for writing; taking the ordinary and with a few words transforming it into something new, whether that's trees or ceilings or carpets or elevators or doorways or shopfronts. It's also feeds my inquisitive nature. The more you look beyond the ordinary, the more you'll see.
When I speak to photographers, one of my first questions is: 'How is your archive building up?'. Images have a way of changing relevance with time, and generally for the better. I would say it's almost impossible for a series of pictures taken thirty years ago can't be of interest, and the sooner you can manage that, the better. I just wish I'd started taking pictures of shop fronts in the seventies. My archive is shaping up nicely. And while I may never get that third career as a photographer I had planned, it's nice to know that is I do, there'll be a forty-two year archive waiting to support it.
The following are a few random highlights chosen from the Fforde Image Archive. Although only 800x800 on the screen, they are 2000x2000 in reality. You can download them for use, but please, non commercially. I didn't watermark them. This is a trust thing between you and I.
You can find lots more on my instagram account, or just look for#ceilingoftheweek
Brisbane in 2019, and I was there for the Writer's Festival. I got to give the closing address which was a huge honour, and went to some seriously good talks about restorative justice. I walked to the event buildings every day, and it took me past the Natural History Museum which has a family of life-size humpbacks hanging from the ceiling which is, well, awesome. What is not so awesome, however, is its name: 'Whale Mall'. No no no. If anyone from Brisbane is reading this, it needs to be renamed 'Cetacean Alley' like, now . Hasselblad SWC, Ilford Delta 400.
Manchester, England, 2019. I was dropping in to speak to writer Lee Warburton about his book as I'd auctioned off an appraisal for the Black Mountain College. Later on I'd pop over the hill to visit my daughter who lives in Sheffield. I arrived early to 'bag' a few ceilings as the Cathedral is quite close by. As it turned out, the stairwell in the car park was by far and away the most exciting ceiling I found that day - sort of like the Guggenheim, which I had bagged a few years earlier, but is too normal and obvious to include here.
Seattle, 2019, part of my USA tour for Early Riser. I like Seattle, and although the shop that sells me my shirts had closed, there was always the site of the World's Fair to explore - and I do love a World's Fair site - full of remnants of the temporary finery. This was in a 'sound garden' of giant flowers, with the Seattle tower in the background. Rolleiflex 3.5f, Delta 400
2014 and a trip to the HMS Belfast, anchored on the Thames and now a museum ship. It has the tired look of a trillion visitors, but the ceilings, in all their random glory, were actually quite worthwhile. For trunking fans (and I am one) this will be quite exciting. Don't ask me what the cables were meant to do.
St Mary's Kempley, Gloucestershire, August of 2016, and this is the picture I took soon after the Selfie at the top of the page. I generally try to take them vertically upwards, but St Mary's is a unique treasure, and I wanted to capture not only the Romanesque arch - painted, super rare - but also the ceiling illustration in the chancel beyond, which is just spectacular and dates from the 12th century, same as the church. There are more wall paintings in the nave. Best of all, the (working) door to the Bell tower is over eight hundred years old. How often can you open a door that old? Oh, the little door you can see at the top of the picture would have led to the Rood Loft, now dismantled. I took some rare colour pictures in here, but I think I like this one the best. It's in the care of English Heritage, and you can just walk in. Not like that in the Uffizi.
Under the chin of the elephant, Oxford Natural History museum, 2018. Where else can you enjoy the skeletal pachidermal charms mixed with ferro-vitreous Victorian architecture? This is the best Natural History Museum ever as it packs a lot into a little space, and has the batshit crazy Pitt-Rivers tacked on the back. Worth a visit to Oxford alone. I don't know what the elephant was called, but - fascinating fact file - 'Jumbo' is a Swahili word meaning 'Hello' or 'welcome' and was the name of a famed elephant that toured with PT Barnum until being killed by a locomotive. 'Jumbo' has come to mean anything big, but essentially is still a Swahili word. While we're riffing on things etymological, a penguin is from the Welsh, meaning 'white head' - 'Gwynne' or 'Wynne' meaning white (Bron is a hill, so the name 'Bronwyn' means white hill. 'Pen' means head, and in place names, usually the head of a river.) That penguins don't have white but black heads is readily apparent, but it is thought the Great Auk was originally the 'Penguin' and the word just migrated.
April 2018 and the London Underground. I had to take the picture in an empty car, as I'm not sure placing a camera on the floor with a self-timer would have been welcome if anyone was there. I think we're on the Circle Line. I tried to get my hand in holding the upright bar, but I was too low.
Casper Airport, Wyoming, March 2018. I was there as part of the Humanties Festival of Casper Community College, which everyobne says is underfunded but puts a lot of our faculties to shame. Wyoming is big and empty and Community Colleges like this attract students from 100s of miles that would not have been able to attend further educations - there was dance, and writing and drama. Great place, hugely impressive. In airport concourses there are often old aircraft hanging by cables. Seems a shame not to be flying them, but at least they are preserved. I don't know what this is.
2017 and I'm in Asturias Regional Airport, Northern Spain, ready to fly home from the Celsius 232 festival. It's one of my favourite ceiling snaps - just kind of weird and sinuous and perfect.
Meanwhile, in Canberra: I'm on the roof of the new parliament building which is a seventies gem - this steel thingummy can be seen from all over Canberra, which I always call 'Celesteville' after Babar the elephant's model city, all built upon straight lines and utopian in concept. I bagged tons of really good snaps here as both this, and the preserved old parliament buildings are good for access and full of architectural splendour. Wispy cirrus clouds add flavour, and I've put on an orange filter to darken the sky.
2016 and this is the Lutheran Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland, and while ecclesiastical architecture is something I'm fond of, I didn't want to overrepresent them here. Suffice to say I had to wander around for a while before I found the best spot - with chandelier, balcony and the arch and organ beyond. I was there for a festival in Tampere, and the Finns are great fun - how could a nation that invented the Moomins not be? Had my first sauna here (not the cathedral, obviously, Finland) and spent my time apologising as the UK had just voted to leave the EU.
I'll finish with something more mundane. This is in Walkley, Sheffield, in a very nice little cAfe called gertiEs. (Yes, correct capitalisation) I just liked the jury-rig feel to the lighting arrangement. Good food, well priced, super friendly.