Aviation Ohakea

March 31, 2012 … on laughter-silvered wings*

Happy 75th birthday, RNZAF.

Mary attended a conference in Palmerston North yesterday, and I went along for the ride.  While she was busy in the city, I was free to explore. With cameras, of course.

Today there is an airshow at Ohakea, the RNZAF air base just a 20 minute drive to the West of Palmerston North. Since my eldest son (yes, that is grammatically correct) is visiting today, I chose not to go there. However, being so close, and calculating that there would almost certainly be some rehearsals happening, I drove over to see.

Sadly the slip road off SH1 which runs along the North Eastern edge of the airfield has been consumed by the base, and is now inaccessible to the public. I tried coming at it from another angle and drove around Tangimoana Rd on the Southern side of the field.  I stopped on a the entrance to a farm paddock, from where I had an almost reasonable view over grazing cows, ripening grain and a good crop of toetoe to see a variety of interesting tails. Peering coyly over the maize, was a giant C-17A from the USAF. USAF C-17A seen from the Southern side of the airfieldTo be more precise, this was tail number 55147 from the 535th  airlift squadron of the Hawaii Air National Guard, based at Hickam Field, Hawaii.

To my delight, I could hear her mighty engines spooling up, and she then began rolling towards the runway to commence the rehearsal for today’s routines. This is a hugely powerful aircraft, and with no payload in her cavernous fuselage, once she left the ground, she went up “like a homesick angel” as the aviation cliché has it.

For the next ten or fifteen minutes the crew threw her around the sky like a fighter jet. No actual rolls or loops, you understand, but some amazing turns. In a real airshow, the audience would be much closer to the runway than 1.5km I was able to achieve yesterday.  I was reliant on the aircraft straying in my direction to get anything like a full frame image.

Happily they did that, so I was able to catch both the USAF C-17A and the RAAF F-18 Hornet  with some degree of clarity despite the distance.

C-17A in flightRAAF F-18 on approach

As it turns out, it was a mercy we didn’t travel today. There are reports of traffic jams of up to 30km in length as 70,000 people tried to get into the show.

*”High Flight”, by J. G. Magee Jr. 

Landscapes Weather Wellington

March 30, 2012 … I lift up mine eyes*

Bright calm days make me look to the hills.

Though they have been done a million times before, and risk being postcard clichés,  images of blue seas and sky appeal to me. And so it came to pass, yesterday afternoon, that I went to the summit of the Wainuiomata Hill road, and parked in the layby there. Laden with camera, my long lens and my heavy tripod, I set out to reach the high point on the ridge above Waiwhetu.

On the way up the steep, winding part of the track, I met an athletic young woman coming down, running with long relaxed strides. Her sheer joie de vivre  and wide smile were wonderful. She was in love with life. “Great day for a great shot,” she called as she skidded and skipped down the loose gravel, and was gone.  Some people just leave you with a smile on your face.

A young guy was behind me, walking up the hill, pushing his mountain bike, which seemed at odds with the spirit of the serious MTB fraternity. Perhaps he just did downhills. Anyhow, I was quite pleased that, even with the load on my own back, I soon left him behind.  No doubt something will soon prick that bubble of conceit for me.

Eventually, I reached a lookout which was ideal for my purposes. I mentioned that it was a calm day, and down at the valley floor, so it was. Three hundred metres higher up there was a steady breeze. Happily the lookout, complete with solid wooden seat, was sheltered to left and right by quite high scrub so I found myself in an oasis of calm with a magnificent view.

On a day like this, in a place like this, I find it impossible not to love life, and to be grateful for this beautiful city of ours, its green hills, its clean air, and its magnificent harbour.

The walk up, the smiles exchanged, and the views at the top were reward enough. I also got some shots that I  like, and despite lugging the tripod and the big zoom with me, the image you see today was made hand-held on the shorter lens, not from my oasis, but looking back down the track. Beyond that horizon at the extreme left is absolutely nothing until you reach Antarctica. If you enlarge the image (click on it) you may be able to see in the far hazy distance, above the wake of the motor launch, the mighty peak of Tapuae-o-Uenuku, soaring 2,885 metres above sea level, some 80 metres higher than Ruapehu in the North.

The walk up the hill, the smiles exchanged, and the views at the top were reward enough. I got some shots that I  like, and despite lugging the tripod and the big zoom with me, the image I offer today was made, hand-held on the shorter lens, looking back down the track.View over Wellington Harbour from high on the Eastern Hills

Beyond that horizon at the extreme left is absolutely nothing until you reach Antarctica. If you enlarge the image (click on it) you may be able to see in the far hazy distance, above the wake of the motor launch, the mighty peak of Tapuae-o-Uenuku, soaring 2,885 metres above sea level, some 80 metres higher than Ruapehu in the North.

Directly above Matiu/Somes Island in the middle, the city is nestled in the sheltering hollow of the hills. Down below is the Seaview industrial area of Lower Hutt.

When I look at that vista, all I can say is wow! Just, wow!

*Psalm 121:1

Maritime Wellington

March 29, 2012 … a wild call, and a clear call*

Love the waterfront.

So too, do thousands of Wellingtonians, each day, each for their own reasons.

For me, it tends to be about ships and the sea. Others need an open space to flush the stale air of the office from their lungs and to breathe the clean sea air. Or perhaps they just need a distant view and the scream of wheeling gulls.

And I can’t even begin to count the number of serious walkers and runners for whom lunch consists of a long run beside the harbour, out through Oriental Bay to Pt Jerningham or beyond.

Public access to the waterfront is very constrained compared with earlier times. The old Interisland, Railway, Glasgow and King’s wharves are now in the secure access zone, fenced off rather like security at airports. The public are free to wander the area between the fence that encloses the old Interisland wharf, Southwards on Queens Wharf, Taranaki Street Wharf, and the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Some areas of Queens Wharf are subject to access restrictions due to helicopter operations on the outer arm.

In pre-container days, Queens wharf was among the busiest parts of the working port. Small trans-Tasman vessels of the Union company,  and the coasters of the Holm line were typical visitors. At the pinnacle of its powers in the late fifties, the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand Ltd, had no fewer than 63 general cargo freighters. The trans-Tasman vessels were small ships with black hulls, strange brown/buff upperworks, and the traditional red funnel with a black top.  They had names like Kaimai, Karemu, Karetu and Kuratai. Their long-range international sisters tended to have green hulls and white upper works and names like Waiwera, Waitemata and Waipawa. All gone, and any remains are probably now recycled as razor blades.

Enough of the misty-eyed day-dreaming.

Queens wharf is now characterised by restaurants and bars, and various shops that do great business son fine days selling coffee, gelato, and souvenirs, or renting kayaks, pedal boats, bicycles or in-line skates.

Most people, however, stick to the free pleasures of the waterfront, sitting, eating lunch, strolling, walking, running, or on a very hot day indeed, swimming. As with yesterday’s shot, today’s image is the product of deliberate intent.

I am still working on this panning thing, trying to capture motion by blurring the background while keeping the subject comparatively sharp (but let’s not get too obsessive about these things).  Three young women running near Queen's Wharf, WellingtonIt would be a wild guess, but I estimate that, on a fine day, several thousand runners will be out doing this sort of thing on the waterfront. On very cold wet days, the number will reduce to several hundred.

Some have the easy loping stride of serious athletes as above. As you can see, they can breathe easily and are able to chat with each other. Others of more solid build, desperately trying to lose weight, shuffle along, dripping, alone, friendless, gasping. My heart goes out to them.

And in case anyone should doubt my motives for being on the waterfront (I was actually filling in time prior to lunch with a friend … the incomparable bowl of steamed mussels at Leuven restaurant), I also looked behind me and liked the sight of the wooden trawler “Rowallan” coming home. Judging by the gulls following her (you may need to click for the bigger picture to see them) she had a good trip. Eastbourne and the Eastern Hills form the background.Trawler Rowallen returning to port

The sea just keeps calling

*Masefield, Sea Fever (again)

Lower Hutt Rail Wellington

March 28, 2012 … faster than witches*

Making images with a particular theme in mind is fun, challenging, and very frustrating.

I say frustrating because I have yet to master the ability to make my original vision come to fruition.  To compensate, I sometimes end up with images that I like anyway.

Railway commuting has been part of the relationship between Wellington and the Hutt Valley since 1874. It really came into its own when the line through the valley was at last fully electrified in the early 1950s. Travelling on “the units” became part of the language of the region. The old red English Electric D/DM class car came to Wellington in 1938. Scarily, some of them are still in service, albeit now in a weird flat blue colour, with bright yellow fronts.

There are those who argue that we should get more people on trains and discourage cars. Though I like trains, the problem I see with this, is that the topography of our region tends to limit the places to which a train can be taken. We are spread out in gullies and on hills.

With fewer than half a million of us in the entire greater Wellington region, we are never going to have the critical mass to fund a satisfactory “go everywhere”  solution such as those in London, or New York or Sydney.

If you live within easy walking distance of a station on one of the four main branch lines in the region (Upper Hutt, Melling, Kapiti Coast or Johnsonville), then well and good, the train is useful. Otherwise, you must walk, cycle, drive or take a bus to the station. This double-ended addition to the journey, with all the irritating waiting between stages, adds wearisome time to the working day and makes commuting a burden and a chore. And so people take their cars.

Back to photography. There is an archery range on the South Eastern side of the intersection between White’s Line East, and Randwick Road between Woburn and Moera.  The Upper Hutt rail line curves in from the West under Randwick Rd, and disappears Northwards under Whites line. I reasoned that, if there were no one else there, it would be safe to go on that land to get an unimpeded view of the train at speed.

I was near the tracks, when I realised that there was now an archer preparing his equipment to start shooting sharp objects at high speed in my direction. I hastily withdrew to consult with him and he kindly pointed me to the (relatively) safe places I could use.

Back at the track, and well to one side of the range, I was looking over my shoulder to see what he was up to, and missed the first train through. It was beside me and almost gone before I heard it, and felt the hiss and shock of its passing.

This was a salutary warning about being on railway tracks.  If I had been on the track I would have been dead before I knew what hit me.

The next train was one of the new Hyundai FP class units. It was going quite fast as it burst from under the Randwick Rd overbridge and swished round the curve to disappear under White’s Line East. A North bound Wellington commuter train at speed approaching Woburn stationThey are handsome machines and I think my image has caught  some of the sense of speed I was looking for (click to enlarge), even though it was not the image I had imagined.

I may try again.

*“From a Railway Carriage” by Robert Louis Stevenson … it begins thus:

    Faster than fairies, faster than witches, 
    Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches …. 

Wellington Work

March 27, 2012 … confronting the law

It was a teaching day yesterday.

I like being in a classroom with mature students, which is partly why I accepted my current post-retirement contract. Of course I have my camera with me when I go into the city to teach (and pretty much at every other time except in bed or in the bathroom). At lunch time I walked from Rutherford House (adjacent to the railway station) through Manners mall and up onto Vivian Street, along to the photographic shop near Cambridge Terrace. There, I bought a spare mounting plate for my tripod for much less than I expected.

In Courtenay Place I was in the mood to enjoy lunch in a restaurant called “Ka Pai” (translates from the Maori to “very good”). It was made better by a chance encounter with a fellow camera club member and his wife who were also having lunch there. After the food and some pleasant conversation, I completed my circuit by walking down Blair St and Chaffers St to go onto the waterfront through Waitangi Park (where the old city corporation works depot, and the Wellington City Transport  bus depot were, when I first came to Wellington.

On the waterfront, behind Te Papa, I could see the deconstruction of the Overseas Passenger terminal taking place. It will soon be replaced by a much larger apartment block, though it will contain some features of Sir Michael Fowler’s original design, including the canoe-like prow at the seaward end, and the spire in the middle. I guess it will have the same relation to the original as the new BMW-built Minis have to Sir Alex Issigonis’s little pocket rocket (ie, a vaguely similar representation of the shape).

I made several images on the way round, but nothing I really want to offer here.  The class concluded at 7:30 and since the electronic sign at the bus stop in Mulgrave St  said the next bus to Lower Hutt was due in 15 minutes, I figured I must have missed the previous one by bare moments.

It was a still clear evening, so what else was I to do? As I said, at least one of my cameras is always with me (obsessive? Me?).  The floodlit Law School (Old Government Building) was looking attractive in the evening light, so I filled in my time thus:  A view of the Law School in Wellington and two sculptures near parliament

The sculptures in front of the pohutukawa at the right are by Ra Vincent, and are entitled “Two Pouwhenua, Wai-titi Landing”.  For those who need additional orienting references, the globular light in the trees at the right is at the gateway to the grounds of Parliament. I have always found these two sculptures difficult to photograph. From many angles they are very plain, and the floodlights can wash them out.

And so another teaching day is done.

Birds creativity Food Lower Hutt

March 26, 2012 … placidly amid the noise*

Lower Hutt was bouncing.

Citizens were out in droves, enjoying a recently rare burst of sunshine while they could. In front of the New Dowse Art Gallery the space which was previously the car park, has been turned into a grassed area for civic functions, and there was a  celebration of its opening.

Though more grass is good in principle, there was never enough parking near the New Dowse, and it will now be impossible,  so I am puzzled by the thinking here.

Anyway there were three stages with various acts in progress, one of them wired for serious sounds. It had banks of speakers designed to induce permanent hearing impairment, if not actual bleeding from the ears.

Another stage was surrounded by children watching a unicyclist doing strange things with a cluster of basket balls, and the third was temporarily empty, but promising various circus acts later in the afternoon.

Food stalls sold tubs of fries (hot chips, if you prefer), heart attacks on a stick, various ethnic foods, and soft drinks. There were clowns and stilt walkers and everyone was having a great time.

I came across all this while assisting in a camera club class intended to help people be more creative by taking their camera off full auto mode and using the aperture and shutter settings to achieve particular effects. We were out and about with the class, getting the participants to experiment with their cameras.

A blues singer (not my favourite genre anyway) began belting out excessively amplified noise, and my ears were offended. The crowd, however seemed happy so I moved on.

I preferred the quieter area in the park behind the city library. While there, I noticed some  very tall ferns which, I had taken for granted as the classic silver fern. Not so. These were Mamaku,  (Cyathea medullaris) the black tree fern. It is usually to be found in lowland forest, mainly in the North Island and upper South island.

Tui were chiming and whistling (they are excellent mimics). A pair of heavy winged and very well fed Kereru (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae) or native wood pigeon were moving clumsily from tree to tree in search of food or relative peace.

A wedding party were having photographs taken on one of the pretty bridges over the not-so-pretty stream. I noticed that the photos seemed to be being taken on an iPhone, so I joined in and added a few  shots. I got an email address and sent them the pictures later in the day, and they seemed pleased.

At a picnic table near the civic aviaries, a couple were having lunch with their pet sulphur crested cockatoo which was striding around on the table and sharing their KFC. I was torn between fascination and revulsion, even leaving aside the questionable business of feeding deep-fried chicken to a parrot. On the other hand, hawks and other raptors will eat anything small enough to swallow, so perhaps my feelings were illogical.

Parents were watching their children on the swings and other playground equipment, which is as it should be.

All in all, it was a pleasant day and people were enjoying themselves. But I have to say that my tastes tend to run to the pastoral or sylvan, rather than to “noise and haste”*. So my choice of photo for the day remains  the mamaku, with its classically symmetrical display.Mamaku - black tree fern in civic gardens, Lower Hutt

May your week start well and continue to a triumphant finish!

* Desiderata by Max Erhmann


March 25, 2012 … they move in mysterious ways

Spontaneity sometimes needs to be carefully planned.

Yesterday’s intention was to create a flashmob of photographers. The idea was that dozens of people with cameras would suddenly appear at the Eastern end of Courtenay place, take lots of photographs for 15 minutes, and then, just as mysteriously, disappear again. Such events appeal to my sense of the ridiculous, and I was a willing participant.

Alas, the grey skies and cool weather seem to have deterred many who initially indicated a willingness to participate. In the end, just six of us materialised, took pictures while enjoying each other’s company and disappeared again. I doubt that many of those in Courtenay place actually noticed much that was out of the ordinary. One or two of our number engaged in some strange contortions to acquire the desired image, but nothing extreme. An old gentleman sitting alone at a table with a pint of beer noticed, and with his anxious looks and shaking of his head indicated his wish not to be photographed (and I think most of us respected that).

The centrepiece and focal point of our gathering was the “Tripod”. This is a sculpture, or artwork, donated to the city by Weta Workshop  around the time of the Lord of the Rings premiere in 2005, to honour the contribution of the film industry to the city.  It consists of a highly stylised industrial looking tripod, surmounted by something that has the appearance of a movie camera. To my mind, there is an element of Henry Moore’s  Rock Drill in its makeup. Be that as it may, it is a striking work that most people seem to walk by, unaware.

We had our fun and dispersed, and my image today is a detail from the sculpture.Tripod sculpture ... Wellington

And, in the immortal; words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.


March 24, 2012 … “they don’t sow potatoes, nor barley, nor wheat”*

Street photography is problematic.

Legally, there is no problem unless the photographer is exploiting another person’s image for financial gain. There is no copyright on your own image as seen from a public place. (Personal note: I am not a lawyer, so this is my layperson’s understanding of the law)

Ethically, the problem is more difficult. There are those who would rather not be photographed. There may even be some who are somehow disadvantaged by having their image published. While there may be debate as whether it was ever part of the Hippocratic oath, the principle of “first do no harm” has been at the heart of ethical behaviour for thousands of years.

And then, of course,  there is the risk of physical confrontation with someone who objects to being photographed.

If I am close enough to an intended photographic subject that I am “in their space”, and if it is possible to interact with that person, I usually ask their permission. Sometimes this can be achieved by sign language, pointing at the camera and at them, and making inquiring expressions, but not yet pointing the camera at them. That certainly worked with the elderly Chinese gentleman who is a regular busker with his two stringed “erhu” in the Wellington railway station subway. It may have helped that I have been a regular contributor to his coin collection, though that was always in recognition of the soulful melodies he produces from just two stings.

If I am closer still I will ask permission verbally, and have rarely been refused.

An online competition I entered identified the topic for this month as “street photography” and further stipulated that the maximum focal length to be used was 50mm. This is a bit like taking out a contract on someone and specifying that you have to be close enough to use a hand gun. Apologies for the ugly analogy, but 50mm tends to require that you are “in close and personal”.  The image of the youngsters at the mall entrance yesterday was shot with a long (400mm) lens, the equivalent of a sniper rifle.

It is just impractical to gain permission from a crowd.  The image I am using here today is “without permission”, so what I am confessing to you is that, though I will usually make reasonable and practical efforts to get permission, sometimes I take the chance. In the latter case, I try to do no harm, and hope that forgiveness will be forthcoming as a substitute for permission. I do not knowingly exhibit images that show the subject in an adverse way.

Outside the Wellington Public Library on Victoria Street, I was waiting to have lunch with my son who works nearby. Across the road, a bunch of men were working in a trench, threading what I assume to be optical fibre through various ducts along the road. The whole layout of the men, the cones, the barriers, and the harried lunchtime pedestrians caught my eye.Cable layers in Victoria St

When I first saw them, the man seen here sitting on the edge of the trench was standing right in the hole with just his head and shoulders above ground.  As I lined up to get the shot, waiting for a gap in the busy traffic, he yelled that needed something from the person in the next trench, a little way down the road. The traffic gap came, and even as I pressed the shutter between the cars, they had all changed position and suddenly they were “on hold”.  And that was the shot I got.

I hope they don’t mind.

* “… but there’s gangs of them digging for gold in the street”  The Mountains of Mourne, by Percy French.

Lower Hutt Social

March 23, 2012 … a murmuration of starlings

Schooldays are a long distant memory for me.

Even so, I would have been a quivering blob of neuroses if I had to cope with the social expectations on today’s kids. I went to an all-boys church school in Auckland in the 1950s and ‘60s. Life was straightforward. We wore our uniforms correctly, partly out of pride and self-respect, and partly to avoid the punitive consequences if caught with socks not at the right height, or hat not on.  We worried about Cuba, Russia and nuclear annihilation, and in my case, how to avoid all forms of sport. Simple problems like that.

Today’s kids have a more personal complexities to deal with. Right at the top of the list is compliance with the dictates of fashion, despite the imposition of school uniforms.

First, you need to wear the uniform in a way that demonstrates your complete contempt for it, and for all forms of authority.  Next you need to add as many accessories as you can get away with, to conceal the fact that you are indeed wearing a uniform. And then, there is the all important cell-phone without which you do not exist! Of course the iPhone 4s is top of the desirability tree.

In central Lower Hutt, there are five secondary schools: Hutt Valley High School (co-ed State school, 1,645 on the roll), Sacred Heart College (girls, Catholic, 821), St Orans (girls, Presbyterian, 458), Chilton St James (girls, Anglican, 520), St Bernards (boys, Catholic, 569).  Youngsters who fit into different demographics must go further afield, to Silverstream, Upper Hutt, Eastbourne, or Wellington.

At the end of each day, there are  school buses that leave from each of these schools to the surrounding suburbs. And then there are the youngsters whose day is incomplete, who absolutely cannot go home unless they have first been seen to have been “at the mall”.

For any readers who remember Lower Hutt from years gone by, the Westfield Queensgate Mall is a reasonably large modern shopping complex by New Zealand standards. It encloses 183 retailers, and a multi-cinema complex. It has parking for 1,855 cars and does $228 million in trade each year. It sits where the NZR Road Services bus depot used to be, until the mid 1980s.

Despite the fact that the entire complex seems devoted to meaningless outlets for fashion garments (whatever they are), and cosmetics, it seems to have defeated the traditional shops on High Street and Queens Drive. Though they are not yet entirely dead, the old shops seem battle-weary and moribund, and it’s just a matter of time.

As I have said, for reasons that elude me, many of the youngsters have the need to visit the mall after school.

I doubt they buy much other than fries or burgers from the food court, but it’s a place where they can gather, chattering, in a brightly lit, noisy colourful place that is as near to being part of a TV commercial as anything I can imagine. They gather in their hundreds near the front entrance by the bus stops, exchanging squeals of greeting, flamboyant hugs, and yelling and waving to friends on the other side of the intersection.

School kids gather at the front entrance of Westfield Queensgate Mall, Lower HuttOrdinary citizens who need to be there at the same time as this daily swarming activity, must simply occupy some other mental space and detach themselves from the emotional excess all around them. The gentleman on the extreme right seems to be wishing he were somewhere else.

From a sociological point of view it is fascinating, like one of those glass-encased cross-sections of a beehive that you find in a honey shop.


creativity Normandale

March 22, 2012 … “fallin’ on my head, they keep fallin'”*

Mrs. Gump knew a thing or two.

“You never know what you’re gonna  get.”  So it is with this blog.  Some days you get to ride with me as I explore places I have been and views I have seen. On other days , you can peer over my shoulder as I try to improve the photographic “seeing eye” to which I aspire.

Low cloud obscured our view over the valley throughout yesterday. Indeed there were times when I couldn’t see across the road, let alone down the valley.  A damp swirling greyness obscured everything.  Down in the valley, visibility was marginally better, though a  persistent soft drizzle limited things there too. However, as the day wore on, the fog became such that Wellington Airport had to close, and many passengers were stranded.

When you can’t see far, perhaps its time to focus on what is close.  As I have said before, I am not a gardener, and I appreciate it that, at this stage in our lives, Mary has a preference for rocks, grasses and flaxes, with artfully arrayed bits of driftwood, some ceramic art, and small boulders. Much of our “garden” consists of Hutt River rocks (legally obtained) about the size of a child’s fist.

This minimalist approach doesn’t eliminate the need for weeding entirely, but it goes a long way in the right direction. I prowled around in yesterday’s mist, looking for goodness knows what, hoping to capture some of the softness and delicacy of the conditions, while trying to keep the front face of my lens dry.

As usual, I pushed the shutter button far too many times, hoping that there was something useful in front of me, and that when I was sorting the images on the computer, a worthwhile would miraculously appear on the screen. In my vision, I hped that such a find  might be improved with just a few judicious adjustments in Photoshop.

One such image that caught my eye, was of the coating of tiny droplets on the (unwanted) plant life. Almost everything but the plants just got wet. Some strange business involving viscosity and surface tension caused certain plants to be covered in tiny liquid beads rather than simply “wet”.Tiny droplets of fog form on garden weeds

Despite the cloud, there was sufficient light to make these miniature jewels glitter as if lit up from within.

I don’t know if you will see it as I did, but I enjoyed seeing it.

*”Raindrops keep falling on my head” by B J Thomas, from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”