A Flight Over East Cork

The best present I got last Christmas, thanks to my children and son-in-law, was an Atlantic Flight Training Academy gift voucher. This entitled me to a 60 minutes flight from their base at Cork Airport. I’m a bit of an aircraft and flight nerd so this suited me perfectly.  Not that I was interested in flight training per se –  I just wanted a pleasure flight and an opportunity to take some photographs. Most recipients of such vouchers are probably in the same, er, boat.

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I had never flown in a light aircraft. The nearest I came to it were trips on the Aer Arann/Aer Lingus Commuter ATR 72s  – twin-engine turboprops – and I was looking forward to the experience. When I phoned the company to make an appointment for the flight I was pleasantly surprised to be told they could accommodate me the following afternoon. This was perfect as the forecast was for a calm, bright day.

The formalities over – you have to complete a short form, get a visitor’s badge and a high-vis vest – I was led to the aircraft by my pilot for the trip, Alan Walsh, a fellow East Cork man. He asked me where I’d like to go and naturally I said the East Cork direction.

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Then it was into the left-hand seat and Alan proceeded to carry out the pre-flight checks. This is something that aviators around the world do as a matter of course, whether they are flying a small aircraft like this or a jumbo jet, and it ensures that no risks are taken as far as safety is concerned.

We then donned our headsets, Alan started the engine, and communicated with Air Traffic Control giving details of our route and asking for permission for take off. Once this was given we headed out to runway 35, pointed the aircraft north, increased the throttle and in a few seconds we were airborne and flying over Cork City.

From there we made our way down to Carrigtwohill ( where he circled my house), Midleton, Castlemartyr and on to Capel Island. On the return leg we went along the coast to Garryvoe and Ballycotton and thence to Roche’s Point, Spike Island and on to Carrigaline before turning right to land at runway 35.

Alan checked with me throughout as to where I wanted to go (e.g. around Capel Island) and in turn he kept Cork ATC abreast of where we were headed.

Our speed was 100 knots – about 115 miles per hour – and we flew at 1500 feet. Conditions were perfect and ideal for photography. I was surprised at how calm the flight was; even though the day was fine I was expecting, given the size of the aircraft, some buffeting and turbulence but there was none. The headset kept noise to a minimum and it was a very pleasant experience overall.  It is something I would recommend anyone interested in planes or sightseeing from a height to do.  Christmas is coming and if you are stuck as to what present you should get for someone you should certainly consider an Atlantic Flight Training gift voucher.

 

Please click on any photo to see it in larger size. All photos were taken with a Canon 6D and a 24-105L lens. I was shooting through a window so there are invariably some glass reflections evident in some of the shots.

 

IMG_8156The cockpit.

IMG_8169Cork City looking north to the Galtee Mountains on the top right. 

IMG_8179The old city dump at Kinsale Road now an environmentally friendly landfill site and soon to be a major recreational area.

IMG_8190The Jack Lynch Tunnel.

IMG_8197The River Lee with the suburbs of Blackrock and Mahon in the foreground.

IMG_8203Fota Castle in the foreground with Carrigtwohill on the upper right.  

IMG_8221Fota Wildlife Park.

IMG_8332Midleton.

IMG_8364Lough Aderra near Castlemartyr.

IMG_8373Castlemartyr with the Castlemartyr Resort and Golf Course in the foreground. 

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Youghal is in the middle distance and beyond that is West County Waterford. In the foreground, the River Womanagh flows into the sea. 

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Ballymacoda. I was christened in that church in the foreground by a namesake of mine (but no relation).

IMG_8442Knockadoon Head and Capel Island.

IMG_8451Capel Island.

IMG_8466Capel Island.

IMG_8525Ballypherode, Ballymacoda. My father was born and raised in the house in the centre (with the single white van in front). First cousins of mine live in that house and the house directly above it. 

IMG_8555Ballycotton.

IMG_8578Ballycotton Island.

IMG_8609 Ballycotton Island.

IMG_8640Roche’s Point.

IMG_8665Roche’s Point.

IMG_8738Spike Island.

IMG_8733Spike Island.

IMG_8749The outer Cork Harbour. 

IMG_8789Heading in to land at Cork Airport’s runway 35.

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Is It A Bird? Is It A ..?

Visitors emerging on to the N27 from Cork Airport must be puzzled by an odd-looking shrub in the centre of the roundabout.

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What is it meant to be, exactly?

Form one angle it looks like some lumbering dinosaur. But why? Is Cork such a centre of paleontology that a dinosaur needs to be represented at one of the major visitor entrances to the city? And why at the airport?

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From another angle it looks more like a large tortoise. Again, the connection with the city is not obvious. Perhaps it’s meant to say something about the slow pace of life in the city?

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If you look closely at the “head”, you will be able to see a remnant of a strip of fake windows.

I’m sure it even has many locals confused as well, especially those that are too young to remember that it was, once, a representation of … an aircraft. A rather fat and not very airworthy-looking aircraft, granted, but a recognisable flying-machine nonetheless. It even had rows of fake windows down each side.

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Sadly it has fallen into neglect and it no longer looks like anything. Now it’s just an overgrown, unkempt bush that is crying out for the loving attention of a good topiarist to restore it to its former glory. Failing that, the best thing the authorities could do is cut it down and save us all the embarrassment of having to explain to bemused visitors what it is supposed to be.

Obtaining my ARPS

In March 2012 I achieved my Licentiateship of the Royal Photographic Society, the LRPS.

The next distinction to be aimed for was the Associateship which, according to the RPS, requires “images of exceptional standard and a written Statement of Intent (what you hoped to achieve with the work). This is a significant step up from the LRPS. At this stage a creative ability and a personal style (what makes your work unique to you), along with complete control of the technical aspects of photography must be evident.”

The problem I faced was fixing on a subject. I do mostly landscape photography and seascapes feature a lot given my proximity to the coastline of East Cork. I considered a panel of seascapes but I wasn’t confident that I could bring a personal style to bear. Long exposures taken by the coast is a technique that I like but it can hardly be described as a personal style. I’m sure the RPS judges have seen it done far better. I needed something a bit different. But what?

Then, one afternoon last November, I was walking by the River Lee in Cork City. There was a high tide and the reflections from North Mall looked beautiful in the calm waters of the river. I had my little pocket camera with me – a Sony RX100 – and I took some pictures.

When I processed them I decided to invert the images so that they appeared the wrong way up as if you were looking at the buildings straight on rather than at reflections. They looked more like paintings than photographs. I realised then that I had an Associateship subject. I booked my place for the Distinctions sittings in Birmingham in March.

Throughout November and December and part of January I made numerous visits to the city to photograph reflections, timing my trips to coincide with the high tides. I took hundreds of exposures. I used the Sony RX100 throughout – it was far less conspicuous than one of my Canon DSLRs and was thus ideal when traversing the city. Besides, I knew its capabilities and I was confident that I could produce 15×10 prints from it without compromising on quality.

I whittled down the images to about sixty from which I would make a panel. I made individual 6×4 prints and began the hard work of deciding on the final fifteen.

This is a tortuous process. It’s not a matter of just producing fifteen good prints – they must work together as a panel which must have a logic and a coherence and which must reflect the Statement of Intent. I began by laying out fifteen prospective photos in three panels of five (I had opted for the five/five/five layout). This became a daily ritual for weeks – shuffling the 6x4s, removing some, adding others. Each time I had what I thought was a finished panel I would return to it the next day and re-arrange it once again. Eventually I arrived at a final decision – I had a panel that I was satisfied with.

I began printing 15x10s on Ilford Galerie Smooth Pearl paper (now discontinued) on my Epson R3000. Some prints worked first time out of the printer, others required two or more attempts before I was satisfied. This is where home-printing has a huge advantage over labs: you can keep at it until you get the results you require. I dry-mounted them on adhesive backing board and placed them in white A3 mounts.

This process was completed two weeks before the distinctions sitting date, March 3rd. In the meantime I was wracked with doubt. Was I kidding myself? Was the panel up to standard? Would the prints be eviscerated by the judges on the day? Why did I subject myself to this ordeal?

The day of decision started out well. I was on the 6:45am flight out of Cork to Birmingham, the panel in a secure and well-padded case in the hold. The flight was due to land at 8am. Shortly after the pilot began the descent however he began to fly in a holding pattern. The airport was shrouded in fog and no flights were landing. He would circle and wait for it to lift. This continued for about fifteen minutes whereupon he announced that he was diverting to Manchester as there was no sign of the fog disappearing. This was a bad omen for the rest of the day. Would I be able to get to the RPS venue at all?

When we landed in Manchester about twenty minutes later I phoned the RPS HQ and told them what happened and asked them to advise their representative in Birmingham that I hoped to get there sometime later in the morning.

I arrived at 11:50am following a two-hour coach trip from Manchester. Was I too late? Would I have to re-schedule the application to another sitting? I needn’t have worried. I was assured that they would be able to fit in my panel before lunch. After grabbing a much-needed coffee I returned to the auditorium to await my fate.

There were two panels judged before mine. There was an excellent black and white one which I came in on at the very end and which the judges praised highly. The next was a series of colour still-lifes of food which was technically very accomplished. However, the Statement of Intent by the photographer did not match the photographs and this was probably the main reason for the panel failing. (The judges had some compositional criticisms as well.) It cannot be emphasised enough: the Statement of Intent is crucial.

Next up was my panel.

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I was glad at least to see the prints were placed exactly as I had indicated in my hanging plan. One of the judges read out my Statement of Intent:

I want to show in these inverted reflections how a river is like a multi-faceted artist, by turns – realist, impressionist, and modernist, taking the mundane aspects of the city, its buildings, trees and bridges, and transforming them into a variety of shimmering, evanescent images.

It is not a pleasant experience to sit there while the judges are reviewing your work. They sit and consider the panel first from a distance of a few feet. Then they stand and review the prints close-up, taking down some of them from the stand the better to examine them in detail. They were discussing them among themselves for awhile – to me it seemed like an age – and then they sat down. This was it: the verdict. Oh God, please let this torture be over soon.

The chairperson of the judges asked one of them to comment. He stood and faced the audience. “I think this is a stunning panel” he said. He found the concept of inverted images “very clever” and had not seen it before. I could hardly believe my ears. Another judge commented on how her favourite print looked like a water-colour painting. Yet another told the audience that the prints contained a wealth of detail that would not be apparent from where they were sitting. The chairperson asked the judges to vote and then announced that I was to be recommended for the Associateship (which was formally ratified by the RPS Council on 13th March).  I stood to acknowlege the applause. It was an incredible feeling – a mixture of overwhelming relief and joy. I hardly needed an aircraft to return to Cork later that day – I think I could easily have floated home.

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Photographing the Wreck of The Astrid

On the morning of 24 July 2013 the beautiful Dutch training vessel The Astrid struck rocks off the Cork coast at Ballymacus near Kinsale after suffering engine failure.  All 30 persons on board were rescued.

I was abroad at the time but I read about the drama on the web. Subsequently, I saw some fine artistic photos of the ship from the likes of Baltimore based photographer Rohan Reilly and others online. I was determined to take a trip down there to see what I could capture. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was though so I had to do some detective work using Google Earth to establish the location. I saw from the online photos that there was a pair of rocks in the distance and having located those on the map  (they are known as the Sovereign Rocks) I had the wreck site more or less nailed down. The next problem was that access to the cliffs above the wreck site was through a farm. How would the farmer react to a request for access? Since the ship went aground there have been reports of items being stolen from it and so there might be sensitivities around allowing strangers like me to get near it. Was it actually still there? Maybe it had since been towed away? All those thoughts bothered me as I made my way to Kinsale on 9th August.

My SatNav brought me to the farmhouse I had identified as nearest the wreck. There was a large dog lying outside the door as I walked towards it but he was docile. I knocked and a pleasant young woman – the farmer’s wife – answered. Yes, the ship is still there. Yes of course I could go through the land. Just park my car behind the shed and follow the path through the cornfield.

That was a relief. I got my camera gear together and headed down the path towards the cliffs. At the bottom of the cornfield was the Irish Coast Guard “do not pass” tape that the farmer’s wife had mentioned to look out for. I stepped over it and made my way through some bramble – it was obvious that other people had followed the same route  – until I got to the cliff edge. And there was The Astrid in all her tragic glory. What a sight! Time to get nearer.  A steep grassy slope led to a rocky ledge. I gingerly made my way down but I momentarily lost my grip and slipped a fair few feet with my tripod taking its own independent downwards trajectory in the process.  Apart from a sore thumb we both survived intact.  Phew!

I set up the tripod, mounted my Canon 5D Mk11, fitted the Canon 24-105 L, composed and focused, changed the lens to manual, fitted the Lee 10 Stop ND (“the Big Stopper” ) and a Lee grey-grad.  My plan was to take a series of long exposures to get that smooth glass-like sea effect. I wasn’t interested in reportage, in recording the scene as is. I was after a more artistic approach (if you will excuse the pretension). Trial and error resulted in optimum exposures of around 70 seconds at f/22 at 100 ISO. I switched the 24-105 L for the 17-40L for some of the shots.

I spent about an hour there and then I made my way slowly and very carefully up the steep slope to the cornfield and thence back to the car. I stopped off at the house and handed the farmer’s wife a five-euro note and suggested she buy some sweets for her kids.  I felt it was appropriate to make such a gesture. She had allowed me access her land when she could easily have refused.  I had the privilege of photographing one of the most dramatic scenes I have seen for some time.  It was the least I could do.

(Left click the photos to see them in a larger size) 

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A colour shot and (below) a monochrome version of the same exposure

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These monochrome conversions were done using Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2

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This blue treatment was achieved by changing the White Balance in Adobe’s Camera Raw converter

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Fastnet Lighthouse

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I recently had the opportunity to go on an evening trip around the Fastnet Lighthouse in West Cork.

It is a place that has held a fascination for me for a long time. This wonderful lighthouse stands on a rock 8 miles off the coast in an area notorious for its heavy seas. It was once known as “Ireland’s Teardrop” as it was the last part of the country that Irish emigrants would see as they sailed to America in the 19th century.

Lighthouses are all operated automatically now but it was manned until March 1989 and one can only admire the resolution and bravery of the lighthouse keepers who worked here over the years.

The construction of the present lighthouse was begun in 1897 and was commissioned on 27th June 1904. It replaced an earlier one started in 1853 but which was too weak to cope with the often severe weather. It is comprised of 2,047 dovetailed blocks of Cornish granite. It is 44.5 metres high.

The tower was first built in the Cornish yard of the contractors John Freeman & Sons to make sure that each granite block fitted perfectly. It was then disassembled and each block shipped to Ireland. It is a wonderful feat of construction. When it was completed the vertical variation from the original plan was only 3/16th of an inch. And despite the battering it has got from storms it still looks pristine and I understand the interior is perfect as well.

Every second year the Fastnet Race sees yachts competing in a 608 nautical mile course from Cowes on the Isle of Wight around the Fastnet Rock and finishing at Plymouth. In 1979 a storm with gusts of up to force 11 resulted in the deaths of 15 yachtsmen and 3 rescuers.

The sea was unusually calm on the evening I was there and that, combined with the beautiful light of the setting sun, helped me to take some nice photos of this beautiful lighthouse.

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“Sacred Presences” Exhibition

Currently on exhibition (until 26th April) at the Cork County Libary, Carrigrohane Road, Cork City is “Sacred Presences”, a collection of icons by two iconographers from Crete, Nikolaos Griniezakis and Eftychia Ilia, and one from Ireland, Fr David O’Riordan (see my previous post on the latter.)  It was organised and curated by Bernadette Burns.

See: http://www.corkcoco.ie/co/web/DocViews/Library?did=171852998&pageUrl=/Cork+County+Council/Departments/Library+%26+Arts+Service

The iconography on display is very beautiful and deserves to be seen in reality – the photographs below do not do them justice (click on any photo to see a larger version.)

The exhibition opened to a capacity crowd on 27th March. It was launched by Peadar Ó Riada in the presence of the Mayor of County Cork, Barbara Murray.

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Peadar Ó Riada opening the exhibition.

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Mayor of County Cork, Barbara Murray,  with (L to R) Cork County Council Arts Officer, Ian McDonagh, David O’Riordan,  Peadar Ó Riada, Eftychia Ilia

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The artists: (L to R) Fr David O’Riordan,  Eftychia Ilia,  Nikolaos Griniezakis

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Eftychia Ilia and Nikolaos Griniezakis with organiser and curator Bernadette Burns (centre)

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Designer and artist Rita Scannell (left) with Sculptor Ken Thompson and Rachel Thompson  

The Icons 

Nikolaos Griniezakis

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Virgin Mary. 95cm x 73cm. Tempera and 24 carat gold leaf on marine wood.

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St John the Baptist. 45cm x22cm. Tempera on very old wood.

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Prophet Elias. 40cm x 30cm. Tempera and 24 carat gold leaf on wood.

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Virgin Mary “odigitria”. 102cm x 35cm. Tempera and 24 carat gold leaf on very old wood.

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Christ. 102cm x 35cm. Tempera and 24 carat gold leaf on very old wood.

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St George with Horse. 40cm x 28cm. Tempera and 24 carat gold leaf on wood.

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Christ with Throne. 58cm x 22cm. Tempera on very old wood.

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Lie Down. 30cm x 22cm. Tempera on olive tree wood.

Eftychia Ilia

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St John the Forerunner. 40cm x 50cm. Tempera on wood panel.

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St Mercurius the Great, Martyr of Caesarea in Cappadocio. 24cm x 33cm. Tempera on wood.

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Annunciation. 50cm x 20cm x 2 pieces. Tempera on wood.

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Virgin Mary. 30cm x 42cm. Tempera on wood panel.

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Crucifixion. 43cm x 31cm. Tempera on wood. 

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Christ. 30cm x 42cm. Tempera on wood.

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Salutation to the Myrhh Bearers. 53cm x 33cm. Tempera on wood.

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St Simeon, the God-Receiver. 43cm x 30cm. Tempera on wood.  

Fr David O’Riordan

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St Brendan the Navigator. 28cm x 34cm. Tempera on wood panel. 

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Theotokos (Loving Kindness). Version 1. 32cm x 43cm. Tempera on wood panel.

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St George. 28cm x 39cm. Tempera on wood panel.

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Crucifixion with Two Standing Figures, Mary and John. 32cm x 42cm. Tempera on wood panel.

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St Simeon. 30cm x 42cm. Tempera on wood panel.

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Theotokos Version 2. 32cm x 43cm. Tempera on wood. 

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Angel Gabriel. 27cm x 37cm. Tempera on wood.

Ballycotton Cliff Walk

I live within 20 minutes drive time of Ballycotton in East Cork and I go there regularly to walk along the cliffs. It’s an easy route, there is a path all the way, and for a bit of undemanding exercise and fresh air it’s hard to beat. I usually walk as far as the headland beyond Ballytrasna – about 2.75 kms  – and back again and this takes about 75 minutes.

You can walk further as far as Ballyandreen – another 0.75 kms –  and either return whence you came or via the road back to the village. The former is the better option – for the views – unless you are one of those walkers who prefers a circular route.

To get there drive all the way through Ballycotton village. As you near the port stay on the main road – it veers up to the right – and continue all the way to the end where there is a car park next to the beginning of the walk. There’s a sign there with illustrations of the bird life to be found in the area (click on any of the photos for full size) :

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One of the several stiles on the walk. They are there to prevent livestock from straying on to the path.

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Ballytrasna. The headland in the distance is my destination.

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An old lifebuoy at Ballytrasna. A modern one has recently been erected next to it.

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The view east from the headland with Ballycotton Island in the distance.

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On the return journey.

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As you near the end of the walk there is a path down to “Paradise”, the name given to a popular swimming area in summer. The steps down are narrow and precipitous and most of the hand rail has long since disappeared. Be very careful or, if you dislike heights, avoid.

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A note on the photography: camera used was the Sony RX100, a little pocket marvel. All photos were shot in RAW and processed in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop CS6.