Visit to a parallel time

Modern stories of Victoria/Chamberlain Square, Birmingham #3 – my final and favourite photo narrative started out as a warm up exercise to get my mind into gear. I went to find a distant, deserted corner and found myself in a parallel Chamberlain Square where it was sometimes impossible to tell what was real…

[Photos taken for stories class of Matt & Pete’s Photo School; next up: Spaghetti Junction photo walk and picnic on 29 July.]

01 Parallel time
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The Yellow Backpackers of Chamberlain Square

Modern stories of Victoria/Chamberlain Square, Birmingham #2 – the second of three photographic narratives focuses on a group of European students – I think from San Marino – colour-coded yellow by their backpacks. Where were they (location shot)? How did they interact with the environment? Could I get any sneaky close-ups? Achieved more of a documentary feel with this one.

[Photos taken for stories class of Matt & Pete’s Photo School; next set of pix will be from their Spaghetti Junction photo walk and picnic on 29 July.]

Establish Chamberlain Square location.

01 Yellow tourists
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Abstract Birmingham

Photo School abstracts lamppost

This Sunday sees the fourth and final session (for me) of Photographing the City – Matt and Pete’s sociable, how-to photography course set on the streets of Birmingham and featuring a pleasant mix of arty/techy teaching, walking, socialising, photographing stuff (more egs below) and peer review.

More adventures from Photo School… Continue reading “Abstract Birmingham”

Photographing the landscapes of Birmingham

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So today was week two (of four) of Matt & Pete’s Photo School. Last month, we played with finding the decisive moment in street photography, this time it was landscapes and creating huge panoramic vistas using the iconic buildings of Birmingham.

More adventures from Photo School… Continue reading “Photographing the landscapes of Birmingham”

Roller disco by the reservoir

It’s a disco but it’s on wheels. It’s roller disco! Back from the 70s/80s and currently going strong in 2012 at the old-school neon pink glitz of the Tower Ballroom by Edgbaston Reservoir in Birmingham. Tonight featured a very mixed crowd (from 18 to 70+), a punter being stretchered off to hospital by paramedics, the Cupid Shuffle line dance on skates, slamming into the bar, skating back from the bar with pint in hand, and lots of wibbly-wobbly laps. 10 out of 10. Go. Meanwhile here is some lo-fi vid featuring power ballads and Whitney-pop to whet the appetite… Continue reading “Roller disco by the reservoir”

A weekend featuring various artists

I don’t often write diary posts but sometimes a weekend is so full on, it’s a way to offload stuff and think about them later. So here’s the rather strange collection of activities and oddities that Birmingham presented this weekend.

FRIDAY: Trampolines and New Romantics

1. The 28th Trampoline and Tumbling World Championship, NIA
I’ve never paid to go to a sporting event before but I was fascinated to see what the world’s best offered in terms of sports that basically involved jumping, bouncing and general boinging.

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Secret Stirchley, flashers and goodbye tearoom

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After donating my teenage memory of ‘being flashed’ to the Secret Stirchley crew at the pop-up arts tearoom, this weekend my embarrassing memory became the stuff of a Stirchley promenade street theatre narrative.

Performed by three actors as part of the Inhabit programme of pop-up tearooms, the stories they had collected from Stirchley residents over the past five weeks were woven into a narrative, relived and professionally delivered by actors as we wandered around the local streets. In this environment, it was hard to tell who was part of the show and who was incidental.

We listened in on the story of a grandmother and her grand-daughter, as well as other characters who overlapped with their lives, from the ghost of a father who went to war and came back shellshocked…

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to the grunge boyfriend met in the British Oak…

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to a street mugger re-enacting a bag-snatching…

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– and to a young girl who was once flashed by a man standing in the reeds of the River Rea, followed by the ensuing police visit asking for rather intimate details and distinguishing marks.

While I enjoyed the show, however, I’m not sure Stirchley is quite ready for such artiness – a feeling which was underlined by two events ahead of the opening Friday performance.

1. The neighbouring solicitor had apparently thrown quite a wobbly about a bit of chalk saying ‘Sweet shop’ on the pavement outside his shop (which was, you’ve guessed it, formerly a sweet shop).

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He told them he was trying to conduct a ‘proper business’ and was insistent that they remove it, which they did despite this being a public pavement. His uncompromising reaction seemed unwarranted – especially since the passing promenade didn’t even raise the two front-room workers’ heads as we passed by. And yet his over-reaction forms another B30 tale as I had been to see them the day before and now feel quite disinclined to do business there. Stirchley may be strong in community spirit, but at the same time it has always had its bullies, though maybe that is too strong a word – perhaps he was just having a bad day.

2. The second incident happened when a passing young mum with a pushchair had to be reassured that the mugging wasn’t real, just in case she didn’t spot the unconcerned crowd and phoned the police.

But the show must go and after 40 minutes or so it circled back to the tearoom for the final scene, followed by tea and delicious cakes…

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Personally, I think the show would have worked better for me as a direct documentary of Stirchley memories, flowing between characters but without the narrative hook. I suppose I wanted to focus on Stirchley and wanted to hear other people’s memories. I don’t think they needed the plot device, or perhaps I was slightly distracted by the fictionalised performance, which made the memories seem less real somehow.

Still, I have very much enjoyed the tearoom over the past few weeks and I think it will be missed in Stirchley, which is a high street of diverse businesses but none of which offer a particularly sociable stop-off or gathering place (unless you like to go to the pub in the daytime or the ‘Society Cafe’ in the Coop, that is).

The tea-room now moves to Hodge Hill. Lucky things. But I hope that it – or someone else with community spirit – moves into our empty shops soon.

If you want to catch a performance of Secret Stirchley, there is one day left to see it – at 1pm and 4pm tomorrow (Sunday 13th March). Performances are free and start at the shop, on the corner of Ivy Road and Pershore Road.

The Sound of Moselele

One of the great things I did last year was join Daz Wright’s Moselele group, aka ‘the second best ukelele group in Moseley’.

Sometimes it ain’t pretty, sometimes you need to sing songs by Spandau Ballet or Bonnie Tyler, but it is always entertaining.

Occasional extras include bongos, saxazoo, bass acoustic, sleigh bells and shakers, but tonight it was just us, the music, a single kazoo and the lowest fi mobile phone video known to man. It had to be done…

PS. The Moselele Facebook group is here!

Black Swan Sunday

Today was one of those chilled blue Sunday afternoons, perfect for going walkabout with cameras: destination, the concrete jungle of central Birmingham. Scenes from Black Swan, which we saw yesterday at the Electric, must have embedded themselves inside my mind but when I uploaded the images I found out just how much I had focused on windows, reflections, shadows and mirror images.

Look into my eyes

I love me

Len Lye post office film 2

Len Lye post office film 3

Window self-portrait

Reflected reverse ziggurat

Birmingham Central Library windows

Snow Hill Station in reverse

Windows

Here’s the full set of photos from today’s photowalk on my Flickr. Pete was on an FM2 so will have to await processing in the good old-fashioned way.

The new Stirchley Village in pictures

I took a photowalk down my local Stirchley High Street on Friday to log the growing diversity of shops I’d been noticing there of late, including a new pop-up tearoom…

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There are lots of independents in Stirchley Village (as it now seems to be have been renamed), such as: P Browell Tobacconist, Wards greengrocers, Pandora’s Music Box, Skinnys Ink tattoo parlour, Music Exchange, Maginnis Opticians, Wolseley Sausage Company, The British Oak pub and others.

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This is NOT a homogenous high street – and all the more interesting for it. For example, how many other Birmingham high streets can boast a European consulate?

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There are quite a few clusters of businesses, too: hairdressers, hydroponics shops, carpet stores, junk shops, nail bars, balti restaurants, Chinese takeaways and a growing number of estate and letting agents – a sign that things are changing for Stirchley.

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But the most interesting shop for me was the pop-up tearoom on the corner of Ivy Road. It’s only open for another month or so before it moves on like a magical moveable feast to Hodge Hill – but it’s a lovely little place to go and hangout for a bit.

There is free tea served in bone china cups, free biscuits, art, craft and storytelling projects, community conversation and someone to reminisce about Stirchley with – in my case a former lollipop lady, who summed up Stirchley as having it all – except for parking spaces.

The tearoom events progamme is here. Some evening events are also in the pipeline, possibly a film screening and more tea-tasting sessions with Karen (pictured top).

I intend to revisit Stirchley’s high street evolution in more detail in a future post, namely because I wrote my first ever published article on the breakdown of shops here. But for now here’s the slideshow, or see the full set on Flickr.