35mm, wisbech

A mural

Wisbech – the New Europe.

I took this photograph last week in Wisbech.  I had the Yashica T2 AF compact camera loaded with cheap Kodak ColorPlus 200 film (given to me with some prints from a photolab).  I do not like C41, so I had the film processed at my local photolab.  Only £2.50 per film, develop only.  I have so much Poundland film to use up!

I’ve written extensively before, that Wisbech is a very much a part of the New EU England, with a very high percentage of immigration from Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Russia (or ethnic Russian).  Immigrants have been flooding to the area for quite a few years now, often attracted initially by the work in local agriculture, food packing, and general farm work, or food factory work.

As an amateur photographer, I see this as history in the making.   Something very worthy of recording, and it is about people.  The above photograph is of someone else’s mural and creativity, although I tried to add to that by capturing with the surroundings of the old Wisbech wall, with all of it’s features.

The mural itself shows the River Danube, sneaking through SE Europe, with the flags of Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary added – the EU nations of SE Europe.  I don’t know if the artist has added any nationalist agendas to the mural.  Some of the names are in Cyrillic, maybe for the Bulgarians?The mural itself is painted on the rear of a “European” shop.  When it opens, I’ll have to pop in and find out more about it.

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Olympus XA-2 - 50p camera project II

Kent Earthquake felt in East Anglia

Olympus XA2 50p camera project. Ilford HP5+ b/w film. Developed in Kodak D76 stock. V500 scanned.

Our intrepid reporter phones in the tight fisted report.  The 4.2 magnitude tremors of the Kent Earthquake yesterday were felt far and wide.  Causing damage to structures as far away as Cambridgeshire.  Either that or some drunk managed to back his car into this Wisbech telephone box.

The fun that you can have with a little XA2 35mm film compact camera.

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Models and themed photoshoots, Portrait

Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival 2015

Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus medium format film. Home developed in ID11.

I usually miss this local Fenland festival.  I work with some Whittlesey families, and I have had previous invites – but last weekend was the first time that I made it.  So I guess, first, a review of what it was all about.

Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival

Yes I know that the modern town name is Whittlesey, but the festival organisers seem to prefer the older spelling of WhittleSEA.  This is the background story:  Towns and perhaps villages in East Anglia, the Fens, and the East Midlands of England, use to celebrate Plough Monday – the first Monday following the Twelfth Day of Christmas.  It was apparently a functional holiday.  Agricultural labour hire was at a low, just before the ploughing season commenced.  I’ve checked historical sources, and this appears to be correct.  There were celebrations in rural towns in this part of the World on Plough Monday.

However … theses celebrations could be rowdy.  This became less acceptable during the late 19th Century, with the formation of an English Constabulary and Victorian values.  Agricultural labourers and their families were going through the leanest part of the year.  Traditionally, the labourers would dance and make music, down the streets, and solicit money.  However, in particularly lean times, this solicitation would become more aggressive – as in gate crashing wealthy households until they paid up.  If they didn’t pay up, apparently a certain amount of damage to property may occur.  This was the original English Trick or Treat scam – long before Americans hijacked it as a Halloween feature.

Witchman molly dancer in the streets of Whittlesey at the weekend. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus medium format film. Home developed in ID11.

These trickster/dancers did not want to be recognised – after all, they would soon be seeking employment on the plough.  Therefore they would blacken their faces with soot.  Maybe even (as this was not a place for women), dress up as females!  This activity on Plough Monday became known as Molly Dancing.  It has been noted elsewhere, that 19th Century transvestite clubs in London were called “Molly Clubs”.

Another activity that took place on these festivities was the Straw Bear.  With clear references – if nor origins, to pre-christian belief systems, one of the dancers would be clothed in a suit of the previous harvest straw.  At the end of the celebrations, the straw bear suit may have been burnt in the style of the 20th Century Wicker Man movie.

Apparently the Plough Monday dances were banned in the Whittlesey area around 1909.  Elsewhere in the Fens, they may have continued another thirty or more years.

The pagan Witchmen molly dance group, chatter between performances at the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival, last weekend. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford HP5+ medium format film. Rodinal.

The modern festival was revived in Whittlesey, during the 1980s, but based on a more convenient (for the modern age) weekend in January.  Although Molly dancing had long died – there had for some time, been a revival in English folk culture, and in Morris danciing.  As Morris teams flooded to Whittlesey, local groups often focused on reviving the Molly dancing tradition.

What is quite striking, is how the whole scene – has modernised, and even embraced a degree of post modernism.  As the revivalists correctly suggest – performance and shock, was a part of the old molly dancing scene.  Modern Neo-pagans have also contributed, lured by the symbolism of the Straw Bear.  The Witchman Molly Dancing group even states itself to be Pagan on it’s website.

The very local also contributes.  A genuine festival atmosphere snakes through the town – and it’s pubs.  This is not a case of middle class artists descending on a hostile Fenland town.  It is a genuine festival where the locals also pour out into the streets, and from pub to pub. – watching the performers at each corner.

The Broom Dance, Whittlesey. Molly dancers performing the Broom Dance in Whittlesey. Bronica SQ-A camera. Zenzanon PS 150mm f/4 lens. Ilford HP5 Plus medium format film. Home developed in ID11.

English culture and identity.  We are told that it has been in crisis for many years.  We thought that we had disappeared as an ethnicity, into the British umbrella.  Yet, 2015 – here it is.  Real ale.  Fiddlers.  Blokes dressing as ladies.  Dancing with brooms.  A town still rich with English culture.

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Film, 35mm, and scans, Olympus Trip 35

The Empire on Poundland Film

The Empire Theatre Bingo Hall. Wisbech. Olympus Trip 35 camera. AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 35mm film. Scanned negative. A little post touch enhance on Gimp 2.8 using crop and levels.

No one liked the last blog?  Ok, here’s another new one, or at least a new scan after picking up some negs from the developer.  The Bingo Hall in Wisbech town.  Formerly the Empire Theatre.  A seventeen quid camera and film from Poundland.  Budget enough?

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Landscape and buildings, Sony A200 DSLR and Sony DT 35mm F/1.8 SAM prime lens, The East English Fens of East Anglia, Weather

Halfpenny Lane

So cold… Halfpenny Lane, a Study. Sony A200 DSLR. Sony DT 35mm F/1.8 SAM lens. Shot in Manual exposure, ISO400, 0.05 sec. F18. RAW.

This local green lane just looks the quintessential quiet English country lane.  I seem to be collecting quite a few views of it in different seasons and weather.  It’s evolving into a study.  The top photo was taken digitally with the Sony handheld.  Anita and our lurcher, Flint, walking off ahead providing more scale and subject.  It was a freezing afternoon a few days ago.

The below photo was taken the next morning.  It captured perfect blue sky against sharp white almost exaggerated frost.  Again, captured with the Sony handheld, but with less ISO sensitivity (so much more light!)  Both shot on the DSLR in manual exposure mode, using the 35mm prime lens.

The Day after Tomorrow. Halfpenny Lane the next morning. Sony A200 DSLR and Sony DT 35mm SAM F/1.8 prime, manual exposure mode, but at: ISO100, 0.017 secs. F13. RAW.

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Sony A200 DSLR and Sony DT 35mm F/1.8 SAM prime lens, The East English Fens of East Anglia, Witchcraft and Horror

The Witch Cat of Wisbech

The Witch Cat of Wisbech. Sony A200 DSLR. Sony AF DT 35mm SAM prime lens

We find some strange things on our local wanders.  There we were, earlier this year, simply taking a stroll through the Cambridgeshire town of Wisbech … when we spot a mummified cat on the pavement!

Cats were often sealed into buildings between 200 and 400 years ago, in order to ward off witches.  Over 100 have been found in English houses up and down the Country.  We don’t know if they were bricked up dead or alive.  This one however, was sitting out in the street, opposite the old Wisbech harbour – where alleyways snake in and out to the old market place.

It was clearly mummified, and I think that we are fairly safe in the assumption that this had been found during building work nearby – and simply plonked out onto the street after 300 years.  It failed to ward off my witch girlfriend.  We looked to see if it was there later, and it had gone.  In a bin, or into a dog? We sent a few photos into the local newspapers to ask if anyone knew how it had got there – we never heard anything.

So, have you ever found a witch cat on the street?

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Pentax K110D DSLR and SMC Pentax-M 50mm F/1.7 prime lens, Portrait

The traditional English mayor

The 2011 Mayor of March, Cambridgeshire. Councillor Bernard Keane. Pentax K110D D-SLR. SMC Pentax-M 50 mm F1.7 manual focus prime lens.

Some English mayoralties extend way back to medieval charters from the King.  I actually served as a traditional mayor of the town of Thetford back in 1995 (I was of course a very young mayor!) .  The above Mayor is serving a more recent seat, created by a 1974 reorganisation of English local government.  Still, he very much looks the part doesn’t he, and no doubt did a fine job of representing the small Fenland town of March.

Most mayors in England (both those with a medieval charter, and the 1974 mayors), actually have little executive power.  This frequently confuses people from outside of the UK.  They are elected by (and usually from the ranks) of local government councilors, who in turn are elected by the local electorate.  Their role is simply to represent their town, chair council meetings, and perform ceremonial duties.

However, in more recent years, several English districts have seen the introduction of directly electable mayors, meanwhile, a post has been created for a directly electable Mayor of London who does have executive responsibilities.

I caught this one of the Mayor of the little Fenland town of March, at a church fete last year.

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