Anthropogenic Crap

Cider bottle left on a wall in Cardiff near Splott and the Magic Roundabout.

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Roundabouts are normally somewhere between dull and dangerous … either seeking to break up a predominant flow of traffic or simply so overgrown that drivers just can’t see what might be hurtling around from behind the bushes and trees. So when you come across one that’s truly different, it deserves to be celebrated.

Thoughts On The Day

With Mrs H. away all morning at the local iaido class, I didn’t want to be left in the house by myself for several hours. Grabbing my camera gear, I decided to head out to try and track down a rather unusual roundabout Bernie at work had told me about a couple of weeks ago.

Created nearly 20 years ago now, the Magic Roundabout is an art sculpture (installation?) created by Pierre Vivant for the Arts and Regeneration Agency. Built from classic (and some downright unusual too) British road signs, it sits in Ocean Park not far from one of the old Cardiff Bay docks. Ever since I was told about it, I’ve been looking at it on Google Maps, and decided it would make for a short but enjoyable shoot this morning. Besides, I could drive right up to it, which my injured knee appreciated.

It’s a real roundabout intersecting two busy roads, making initial photography a bit of a challenge. Although I took some shots from the footpaths by the road, the best shots were definitely to be had by crossing onto the roundabout itself and getting up close and personal with the sculptures. I can’t say that I was disappointed; it gave me a great excuse to mess about with the depth of field offered by the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D. It’s a lens that I’m still learning how to use effectively.

The Photos

The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout

Post Production

I’m deliberately trying to re-invent my photography style this year. It’s partly a reaction to the kind of photography I found myself doing towards the middle of 2009 before the car crash, and it’s partly a need for a bit of a change.

I’m trying to achieve two specific things:

  1. Stronger photos that stand on their own, instead of simply accompanying the photo journalism I’ve been doing since starting the Merthyr Road project
  2. More natural photos … which means getting away from HDR once again

To do this, I’m experimenting with different lenses (the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D in this shoot, and soon a Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX), and different settings in camera. I’ve stopped shooting in RAW, and gone back to JPEG. Instead of bracketing 5 shots for HDR, I’m now bracketing just 3 shots. The processing I’m doing in Aperture is still about definition and colour management, but I’m spending more time on highlights and shadows instead of just resorting to HDR.

Most of all, I’m trying to follow some kindly advice given to me by a pro photographer after my shoot at the Illuminating Hadrian’s Wall event. During post-production, I’m trying to be ruthless with the photos, seeking out the least number of photos possible to upload, and only uploading those that add something different to the set they belong to. That’s going to be the hardest bit of all for me – on any one day, I tend to be very consistent in the quality of what I shoot.

But what the heck. I can’t get better unless I try 🙂

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Cardiff Bay Railway Station

Back in June, I took part in the annual Photomarathon for the first time. It was definitely weird using a chemical camera for the first time in six years! Like many of the competitors, I also had my digital equipment with me, and I’m really glad I did, because as the sun was setting I was wandering past Cardiff Bay’s run-down railway station, and was able to snag this shot.

This station sits at the southern-most end of the oldest surviving railway line in South Wales – the Taff Vale Railway (TVR). Sadly I haven’t been able to find any photos online of what this station looked like when the docks were in full swing, but books such as the Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canal do have some photos on the printed page if you’d like to compare.

This is the very first HDR shot I’ve processed since being forced to upgrade from PhotoMatix Pro v2 to v3. I’ve used v2 for all of my HDR work to date, but sadly it doesn’t work under OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Still, first impressions of v3 are very encouraging!


The Millennium Centre, Cardiff

This one has been up on Flickr for several months now, but somehow I forgot to actually write a blog post about it to match!

Cardiff Bay has been (almost) completely transformed from abandoned dockyards into the playground of the wealthy in South Wales. At the very centre of this new role proudly stands the Millennium Centre, a world-class arts venue for Europe’s youngest capital city. And, when the sun strikes it at the right angle, it positively radiates.

There are good reasons why just about all the best photos of the Millennium Centre tend to be from this angle.

Known locally as the Coal Scuttle because of its distinctive shape and colour, the Millennium Centre is a surprisingly difficult subject to photograph. If you think of its rivals around the world – most notably the Sidney Opera House – they are iconic buildings standing proud and prominent, an absolute delight to photograph and very difficult to photograph badly. Sadly, like Cardiff City Centre after it, Cardiff Bay hasn’t been so much designed as a whole as had individual efforts constructed next to each other. This has left the Coal Scuttle with mostly obscured lines, and as a photographer I’m left with the impression of a fat cartoon character trying to hide behind skinnier friends.

I think this is a real shame. This is truly a great venue, with a real will to put on a world-class programme of arts to match.

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(I’ve only just come across this – I hope John will forgive me for being remiss at moderating the backlog of comments awaiting approval. I get a lot of spam, mostly because of how heavily read my blog was back when I worked on Gentoo Linux).

If I could have one wish, it would be to take my MacBook Pro, my Nikon D200 and the whole GPS satellite system back in time to visit the places I write about back when they were more than the mostly-lost memories that they’ve become today. I’d love to be able to see what the docks were like before the Glamorganshire Canal was emptied by an unfortunate accident in 1951. I’d loved to have walked under the Walnut Tree Viaduct before it was dismantled in 1969. Heck, I’d have even loved to have seen the old power stations that have completely disappeared from Taff Vale.

But I can’t. All these things were gone before I was born, and several decades before I settled in Wales in 2000 (yup, I’m one of those ‘orrible invading English from across the border 🙂 )

Fortunately, there are folks on Flickr who are sharing their photos from these times. It’s an act of generosity that I really appreciate. I just hope the generation that follows us all one day learns to understand and respect the history of South Wales that we’re all trying to preserve before it’s gone forever.

John Briggs is one of those people kindly sharing their photos on Flickr. John’s photos, from his book Before The Deluge: Cardiff Docklands 1970’s, provide an excellent snapshot of life in the docks some twenty years after the Glamorganshire Canal had finally closed, and after the Bute West Dock too had closed.

Two photos in particular caught my eye this evening whilst taking a first look through John’s work, because they provide more information about the Junction Canal that still survives today.

Junction Canal to West is a great shot of the Junction Canal that used to link the Bute East Dock, the Bute West Dock, and Sea Lock Pond on the Glamorganshire Canal. The railway viaduct in the foreground is the Bute Viaduct, which carried trains across the Junction Canal to the western ank of the Bute East Dock.

This is the TVR Viaduct, which carried trains over Junction Canal and down to the eastern bank of the Bute West Dock (originally called the Bute Shipping Canal). From the curve, I’m guessing that this photo is looking west along Junction Canal, but I could be wrong 🙂

You can see more of John’s photos up on Flickr, or pick up a copy of his book Before The Deluge: Photographs of Cardiff’s Docklands in the Seventies.

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Escaping The Canal

View “Cardiff’s Little Venice” as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.

The success of the Glamorganshire Canal was always going to bring with it rival means of shipping the goods of the industrial South Wales Valleys out to a world eager for the iron, coal, patent fuel, and stone that were the currency of the Welsh industrialists. The canal was never going to have the capacity required to meet ever-growing demand, and so within 120 years of the canal opening, the marsh land south of Cardiff disappeared under no less than four separate docks, all competing with the Canal for trade. The invention of railway led to five separate railway companies all doing their best to keep up with the rate at which coal was being mined, and their iron tendrils snuck out past the congested Cardiff Docks to Barry, Newport and Swansea too.

Inevitably, it all came to an end.

Although the Glamorganshire Canal finally closed in 1951, it has taken more than fifty years to regenerate the parts of Cardiff touched by the former iron and coal trades. (The situation up in the valleys is bleaker, where full regeneration and recovery from the loss of coal mining may not happen in our lifetimes). It’s the Cardiff Docks that have taken longest to recover, and the recovery has come at what some consider a steep price (the Cardiff Barrage scheme, central to the redevelopment of the waterfront area, led to the loss of mud flats important to wildlife).

As part of the regeneration, the first dock to compete with the Glamorganshire Canal’s Sea Lock Pond has been almost completely erased from the landscape. Originally known as the Bute Ship Canal, all that is left of the Bute West Dock today is the Roald Dahl Basin down on the shore (a popular venue for events such as food fairs), and the Bute Dock Feeder that used to take water from the River Taff beside Cardiff Weir to help regulate the water level in the dock. With no dock left to flow into, the Bute Feeder has instead been diverted down to the old Junction Canal which once linked Bute West Dock and Bute East Dock.

What appears to be an entirely new waterway now flows south off of Junction Canal. Around it has sprung up the housing development known as Atlantic Wharf, transforming what was once a busy industrial dockland into a sort of Cardiff’s own Little Venice.

Thoughts On The Day

Daft as it sounds, I actually stumbled upon the Atlantic Wharf redevelopment by accident. I found myself with lunch hour to kill, and I decided to follow the Bute Dock Feeder as best I could to see where it goes today. I’m very glad that I did.

The path that leads south beside the Bute Dock Feeder from Herbert Street gives no inkling of the new waterway hidden beyond. Indeed, the Feeder quickly disappears into the overgrowth. My initial reaction was one of ‘Oh, well.’ Appearing and disappearing stretches of water are the hallmark of the remains of the Glamorganshire Canal and its associated waterways.

However, rounding the corner reveals the Junction Canal, which could never have looked as pleasant as it does today. Built to link Bute’s original Dock (the Bute West Dock) to his bigger deeper Bute East Dock, the only old photo I’ve seen of Junction Canal shows it to have been a miserable industrial landscape crossed by the remains of a ruined railway viaduct. Bute West Dock may be gone, but Junction Canal has not only survived – it has flourished.

There are two stone footbridges across Junction Canal. They are in sharp contrast to the other bridges over the new waterway that runs south through Atlantic Wharf, which are unmistakably modern in design and construction. At the time I thought that they might be original bridges across the Canal, but now I believe that they stand at the spots where the two railway viaducts – one for the TVR to the west, and the Bute Viaduct to the east – would have crossed the Junction Canal as they brought coal down from the Taff and Rhymney valleys to the Bute West Dock and Bute East Dock respectively.

The new waterway that runs south off of Junction Canal is what makes this such a pleasant place to take a lunch time walk. I don’t know what was here originally, but I’ve found no mention of Junction Canal ever being anything other than a straight forward stretch of canal flowing west to east and back again. There are houses here now on both sides, where the trains would have emptied their loads of coal to be transferred onto ships in both docks.

I found the place so charming that, if I ever move into Cardiff, this will be one of the areas that I’d look to buy a house in.

Favourite Photograph From The Shoot

The Bute Dock Feeder Hides AwayI love this shot of the Bute Dock Feeder running south above Herbert Street so much that I went back there later on with the Nikon D200 to take another, more detailed version of the same shot. I’m planning on uploading that shot soon as a HDR shot. I think that this is the best angle to take a shot of that apartment building (built on the site of a former school); it really brings out the angular nature of its design.

I also love the contrast between the Bute Dock Feeder (a relic of the 19th century), the old industrial units from the 20th century on the right, and the apartment block from the 21st century.

Post Production

I had to go back for a second visit to take some additional shots. Unfortunately, after only three years my Canon Digital IXUS has started to become unreliable. It’s starting to look like it’s time to replace it with a newer model. (Anyone remember the days when we didn’t throw things away, but had them repaired instead?)

After the last two epic photo shoots, I was hoping to get this one published quickly – and then I started trying to find out more about the two stone bridges over Junction Canal 🙂

I’ve also switched back to publishing the photos – complete with their write-ups – and the blog entry simultaneously. With my last article, once it and the photos were published, I found myself frustrated by the need to go back and continue working on it. I wanted to look forward to the next piece instead.

Found On Flickr

The term ‘Junction Canal’ is one that has arguably been overused over the centuries, but even so Flickr couldn’t find a single photo that had been tagged with Junction Canal in Cardiff 🙁 The map of geotagged photos is also pretty sparse, but I did find a couple of good photos on there.

  • P2170082, a colour photo of the new waterway through Atlantic Wharf, by Aaron A. Aardvark.
  • Fishing in the canal, a old shot showing two boys fishing in the Junction Canal, uploaded by Ben Salter. The bridge in the background of the photo is the Bute Street road bridge.
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