Thursday, 11 December 2014

Phantom photo

The headline from PetaPixel screams: Peter Lik Print Sells for $6.5 Million, Shattering Record for Most Expensive Photo.
Australian landscape photographer Peter Lik has taken the crown for most expensive photo ever sold. “Phantom,” the picture shown above, was sold to a private collector for a staggering $6.5 million. The record was previously held by Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II”, which sold for $4.3 million in 2011.
“Phantom” was captured at Arizona’s Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon that’s popular among landscape photographers, and shows a beam of light resembling a “ghostlike figure” (hence the name). It’s a black-and-white version of a photograph that has also been printed in colour with the title, “Ghost”.
Lik also announced that the same buyer purchased two other photographs “Illusion” for $2.4 million and “Eternal Moods” $1.1 million (he previously sold “One” for $1 million back in 2011), giving Lik four photos in the list of 20 most expensive photos of all time.
I have a whole book of Peter’s Blue Mountains images, so are they worth tens of millions?

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Into this

This is one story which passed me by and I’ve only just discovered it – ‘Into the wild’ Jon Krakauer’s retelling of Chris McCandless’ tale.

I enjoyed Jon’s storytelling style in ‘Into thin air’, and have to admit it was the same with ‘Into the wild’ (do you see a theme here?). I was reading the library’s ebook version and I found it hard to put down, I’d get a few minutes and start reading, was at the hairdressers and peering at it via the small phone screen – and this was despite already knowing the ending! It wasn’t enough though, after reading the book I had to check out the film. Sean Penn directed the movie version which is based on Jon's book and told in a series of flashbacks.

It is based on the true story of Christopher McCandless played by Emile Hirsch.The film is beautifully shot, and I liked the concept of utilising the words from Chris' postcards on the screen.

The Plot: When he graduated in May 1990, Christopher had rejected the trappings of his conventional life – cutting up his credit cards and ID, donating his college fund savings ($24,000) to Oxfam, and instead he sets out to experience life in the wilderness – without telling anyone, in fact masquerading his activities.

Chris’ old yellow Datsun is caught in a flash flood, so he just abandons it. He burns his last money, begins hitchhiking, and assumes the name: Alexander Supertramp. As Alex he encounters different people who take him in (and listen to his philosophy on life). But he keeps moving on, captivated with the idea of going north to Alaska.

In April 1992, Chris arrives in a remote area of the Denali National Park in Alaska, and sets up camp in an abandoned bus used by hunters. At first, he is content with the isolation, the beauty of nature, and the thrill of living off the land.

Months later, he encounters difficulties, life becomes harder and he becomes less discerning. As his supply of rice (his staple) begins to run out, he realises that the nature he wants to experience is also harsh and uncaring and unrelenting, and he decides to return to civilisation, his family and friends. But, the stream he had crossed before the Spring melt is now a torrent and uncrossable (at least from where he is standing).

Seemly doomed, he returns to the bus, now as a prisoner no longer in control of his fate and reliant on help from the outside. Forced to gather and eat roots& berries, he apparently confuses two similar plants and suffers from an inability to digest food and wastes away. He writes a farewell to the world and crawls into his sleeping bag to die. Two weeks later, his body is found by groups of moose hunters.

When the events happened it caused a flood of comments which polarised people who considered him a free spirit, and those who considered him an unprepared innocent abroad. Similarities have since been drawn with Timothy Treadwell who was killed by a bear in 2003.

But concentrating on Jon’s telling of the story, some is supposition on what caused Chris to eat the seeds, what truly motivated him etc. There is also a chapter on Jon’s experiences climbing the Devil’s Thumb illustrating the parallels between his early life and Chris’. Jon investigated the story, he spoke with Chris' family and the people he had met on his travels.

In the resulting book, Jon seeks to examine and explain the obsession which leads some people to explore the outer limits of self, leave civilisation behind and seek enlightenment through solitude and contact with nature.

I have to admit amongst a whole host of thoughts I was left wondering, would it have ended differently if Chris had not found the bus refuge, would his experience have been curtailed if he wasn't cocooned by the added physical security provided by the bus' living conditions, and headed home sooner?? We'll never know.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

'Tis the season

'Tis the season for producing Christmas books - both bestselling authors releasing a new title 'just in time for gift giving', and an array of picture books of traditional and humourous themes.

The best I've come across is "There was an old bloke who swallowed a present" by P. Crumble and illustrated by Louis Shea.
It is in the same vein as our successful rendition of the other story "There was an old lady who swallowed a mozzie". 
The main character - the 'Ned Kelly' bloke

The gist is:-
* He swallowed the choir to serenade the snowman
* He swallowed the snowman to cool down the turkey
* He swallowed the turkey to nibble the gingerbread
* He swallowed the gingerbread to read the card
* He swallowed the card to go with the present, (and we)
* don't know why he swallowed that present (but we do know that)
* Now that's not pleasant!

And we know it's not going to end well, but you'll have to read the whole story to know what happens.
Wonderful cameos by the Gingerbread Man
So keep an eye on your Christmas tree and guard your stockings because now he's on the hunt for more Christmas snacks!
A great addition to the "There was a..." series.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Fields of Battle - Lands of Peace

Just after Remembrance Day comes Fields of Battle—Lands of Peace 14-18  the work of photojournalist Michael St Maur Sheil.  Captured over a period of seven years, Michael’s photography combines a passion for history and landscape and presents a unique reflection on the transformation of the battlefields of the Great War into the landscape of modern Europe.

Here are just a few of his images

Lochnagar Crater is one of the iconic remnants of the Somme battlefield and just as in the war, one can really only appreciate its true scale from the air. Created by British tunnellers who dug a 600m (0.37 miles)tunnel to reach a point under the German lines where they then placed 50,000lbs of high explosive which was detonated on the 1st July 1916 creating a hole over 90m wide (295’) and 30m deep (98’).

The landscape of the Newfoundland Memorial Park, in Beaumont Hamel in France, with trenches, shell crater and wire pickets. Part of the Somme battlefield, the battle began on 1 July 1916 and ended in a muddy quagmire in mid-November (the Allies advanced only five miles (8km)). The Newfoundland Regiment, nearly 800 men, was virtually wiped out on the first day.

The pockmarked landscape of the Ouvrage du Thiamont battlefield close to Verdun, France still bearing the testimony of the savage ferocity of the fighting. In recent years Verdun has become a symbol of reconciliation between Germany and France – a fitting recognition that during the 10 month battle the opposing sides suffered over 700,000 casualties in total.

Butte de Vauquois, Argonne, France.
The Butte itself is a steep-sided hill which was the site of a village which was captured by the Germans in September 1914. Subsequently the French gained a foot-hold on the summit and both sides began a campaign of mining which lasted until February 1918. The furious mining and counter mining blew away the entire hill-top and today the small village lies at the foot of the hill. Underground there are approximately 17,000 metres of galleries, the deepest of which is 104m, and over 150 chambers and rooms. One of the mines planted here contained over 60 tons of high explosive and was the largest single mine explosion on the Western Front. The photograph above clearly shows the nature of the fighting: the curving line in the bottom centre of the frame is the German front line and the white edifice above that marks the French front line which at this point is about 40 metres distant.

St Symphorien Cemetery was established by the Germans after the Battle of Mons in August 1914 it contains both their own dead as well of those of their British adversaries. Indeed the first British soldier to be killed in combat, Pvt. John Parr is buried here and by an odd quirk of fate the last two Commonwealth soldiers to be killed in the war are buried here. Hainaut in Belgium was originally a potash mine but is now a cemetery of real beauty and tranquillity.

View from Cavernes des Dragons southwards over La Vallee Foulon towards French positions

From August 2014 to November 2018, sixty of Michael’s powerful images will be publicly exhibited around the UK and then internationally; bringing the centenary of the Great War to tens of millions of people in their own communities. You can find more information on the exhibition at

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Out of this world books

A collection sci-fi/adventure film books passed my desk today.
Pacific Rim : Man, Machines & Monsters chronicles the production of the film with stunning concept art, captivating photography, and cast and crew descriptions of the shoot.
When legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, start rising from the sea, a war begins that will take millions in lives and consume humanity’s resources for years. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special weapon is devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, that are piloted by an international crew of soldiers in the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. But even the Jaegers prove nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, two unlikely heroes:- a washed-up former pilot and an untested trainee - team up to pilot a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger on a mission to halt the mounting apocalypse. The book chronicles the production of the film with stunning concept art, captivating photography, and cast and crew descriptions of the shoot.

Terminator vault : the complete story behind the making of the ‘Terminator’ and ‘Terminator 2: Judgment day presented in a slip case it has a number of pockets of ephemera through its pages.
Born out of James Cameron's fever dream, the relentless Terminator has become a cinematic juggernaut. The original ground-breaking film, The Terminator, and its mighty sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, not only assured the blockbuster career of their director but also turned their star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, into an icon. Movies about the dark side of humanity's love affair with technology, they redefined the boundaries between science fiction, horror and action, and set astonishing new standards for special effects.
The vault brings to light the stories behind the landmark films drawing on interviews with James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other cast members. There are storyboards, rare photos of the miniatures, diagrams

George Lucas spent almost 10 years bringing his dream project to life: a ground-breaking space fantasy movie - a swashbuckling sci-fi saga inspired by vintage Flash Gordon serials, classic American westerns, and mythological heroes. Its original title: The Star Wars. The rest is history. Yet its production is a story as entertaining and exciting as the film itself. Now, recounted in the words of those who were there, it is finally being told, for the first time. During the years 1975 to 1978, over 50 interviews were conducted with key members of the cast and crew. Remarkably these interviews have sat, undisturbed, in the Lucasfilm Archives for three decades. Until now. The interviews are fresh, candid and - above all - more accurate than many other reported accounts.

Now linking Star War with the last book is Harrison Ford - he stars in both. Based on the best-selling novel, "Ender's Game" Jed Alger's Ender's Game : inside the world of an epic adventure tells the thrilling story of the fight to save the world from a devastating future. I remember reading "Enders Game" (which became the first of the Ender Wiggins series) years ago. In this official companion volume, the behind-the-scenes world of the film are brought into stunning focus. Packed with in-depth interviews, removable posters and army badges, stunning concept art, unparalleled access to the visual effects archives at Digital Domain, and countless full-colour images, this insightful insider's view of the making of "Ender's Game" will bring fans closer into the world of the movie, following cast and crew as it is brought to dazzling life.  
Like the films they portray these coffee-table books are bigger than life, bright and flashly, full of impossibilities, and a wonderful introduction to the films themselves.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Stick Shed on 101 heritage list

Major news, as local icon - the Murtoa Stick Shed - is being placed on the National Heritage List next to natural places such as the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and the Great Barrier Reef; other built heritage places - the Sydney Opera House, Port Arthur Historic Site, and Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building, and alongside our other local listing – the Grampians.

Australia's national heritage comprises exceptional natural and cultural places that contribute to Australia's national identity and encompasses those places that reveal the richness of Australia's extraordinarily diverse natural heritage.
The heritage listings defines critical moments in our development as a nation and reflects the achievements of Australians.
This is Australia’s highest heritage honour, The Stick Shed, becomes just the 101st place of Australian cultural significance to be National Heritage listed, giving recognition to its significant role in the history of Australia's wheat industry and the impact of the Second World War on the home-front.

The Stick Shed (The Marmalake No. 1 Grain Store) was born out of desperation and inspiration. Initially a temporary emergency building, it was erected during 1941 when the war prevented exporting the wheat harvest overseas. The Australian Wheat Board was left with a valuable resource but insufficient, adequate storage for it.
Work started in September 1941 on a building designed to hold over 3 million bushels (92,500 tonnes) of wheat. The design was based on the same angle a pile of wheat forms naturally. Nearly 600 unmilled hardwood poles were used to hold up the roof.
The Stick Shed under construction (PROV)
The wartime restrictions meant that only raw, local and recycled materials were available, labour and machinery were scarce. Builders had to rely on ingenuity to overcome problems and shortages, they adopted common bush techniques to brace the poles.
What the builders erected was an adequate storage facility which has outlived its intended lifespan, but they also unintentionally created a serene cathedral-like interior amongst its forest of poles. 

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said National Heritage listing meant the grain store was recognised as a significant part of Australia’s history and ensured it would be protected and celebrated for future generations.
The Stick Shed is open this weekend on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm, as part of Muroa's Big Weekend - don't miss Australia's 101st National Heritage Site.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The decline of Detroit grandeur

Grandeur Lost: The Modern Ruins of Abandoned Detroit is another abandonment post from WebUrbanist
The now famous pic of William Livingstone house
Detroit is arguably one of the most fascinating modern cities in the world. This is thanks to the city’s unique balance between its former identity as a manufacturing mecca and its current state of sectional abandonment and renewal. It is neither deserted nor wholly occupied, but exists in tension between destruction, creation and everyday living. 
French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre saw the abandoned parts of this compelling urban landscape and documented it in their book The Ruins of Detroit.
United Artists Theatre - talk about decayed grandeur!
Despite the empty neighbourhoods, abandoned buildings and crumbling structures. The city balances its former glory, its current semi-abandoned status, with pockets of fresh new life and creative directions springing up from the ashes.
East Side Public Library
The city, so rich with history both industrial and individual, was once the fourth largest in the United States. It housed some of the country’s brightest engineers and most promising entrepreneurs. The city grew and its residents continued to expand their living areas into planned suburbs.
Atrium of the Farwell building
But the automobile industry which played such a large part of the city’s early days also proved part in its undoing. White middle-class residents used those cars to move out of the inner city and into their new suburbs. Segregation increased steadily until the violent race riot in 1967.

Following the riot, the city continued its rapid decline. The industry that built Detroit moved on to other locations. Inner-city residents fled their homes by the thousands. Every race and every economic class was affected by this exodus; the city simply bled away until it held less than half its former population.
Lee Plaza Hotel
Unlike almost any other place in the world, Detroit’s abandoned buildings and ruined structures are not isolated in one part of the city. Grand, well-kept buildings can exist just meters away from crumbling ruins. Inhabited and abandoned homes exist side by side in neighbourhoods.
The grandeur of the multi-storey Michigan Central Railway Station
What is so compelling about the images in The Ruins of Detroit is the seeming urgency of the city’s abandonment. In civic buildings, papers and boxes still occupy offices. In abandoned libraries, books continue to line the walls. Schools still hold desks and police stations are stuffed with forgotten and mouldering mug shots. Chairs are tipped over as though the former occupants of these buildings suddenly evacuated due to an emergency. No hope of salvaging the situation.
St Christopher House Public Library
Given the slow but steady decline of the city’s population, this urgency is baffling. Surely there was more than enough time to clean the buildings out, remove anything that could be reused or salvaged and clean the buildings up. But it seems that no one cared to take the time to do so.

This state of partial ruination is ephemeral – eventually it must give way to complete ruin or rebuilding. As witnessed in my Decaying Detroit post, the photographers’ goal was to capture Detroit’s current state of abandonment before fate tips one way or the other.
The East Methodist Church
Yet more photographs at the Weburbanist site.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Schools running wild

I was out and about on the weekend searching for school sites and, late in the afternoon, arrived at Rainbow East or the Hazeldene school site.
Back when the school was open 1908-1960 it was a wide open expanse with little to revive the outlook, and it is still much the same today - a concrete plinth in the corner of a crop paddock. What surprised me was the swathe of grape hyacinths in the gutter of the road verges. The hardy little bulbs still emerging after more than 50 years of abandonment.
Grape hyacinths and a few capeweed daisies
But it does make you think about the efforts of the past pupils and teachers who planted and cared them, often in difficult circumstances.
I've come across a number of bulbs that emerge each year, typically jonquils, belladonna lilies or nerines at abandoned schools and homes, and also more rarely the beautiful yellow Autumn crocus found at both Ellam (1927-1970s) and Sandsmere (1887-1951) school sites.
A clump of Autumn crocus at Ellam

As well as a number of perennial plants: these two were found at the older Tooan site (1882-1969) overlooking St Mary's Lake. 

The site is surrounded by sugar gums, a few pines, and a herbacous plant crowding the window, and clumps of jonquils and daffodils each spring. 

The newer Highway site has a mammoth flowering cacti.

 Usually you can guess at the location of a school by larger plants: sugar gums, pepper trees, and strangely - cactus/cacti.
Boyeo School has all three
The Watchupga (variously named Watchupga North East, Watchupga Railway Station, and then Watchupga) site is almost triffid-like, under attack from invading spiky cactus. The school has only been closed since 1972.

At the Miram North East school (which featured in “Mad as rabbits”, no relationship that I can see) it is a succulent that has been running amuck since 1933, constrained it would be a great pot-plant.
Miram North East school site
The Lake Hindmarsh marker surrounded by an overgrown garden
Then there are places like Wal Wal which are still a veritable park with a specimen palm, deciduous trees, roses (desperately in need of a trim) and small plants. The school closed in 1973.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Atomspheric gothic narrative

Alison Croggon's 'Dark Spring' is a gothic retelling of 'Wuthering Heights' but with the addition of the lore as divined by vindictive wizards and ruled by generations-long vendetta.
Lina (Catherine) is the enchanting but willful daughter of a village lord. She and her childhood companion, Damek (Heathcliff), have grown up privileged and spoiled, and they're devoted to each other to the point of obsession.
But Lina's violet eyes betray her for a witch, and witches are not tolerated in this brutally patriarchal society. Her rank protects her from persecution, but it cannot protect her from tragedy and heartbreak. And ultimately to the devastation that ensues as destructive longing unleashes Lina's wrath, and with it her forbidden power.
There are differences to the Bronte classic, Lina doesn't have a brother, but the consequences in this version are similar. I also found the narrator (Emily Bronte's Lockwood) here named Hammel, is just as reminiscent of Harker in Bram Stoker's 'Dracula', and the description of his journey  and arrival at the Northern Plateau beneath the Black Mountains parallels Harker's appearance, especially as he passes the stone towers and all the grave markers - a desolate landscape of cemeteries.
It is Alison's vivid depiction of the landscape which places you in the same Bronte-esk atmosphere, the Plateau could as easily be the moors, the bleak weather, the houses a dark brooding bastion, and its remoteness from civilisation.
Whether drawn by the romantic, the magical, or the gothic, readers will be irresistibly compelled by the passion of this tragic tale - even if you know the ending, you don't know the story.