You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. That’s one of our mottos at Shadow Photography. I’m speaking metaphorically of course. I only ever use my real claws on wooden fences, sisal rope scratch posts and frequently the back of the sofa (don’t tell John!). I believe that if we help others also making a living by selling their services, they’ll help us in return. Just like karma! For this reason John and I occasionally get together with other businesses such as Oops-a-daisy the florist who makes exquisite flower arrangements from the simplest bouquet of roses and leaves to a cascade of brightly coloured lilies and tulips. These radiant blooms are a tribute to the breath-taking beauty of nature and they release delicate floral scents that make any room smell delightfully fragrant (although they waft up my nose and make me sneeze).
There are many tasks to be carried out at Shadow Photography from dealing with customer enquiries and providing quotes, to organising meetings and travelling to venues, imaginative decision making and hours of editing to put the finishing touches to many hundreds of images taken at one event. I rely heavily on John to help me circumnavigate the plethora of rules and regulations involved in being Chief Executive Cat for a fine photographical establishment. John deals with the paperwork because it requires a lot of form-filling, sums and the efficient holding of a pen, none of which are my strong points. I prefer to work on the creative elements of the job so I can become the feline artiste I aspire to be. One of my key creative responsibilities is to visit the venue chosen by soon-to-be newlyweds when we are hired as official photographers for a wedding. John and I go ahead of time to check out the location and choose the finest spots with the best lighting and the most fitting backdrops so that we can take unforgettable pictures for the happy couple.
The photos here were taken at Wotton House, a picturesque country getaway in Surrey that comprises 13 acres of unbelievably well-maintained gardens and immaculately decorated rooms. I’m not normally one for pomp and ceremony but I have to admit that this place was impeccably designed to accentuate style and grace without being too ostentatious. A reflection of the true me I feel (without the rounded waistline and strangely attractive ability to sashay into any room). And I found a soft velvet cushion on a chair draped in brushed white cotton and tucked under a table, the perfect position for a nap which I will no doubt need on the wedding day itself. Being a photographer is such hard work!
Spring-watch, Harry Potter, Wonders of the Universe and Planet Earth are some of my favourite shows to watch on television. So when John called me in from the kitchen last Sunday night as Planet Earth II was about to start, my little paws hurried across the lounge and I hopped on to my favourite end of the sofa, sniffing it furiously before turning around 3 times and adopting my front facing semi-alert crouch down posture. John said it was snow leopard night and I was looking forward to watching these magical and highly elusive creatures in their natural environments. Patterned with little black rosettes, the fur on their gorgeous smoky-grey coats is up to 5 inches thick, especially on their tails which they use to help them balance on the narrow ledges and rocky outcrops where they live. They also place their long lush tails across their mouth and nose like a muffler to shield them from the harsh winds and snow of the Himalayas. I’m not jealous!
I am always astounded at how animals manage to survive in the wild and snow leopards are no exception. The cameras followed a female and her 2 year old daughter as they used every ounce of their stealth and stamina to find shelter against the harsh climate, avoid danger and hunt for food. They feed on a variety of herbivores in their mountain range habitats and one goat can keep them going for 2 to 3 weeks. Like many wild animals, they are on the brink of extinction with an estimated 6000 left roaming their territories thanks largely to human persecution, prey loss and habitat destruction. Anyway this brave female had a fur-raising encounter with a larger male that involved a lot of growling and snarling and swiping of paws, the male making his intentions clear and the female putting him in his place while keeping her daughter safe from harm. I was on the edge of my seat during this aggressive meeting and quite frankly relieved when they all walked away unharmed. It was the total opposite to the adorable mating ritual of the Wilsons bird who desperately wanted to impress a female he spotted looking down at him from a branch. This little black bird of paradise suddenly flashed a bright green disc of feathers at the female in a courtship display that tickled my senses. I wiggled my rear-end in excitement as the bird skipped and danced in front of his girl, flaunting his emerald cape and putting his heart and soul into his performance. In case you’re wondering, he won the heart of his fair lady and did his duty to propagate the species. Ah the wonders of the universe.
Today is Remembrance Sunday and across the country people are gathering together to commemorate the ceasing of hostilities between two armies, the Allies and the Germans at the end of the First World War. The agreement took effect at 11o’clock on 11th November 1918 after 4 years of fighting and is now remembered as Armistice Day which marks a sign of respect for the many millions of people who died in this war and the loved ones they left behind. Wars have started for different reasons including religion, revenge and racism, and through the eyes of a cat looking at the devastating effects of armed conflict I can’t think of a single valid reason to start a war. But fighting over a difference of opinion or a claim for territory is not a unique feature of humanity. Many creatures in the animal kingdom do it as part of evolutionary survival including us cats, present company excepted of course. My neocortex is more developed than most felines leading me to prefer a battle of wits to a battle of arms!
Trafalgar Square Nov 2014
Despite the skilled methods humans use to wage war on each other, you also show extraordinary compassion towards those in need and great strength of character in difficult circumstances. You have creativity, loyalty and courage, all qualities I see when I look at the faces of those depicted in the Battle of Britain Monument that John and I took pictures of during our trip to the London Eye. This bronze and granite sculpture commemorates the military personnel who took part in the Battle of Britain during the Second World War and is situated along the Victorian Embankment of the River Thames. It reminds me of the costs of war, like the bright red poppy which serves as a symbol of sadness and hope that one day all humans will live in harmony. The Flanders poppies grew in the battle-scarred fields of Western Europe and flourished despite the landscape having been bombed again and again, providing inspiration for a poignant poem called ‘In Flanders Fields’.
John is a sports fan, just to clarify, I mean watching not playing. He used to participate in sports in his young athletic days and I’ve seen proof in the form of judo medals and a picture of him holding some kind of paddle (otherwise I would never have believed it!). Although he doesn’t play anymore (unless you count the leg lunges he has to do every morning because I run under his feet), he still supports competitive games through the lens of his camera. Technically speaking, portraying the mood and movement of sports in a still-shot is a big challenge. It requires the photographer to take pictures of moving subjects without making them look blurred and be in the right place at the right time to capture the emotion of the scene through let’s say the expression on someone’s face. I often go along with John to give him a few tips and critique his work, but mostly I go for the snacks. My John is an expert in seeking out and preparing the most sumptuous of snacks (yes I’m a lucky cat to have such a devoted friend). On the menu can be anything from steamy steak stew, whisker lickin’ chicken or luscious lamb crockpot.
When John asked me if I wanted to watch an ice hockey game with him, I had a frightening flashback to square-looking bodies adorned in plastic shields crashing into the huge Perspex barriers that surrounded the ice rink they were playing on. I distinctly remember a bewildered man with thick furrowed eyebrows staggering around the ice looking for his tooth. So I opted out of this particular trip and negotiated a small tub of tasty turkey terrine from John before he headed out the door and I headed to my favourite blanket for a nap. If napping was a sport, I’d be a gold medallist I’m sure. As for all you sports fans, keep up the good work. Here’s a few pictures of some brave fit humans working together to score points by hurtling a puck across the opponent’s goal line at anything up to 100 miles an hour with a long curved stick.
Well folks, Shad’s back, and there’ll be no more baby talk! Instead I’d like to tell you about the time I took a trip down the River with John. Initially I was apprehensive about the idea given that boats don’t have brakes and I had visions of drifting down the Thames out of control, crashing into the lions that line the embankment (I’ll tell you about those in a minute) and coming a cropper across the Thames Barrier. A daring helicopter rescue would ensue and the newspapers would be hot on our trail, no doubt ending with embarrassing pictures of me in a life jacket clinging to the captain’s trouser leg. John assured me that this scenario was very unlikely as the crew were experienced at parking boats by using reverse thrust from the engines and drag from the water before securing the boat with ropes to the pier.
So let me tell you about the lions along the embankment. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were actual lions from Africa patrolling the banks of the River Thames, stopping bad guys from committing crimes and roaring whenever a boat passed by, may be wearing capes to indicate their super hero status! Sadly they are not that kind of lion, although I don’t suppose real lions from Africa would be that keen on hanging around the streets of London! No these lions hold mooring rings in their mouths and keep watch along the river as a flood warning system from a time before the Thames Barrier was built. It was said that if the water hit the lions’ mouths, the underground should be evacuated. The captain of the boat told us a few fun rhymes that local people say including, “If the lions will drink, London will sink”. “When it’s up to their manes, we’ll go down the drains”. “If the lions are ducked, London is … out of luck”.
If you’re wondering about the pirate ship in the photographs, it’s the Cutty Sark – a 19th century sailing vessel called a ‘clipper’ ship with wooden hull planks and an iron framework used to carry tea from China and wool from Australia before steam powered boats became the new master of the seas. There are many bridges over the River Thames and the unique construction of each one of them tells a story. We passed under Blackfriars Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge, Charing Cross Railway Bridge and Waterloo Bridge which was constructed by women while the nation’s men were sent to fight in the Second World War. Go girls! Another monument of interest on our river boat cruise is Cleopatra’s Needle, a 3,500 year old obelisk made in Egypt and shipped to Britain in 1878 to commemorate the victory over Napoleon, at the peril of many of the sailors who navigated the treacherous seas in a cigar-shaped container ship to convey this treasure to England’s shores. The things some people will do to show off!
So John gets to write a blog this time … but why has Shad chosen to let the staff write for him…
Together we have photographed horses in the snow, stood on the side of a Super-pipe while snowboarders do tricks feet from our cameras.; huddled together to stay out of the wind and rain on our local beaches photographing the local Kite Surfers… We have faced many challenges together. Yet Shad chooses not to photograph Maternity shoots. Could it be that he can creep through grass to shoot an apex predator through a nikon 300mm prime lens but he’s afraid of a little baby! Don’t get me wrong Shadow doesn’t have a problem with kids in fact his adopted sister is my Grand Daughter…. but they get on much better now she is growing up. Shad just doesn’t do babies, he’s says it’s too … and I quote “icky”! I suppose you could say it’s one of his foibles. Because of course he doesn’t have many! Mmmmm…
The young lady in question is a model we first met back in 2013 Bridal Shoot. So Mary Rose, Natasha and myself took the opportunity to enjoy to the autumn sunshibe at a local landmark Portchester Castle and take a few maternity shots for Fiona’s photo album. The medieval Portchester Castle was built as part of a roman fort overlooking the north end of Portsmouth Harbour some time in the 11th century. The weather -worn stone walls provided a rustic backdrop for the shoot and I got creative with a few silhouette shots as the sun began to set. Alright I admit it, we missed our Shad!
The London Eye on the south bank of the River Thames stands at 443 feet (135m) with a diameter of 334 feet (120m) so it’s quite big. And if you’re 25cm tall like me, it looks even bigger. But that didn’t stop me from taking a leap of faith with John last weekend when we drove to the big smoke to take a ride on London’s observation wheel, the Millenium Falcon, oh I mean Millenium Wheel. Wouldn’t it be great if it was the Millenium Falcon with Han Solo and Chewbacca at the helm! Worrying I didn’t see anyone at the helm of the Millenium Wheel and I had read previously that there was an incident when they stopped the wheel for safety checks after a faulty part was discovered and people were suspended in one of the pods 450 feet above the ground for an hour. I suppose one incident with no injury in 16 years isn’t bad and apparently there are supplies of water, blankets and even commodes in each capsule to cater for basic needs. Although if John and I got stuck up there it would take more than a hot drink and a refund to soothe my nerves!
The actual experience was pleasant and the clear blue skies provided an unobstructed view. John pointed out lots of interesting landmarks to me including the Can of Ham and the Gherkin, the Salt Cellar, the Cheese-grater and the Walkie-Talkie. No this isn’t a list of the snacks John keeps in his rucksack! They are nicknames for a collection of unusually shaped structures that have been constructed in the city, namely St Marys Axe office buildings, a glass clad skyscraper of triangular design called the Shard, the Leadenhall Building (office, retail and dining space) and a handset shaped tower that contains office space and an indoor garden close to St Pauls Cathedral. The pillars and arches of Westminster Abbey are now surrounded by the slopes and curves of modern architecture that, in London anyway, often have peculiar shapes reminiscent of everyday objects. I would like to see a cat shaped shopping mall with a rescue centre attached!