laurence

People, Uncategorised

Tidal Surges: Why would people ignore an evacuation call?

Ch Insp Russ Cole with volunteers

Ch Insp Russ Cole with volunteers

Last Thursday I drove out into the snow for the village of Jaywick after the police announced they were planning to evacuate the 2,500 or so residents ahead of a tidal surge.

I was disarmed by the honesty of the police officer in charge of the evacuation that night. Without prompting, he voiced his fears that the evacuation call might be ignored.

As I wrote for the BBC, the officer was keen to get the message across that the police were “not crying wolf”.

It almost beggared belief that potential fatal floodwaters were expected but the people in the line of fire planned to remain in their homes and “sit it out”.

Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

I wondered whether there was something about this situation that reflected the times in which we live – one in which the opinions of “experts” are lambasted daily, forecasting ridiculed and truth decided democratically rather than empirically.

Volunteers at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Volunteers at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Perhaps there was an element of that. One man explained nothing bad happened during the last tidal surge in 2013, so nothing would happen this time around.

But what made most people decide to stay put was the existence of a greater fear – that of burglary/looting. In their own minds, many people had decided the risk to property was greater than risk to life and chose to ignore the advice of the experts.

And the surge passed without incident, thankfully, yet again.

But what about next time?

Supplies at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Supplies at Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Volunteers at the Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Volunteers at the Evacuation Centre, Jaywick

Large Format, Places

Linhof Super Technika: Resuming duties

I have missed the excitement of returning home and finding, amongst the bills and the junkmail, that ever so particular thin brown hard-backed envelope lying there on the floor.

Peak Imaging, based in Sheffield, have thankfully not altered their packaging for since my last order with them a few years back. In this age of relentless re-branding and technological advance, it is strangely reassuring.

Contained within are my latest rolls of 120 medium format film, each one expertly slices and diced into two or three frames before being forensically inserted into protective plastic sleeves. One of these films has been laying in hibernation in the fridge for the best part of three years (I only like to send a batch to Peak Imaging).

Forest scene

Forest scene

I’d largely forgotten what was on some of these films. So getting them back was doubly exciting.

Out comes the old Epson 4990 beast of a flat-bed film scanner and off we go.

I’d forgotten what the best settings were, and making an 11in by 14in scan at 1200 dpi.

Without much effort, this creates a 16,000px x 12000px-ish image, which amounts to a 200mb image. So much for digital medium format. Actually, I don’t really mean that – the quality of today’s MF sensors and lenses are extraordinary and I hanker wildly after the new Fuji GFX 50. But in the meantime, the sublime quality offered by my 50-year-old Linhof will keep me more than happy…

Suggestive Stones

Suggestive Stones

West Mersea Beach to Bradwell

West Mersea Beach to Bradwell

Articles, People

The Midwife Specialising in Baby Deaths

Just sometimes you get a press release which stops you in your tracks.

A few weeks ago I had one from Colchester Hospital about the appointment of a midwife to a newly created role – a ‘bereavement midwife’.

The incumbent of this new role – Sue Armstrong – specialises in supporting parents after their baby is either stillborn or dies shortly after birth.

When I mentioned this to colleagues, the overwhelming response was that it must be the saddest job around.

Sue doesn’t see it that way. For her, supporting parents coping with the death of the baby is nothing short of a privilege. Telling a little of her world was, personally, something of a privilege too.

Other than that, the past few weeks have ranged from looking at pupil exclusions, learning how to wear a scarf and the efficacy of the British justice system.

Places, Projects, Uncategorised

Inside Reggie Kray’s old prison cell at Blundeston

There are some places you never imagine you’ll end up.

Take, for example, the prison cell which was once home to one of east London’s most notorious gangsters.

Reggie Kray, to be precise.

He was once at the now defunct HMP Blundeston near Lowestoft. I’m told by a former guard he never requested his personal belongings to be brought in as he thought his time there would be brief. He was wrong.

His first Blundeston home was Cell 116.

I got an incredible tour of the whole prison thanks to the Freemasons of Stradbroke Lodge and a terrific security guard called Paul Dunn.

Yes, Cell 116 was intriguing. But it was solitary confinement and the unexpected artwork which blew my mind there.

The piece I did for the BBC news website is here.

Here are the images from the shoot.

Articles, Long Exposures, Places

Wildfires of Madeira

My family and I were last week among the hundreds evacuated as wildfires tore through the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira, leaving three people dead and many more injured and/or homeless.

I have been at the scene of too many domestic fires in my role as a journalist – often at very close quarters (with permission of firefighters).

But wildfires are different – you can feel the intense heat from many meters away, they spread faster as a result of the enormous swarms of burning embers they spew out and can charge in different directions at once. And then change direction, seemingly on a pin head.

They are terrifying.

These are my before and after photographs of last week’s fires.

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

wildfires

wildfires

Madeira, 2016

Madeira, 2016

Madeira, 2016

Madeira, 2016

Damage in Madeira

Damage in Madeira

People

Faces of the Airwave Voices

I am a lodger in a radio station.

Yes, I occasionally attempt to translate my projects for telly and/or online into something worth listening to, but most of the time I sit in the middle of a frenetic, creative office watching those around me endeavour to conjure audio gold.

I’ve come to a conclusion: Radio presenters are a funny bunch. I’ve yet to meet a presenter who is an out and out egomaniac. And those you may on first sight suspect are a little full of themselves tend to hide a secret vulnerability and tenderness about them.

What I did not expect, when I was commissioned to do environmental portraits of the entire presenting cast at BBC Essex, was just how many presenters – these people who boldly go one-on-one with the world over the wireless – were intensely camera shy. It has been a joy to team their interests, senses of self and programme, with locations or moods of shoot.

Dave

Dave

Rob Jelly

Rob Jelly

Sadie Nine

Sadie Nine

You might think camera shy = bad news for a photographer. Not at all. I love people who wear their souls on their faces (even if the subjects do not).

Actually, its that last point (the bit in brackets), that I find most interesting. Why do so many of us want to look like George Clooney, have whiter teeth or a slimmer figure? Why is a photograph that shows flaws and imperfections so worrying?

Cath Melandri

Cath Melandri

Tony Fisher

Tony Fisher

Mark

Mark

Personally, and especially in these days of apps that bring re-touching into the hands of all smartphone users, I believe portraits of people as they are have never been more important. And if you can be at the top of your game (and in the public, erm, ear?) and proud of your imperfections then even better.

Peter

Peter

Ollie Winniberg

Ollie Winniberg

Places

Walking the Canal after the Calder Valley Floods

Last December, a string of villages just a stone’s throw from my home town of Halifax were flooded. Villages whose impossible-sounding names you may never have heard of – Luddenden Foot and Mytholmroyd among them – were battered by flood waters of up to 6ft.

Steps at Sowerby Bridge

Steps at Sowerby Bridge

Four months on, and while you know strife remains behind many of the doors, outwardly things seem pretty much back to normal.

Calder Valley is beautiful. All the more so because it is a working, often unkempt, beauty where renewal lags into decay.

oil drum planters

I hope I’ve captured some of that beauty in these images taken on the canal route from Sowerby Bridge to Mytholmroyd.

White bags caught in the trees

Colourful roof panels on an industrial unit

graffiti

decaying timbers

Large digger and small digger

Old flooring from an exposed former works site

Traffic cones on the bank

Riverside Camping shop

Diggers at work on a house near Luddenden Foot

rubble

People

Treasure finds in England

“Walking with a purpose.”

What a great phrase! It came from a metal detectorist called Stuart Eldon while I was producing an Inside Out film about treasures in the east of England with presenter Ben Robinson.

Stuart Eldon, metal detectorist

Stuart Eldon, metal detectorist

The piece was great fun to make. Photo-wise, my favourite was the one of Andy Long, the national intelligence lead on Operation Chronos (pictures top).

Finds Liaison Office for Essex Ben Paites

Finds Liaison Office for Essex Ben Paites

Uncategorised

Unidentified bodies, Cockley Cley and the people trying to give the unnamed dead a name

I couldn’t believe there were more than 1,000 people in the UK who were dead, unnamed and with nobody to mourn them.

In this age of social media where we know what a celebrity has for breakfast, where all our movements in public are apparently covered by CCTV, how is it possible that something as significant as the death of somebody could pass so anonymously?

At first I was concerned my suggestion of investigating how this might be so might fall on deaf ears, dismissed as overly macabre. It didn’t. My colleagues and superiors at the BBC embraced the idea. More importantly, the Great British public found the situation as appalling as I did.

Anatomist Dr Chris Rynn of the University of Dundee

Anatomist Dr Chris Rynn of the University of Dundee

My online work on this was viewed by more than 1million people, while my radio efforts were listened to on radio stations across the country and on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and our Inside Out film, much of which I had the opportunity to film and direct myself, reached a far higher audience than usual. And there was a short film called “How do you reconstruct a Human Head?” which was well received, despite (or perhaps because of?) its unusual title.

And the story was taken up by others in the days that followed, including the regional and national press and other broadcasters including ITV and SKY. Such things don’t matter to me in terms of ego, they do matter to me in terms of a subject’s importance reaching as wide an audience as possible.

One of the cases we looked at was that of an unidentified woman, whose decapitated body was found bound and covered in a dustsheet off a rural path in Cockley Cley, Norfolk 41 years ago.

Cockley Cley is a beautiful, though other-worldly, place. I wanted to spend some time in the area off the beaten track before meeting the detective trying to solve the case. These are some of the pictures I took that day.

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

CockleyCley

Articles

Fertility and aphrodisiacs in the 17th Century

I’m a bit old fashioned. I grew up on letters rather than email and I can still remember the excitement of opening my first ever, proper, letter. It was from my grandfather and he was responding to the first letter I had ever written.

I feel a little sorry for kids today. I doubt their first ever email will be quite so memorable. And it’ll probably not be from somebody they love and admire. It’ll probably be from Google.

I digress. My problem is I still treat emails a bit too much like letters. I still read every single one I receive at work, however dull they might appear. This has downsides. Time wasted on spam, lengthy ploughing through an inbox after a holiday.

But.

There was this email from Wellingborough Borough Council some time ago. It was a decent little local ultra story about repairs to some town centre mosaics.

About two thirds of the way down (yes, I really do read them) it emerged one of the mosaics (dated to the 1980s, so not very old) depicted the town’s ancient Red Well. Its what? Well, turns out this well had mysterious properties which aided fertility. And they were famous enough to attract the attentions of Henrietta Maria, wife of the ill-fated King Charles I.

And I was hooked. As an occasional escape from more serious investigative pieces about education and homeless London families being put out to pasture in Luton, my time was spent exploring this peculiar world of fertility tourism.

The result was a piece called Fertility Towns: Is there ever something in the water?

It seems to have been fairly well received, with more than 500,000 people reading it on the first day of publication.

And I got to reveal that “powdered womb of a rabbit” was once an aphrodisiac.

Sometimes, being a little old fashioned has its benefits…