Monday, November 21, 2011

Cops with gun cameras

Police marksmen could be fitted with miniature cameras on their guns to record contentious incidents. The Telegraph tells us, it's a bid to restore public confidence after recent shoot-outs including the killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, North London.

Scotland Yard say the policy is 'under development.' The paper goes on, 'similar technology has been used for years by combat troops and Special Forces, but this would be the first time that matchbox-sized cameras have been attached to guns.' Guns and cameras have existed side by side since 1882 when the Scovill Manufacturing Company released the Kilburn Gun Camera for $27. The stock was an extra $5. It was a 4x5 wooden plate camera mounted on a shotgun stock.

Later in 1882 came the Revolver de Poche or pocket revolver, which is, in fact, a camera.

In the '30's, in the lawless American towns, Police used Colt .38 revolvers with black & white roll film cameras attached to ID the bad guys if they got away. Pure pistol cameras have been around in many guises over the years, too.

In 1954 Mamiya released a pistol camera as did the Doryukamera company, using 16mm film and Nikkor lenses.

The Military have used camera guns since the 1914-1918 war. The Hythe Gun Camera MK111 was built like a Lewis gun and used to train pilots in gunnery in open cockpit fighters. In WW11 the Bell & Howell company developed a 16mm gun camera with a 35mm lens. The camera fired when the aircraft guns fired. All that brilliant footage of dogfights in that world war comes from them.

Not a new concept - but this time technology will make them vastly superior to the past.

Revolver de Poche
Colt .38 police revolver with camera
1954 Mamiya pistol camera

1954 Doryukamera Company
The Hythe Gun Camera Mk111 fitted in the cockpit of a WW1 fighter

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Feed the bears at your peril

In the Bering Strait off Alaska the USA and the Russian Federation rub cold shoulders only a 100 miles apart. The town of Nome is well known on the Alaskan side. Lesser known is Anadyr, the capital on the Russian side, a freezing town with 11,000 population. Life in this very eastern part of Russia is severe with temperatures that drop to minus 40C in wintertime. Curiously -40 celsius is also -40 fahrenheit.

One way the polar bear population survives is by begging, a dangerous occupation for bear and man alike, but the locals and the bears seem to get along. Or so these pictures that appear on the English speaking Russia site seem to show. You can see more on the site.

It has an eclectic collection of quirky Russian pictures and any reader with a fascination for old Soviet Russia photographs (like me) with too much time on their hands can while some away browsing its snapshot collection.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A brilliant portrait of Muhammad Ali

My good friend photographer Michael Brennan has a superb exhibition of his work with the legendary Muhammad Ali opening in November at the Artworks Gallery in Pasadena Los Angeles. It will be Ali's 70th birthday.

The centrepiece is a stunning close-up of Ali, taken in 1977 and is described by the gallery as 'capturing the fighter's vitality and determination.' I think it does more than that. The fighter himself describes it best. When he first saw the picture, Ali said of it, "I can feel the texture of all the sweat and hard work. I can feel my life."

Michael describes taking it: "He (Ali) had been sparring and a television guy had been in the ring with him shooting film but for a few seconds he came into the corner of the ring where I was and I saw the expression on his face. I could see everything that lay behind it. In a hundredth of a second I shot the picture I had always dreamed of. Ali used to joke that he gave me access I could never expect from Barbra Streisand or Frank Sinatra." It was typical of the man that Ali wanted to be helpful to a young photographer making his way.

I met Ali at a press conference at the Piccadilly Hotel at the height of his fame and can only describe meeting him as a shock and awe moment. He exuded an aura I've never experienced in any other sportsman or celebrity. He riveted a crowded room and you knew you were with someone very special.

A limited edition of the portrait, signed by Ali and Michael Brennan, will be available for sale and a portion of the exhibition proceeds will go to The Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and Movement Disorder Clinic.

This winter the portrait will be inducted into the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian as part of the permanent collection.

In addition, there will be on display a very rare collection of Brennan's photographs from a series entitled "Ali and his Educators" taken in 1980. Michael travelled extensively to locate and photograph those elite few men who had actually faced Ali in the ring. Most have fallen into obscurity since their moment with the most famous boxer of all time. Their careers varied from a chief of police to a building contractor, a convict to a CEO.

Brennan has photographed some of the most iconic personalities of our time including The Queen, Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana, Pele, George Best, Mick Jagger, Jack Nicholson, Mother Teresa and John Lennon to name just a few. In 1970 he was awarded British photography's highest accolade, "Photographer of the Year," presented to him by Princess Anne.

For those in Pasadena the exhibit opens at Design Within Reach on 8070 Beverly Blvd from 10th Nov to the 17th when it moves to the Artworks Gallery.

Friday, October 14, 2011

More Brilliant Wildlife Photography

2011 Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year - Winner
 Daniel Beltrá (Spain)
Still life in oil
Crude oil trickles off the feathers of the rescued brown pelicans, turning the white lining sheets into a sticky, stinking mess. The pelicans are going through the first stage of cleaning at a temporary bird-rescue facility in Fort Jackson, Louisiana. They've already been sprayed with a light oil to break up the heavy crude trapped in their feathers, which has turned their normally pale heads orange and their brown and grey feathers mahogany.

Racket-tail in the rain by Petr Simon. Addicted to photographing hummingbirds Petr spent two weeks in Ecuador getting the shots recorded

The charge by Eric Pierre. A herd of Muskoxen, spooked by wolves, charge the photographer in the snow in Canada.

Extreme foraging by Ron McCombe. A female Red Grouse scavenges for seeds in -10 degrees on the Scottish Borders.

Balancing act by Joel Sartore. A mountain goat carries out a death-defying manoeuvre for a mineral lick in Glacier National Park, Montana.

The brilliant Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards 2011, run by the Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine, opens on the 21st October when the winners are announced. I enjoy this annual treat of the best in wildlife pictures from environmental photographers world wide. They are always truly stunning works by dedicated cameramen and women. Here are just a few of the highly commended section.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Brit Wildlife Photo Awards

Champagne Starlings by David Biggs

Mystical Deer by Mark Smith

Standing Room Only by Philip Kirk
Tabby Cat with Blackbird Nestling by Doug Mackenzie

One of the compensations for me of slipping into Autumn are the photographic awards. Around the globe guys and gals in tuxedos and party gear are quaffing Bolly celebrating great photography.
First up is British Wildlife Photography. Thousands enter and a few are chosen to be published in a beautiful coffee table art book for posterity. The winners get shown in a free exhibition at Alexandra Palace in England before embarking on a nationwide tour sponsored by a whole raft of worthies.
These are just a few of this year's pictures.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Tale of Two Red Cars

Bugatti Vayron

This is the tale of two motor events that took place last month. Now, I'm a sucker for a fast sports car. Especially if it's red. I go all googly at the sight of one. Immature, I know. Call it childish, I just can't help myself.

The first motor event was the release of the world's fastest convertible, a Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Red Edition. It was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show. This super car, powered by a W16 engine delivering 987hp, is capable of a top speed of 253 mph. 0 to 62 comes up in 2.7 seconds and it's packed with the latest in motoring technology.

The second unveiling was at Pebble Beach in the USA. A 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa was sold at auction. Although this car raced at Le Mans (without winning) it's a snail compared to the Veyron's performance figures.

The Veyron was $2.4 million. A world record and it's new.
The Ferrari was $16.4 million, also a world record and 54 years old with plenty of miles on the clock.

This Bugatti is a rich boy's car because you need a healthy ticker to even get insured to drive it. This Ferrari is a rich old man's fantasy car. The one he promised himself if he ever made it big. Personally, being a poor old man, I must settle for the matchbox toy version of the Testa Rossa. No tech but all class.

The Wall Street Journal reports that although the income of the rich, who buy these vehicles, has remained flat since 2008 for obvious reasons, paradoxically the price of these classic cars continues to soar, showing that the prices of collectible cars may be de-coupling from the Western stock markets and its top income earners.

So who's buying them and forcing the prices up? Step forward the inscrutable nouveau riche from the Far East and China. The world really is changing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ride the skies with NASA

Click to enlarge

Following Ole C Salomonsen's great picture (below) of the Northern Lights, NASA have released this space age shot taken from the International Space Station in Earth orbit over Eastern Australia on September 11th. It captures the Southern Lights formed as charged particles streaming from the Sun, known as the solar wind, interact with Earth's magnetic field.

The resultant collisions with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere release energy in the form of photons, emitted at wavelengths the human eye sees as 'green.'  The sun's rays reflect off plants at the same wavelength, which is why plants, too, look green to us.

You can see the stunning NASA video here:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stunning display of the Northern Lights

 Click on the picture to enlarge

This spectacular picture of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, seen over a pond near Hillesoy, Norway was titled Earth and Space by Ole C Salomonsen, the Norwegian photographer who took it.

It has been named runner up (and my favourite) in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year, 2011 awards organised by the Royal Observatory Greenwich and Sky at Night magazine.

Wikipedia tells me:
'An aurora is a natural light display in the sky particularly in the high latitude regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere. The charged particles originate in the magnetosphere and solar wind and are directed by the Earth's magnetic field into the atmosphere.'
So now you know.

A free exhibition of the best pictures can be seen at the Observatory until February 2012 and they are quite stunning. You can see some here:

Saturday, September 10, 2011


I can't read about 9/11. Even now it's 10 years on. It's all over the news. Old revisited footage, planes penetrating the top floors and airport CCTV of the plotters at large mixed in with smiling, happy snapshots of the dead.

The thought still shears my gut.

I know why the media show it. Hell, I was one of them. I've done this stuff on other past disasters. Plenty of them. The forward planner churns it out and off you go to regurgitate it, clippings in hand.

But not this one.

I don't know if I ever will be able to face up to it. I wasn't involved, not even in the Country where it occurred. It's the sheer obscenity of it that chokes me up. Like wanting to visit a slaughterhouse. Why? This tragic group of people have passed on, never to be forgotten but surely not to be revisited for the sake of TV ratings?

The pious producers will say 'because they should not be forgotten.'

I get that, I really do. Just like the Holocaust should not be. I just don't believe that's the true motive.

As I said, not for me. The negativity chills my blood. My deepest respect to those touched by this evil day - but it's not a fairground ride and I'm not ready for it.

Perhaps the generation unborn in 2001 will view it dispassionately without wrestling with the need for vengeance. It just makes me want to cry out with the pain of it.

Friday, September 9, 2011


How's this for a front cover! Author Caroline Smailes collaborated with Nik Perring to write 50 illustrated short stories about unique and quirky characters, misfits if you like. The talented Darren Craske created the art.

The dynamic and beautiful Caroline successfully authored 'In Search of Adam' followed by 'Black Boxes' and 'Like Bees to Honey.'

Nik produced an acclaimed debut short story collection titled, 'Not so Perfect.'

I can't wait to get inside it and see these fascinating freaks up close! At last something good to look forward to in April 2012 instead of your tax returns.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Harnessing Scotland's wind power

My good Scottish friend, David Cairns sent me this amazing picture he took of Stirling Castle surrounded by an army of wind turbines in the Braes O'Doune. The lower image shows it as it was. The castle has withstood many bloody sieges in its long history including that of Bonnie Prince Charlie. I hate to think what the modern Prince Charles thinks of it. Scotland has plenty of wind but also much water to generate hydro-electric power. Surely water power is a nicer, cleaner, more environmental source of energy than these three-armed monsters cluttering up the beautiful hillsides of the glens?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bob McGowan

Ex Daily Express reporter Bob McGowan passed away in a clinic in Benidorm last Thursday. Bob was old school Fleet Street. He covered six wars including the Falklands War where he travelled down the South Atlantic aboard Canberra with the British invasion force. He went ashore with 40 Commando and the Paras and reported back to Express readers the tragedies and triumphs that befell the UK forces in successfully retaking the Islands.

Bob's accounts were not written from an MOD briefing room about the masterplans of the Generals and Admirals for the Falklands recovery. He travelled alongside the ordinary soldiers, sailors and airmen, using the language they used, their profanities and their prayers, their comedies and fears recounted from amongst them daily as the conflict unfolded, suffering censorship and frustration. He produced a book of his experiences, collaborating with ITN's Jeremy Hands, called "Don't Cry For Me, Sergeant Major" that is still one of the best eye-witness accounts of frontline warfare ever written. It's on Amazon if you can get a remaining copy.

Those who knew Bob will not be surprised that he bore his short illness with fortitude and courage. Many condolences to Pauline, Emma & Douglas.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Navigating Between Science and Art

Portrait of a giant knight in his own kingdom - a cat flea
Great Owl Butterfly eggs

Martin Oeggerli, the internationally famous scientific photographer, has produced a stunning coffee table book of 104 pages of images from the near invisible world he studies. Martin founded Micronaut, a library of images using the electron microscope in the Swiss cancer research universities in which he works. You can see a preview of the book here:

The book has an introductory essay by Sibylle Sunda in which she says this.
Life on planet earth has been explored, catalogued and artistically fermented over and over again. Yet, there is a lot more waiting to be discovered - vast, imposing and utterly beautiful!
Martin's book is certainly proof of that.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

War photography The Guardian way

Adam Ferguson Afghanistan
There are some things The Guardian does supremely well. War photography is one of them, a lost art to most UK tabloids. The Guardian has put together this site of pictures with the title "The Shot That Nearly Killed Me" and it's brilliant. UK papers have lost those superb staff photographers with wartime experience who carried on Britain's great legacy of conflict coverage. From Terry Fincher in Vietnam and The Congo, Tom Stoddart in Sarajevo and Mike Moore in the Gulf War to the modern day cameramen in Afghanistan these men and women are driven people. There's no money in it and little glory. Occasionally there is tragedy, too. But they risk all to record man's inhumanity to man. It's as though they say 'somebody's got to do it and I will.'  Most are not careless with their lives but family men and women with loved ones. But they care about what is happening to the people caught up in the horrors we only hear about. I think they are great, every one of them.
Thanks to Karen Kay for pointing this feature out.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Head of MI5 and a traitor's grave

Sir Roger & Lady Valentine Hollis open the local flower show

Harry Chapman-Pincher has released Treachery:Betrayals, Blunders and Cover-ups: Six Decades of Espionage, published by Mainstream Books, a riveting expose of Britain's security service. Harry has been on their case since the sixties when I worked with him at the Express. In particular he has relentlessly pursued the truth about the boss of MI5 during the Cold War, Sir Roger Hollis, whom he believes was a double agent for the Soviets, despite government denials. And I agree with him.

This is the story of how I found a shepherd in a pretty Somerset village who unmasked Sir Roger as Britain's greatest ever traitor.

Ever since the Cambridge Spy Ring defected to the Soviet Union in the 50’s there has been speculation about the role of Sir Roger Hollis, head of MI5 from 1956 to ‘65. Kim Philby was dubbed, ‘the greatest spy of the century,’ when he fled to Moscow at the height of the Cold War. He had been tipped off of impending arrest as had been Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, both Foreign Office officials. And all turned up in Moscow years later.

Philby was said to know the identity of every British spy, and many American spies in the Soviet Union.  Britain was already reeling from the Christine Keeler scandal and her entanglement with War Minister, John Profumo and his ‘KGB spy’ friend, Stephen Ward. Why had the Intelligence Service not tipped off the Macmillan government? Britain was made to look foolish and questions were asked.

During the ‘50’s and ‘60’s a large number of MI5 operations were failing and the suspicion was that the KGB had a mole inside Britain’s Secret Service. Fingers were pointed at Sir Roger Hollis and his deputy, Graham Mitchell. Many authors have speculated on Hollis’s guilt, the latest being Harry Chapman Pincher’s book, released this month.

The Service set Hollis and Mitchell against each other to watch for cracks in their cover, but none came. Subsequent debriefs of Soviet defectors, coming the other way, showed that Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, John Cairncross and later, Anthony Blunt, were responsible for many of these operations failing. They had been tipping off their KGB spymasters for years from their comfortable jobs inside the Foreign Office, leading their controllers to call them ‘the magnificent five.’

Yet the disasters continued after the notorious Cambridge Spies had ‘gone over’ to the Soviets. There had to be another mole, high up in the Service but, in 1974, Lord Trend led an inquiry into Hollis and had found nothing.

In the ‘70’s, at the height of the speculation, I was asked to locate any existing pictures of Hollis. On the Mail I had done the picture research for Stewart Steven’s book on Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service and now he wanted Hollis. All the usual picture sources for Hollis had been ‘cleaned’ by the spooks. There was nothing of Britain’s spymaster-in-Chief. In London I located two photographs of Hollis that the ‘cleaners’ overlooked. A portrait and an old wedding photo of his first marriage at St Margaret’s Westminster. Both were ancient history so I went digging.

Hollis had been born in Wells, Somerset and I followed his trail West. I knew he was a passionate golfer which led me to the posh Burnham and Berrow Golf Club in Weston-super-Mare where he had been captain. Like all golf clubs there was a roll of honour board on display. The names of proud past captains were in gold leaf on mahogany panelling. 

The board of honour entries were blank for the years that Hollis was captain of this exclusive club. When I asked the members, there were shrugs all round: “Never heard of him.”
I reasoned, maybe that’s what they did in those Cold War days, hid in anonymity. I found the retired captain of the club’s Artisans section who still lived in the town.  This nice old chap confirmed:
“Yes. Sir Roger was club captain. He presented our annual Artisans trophy, but he never mixed with us much. There were never any pictures taken.”
So I moved on to the Bath & Wells Chorister School where Hollis had been a governor. The annual magazine always carries pictures. The years in question were missing. More shrugs.
On to the local paper who said: “Go back through the files.”

I flicked through ten years of the Wells Journal, a lovely little local paper, week by week.
And there he was. Undiscovered by the security ‘cleaners.’ The caption read:
‘Sir Roger and Lady Valentine Hollis open the local flower show.’  An elderly gent in a suit with his smiling wife holding a basket of chrysanthemums.

I was on the right track for Britain’s Cold War spy master.  Now I had an address. ‘Primrose Cottage,’ Catcott, a tiny typical Somerset English village, the sort on postcards in souvenir shops. But Primrose Cottage was the address of Catcott village Post Office. Surely Sir Roger didn’t sell stamps on the side? I scoured that village and found there was a second, identically named Primrose Cottage, way out in the back end of it. A perfect ruse to lead the unwanted from the real address. It was worthy of a George Smiley novel.

The centre of local life, as in all these villages, was the church. Catcott church is a tiny, beautiful Norman church in stone. A stone wall surrounded the trim churchyard of eighty or so gravestones. I hunted those graves for clues but there was no Hollis. Inside, the forty pews were unmarked. The walls the same. I was doubting Sir Roger ever lived there. Then it happened.

There was a church notice board in the porch with a pinned letter:
‘Will the ladies of the Committee please replace the chairs after use.’
Signed Val Hollis. Edith Valentine Hammond had been Sir Roger Hollis’s secretary for many years in MI5. Peter Wright in Spycatcher asserts that they had a long standing affair and she even refused promotions to stay with him. Finally, after Hollis divorced his first wife, they married and she became Edith Valentine Hollis. Now, long after his death, she was still tending this church. Therefore, I thought, he must be buried in it?

So I visited the local pub, the source of all knowledge. I took a pint with a wonderful, old local shepherd who wore a traditional, leather lambing apron.  We spoke about Hollis. I quizzed him on the mystery and his answer revealed all.
“Sir Roger? He’s there, all right. He’s in the churchyard  wall. They took out a flint and put ‘im in there. There ‘aint no marks, though. You won’t see ‘im.”

This shepherd had attended the funeral. My ephemeral spy master existed! His body had been cremated and his remains had been stowed behind a stone in the wall. His death had been expunged from all public record.
I had pictures of previous MI5 bosses who, when laid to rest, were honoured by black horses, caparisoned with tall, sombre plumes, pulling the funereal hearse, garlanded with flowers. Fitting tributes for a lifetime’s service once their secret identity was no longer necessary. This Cold War chieftain was in an unmarked grave.

Britain’s Establishment has always used an unmarked grave as a sign of treachery, going back eons. So why for Sir Roger? MI5 gives you short shrift on the matter.
‘It was claimed that Sir Roger Hollis, who was Director General of the Security Service from 1956-1965, was a Russian spy. The Trend inquiry of 1974 cleared Hollis of that accusation. Subsequently, the evidence of the former KGB officer Oleg Gordievsky confirmed this judgement.’

In Britain unmarked graves are the resting place reserved for notorious criminals like Myra Hindley and Dr Harold Shipman. Earlier for Nazi war crimes perpetrators like Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Goering and Adolf Eichmann.

And yet Sir Roger Hollis was ignominiously hidden away behind an unmarked stone in a country graveyard wall, only his widow and a local shepherd left to tend his memory.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thanks to you all!

My kindle e-book, Murder at the Royal Wedding, is getting much attention. Most good, some not so! Thanks to all below who thought it worth a mention:

Roy Greenslade

Andrew Pugh

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What has Facebook and the criminals of Sydney 1912 got in common?

Facebook hit two milestones this week. Firstly, VP of Facebook Europe, Joanna Shields, announced that 30 million UK citizens were now on the service. That’s half the population of Britain.

Secondly, web security firm, Sophos, declared that Facebook had secretly rolled out their facial recognition software to Europe. The USA had it in December. This software programme scans all uploaded pictures and checks them against a database of names. They say it’s ‘to help subscribers relieve the boredom of tagging names to their snaps.’

Nothing nefarious going on there, then. Perfectly above board, I hear you cry.

So, half the population of the UK are on a facial recognition database in America. Soon followed, no doubt, by the rest of Europe. Facebook knows who you are. Google street view knows where you live. Apple’s iPhone GPS knows where you’ve been. Where IS George Orwell when you need him?

Of course, face spotting has been going on since the caves. In a split second our clever brains sort the bad monkeys from the good ones as a necessary survival skill. Like Dr. Cal Lightman (Tim Roth) in “Lie to Me” who knows what people are thinking even before they do. Something inherent in us sets off a precautionary warning. And sometimes it’s wrong. Looking at police mug shots somehow preconditions us to believe the person in them must be bad. Poor old Hugh Grant looked less than glam in his LA police mugshot.

This reminded me of a wonderful book called “City of Shadows: Sydney Police Photographs 1912 - 1948.”

The Australian Historic Houses Trust rescued from a flood a vast collection of forensic crime photographic glass plates created by the New South Wales Police of that era. Author Peter Doyle turned them into a fascinating book.

These monochrome pictures of the backstreet pimps, pushers, conmen and working girls of Sydney spring alive on the page. They are both fascinating and noir. Viewing them they force a reaction from that bit of the brain that ‘judges’ others by using natures original facial recognition software.

You can buy it HERE:

And see the pictures HERE: