Making sense of my photography hobby in retirement

Random Thoughts

Go North Turn Left

With our pending three month journey to Europe and North America about to begin in just under two weeks, my wife Valerie and I have established an companion blog to this one called Go North Turn Left.  In this blog we will relate tales of our travels (hopefully not travails) as we venture forth on the various legs of our journey.

So, where did the blog name come from?


We have a very dear friend who believes that everything in the world is up and to the left of New Zealand. Her view of the geography of the world dates back to primary school days when she first looked at a map of the world. On that map New Zealand was at the bottom right corner. This view of the world has always intrigued us, especially Valerie who was a former geography teacher. So, to honour this unusual view we have named the blog “Go North Turn Left”

Our travels this year start at the end of July 2013.  We trust you will enjoy the journey with us.

Posts will also continue here as time and internet connections permit.


The end is in sight!


The last six weeks have been a trial.  In February we sold our home of the last 32 years.  We built it then to replace the home that my wife grew up in until we were married 44 years ago. Thirty two years of raising three sons and accumulating life’s possessions, plus those possessions that flowed out of the old house, have made the last few weeks difficult at times as decisions needed to be made on to what to keep and what to re-house elsewhere.  Yesterday we left the house with just three small cartons to top-up and close.  Our life is now housed in a storage facility awaiting rediscovery when we find a new home some time in the next year.  Finding a view of the end over the last two weeks has been difficult, but yesterday it emerged.

In two weeks we leave for a three month holiday that will take us to China, Europe, the USA and Canada.  Needless to say, we are really looking forward to the adventure. Just like the last few weeks, transmission over the next three months may be a bit patchy as we search for internet connections and time to update posts. Every attempt will be made to create a regular stream of posts and express views on what we discover.

Unconsecrated Ground

The story of Chinese immigration into New Zealand at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is not a happy one, as witnessed by a Government Apology in 2002 by the then Prime Minister Helen Clark.  Chinese immigrant stories, especially around the goldfields of Central Otago, went generally untold and therefore unnoticed by the general population until well into the twentieth century.  From 1977 – 1987  the New Zealand Historic Places Trust commissioned an archaeological study of Chinese gold mining sites along the Clutha River near Cromwell before it was dammed and flooded, and in 1993 Chinese physician Dr James Ng produced Volume 1 of his four volume definitive work “Windows on a Chinese Past”. These two documents brought many of  the issues and hardships that faced the hard working Chinese settlers into public view.

The Alaskan, Californian, Australian and then New Zealand gold rushes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries attracted fortune seekers from all over the world, with many moving from one boom to the next as hopes of hitting pay dirt diminished. Among those numbers were peasant men from China seeking another means of supporting their families. Because few spoke English they tended to cluster together and there was only a minimum of interaction with other miners. They were generally no more of less successful in their search for gold than any others however. At best they were tolerated, but when times toughened and the gold ran out they were ostracised. As a result of intense lobbying to politicians by “European” settlers the Government introduced a Poll Tax of £10 at the border for new Chinese immigrants, which was increased to £100 in 1896. It was for this and other discriminatory laws that the Government apologied in 2002.

Chinese miners were represented in many of the early gold fields in Central Otago, the best known and documented site being at Arrowtown near Queenstown. So also it was the case at Naseby and nearby Blacks.  But what happened to them when they died?

Luey Mee Hok, Naseby, Otago, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Luey Mee Hok

In some settlements  grave sites were established by the Chinese communities themselves, but in others such as Naseby they were buried at the local cemetery – sort of. Being non-Christian, and considered by many therefore to be heathen, they were interred in unconsecrated ground outside the boundary of the normal cemetery.  Such was the fate of Luey Mee Hok in 1907, whose grave can be found under the trees with other members of his Chinese fraternity.  Its a sad reflection of former less tolerant times.


We had read and had been told also that Turkey was a secular country, but the predominant religion was Islam.  As such we expected and experienced a degree of conservatism in dress and behaviours during our two week visit in 2006.  Yet despite this underlying conservatism, we encountered a number of things that surprised us.  Imagine if you can our reaction to seeing this poster mounted prominently on a pole in one of Istanbul’s busiest shopping streets, Istiklal Cadesi.

Cinema Poster, Istanbul, Turkey, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Istanbul is described as the crossroads between the east and the west.  It is an amalgam of modern and old.   For every young woman in the streets wearing up-to-date western fashion, there is probably an equal number wearing traditional conservative Islamic dress.  The modern women are not provocative in their dress, but are as stylish as you would see in Paris or London.  This poster therefore seemed to be an aberration and completely out there. Just one block away from this very fashionable street most of the women had their heads covered with scarves and their arms and legs covered  in the usual Islamic fashion.


I am presently reading “The Genius of Photography” by Gerry Badger, the book of the 2007 BBC TV series of the same name.  In the prelude to Chapter 2 the following photograph, which was taken in 1912 by French photographer Eugene Atget, reminded me of one I took in Istanbul, Turkey in 2006.

Eugene Atget - Corsets, Boulevard de Strasbourg 1912

Boulevard de Strasbourg, Corsets, Paris 1912 – Eugene Atget (1857-1927)

Atget built up a large portfolio of documentary photographs of Paris during a period of great change.  The importance of his collection was only recognised much later.  I doubt that my single image taken in a back street in Istanbul will carry the same gravitas in years to come!

Corsets, Istanbul, Turkey, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Istiklal Cadesi, Corsets, Istanbul 2006 – Chris Gregory (19xx-Stll Here)

Corsets, Istanbul, Turkey, copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Istiklal Cadesi, Corsets, Istanbul 2006 – Chris Gregory (Original colour version)

Colour on a Drab Day

I was overcast when I woke this morning.  Although its summer here, one of the westerly fronts that regularly arrives from the Tasman Sea during summer is making a visit today.  After the wonderful sunny weather we have had for the past few weeks, today feels drab and grey.  It reminds me of the day in 2008 when we visited Fengdu on the Yangtze River in China, but without the air pollution which gives the grey sky a yellow hue to match the muddy river.  At least in “Ghost City” there was colour to be found but, to give today its due, the sun is at least trying to break through.

Yangtze Cruise Ships, Fengdu, China, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Temple at Fengdu, China, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Red & Green, Fengdu, China, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013

Blue & Red, Fengdu, China, Copyright Chris Gregory 2013


Co-existence, Kaikoura, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

“I read the news today, Oh Boy!”  The words of the Beatles 1967 “A Day in the Life” song from the group’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  album came to mind as yet more bad news emerged from Syria.  Although I have never been there I know Syria to be a country rich in history and world heritage sites.  Our eldest son backpacked through that country with his wife-to-be a few years ago, before the present troubles .  While staying with us over the Christmas break they expressed their sadness that the places they visited have been destroyed and the people they met have been cast into desperation by a man and his need to retain power at all costs.

Why can’t people learn to co-exist?  This may be a kind of Utopian dream for all of humanity, but by and large most of the people, most of the time seem to achieve a version of peaceful co-existence.  It may be that the saying “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” just has to play out in some places.

The image above was taken on a miserable rainy day on the Kaikoura coast of New Zealand’s South Island, and is the nearest I can find among my photographs to demonstrate co-existence – in this instance, among species.


Listening, Kaikoura, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Listening is something many of us are not good at.  We say we are listening but our minds are somewhere else. The words go in but are filtered or not heard. Little wonder then that relationships become strained.  Not listening is not being engaged.  So many things are missed.  Nuances are left unrecognised.  Noticing those nuances can mean the difference between understanding, or not. Its like seeing but not comprehending.

The above image is about listening.  The Watch Captain is listening for the sounds emitted by whales so that he can take his passengers to where these wondrous creatures of the sea can be seen.  His passengers are relying on him.  He needs to be able to filter out the sounds that don’t matter to discern those that do.

Image taken off Kaikoura on the north eastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

Weekly Photo Challenge – My 2012 in Pictures

Driftwood, Lake Ferry, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

All washed up

Many of the joys of life come from exploration, its one of those things that keeps you alive and interested. Whether it is exploration of new places near or far from home, new ideas, new hobbies, new techniques in pursuit of improvement or perfection, or whatever it is that satisfies your curiosity, finding interesting things keeps you moving forward.

The image above, taken in February at Lake Ferry in the Wairarapa District near New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, prompted these thoughts.  How would I feel if I reached a point in life when I felt all washed up.  Here the remnants of a once thriving tree are left stranded in a stony shore, bleached grey by the sun and apparently useless to anyone. Yet that is what happens to many people in our societies – left abandoned and all washed up.  What ever happened to their desire for exploration, or were they never given a real chance to start with?

As we move into 2013 let’s keep our drive to explore alive, and maybe even help someone who has lost their sense of direction to explore new ways to become alive again.

Weekly Photo Challenge – My 2012 in Pictures

Cape Palliser, Wairarapa, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Cape Palliser Lighthouse

For me, this image sums up my 2012 and points to a beacon of light for 2013.  Last year was quite a challenge for my wife Valerie and me – not the year that we had envisaged in January.  A straight forward looking year turned into one of unplanned trips and a crippling accident which entailed several long periods away from home.

The above image was taken at Cape Palliser near the entrance to Wellington Harbour. We visited this remote cape as a side trip before journeying to a family wedding. When I look at the stairs they represent the long haul through the year where out-of-town family child minding trips dominated the early part, followed by Valerie’s recovery from a skiing accident in the latter part.  The lighthouse at the top represents the beacon showing a clear passage for the year to come.

In between all of this we fitted a whale watching trip to Kaikoura on the north eastern coast of the South Island of New Zealand, a holiday on Queensland’s Gold Coast, and a lovely couple of days skiing before the accident.

We are grateful that our wide circle of friends have given us encouragement and support throughout the period since August, for which we feel blessed indeed.  Such is Val’s recovery that we are already planning our travels for this year and are excited by the prospects of what is to come.

The stairs also represent my journey with photography and blogging.  It has been a year of learning and experimentation.  Each new discovery leads me towards the next summit.  My blog received its 10,000th visit just before New Year’s Eve, which was one of my goals for the year.  I don’t do this for the numbers but, being a retired numbers person, I am interested to watch how the visits increase and where they come from.  This blog gives me an outlet for my photography and a reason to keep on finding new material and to improve my craft.  I am grateful for those who take the time to visit and explore my blog, and especially for the growing number of followers.  In return I follow the blogs of others and get great enjoyment from reading what they post and how they see the world.

Thank you for your support.  Best wishes for 2013, and may you succeed in all you do and have a happy and healthy year.

Red Sky at Night

Red Sky at Night, Tarris Otago, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Red Sky at Night – From the road to Wanaka

It was nearly dark.  As the sun set in the west a bright orange glow lit the clouds over the mountains. A chilly wind blew across the freshly plowed stony land.  Out of the car to quickly capture the image and then retreat once again to the warmth inside. Head on back to Wanaka to takeaway dinner and a bottle of wine with friends.

A Father’s Lament

Dear Adam, Christchurch Earthquake, Christchurch, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Dear Adam

Children are not supposed to die before their parents.  Its one of those unwritten laws.  So when an event occurs that takes away the life of a precious son or daughter there is often a period of prolonged grief, questioning and regret.

In February 2011 Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city, suffered a devastating earthquake that took numerous lives and decimated the centre of this proud place.  Many of the historic landmark buildings that defined Christchurch collapsed and claimed the lives of ordinary people in the course of their normal daily lives. Sons, daughters, husbands, wives, lovers, friends and relations died or were injured, some seriously.

In February my wife and I visited Christchurch to meet with friends and relations at the end of a short South Island holiday. It was a sobering visit. In the middle of what used to be the busiest shopping area in the CBD we found this lament attached to a chainlink fence enclosing a city in the process of demolition. Like all disasters, natural or man-made, the people who are intimately involved take the longest time to recover. Memories, regrets and sorrows linger with those left behind.

Strings of Pearls

Strings of Pearls, spider web, fence, mist, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Strings of Pearls

I was strolling along, and there it was glistening in the early morning light. Dewdrop “pearls” strung on webs of silk in Alpine Victoria.

Nurturing Young Talent

One of the great things about the international Rotary movement is a goal of nurturing young talented people and helping them develop and grow.

Rotary Club of Milford, Auckland, New Zealand, Musical Showcase Poster 2012

For the past six years the Rotary Club of Milford on Auckland’s North Shore has organised a Musical Showcase at Westlake Boys High School that allows young North Shore musicians, who have won secondary schools competitions, to demonstrate their prowess in a public performance and hone their skills before year-end examinations.  The Sunday afternoon concert is always well patronised and any profits made are distributed to the music departments of the participating schools.

If any readers live on the North Shore of Auckland, or know someone who does, I would recommend that you attend the concert to support the young players and their schools, and have a thoroughly entertaining afternoon as well.


Life can change in a split second

Rescue Helicopter, Cardrona Resort Ski Field, Otrago, New Zealand, Copyright Chris Gregory 2012

Lift Off

This isn’t the greatest photo, is was taken with my mobile phone to record an intermediate step in a day that started out great but  suddenly changed direction.  While dismounting a chairlift at Cardrona Resort skifield near Wanaka in Central Otago, New Zealand, my wife fell and badly fractured her left leg.  This required a 45 minute rescue helicopter ride to hospital in Dunedin.  On board was another skier from the Snow Park across the Cardrona Valley (you can see it in the distance) with a fracture on his right leg in the same place! Needless to say, this has caused a major rearrangement of our lives for the next few weeks as she recovers from a pinning operation and gets used to moving around on crutches. Our special thanks go to the Cardrona Ski Patrol and Westpac Helicopter crew from Dunedin, as well as the staff and doctors at Dunedin Hospital.

It all goes to show, it doesn’t matter what type of camera you have with you, even a humble mobile phone, you can still capture the moment.

Time to Talk

Life is such a rush these days.  Everyone is in a hurry.  Even during relaxation time eyes are glued to computer screens, smart phones or other digital devices.  No-one seems to have time to stop and chat face-to-face anymore.  “Chat” now takes the form of text messaging or Facebook and Twitter posts.

Time to Talk

In his own world - Time for a chat. Viaduct Basin, Auckland, New Zealand

Take a walk in a street or park and count the number of people who are engaged in some type of activity with a mobile digital device – by themselves!  Even if there is a couple or a group, at least one person is often digitally engaged.

The world of “instant” is also part of photography.  Camera phones and “Point & Shoot” digital cameras mean that images can be seen straight away. No waiting, no anticipation, but results now!  Photographs no longer take a week to get developed after the film is finished, and letters don’t take six weeks to travel halfway round the world by sea anymore (thank goodness).  Now it all happens instantly. No wonder older citizens have trouble keeping up.  Young people want to grow older more quickly, and older people want the world to go more slowly.  You work it out; somehow it doesn’t make sense. Maybe its time to have a chat – face-to-face, of course!

Climbing the Learning Ladder

If one was to believe all of the camera advertisements about how easy it is to make terrific photographs, then every person who owns a modern digital camera would taking award-winning pictures at every press of the shutter button.  If only it was that easy!

Sure, anyone can create an image by just “pressing the button”, but would they be satisfied with the result? For some, the thought about whether it is a good or bad image isn’t a worry – they’ve got a picture and that’s all that matters.  Others agonise over the technical perfection of their images, but still produce ordinary photographs. And there are people who don’t care a damn about the technical details of the shot, but have a natural ability to see things that others overlook, and regularly turn out great images that capture the mood of the moment or the essence of the soul.  Wouldn’t it be great to not only do the latter, but also know why and how the result was achieved so that you could be repeat the process on purpose on another occasion?

Oil Tank - Tank Farm, Western Reclamation, Waitemata Harbour, Auckland, New Zealand

Oil Tank Inspection Ladder - Is the tank half empty of half full?

When looking at this image – taken on a recent photo walk around the Western Reclamation oil storage area near Auckland’s Viaduct Basin – I began to wonder where I was on my imagined photography ladder.  Climbing my ladder has at times been very satisfying, and other times highly frustrating.  Sometimes when looking into the tank of photographic experiences it has appeared to be “half full”.  At other times, when I am not getting the results I want, it looked very much “half empty”.  The photography game can be very frustrating, especially when trying to find one’s own “voice” or style.

As a regular reader of photography blogs, browser of magazines, and borrower of library books on the subject, I see versions of my own journey retold by others.  Whilst that is comforting, it is not necessarily helpful. When I read comments by the likes of Joe McNally who says “if you want to make more interesting photographs put yourself in more interesting places” it makes sense, but you still have to know your craft to make a good image.  Learning the “craft” of photography takes practice – lots of it – where making mistakes leads to learning how to achieve better results.

During my journey I have learned that I shouldn’t expect every photograph to be a masterpiece – not even the masters could achieve that!  I’ve learned that experimentation can lead to unexpected surprises, and that leads to incremental improvement.  I’ve also learned to look at the world differently, to take notice of the small things as well as the obvious, about how light changes the shape and colour of things, to look for patterns, angles, lines and curves, to seek a different point of view, and much more.  Most of this  comes from practice, making mistakes, observing, listening, reading, and making an effort to continually ask questions on how to do find a better way.

Have I reached my destination yet? No. The road ahead is still long, but it is a journey worth the effort.

Grinding it Out

It’s said that one never stops learning.  There is always something that can be learned to help improve the way things are done.

Over the last few days I have been grinding away trying to overcome frustrating colour and black & white printing problems.  A photograph I had taken was required urgently so that it could be framed.  Whenever I tried to print it on my inkjet printer the blacks adopted a purple hue and skin-tones in faces turned pasty and lifeless.  In the end I resorted to having the print made by the local photo print shop.

Constructing a jetty pylon - Viaduct Basin, Auckland, New Zealand

Grinding Away - Constructing a jetty pylon - Viaduct Basin, Auckland, New Zealand

All was not lost however.  Graham at the print shop suggested how the printer problem might be solved and gave me an Adobe master colour photograph to scan and use as a test for adjusting images to match printed output.  That got me to checking all the colour settings in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, in my scanner and my printer driver. After a number of abortive attempts the colours and blacks printed as required. What a grind though!

What else did I learn?  Don’t judge the colours of the final prints until the ink has dried! In the drying process the inks react with the surface of the paper and change colour to the final form, which ends up to be what was wanted in the first place. I now recall noticing this before, but had forgotten.

Legal Tender

Reserve Bank of New Zealand Museum, Wellington, New Zealand

Legal Tender - Commerce or Art?

A dictionary definition says the act of tendering is to offer something for acceptance. I guess that is what I intended when I started this blog. It was to be about my exploration while on a photographic journey, about finding out what picture taking and image making meant for me, and offering my thoughts for others to reflect upon. So far I’ve found that this hasn’t happened as I intended.  For the most part the images and comment have been quite literal and on refection, disappointing to me. However, the more I explore and read, the more I want to stretch the boundaries of how I see things and interpret them through the lens and to get back to the original vision for this blog.

Over the years I have participated in several psychographic profiling exercises that have generally concluded that I am quite literal and analytical in how I interpret the world. I guess that is how I came to spend most of my working life in accounting and audit roles. But those who know me know that I can be quite contrary as well; inclined to play the devil’s advocate when confronted with an argument that I consider to be narrow-minded or unthinking. So far though, that trait hasn’t found its way into my photography, and I wonder why?

Now that I am mostly retired I have more time to think about this kind of thing. So what I will be trying to do with future posts is to offer up my thoughts and images, not so much for acceptance (although that would be nice), but for comment and review.  Your help with this will be gratefully accepted.

One of the challenges I have set myself for the rest of this year is to take a series of portraits of my friends.  When I put the idea to them they seemed to be as excited about the idea as I am.  What is pleasing is that they are apparently happy to help me with my journey.  Hopefully I can offer them something of value in return. And it will all be legal! With their permission I will show some of the images here.