Lost pubs: Ascot Arms by Nigel Rumsey

Central Aveue, Gravesend

The Public House, the pub, with maybe the church, was once at the centre of every English community. In my parent’s generation most men, and sometimes women, would have ‘a local’ a place to go and chat with friends about their lives, their troubles, or at least how poorly their football team were playing that week.

Yes, they sold beer, but mostly they were about community. Where I grew in south-east London, they served a very small clientele, that might only be the residents of half a dozen streets. Most of their regulars knew each other, they knew their partners, their parents and their children. It was a very territorial thing, half a mile if that sometimes, further up the road would be another local with its own regulars, another separate, distinct community.

Over the last 25 years, maybe more, that’s changed. In my own town of Gravesend since the turn of the century, 24 pubs have closed. Granted we started with a lot, being an old port on the Thames, Gravesend had more than its fair share of pubs. Nevertheless, the attrition rate is shocking.

The Ascot Arms is the latest to close, finally shutting its doors earlier this year. The brewery has advertised for new tenants, but it seems more likely it'll be turned into yet another convenience store, or demolished and the land used for housing. The Ascot Arms started life as the Central Hotel; opening in 1932. It’s a huge rambling place, so it’s hardly surprising the latest landlord struggled to keep it open.

Part of an ongoing project.

Developing Times by Nigel Rumsey

Field Notes for film developing

In this notebook, I write all my notes related to film developing. “Why are you showing us this Nigel?” you might be saying. Well despite having this great little book with all my notes and despite having been developing film on & off for 30 years, careless people can still f**k it up.

Field Notes notebook for film photography

This morning I grabbed my gear and the roll of Agfa APX100 I finished shooting yesterday, and I set off developing. I’d pushed it two stops so I looked in my book, Agfa APX100, at ISO400 x HC-110 = 6.30 mins! Those of you experienced at such things are now thinking, pushed film, 6.5 minutes that doesn’t sound right and, dear reader, you’d be correct. However, the dumb arses amongst us didn’t have that thought. They’re too busy listening to a podcast.

So the result, one severely under-developed film. I should have read 15.5 minutes, not 6.5. The only consolation being it has been 30 years, and I hope it’s 30 years until the next one.

That podcast I was listening to: We Believe in Film by Timothy Ditzler, although it’d hardly be fair to blame him!

I tried. by Nigel Rumsey

The National Theatre, London

This image represents a lesson. Not a new lesson but something I needed to be reminded of: just try.

About eight years ago I went to a wedding as a guest, I wasn’t the photographer but I was hoping to get a few good shots for the happy couple (they’ve since divorced, but we’ll gloss over that). I knew the venue was going to be dark so I took a few rolls of Neopan 1600. In the end I only shot one roll, but I truly hated the results, big ugly lumpy grain. I disliked it so much l’ve not shot it since, I still have the remaining rolls of in my refrigerator.

So from then to about four weeks ago I've avoided shooting film at iso1600, because I ‘knew’ it was going to look terrible. Even though I may be shooting a different film, processing it in a different developer, shooting it in different light, in a different camera and in different circumstances. I knew it was going to be crap. So convinced was I, on the evidence of that one roll of film I haven’t tried again. Until about four weeks ago.

Roof Terrace, National Theatre. London

For a private project I had to push Kodak Tri-x, not to 1600, but 3200. WTF was that going to look like! I’d researched it online and seen some ‘not bad’ results, I still wasn’t comfortable but I went ahead anyway - I tried. What did it look like? It looked bloody brilliant, that's what it looked like! I love it! The grain wasn’t bad, the shadows still had some detail, it had the contrast I like in black and white. Just think if I’d been open minded enough to give it a go before, I could have used it countless times in the last few years.

Next time I'm being such a negative twat please remind me of this moment.

Tri-x at 1600: the best thing since sliced bread!

For photography geeks out there: The above shots were exposed at iso1600 and developed in HC-110B, 16 minutes, inversions 10 secs every 2 mins.

Have a great week.  

The Day I Photographed a Rodeo by Nigel Rumsey

Watching the rodeo, Hayesville, North Carolina

Earlier this year when planning our trip to North Carolina, I saw the ideal opportunity to fulfil my ambition to photograph a rodeo. 

After much time spent with Google, I settled on the Bar W Rodeo. My decision was based in no small part on the fact it is held at the brilliantly named Cutworms Corral, a proper actual corral! The Cutworms Corral is close to Hayesville, NC, we found a chalet to rent on Chatuge Lake, just outside Hiawassee which is about 15 miles away across the border in Georgia.

Friends at the Rodeo, Hayesville, NC

North Carolina is an incredibly beautiful part of the country bounded to the west by the Appalachian mountains and the east by the Atlantic ocean. As you fly into Raleigh/Durham airport, the landscape all the way to the horizon is entirely carpeted with trees. The buildings and roads are on land neatly carved from the forest. 

Shooting the rodeo was an amazingly exhilarating experience and something I’d love to do again. My one mistake was to go on Saturday evening. The rodeo is held across two days; if I'd gone on Friday I would have been back on Saturday night to shoot again. 

I’ve made a small book featuring some of my favourite shoots including the ones you see here. 

My introduction to the book:
Finding Hayesville, North Carolina (pop. 311), on the map is not easy. If you do, look to the northeast and the green of the Nantahala National Forest. It’s early evening you are travelling along the Tusquittee Creek Road, heading deeper into the forest. Before the sun goes down, you can glimpse the beautiful Hiwassee River on your left. Sections of the river have local names reminiscent of earlier times, Schoolhouse branch, Mull Cove and just ahead is Greasy Creek. Go through Tusquittee, take the bridge on the left over the river and the Cutworms Corral will be in sight. If you’re lucky, and it's rodeo time, a cowboy will be at the gate to welcome you.
This literal dot on the map is where I find myself. It’s May 2017, and this is my first rodeo. We park our rental - almost the only vehicle that isn’t either a truck or an SUV - in the field next to the corral. I’m feeling just a little out of my comfort zone.
The show starts as it always does here with the singing of the National Anthem and a heartfelt thank you to the members of the military in the crowd. From then to the end of the night I am strangely in my element.

Riding the bull at a rodeo

Steer wrestling, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding hadn’t played much of a part in my experience growing up in South London. Apart from TV, I don’t think I’d even seen a bull until I was out of my teenage years, so the prospect of riding one seems crazy to me. To be fair, it soon became apparent it seems pretty crazy to most of the crowd. But ride them they did - even if, in most cases, it wasn’t for very long.
Much of the time I don’t have a clue what was going on. But the imagery is wonderful. I feel as though I’ve found a seam of gold in these North Carolina hills and I just can't stop digging. This is the second day of a two-day meet, and I'm kicking myself for not being there on day one.

Rodeo cowboy

I take my hat off to the brave women and men who take part; they put on an amazing show. This certainly won't be my only visit to a rodeo, and it’s unlikely to be the last time I navigate the Tusquittee Creek Road.

After the rodeo

You can find more of my rodeo shots here and the book here.

Blogging and (not) Sleeping by Nigel Rumsey

Pen and Notebook, Tate Modern, London

For some time I’ve wanted to blog more. I used to write regularly, and although I don’t find it easy, I do enjoy it. Like everything it needs to become a habit, if you fall out of the habit, it’s tough to restart.

Bizarrely the impetus I need may have come in my difficulty sleeping. Apparently, one of the keys to getting a good night's sleep is 'sleep hygiene' - going to bed at the same time each night, no reading in bed, then getting up at the same time in the morning.

During the week I get up just before 6 am to take my wife to the local station. My new hygienic approach to sleep means I need to be up by 6 am every day - although weekends may be tough! I usually go for a walk after I’ve dropped my wife off, but after that, until I need to do some work my time is my own.

The plan is to write a little each day and to publish at least one blog post each week, so watch this space. You can be the judge of how that goes.

Have a great week.

Mecca-on-Thames by Nigel Rumsey

Marks & Spencer, Bluewater shopping centre

Gravesend like so many towns is caught between the twin threats of online shopping and the out-of-town mall. In our case that is Bluewater. 

Built in a former chalk quarry the Bluewater site occupies 240 acres and has 154,000m2  of sales area, making it the fourth-largest shopping centre in the UK and the sixth largest in Europe. It has 330 stores, 40 cafés and restaurants, a 13-screen cinema and parking for 13,000 cars. This is a shopping destination.

It’s something of a blessing and a curse employing 7,000 people many of whom live in Gravesend.  Yet the overwhelming majority of the stores are national or international chains so the bulk of that revenue heads of elsewhere. Bluewater serves over 27 million visitors a year, that’s a huge number of drivers on local roads, very few spending other than at the centre itself.

What to do? Gravesend certainly can’t ignore the behemoth only 5 miles west. I for one would hate to see it become a ‘theme town’ resting on its history and connection to the Thames, but I’m not sure I know the alternative.