Straight to plate: large panoramic prints of the Bear Café’s kitchen

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I recently installed a permanent series of four large format prints in the Bear Café in Todmorden. It was a great commission; combining my passion for local food and photography, crafting a detailed and distinctive view behind the scenes in the kitchen.

Four panel panoramic print in the Bear Cafe, Todmorden

The initial brief was to deliver an artwork which would achieve two things: showcase some of their local suppliers and producers, and better inform customers that all the food is prepared on the premises.

Both are central to their business… the Bear is passionate about using local, sustainable produce wherever possible, and has long been affiliated with initiatives like Incredible Edible Todmorden. They’re also proud of how their dishes are produced on the premises, but as the kitchen is two floors away from the dining area, customers are often unaware of this. The client had previously seen my work so was onboard with the idea of using a high resolution 360° panoramic print, so we could capture the detail and experience of the kitchen fully.

Like any shoot, proper planning was key. I shot an initial test panorama during a recce a week beforehand: this allowed us to consider the positioning of products and people, and then we used a printout to mark up areas to address. As we always had a large, detailed print in mind, one of the key things to bear in mind was that we wanted an even distribution of points of interest throughout the scene. The client was keen to emphasise the importance of the teamwork and skills of the whole staff, so we planned their positioning.

Four panel panoramic print in the Bear Cafe, Todmorden

We were keen to use bright natural sunlight streaming through the kitchen window to beautifully illuminate the fresh produce on display, so worked out the optimum shoot time for direct light. The team at the Bear ensured the space was organised, and added a lick of paint to the walls, making sure even a working environment would look at its best, while still staying true to its purpose. I’ll always explain to clients that a quick wipe-down or tidy-up in real life can save hours in post production… and the real-world effects last for longer too!

Chef Scott and manager Rhian added lots of little touches and details to the scene to reflect the personalities in the business… from Scott’s homemade kimchi in jars and stickers of seminal Manchester club nights on storage containers, through to the signature wooden bear who normally sits on the bar upstairs. See if you can spot them all…

After the shoot I processed the panorama, working at higher resolution than normal, and then tested several different projections to portray the whole 360° of the kitchen with as little distortion as possible. In the end I chose four square prints, each covering 90°, and prepared the final images for print.

The detailed fine art printing and mounting was by CPS Digital in Manchester. They did a great job. The installation, before opening hours, was fun… and the final work closely resembled the mockups we’d envisaged. Looks great, can be seen from the street outside, and it’s been provoking discussion and interest since it went onto the walls.

Exterior view of the Bear Cafe Bar in Todmorden

Thanks to all at the Bear for their help, co-operation, patience and enthusiasm. Read below the jump for more technical photographic info…

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Look up, duck down: Stratum by Susie MacMurray at Islington Mill

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This installation, Stratum 2011 by Susie MacMurray is made up from around 80 kilos of feather down, carpeting the floorspace of the attic in Islington Mill in Salford in a dreamlike film of feathers. As you clamber up the steep wooden staircase, you emerge into a veritable cloudscape of soft textured down, providing a curious sense of weightlessness. Talk about having your head in the clouds. The contrast between the infinite bright lightness of the feathers, and the textured wooden beams, cobwebs and dark shadows around is incredibly powerful.

Feather and duck down everywhere

The piece celebrates ten years of Islington Mill as a cradle of creativity, performance and inspiration, and draws on MacMurray’s time as artist in residence a decade ago, when she created a similar installation. I’d originally heard about this when working at a client’s in the Mill late last year, and knew it’d make an amazing subject for a panorama. I’d already seen a short video by Ed Baptist, concentrating on the attic’s entropic decay and detail, so the prospect of shooting the exhibit in such surroundings thrilled me even more. I love capturing contrasts in texture and light in my panoramas.

It’s only viewable by appointment, so when found I had two food photography shoots in Salford booked on the same afternoon, with a spare half an hour between them, I contacted Shereen at Islington Mill to arrange a flying visit. I’ve since spent much longer looking at the photos than I had to drink in the detail in person onsite. A good thing, as I’ve since spotted a lot which I’d never have taken in at the time…

However I’d recommend arranging your own visit if you can… while this high resolution 360° photograph gives some idea of the scale, scope and otherworldliness of the installation, only being there and experiencing all the sensory stimuli can really capture the full impact of the exhibit.

Incidentally, one of my friends told me about him and a few others visiting the original installation a decade ago. Despite copious signage, and their protestations, they looked on in horror as one of their friends cast off her shoes and ran, barefoot, amongst the feathers. Obviously I did not do this…

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The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee beacon on Stoodley Pike near Todmorden

Click/tap the image above to view a panoramic 360° view of the scene in your browser. Select the icon on the beacon itself to toggle between a lit and unlit scene. Enjoy the view!

It’s been an especially long weekend in the UK, with two extra days holiday to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and it seems as if most of the country’s taken it to heart as an excuse for an extended party. Me too, but the crowning glory for me was seeing our local Jubilee beacon lit at dusk on the hills above Todmorden.

I only found out by chance on the day that the nearest Jubilee beacon would be at Stoodley Pike, a favourite vantage point overlooking the Calder Valley. As I read the details a couple of hours before it was due to be lit, there was a slight drizzle outside, so I was unsure if I’d be rewarded with a spectacular view if I climbed up to the monument.

However by 8pm the evening sun was glorious – a perfect example of the photographer’s golden hour  – and I decided it’d be well worth a drive and climb to capture a couple of my 360° panoramas as the beacon was set alight. I’d already had a busy day in Todmorden, photographing the Pollination Parade, and thought it’d be perfect to round everything with a bit of exercise and a stunning view over the South Pennines.

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A springtime carpet of wild garlic / ramsons

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Taking advantage of some welcome sunshine and very little breeze early on a Sunday morning, I made it to a nearby Pennine clough to capture this verdant carpet of wild garlic.

We’re almost at the end of the wild garlic season, which normally runs from March to early May. Their allium aroma still permeates the woods but now their delicate white flowers punctuate the woodland floor, heralding their imminent demise. The last decade or so has seen a resurgence in interest in foraged and wild foods in the UK, celebrating fresh, local flavours. Ramsons, or wild garlic, remains one of the most abundant and yet underused.

This is one of my favourite times of the year: the greening of foliage above and on the woodland floor; the gentle waving of the ramson fronds, and wild native bluebells appearing under the protective canopy of the trees, soundtracked only by songbirds and the odd bleat of spring lambs on the slopes above. That helps to underline that spring is (finally) here…

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Inside Beer Ritz, Headingley, Leeds

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Possibly the best off licence in the North? Well, it’s certainly my idea of a well-hopped heaven… a true beer nirvana nestling on a quiet back street in the leafy suburbs of Leeds.

Beer Ritz has long been on my list of places to visit, due to the incredible selection of craft beers, real ales and imported rarities. Set up by acclaimed beer writer Zak Avery in the 90s, there’s one thing that’s not in doubt: these guys really know and love their beer.

And tastes are changing across the UK too; celebrating our brewing heritage, revelling in the fruits of the revolution from across the Atlantic from dynamic young craft breweries in the US, and enjoying more esoteric and exciting European brewers. After years where beer was largely synonymous with bland, base and bubbly lager, pubs and retailers are now catering for a public hungry for new tastes. Outlets like Beer Ritz, and the great beers they carry, are at the forefront of this change. I for one’ll drink to that. Cheers!

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