Tag Archives: photos

33 different faces of Digbeth

The idea of snapping faces developed during today’s photowalk around Digbeth, a district just south of Moor Street Station in Birmingham that’s a little bit arty, a little bit gritty and with a whole lot of industrial heritage contained within. Thanks to Matt & Pete’s Photo School for running the two-hour walk – more photowalk events can be found here. A night-time walk is apparently imminent.


Travels around my garden

What do you take holiday photos of? And can that be applied to your own backyard? Well let’s see. In a new destination, seeing it with Alice-in-Wonderland eyes, I take photos of:

The main attractions


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The 4am Project goes to New York

nyc subway

To most people, 4am is an unearthly hour only viewed at times of airport transfers and the occasional drunken stagger home. But for Birmingham photographer Karen Strunks, 4am is a particularly magical time to see the world.

Karen is the founder and motivating force behind the 4am Project, a synchronised global snapshot of the world at 4am. And this weekend sees the 4am Project taking place once more – so wherever you are at 4am on 17 October 2010, why not take a picture of what you see? (Karen’s given her tips on how to take a good pic below).

As for Karen, well, she’s gone to New York City for a special 4am Project meetup in Times Square and some 4am holiday photography. I personally think she should have gone to The Other Birmingham – but she’s is an uptown girl and a very Cosmopolitan (cocktail) lady so she’s packed her scarlet lipstick ready for the Big Apple instead…

1. What, in a sentence, is the 4am project?
The 4am Project is a global collaboration in photography whose aim is to capture a view of the world at the often unseen time of 4am.

2. So why are you taking the 4am Project to New York?
I want to expand on the reach of the project and I thought New York City would be a great place to start!

3. Did the travel element attract you personally too?
Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to be able to combine the 4am Project event in NYC with a travel adventure.

4. What exactly is the plan for 4am Project NYC?
I am hosting the 4am Project event on 17 October in Times Square – the beating heart of Manhattan. Meeting at 3.45am outside the Times Square NYPD Station, the photo walk will start at 4am and continue until 5am. I’ll be inviting the photographers to grab some breakfast afterward to make it a social occasion and give the opportunity to meet other photographers.

5. Any personal travel plans – I notice you’re tweeting about your trip at @karenstrunks?
Yes, while I am in New York I shall be blogging about my stay over on my new blog: Big Apple Unpeeled. I shall be exploring as much as I can of the city and sharing my findings online. I’ll also be asking people to get involved and have a say in what part of the city they see next.

6. Are you concerned about safety at 4am in the big city?
No more so than in any other city. I’ve noticed that there is a high police presence in NYC and particularly in Times Square. Naturally we need to take precautions where ever we are, such as being aware of our surroundings and who is nearby, and I’d suggest not going down quiet, empty streets on your own.

7. Do you have a favourite 4am picture that you (or someone else has taken)?
Oohh, you have put me on the spot! In the interests of fairness I’ll pick one of my own as it’s too hard to choose out of the 4500 photographs that have been submitted so far: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karenstrunks/3142037028/ (taken at the Acocks Green bus depot).

8. Any tips for early morning snapping?
Yes, you will need a longer exposure to capture your image so making your camera stable is essential. Use a tripod if you have one, but you can also use something like a beanbag or bag of rice or porridge! Experiment with different lengths of exposure and if you’re camera has a self timer mode use that, as by pressing the shutter button you could accidently cause the camera to move and that will add blur to your photograph.

9. What’s the best thing you’ve done in NYC so far?
That’s hard to say! I had a great time in Central Park. I didn’t really do much myself, but just strolled and observed other people in the park. I liked that the park was being used by so many different groups of people. There were the joggers and bikers, the dancers, the skaters, the bare foot runners, the dog walkers, ball players, the meditation groups, the singers and those that were playing their instruments. I loved that people were doing their own thing and were seemingly unconcious of anyone else.

10. What do you need us to do?
I would love some help spreading the word about the 4am Project. People can help out by blogging and tweeting about the project and telling their friends.

OK then!

You can follow the adventures of Karen Strunks at Big Apple Unpeeled, and you don’t have to be in New York to take part in the 4am Project – check out the 4am Project site for more details on how to join in.

Meanwhile, here are the latest pictures taken at 4am, plus my own 4am Project photos – from the aftermath of a wedding party to the tungsten-lit streets of Southend-On-Sea two years ago.

Wishing Karen and all other 4am photographers all the best for this Sunday morning. It really is worth doing and a rather surreal experience to boot.

The New York Subway at 4am pic (above) is by hy136/Flickr. Meanwhile below is a shot (by Simon Gray) of Karen being interviewed at a Birmingham New Street station 4am meetup.

4am - 0 - jon bounds with creative director karen strunks

Quick tips for Béziers day trippers

Beziers -21

Yesterday we spent the day in Béziers, a pretty and friendly city, albeit built on rugby, bull-fighting and throat-slitting massacres (during the Crusades, and in the Madeleine church pictured above).

If you find yourself there, here’s what I would recommend:

1. Get this map!
Follow the signs to the Office du Tourisme and pick up ‘Les Sites’ – this is one of the best tourist maps I’ve seen, with easy colour-coded routes offering tours around Romanesque/Gothic buildings, gardens and fountains, the old city and the Golden Age of the 19th Century. You can easily mix and match routes. (Download the map here.)

2. Door knockers
Look out for the door knockers – a local speciality seems to be, ahem, hands on knockers, like this one.

3. Bishop’s eye view
Go through the cloisters at the cathedral to the Bishop’s Garden – there’s a good view looking down from the bluff over the orange rooftops to the river Orb.

4. Penitents Chapel
The Saint Nazaire Cathedral and the Madeleine Church (where the 1209 massacre took place) may be the main events but I found the Penitents Chapel on the Rue du 4 Septembre more charming – with a number of representations of female saints (here is St Germaine and check out this altar) and, strangely, a huge model ship mounted on the back wall.

5. Nine locks
Head for the Canal Du Midi aqueduct behind the train station – you can walk across it for a good view of the cathedral and the River Orb below. Continue on away from town for scenic canal walking and after 1.3km you reach the staircase lock at Fonserannes – a series of nine locks which brings the canal down to the level of the River Orb. It’s well worth a view. There’s also a little cafe serving cold beer at the bottom – welcome after the thirsty walk – plus there’s a good view back to the city.

Travel details: this journey to Toulouse and beyond was part-sponsored by Bmibaby.com. More posts here.

Every journey starts with an airport transfer

Evert journey starts with a small step and (often) an airport transfer…

It’s 4am on the coach from Birmingham to Manchester Airport, which puts me in mind of The 4am Project – so I take a phone snapshot aboard the National Express 422 service. It’s a blurry fail (those lights are the view out the front window) but also kinda pretty. The world at 4am is a whole different kettle of surreal fish – and that’s the point really.

4am Project

Blue neon tunnel on the travelator to Terminal 3. More crazy lights but I like it. It’s a 12 mins walk to checkin, though.

Travelator to Terminal 3

Arcade games at the gate? We’re not in Birmingham now, Toto. Still, the seats are great for kipping on.

Arcade machines, Gate 52

FYI, Gate 52 at Terminal 3, Manchester Airport is also a Defibrillator Station. With my fear of flying (see yesterday’s confessional post), I felt strangely reassured.

Defibrillator, Gate 52

Checking the plane over through the window – it looks shiny and new. Ok then, I’ll board.

BMIbaby Boeing 737-300

One of the swifter boardings, thankfully. It was funny when a crew member changed into her comfortable shoes aboard the flight. Glamour – check.

Gate 52, Manchester Airport

Bmibaby cabin crew action shot!

BMIbaby flight attendant

That’s France down there. (I’m much happier now I’m in the cruise corridor.)


Kiss the pilot, we’ve landed. Toulouse Airport is packed with urban, futuristic chic.

Toulouse airport

The transfer down to the coast is a swift autoroute ride with a viewing point for Carcassonne Castle.

Carcasonne castle

Next step: the holiday.

Bmibaby.com flights to Toulouse from Manchester in October cost between £41 and £63 return, taxes and charges included.

I’m a travel writer with a fear of flying. WTF.


Three weeks ago I was on an overnight, long-haul Emirates flight that hit turbulence somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Even the crew were told to strap in.

After repeating my usual mantra of “cobbled street, cobbled street” for a bit, I realised that this was going to go on a while. I was shivering uncontrollably and feeling a rising anxiety. It didn’t help that I was in a seat on my own, away from the family.

Then I remembered how tired the captain had sounded when he made his pre-take off announcements. This wasn’t good.

Time to go to Defcon 3 – Meditation. I’ve often found a good tactic is to take long, very slow breaths and count them in rounds of ten. I counted four lots of ten, and another five, before the worst of it was over. About 20-30 minutes in total. (The counting is a distraction from thinking about either the imminent crash dive or the sharks circling in the water below.)

After the turbulence started to ease off, I looked around me to share the relief only to find everyone around me fast asleep.

This is what is so utterly annoying about fear of flying. It’s a private hell.

Still, there and then, I decided I’d never fly again.


It’s three weeks later. I’m at Gate 52 at Manchester Airport. It’s 6.20am and I’m about to board the flight I promised myself I would never get on.

Because although during that seemingly endless half an hour of turbulence, I was ready to cough up for a Eurostar ticket and a TGV down to the south of France to visit family, once my feet were on firm ground, my irrational fears seemed ridiculous and laughable.

Besides, how cowardly would I be to back out now? For the rest of my days, I would be forced to look back at this moment and see it as a yellow-bellied turning point in my life when I finally gave in to my fears. Worse than that, I could pretty much say goodbye to my travel adventures and writing work.

There was another factor. Bmibaby were offering to fly us anywhere on their network for free. How churlish would it be to turn that down? Especially when all they were asking was that we went and had a great time and blogged a bit about the trip.


It’s hard to explain fear of flying to anyone who doesn’t have it.

The anticipation of flying can be crippling, wiping out all enjoyment until you land. There are crash dreams ahead of time and imaginary or media images of crash sites that pop into your head mid-flight.

But that’s just the start of it. I personally check the plane’s exterior for cracks in the fuselage before boarding. I also run-through all members of my family as the plane powers up down the runway to the point of no return – just in case.

Uncalled for, I remember Concorde, Lockerbie, 9-11, last month’s plane crash in Nepal.

I cross my fingers, fidget and say a prayer to the Catholic god of my childhood.

After take-off, I count 22 minutes until I feel safe – the time of a crash I once heard about on the news.

I uncross my fingers, and have to sit straight up in my seat, while simultaneously craning my neck out of the window to see that we are actually moving forward. My ears are on animal alert for changes in engine noise.

Talking with other passengers or even my own co-travellers is an annoying distraction as it breaks my concentration. But books and magazines aren’t engaging enough for my crash-focused brain. I remember Red Dwarf’s emergency procedures of taking out airline magazines and intently reading features on, for example, Turkey’s blossoming wine industry.

Since 2001 and a bereavement, I’ve also taken Valium to get me on the plane.

It’s horrible the emotional wringer flying puts me through. And it’s exhausting.

Fortunately, there is a ‘but’…


I think it is important to keep facing this phobia and not to let it shut me down. So despite everything I still get on the plane.

I do this knowing the fear will be gone once I’m there. And the nausea will be forgotten – at least until next time. I’ve probably failed in explaining how debilitating it can be, but it is what it is, and I have to deal with it.

So here I go again. A travel journalist with a phobia of flying.

Ironic, isn’t it.


Kiss the captain! A big, big thankyou to Captain Mark Dixon of BMIbaby, who navigated high cross winds on takeoff to cruise us smoothly onward to Toulouse, landing the plane safely an hour and 35 minutes later. Now at last I can enjoy the holiday.

As if there was anything to be worried about really. 🙂

And thankyou to also to Bmibaby.com, who have sponsored this trip. Trip info and prices to come in a future post.

Meanwhile here are some photos I took of the transfer from Birmingham to Manchester Airport at 3am today (now shifted to a separate post ‘Every journey starts with an airport transfer‘) – it’s time to feature all the bits that a travel writer rarely covers.

How nice is Toulouse Airport, for example!

Unexpected Paris in 21 pictures

After shunting Paris out of the limelight in my last post, I’m now driven to post some of the less obvious pictures of the city to rebalance the universe. This ‘surprise’ selection is all taken from my trip there in April 2010.

1. Walking through walls
Marcel Aymé and tent

2. Giant bicycle
Giant bicycle wheel

3. Urban cows
Urban cows in Paris

4. Bloody face
Passage des Abbess

5. La chaise (geddit?)
Pere Lachaise

6. Surprise bear
Bear in Paris

7. Mushroom chimneys
Paris chimneys

8. Copper Metro
Arts Et Metiers seats in wood

9. Photographic grave
Montparnasse Cemetery 9

10. Pavement art by Louis Trondheim
Louis Trondheim bunneh!

11. Giant mirrorball

12. Verdigris body
Montmartre Cemetery

13. Bonus cemetery cat
Bonus cat

14. Tutankhamun
Tutankhamun busker

15. Sunny yellow seats
Seats in yellow

16. Mosaic grafitti artist
Mosaic art

17. Parc de la Villette folly
Parc de la Villette folly

18. The kiss
Paris in love

19. Optical lines
Videodrome 27

20. I spy
Paris Metro 5

21. Van-dal?
Van art