Black and white basilicas

Today I’m comparing two black and white photos of basilicas. Recently I drove to the end of a street leading to a bushwalk up a hill and found a Ukrainian church near the beginning of the path. It’s very appealing, a pretty Byzantine-style church that looks larger than it is. It was closed that day but I walked around the whole structure and found it’s about the size of a large room.

Its eastern European architectural style reminded me of the basilica in Heliopolis, Cairo, in the photos from Egypt in my WWII collection.

A comparison of my photo of the Ukrainian church with my father’s old photo from about 1941 shows how much photography has improved in capturing detail. The leaves on the trees in the newer photo are individually visible in the foreground while the trees in the old photo look impressionistic.

I find that the soft edges and slight blur of the old photo evoke an emotion, a wondering, whereas the sharpness of every brick and leaf in the new one evokes a feeling of truth, as though the older photo is concealing unnecessary or ugly details while the new one wants us to know it all.

The Ukrainian church is made of creamy-orange bricks and is set before dark green bushland, and these colours give the image life. So my conclusion is that this image is not best in black and white. By contrast the church in Heliopolis, which is cream (I can see this in modern colour shots) in a setting of streets and colonnaded buildings, is best in black and white which emphasises the geometry not only in the church itself but also in the numerous arched windows and doors in buildings around it.



365 Unusual Things: 120-126

120. Walked on a path damaged by tree roots and graffitied by frustrated cyclists wishing it was as smooth as the main road on the other side of the trees.

121. My red anthurium terrarium is turning moss-green, but only half. The other half is grey.

122. Found a sneaky one-hour parking spot outside a childcare centre which I’d assumed was only for them.

123. Read that the term soul-mate was first recorded in 1822 when the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in a letter: ‘To be happy in Married Life… you must have a Soul-mate.’

124. Found a man’s black felt hat with a feathery decoration in its band, lying on the path near the shops.

125. Saw a woman in a hairdresser’s having her hair washed, her head laid back, facing the ceiling, reading her phone.

126. Saw a brilliant orange sunset through a wall of windows while being tested by a French tutor on a story about Sartre, but couldn’t say a word about it.


365 Unusual Things: 113-119

113. Sitting writing this blog when a bride in a long white gown, holding its train bunched up in her arms, walks past my window with her groom.

114. Forced to stay home for 7 days because of Covid. To fill my days  I took back a jigsaw Christmas present I’d given my son.

115. Anzac Day today, but I can’t go to any ceremonies, so I lit a candle at my gate at dawn for my father and his father.

116. All of us isolating in this house have run out of things to say after ‘Good morning’.

117. Was given some toothpaste that whitens teeth with charcoal.

118. In my rectangular front garden, one half is rapidly producing these orange mushrooms. On the other side there’s not even one.

119. Lights draped in front of the new Nepalese grocery store opposite my house are flashing disturbingly, but the shop is closed so there’s no one to ask to turn the flashing off.


Black and white sailboats

There’s a photo of feluccas in my WWII collection, a captivating image of Egyptian boats sailing on the Nile. It doesn’t make me want to sail on one, but it does hold my complete attention with its beauty of vast white sails amid blacks and whites and greys.

The grace and fullness of their sails, the rounded triangular bow of the wooden boat, as though cloth were wrapped round the hull and pulled up to a point, the thin leaning mast, all of it, whenever I rediscover this photo in my collection I can’t take my eyes off it.

Visiting our local sailing club a few weeks ago, I saw some learners in boats with white sails, and compared the sight with the group of feluccas in my photo. I momentarily wished I was standing by the Nile. I’ve converted the photo of the club boats to black and white for comparison with my father’s photo from 1941, but I see that the beauty of the older image is all in the size and whiteness of the foreground sail outlined against the sky. The tree on the right, leaning out at the same angle as the sails, is also pleasing. And the wind in the sails shows the boats are moving. A good composition.

On the other hand it’s hard to detect movement in the modern photo. A loss. However, there is no loss in removing the colour, and possibly a gain, as the image is composed of greys and whites, with only a fluoro green stripe on each sail and dark green bushland on the mountain. Reducing it to black and white turns it into a story rather than a happy snap.

My judgement after comparing the two photos is that the 1941 image is superior. After looking at colour images online of feluccas, I’m convinced that some photo compositions are better without it.


365 Unusual Things: 106-112

106. Made an Osterlamm, an Easter lamb cake. In Europe it’s not unusual, but no one in my circle of Australian friends and family has ever heard of it.

107. My week-old grandson (my only grandchild so that’s unusual on its own) was crying until my son started playing piano, quite loudly, and the baby went silent. Instantly.

108. For another son’s 30th birthday celebration today I stuck candles in the Osterlamm so it doubled as a birthday cake.

109. Woke at 4 am to see the moon shining on my face through my window. At 4 pm I was lying on my bed (because I’d woken too early…) and the sun was shining on my face from about the same point in the sky as the moon.

110. I was photographing 3 swans between 2 trees when another swan came hurtling past, running on the water.

111. A Doggy Day Care opposite my house closed down recently and today it opened as a Nepalese grocery store.

112. When I read that Putin wants to seal off the Asovstal steelworks in Mariupol, and ordered his troops to ‘Block off this industrial area so that a fly cannot pass through’, I immediately thought of a story I translated, ‘The Time of Serfdom’ by Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé, written in 1894, which includes this part about a cruel landlord who crushed a peasant revolt:

The next day, B. and his guard visited the village of the mutineers. The lancers surrounded it; they were instructed to let no man or woman pass, or even one head of cattle. ‘Do not let even one chicken get away,’ Vassili had ordered. They brought straw and faggots to every part of the village and set it on fire. Everything went up in flames, down to the last mean dwelling, and not one chicken got away. B. had kept his word, the revolt was repressed once and for all.

My translation of the story is freely available on the website Bewildering Stories.


365 Unusual Things: 99-105

99. At Lake Burley Griffin today I saw 2 unusual things: this man and his children rowing a wooden boat, and the Beijing Garden across the water. I’d be the only person in this city who hasn’t ever been to it.

100. Today is the 100th day of this year.

101. Asked my Chinese student to talk about anything she has read in the news lately. She told me she’s been reading Chinese newspapers and believes Russia is right to bomb Ukraine.

102. Turned a corner at the shops and ran into an Easter Bunny in a full fluffy costume.

103. The National Library Bookshop, which had lost my translated books, sent me a message to say they found them. They’ve been missing for months.

104. My new car has a second rear-view mirror attached to the original mirror and today the sun shone on it until the rubber grips melted and it fell off and swung free while I was driving.

105. Read in Around the World in Eighty Days about waiters who wore shoes with swan-skin soles. I’d never heard of them and assumed it was actually swanskin, like pigskin or crocodile skin. But I’ve now learned it’s a soft flannel fabric (as well as the unplucked skin of a swan). I was looking at my local swans this afternoon, trying to imagine skinning them for waiters’ shoes. In the original French, the waiters wear ‘souliers à semelles de molleton’, which is simply a soft fabric. Why in English has someone imagined stepping softly on the skin of a swan?



Black and white pyramids

When my father was in Egypt with the Australian army in 1941, he visited the pyramids and brought back several photos. I looked at the shape of the great pyramid in the photo here on the left where the smaller ones in the distance are dwarfs, and thought of the glass structure outside the Louvre which I visited in 2010. It even has a small pyramid beside it which makes the two Egyptian pyramids at the left of the older photo look the same height relative to the large one. But it’s a two-dimensional illusion, of course.

I turned my photo black and white to see if I could give it a 1940s look, but it lacks the soft blur of old photography, especially at the edges. The man captured at the very left of the Egyptian image is recognisable as human though no detail is visible, unlike the visitors to the Louvre who are possibly identifiable.


It’s easy to put our own colours into these two photos; one is composed of sand and bricks and dramatic clouds, the other is glass and metal and stone, and a bland Parisian sky where the only blue was visible in the darker streak, so not much loss there, colourwise. The newer photo is beautiful in black and white, in my opinion, because of the sharp lines of the architecture of both the glass pyramid and the Louvre palace nearby.


This exercise with pyramids reminds me that everything we create is inspired by something created earlier by someone else somewhere else. Even this blog post.


365 Unusual Things: 92-98

92. Today is the last day of daylight saving. Until October.

93. I was taking this photo of some learner boats on the lake today when an old sailing instructor asked me if I’d like to learn to sail. Ah, no, I said.

94. Gave a student of migrant English an oral spelling test today. She spelled leather l-a-d-d-e-r and southern s-u-d-d-e-n.

95. A guy sitting next to me in a waiting room had new jeans on with the label still stapled to his back pocket. It read STRAIGHT LEG in bold black letters.

96. Saw an orange van with a washing machine and a clothes dryer set up in the back, parked beside a community centre. Homeless people use the service to wash their clothes.

Photo courtesy

97. Saw 2 lame ducks. The first had a lame thick right leg. The second had a useless left foot.

98. These were the choices for kids in a café tonight. Funny how ‘fish and chips’ is acceptable on a menu but ‘dog and chips’ is disturbing.


365 Unusual Things: 85-91

85. Today at a landscaping place I learned you can buy dust.

86. Saw a guy lying on a park bench while his girlfriend was plucking his eyebrows.

87. Saw the first lot of ducklings on my local pond, though I’ve lived here for a couple of years.

88. Today, the 88th day of the this year, is World Piano Day due to the 88 keys on a piano.

89. A crane at a construction site in my suburb has started lighting up colourfully at night. Tonight it’s red and yellow and resembles a thin, leaning, Eiffel Tower.

90. Saw a lame duck with its right leg twisted backwards and took a photo, then heard a man, a migrant, phoning an animal welfare person to tell them the duck needs help.

91. My local barista, who I’ve felt sorry for as a poor hospitality worker, stopped me in the shopping centre today to tell me he’s bought the café.

Black and white holes in the wall

There’s a photo in my father’s collection that makes me look again, every time. It’s a view through a remnant of an Egyptian building, a stone wall, to a mosque a short distance away.

To compare it with one I took with a digital camera, a small Sony I had in 2013 (not as good as 2022 cameras but better than a 1940s camera), I’ve chosen one of the arched embrasures constructed on the cliff edge near Port-Vendres in France (there are a few). I was struck by the similar elements, the arch, the stones, the connection to the Second World War.

The French stone wall has an unnecessarily beautiful arch defining a space through which to point a cannon, and two thinner holes below for rifles, in a position that makes them look like eyes, particularly in my original colour photo where they show the blue sea beyond. In the older photo, the shaded sides of the stone frame and the buildings beyond contrast well with the harshly lit walls under a clear hot sky, giving the picture drama and life. I prefer this older pic, perhaps because it’s taken at an angle, not straight through the hole in the wall. I can imagine standing there at that window in the desert heat.

Zooming in on the stones in the newer image reveals not a lot of difference in the clarity of the two photos. The shape of each brick in the foreground of the older image is quite clear, with the image only blurred about the edges where the modern image is sharp even at the sides.

In case you’re wondering about the blue eyes in the defensive structure, here’s the colour shot:

Defensive structure near Fort de la Mauresque, 2013