Photos & Projects

Snapshots of a Commute – by Greg May

November 4, 2017

It is dark. Cold. Wet. Normal really. Spring in the Calderdale Valley is not a time to rejoice for the green shoots of a new year, but a time to wait for the sun to finally crest the skyline and flow like syrup along the valley floor. It is not that winters here are as hard as other places, they are just unrewarding. Low light conditions are normal, and what we do get is grey and dull. However, this is perfect for someone who enjoys black and white over colour as a medium.

January, February, March. Every day so far I’ve ridden to work. Two hours, forty four kilometres of canal towpath to get to Manchester, forty four kilometres to escape homewards. Forty four kilometres of ice, mud, greasy cobbles, early morning canal drinkers and dog shit. All in the name of training for a mountain bike race the length of the USA. With work, family, and friends, it was the easiest way to combine training without too much of an impact on normal life. Or what life is for a bike racer.

As you may guess, this became somewhat tedious.

As winter receded, I saw the seasons change. The light came over the moors earlier and earlier and the light lingered later on my return ride. It would still be months yet before I left the house in direct sunlight. Trying to explain the joy of those daily moments to my wife proved difficult. How do you explain joy in the warmth of the suns first rays? In the first sign of green grass? In actually being able to see further than the arc of light thrown out from your handlebars?

Images. Snapshots of a commute. Daily sights for me. Something new for her.

I’d acquired my late fathers Canon AE1 Program a few years earlier. Sat in a box of memories I couldn’t deal with at the time I chose it for the job. The camera reminds me of my youth. Evenings in smoke filled community halls where bearded men gathered nodding sage like at the images they’d pinned to the wall before wandering towards the bar. As I child I wandered the halls looking for images of scantily clad women. Catholic Ireland in the mid 80’s, there were none, just nuns. Using it felt right.

A 50mm f1.8 and some Kentmere 400 were placed front and centre as a simple dependable combination in the grim northern light. With 24 exposures, a photograph every 2 kilometres from home to work would give me a chance to show my wife what my morning was like. Her still tucked up in bed, dreaming, warm, content. It also gave me something to think about, stopping at the side of a canal, looking for something interesting to photograph. Actually thinking about my father for the first time in years.

The results surprised me when I had the roll developed. Snapshots of a day I had forgotten about. I remember that lock gate. That fence. That floating swan pedalo so out of place in an urban environment. The bridge where I was beaten up. The 7am Special Brew drinkers at Rochdale at the canal basin, always pleasant, always calling me sir. The images themselves are uninspiring. Nothing you couldn’t see on any other canal in the area. But to me, they are burned into my memory through repetition.

A year on, I look again and smile. I miss the commute, by bike and film as much as I miss him. He taught me to look at the world differently. Not just move blandly through it. Finding something interesting in the banal is not easy. I don’t claim to be able to do it, but to be made aware that it is possible, that was explained to me at a young age as something to look for.

The Canon is not my best camera. Nor my favourite camera, for the memories it evokes are not always pleasant. But it is one I shoot with, a tangible physical connection to my father that I can pick up – load – be with him. Even just for a few frames. It’s been a while since it has had a roll through it. Maybe it is time again?


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  • Reply
    Jose Caneda
    November 4, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    “Finding something interesting in the banal is not easy”
    It’s not sir, but you have got it! congratulations.
    You have made me “been there”.

    • Reply
      Greg May
      November 4, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      Thank you! Oddly, I now find myself looking at things to find out what may be interesting, if not for me, but for someone else. It’s a challenge I enjoy.

  • Reply
    John Robert Young
    November 5, 2017 at 2:51 am

    Ideas are the beginning of every art form. This is a delightful idea with a sense of rythem and poetry. However,be mindful of language. S…. jars and tends to spoil the purity of the concept.

    • Reply
      Greg May
      November 6, 2017 at 1:59 pm

      Language has a place when used to evoke a response. Which was the intention. The joy of a past life writing words for a living taught me the consequence of an ill advised curse, but the wonder of it when placed well.

      Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed the other words and the images with them.

  • Reply
    Robin Gray
    November 5, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    What a very enjoyable read, accompanied by some really excellent photos.

    • Reply
      Greg May
      November 5, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      Thanks Robin, glad you enjoyed it.

  • Reply
    NIGEL Fishwick
    November 5, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Great photos backed up by a well told narrative. Excellent work.

    I’m of the opinion that there are great photos to be found everywhere. They just need the right eye to uncover them.

    • Reply
      Greg May
      November 5, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      I agree, if feel it’s a matter of finding something – or someone – to help train those eyes. Directly, or indirectly

  • Reply
    Stephen Malagodi
    November 6, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Nice writing, nice photos.

  • Reply
    Ken Hindle-May
    November 14, 2017 at 11:18 am

    I think this is one of my favourite pieces on the site to date. Wonderful narrative with some very atmospheric shots that really give a sense of the landscape and environment you’ve travelled through.

    • Reply
      Greg May
      November 14, 2017 at 11:26 am

      Thank you Ken, I appreciate your comment and I’m happy you enjoyed the piece.

  • Reply
    Chris Pattison
    November 23, 2017 at 8:58 am

    A quality narrative in text and images is a wonderful thing. I really enjoyed this Greg.

    • Reply
      Greg May
      November 23, 2017 at 9:16 am

      Thanks Chris, happy you enjoyed the post.

  • Reply
    5 frames with a Canon AE-1 Program – By Greg May - 35mmc
    March 6, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    […] old friend. We have previous. But that is ok, I’m happy to take you out and walk you around. Doing what you do best. […]

  • Reply
    Peter Boorman
    April 7, 2018 at 10:07 am

    Coming back to read this again, because it is beautiful. The words and the pictures: both are beautiful, and each is a bit more for being in the company of the other.

    • Reply
      Greg May
      April 9, 2018 at 8:40 am

      Thank you Peter, that means a lot to me. The images, and the words, provoke my own brain when I look at them.

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