After 9 years of watching everyone else take part in this Cardiff-based photography competition it was with great trepidation that I decided to put myself forward and enter it as it celebrates it’s tenth anniversary.
From humble beginnings this photography contest has grown and now attracts hundreds of entrants from across the whole of the UK but mainly people from around the city of Cardiff.
“The first UK Photomarathon was held in Cardiff in the summer of 2004 when 120 people took up the challenge. In 2010, the event made the switch from film to digital. The event now attracts 400 entrants each year.”
Recommendations on the Photomarathon website gave tips on getting an early night’s sleep, wearing sensible shoes and stocking up on food and drink for the day. I attempted to goto bed early but my brain went into creative over-drive trying to work out what I’d do if certain words came – hence a really bad night’s sleep ensued! (ps nothing that I thought of actually came up!)
So arriving in Cardiff Bay around 9am we made our way for registration at The Wales Millennium Centre where another 450 participants collected their cards and got memory cards checked in their cameras.
A short and invigorating speech encouraged all participants before we shuffled out of the glorious building picking up our first card detailing the first four categories. A further four categories would be released at 2pm and the final four at 6pm – so this really WAS going to be a marathon!
The first 4 categories were:-
1. My Entry Number / Me, Myself & I?
2. Street level
A steady stream of participants headed to the local bars, cafes and restaurants to plan their attack and mull over what on earth they were going to shoot for the first four categories.
We headed towards The Mount Stuart pub and sat on the veranda with loads of other participants who were busily looking at table numbers, prices on menus and anything that would fit their entry number. The only thing that sprung to mind with my entry number of 370 was the missing flight in Asia but I wanted to steer clear of anything to do with that!
As this is the CARDIFF Photomarathon I really wanted Cardiff to be the star of the photos and illustrate what a fantastic city we live in! I didn’t really want to use props or anything too cliched or contrived. I also didn’t want to tie myself down to a common theme or thread throughout my 12 photos – so the only rule I set myself was – try and feature Cardiff! Also to end up with a variety of shots, in a variety of locations using a variety of techniques…. I think you get my drift with this! 😉
CATEGORY 1. ME MYSELF & I?
There was no massive inspiration rushing to the forefront for anything in particular but essentially the first photo is always going to be a bit of a selfie with your entry number! As it was also supposed to be ‘Me, Myself and I’ I thought a reflection between two mirrors would be sufficient to show myself from a few different angles (plus a few photo ID tags too!)
The ‘straight-on’ mirror sorta worked but in my mind they had to be at angles to get a better range of reflections. Time to find some more mirrors!
I eventually settled on a reflection of a reflection in a mirror with my number scribbled on a cup – as it was going through 3 mirrors I had to scribe it in reverse! (I didnt realise this until I attempted to shoot it!)
Also it wasn’t obvious that things were being reflected so it was time to add a few props into the shot to firstly add a bit of interest but also aid the illusion of what was actually happening! Copies of the the South Wales Echo and Western Mail were added and hopefully prove the other mirror you can’t see!
CATEGORY 2. STREET LEVEL
Onwards and upwards and time to move away from Cardiff Bay via the free train to Queen Street station – did I mention you get free Cardiff Bus and local train transport around Cardiff?
The next category was ‘Street Level’ and time to either get down close to street level, find an uneven street or even location featuring some hoodies lurking about on a street corner acting all ‘street’ – it’s usually standard on a Saturday afternoon for them all to be hanging around just at the end of Queen Street but for some reason today there wasn’t a single one in sight! So it was time to try and find something at odds to the levelness of a street.
A quick wander up Queen Street revealed some sort of metal sculpture near Charles Street which was a fair few degrees to one side. (hurrah!) So an attempt to shoot THAT level so the street became un-level! (I didn’t realise how much barrel distortion I was getting at the time!)
We spoke to the Big Issue seller but it felt a bit cliched and not really the sorta thing I wanted to shoot but hey, insurance time again! 😉 I tried this from a few different angles and it (obviously) worked out that I need people walking along Queen Street in the background too!
A young child came playing on the bollards behind but quickly disappeared before more busy shoppers streamed past. Oh there was definately something worth working with here but once again it came down to mathematics, perspective and illusion! I tried to feature the Queen Street sign between the verticals but they were distorting quite a bit, shooting quite tight lessened the over-all effect of the street sloping but you needed to see the whole sculpture to make the effect work. There was only one thing for it – SHOOT WIDE and show the whole environment!
Hopefully the contrast of the paving draws your eyes in then you follow up the vertical to realise that Queen Street is now sloping!
CATEGORY 3. CAMOUFLAGE
The next category was ‘Camouflage’ but within already hides the irony of ‘how can you shoot something you can’t see because it’s camouflaged’? But that was taking it VERY literally so I decided to be a bit more liberal with my interpretation of camouflage here.
First up a few more insurance shots showcasing some old and new structures in Cardiff! Who’d think there’s a Gym and Tesco behind this!?!?
As a regular photographer of graffiti around Cardiff I thought I must get one shot in there of some local work so decided that this piece by RMER on the Elm Street lanes was used for this category. It’s great to see James Brown’s hair change colour depending on the season! Just what is that ivy hiding? Also do I shoot it tight, portrait or landscape or once again show a bit more of the environment? Still can’t decide!
CATEGORY 4. TEN
And the final category in the first batch was ‘Ten’ – this one troubled me the most! Ten fingers? Ten toes? Ten Feet Tall? Perfect 10? Ten green bottles? This one just wasn’t getting me excited at all for some reason. There was loads of shops in town with price tags and signs showing a ’10’ but what did it mean – did it say anything – no it didn’t! (Was I overthinking this one?)
Think it was getting VERY near lunchtime, the next set of categories was already out and we could see people shooting them – so I felt I had to move on. Whilst walking to collect the next set I saw these 10 gentlemen in The Cardiff Story window. Simple. Sorted! Also time for another insurance shot just incase!
CATEGORY 5. WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
The next four categories were swiftly collected from Waterloo Tea in the Wyndham Arcade and a burger was called for in Ten Feet Tall (just incase there was any inspiration still for ‘Ten’) – there wasn’t but the burger was lush!
Time to cogitate and deliberate the next 4 categories being:-
5. We’re all in this together
6. Attention to detail
8. Crossed wires
Initially nothing was particularly jumping out at me (but I blamed that on the cider!) but a few ideas around people in the stocks at Cardiff Castle got my juices going a little bit! (I could also get Cardiff Castle into a shot too!)
To walk off the steak and choritzo burger I made my way to the castle only to see a sign on High Street for a ‘Foodie Event’ – nothing instantly hit me as I was still conjuring up shots of the stocks in my head.
I carried on walking then suddenly stopped in my tracks and looked again – if only I could frame out the first few letters? The street was clear for all of 10 seconds so I quickly snapped just three shots and enjoyed the irony of it all!
CATEGORY 5. ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Within the grounds of Cardiff Castle the stocks looked rather dull with no willing participants but there seemed to be a lot of noise coming from nearer the stone steps. A peacock was almost enclosed by people and the stone wall and was being rather noisy. I always knew the castle had peacocks but i’ve never actually seen any here before. It was quite a sight and I felt obliged to shoot away!
I then began thinking whether this could be used for ‘Attention to detail’ when the peacock began to preen itself? There was also a quick display of it’s really colourful plummage which I captured in just a handful of photos. The peacock got very close to me but was continually moving and getting more sqwalky – I did capture this shot with it’s mouth open – just look at those teeth! Gutted I never spotted the teeth as this couldve been a contender for ‘attention to detail’! I actually like the bizarre framing!
Still with ‘attention to detail’ in mind I’d pre-arranged to visit The New York Deli whom had agreed to make me one of their special New York Hoagies and cut it especially for me! It was VERY busy in there so instead I spotted a cake shop opposite with this enticing pink cake on full display in the window.
I spoke to the pleasant staff at Cinnamon Sticks whom allowed me to take a snap of the quirky cake – the manageress even agreed to place the cherry back on top (she also invited me into their kitchen to see other cakes being made!) – if only I hadnt just eaten dinner! 😉
Another quick insurance shot complete with the lack of attention to detail from this street artist!
In my mind at this stage I had two half decent images for the ‘Attention to detail’ – one of a fantastic peacock and another of a rather cliched cake – so it was time to move on again and decide later!
CATEGORY 7. CONTROL
Numerous hen parties, stag do’s and birthday party groups were gathering in town so it was time for a few quick candid snaps before heading back down on the bus to the bay.
A quick idea for ‘control’ featuring the ‘monkey clock’ on St Mary Street. I quite liked the idea of a bunch of monkeys being in control and possibly a true reflection on society today! (oh he’s starting to go deep here!)
I really liked the ‘Control’ category as it conjured up so many possibilities. Being down the bay there was control from The Senedd, actual traffic control via the bollards and cones outside the Seneed and even control via the CCTV circuits that monitored the place. I did bring a prop of a Lego minifigure in the guise of a policeman if required and gave it a go.
I took many of these flags to get the correct combination and rather like it when The Senedd, Union Jack and European flags were prominent and the Welsh flag totally deflated!
But nothing was really exciting me that much at this stage so it was time for a walk over to Roald Dahl Plass to see if anything was going on! Oh there sure was!
A young Polish man in his early 20s was creating humungous bubbles and entertaining the kids with them. I got there just before he ended and think this shot really sums up the control HE had over the kids, HIS control over the bubbles and how he has taken control of HIS life by being enterprising and creating this money making scheme! (he probably made a decent £20 for just 5 minutes of bubbles!) You’re hired!
CATEGORY 8. CROSSED WIRES
The next category of ‘Crossed wires’ was always going to go one of only two ways! Actual crossed wires or trying to illustrate someone getting their wires crossed! I conjured up loads of crossed wires scenarios in my head and searched for some people who may be able to illustrate them but visually it just seemed to fall flat on it’s face! Revert back to easy option!
CATEGORY 9. THE DYING OF THE LIGHT
Time to race back to the WMC to pick up the last set of topics around 7pm which were:-
9. The dying of the light
10. Stacked up
11. Join the dots
12. It’s a wrap
The sun was beginning to get low in the sky with the night clouds appearing – surely it wasn’t going to be as easy as photographing a view across the bay was it?
I did get a few nice shots – but nothing that really made me commit to it.
There was a light ship on Roath Lock which is now shut down but it looked rather lonely and needed something else aswell!
Just infront of it was a sculpture of a Welsh miner complete with a mine lamp attached to his hemlet. So I ended up with the miner’s lamp, a lightship and an ever diminishing light in the sky. Oh throw in a lampost for good measure too…….
Other possible shots were just of the lightship and also the spire of the Norwegian Church!
CATEGORY 10. STACKED UP
My initial thought for ‘Stacked up’ was one of the many towering apartment blocks throughout Cardiff but thought I’ll try something else aswell. There is that loverly red geometric bridge near Roath Lock with the original lock gates beneath too.
For some reason a load of earth has been stacked up to prevent water flow between the lock and bay area. It was then quite nice to ‘stack up’ multiple layers of detail from foreground to the far distance ending with the flats in place of The Billybanks! (I got my stacked up apartments in there aswell!)
CATEGORY 11. JOIN THE DOTS
My second least favourite category was ‘Join the dots’ My image does what it says on the tin but how else could I illustrate this? I played about with a kid’s spotty jacket amongst other Cardiff Bay dots and even a dotted line piece of art on a window – but felt the simplicity of my entry won me over.
CATEGORY 11. IT’S A WRAP
And then the final category of ‘It’s a wrap’ – after a long day behind us it certainly felt appropriate. Would I feature a sandwich wrap? knuckles being wrapped? someone wearing a wrap or find some bubble wrap? All possibilities but once again none felt right or what I wanted to achieve.
There was less than an hour left so I felt compelled to have a walk up Bute Street for some last minute inspiration! (got no idea why I chose this route!)
I only made it as far as the Cardiff Bay train station and some orange mesh wrap was ummm wrapped around some posts and jumped straight out at me.
It was still a bit tenuous but on closer inspection the actually street this was located on was called ‘West Close’ a quick reframe and time to feature the word ‘Close’ through one of the holes created in the wrap pattern.
I liked the idea of seeing the word ‘close’ but it was leaving just a little bit too much to the imagination to work out what the orange stuff was so I just had to enter the wider shot with it being wrapped around the posts and hope you naturally see the close sign – which at the time of taking in this shot I hadn’t even noticed!
It now was certainly a wrap and time to select the 12 photos to enter and then delete the rest. A quick dash to the WMC and my photos were downloaded and it was only 9.50pm! Cutting it fine!
It was hard work but mentally and physically but overall I’m pleased with how the whole day panned out and what photos I submitted.
Cardiff parsay wasn’t (exactly) the star but I feel it aided me in getting some great snaps! I’m quite pleased with the variety of shots I got and that Cardiff was reflected in them ranging from busy shoppers on Queen Street to a striking red bridge in the Bay and even the steps of The Senedd. Not just locations but also great people from Cardiff like artist RMER to the polish bubble maker.
It was great to get some illusion and mystery in there too from the mirrors, to the leaning sculpture and even the camouflage!
I feel I couldve taken 12 rather cliched photos but only fell into this when desperation came knocking and the pink cake was screaming cliche at me but it was only when I realised how ummmm (how shall i put this) rustic the cake was then I rather enjoyed the juxtoposition of the attention to that cherry.
Cardiff is such a fun and entertaining city that hopefully that is also reflected in the graffiti, bubbles and the ‘Foodie Event’. Whereas Im glad the rugby gnomes representated Wales in the set!
What a truly wonderful day it was, speaking to so many other participants and seeing so many snappers dotted around the city!
Click the link below to just see the 12 photos I ended up entering:-