Olli Thomson

Category: Travel

On the Serpentine

I’m off to London today for a few days and I’ll be visiting two major exhibitions by Martin Parr and Don McCullin. In anticipation, here’s a picture I took on a trip to the city last year. This was taken on a beautiful evening looking over the Serpentine in Hyde Park. On the left you can see Christo’s London Mastaba which stood in the lake between June and September 2018.

Comber Road

Last night I opened up the big box of old photographs that has travelled the world with us for the last thirteen years with a view to picking out some of the better shots and scanning them. It was nice to look back and reminisce about places, people and travel thirty years ago when we all looked so much younger. What was not so nice was the realisation that I was a really terrible photographer! So far I’ve only found a handful of shots that are worth scanning. There are probably a few more to come but it’s thin pickings.

This is one image I did like. The Comber Road runs from Dundonald on the outskirts of Belfast to the small town of Comber and I lived on the Dundonald end for ten years. Comber itself is famous for whiskey, potatoes and Major General Hugh Robert Rollo Gillespie. The distillery closed down in the mid 1950’s, though some of the old buildings still stand. Comber Earlies are only grown in the area around the town. As the name suggests these are early harvest potatoes and a favourite of the local chippies. Major General Gillespie is one of those larger than life characters from the days of Empire whose life defies summary.

The Comber Road was my running track. I would run from my house to Comber and back or, more often, once I was into the countryside I would swing right and head up into these hills under the steady gaze of the local sheep. The roads were quiet, the air was fresh, and I nearly always had the place to myself.

I liked the horizontal layers of colour in this picture broken up by the vertical tracks of the tractor and the trees on the horizon. The negative was a little messy after perhaps seventeen or eighteen years and it took some work to clean up the area on the top left. I think it turned out quite nicely. I’m pretty sure I had a Canon EOS at the time, possibly the 30, which I had just bought around that time. The negative tells me it was shot on Fuji Reala so I clearly had good taste in film back then even if my technical skills in using it weren’t quite up to scratch.

Nieuw Kerke, Delft

The first stones of the New Church were laid in 1393 but the structure was only finished in 1496 with the completion of the original tower. The current tower dates from 1872, the original and a second tower both having been lost to lighting strikes. This current tower at more than 350 feet is the second tallest in the Netherlands. Outside the church is a statue of Hugo De Groot, also known as Hugo Grotius, who is buried within.

As with the other churches I visited in Delft and Haarlem the interior space of this church is restrained, even austere. All of these churches were taken over by Protestants following the Reformation and the subsequent Beeldenstorm – the iconoclastic fury – stripped many of them of icons, statuary and art works. Not being a great enthusiast for religious ‘bling’ I prefer this very minimalist form. Here are some interior shots.

The church tower is open to visitors and it is possible to climb to three outdoor viewing levels, via a very narrow and tightly winding staircase. 376 steps will take you to the highest level at around 280 feet. The platform is extremely narrow and the surrounding wall is probably not much more than about four feet tall so if you don’t like heights this is definitely not for you.

Here are a few pictures, mostly taken from the highest level.

Finally, here are a couple of shots looking straight down. The first is from the lowest platform while the second is taken from the highest platform and in it you can see visitors on the middle platform. The structure between where they are and where I am is the clock which will give you an idea of where the high platform is if you look back at the picture of the tower at the start of this post.


On my recent visit to the Netherlands I spent a day in the city of Delft, around 55 minutes south of Amsterdam by train. The city gave its name to Defltware pottery and at its peak in the 17th century there were over thirty factories in the city making Delftware. Today only one remains, Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles, though it has been in business since 1653.

Delft also has a long association with the Dutch monarchy. William of Orange, who led the Dutch in the Eighty Years War against Spain, was buried in the New Church in Delft where he lies in an elaborate mausoleum. Many of his descendants are also buried in the church’s crypt.

Johannes Vermeer was a Delft native, just the best known of many artists of the Dutch Golden Age associated with the city. He is buried in Delft’s Old Church. Delft’s other famous son was Hugo De Groot, also known as Hugo Grotius, reformer, philosopher and jurist and viewed as the father of international law. His statue stands in the main square and he is buried in the New Church.

Here are some pictures.

Grote Kerk, Haarlem

The Grote Kerk also known as Sint-Bavokerk stands in the Grote Markt in Haarlem dominating the square and the city. The present church was built between 1370 and 1538 though there were churches on the site before this. The entire floor of the church is made up of gravestones, around 1,500 of them with the oldest dating back to the fifteenth century. The most famous is that of Frans Hals who lived and worked in Haarlem. Other famous artists buried in the church include Jacob van Ruisdael and Jan Molenaer.


No, that’s not a spelling mistake. Last week I was in the Netherlands visiting friends and spent a day in the city of Haarlem, just outside Amsterdam. Unfortunately the weather was mostly cold and wet while I was there and I wasn’t able to do as much photography as I had hoped, On the day I visited Haarlem it was at least dry with some sunshine, though there was also a bitingly cold wind blowing. Here are a few pictures.

Songs of Lao

Since visiting Laos a couple of years ago I’ve been on the lookout for a good photobook of the country but the few that I had discovered were mostly aimed at tourists looking for pictures of the country’s best known sites. It was only a couple of months ago that I came across Songs of Lao from Nazraeli Press. The book was published in 2016 but for some reason I had never seen it until recently.

Songs of Lao was published in association with Friends Without a Border, a children’s medical charity founded by Japanese photographer Kenro Izu. Izu set up the charity after witnessing the suffering of children during photographic trips to Angkor in Cambodia in the mid 1990’s. Working with the wider photographic community and beyond Izu’s organisation was able to open the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap in 1999. As well as providing an extensive range of medical services the hospital also worked with local health care providers to improve the overall standard of both administration and care in the region.

Fog on the Potomac

In January last year Washington DC experienced some bitingly cold weather with overnight temperatures dropping to -10C or even lower. On Sunday January 7th the low reached -13C. Five days later when these photographs here were taken the unusually cold weather had given way to unusually warm weather with a low of 14C and a high of 18C. The most spectacular result of these freak conditions was that the frozen Potomac river went straight from ice to steam and the river was covered with a dense layer of drifting, rolling fog. I was out for a walk that morning and in the absence of a ‘proper’ camera I took these pictures with my mobile phone.

Most pictures are of the river Potomac from the Washington DC side around the Arlington Memorial Bridge. A couple are looking back towards Rosslyn on the Virginia side of the river. There are also a couple from the Mall by the Lincoln Memorial where the same effect was visible over the reflecting pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, and amazingly could be seen inside the Lincoln Memorial itself where the moisture on the frozen floor was also turning to steam.

Sofia on Ektar

Here are a few shots from my second roll of 2019 shot in January on my Minolta XD with the Rokkor 24/2.8 MD and the Rokkor 50/1.4 MD lenses on Kodak Ektar 100.

The first shot is of the minaret of the Banya Bashi mosque, the only functioning mosque in Sofia which dates from the 16th century during the time of the Ottomans. It was reputedly designed by Mimar Sinan who was responsible for some of the most outstanding Ottoman mosques including the famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The second picture shows the excavated ruins of the ancient city of Serdika which lies beneath modern Sofia with the Orthodox church of Saint Nedelya in the background.

Single Shot – Friends

We lived near Tirana’s main park, the Grand Park, and most days I walked there, usually accompanied by a small gang of local street dogs who had adopted me into their pack. In the heavily polluted city the park together with the imaginatively named Artificial Lake provided one of the few escapes from the traffic, the pollution and the general chaos of Tirana. Every day the locals would come to walk, to play, to cycle, to picnic or just to sit and relax. On the weekends in particular the older generation would put on their Sunday best and promenade on the pathway that winds around the lake.

On this particular day I was watching life from a park bench when these two older gentlemen, strolling and chatting, approached and sat down a little way from me. They sat there in mostly companionable silence, exchanging the occasional few words, and I snapped this picture of them discreetly. They reminded me of my grandfather, though he was of an even older generation. Granda Moore always wore a suit and tie. I can’t recall him ever wearing anything else. He wore simple but sturdy leather shoes and he never went out without a hat. I could well imagine him sitting on the bench beside these two passing the time of day.


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