Transported to past, present and surreal

The Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico, on Route 66. Picture by Leo Palmer.
The Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico, on Route 66. Picture by Leo Palmer.

Morpeth Camera Club

On Tuesday, February 19, Morpeth Camera Club was very pleased to welcome guest speaker Leo Palmer with a talk entitled A Photographer’s Tale.

Leo is a member of Hexham and District Photographic Society and has been a serious photographer for more than 40 years. During that time he has received many awards, including Honorary Life Membership of the Royal Photographic Society in 2015.

Leo opened the evening by saying that in the 1970’s the main aim of most photographers was to hunt for the single image. He felt that there was much more to do and started to produce sets. We would be seeing a series of sets of images from a variety of places he had visited.

In the early days Greece fascinated Leo and every Easter he still visits Meteora, which he considers to be a modern wonder of the world. We saw images of monks and lofty monasteries.

In Erakora, which is not on the tourist trail, but which Leo considers to be a photographer’s paradise, we saw old widows and cats set in the myriad of back streets.

Next up were colourful images of the Taj Mahal, young sheep herders and doe-eyed children, and in Nepal, a Sadhu holy man and Boudhanath stupa, with Leo explaining the tragic end of Nepal’s royal family.

This was followed by photographs and anecdotes of a pilgrimage to Bhutan’s’ Tiger’s Rest Monastery.

In sharp contrast we were transported to New Mexico’s White Sands, known for its dramatic landscape of rare white gypsum sand dunes.

Leo’s audio visual show included wonderful photographs of sand patterns on white dunes, which turned to pastel hues as sunset approached. With its lone skeletal trees under big skies, taken in perfect light, Leo captured the ethereal quality of this amazing landscape.

More wonderful landscapes followed of Black Rock Cottage in Glen Coe, Yosemite Falls, Shiprock in New Mexico, massive sand dunes in Namibia and the lakes of Black Valley, Killarney.

A project on mannequins followed, examples of which had been inspired by famous models of the 60’s.

As they did not include a definite background in shop windows Leo decided to magically put them in context; a Venetian mannequin was placed in a Italian courtyard, and a Fenwick’s mannequin was transported into a backdrop of Cuban Spanish colonial archways. Similarly, models were placed in museums, Central Park and a ghost town.

Then there were tales of his trip on Route 66 when he came across an old garage with rusty cars and, as you do, he went to look at mannequins of hookers in the ladies’ toilets.

A mannequin of a glamorous waitress outside a diner with rusty trucks and windmill, a wigwam motel built in the 30’s complete with 50’s and 60’s Cadillacs, and the iconic Blue Swallow Motel sign, Leo regards as images of decaying elegance and living history.

An AV telling the story of the life of a family of Russian Jewish immigrants in the 1900’s in The Shapiro House in New Hampshire included interior shots of belongings, photographs, wallpaper and furnishings, which transported the audience back in time.

Historic Route 66 ran right through the town of Moriarty, New Mexico, where Leo discovered a compound of vast aircraft hangers where classic cars were stored. Another 800 were waiting to be restored and we enjoyed seeing the rusty textured Model T Fords in amazing detail.

Surrealism was next in Leo’s sets of photographs on a theme, with Dali-esque surreal composite images of illogical elements placed together, such as a rollercoaster to the moon, people walking to a new world and Poseidon watching hot air balloons, his aim being that they may be thought-provoking and encourage discussion.

Spanish Eyes followed, with shots taken at the Alhambra Palace, street photography and graffiti in Cordoba. He said that photographing graffiti is acceptable, but it is preferable to introduce elements of your own to make it original.

A gargoyle, a death mask and face in high relief depicting departure at St Pancras Station came under the heading of Faces of London.

Times Past brought us photographs of a ghost town, history frozen in time, and in Street Life, with photographs ‘shot from the hip’ for discretion, we saw Havana’s street girls.

Natural History of Tanzania’s waterbuck, birds, buffalo and a posing lion cub was followed by shots of armed rangers, Bushmen hunters and a Masai kindergarten.

To end his presentation Leo talked about Manzanar, California, which is most widely known as the site of one of 10 concentration camps, where more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated after the bombing of Pearl Harbour during World War II.

Stark photographs of the camp and its inmates were a reminder of the darkest part of US history.

A Q&A followed, with Leo explaining his lengthy transition from film to digital photography, which he didn’t trust to the point that he placed film in his freezer as a reserve, but after 10 years he eventually became a convert.

In his presentation Leo took us to many places off the beaten track, fascinating places that most of the audience had no knowledge of and, together with interesting commentary, he provided a very enjoyable evening.

Glyn Trueman thanked Leo for showing his excellent images and audio visual work.