Stitching photos to make a panorama

Monday, March 2nd 2015

Modern cameras are exceedingly flexible and allow you to use a wide variety of lenses to capture scenes of various dimensions. I imagine, though, that despite this, every photographer from time to time laments the inability of the camera to capture a very wide scene, for example a sweeping landscape or a parade. Presented with such a subject what is one to do?

Being all too familiar with this dilemma, I was very excited to discover that my new camera (a Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6) offered a panorama function. To use it, you select the appropriate setting on the camera, press the exposure button and sweep the camera slowly from left to right. You can let it run until it stops by itself or you can stop it yourself by pressing the button. You need to sweep at the right speed because if you move too slowly or too fast the camera aborts the operation with a warning message. Here is an example from a previous post:

West End Green
West End Green

This works well for scenes, such as landscapes, where you are standing at a distance from the subject. If you are close to your subject, however, then lens distortion comes into play.

King's Cross Station
King’s Cross Station

The distortion may be mild, as in the above photo of King’s Cross Station, or…

Bromley South Station
Bromley South Station

…it can be so severe that I am disinclined to use the photo.

Admittedly, there do exist photo editing applications that are claimed to be able to correct lens and perspective distortion but, in my experience, they are very much a last resort and do not produce good results. They work by allowing you to stretch the image this way or that as you might a rubber sheet. The problem is that in order to correct one part of the photo, you have to distort another part. That might work if, for example, you want only the central part of the photo and can afford to crop off the now distorted outer regions. If, on the other hand, you are trying to save the whole photo, then you are very unlikely to succeed.

So, what’s the answer?

Thinking about this took me back to a time before I had the new camera and was using one that didn’t have a panorama function. I had then been thinking of getting hold of some stitching software in order to combine several photos into one. I had not persevered with the idea then but it had now come back to haunt me. My idea was this: What if, instead of using the panorama function, I took a set of overlapping photos and used software to stitch these together? Would the result be a panorama without the distortion?

There was one obvious way to answer the question: try it!

To do so, I needed some photos to use as experimental subjects. For the first batch I cheated by taking a panorama and cutting it into three overlapping sections:

Homerton Hospital
Homerton Hospital Homerton Hospital Homerton Hospital
Homerton Hospital

As my second batch, I used four single photos that I had taken of the street art on the wall of the Wheelbarrow in Camden Town. I hoped there would be enough overlap in these to allow the software to stitch them together.

Wheelbarrow art Wheelbarrow art Wheelbarrow art Wheelbarrow art
Art at the Wheelbarrow

I now needed to find some software to stitch the photos together. Here I ran into a problem of terminology. I first searched for “photo stitching” software and ended up with a lot of programs (and online sites) that merely join the photos together, end to end, which is not what I wanted. The term to search for, then is “photo panorama stitching” software. Once I’d tumbled to this, I found  a range of choices.

The first one I tried is Autostitch which is free and doesn’t need installing: just unzip the downloaded file and double click on the exe file. It presents you with three buttons (load, run and settings) and is very easy to use. The version of Homerton Hospital that it produced was almost perfect although the edges are not straight and would need trimming. You might like to compare it with the original panorama version above.

Reconstituted by Autostitch
Homerton Hospital reconstituted by Autostitch

Here is what Autostitch made of the four sections of the Wheelbarrow pub wall.

Reconstituted by Autostitch
Wheelbarrow art reconstituted by Autostich

It has stitched the photos together perfectly but the first thing you notice is the distortion. It’s as though the picture is on a card that has bellied out towards the back, introducing a curved perspective and causing the left and right edges to lean inwards. This is like the distortion introduced by my camera’s panorama function but in reverse! While I thought that this might do, if I were desperate, I wondered whether I could do better.

The second one I tried is ICE – Image Composite Editor by Microsoft Research. It is available in 64-bit and 32-bit editions. It too is easy to use once you work out the disk icon at top left is not for saving the composite photo but for saving the “project” (the job you are currently doing) and that to save the picture you have to use “Export to disk” at stage 4 of the operation.

Here is how ICE performed with the Homerton Hospital fragments.

Reconstituted by ICE
Homerton Hospital reconstituted by ICE

The result is pretty good. In fact it is virtually indistinguishable from the original picture. There are no rough edges or distortion. Another good thing is that by default ICE keeps the photos at the original size, whereas Autostitch reduces them (it may be possible to specify the size in Autostitch but I haven’t investigated this).

Now for the more difficult task, that of combining four separate images.

Reconstituuted by ICE
Wheelbarrow art reconstituted by ICE

Here we do have  some ragged borders and a leaning right edge but I am happy to accept that this is largely because of the way the photos were taken: I took no special care to make them compatible as I didn’t expect to be stitching them. It is a far more competent result than that achieved by Autostitch.

For the time being at least, I shall be adopting ICE as my photo stitcher. When taking photos that I intend to stitch, I will be careful to leave plenty of space around the subject to allow for trimming off the black jagged edges. I think that in some circumstances, for example when I am close to the subject, stitching multiple images with ICE will give better results than using the camera’s panorama setting.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.

Posted in Photography | Tagged | 4 Comments

How does Buridan’s Ass decide?

Wednesday, February 25th 2015

I have often said in these pages that I have difficulty making up my mind when I have to choose between two or more similar things. For example, suppose I go into a shop to buy a new pair of trousers and am presented with two pairs. Let’s say that both fit me perfectly, both cost the same and I like both of them but there are slight differences between them. Which shall I choose?

In such circumstances, I find myself in what we might call a state of elective inertia or, if you prefer, I can’t make up my mind.

This is the situation that the 14th-century philosopher Jean Buridan studied and illustrated with an imaginary scenario that has come down to us as Buridan’s Ass. (The problem in fact already occurs in Aristotle but we needn’t let that detain us apart from acknowledging the Greek philosopher’s primacy.) Buridan imagines an ass, or donkey, standing equidistant from two piles of hay. The piles are the same size and the hay in both is equally fresh and tasty. The donkey therefore cannot make up his mind which pile to eat and therefore dies of hunger.

Now, of course, Buridan’s ass isn’t a real donkey. He is an imaginary entity, like Schrodinger’s cat, dreamed up to illustrate a paradox. In real life, donkeys don’t die of starvation in the presence of piles of hay. Similarly, I am confident that I will eventually emerge from the shop carrying my new pair of trousers. But if neither the donkey nor I can make up our minds which hay or which trousers to go for, how do we reach a solution to the dilemma?

All this hinges, of course, on the question of free will. Philosophers have argued throughout long centuries as to whether human beings (and perhaps also donkeys) possess free will. The problem is not made any easier by the difficulty of defining exactly what we mean by free will. What is it, do I have it and how can you tell?

Suppose we are out and about and decide to go for coffee. Looking around, we see a pair of coffee bars side by side. Each belongs to a well known chain so we know what to expect in each. “Shall we go to coffee bar A or to coffee bar B?” asks Tigger. “You decide.” I reflect and then say “On previous occasions when we went to B, the coffee was weak and tepid and altogether not very good, whereas the coffee in A has always been excellent. Let’s go to A.”

Did I use my free will in choosing A over B? I might have done, for all that any of us knows, but it wouldn’t have been necessary. There is clear and sufficient reason for choosing A rather than B. In the modern parlance, “It’s a no-brainer”.

Now suppose that in fact we like both coffee bar A and coffee bar B equally and have always found the coffee, the service and the surroundings excellent in both. Which shall I choose then?

To tell you the truth, I will find it difficult. I will hum and ha, shuffle my feet, try to persuade Tigger to choose but in the end I will make a decision. How?

If you say “By exercising your free will”, you are not answering the question in any meaningful way. I will simply ask you “How did I, exercising my free will, make up my mind?” Postulating free will doesn’t explain how we make choices. Therefore, the fact that we do make choices does not imply that we possess free will.

Let’s suppose we invent a robot with an electronic brain. Its job is to negotiate a maze. Every time it reaches an intersection, it has to choose whether to go left or right. Because we are not very clever at artificial intelligence, we program the robot to choose by generating a random number. If the number is odd, the robot goes left and if the number is even, the robot goes right. We can say that the robot is making a choice but we can’t say that it has free will because it is entirely constrained by its programming which is purely deterministic. (Even generating a random number is deterministic because it is performed by a fixed algorithm. We may not know what the outcome will be but once it has occurred, we can in principle explain why.)

So, when I choose one of the coffee bars over the other, am I exercising free will or am I merely responding to some deterministic process? Putting this another way, in the presence of two options of which neither has a clear advantage (or disadvantage) over the other, how do I nevertheless make a choice?

There is a principle which most philosophers and scientists adhere to, and to which I too in my humble way also adhere, and is expressed in the neat little Latin tag: Nihil sine ratione, which means “Nothing (happens) without a reason”. Looking at it another way, it is an expression of the well founded belief that everything that happens in the universe is the result of chains of cause and effect.

If this is right, and I cannot imagine that it could possibly not be right, then whenever I make a choice, there is a reason for my choice whether I recognize this or not. Worse still, if I can still make a choice in the absence of a clear and sufficient reason for doing so, how can I be sure that what I think is my clear and sufficient reason for a choice really is not merely a fantasy explanation dreamed to reassure myself that I have made a free and rational choice? I would argue that I can never be absolutely sure about that.

If I can never be absolutely sure about my reasons for making a choice, where does that leave free will? If my choice is not the result of conscious ratiocination, then it is the result of hidden causes of which I am unaware, like the robot in the maze responding to the random number generator.

I would argue that my (and the donkey’s) situation is a little better than that of the robot, but only a little. There will be all sorts of impulses milling about in my brain, of which I am for the most part totally unaware (except when they pop up in dreams, Freudian slips, etc), and when I need to make a choice, I may find myself pulled this way and that by contrary impulses. Eventually, this storm somehow resolves itself and a choice emerges. I think I have “made” the choice, and in a sense I have, but I haven’t made it in the clear and conscious way I think I have.

Does this mean we have no free will but are merely driven by an unconscious that continually argues with itself? I think that depends on how we define free will. If we take it to mean that we have the freedom to act when we are not constrained or coerced by forces external to us (such as moral and legal laws), then yes, we have free will. If, on the other hand, we take it to mean that we are free to act according to conscious choices arrived at through balancing lists of pros and cons, then no, I don’t think we have free will in that sense. I think our choices are always mediated by impulses that are partly or even completely obscure to us.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.

Posted in SilverTiger | 8 Comments

Homerton and Forest Gate

Saturday, February 21st 2015

For today’s expedition, we caught the hopper bus 394 that runs from the Angel via a seemingly erratic route to Homerton. This map will give you some idea of its wiggliness:

From the Angel to Homerton by 394
From the Angel to Homerton by 394
Click for Google Map

The little bus (which, unlike most London buses, has only a single entrance/exit door) serves localities where other buses fear to tread. It was therefore noticeable that many passengers on boarding the bus greeted the driver as though he were an old friend.

Dead pub at Homerton
Dead pub at Homerton
The Hospital Tavern, latterly the Welsh Harp

The bus “terminates” (according to the official terminology) at Homerton Hospital. Opposite the bus stop is the sad sight of a dead pub. It was built at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and was known for at least part of its life as the Welsh Harp. Giving it the more more prosaic name of the Hospital Tavern has not saved it. The doleful looking structure is to be swept away and replaced by flats.

Homerton Hospital
Homerton University Hospital

The hospital named on the bus’s destination board is this one, Homerton University Hospital, which opened its doors in 1986. As I have never visited it, much less sampled its services, I can say no more about it.

Building remnant
Building remnant

At one end of the hospital site stands this impressive though redundant wall which must have belonged to whatever establishment occupied the site previously, left perhaps for picturesque reasons.

Old Homerton Library
Old Homerton Library
Now the Chats Palace Arts Centre

Homerton once had a very stately public library with a columned entrance. Built in 1912-3, it was the gift of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The beautiful and noble façade is of stone but behind it the rest of the building is brick. We will not criticize it for that, however, and the library has justifiably received a Grade II listing. Its original purpose is now performed by a new modern library (which we did not visit) but the old library lives on as the Chads Palace Arts Centre.

Handmade tiles
Handmade tiles
Glenarm Road

We walked down Chatsworth Rioad, a main artery running through Homerton, and on the left, in Glenarm Road, spotted a colourful panel on the side of a house. It turned out to be composed of handmade tiles, mostly individual designs, some with the makers’ names on them. Possibly these were made by school pupils though I didn’t see a school nearby.

Victorian newsagent's shop
Victorian newsagent’s shop
In a sad state

At 76 Chatsworth Road we found A.E. Barrow’s Victorian newsagent’s and tobacconist’s shop, now apparently abandoned though the remnant of a large Wills’ tobacco advertising display in a side window hints back to a time when the shop was open and working. I understand that an art exhibition has been held here and that inside are remainders of furniture and stock from the days when the shop was still alive, though we were not able to see this for ourselves. The shop has not been listed, presumably because it is in such a bad state, and it seems likely that its fate is eventually to be ripped apart and rebuilt. I would be interested to know its history and how it came to be left derelict.

We looked around for somewhere where we could have lunch but nothing appealed so we caught a bus and…

Wanstead and Forest Gate
Wanstead and Forest Gate
Click to see a Google Map

…travelled east to Forest Gate. The name derives from a gate that was once in place across the road to prevent cattle from straying from the forest. The forest in question was Epping Forest that once extended to here but of which only in patches remain in this area. The gate was removed in 1883 but by then the name had stuck.

Lunch at last

Here we had lunch in a small bakery cum cafe restaurant called Compôtes before continuing our explorations.

Woodgrange Pharmacy
Woodgrange Pharmacy
Once a pub?

Almost next door to Compôtes is the Woodgrange Pharmacy. It takes its name from the district which is itself named after the Manor of Woodgrange to which the land once belonged. I haven’t been able to find out the history of the building but suspect it was once a pub or some such establishment because of the set of wood carvings across the front. Of the five, three have to do with drinking and making merry and two represent august-looking figures. Might this suggest that the putative pub was called the King & Queen?

Pharmacy wood carving Pharmacy wood carving
Pharmacy wood carving Pharacy wood carving
Pharacy wood carving

The wood carvings don’t look very ancient to me but they have been kept in good order and have been nicely painted.

Horse trough anf clock fountain
Horse trough and clock fountain
“The Gift of A.C. Corbett”

Near the station stands a now disused drinking fountain and cattle trough surmounted by a clock, dating from the 1890s. Although a drinking fountain and a cattle trough go together like a horse and carriage, these two were donated by different people. The trough was provided by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association (still in existence but now renamed The Drinking Fountain Association) and the drinking fountain by A.C. Corbett.

Archibald Cameron Corbett was the son of Thomas Corbett who, with his sons, developed Forest Gate by building 1,116 houses. The work was completed in 1892 by A.C. Corbett who gave the fountain, presumably as a memorial to himself.

More interesting (to me, at least) is the fact that the clock was made by A.H. Rowley Parkes & Co of Clerkenwell (just down the road from us), once an important area in jewellery manufacture and the making of clocks and watches. The firm made clocks by hand at its premises in Britton Street but those workshops have all been swept away by new development.

Coffee stall kiosk
Coffee stall kiosk
What was its original purpose?

In front of Forest Gate Station is this curious kiosk, today being used as a coffee stall. Was it always intended as a retail unit or did it originally have some other purpose? I have been unable to find out.

Emmanuel Church
Emmanuel Church
Sir George Gilbert Scott, 1852

The local parish church is Emmanuel Church, a Grade II listed building designed in Gothic style by Sir George Gilbert Scott and completed in 1852.

Forest Gate also has a Methodist Church which, like all Methodist Churches presents a welcoming  face to all comers. However, it does suffer from one grave disadvantage:

The Preacher
The Preacher
Peter Lazlo Peri, 1961

I think that if ever I contemplated joining a church (which God forbid) I would be seriously put off entering this one by this strange sculpture apparently fulminating at us from the façade. It is a concrete sculpture called The Preacher (but also known as The Evangelist). It is by Peter Lazlo Peri and was unveiled in 1961. I cannot decide whether the sculptor was playing a joke on the church or was trying to convey some message about religion. Unfortunately, we cannot ask him as he died in 1967. The figure is, to my eyes, the perfect representation of the manic, Bible-thumping, Hell-fire preacher who gives such a bad name to religion. Maybe the church doesn’t like it either because I hear they planned to sell it but had to keep it. The reason, apparently, is that the weight of the sculpture outside the church counterbalances that of the organ inside the church: remove the sculpture and the organ falls down. Peri, it seems, had the last laugh.

My last photo also shows a religious building. This one doesn’t display any cartoons though, for all I know, it might have shown animated ones in its previous existence.

Minhaj-Ul-Quran Mosque and Adara Minhaj-Ul-Quran Muslim Cultural Centre
Minhaj-Ul-Quran Mosque and Adara Minhaj-Ul-Quran Muslim Cultural Centre
Previously the Odeon Cinema

This building opened in 1937 as the Odeon Forest Gate, though its design is dissimilar to the typical style of Odeon theatres and one stream of thought suggests that Odeon took it over from another firm. It was closed as a result of bomb damage in April 1941 but opened again four months later. Between 1975 and 1994, it hosted a snooker hall but then became what it is today, the Minhaj-Ul-Quran Mosque and Adara Minhaj-Ul-Quran Muslim Cultural Centre, losing some of its façade decorations in the process. Curiously, the lettering across the front still recalls its old occupation as a cinema: half-close your eyes and you could almost imagine you were looking at the titles of the currently showing film. It stands as a good example of how times change and how buildings acquire new purposes in consequence.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , | 2 Comments

You can’t conefuse me!

Friday, February 20th 2015

You can't conefuse me!
You can’t conefuse me!

After photographing the street art that I showed you in the previous post, I went to the bus stop to catch a bus home. While waiting I witnessed the scene illustrated above.

The driver of the white van perhaps thought that by surrounding the van with traffic cones, he could make it look as though he was allowed to park there. If so, he was mistaken. Enter stage right a parking attendant (as they call them in this borough) who immediately set about issuing a parking ticket and photographing the vehicle from all angles. The presence of the cones did not confuse (conefuse?) him for an instant.

The first time I saw a traffic warden photographing a car was in Lewes in Sussex. I was sufficiently intrigued to ask him about it as it was then still a new tactic. According to my informant, the borough had issued cameras to traffic wardens to counter assertions from ticketed motorists that they and their vehicles were nowhere near that place at the time of the alleged offence. You can dispute someone’s verbal assertion but it is a lot less easy to dispute the visual evidence provided by the camera.

Parking restrictions and parking fines are of course controversial and a lot of bad feeling has been generated, and continues to be generated, over the subject. Councils have been accused of using parking restrictions as a means of “revenue raising”, that is, of making certain areas off limits to vehicles, not for legitimate reasons such as safety or to avoid obstruction, but to profit from the fines this generates. Along with this go complaints that parking rules and the signs announcing them are made deliberately confusing so as to catch motorists out.

An extra dimension was added to this when councils began closing their in-house traffic warden service and contracting the work out to private firms. It was not long before we heard that these firms, anxious to maximize their profits, were setting targets for their operatives who then found themselves obliged to ticket even legally parked vehicles in order to issue the daily number required of them.

Photographing the vehicle tackles both these problems. It shows that the vehicle definitely was where the traffic warden says it was at the time the ticket was issued and it also shows that the vehicle was illegally parked and not the innocent victim of malpractice.

Arguments will continue, of course, and angry scenes will continue to be enacted as drivers returning to their parked vehicles find the warden issuing a ticket. I no longer own a car and have not driven one during the last decade. Travelling by bus, tube and train, I never have to worry about where I am going to park at my destination or whether I will return to my vehicle to find it has been clamped or, worse still, carried off to the car pound. I don’t expect to find myself behind the wheel again and can therefore observe these scenes with a certain equanimity.

Even so, I can also recognize that sometimes motorists are fined unfairly or that a traffic warden, though merely following the letter of the law, could have shown a little flexibility. On the other hand, motorists do tend to be a selfish bunch and usually deserve it when they are caught breaking the law and are duly punished for it.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged | 4 Comments

Street Art at the Wheelbarrow

Friday, February 20th 2015

Freya is becoming very picky about her food. She has grown tired of the brand that she has happily eaten so far and I am always looking around for other makes to find something she will like. This morning I caught a bus to Camden Town hoping to find something in Palmers Pet Store, an establishment I have visited on many occasions before.

Stormy clouds over Camden Town
Stormy clouds over Camden Town

The bus carried us up Camden High Street and stopped at traffic lights. On the left I saw an alley and noticed that the walls were covered with paintings. A few yards further on, the bus halted at a bus stop and I thought about getting off and taking a look at the art but instead went on to do my shopping.

The Wheelbarrow
The Wheelbarrow
Click for Google Map

Having done that, I decided to go back and find the art, after all. The above map (click for a Google Map of the area) shows where it is, in an alleyway off Camden High Street, opposite Plender Street. I looked for the name of the alley but found it had been painted out.

Painted out
Painted out

While street name panels in London are usually in the form of embossed metal plates, one does come across quite a few that are painted. It may be that the Council is in the process of repainting the name of this alley but in the meantime, visitors like me don’t know what it is called. I notice from the map that it is possibly a continuation of Miller Street which is joined to it by an even narrower passage. In the meantime, the easiest way to locate it is to say that it is beside a pub called the Wheelbarrow. However, this establishment, as Google notes, is closed and if and when it reopens, the name may change.

One Love

Right at the beginning of the passageway and painted on the pub wall is this lively rendition of a parakeet by artist One Love. Parakeets were exotic birds imported as pets but some escaped and the species is now well established in the UK. They gather in flocks in trees in the evening merrily chattering away but not everyone is happy about their presence, especially in such numbers. This one is mischievously performing gymnastics on a branch that is also a paintbrush.

Continuing along the wall from left to right is a series of paintings. The alley is too narrow to include them in a single photo and I don’t think the panorama function, with its distortion, would give a good rendition, so I will show it in sections.

Wheelbarrow painting

Wheelbarrow painting

Wheelbarrow painting

Wheelbarrow painting

The black and white painting is by One Six One aka Christian Smith and you will find more examples of his work on his Global Street Art page and on his Facebook. (See Update below.)

Unfortunately, I do not know who the author of the other, colourful painting is. There is some lettering at lower left and what might be the signature “DS”, but while there is a street artist who signs himself ‘DS’, his style seem to be very different (and so is the signature). Nor can I find any meaning for the letters ‘KLO’. If any one knows, please tell, and I will add a note.


On the opposite wall is this intriguing head and shoulders view (please click to see a larger version). Its size makes it difficult to photograph. I tried a panorama shot but wasn’t happy with the result. Note how the painting takes the windows in its stride.

Head (detail)

This is a detail of the same painting. This art work is signed at bottom left by Paola Delfín who is from Mexico. Here are her Global Street Art page and her page on Pinterest.

The final painting is a realistic-style full face portrait in mono.

Hole in the head portrait

I have included some context in this picture because I think the way the portrait fits its surroundings is important to the impression it gives. I call it the “Hole in the head portrait” because there seems to be a black hole in the middle of the forehead, though there is no indication as to its significance. The dramatic piece of work is signed top left by Pang. This artist paints in a variety of styles as can be seen from his Facebook and Instagram entries.

I was glad that I did indeed make this diversion to see these paintings and I don’t doubt that when next I return to this spot, there will be an entirely new collection awaiting discovery.

Update March 1st 2015

I have been experimenting with softwares that perform “panorama photo stitching”, that is, combine overlapping photos of a scene into a single image. I used one called Autostitch to combine four pictures of the wall of the Wheelbarrow and the result appears below.

Wheelbarrow wall

There is some distortion but I think this is caused by inequalities in the perspective in the different photos. On the whole, I think the result gives a good impression of the wall as a whole.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Going for a spin

Saturday, February 15th 2015

The launderette
The launderette
A rare moment when we had the place to ourselves

Sunday is the day for chores. We keep Saturday for expeditions and other sorts of fun but the chores have to be done and Sunday is the day for that. It is when we do the weekly shopping and, ever and anon, the laundry. As we do not have a washing machine at home, laundry day involves a trip to Bloomsbury and the launderette in Marchmont Street. It also involves getting up early – well, fairly early – because this is a well known facility and it can become crowded, especially in summer.

The neighbourhood in which it resides is mainly residential with a major apartment block just down the road, a student residence and a number of small to medium-sized hotels. The latter sometimes use the launderette and so do local cafes and restaurants. On a good day, we can get the job done and be on our way home in an hour and a half but on other occasions it will take us longer. Sometimes the washing machines we want are already in use or all the dryers are taken. One day we found the place crowded out by a group of Girl Guides just home from summer camp. While the adults did the washing and drying, the girls lounged around, getting in everyone’s way. On another occasion two women almost came to blows over whose turn it was for one of the dryers.

Something that increases competition for machines is that there are selfish people who put their laundry in the washing machines or dryers and then disappear for hours, leaving the machines occupied. On one occasion, when the launderette was crowded, I emptied such a machine so we could use it. Later the customer came back and angrily demanded to know who had taken her stuff out of the dryer. No one answered. All sat looking elsewhere as if unaware of her shouts.

Our routine is always the same, and this contributes to getting the job done efficiently. We commandeer two of the largest machines (there are three sizes), one for whites and one for colours, set them going, note the time and then go off for breakfast at the nearby branch of Costa. Prompted by the clock, we return in time to catch the end of the wash cycle and transfer the damp washing to two dryers. We set these going and sit and read or chat until they stop. By this time, some of the laundry will be dry but some of it will still be damp. We take out the dry and start the dryers spinning again…

While we are working, so are other customers. Quite a few are couples like us, cooperatively a-laundering. Others are elderly folk who, you guess, live alone, students who prop up their Macs on their knees while their undies are spinning, employees from local hotels with bundles of sheets or towels, tourists from the same hotels, and a leavening of other folk more difficult to categorize.

As we circulate between the washing machines, the dryers and the payment machine, engaging in a complicated dance to avoid colliding with one another, it helps that we are all here for a common purpose. Except when the place is really crowded and there is competition for machines, people are polite and quick to move aside to allow you access.

This is one of the better launderettes and the machines are usually all in working order. Occasionally, you will see a notice on one them indicating that it is out of order. This is usually a note on a scrap of paper affixed by a customer because the launderette is staffed only on weekday mornings and not at all over the weekend. There is a poster on the wall with a phone number to call in case of emergency. We once rang it but nobody answered.

On that occasion, one of our washing machines terminated normally but the other one kept on churning away. The door locks during the wash cycle and it is impossible to open it. What should we do? We couldn’t open the door or stop the machine and there was no response from the emergency phone number. All we could do was sit and wait and hope that something would happen. Eventually it did: the machine stopped and we heard the door lock click. Saved!

The student residence block has been demolished. It will no doubt be replaced by an even larger one, increasing competition in the launderette. For now, however, the absence of students has reduced the number of customers and even though we had not managed to get here all that early today, we were able to do the job without hindrance.

People come and go, bringing their laundry, taking it away, stepping outside for a cigarette or going to the shop for newspapers or coffee. Despite these comings and goings, there are usually people besides us in the launderette but today, just for a moment, everybody else left the premises and we found ourselves on our own. This lasted only a few minutes during which I took the photo at the top of the post. Soon after this, it was our turn to pack up and leave, job done… until next time!

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.

Posted in Domestic matters | Tagged | 8 Comments

Floating books and wall art (2)

Saturday, February 14th 2015

In Floating books and wall art (1), I showed you the floating books or, rather, the Word on the Water barge bookshop and skipped over the wall art. In this part I will show you some of the wall art that we saw on our ramble.

A few words on street art

When we first started photographing what is variously called wall art, street art, graffiti art and a lot of other names, we would occasionally come across another person taking photographs of the art works. Nowadays, we almost always encounter other photographers and often have to wait a while before we can get a clear shot of something. This is a sign that street art has gained recognition and has started to impinge on the awareness of the public. The comic-serious “guerrilla paintings” of Banksy have of course played a large part in this. His works have been criticised, praised, defended against destruction and, published in magazines and books. But Banksy is not alone: there are others, many others – how many, it is impossible to say – and they are becoming ever better known, both as a group and individually. Some sign their works, others do not; some stay in their home city, others travel widely; some accept paid commissions, others do not; some are amateurish, others highly professional. Their works vary widely in style, form and content and I think it is quite possible that new art movements are being born on the streets. It is an ephemeral art form because paintings are soon overlaid with other paintings. This is because space, though more of it is becoming available as boroughs set aside temporary or permanent areas for painters to use, it is still finite. The painters accept this and, even while knowing that their carefully created art will soon disappear, they continue painting. Every time we pay a visit to an area like Shoreditch, there are new works to enjoy while others that we saw and photographed on previous visits have disappeared for ever.

Whereas as “graffiti artists” once worked at night and in a hurry to avoid detection, street artists today work openly, during daylight hours. You can watch them at work and talk to them. You soon learn that they are serious artists – often students or graduates of art school – and believe in what they do. They know and respect other artists – even if they later paint over their works! For the art lover, it is fun discovering, enjoying and photographing street art and learning to recognize the handiwork of particular artists, even if you do not always manage to fit a name to them.

Graffiti was once considered something that degraded the environment and was fit only to be scrubbed off – preferably by those convicted of producing it. The clumsy and inartistic tags of gangs and self-obsessed individuals still do belong to the category of rubbish but they are only part of the scene and the least important. Street art is blossoming and becoming recognized as a genre in its own right. Personally, I think it enhances the environment and adds interest to our surroundings.

Heneage Street

The earlier part of our walk produced little art and none that was remarkable. That may have been because we simply missed it but I think it is more likely that street art was discouraged in those areas. It wasn’t until we reached Heneage Street that we saw our first major painting of the ramble. A children’s playground had exposed the end wall of a building and the whole of this had been used as an artist’s canvas. Because of its size and obstacles such as railings and trees, the painting was difficult to photograph. You have a slightly obstructed view of it above.

Heneage Street (detail)

Above is one section of it.

Heneage Street (detail)

In the above detail, you can see how the artist has used pre-existing features of the building to add a three-dimensional element to the painting.

Heneage Street (detail)

Even though the work is on a grand scale, there are small elements like the above group which is found in the lower right corner.

Garage door (Heneage Street)

This garage door painting introduces another topic and type of “street” painting. The increasing popularity of street art has led to many retailers commissioning painters to paint the shutters exposed when the shops are closed. I find that these works are often more formal and less “edgy” (to use a word much in vogue at the moment) than paintings found “in the wild”. I am not sure about this one: commissioned or “wild”?

Gate dragon, Heneage Street

This dragon’s head decorates a gate further down Heneage Street. Its relationship with graffiti is interesting: it has been overwritten with tags but has itself also superseded tags that were already present as can be seen from some that are half-revealed above the head.

Painted front door

Most of the front doors of the houses in the street were as originally made, except perhaps for a coat of paint or varnish. This one at number 15 is very different: it has been completely covered with a street art painting so that it is hardly recognizable as a door. The flap of the letterbox bears the initials “UH”, written, I am guessing, by someone other than the artist. We know the latter’s name, or at least his street name, because this appears at bottom left on the painting: BAILON.

Bird by Bailon

Nearby is another of his paintings, a bird’s head. Bailon is from Brazil and you will find something about him on his Facebook page. (I mentioned above that street artists often travel widely. London is a popular destination for them.)

Girl in a doorway Girl in a doorway

We found ourselves in Brick Lane, today the heart of Banglatown, the area chosen as their new home by Bangladeshi immigrants and their descendants. In a doorway, I spotted the above portrait of a girl. The artist obviously needed less room in which to paint than I did to photograph it because I could only do so at an angle. Note too, the tiny picture of a man at floor level. Such miniature paintings also abound.

Alleyway Alleyway

The Brick Lane pub called the Seven Stars has been closed and derelict for some time. Beside it runs an alleyway that leads to an open space that I assume was once the pub yard. (There has been a pub here since the middle of the 18th century so a yard for horses and carriages is to be expected.) The walls of the passage have been covered with paintings and, if that were not enough, activity within tempted us to enter.

Stone bollard Stone bollard

In the alley, two stone bollards had been transformed into decorative heads. Such stones are common in the entrances of older buildings where they were installed to fend off the wheels of carriages which might damage the walls. Here, the survivors have been given a modern twist.

Panorama: pub yard
Click to see a larger version

Above is a panorama of the yard (click for an enlargement). It has already been extensively used by artists and near the middle, you can see one at work, preparing his “canvas” by painting it uniformly white. He told us that he is Italian and visiting London. He paints on walls but prefers to paint at home “with a cup of tea”. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask his name.

Here are closer views of a couple of sections of the wall.



We entered Princelet Street, in the heart of the old Huguenot quarter and immediately found a couple of paintings, one by an artist whose style I recognized.

Life takes fairy tale ransom

I don’t know which artist painted the above. What is it about? I am tempted to entitled it “Real world takes fairy tale hostage” but that may not be what it’s about according to the artist. Street art does this: it opens a continual debate as to how a work of art is to be interpreted or whether it is to be interpreted at all.

Muslim couple by Stik

I recognize the style of this one. It is by Stik whose figures sport rectangular bodies, round heads in single-line limbs. This painting has an extra resonance in that the female member of the pair is wearing a burqa and a niqab. The two are holding hands, suggesting an affectionate relationship. Does the painting have a message and, if so, what is it?

Corner miscellany

While painting for now dominates the street art scene, other media have made their appearance. There are some examples here: paper, card or other pre-painted materials can be attached to the wall; small objects, alone or in groups, can also be attached; relief work and sculpture (forms that easily shade into one another) are seen more and more often. Art works necessarily inhabit the same space as structural features and street furniture. Sometimes art uses these features and sometimes it ignores them. What is the case here? The art works surround the street name plate when they could as easily have been placed elsewhere.

Baying at the moon

I gave this picture of a dog’s head the mouse-over title Baying at the moon but that is no more appropriate than any other title you might devise. Relevant to what I said above about structural features obtruding into art works, note the door in the middle of this painting. It reminds me of the “invisible” doors in grand houses that the servants used in their discreet comings and goings but which were ignored by the gentry.

Portrait encroached

Human faces and figures are often whimsically drawn or presented in abstract modes. More lifelike portraits do appear. Sometimes these are of famous people or are imaginary representation of fictional characters. Now and then, a portrait of what can only be a living subject catches your attention with startling realism. The temporary nature of this world is always to be remembered and neighbouring forms are already beginning to encroach on this portrait. How long before it is entirely engulfed?

Awaiting demolition

In Sclater Street, this tattered building, an old warehouse perhaps, sits locked up and awaiting demolition. Such structures are quickly “colonized” by street artists though the surface of this one is not very suitable for large scale paintings. Attempts have been made, however, and it impresses me how artists manage to use what would seem to be inaccessible areas of surface, perhaps having climbed up the façade.

Caged human leopard

The door and ground floor windows of this building have been protected by bars (no doubt to deter squatters). In addition, wooden panels close off the windows. This has provided artists with canvases to paint on. I don’t know whether this artist pulled out the panel to paint on it and then replaced it or whether he painted through (and around) the bars. Either way, the result uses the bars in this portrait of a caged (human) leopard.

Abandoned lion

This is not street art – or, at least, I don’t think so, but, then again, who knows? – but I was captivated by the picture the white lion made with the red window and the metal lamp stand. It seems to express abandonment and loneliness. The lion should be on the front steps of a grand mansion or in a beautiful garden. Instead, he is abandoned here and no one knows his eventual fate. (Yes, I would take him home if I had room…)

Hoodie portrait

In Whitby Street I saw a couple of portraits, one fanciful and this one that looks as though it is taken from life. The point of the subject’s hood goes up between the two windows in order to give the artist the largest possible area to paint on. The expression on the portrait’s face is expectant, as though he is waiting for me to say something.

Warrior queen

On the corner of Club Row with Redchurch Street is a handy area of wall that is popular with street artists. It currently hosts this dramatic picture of a warrior queen who looks as though she may be a character out of a graphic novel. This is not the first time I have photographed this piece of wall and the last time I did so, it bore a very different picture (see here).

Portal by Cityzen Kane

Near the Warrior Queen is this unusual piece of art. I mentioned above that relief work and sculpture were appearing more and more often, both as small pieces and as larger works. This one is unusually large, though there may be a reason for this as we shall see. This has to be defined as a sculpture and is by an artist called Cityzen Kane, who specializes in works in this medium, polymer clay. The work is intricate, as the following detail shows.

Portal (detail)

A huge amount of imagination and care has gone into the production of this work which would be a challenging project for any artist. We might spend a long time seeking the meaning of the work but we do not have to. An inscription at bottom left is self-explanatory:


This reminds us, if we needed reminding, that art and life are intertwined and cannot be disentangled. If art is a game, it is a serious game, and whatever our art works are made of, there are also laughter and tears in the mix.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | 4 Comments