It all takes time!

I think that photography and writing are similar in many ways, in that both need to draw the reader / viewer into the artwork.

A little while ago, I went to a gallery in Manchester to see the Vogue 100 exhibition.  It was very busy, with a lot of people moving around to see the exhibits (which were stunning by the way!)…  I watched the people looking at the photographs there, and in a moment of interest, timed roughly how long on average they were viewed for.  Mostly it was for no more than a few seconds – but for some it was minutes.  Seats were placed for those who wished to ponder, but were mostly a waste of time, as people stood in front of them.

It crossed my mind that each of those images had taken a long time to make – from conception to publication could have been weeks, and here we were now, giving them the most cursory of glances.

Sometime later, with this in mind – I went to see a small exhibition at Cleethorpes library, put on by a friend of mine as part of his degree project.  I had seen some individual images earlier, and hadn’t been very excited by them.  However, seeing them all together, as a collective body of work, tied together by a theme, was enough to make me realise that not all photographs can stand in isolation – they need the rest of the work around them – much like a good novel does.  If the opening chapter doesn’t grab  your attention, you are unlikely to read the rest of the book, or if you do, you do with some small bias.  His body of work, I found extra-ordinary.  Images of paths wandering through trees, with sometimes no way out.  His work, called “Shul” can be found HERE.

Like the writer, the photographer has to have something to say – and it must be compelling enough to keep the viewer engaged.  The measure of success is based on how well the photographer would have you believe in his own world.  Minor White is quoted as advising us “to photograph not only WHAT it is, but what ELSE it is”.

After I had completed my Associateship panel in Bath last month – the judges all left the room to have some discussion…. in that time, a few people turned around to offer congratulations.  However, the first question I was asked, was “How long did it take you to complete the panel?”.  My instant answer was “6  months”, but when I thought about it afterwards I realised that although ‘these’ images had taken 6 months – the actual concept had taken much, much longer.  I had been flirting with multiple exposures for a number of years, and it was only in this year that the project had come together in the way it did.

I feel sure that writers are similar – plots and sub plots must mature in their minds before pen is even put to paper, and once they start, further ideas, will flow, and changes will be made as output increases.

Going back though to the time people spend looking at photographs.  I belong to a tiny group of photographers, who will critique each others images, and spend time looking at them.  Recently, we developed a scheme where we ‘borrow’ each other’s images, so we can spend time at home with them, and I have found that some images ‘grow’ on you with time – rather like music can.

My Associateship panel of 15 images was looked at in detail for about 15 minutes by five people – and I suspect that’s the longest anyone has looked at them, apart from me, and my mentor(s).

Which brings me to the whole point of this blog post – which is about time, and about text and titles.

When I judge photographic competitions (which I love doing), not only do I look at the image, I have to rely on the title the author has given it.  In providing a title, the things photographed can take on an entirely new context.  They can encourage me to view the image in a different way.  This is especially true when the theme of the competition is a complex one.

I’d like to challenge photographers out there, to write a short piece about one of their images – explain why they took it, and what story they are trying to tell. Just a few lines.  I’m totally convinced that photography generally can be improved once people slow down, and think about what they are trying to say with their images.

I’ll start, and it would be nice if anyone commenting on this blog could do the same.Oz 1
Taken recently in Western Australia – where the locals think nothing of driving hundreds of miles to get to the supermarket.  I wanted to show the long straight roads of the country, with nothing there – no traffic.  I wanted the viewer to feel the sense of isolation and remoteness for which WA is known.  It’s about feeling, as much as it is about the view.

Thoughts, as always are welcome.

 

 

I’m waiting to be discovered….

I’m getting older.  I’m 61 – and fortunately in reasonably good health.  I think I’m a reasonable photographer, maybe a tad better than average, but I’ve certainly not been discovered.

I have spent my photographic life producing work in complete obscurity – well near complete anyway.  The people who have seen my work are mostly clients, then camera club folks, then the people that I can bore on a semi-regular basis.

Though this might not be ideal, I am at least, on a par with probably 99% of the photographers that I know, and that is a comfort.  There must be billions of people who own cameras, and even more billions of photographs are uploaded to the internet every day.  Goodness knows how many get uploaded just to Facebook, without thinking of Flickr, or 500px, or any of the other social media channels.  So I suppose I’m in good company.

I don’t suppose for one minute that I’m ever going to be famous.  I suspect that the photographers that I know now, who are well known, in my circles are not going to be internationally famous either.  So why do we continue? – well, I think it’s because we like to have an audience of sorts, even if it’s of our own compatriots.

Photography is expensive, it can be demanding, we push ourselves to make the best images we can, and sometimes we are rewarded with applause from our friends, or maybe a competition win or two, and this is where there is potential for it all to go wrong.  We win something – we achieve a qualification, therefore we are good, and so we should, maybe, be fighting off the adulation from our doors….  NOPE – that didn’t happen either.

Success in competition or accreditation is satisfying.  Success in the outside world is rare, and is for the few, but I’m not suicidal yet…..

Fame in the real world is not just about skill, craftsmanship and the ability to produce brilliant images (I see that every time I look at images on 500px), it’s also about chance, luck, and being in the right place at the right time.

Why for example is Ansel Adams (my hero by the way) so famous..?  Well I looked it up on Google – and here’s the theory.. He was born in 1902 in San Francisco, California. He rose to prominence as a photographer of the American West, particularly Yosemite National Park, using his work to promote conservation of wilderness areas – and there we might have it – Conservation of Wilderness areas.   He was there, producing images of the wilderness at the time conservation became a big issue in the 1970’s which is when he rose to prominence. His work fitted the situation exactly, and his hard work over previous decades was given credence because he lived and worked there, and because he had a huge catalogue of work already complete.

I’ve been to Yosemite, wondered at the majesty of Half Dome – decided to stand on the bridge that Ansel Adams stood on and get ‘that’ picture of the sunset.  Me with the 40 odd other people jostling for position, on what amounted to a small bridge.  No – you need to live your own creative life, and not try to live it through the eyes of a hero…

Screenshot 2018-11-15 14.49.27

We have no control over who likes our work and who doesn’t – we have more control over who sees our work, but we can’t make them buy it.  (It’s great when someone does though) – we cannot have any idea what will happen to our work in the future, and we have no idea if anything we have produced will influence future generations.

All we can say for certain is that our work will still be visible after we have gone, the internet will see to that, and I personally have no idea if my work will  influence anyone in years to come.  Enjoy it whilst you can…… you do not know what tomorrow may bring.

 

 

Ice Hockey..

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to an Ice Hockey match……  something I’ve only done once before – but this time I was given access to the team tunnel, and the ice.  An amazing experience.  The game was fast, the light was poor, the ISO I was shooting at was incredibly high – so a lot of the images had noise.   I had blurred pictures, over exposed pictures, underexposed pictures, and was generally not a happy bunny.

So, I sat and thought about what I was seeing.

The players faces as they waited their turn on the ice.  The concentration, and the shouting of the team manager taking players off, and putting new ones on the ice was constant.

I moved more slowly, more deliberately, and almost forgot about the frantic movements out on the rink.  I started to enjoy what was presented right in front of me.

I realised that you have to change your attitude to fit what’s going on around you, and not the other way around.

I took a LOT of pictures, and afterwards decided that they would all look better in monochrome.  It somehow fitted the scene better, and in addition disposed of the pretty awful colour cast caused by the lights.

One thing I’ve learned is, that if you are given the opportunity to shoot something new – do it – if you never even use the photographs again, it doesn’t matter – you had the experience.  If you don’t, you will end up kicking yourself for the lost opportunity.  Do not let fear get the better of you, and never ever worry about not getting that ‘winning’ image.  It’s about the learning, the experience, and the test.  Go for it.

My Journey to ARPS – and with a Fuji X-T2 Camera….

For those of you who have been fortunate enough to NOT be around when I submitted images to the Royal Photographic Society, in an attempt to achieve my Associateship – Congratulations…. but it all ends here…..

After months of work, agony, and me constantly wittering on to all my ‘friends’, I want to say thank you to all of them.  For lingering and looking, for the critique, for the support, and to certain individuals who not only came to Nottingham and London for RPS advisory days, but who also came to Bath with me TWICE…. once to drop the portfolio off (thanks Vicky), and once for the final Assessment (thank you Mike and George)…

Many thanks also to the Lincolnshire Image Makers Group, who were so supportive, and nagged me constantly to get the job done.

All the images can be found on my website (links below), and were based on multiple exposure photography – with some having as many as 40 pictures to make up one shot.

When I started to think about what I’d done, and looked back on work I had produced over the last five years or so, I realised that I had been making multi exposure images for all of that time.  It was just that I had been going about it in a different way.  The images were made by me moving forward, or backwards in between shots, and I had also been combining them in camera – as the Canon DX allowed up to 9 shots at a time.  Sometimes I’d combined them in photoshop, but not in the way I do now.

So what I feel, is that I’ve developed something over a long period of time – but it was after I saw some images online by another photographer that my interest was piqued even more.

Between November of last year, and April of 2018, I developed, refined and changed my technique, and before I knew it, I was producing images that I was really happy with.

I chatted to the RPS at the start of the summer, and they advised that I would be presenting images in their ‘fine art’ category – and that they liked the work and wanted to see more.

You need 15 images for Associateship, together with a statement of intent – and for an advisory day, they recommend that you bring your basic 15 with 5 others as ‘spares’.   So in early July, I set off for London with 20 printed, mounted images – the RPS recommended I present the panel at an assessment day with no changes – they liked the small image, the style, and the choice of subjects.

My friend Vicky and I went to Bath towards the end of August, and dropped the panel off for Assessment in October.

Then in mid-October myself and two friends headed for Bath – where the panel was passed, and retained by the RPS as an example of what is required in an Associateship panel.  Drunk on success, and champagne we returned to Lincolnshire and I was overwhelmed.

So, the images themselves.  They are mostly of Lincolnshire, and the coast, and the structures – there are trees, and fountains, and landscape.  All together in the same multi-exposure style.

This isn’t one of my final panel, but a series of images I took on the way home from Bath after the assessment day.  We stopped at Westonbirt Arboretum, and this comprises 15 images shot of the fantastic Autumn colour there.

You can find my full panel, and statement of intent by CLICKING THIS LINK

The Slideshow is available by CLICKING HERE

All the images were taken with a Fuji X-T2 camera, and their excellent 16-55 2.8 lens.  The large format RAW files were perfect for this kind of work, and allowed me to crop in, to make the images exactly how I wanted them to be.  The lightweight camera meant that I had it with me most of the time, and so was able to get the shots I wanted.  I can also recommend their 23mm f2 lens, for its discrete size and superb image quality.  I don’t think I would have achieved this distinction without this camera….  Thanks Fuji…..

Trending Now

One of the greatest traps in photography I find is defined by current trends.  In some cases, this can be very useful, for example in team building, or sports, but when it follows the herd it can be very difficult.

For example – a few years ago, when I was a member of a camera club in the Manchester area – there was a swathe of photographs hit the circuit – they were basically what I called ‘big head’ shots.  It was usually a photo of a person, in say a victorian costume, maybe wearing a top hat – he would dominate the image, in the foreground, and in the background would cleverly be put, say a steam engine, or a scene from the Black Country Museum.  This was original, and creative, but then everyone started doing it – and after a while it became – oh just another ‘big head’ shot – lets move on…….

Since my attitute to photography has changed (and really that is in the last 18 months), so has my work.  Art making is not quite the same as photography as a hobby.  A hobby is, by definition a diversion, a pass-time.  Art making is more of a struggle and a passion.  Rewards do come, but usually at a price.  I am finding my photography now even more of an addiction than I did before, as I search to change and improve my photographic style without the restrictions imposed on me by photographic clubs and competitions.

Not that I’d never enter competitions again – I will – I enjoy the challenge, and the ability to see other people’s work.  In fact, this is one of the reasons that I love to judge at camera clubs around the county.  I see what others are doing – I see the trends, and the ideas flow – well they do sometimes………

Even my relationship with my camera has changed.  From the Canon 1DX, and a full range of red band, beige, lens – I have moved almost entirely to the Fuji System.  I no longer think about ‘gear’ as the be all and end all of photography (although I admit better gear does help – but it’s not the camera that takes the picture, it’s the photographer)….  The camera is a tool – the oven doesn’t make good cakes, as the camera doesn’t take great pictures.

I’m watching the rush – the rush to take the next picture, then get it online for the ‘thumbs up’, ‘thumbs down’ vote from the Facebook clans, who are constantly chasing after the latest ‘trend’.

When was the last time you spent time on your own, with a camera?  I’ve concluded that I don’t do quite as well when I’m out with friends. I am interested then in what they are doing, the conversation and the pleasure of being with them.  I’m more interested in this, than in making a meaningful photograph.  So, I need to slow down even more and aim for a more creative frame of mind, and maybe spend a bit more time on my own.

Road

 

 

Technology Battles

We depend on technology so much these days – far more than when we all shot with analogue cameras.  It puts me in mind of a story I heard, (maybe an urban myth) when a photographer went through airport security in America, (it had to be there) and was asked to turn his camera on, to prove it worked.  He tried to explain that it didn’t ‘turn on’, and ‘no they couldn’t open the back’ – in the end apparently, the security guys opened up the camera to discover that it had film in it.  The young guy hadn’t heard of analogue cameras that didn’t have batteries in.  Whoever heard of a clockwork camera?

So our dependence on technology goes on – in film days, we depended on a different type of technology:-  the camera, the film processor, film dryer, the enlarger, printing developer, fixer, print dryers, special wash, and all the associated gadgets.

We had in our family in film years, any number of cameras, more than one enlarger – a dedicated dark room – a frustrated mother who didn’t want film in the freezer, or chemicals in a fridge. The print dryer was huge, and the print trimmer (which I still have) was big and heavy.  Everything took up a huge amount of room, and everything we did was either in the dark, or under a red light.

What I’m getting at is that although we’ve come a long way, in terms of technology, we still need the same amount of ‘stuff’.  I now have a ‘daylight darkroom’ but still, a dedicated room.  I have cameras, lens, computer, tables, and mounts, and cropping machines – it all takes up space.  I know photographers who have turned outside sheds and garages into dedicated studios.

Then there’s the problem of what to do when something fails.  All cameras fail in the end, I’ve had lens with failed diaphragms, cameras with failed shutters, I’ve dropped lens, and camera together (shattered on some marble) – cable releases fail, and I’ve even lost a tripod.

When the printer fails, (as mine did a month or two back) then that made me start to think about whether I needed a new one or not.  I love to print – I love the sight of a brand new photograph coming slowly out – and then the result is nearly the end of the process.  I can mat and frame, and there it is.  All my own work.  However, the cost of ink nowadays is nearly that of the price of gold!  I can get a lot of prints done if I outsource for the price of a set of 8 inks.

In the days of analogue, if there was no print, there was no image, so now we have to depend on our, or someone elses technology to produce the final (finished?) image.

Technology now is changing and developing so quickly that it’s hard to keep up.  For a long while I didn’t look at what camera manufacturers were doing. I was happy with the gear I had, and saw no reason to change for the sake of it.  Then, when I was offered a trip to Spain 18 months ago, I looked for a small camera to take with me.  This is when I discovered that technology had moved on without me.  The mirrorless camera that I bought then, (the Fuji X-T2) was a revelation.  Beautiful image quality from such a small thing.  I’m more interested now, that I ever was in what is being engineered for photographers of the future.

So what comes out of the camera now, and photoshop? Sometimes it looks nothing like a traditional photograph.  Do we call this something different?  Digital art maybe?

Whatever we choose to call it, and whatever images you produce – it still starts with a camera, and most importantly, the photographer behind it.

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“Contemporary” Art / Photography

This might turn out to be a bit of a rant, but I’m going to try and restrain myself …….

When is Contemporary photography art?  And when does a well taken image denegrate into “just a photo”?

This question has been nagging at me for a couple of weeks now – since an exchange with a photographer online led them to deleting some comments that had been passed on an image.  I’d been able to read it all before it was taken down, but it hit hard at the art side of imagemaking, so please bear with me.

Photography is becoming an ‘easy’ target.  It’s easy for everyone to engage in – and that’s a good thing.  The hard part, I feel, is that something of a disaster is happening around us.  Cameras have become (and I quote here from another blog I read) “optical machine guns, mowing down everyone and everything with carefree abandon”.

What has this ‘freedom’ done to photographers? – well I think it’s made some of them lazy.  (I’m talking generally here, and not relating to those who curate their images, and I’ll come back to that later).  Point and push, slap on a filter, push it onto Instagram, or Facebook, and call it Contemporary Art.  Far too many photographers seem unwilling, or unable to learn – they are told on a daily basis how good they are, what incredible photographers they are – they live in a thumbs up, thumbs down world – where no-one challenges, and when they are challenged they delete the posts.  They’ve already had lots of ‘likes’ so that’s that.  It’s the difference between rhymes on greetings cards, and Milton, to treat them the same is just insulting to both.

The audience says it’s good, so the artist abandons exporation, and repeats what worked before – it requires a strong will to deviate from the norm, and explore into the unknown.  The artist has a choice now, carry on doing what they were doing, or see what’s happening, and change their view, make real art that has come from the photographer, not from the filter.

I gave a talk a little while ago at a camera club – I offered a half dozen of my images round, and asked them to critique them.  I’m thick skinned, and said that if they hated them, or loved them, that was fine, but I’d be asking them how they arrived at that conclusion.  What was it about the images that made them like or dislike?  It was a hard exercise for them.  They couldn’t just ‘thumbs up’, or ‘thumbs down’.  The comments afterwards were that they overall liked the images, (thumbs up) but the discussion in the end wasn’t about the image itself, they were more interested in how I made it in the first place – which wasn’t really what I really hoped for.

And this is what we’re getting sucked into.  It’s less about the end result (which is easy – like or not) and more about, how did the author achieved it, and what camera they used, if indeed it gets that far.

Now, I’m not against asking – I do it myself (I did it this morning in fact), but I ask after I’ve considered the image, and decided on its merits, (well, I’d like to think so anyway).

Too many people don’t edit, in the way that I understand editing.  Composition is something of an anathema to (mostly  younger) photographers.  They want to make something new and fresh – which is great – till we realise that their idea of new and fresh, is the filter I referred to earlier, and which more mature photographers have seen before ad nauseum.

Really ‘good’ photographs are never the product of laziness.  If the photographer puts in enough effort, and thought, then their images should be worthy of more than a quick look (thumbs up). It should not rely on a quick filter trick, which requires no real effort, or thought.

I am still of the opinion that if you put your ‘art’ on Facebook, Instagram, or any social media platform, you are saying to the world “look at my images”, and as a result you must be prepared for people to question your motives, and your artwork, and not get upset when someone comes along who doesn’t like what you have done.  You can’t please all the people all the time…..

Most photographers feel that their images aren’t good enough – that’s the whole challenge, frustration, and joy of photography.  We are all our worst critics, and that generally, is what drives us to improve.  I’ve said before in my blog that it’s OK to fail, it’s OK to take bad pictures, and it’s OK to apply unexplainable filters. What’s not OK, is a failure to learn, to develop, to fail to explore and engage with others who may not like your work for a reason.

And nearly lasty (and you may be pleased I’m getting to the end of what has in fact turned out to be a rant), curation.  Photographers who share EVERYTHING…. Maybe they think the world wants to know what they had for dinner, or see the 25 variations on the same picture.  Photography is like going to a restaurant – they serve you the best meals, offer a menu of choice – the menu says, this is the best this place has to offer, you choose.  They don’t show you the failures, the repetitive dishes.  They hide their junk, they paint the front of the restaurant to attract you in.   They draw attention to the good bits, and let that define them as a business.  They don’t ask you to choose between identical dishes, one colour and one black and white.  Nor do they ask you what colour plates to use.  They define their style.

So to those photographers who keep asking what colour camera they should buy (and yes it’s happening more and more), and which image looks best (colour or black and white) – I say make your own minds up….. be brave, sort yourselves out, but for goodness sake stop showing us your bad bits, stop thinking you’re amazing, and produce something that isn’t a shallow nothing with no story.  Tell a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth.

Finally, a message to the people who think that they want to make Contemporary Images and ‘not just a photo’, please think of something more creative to say……  The photo IS the image.

Than you for bearing with me.