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.

Practice Makes Perfect?

I’ve been reading a lot this week about photography, and how we improve.  Practice is obviously the answer, but it is always?

When you go to a concert, you hear the singer, the pianist – you see paintings in a gallery, the prints on a wall.  To get this good, the artist must practice every day – to get out of form before a concert is unheard of (well maybe not always! but you get the idea)…  So when you look at images, you are seeing the end result of weeks, and maybe years of work, and practice.

I know it’s nearly impossible to get out and shoot every day, but what other ways are there to keep your finger on the button?  I think that talking about image making, talking about photography generally is practice – as is looking at other people’s work – visiting galleries – sharing images.  Even looking at images on Instagram, Facebook or even Google, is practice.  Every time you look at someone elses work, you are honing your own skills, mostly indirectly.

So, how do you practice with your camera ?  Well, there are a number of ways – you COULD just walk out the house and shoot anything and everything you see.  Is that practice, or just shooting for the sake of it?  Or, you could go on a workshop, and immerse yourself in the photographic life for a week, absorb, and create… that seems good to me… or you could set yourself a project!

A strategy is needed, and I think that the best way of learning, of moving on, is by ‘finishing’ things; and by finish, I mean print, or otherwise share your work with the wider world.  I prefer the former.  A book, a print to hang in your home, a set of images to a theme.  This makes it harder to do, but also offers a challenge to the photographer.

On the other hand, by sharing your images online, you leave yourself open to critique by others.  I’m intrigued by photographers (and I use the term loosely), who post images on Social Media, but who won’t accept that sometimes, not everyone will like them.  I like to ask people why they took an image, or why they processed it in the way they did.  The answers vary, but on ocassion, they take great offence that I had even the temerity to ask.  Why is this?

Back to projects.

As I said in a previous blog post, I used to be a one image producer.  I didn’t do projects, or even panels of three.  It was one shot, or nothing.  Since I became a member of the Linconshire Image Makers though, my whole ideal and attitude changed.  It’s taken months of talk, and work, (and nagging), but finally I’m seeing not only the results of the discipline, but I think my whole attitude to photography and art has seen a dynamic shift, and because I’m questioning my own work, I’m starting to question other people’s work too.

Within the group, it’s simple.  This is what we meet up for – we look at each others work, and work of the major photographers, and ask why this, why that, why this image, and not that one.  Outside the group, well, as I said, it’s not so easy.

I’m considering a Social Media blackout for a month or so – I need to get my head around where I want to go with my imagery, and I need to plan a strategy to get me through the winter, and maybe well into next year.  My website needs an overhaul (it’s long overdue), and I want to allow myself time to experiment more.  I’ve run through the multiple exposure sets, and I won’t stop doing these – they give me immense pleasure,  but I want to also run a set of images on a ‘what if’ basis….  What if I shot everything out of focus?  What if I did everything with a dutch tilt? (a type of camera shot where the camera is set at an angle), What if I photographed…………… (fill in the blank as you desire).  Maybe just 6 images – maybe a project of just one image, maybe 15 or 20.  What if I set myself a project to complete 100 prints in a twelve month period? (that might not happen)……. but what if it did….?

As someone said to me only today – “it’s only a photo”….. and when I questioned why denegrate it to “only a photo”…… I was met with silence….. and there the matter rested.

 

 

The Photographic Idea

In November of 2017, a new photographic group was formed – Lincolnshire Image Makers –

It is a group of 11 photographers who meet monthly to discuss all things photographic.

At the core of the group is the view that the most important part of image-making is that photographers should have something to say. Camera skills, composition, editing and software skills, etc all have their essential place, but photography is not primarily a technical activity – it is about ideas.

Interesting photographers are interested photographers – they photograph with a purpose. Photography is linked to abiding interests – perhaps natural history and wildlife; or the production of fine art images; or aspects of the natural or man-made landscape; studio or environmental portraiture; macro-photography; documentary, travel or street photography; or ‘digital’ art – all feature in the work of the group. Often, we are telling stories with a theme; always we are saying’ ‘look, this is interesting or funny or beautiful.’

We have a project on the go at the moment – to record in about 15 images – the British Summer, and I look forward with anticipation to see what sort of things the group comes up with.

Two things have come from my membership of this group.  Firstly, I was finally inspired (Pushed) into putting together a panel for my Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society.  The images for this are now put together, and the panel is ready for submission and a final assessment in October.  Whether I pass or not – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process, and making the pictures.  I think that for me, the part of actually making prints, and mounting them was the best.  To actually hold a finished product in my hand, and be pleased with it, was a triumph.

Secondly – working with projects.  It’s much better than I ever thought it would be.  I’ve always worked on single images (probably as a result of my job, and camera club mentality).

I’ve also learned that it is as easy to make a photograph without content, as it is to write a sentence that doesn’t say anything.  Both are common, and both are useless.

What and why you photograph is influenced by the ideas which precede it.  I know that with my Associateship panel, I’ve been influenced by 19th century impressionist painters, though I didn’t really realise that at the time.  I looked back through work I had produced over the preceding years, and realised that I had been slowly working towards a style without knowing.  The ideas came after photographing, but before printing.

I go out with friends and we say, what are we going to shoot today?  The response could be “anything” – but in fact it’s never really true, or we wouldn’t be out seeking something.  We could have just aimlessly shot at home.  So we must have had an idea -and in fact we usually do – at least we have a venue in mind.

I think that it’s not “what do I photograph”, but what is my idea…..  it is the idea that lies at the heart of a project, or series of images.  A good photograph has to ‘say’ something.  Otherwise everyone would be masters of the craft.

In order to use a camera to say something, you must first have something to say, or the resulting photographs can be meaningless and powerless.

I read on Facebook of someone bewailing the fact that people were not commenting on his images, but only stating banal “wonderful”, “wow”, but no real imput.  My comment was asking him what he intended for the image to ‘say’.  It was of a pretty girl sat on a bench….. a competent image, but it said to me, nothing more than a girl on a bench.  I don’t think the photographer was thinking of anything deeper than that.  A pretty photo – but with no soul…… no heart….. no story……  I wasn’t even left wondering ‘why’ she was there…..

It’s very hard to put a finger exactly on what makes one image of a girl on a bench, better than another, but images have to express something because it is non-verbal.  Images without passion are just pictures.  In an interview David Hurn (Magnum Photographer) said “…basically in photography there’s just two controls. One is where you stand and one is when you press the button. So if you stand in the right place, and you press the button at the right time, you’re gonna be alright.”

Take a look at this video of David – talking about his photography in the 1960’s

 

Working to Limitations

Last February I had to go into hospital for some surgery.  It was supposed to be something minor, which subsequently changed into something rather more than I anticipated.  As a result, it took much longer to get over it, than I originally envisaged.

What I found was that I had, and still have – much less energy than I did, and that standing around for long periods of time leaves me feeling distinctly tired. It would have been so easy to just stop taking photographs and give in to the problem – so what I had to do was shift my thoughts from what I couldn’t do, to what I could do.

For instance, in my last blog post I talked about the Armed Forces weekend in Cleethorpes.  I’d got a pass for the whole event, but in reality I only managed one of the days – fortunately the main day…. and I got some great images.

It’s no good just saying you can’t do something – sometimes you just have to moderate your ambition, and work within your new limitations.

I’m pretty sure that I’ll get over this completely in the next month or two, but in the meantime – I’ll just have to slow down and work one day at a time.

The benefits are that I have to plan more, and can’t just rush out – and the benefits have been noticeable.

Easy Photography?

I was stood in a shop the other day, looking at the pictures they had for sale in there. Some were paintings, some craft, and some photography. The photographs were pleasing images of the Lincolnshire wolds – woodlands, landscapes, and also beach scenes.

A lady stood next to me, humphed slightly, and announced in fairly loud tones, that the photographs were easy – anyone could take them with a decent mobile phone, and she didn’t see quite why they were even for sale, never mind at the price asked.

Part of me wanted to get involved in a conversation, but in the end, she walked away, and I continued to stand and stare, and wondered why people think photography is so simple.

Part of the issue is the preponderance of images that are available on the internet, and on Facebook – mostly, I see very poor ones (I’ve talked about this before) – but mainly it’s the idea, or assumption that the creation of a good photograph is easy, and takes little or no skill to create, but merely the good luck to be in the right place at the right time. It is generally assumed that the glass and body of the camera has all the cleverness built in, and it is thought that actual talent is not needed to make an image the way it is. They think that anyone who can see, with or without glasses, can make the same picture.

The assumption is that photographs can be made without the interference of vision, craft, dedication, repetition or talent of the photographer.

People think that because they own a camera, they are photographers. It’s surely the same principle of – “I bought a new oven, therefore I am a chef”. I see it all the time, the new camera owners who instantly think they can make money from their ‘art’. They don’t need to learn all the nuances of photography – they can put the camera on the green square – full auto, and wonderful pictures will spill out – which they can then overprocess (because they don’t know when to stop, and after all, a great coloured filter will really enhance that shot)….

Do they really think that Ansel Adams got great images of Yosemite every time he got his camera out? Do they really think that Edward Weston’s Pepper number 30 came first time….. no – the clue is in the title…. Pepper number 30 – which means that there were at least 29 others that came before that… and who knows how many afterwards. It just means that Weston thought that number 30 was the best for publishing at that time.

So when I see images on line with wails from photographers who say, “I shot this and no-one has commented… but when I do something different people do” ….. then I say – there might be a reason. Maybe your talent doesn’t lie in that direction, and maybe you go back to what you are good at. Or maybe the shot, though competent, has no soul.

A portrait of a model sat on a wall, can be just that, a person sat on a wall. There’s no story, no soul, no romance….. NO INTENT.

I’ve always found that planned shoots, with a visualised end are successful. The times when I wander out with no idea what to do, usually result in a lot of deleted images (but hey, I had the day out and enjoyed company maybe, or just the good weather).

Ansel Adams reckoned that your first 10,000 pictures are just practice, and you get better after that….. so I’d better get the camera out again……

Enjoy your shooting

 

Cleethorpes Armed Forces Day 2018

North East Lincolnshire Council’s Armed Forces Day 2018 (AFD18) was held at Cleethorpes as part of a full weekend of celebration of the important works done by our Armed Forces, Reservists, Veterans and their families, with the ‘build-up’ which started on Friday 29th June 2018.

The aim is to promote and ensure full engagement with both the armed forces family across the region.

I was lucky to get an “access all areas” pass with two other photographer friends.  We have between us produced over 100 images of the weekend for the organisers.

It was incredibly well organised, and added to that, the weather was perfect – hot, and sunny for the full weekend.  The crowds who came had a wonderful time, and it was fantastic to see the beaches so crowded.  I’m sure all the traders did great business. Here are just a few images from the day…