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…

Musings……..

A few weeks back, I was having a conversation with another photographer about images. A conversation which eventually turned into one about photographic art.

One of the things that we talked about was how can we be honest with ourselves about the images we make. It’s hard to be self critical without being over-critical, and it is somewhat easier to talk about other peoples work when it isn’t our own.

We do look sometimes though at other peoples work and cringe, and they think we don’t understand, and become self-congratulating artists. On the other hand there are photographers whose opening lines are always “I know I can’t do this”, or “You’re a much better photographer than I am”, and “I’ll never be any good”…. what I want to say to those that start off like this is “If you really believe that, then go get another hobby”….. I know you can’t always say that, but I’d really like to.

We have all had conversations with photographers who see no room for improvement in their work. They have the ‘best’ gear, and of course then take the ‘best’ pictures. They will defend their work to the death at the slightest hint of a contrary opinion. Or they will immediately start to explain exactly why the image is not as the viewer would see it. The excuses fly, and our comments become futile.

So, next time you look at someone’s images, why not ask them first if they really want your honest opinion. If they say no, then walk away. If they say yes, then it might be worth asking if they just want you to tell them what you LIKE about the shot, or would they be interested in knowing what you would have done differently.

I am happy to offer my opinions, but that’s all they are. People can accept or reject advice as much as they please, and I want them to know that I won’t be bothered or offended if they take no notice – it is always the author who has the final say, and not the judge.

Failure is just a way of learning what doesn’t work, and I’ve found hundreds, maybe thousands of ways…..

Photo Impressionism – Part 2

In my last blog post, I talked about my re-discovery of multiple exposure images.

Since then, I’ve worked on a good number of new photographs using this style, and a refined viewpoint.  I’m also starting to fully understand what works and what doesn’t.

My starting point was the artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and his impressionistic painting “Sea and Rain” – The dreamy effect of the lone man, walking along a foggy beach was remincent of views I see fairly regularly along the East Coast of England. It was paintings similar to this that encouraged me on my way to try and re-create photographically this style of art.

There is a book that I’m keen to get a copy of – it’s entitled “The Lens of Impressionism: Photography and Painting Along the Normandy Coast, 1850-1874″ and includes the beautiful mid-19th century photography of Gustave Le Gray, Henri Le Secq, and others.  The Normandy Coast is where Whistler spent time painting, and it is also the time when painters and photographers were trying to capture motion.  Whistler was trying to move away from conventional art, and experimenting with a softer style.

In the time following the invention of photography, there was controversy about whether art could be photographic, or whether photographs were merely recording a scene.  I would say that the photograph of the French Fleet, Cherbourg, taken by Gustave Le Gray in 1858, shows great artistic quality.

Screenshot 2018-04-25 10.04.32

So photography became the ‘new painting’. Did photography influence the painters, or did the painters influence the photography…….?  I don’t know the answer..

A trip to the Science and Media Museum in Bradford revealed images by Frank Eugene (whom I remember from my college days) who scratched his negatives, to give a softer feel.  As far as I know, no-one before him had tried this, and even the ‘purists’ of the day were said to admire his work.

Screenshot 2018-04-25 09.48.41

Nude Man by Frank Eugene

Eugene was one of the founding members of “The Linked Ring” – Also known as “The Brotherhood of the Ring”, a photographic society created to propose and defend that photography was just as much an art as it was a science.

You can access the Linked Ring exhibition catalogues HERE (It can take a while to load even with a fast internet connection, so be careful) – Sadly the photographs themselves are not reproduced, but you can access all the Salon members, and search for their photography.  You can also see many adverts for the various processing labs, and cameras that were available in 1903.

I did try searching for some of the images in the catalogue but without success.

So – to go back to the start, you can find more of my impressionistic images on Flickr, by checking the link on the right hand side of the blog, I do hope you enjoy them.

More to come on this topic.

 

Photo Impressionism

About six or so months ago, I rediscovered multiple exposure photography.

A good number of years ago, I was taking the ocassional multi exposure image, and putting them together in post production.  Once I got a Canon that could do them in-camera, I added a few more.  Time ticked on, and I was working for clients, and I didn’t have much time to make images for myself, and the experiment got put on the back burner….

Then towards the end of 2017, I was admiring the work of a Candadian photographer who was creating very impressionistic photographs using multi exposures.  He was not doing them in camera, as each image he created was using upwards of 30 exposures.  He said he’d been influenced by a photographer called Freeman Patterson – and after a short time, I was able to get hold of a book Freeman had written, called Photo Impressionism, and the Subjective Image.

Whilst the publication is quite an old one, and refers entirely to shooting with film, the actual process was easily translated into the digital world.  He talked a lot about shooting images that only gave an impression of the whole, and in the use of shapes and lines, focused entirely on texture, and the nature of the surfaces.

Absorbed in the book, and tracing other photographers who were working the same way – I started to look at how these fascinating images were actually created.

It involved a lot of research, and tracking down different methods of working within Photoshop.  Eventually though, I was able to work out how to align layers of images, and how to blend them together to give the kind of result I was looking for.

Once I fully understand how the layer stacking affects the final images, I’ll write a full blog piece.  In the meantime I’m looking at shooting all sorts of things, and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Tree

This is one of the first images I made using this multi shot technique. It uses around 40 images – stacked and blended to give the impression of the tree in front of a building.  I’m working on refining the technique, and this next image is one of the town of Louth in Lincolnshire.  It’s the indoor market hall tower clock, on a busy Maundy Thursday, and a shot I shall try again on an even busier market day.  A mere 17 images this time….

Tree

The more images used, the finer the final image becomes, so somewhere in between there must be an optimum number of pictures to use.   I tried one larger image with nearly 70 images, but it did not seem to be so successful.   I have seen one photographer use this technique though with over 200 layers.   I can’t imagine how big the final file would be.

I have uploaded a number of images onto my Flickr page (see the link to the right of the blog), and more are on my website

http://www.dseddonphoto.co.uk/multi_exposure

I’ll keep working………..