Over the last year or so, some of you have been taking in my pearls of wisdom (or not, as the case may be).
I have used the phrase ‘good artists borrow, great artists steal’ many times, but have you stopped to think what exactly it is that I’m on about…..
It’s about finding inspiration in the work of others – using that as a starting point for original creative output.
Artists sometimes decontextualise, remix, substitute, or otherwise recreate existing work in order to make something new.
For example – there are a number of photographers who are taking images from Google Earth, and rehashing them into something different – but what makes this sort of thing ‘stealing’?
It’s that instead of borrowing something, and making a weak imitation, which might just serve to remind people of the superior original, it has been changed by you, with your own new ideas.
Then, when you’ve transformed it – your audience may look at both works and say that yours explores that idea in a new and different way – you then own that new idea – you’ve stolen it.
Modern writers steal Shakespeare’s plots. The Lion King is a version of Hamlet, and West Side Story a version of Romeo and Juliet – these adaptations though transformed the original idea and became iconic, and famous in their own right.
There is a difference between inspiration and imitation, but also between inspiration and straightforward copy. It’s not copying when you replicate how the great masters used colour, or composition in their paintings in order to improve your own work.
How did the great painters and artists train their students? – they gave them things to copy…. I’ve seen it on the Antiques Road Show – the expert doesn’t always know if it was the master or the student, if the piece is not signed. Hence the importance of provenance.
Steal ideas if you must – but then go away and make that idea and concept your very own…. you never know, someone might just steal that idea and move it on some more…. be flattered if they do.
Isn’t it weird – taking photos I mean? Being on your own with a camera, and then maybe sitting on your own in front of a computer, wondering if it’s all going to come out OK.
What about the photographs though? Some of the images you take can be studied in advance, and oftentimes you are looking for the problems, even before they arrive, almost as a justification for them being ‘not good enough’. You blame equipment, light, software – you are full of excuses.
Photographers need to sometimes empty themselves of preconceptions, and think of every new image as a potential passionate affair – something that you can throw yourself into with scant regard for anything, or anyone, else.
Focus on the part of the image that you like the most, shoot what you like the best. You might not always know what the end result is going to be – things will develop, and that is as it should be – relish the challenge.
Don’t even think sometimes, just respond to what’s in front of you – look for the spirit of the scene.
Imagination can be harder than you think, but if you try too hard, then it might not come to you. Sometimes, you feel you have been bold, imaginative, experimental. You’ve really tried to see and do things in different ways. It still didn’t work. You’ve tried too hard.
So, look in the dark places, in the shadows – look where you normally don’t look, see what’s in there that you’ve not noticed before.
Photography isn’t always about what you put in, it’s about your ability to take things out – don’t be afraid to destroy your image in the edit process (you can always come back to the original) – take risks – and be brave enough to find out just how little you need.
You can get to the point in an edit where you can see it’s almost done – you see the end result, but sometimes continue to push on and on – till it’s over done – over processed – be aware of the point that can make or break the picture.
Now, look at what you have made – maybe it’s not all right, not all you hoped it would be – but don’t be too self critical – be proud that you got as far as you did…..
Sometime during March, my camera club closed down because of Covid19 – there was no big announcement, just a quiet closure, and a sudden end to the programme of events that were scheduled.
One member acquired a Zoom account for the benefit of maybe half a dozen people, so we could keep in touch. It soon expanded though to include the whole of the club, and since then has gone from strength to strength.
What this blog post is about, is the results of that closure, and what happened afterwards.
We had a couple of meetings to see how it would go, and, when it became apparent that most of the membership were keen, it fell to a group of three to work out the programme that would ensue. All the competitions had stopped, and there had been no club committee meetings, so we plodded on.
What happened was one of the best programmes of speakers I have ever had the privilege to watch – ranging from people with little experience, to solid professionals with years of speaking experience, based around the world.
The common denominator was the software called Zoom, which seemed to float to the top at the start of the Covid lockdown.
I certainly had never heard of it before, and I gather a lot more people were in exactly the same situation. At the start, there seemed to be glitches, and some security issues, but the company seemed to get on top of that pretty quickly, and ironed out the problems. Pretty soon I saw that many businesses were using it as a conferencing tool, including our own government.
There is always (for some) a fear of new technology, but under these trying circumstances, I have been pleased to see people I would have considered to be wary of this sort of meeting – happily joining in after a training session. Even some who said they were sure they wouldn’t like it, have been converted.
Of course – it’s not for everyone, and if it’s not a place you would feel comfortable, then that is fine. (But you’re missing such a lot!)
However – the results of the talks, coming as quickly as they have (and still do) has been inspirational.
Not just the club, but the Royal Photographic Society too, has put on a series of events and talks that simply could not be missed…. So what is the result so far….
Well, a cornucopia of ideas from an eclectic mix of photographers and artists.
We started with Art Nude, and nudes in the landscape, reflecting professionalism, and images you would be happy to show your aged mother. Not a genre I was planning on trying any time soon, but the photographs and the expertise was unmistakable.
From here we moved to stories, told by different images, and a whole talk and photographs based entirely on a work of fiction. Some stunning work by a master of wildlife photography, who showed us how he was able to attract birds into his garden, and gave us a tour round with excellent photography.
Based on this talk, the club ran a competition based on ‘birds’ – a fun competition with a very loose theme – images ranged from model kingfishers, to easter chicks in a nest of creme eggs.
So what have I learned?
Well, images can be produced that are interpretations, and not records of events, the subject comes first, and the images second. Planning is key, and if you are creating your own photographs from a work of fiction, then the image must be moved by the story itself.
The differences in attitude and experience of the speakers shows me that creativity is not necessarily something we can just learn. It can require a complete change of mindset, and is something that needs constant practice.
There will be many failures, but these are essential, as are the risks.
For example – Edward Weston produced a startling black and white image of a green pepper – called ‘Pepper Number 30’. What I hadn’t really thought about, was that there must have been at least 29 earlier versions, and who knows how many afterwards. The point is that Weston thought that number 30 was THE image, and the one he was probably most satisfied with.
Photographers must learn (I feel it should be compulsory) to cultivate a willingness to experiment, and think about the question ‘what if I did this?’..
I also learned that watching these excellent people present their work – that what we saw was a carefully cultivated, curated collection of images – and not just a thrown together selection of work. They all saw that there was no ‘one way’ of doing things – there was no wrong way, there was just a multitude of different ways. Some would just work better than others.
The images were not ‘scripted’ – they were born out of imagination, inspiration, and creativity. Even the loveliest landscapes that I saw of Mongolia, were thought through pieces, with the photographer even showing us one or two of his rejects, and explaining the thought process.
Each specialist image maker held true to their passions and convictions, and to a large extent didn’t worry too much about how others reacted to them. There is therefore a true correlation between creation and passion.
The other thing they do is make time for their art. It’s not created in between sandwiches on a Wednesday afternoon. They have spent time and effort looking at other people’s work, and at art. They have attended exhibitions, judged competitions, made work for sale, and importantly, made work for themselves.
So looking back at what I have seen so far – travel, people, factual, experimental, wildlife, landscape, nudes and totally different uses of camera and drones – my mind is racing with ideas.
I look at the programme to come, and see more projects, the Vikings, more wildlife, sports, astrophotography, underwater, street, work with textures, and composite photography.
Lots of things I’ve never tried, not thought about particularly either, but we all need to open our eyes and minds to different mindsets.
Lockdown has been an absolute pain in a lot of ways – there’s been a lot of agony and grief, but there has also been an abundance of creative imagery – some fantastically beautiful and poignant work, reflecting how photographers have responded to being left to their own devices.
Is there still going to be a place for the ‘traditional’ camera club after this? I’d say yes, because you can’t beat the personal interactions that you get when you meet up. Will they be different? I hope so – I hope that more photographers will be willing to experiment, and break the rules.
Is there going to be a place for Zoom, or equivalent? – again, I think yes. How else can you have a presenter from the other side of the world, or even Europe? Speakers from the deep south of the UK, or the north of Scotland.
One thing I do hope, is that clubs continue to have these brilliant speakers – so that we can see the amazing work that might be totally different to our own……
I look forward to hearing your comments, and seeing you let yourselves go….
In my college days – in Stockport, working at photography, early on, a question was asked by our tutor – “why are you obsessed with taking pictures?”
We all had to think…… ‘Obsessed’ seemed a bit strong.
If I don’t take pictures for any length of time, I start to feel out of sorts, a bit ‘antsy’, and restless – My other half has no thoughts whatsoever about taking photographs. He has a camera, yes, but hardly ever uses it.He’s quite normal, but doesn’t have the same drive that I do to make an image – in fact he has none at all…..
Yet, all of us who are photographers, who are driven and motivated, and have sacrificed money and time, and effort, and space in our homes for equipment and computers – maybe we are the ones who are just a bit crazy….. a bit ‘obsessed’.
But why do we spend so much time, and expend so much energy in making photographs?
Well, for me anyway, I feel almost compelled to share with other people the way that I see the world.I operate under the illusion (or maybe delusion) that other people might be just a bit interested in the way I see things, or imagine things.
It’s egotistical isn’t it, that photographers think that others will be interested in seeing how we see – and thinking that the way we see, is different to everyone else.
I look at work produced by other photographers, so that I can produce something that is different, so that they can look at my work and maybe produce something that is different – ad infinitum.
Which brings me nicely on to what other people hang on their walls.
In the good old days, when we were able to visit other people’s homes – remember those halcyon days – must be – well, over 12 weeks ago (ish) now……I was always interested in what was hanging there.
I was in an office a while ago, and there was a picture on the wall of Scotland – Skye in fact, and what caught my eye, was that it was taken from a place I had been, and stood, and taken my own photo.
I mentioned later that I’d admired the picture, and was told that it had been taken by a friend of his, when they were on holiday together.He told me all about the trip, how much he’d enjoyed it, how he intended to go back as soon as it was possible to do so.
The way he described it – I could tell that the photograph meant an awful lot to him, and how much he enjoyed having it hanging there.
Being a bit of a picture person, I took another, better, closer, look – as a photographer would.
It was pixellated – and obviously an enlargement of a much smaller image, and the colours were a bit ‘off’.It had looked OK from 10 or 12 feet away, but once I got closer, I saw the flaws.I started to see it, not as a memory of a place visited, but as a flawed piece of work, yet for him, it was a beautiful picture that evoked a wonderful memory, thus showing the difference between how just two people can view an image. Double that, triple it, and then think of how many people look at your work, and think about how they view it.
It’s not all going to be the same way…. and sometimes we are lucky if ‘anyone’ likes what we are doing… good to experiment though isn’t it?
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.
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…..
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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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.
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.
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.
There’s an old adage that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. This runs true in all sorts of ways. We’ve all made mistakes with people, at job interviews, with good friends, and sometimes you get the chance to go back and fix your mistakes – but not always.
I think it’s similar to when you make photographs – but you do usually have two chances. Once when you take it, and once when you edit it. There’s also the time when you take something, bring it home, and surprise even yourself. You haven’t seen what you’ve got at the time you took it. Whether it be because you didn’t look at the image on the back of the camera, or because you just didn’t ‘see’ it.
So the second chance comes into play. You didn’t just randomly delete it whilst you were out (NEVER delete anything whilst you’re out!), and now you can edit.
When I took the shot below – I was playing with the double exposure function of the camera… We were in a shopping centre, and security was popping around – you all know what it’s like – I’m on private property doing something that security doesn’t like or allow – anyway, so I was sneaking photographs. Camera low down – and just shooting what ever took my fancy.
When I got home, I had this….
Unlooked for and unplanned. I had no idea what I had.
Most of what I took I deleted, but this is the one I liked the best. Keep shooting.
The French outdoor theatre company ILOTOPE put on a spectacular event this weekend at Salford Quays. I was down there to shoot the dress rehearsal which, although brilliantly done, did not have the fireworks going.
It did feature though, a floating car, with a caravan, a huge floating bed, and lots of other magic. At 9.30 prompt a car arrived, dropping a man off on a platform in the middle of the water.
The story is rooted in the fanatical, as a surreal world explodes out of a man’s head, transporting him from the rigmarole of his everyday existence to a landscape populated with mythical creatures and inexplicable magic, while all spectacularly taking place on the water’s surface. Caravans, prams and penny-farthings will feature, defying all logic, bringing an impossibly innovative piece of entertainment to Salford Quays.
Choreographed by French artist Bruno Schnebelin the routine had chain breath-taking visuals, punctuated by pyrotechnics, with engrossing theatre while fellow countryman Phil Spectrum composed an original score to make the show spectacular in all aspects.
The rest of the images from this shoot can be seen HERE