Excellence and its Benefits

It’s been a miserable year, with all the stresses of a pandemic, and the worries that ensue. I think I coped pretty well till the second major lockdown, but during that, I’ve got pretty fed up with the restrictions. Life has to go on, and I know that the restrictions are needed. Hopefully by next spring, we will start to see light and Christmas 2021 should be verging on ‘normal’ whatever that turns out to be – the ‘new normal’…. anyway…..

We are plugged into a news cycle all the time – between the internet, TV, radio and podcasts – all the newspapers, magazines, we are somewhat bombarded by all the bad news of the world.

I’m finding that all the news stifles my creative juices, and it’s been hard sometimes to make myself go out and make images… When I’m feeling all tense, sad, argumentative (nothing new there I suppose on the argumentative front!), and generally under the weather – I feel angry at something I have absolutely no control over – and that makes me scared.

What’s the solution?

For me, it’s friends, family and a good support group….. after that, it’s music, books, and good quality television.

I find that if I can get out for a walk with the dogs, alone, or with a friend, I come home feeling much better. A walk with a friend and my camera, some images to process, and play with on a wet day cheers me up immensely.

I was listening to a podcast on photography a few months ago, and a book was mentioned that had nothing to do with image making – it was about a detective called Harry Bosch – my ears pricked up because the detectives’ real name was Hieronymus Bosch – named after the great Dutch Painter who lived in the year 1500. I’d heard of him because of a different podcast where there had been discussion about one of his major works called ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ – now, if you’ve not heard of this, then I suggest you give it a look – especially if you like things that are a little off the wall….. anyway, I digress……

I searched online to find the book that had been mentioned, and enjoyed it very much – later I found that there was a TV series too – called ‘Bosch’ which I started to watch, and can’t get enough of……

Harry Bosch enjoys Jazz – (bear with me here), and I spent some time trying to find out what he was listening to in his home. I found a website that had a list of the music, and someone made up a playlist.

With the benefit of Amazon Prime, I was able to get a list of jazz personalities that I’d never heard of, and now have a great list of superb music that I’ve not listened to before.

The upshot is that if I listen to excellent music, read excellent books, and watch excellent programming – talk to excellent friends, and get out for walks and some exercise generally, I WILL feel better – and the more I do it, the better I feel.

So now I’m listening to the Red Garland Trio, Miles Davis, Ry Cooder, Lucinda Williams, Artie Shaw, and Boz Scaggs…. to name but a few……

Listening to things like this (or whatever your predilection for music), reading or watching can lift the spirits, and suddenly today I felt like doing something creative.

When we surround ourselves with excellence, it can promote the same in ourselves.

How Long ?

How long do we spend looking at the work we have created….. it’s complete, it’s printed, and maybe even mounted.. but how long do we look at it after that?  Do we ever go back, and think, “I could have done that better” – and then actually done that…. Or do we move on and start something new and fresh, and more exciting?

I ask, because last year I went to an exhibition to see reproductions of paintings by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel.   It was wonderful – a ticketed event – for free – with time to browse…. Trouble was, there were so many people wanting to see the event, that it was crowded and somewhat time restricted as folks flowed in and out all the time.

I think we were spending no more than a minute or so with each panel – though the ticket said you could stay as long as you wanted.

Minor White used to say that you should spend at least 30 minutes with a photograph – stare at it, embed yourself in it, search your emotional response to it – a bit different from my experience in Hull last year.

Watching people at a photographic exhibition the same year, I came to the conclusion that people were spending, on average around 10 seconds per image.  Some obviously for longer and some for less…. And I’m as guilty as the next person for not allowing myself time to really ‘look’ – I think sometimes it’s because I’m with someone else, who may not be as interested as I am, and so I rush through – trying to please the person I’m with, by not dawdling around.  

How long, is the right amount of time to spend?  I have no idea, but probably somewhere between 10 seconds and 30 minutes….. maybe.  The one thing I do know is that we don’t spend enough time looking…..

During this rather unusual year of pandemic – there have been many online exhibitions of art that we could see – including a tour round the Louvre…. I wonder how many people did this, and really looked… 

Let me know if you did…….

Film V Digital

A comparative review…..

I have a friend (just the one) – who shoots film almost exclusively.  He says that you can’t get the same quality of image from digital that you can from a film camera.  He insists he’s right – won’t hear a word said against film (and I’m not going to here either).

The thing about this, is that the production of an image, has nothing to do with the medium on which it is taken. It’s a mechanical thing, whichever way you look at it.

There was a time, when I bought, shot, developed and printed from film.  There’s a time now when  I buy cards, shoot, process and print digital images – and the difference is?  I can do it in the daylight, instead of sitting in (what was at the time) a stuffy little built in wardrobe, with the smell of chemicals wafting on the air.

When I did my photography courses at college – one of the first things we did, was go straight back to the lab, and process a film – ahh, you say – nostalgia….. nope – same old darkness (in a larger room to be sure) but with the same chemical smell that lingers long after you get home.

‘But”, my friend argues “we did it all ourselves, all the famous photographers of our time did”… well sorry to disillusion you…… but most of them had assistants, even if they oversaw the whole process.

Think this way as well.  We didn’t make the film, as much as we didn’t make the memory card.  We didn’t make the lens for the camera, or the electronics that are in there today.  Someone somewhere along the line helped us to make that photograph.  If we digital shooters produce a JPG, then the camera has done some editing in advance – if we shoot RAW, then we end up with the equivalent of a negative, to edit as we wish.  I suspect it’s no coincidence that Lightroom has a ‘Develop’ module, or a library for that matter.

What I notice is that my friend does not print his own images, nor does he process his own film, and yet argues that his image making process, is  more ‘pure’ than mine,

As photographers, and creators of images, I don’t think it matters if we leave some things to our virtual assistants – get our images printed elsewhere for example – it is entirely our choice, but if we leave the film to be processed into prints at the time we send it off -then we are leaving the final edit to the chemistry lab operators.

In the end though, it’s our creative vision, and the print, (if we choose to go that far) is our end product.

Put a film print and a digital print side by side, and most times I would defy you to tell which was which !

Feel free to argue the point – I’d be interested…….. 

Do What You Want… When You Want…How You Want..

In one of the talks that I give I discuss in a bit of detail my thoughts on how, as photographers, we can be trained to not be individual. We all need to know the rules and then know when to break them. For example the rule of thirds, and the exposure triangle.

So, when you do produce something, you would really like people to like it, but that’s not always going to happen, and then you have to grow a thick skin – because if you don’t, you are going to get upset, and, maybe, go on to produce work that hits the middle ground, where perhaps there will be nothing new or exciting. It’s safe, but boring. If we continue to produce work that everybody agrees with, then it won’t be as creative or imaginative as it could be.

I do think that photographers should produce exactly what they want to in their art work, and then they will know that what they have made is truly theirs. The world will just accept it, or it won’t.

I’ve said this before, but when I was working for clients, I had to produce work that was exactly what they wanted, and how they wanted it, in the time scale that they wanted. Since retirement, I’ve been able to contradict all those things, and I produce what I want, how I want, when I want.

If people don’t like what I (or you) do, then it has to be OK, because it’s really not necessary that they do. The artists responsibility here is to keep producing work that suits them and which allows them the freedom to breathe.

Image making should not be about winning a popularity contest, but rather it should be about being a personal creation.

Photographers love photography, which means we love the production of images, which in turn means we love art itself – and if we don’t love art, then we should. We should pursue the study of painting, sculpture, needlework and every other kind of art. Looking outwards from our specific hobby can only increase our awareness of light, shape and form.

We all have a variety of music that we love, films, and paintings, so why should photography be any different. Look for the ‘different’ and enjoy…..


We are still somewhat in lockdown – and it’s a good time to experiment with new ideas, and even genres.

As an aside, I did get the portable bird hide out again – sadly at the end of the lovely weather – and for the last few days it’s blown a gale, and poured down with rain. The benefit was that the wet earth brought out the ‘bugs’ for the starlings, and I got natural food rather than the dried mealworm I normally see them with.


So, as we work our way out of lockdown – do take care, enjoy your image-making, and stay safe……

We are in ‘Lockdown’

We are in lockdown…….

I’ve not done a blog post this month since March 1st – and this is mostly due to the fact that the pandemic that started in China in December and which has overtaken most of the world sent me into a state of panic, that is only now starting to abate – as I realise that there is absolutely nothing I can do about it, only weather the storm as best I can.  

The media hasn’t helped – with a constant bombardment of bad news, and 24 hour coverage.

So, what to do ? Restrict the amount of news coverage, release myself from the bombardment of social media, and listen to a lot more music – classical piano, is what’s playing in the background even as I type.  I’m also trying to hone my photoshop skills some more.  I’ve books, and magazines that I bought ages ago with the intention of working through some things, but never got around to.  Well, now I have no excuse…..

Back to the music, and I’ve just listened to a piece that has been beautifully played.  I’ve rewound it, and sat with my eyes shut, and just absorbed the flow – this has put me in mind of how we can relearn to look at photographs.

We can have them in the background, and see them, but not ‘notice’ them, or we can absorb them – much like we can a piece of music.

I used to play in an orchestra, (I played clarinet), and sitting ‘inside’ the music was magical.  To hear the different sections rehearse individually was fascinating – sometimes it didn’t sound like the final piece at all, but the conductor bringing it all together made the final sound.  The study of the score showed how it all worked.

I find that photography is very much like this – we produce the first image, and then in conjunction with software, we hone it to a final version – which other folks can then either quickly look at, or hopefully, absorb.

There are photographs in my home that hang on the walls that I will enjoy looking at – and will spend time with, and there are others that are there for decoration only.  Seeing some images is not the same as spending time really looking at them.

Minor White said that you should spend at least 30 minutes looking at a photograph – not saying anything, just looking and absorbing – and that’s the same with a piece of music.  Having it running in the background is not the same as really listening to it.  Minor died in 1976, leaving many images for us to absorb.  Mostly black and white closeups, arranged in sequence so the viewer had to look carefully, and slowly.  Go look at his work, the lighting is beautiful, and a lot of the images are very simple, but need to be looked at carefully.

Especially good are the images of his friend Tom Murphy, taken in 1948 – beautifully lit, Tom is muscular and naked – and though White struggled throughout his life with his homosexuality, he was able to still to produce images like these.

MINOR WHITE IMAGES

In these strange times of lockdown, maybe we should take more time to really look at our photography, and really listen to the music.  Listen to the sounds of nature too, and allow ourselves the unaccustomed luxury of being able to ‘look’.

So, what’s next – and what do the next weeks have on offer for the photographer?  Restrictions yes, but maybe opportunities too.  

I might just break out the macro lens I bought and hardly used….. and get to grips with photoshop !

Then again, there’s always the music……… 

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Take Advice

Sometimes when you’re shooting – you might find that someone comes up and asks what you are doing…… it’s always tempting to give the sarcastic answer – after all I’m stood there with a tripod and a camera on top – what do they think I might be doing?

Anyway – whilst I was in Bath last year, someone stopped and said to me “it’s nicer down there”….   I think that I might have ignored the advice, but something inside me said I should at least go and look. I suspect I’m not as clever as I used to think I was, but I decided to go …..

I went – it was better, I stayed quite a while, enjoying the scene, and thinking what I could do with it later…

Later….. when I was showing the photograph to a friend who was with me at the time – he said “I didn’t see that”.

Let yourself be helped.  Your pictures will still be your pictures – there is no way they can be changed just because someone suggested another point of view, or venue.  The person stood right next to you will probably have a different picture anyway….

Bath

What do you need to see in a photo?

I printed some images off last week, of birds – with textured backgrounds – and when the prints came (my printer has died and I still have no idea what new one to get, but I digress) – I was somewhat dissatisfied with them.

There was some lack of detail in the shadow areas, that I was sure was there in the digital image – but then I got to wondering how much detail did I really need?

A friend of mine looked at the image in question – this one below.. and said he didn’t think there was enough detail in the feathers on the right hand side of the bird.

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He went on “it’s got a good feel to it, I like the colours and the setting with the background rocks, but it’s the bird”

I asked how much detail he wanted.. “you can see it’s a Jackdaw can’t you?”

“Yes” he said…

“Well how much more detail do you want then?”

How much detail do we ‘really’ want in a photo?  Sometimes I think we look for too much.  When I’ve judged National Competitions, we generally get no more than about 5 seconds to make a judgement.  Does the image have impact?  It’s not till the end, when we have all the top scorers, that there is a bit more time to look at detail, but even then, time is short.

I’m pretty sure we worry too much about our image making.  Are we crafting for ourselves, or for some judge.

I must confess to making images for myself, and if someone else happens to like them, then that’s a bonus.

A talk I went to earlier this year – was by a lady – whose photography is of the highest quality – and she was saying that she was editing her images to make them fit the requirements of a judge.  In her eyes she was changing them from something ‘she’ wanted – to something that fitted a rule.

I’m not saying this is wrong, but at least there was a recognition of changes that have to be made to suit an occasion.

I think it’s a shame that we do this, but I suppose it’s (as they say) ‘horses for courses’.

What I did appreciate was the fact that she was keeping the original images – -which she had crafted for herself, and appreciated that she would have to alter them if she wanted them to win a competition, or help her achieve an award.

I think that as photographers we love not just the image taking – but the process that happens afterwards, and we also have a certain love of art generally. I’m sure that this is important in the creation of our photographs.

I’m also certain also that a love of art – outside photography is a useful and beneficial thing, especially when we turn our photographic eyes out into the world.

 

It’s finished!

For the last year, I’ve been working on a project about the Lincolnshire Meridian.

Here’s the story – last October (gosh a year ago now), I completed my ARPS with a project on Fine Art, and the Lincolnshire Landscape.  I’d also been a member of a project orientated group (Lincolnshire Image Makers) and quite separately, another group of four, who decided that we would each make a new project which we could then present as a talk to be used at camera clubs, and elsewhere.

Some of you may understand the feeling of relief after completing something challenging like the ARPS – but after the results were in, and I’d passed, there was a certain feeling of ‘what shall I do now?’.

My project was to take the Meridian line through the county, and record interesting facts and pictures, and hopefully learn a bit on the way.  I didn’t think it would take so long.

12 months later, and the job is pretty much done.  It involved innumerable trips out – lots of research, and a trip to Greenwich to complete the section on John Harrison (Clockmaker, and calculator of Longitude) and his clocks.

There’s still one bit to get – Barrow (up near the Humber Bridge) is having a statue of Harrison made and installed in their market place.  I was hoping to get this to complete the project, but as of the time of writing, it’s not taken place.  The statue is being made – they seem to have all the funding in place, but it’s not been installed.

My first booking to give the talk is on September 30th – at my home camera club Cleethorpes – and I hope that they’ll give me a friendly reception as I bumble my way through a first reading.

I’m sort of excited and nervous at the same time.

Three days after that – I’m to give it again, at another club – further afield.  I’m not naming names in case it all goes AWOL !

Anyway – the Meridian project is done, apart from a few tweaks now, and it’s a relief.

I’m not entirely sure what the next project will be yet, but we have plans to do a joint one about either the Lincolnshire coastline, or the Fitties, or something else.

In the meantime, I need to sort something just for me again.

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Being Quiet

I’ve stolen this title from a podcast that I listen to, where the talk was about being digitally quiet as well as physically quiet.

This came from the fact that, (for reasons that are unimportant) I put Facebook back onto my mobile phone as a temporary measure.  I’d deleted the app over 12 months ago, but every now and again wished it had been there – and yesterday I put it back on for one day – and I wish in some ways I hadn’t.

We went to the Festival of the Air in Cleethorpes and I’d had this idea that I could post to FB a video of the kite flying – which was incredible by the way…..

What I found was that I got to looking at other things rather than just posting the video, and a couple of photos. It became a huge distraction, as I became more bothered about the upload, than I was about what was going on around me.  In the end I uploaded a photo or two – and the video, and then deleted the app again – it was just too much for me to deal with, AND absorb what was going on around me.

Once again, I noticed the number of people (this time including me for a while) who were watching the parade, the kites and all the other attractions through the small screen of their phones – almost like it was a sin to watch the real thing with their own eyes.

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I don’t think I take enough time really to stop and look.  There’s too much digital noise going on, and sometimes I feel I’m being dragged into directions I don’t want to go.

I’m an advocate of playing around though – I think that it’s essential to take time off from the serious bit of photography.  So this weekend – apart from the Facebook distraction – I decided to play with the images – I took them just because it was interesting to me, and not because they were truly ‘artistic’ in any way.

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I call it photographic doodling. It’s a great way of limbering up the artistic juices (of which I’ve been sadly lacking for weeks and weeks) – It’s the process of playing around, and not the result.  It’s been good to just mess about, and see what comes out.

Facebook has been removed from my phone, and I hope will never, ever, get put back on again, I need the peace and quiet after all….

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