Rich Perspective: Blog https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog en-us (C) All Images are the copyright of Richard Fletcher [email protected] (Rich Perspective) Mon, 11 Mar 2024 15:11:00 GMT Mon, 11 Mar 2024 15:11:00 GMT https://www.richperspective.co.uk/img/s/v-12/u451285529-o224291547-50.jpg Rich Perspective: Blog https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog 120 120 Camera Stories Chapter 2: The Voigtländer Vitoret 110 and the Wannabe Secret Agent https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2024/3/camera-stories-chapter-2-the-voigtl-nder-vitoret-110-and-the-wannabe-secret-agent Being a child of the 1970s has its advantages, although now being in my fifties is not what I’d consider to be one of them.  I think I grew up during a very special time, however. An aspect of my childhood that I remember, the informative years being the dawning of the 1980s, was the innovation.  I don’t wish to cast aspersions on the current technological age, far from it.  In fact, I was recently walking around an old stately home while on holiday, and found myself standing in a very grand library, full of hundreds of leather-bound volumes of texts that covered classical literature and ‘modern’ science.  I turned to my wife and remarked that this was how the 18th Century educated classes and the aristocracy engaged with the world beyond their immediate 4 walls; they collected knowledge and kept it a big room.  People of the 21st Century by contrast carry a much vaster knowledge around in their pockets, in the form of a mobile phone which, when you think about it for more than a minute, is mind-blowing.  Thing is, that knowledge, in the form of the internet, has been available to us for nearly 25 years.  The remarkable innovation lies in the evolution of how we access and consume it.  What I mean by the innovation of the 70s and 80s is that there were some completely new things happening.  I mentioned home computers in Chapter 1 as an example of something nobody had ever seen before.  The same could be said of Industrial Light and Magic, the company formed to innovate special effects in Star Wars that  were totally ground-breaking.  That mobile phone that I mentioned earlier was first seen as a real product on the big screen in the 1987 film Lethal Weapon, and it was the size of a small lunchbox.  Nobody cared that it was so large, because we’d never seen a real go-anywhere phone outside of fictional depictions in earlier films.   Why am I talking about this here?  Well, because through the eyes of a small boy, this era was full of wonderful gadgets and technology that I imagined I would somehow get to use at some point in my life.  It brings me onto a camera that I first saw in a 1979 film that I immediately thought was cool.   The film was Moonraker, one of the James Bond series, and the camera was his 007 ‘spy camera’.  The super spy carried this camera, which was disguised as a cigarette lighter, so that he could photograph the contents of the bad guy’s filing cabinet or any blueprints that happened to be lying around.  I was too young to notice or care that said lighter had ‘007’ written down the side of it, which would now strike me as an odd piece of self-promotion for a man who operated in the shadows, but we’ll gloss over that for now.  I was stunned that a camera could be so tiny and so cool.


Taking pictures and lighting ciggies.  (Source: James Bond Wiki www.jamesbod.fandom.com)

At the time, I was using my Halina 110 to shoot anything and everything, but at some point there must have been a conversation with my Dad which resulted in him lending my a much cooler camera.  Alas, no matter how hard I try to recall that time, I cannot remember how I ended up with the Voightländer Vitoret 110, but it was just the coolness I was waiting for.

The small but beautiful Vitoret 110

Although shooting the same 110 format, this little camera could not have been more different from the Halina.  For a start, the body was made from a much higher-grade plastic, which just felt more like metal and was much nicer to hold.  The lens was a huge improvement too with Voightländer’s Lanthar glass making an appearance which, despite not being comparable to their legendary lenses made for SLR cameras, still suggested that the Vitoret meant business.  Controls were similar to the Halina though, with selectors for weather conditions and ISO that altered the aperture for a fixed shutter speed, but now it offered 4 settings that had their corresponding focal distance associated with them.  I didn’t know this until much later, but for a given aperture and focal length of lens, you get a specific range of focus where subjects are perceptibly sharp.  At those focus regions, the fixed lens will obviously have a field of view, which means that a camera can offer what are called focus zones, suited to different situations or subjects by selecting an aperture with the flick of a switch.  You may have noticed these in the form of symbols printed on an old film camera such as a single person (portrait), group of people (group portrait) or a mountain (landscape).  The idea is that for each situation, you can get your subject in focus by standing at the right distance to frame it.  The little Vitoret had these distances, so in theory this would make me a better photographer without even trying.  That wasn’t the coolest feature of it, and neither was the way you could add a flash interface to one end of the body to take the magic flash cube, an iteration of the exploding strip I mentioned in Chapter 1.  No, the coolest feature was how the shutter was cocked.  The Vitoret’s film advance was a slider that did 3 things: open the protective windows that covered the lens and viewfinder, wound the film on and cocked the shutter ready for a picture to be taken.  Gone was the need to remember to wind on the camera, just to use that one action to get ready to take the shot.  This also meant that you could shoot frames in fairly rapid succession, which is what I used to do with it.  Picture a pump action shotgun being fired and you’ll get the idea.  Add to that the more compact design that could slip into the pocket of my jeans, and I had camera that made me feel like I was 007. 

The Vitoret 110 did have more impact on me than just fuelling my imagination, though.  It had a frame guide in the viewfinder which, along with the selectable focus distances, prompted me to start thinking about composition more than previously.  Up until that point, my subjects had the habit of part falling outside of the frame or having the tops of their heads cut off, which instead of looking like artistic licence, was actually just a bit rubbish. Solving this problem could be considered the first thing I really learned about photography, and I have that little camera to thank for it.   That’s not to say that my photography was any good, though; I still ran around shooting through film like there was no tomorrow.  However, unlike with the Halina, some of those pictures still exist and when I look at some of them, I do see the beginnings of improvement.  

Our family dog Kirsty.  Slightly blurry, but in the frame (along with my finger) - scanned from negative

Landscape Mode.  No idea where this was taken, but starting to get a sense of where to put things in the frame
 

I used the Vitoret 110 regularly until I acquired my first SLR and have no idea what happened to it, which is a shame because it wasn’t actually mine.  However, I recently picked one up for the collection, which I’ve yet to shoot because it needs a minor repair.  It’s one of those jobs that goes on a list that never really gets finished, so it’s debatable as to whether the camera will ever be used.  Also, it doesn’t hold the same special memoires for me as the Halina.  How could it? One 110 camera is very much like the next, particularly when the ability to change settings and be more creative are generally so limited.  Perhaps the Vitoret 110 holds more of a special place in the collection for its design.  I recently read a review that used it as an example of how compact camera design is always sexy, and I have to agree.  Despite being 40 years old, the Vitoret 110 doesn’t look like it belongs to that era, and when we consider Lomography’s new 110 camera that has recently been launched, that compact form factor is still appealing in a world of sleek mirrorless offerings.  As for Bond, he used spy cameras in other movies that were just as cool.  Cooler than smoking, that’s for sure.  

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) 007 110 analogue auto-flip blog camera convenience convenient documentary film gear history inspiration James bond learning life memories narrative personal photographer photography simplicity spy camera stories technology tuition Vitoret 100 voightlander https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2024/3/camera-stories-chapter-2-the-voigtl-nder-vitoret-110-and-the-wannabe-secret-agent Mon, 11 Mar 2024 09:27:14 GMT
Camera Stories Chapter 1: The Halina 110 Auto-Flip - Where it all started https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2024/2/camera-stories-chapter-1-the-halina-110-auto-flip---where-it-all-started While out on one of my regular walks around town recently, I bumped into an old colleague of mine from around 20 years ago.  We greeted each other warmly, despite my vague memories of our working together being more of passing acquaintances than best mates.  We talked only for a few minutes with the usual “How’s life/work/the family” etc, but I found the experience incredibly embarrassing.  Why? Because I had completely forgotten his name.  I find that this happens to me a lot these days, and it will no doubt be a familiar sensation to you too.  I often hear the sentiment repeated that “I can remember something in my childhood but can’t remember what I was doing last week” or something similar.  One of the contributors to this notion is that our memories of things are related to how significant they were to us at the time, coupled with other sources of context such as the experience or stories of others around us, the emotions we felt and so on.  These memories seem very real, but we actually never fully recall every detail, unless it is exceptionally traumatic, so we subconsciously fill in the gaps.   We preserve our treasured memories, sometimes embellishing them over time, but others that might not be as important fall by the wayside, as in the case of my former colleague.  For me, the ability to put names to faces has decreased significantly in recent years, for no other reason that I’m getting older, which has put me in some awkward situations with increasing frequency.  With all that in mind, the first thing I must do here is apologise for ‘mis-remembering’. 

When I was originally thinking about writing this first chapter of Camera Stories, I naturally had to start by trying to recall old memories of the origins of my fascination with photography, which date back around 40 years.  I spent a great deal of time trying to picture those early days of camera ownership; What did it look like? How did it work? What did I take pictures of, and do I still have any? This exercise was trickier than I thought it would be, and I realised that I couldn’t recall that first camera at all, no matter how hard I tried.  The only thing I could remember was a camera that my father lent me, a Voightländer Vitoret 110, which felt like it should have been the first, and was asserted as such in a previous blog post.  I was convinced it was right, but all the same something didn’t feel right about that belief, so I started to dig through the hundreds of pictures of my family that I have either taken or inherited over the years, to see if I could validate it.  Fortunately for me, there was one piece of evidence; a photograph of my little sister holding that first camera, taken by me much later with a 35mm SLR.  That picture unlocked something, because the memories quickly started to flood back, and I could suddenly recall lots of tiny details about the Halina 110 Auto-Flip.  This was the camera that started it all.

Mid 80s photo of my sister with the Halina

As the name suggests, this camera used Kodak’s 110 film format, which was popular throughout the 1970s and 80s because of its simplicity, compact form and low price.  The mainstream manufacturers generally made cheap cameras for this film, like this one, but there were some more technically advanced offerings if you wanted to spend the money.  I was a kid, funded by his parents, so that wasn’t about to happen.  Loading and unloading a 110 camera was incredibly simple, because Kodak had gone back to a similar design to their 126 format of the 1960s.  The film was housed in a sealed double spool cartridge that would simply drop into the film compartment, without the need for threading it onto a take-up spool as with the standard 35mm cannisters.  This was perfect for a small boy with relatively little manual dexterity and the continual risk of something being damaged that followed him around.   I quickly became interested in loading up my little Halina and going out to take pictures of completely random stuff that I liked the look of.  As well as being simple to load, the Halina needed no batteries because it had no electronics and had minimal controls.  Minimal controls meant not having to worry about things like focus or shutter speed, both of which I’d never heard of, let alone understood. There was a switch on the top to set the aperture for a given film speed (ISO), with the options being 100/200 and 400.  Helpful little icons were printed next to the switch to suggest the weather conditions that each setting was suitable for.  Alongside it was a bright red shutter button, in case the user was some danger of misplacing it, and the rotary winder to advance the film with a satisfying ratchet noise, completed the set.  The camera was also compatible with flash bulbs, which were a primitive way of lighting a scene that literally involved exploding a small magnesium bulb on top of the camera.  Arranged vertically in a strip, these flash units vastly increased the size of the camera, which seemed to me at odds with the whole idea of being compact.  However, it was exciting when each bulb popped, even though I now shudder at how environmentally unfriendly it was to manufacture them.  Perhaps the Halina’s coolest feature, though, was its integrated case that turned into a handle when the camera was opened; the ‘Flip’ part of the name.  This meant that I could carry it in my pockets without the risk of scratching the lens or getting grubby fingerprints all over the lens when not in use.   It was also not such a leap for a small boy to compare them to Captain Kirk’s flippy communicator in Star Trek.  It takes so little to spark a young imagination, doesn’t it?

The Auto-Flip and the convenient gem that is 110

When it came to unloading the camera, the fully wound cartridge would drop out when the door was opened on the back, be put in an envelope and then either posted off to a lab or taken to a chemist to be developed.  It was just a wonderful time, waiting to see what accidental masterpieces I might have created returned in the packet of prints.  Kodak made lots of their amazing stocks in 110 too, including Kodachrome colour slide film, regarded by many as the greatest emulsion ever made, and it was all readily available as this was the 80s.  The problem was that the format was, frankly, a bit rubbish because 110 has a tiny frame size of just 17mm by 13mm, much smaller than conventional 35mm that we think of today.  Having a much smaller area frame meant that the emulsion’s grain was more noticeable printed, and it got worse when you tried to do any kind of enlargement.  The prints that I used to get back from the chemist were 6x4 inches, which was presumably considered trade-off of size and quality owing to the film’s limitations.  Add the fact that the quality of lenses in the available cameras was also generally poor and you didn’t exactly have a recipe for high-end photography.  As I mentioned earlier, there were notable exceptions when it came to cameras, though, with Pentax’s superb Auto 110 and Rollei’s A110.  The former was a fully-fledged but tiny SLR camera system, with good interchangeable lenses, a flash gun, and even an electric winder amongst other useful accessories. The latter combined a high-quality Zeiss Tessar lens and sophisticated electronic metering system in an elegant, compact design making it the greatest ever 110 camera in the eyes of 110 aficionados.  In my case, I had none of those things with the Halina, but what did I care?  I was having a great time, and that is why the format was so significant to photography back then and to me.  110 made photography accessible without spending big on an SLR or having to learn how to use one.  It was convenience personified, which is something Kodak themselves should have realised when they launched the awful 'disc' format in 1982, 10 years after 110 came out.  With the film arranged on a flat circular disc instead of a cartridge or cannister, disc cameras were slim and compact, designed to slip into a pocket, which Kodak thought would be a selling point to the fashion-conscious hobbyist photographer.  All sounded great, apart from the fact that in order to fit into the compact circular film pack, the negatives were even smaller than 110. This made the quality of the photographs even poorer, despite the bells and whistles of the cameras being made, to the extent where it was massive commercial failure that was quickly glossed over.  Kodak decided instead to focus on easy-to-use 35mm compact cameras, as if they’d somehow remembered that the convenience end of the market was already covered by good old 110.  There wouldn’t be another real attempt at revolutionising the compact/convenient end of the film market until the introduction of APS in the mid-90s, but more on that in a later chapter.  For me, the 110 experience with the Halina was what introduced me to the wonders of photography, although it turns out that sadly none of those early photographs that I took with it survive.  However, I have just picked up the one pictured here for less money than a round of drinks in even the most reasonable UK pub, and just handling it immediately transports back to my childhood with its quirky design and its very 1980s plasticky build quality.  Also, despite being largely consigned to history, there is still a loyal 110 fanbase, with enough interest it would seem to ensure that there is still some colour and black and white film being manufactured.  Perhaps this camera will get the odd outing in the future, and perhaps the grown man shooting with it will reclaim some of that childlike enthusiasm along the way.   I have no idea, but it’ll be fun finding out.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) 110 film analogue auto-flip blog camera convenience convenient documentary film first camera gear halina history inspiration learning life stories memories narrative personal personal history photographer photography simplicity stories tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2024/2/camera-stories-chapter-1-the-halina-110-auto-flip---where-it-all-started Sat, 24 Feb 2024 20:56:26 GMT
Camera Stories: An Introduction to Obsession https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2024/2/camera-stories-an-introduction-to-obsession It’s fair to say that photography is in my blood.  My father and grandfather were both keen photographers, the former becoming a professional after he retired in the early 1990s, and the latter being a generally very creative man.  While they undoubtedly sparked my initial interest in photography, there were other influences around that time when I first picked up a camera.  It was the start of the 1980s, and I was a young boy who loved science fiction, which might not sound like it’s relevant, but hear me out.  Like most sci-fi fans, there is an inherent wonder and sense of ‘what would life be like if that were real?’ which requires some understanding of what is currently possible in the real world.  An example of this connection between fact and fiction would be that era’s belief that everyone would own flying cars by the year 2000, because that was what we imagined the future to look like.  Like everyone, young Fletcher was just beginning to show an interest in how things worked in the real world, while his imagination ran wild about what might be coming next in terms of technology. One of my early memories of that time is of listening to my alarm clock radio’s short and longwave bands at night, when I was supposed to be asleep, trying to pick up unusual broadcasts that might have included the police frequencies (allegedly).  I was fascinated by the way that my radio could pick up these broadcasts mixed in with the likes of Noel Edmonds.  In this era of technological discovery, which went on into my early teens, I also started to show an interest in cameras and taking pictures.  There was something about capturing something fleeting that I liked the look of, and then seeing it on a piece of paper that I could look at whenever I liked.  In those days, film was the only available technology, of course, which meant that every chemist sold and processed film, and there were many different formats to choose from.  To be completely honest, I was drawn to the process of loading, shooting and unloading the film more than that of actually making photographs, although that magical revealing of the pictures once developed still excites me as a photographer in his 50s. 

It would be wrong to say that any form of obsession with photography was born out of that time, because I had other things to distract me.  Also, around the same time home computers were beginning to emerge, with our primary school being lucky enough to have the new BBC Micro for us kids to learn how to use.  This machine was like nothing we’d ever seen before.  As I got a little older, my parents bought me my own home computer, which introduced me to a whole new area of imagination and fantasy; the video game.  Having my own computer meant that I was able to trade games, recorded onto audio cassette, with my school friends and that thrill of a new release making its way around a select few was palpable.  Our little, if somewhat illicit, cottage industry took over from my interest in photography and my first camera, but it didn’t completely go away.  As I said, my dad was, and still is, a keen photographer, which meant that every time the family had a holiday, celebration or major event, a camera would be produced, and the moments captured.  I guess that is the single aspect of photography that eventually drew me in and that I continue to come back to today.  Photographs have the power to help us remember, not just the details like where we were, or what we were wearing etc, but how that moment made us feel.  I look back at pictures of my siblings and I on holiday and remember how it felt to be outside playing games, meeting other kids, and having fun.   I’m instantaneously transported back decades just be looking at those pictures for a few minutes.  Of course, the most powerful memories are the ones associated with now lost loved ones, and I am eternally grateful to have many pictures that invoke those memories, courtesy of the family archive.

My rekindled interest in photography happened when I was around 12 years old and about to move into the next phase of my education at ‘the big school’.  I had already taken, and failed, the ‘11 Plus’ exam which was intended to determine which local secondary school I would be attending for the next few years.  Thanks to my parents’ persistence with the local authority, I was able to avoid the less desirable ‘secondary modern’ school and go to a much better ‘comprehensive’ in a nearby town.  With this came a challenge, though, as within a year I would have to prove that I was bright enough for that they called ‘A stream’.  Kids in this group would get lots more opportunities to shine and were ultimately expected to go on to the sixth form.  Why do I remember this so vividly?  Well, because my parents told me that they would buy me a ‘proper camera’ if I managed to get into this group.  I wasn’t a particularly academic child, so I had to work hard for that year to get into the A stream. When I did, I was bought my first SLR and was off and running, taking pictures of anything I liked the look of.  I was still using that camera several years later when I went for my interview for my engineering apprenticeship, aged 16.  One of the suggestions for preparation was to take something that we were interested in to discuss with the interview board.  Having never previously had an interview, I put together a small album of photographs that I thought were my best, an early curation of a series as it turns out, and hoped for the best.  We duly talked about my interest in photography, which at that point was fairly low level despite still having my SLR, and I remember being asked what my favourite kind of photograph was.  They meant genre and I had no idea, winging the answer and hoping they didn’t see my lack of preparation written all over my face.  When I was eventually accepted for the apprenticeship, I became more interested in motorcycles, getting my first so that I could get to work, cars, drinking and, well you can guess the rest.  Photography was nowhere to be seen and effectively remained that way until I got married in 2001.  My new wife and I were aware that we didn’t have a ‘convenient’ camera between us, with devices on phones a long way off to the horizon, and the film models we did have  were a bit of a faff.  Fortunately for us, the new era of digital cameras was in full swing, so we bought a compact point-and-shoot camera which relegated my SLRs (I had two by then) to the back of a cupboard.   That little camera got me interested in composing and lighting, although my fascination with how the thing worked and the apparent magic of free ‘instant’ pictures that could be shared via email, was still my main interest at that point.   It wasn’t until we planned a special trip to the USA in 2009 that things changed completely.  Three weeks travelling around New England called for a proper camera, a DSLR.  This what really hooked me into photography and, a few years and some excellent tuition later, my passion for this art form really started to flourish. 

While this is all well and good, it can still hardly be called an obsession.  That came in 2016 when a brief chat with one of my photography heroes sparked a desire to explore the medium in its purest form.  I’m referring, of course, to going back to traditional film which I believed to be pretty much dead.   I couldn’t have been more wrong as it soon occurred to me that, like vinyl records, film had never gone away, it had just been less popular.  Like vinyl, but on a much smaller scale, film has enjoyed a revival, with the younger generations becoming interested in shooting with it.  With so many old cameras in their parents’ attics and cupboards, it quickly became an accessible medium.  I had been advised to take my time over the fine details of making a photograph, and that a way of doing so would be to use a manual film camera.  Good idea, I thought, as I went searching for the right one.  When I clicked ‘Buy Now’ on that well-known, but nameless, retail website, I had no idea that nearly 8 years later I would have a collection of 55 cameras, including that very first SLR that my parents bought me when I was struggling schoolboy.  My fascination with how cameras work remains, but it now goes further than that.  The cameras in my collection all have either a special place in photography’s history or some connection to my life and my memories, the former satisfying my technical curiosity, and the latter being like looking at one of those old family photographs.  The memories are patchy, but the happiness of the time and the relationships to events remains strong because I remember the camera being used.  I shoot all but 3 of the collection, only because those particular ones need repair, and I get to enjoy all of the film formats from sub-miniature to large.  With the act of working with them rather than just admiring them, my engineering curiosity remains, and I’m always wondering how it’s possible that these old machines, the eldest of which was made in 1918, still work in a world seems to be much more ‘throw away’ than it used to be.  I do have the odd camera that I consider to be ‘shelf queen’, a great description coined by The Film Photography Project in the US, but they have that status either because they are too fragile or that the film is too rare or expensive, or both.  Regardless, the collection is both a showcase of cameras and a collection of very capable tools that help my creativity.  

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, because the following series of blog posts is going to walk through my camera history and explore the stories, memories, and experiences of having this collection. They are not going to be overly technical, nor are they the usual user reviews, as the internet is already filled with these.  I personally find the focus on how good or bad a camera might be, should you buy one or not etc etc, really boring.  Instead, these stories are intended for photographers and non-photographers alike because I know that we all have possessions that invoke similar memories and emotions.  I hope that this series gives you an insight into what cameras mean to me, but also that it makes you think about your own memory-making and where photography might into that.  Who knows, you might start using a camera, even if it’s the one on your phone, more regularly or in a different way.  Either way, I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I do.

Cover Photo: Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera collecting collection creativity documentary emotions experiences family film gear history invoking memories learning looking back memories narrative nostalgia personal photographer photography reflection series stories technology telling stories tuition writing https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2024/2/camera-stories-an-introduction-to-obsession Tue, 13 Feb 2024 10:03:58 GMT
The Only Choice I Made https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2024/2/the-only-choice-i-made I know what you’re thinking:  Where the hell have I been this past few months?  Have I quit? Have I been ill?  Am I dead, and writing this from some conceptual afterlife?  Well, the answer is none of them; I’ve just been incredibly busy getting my latest university project ready for assessment this spring.  Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I’m studying for a degree in photography, or more accurately art that has photography as its medium.   The course is part-time distance learning and goes on for a very long time, which always begs the question “Why not just go to a traditional university for 3 years, instead of spending 9 years doing the same thing?”  The principal reason for this apparent lunacy, apart from the previous lack of time available during full-time employment, was that this way the journey (isn’t everything a bloody journey these days?) is much more enriching.  I can honestly say that I’ve evolved as a photographer over the 5 years or so that I’ve been at this, with my interests and artistic ‘voice’ beginning to become more clear.  I don’t believe a standard course would have given me the same.

At the end of each module, we have a Self-Directed Project, which is precisely as the title suggests.  Our choice of subject, approach, interpretation of a story etc. is entirely up to us, as long as we can demonstrate the learning from the coursework.   This year’s learning was all about Ethics and Representation, which I’ve written about before, and this year’s project was the most challenging yet. 

The idea for The Only Choice I Made came about after reflecting on a photo assignment that I did in 2022, which was to shoot Malvern Pride for its organising committee.  Ethical behaviour and representation in photography is all about being respectful and honest in our decisions about taking photographs of people and aspects of their lives and identities.  Many of those aspects are protected, e.g. race, sexuality, disability etc., and in working on a photographic project about people there is a need to take an ethical approach.  When I considered those images of Pride, I realised that I had represented LGBTQ+ in a fairly one-dimensional way, that is to reveal the ‘big party’.  What I’d overlooked was the continuing struggle that LGBTQ+ people have in preserving their rights as human beings in an ever-changing, polarised society.  My photographs were all bright colours, rainbow flags and inflatable unicorns, which I started to realise wasn’t an honest or respectful representation.  Why did I not see it at the time?  Simple, I’m a middle-aged, heterosexual white male.   What this means is that I have an unconscious bias or preconceived perspective on what it is to be gay, based on my age, my upbringing, and my environment.  In my case, it’s not a hostile bias as it is with some people, just an association of aesthetics that become almost a reflex response.  While I have many friends who are LGBTQ+, my unconscious bias means that I cannot fully appreciate or empathise with how their lives are.  

In an effort to ‘do better’ with regard to Pride, I decided to make this year’s SDP about the whole movement and its importance to LGBTQ+ people.  I’d been fortunate to be asked to shoot the 2023 event, so this time my plan was to approach people to be part of a wider collaboration to tell the story from their perspective.  I would use interviews with my subjects to gather their thoughts on Pride and be able to make photographs that related to their own words.   I thought this was a great plan, until I started to do the interviews.  The first hurdle was being called out on my use of the phrase ‘LGBTQ+ community’, which I was told was a flawed description.  LGBTQ+ people, it turns out, don’t see themselves as a community because that word conjures up an idea that people of every gender identity and sexuality being a big happy family, or some kind of small town.  They were keen to point out that this wasn’t the case and that in fact the different groups often dislike each other.  What became clear from these conversations was that ‘LGBTQ+’ was essentially a label applied to everyone who isn’t heterosexual and used by both ‘sides’ to identify or classify the people.  This got me thinking about the project in a different way as here I was, talking to people who were seen as different simply because of one aspect of their lives that doesn’t fit some idea of ‘normal’; a thought that fascinated and horrified me in equal measure.  I hadn’t noticed it because of my own bias.  When we think about it rationally, of course, most people can pass each other in the street without ever knowing about the sexuality or gender identity of the other person, mainly because it’s irrelevant in that context and not worth devoting mental energy to work it out.  Of course, none of this is a new phenomenon in the same way that racism isn’t a modern concept.  Differences between people have always led to division, which causes almost all of the social problems in society.  As I started to rethink the project, I became more aware of, and more depressed by, the way that society has become so increasingly polarised in the past 20 years or so.  We now appear to have to take one side or another on virtually everything from gender to immigration, conflict to climate change, to the extent where there is no longer a middle ground.  I started to feel like my project needed to be less about being LGBTQ+, and more about the people I had met who happened to identify differently to me or not be heterosexual; that we are still all the same when we disregard those perceived differences from being ‘normal’ as some might see it.  So, that is what we did collaboratively.  My series incorporates stories from different parts of LGBTQ+ and quotations from those stories acting as chapter headings in a wider narrative about people.  The lovely people that I worked with couldn’t have been more engaged or supportive, bringing ideas and props to the shoots, helping me reach a point where their representation was both respectful and intimate, and giving me some great feedback on the final output.  As I said, it has been the most challenging work to date, but also the most rewarding.  I’ve shifted from being someone uncomfortable shooting portraits to a photographer interested in social documentary and building collaborative relationships with my subjects.  I also had the opportunity to work in a directional style, similar to that of movie directors, using mis-en-scène to give the viewer just enough information for them to form their own narrative about what each picture contains.  This is something that has interested me for a few years now, so being able to bring it to this project was a bonus.   Most importantly, though, is that I’m very proud of it as a body of work. It won’t be for everyone, for the reasons that I’ve already alluded to, but for those who are willing to be almost reset in the way they see people they perceive as somehow different, I think it will resonate.  I’m now considering how best to present the work, whether as a book or zine, or an exhibition.  I’m also thinking about how it could be developed to consider LGBTQ+ in other cultures as well as the etymology and psychology of applying labels to anything we want to classify as different.  It could become a much larger project.

For now, though, all that is left for me to say is that you can see it as a slideshow on my website at this address:

The Only Choice I Made. (Best viewed by clicking the Slideshow button).

Please get in touch and let me know what you think and whether it resonated in some way or not.  In the meantime, the blog is returning to normal, starting next time with a new series called Camera Stories, in which I’ll be talking about the cameras in my collection from the point of view of their place in history and what they mean to me.  Watch this space!

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog collaborative creativity differences documentary ethics faithful honesty human learning LGBT LGBTQ+ narrative ordinary people perspectives photographer photography portraiture prejudice pride representation respect rights social documentary socially engaged practice society https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2024/2/the-only-choice-i-made Thu, 08 Feb 2024 18:49:34 GMT
Prioritising the Shot: The Ethical Debate around Kevin Carter’s “The Struggling Girl” https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/11/prioritising-the-shot Something a little different this week.  I thought I’d share an essay that I recently completed for my degree course, all about the ethical debate around Kevin Carter’s famous 1993 image of the famine in Sudan.  It explores the decision to take the photograph, the intense reaction of the public and how Carter’s experience compared to that of other photojournalists.  This essay forms part one of two of a discussion about ethics and representation in shocking imagery, and the concept of ‘compassion fatigue’.  I’m interested in your thoughts, so please do let me know what you think about this subject. 

The Essay

When South African photojournalist Kevin Carter shot his 1993 photograph The Struggling Girl, he sparked a debate that has continued for 30 years.  

(The Struggling Girl, aka The Vulture and the Little Girl - Rare Historical Photos, 2013)

Dubbed “The picture that made the world weep” when it was published by The New York Times, the photograph depicts a small, emaciated child collapsed in a barren scrubland, while a vulture looks on.  The accompanying article reported that the little girl was trying to walk to a food station when she became exhausted.  The photograph won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography, gaining praise from journalists and aid organisations for its depiction of the shocking humanitarian crisis in Sudan, but also drawing criticism from the public for Carter’s decision to prioritise the picture over helping the girl.  This essay explores the ethics of his decision and the factors that may have contributed to the reaction of the public. 

“The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene.”(Sontag, 1977)

The role of the photojournalist is to document an event or situation as an observer, and while photographs may distort, they are proof that something existed or happened at that moment (Sontag, 1977). This photograph clearly comprises visual signifiers of famine, poverty, and suffering, while the presence vulture connotes the likely imminent death of the child. During this era, coverage of this kind of suffering was commonplace, owing in part to the Live Aid fundraising of the mid 1980s, which led to the widely accepted idea in trauma photography of compassion fatigue. 

“It takes a lot to get full attention to a picture these days, because we are bombarded by pictures every waking hour, in one form or another, and transitory images seen, unconsciously, in passing, from the corner of our eyes, flashing at us, and this business where we look at bad images‐ impure.” Dorothea Lange (Doud, 1964)

The viewing public were saturated with famine imagery and, in many cases, Western colonialist views of what was referred to as ‘The Third World’ disconnected them emotionally from the people’s suffering.  Visually, the black girl is emaciated to the point of almost unrecognisable as human, further adding to that disconnect.  

“For some viewers of Carter’s photograph, or of any image of suffering, the victim may still be Other; we see her pain but cannot feel it. Conceivably, viewers may be guilty of what Sontag describes as a ‘failure of empathy’, an inability to extend our emotional identification beyond the confines of the self.”  (Kit Ow Yeong, 2014)

What really shocks in this image is the degradation of the girl to the status of carrion for the vulture. Upon publication, this caused outcry at Carter’s behaviour. which resulted in the publisher having to release more details about how the image was made.  However, this action did not help to calm the public reaction to the photographer.  He was labelled as unfeeling, ‘a predator, another vulture on the scene’ (Stanets, Reena Shah, 1994) etc, with many people feeling that his careful composition, which lasted 20 minutes (Cate, s.d.), was lacking in humanity.   

To understand these reactions, we must consider the viewer’s gaze.  Carter’s composition brings the viewer in close to the scene and its two subjects, so that they witness the hopelessness of the girl’s condition and the threat from the vulture as events unfold before them.  The gaze is, of course, that of the photographer, so the helplessness of the viewer can be related to the photographer with the belief that “I would help, so why didn’t he?”. Contrast this with Napalm Girl (1972) by Nick Ut, which similarly depicts a young girl suffering, and also won the Pulitzer for its powerful impact on public perception.  

“Napalm Girl”, by Nick Ut, Associated Press (1972) (Wayback Machine, s.d.)

Here, the gaze is almost cinematic, with children fleeing the chaotic attack, surrounded by soldiers, and running towards the photographer crying for help.  There are similar signifiers of pain and despair, yet distance from the explosion, the soldiers, their positions in the frame, all connote hope of survival.  Their running towards the camera invokes a natural instinct in the viewer to want to help them.  When Napalm Girl was published, details of how Ut helped save her life emerged at the same time, which spared the photographer scrutiny until much later on, when she was identified and exploited as a propaganda tool (Holland, 2022). The gaze, the horror of the hopelessness of Carter’s image, and his perceived apathetic reaction, made things much more difficult for him. 

If we compare the decision to photograph in these cases with the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Code of Ethics, both men acted appropriately in being ‘accurate and comprehensive in representation’ and ‘not seeking to alter or influence’ (NPPA, s.d.). Both observed and did not intervene, until afterwards; Carter chasing the vulture away and Ut seeking medical attention for the badly burned girl, Kim Phuc.  When we compare their approach to the alleged behaviour of Steve McCurry in coercing the subject of his Afghan Girl (1989) portrait to be photographed (Karnad and Karnad, 2019), or the controversy around Newsha Tavakolian’s identifying of a child rape victim in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, (Batty, 2022), we can conclude that the decision to take a shocking photograph isn’t necessarily professionally unethical, even if it appears to conflict with our own personal values.

Conclusion

While the anger at Carter’s perceived inaction is understandable, his ethics are, for me, not in question.  His behaviour after the photograph makes us uncomfortable because of the viewer being placed intimately within the scene and that while we are used to seeing images of starving children, the idea of one being eaten by a vulture is abhorrent.  In considering his behaviour, I conclude that there are further ethical discussions that are rarely considered beyond the photograph itself, principally around what happens after the image is published.   Carter described sitting under a nearby tree, watching the girl continue her journey, and weeping.  In attempts to answer his critics, he expressed regret at not helping the girl, despite shooing away the bird and remaining long enough to watch her continue her journey once the vulture had gone.   His efforts weren’t enough to assuage his guilt, however, as two months after winning the Pulitzer Prize, Carter took his own life at only 33 years old. 

"I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain . . . of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners. . . . The pain of life overrides the joy, to the point that joy does not exist." -  excerpt from Kevin Carter’s suicide note, quoted in Time Magazine (Cate, s.d.)

Regret is a sentiment echoed by other photojournalists, such as Carter’s close colleague Greg Marinovich, who witnessed a killing by an angry mob without trying to help save him, and Donna Ferrato, who documented domestic violence in her subject’s relationship as a passive observer (‘I was gutted that I’d been such a coward’: photographers who didn’t step in to help, 2012).  However, these photographers were working, either directly or indirectly, for an editorial publisher who ultimately decide ethically how the image is to be used, with varying results.  In Carter’s case, the subsequent publication of the image didn’t cause the girl any direct harm, because it wasn’t known whether she had even survived.  In fact, in 2011 it was claimed that she was actually a boy named Kong Nyong, who not only survived, but lived another 14 years before dying from a fever (Vnuk, 2021).  In the case of Napalm Girl, Kim Phuc survived, but was psychologically damaged by the picture’s success, and her subsequent use as both a pro-war and anti-war propaganda tool.  She doesn’t hold the photographer accountable for that though, with her and Ut remaining close friends to this day.  In the case of Afghan Girl, the subject claimed that the experience and her identification caused her many problems in later life, and in the case of Tavakolian, the commissioning body, Médecins Sans Frontières, was forced to withdraw publication of the controversial images following wide-spread criticism over victim safety (Batty, 2022). 

My main conclusion here relates to the ethics of editorial, which I feel failed Kevin Carter by getting him to directly answer public anger about his image, that were less relevant than his journalistic representation of the horrors of the famine.  If the editorial had carefully managed their response to the public backlash to publication, the additional strain may not have contributed to his mental decline and its tragic outcome.  In an area of photography that is perhaps the most ethically challenging, the duty of care must be internal as well as external.

Bibliography

Figures

The vulture and the little girl - Rare Historical Photos (2013) At: https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/vulture-little-girl/ (Accessed 23/10/2023).

Wayback Machine (s.d.) At: https://web.archive.org/web/20110121082648/culturevisuelle.org/catastrophes/files/2010/11/petite-fille-napalm-vietnam.jpg (Accessed 24/10/2023).

References

Sontag, S., 1933-2004 (1977) On photography. New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [1977] ©1977. At: https://search.library.wisc.edu/catalog/999494694402121

Doud, R. (1964) Oral history interview with Dorothea Lange, 1964 May 22 | Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [Text] At: https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-dorothea-lange-11757 (Accessed 24/10/2023).

Kit Ow Yeong, W. (2014) '‘Our Failure of Empathy’: Kevin Carter, Susan Sontag, and the Problems of Photography' In: Think Pieces: A Journal of the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences At: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1458035/ (Accessed 23/10/2023).

Were his priorities out of focus?, Stamets, Reena Shah (1994) At: https://www.tampabay.com/archive/1994/04/14/were-his-priorities-out-of-focus/ (Accessed 23/10/2023).

Cate, F. H. (s.d.) THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (full text). At: https://www.lehigh.edu/~jl0d/J246-06/THROUGH%20A%20GLASS%20DARKLY%20(full%20text).htm (Accessed 19/10/2023).

Holland, O. (2022) ‘Napalm Girl’ at 50: The story of the Vietnam War’s defining photo. At: https://www.cnn.com/style/article/napalm-girl-50-snap/index.html (Accessed 31/10/2023).

NPPA (s.d.) Code of Ethics for Visual Journalists. At: https://nppa.org/resources/code-ethics (Accessed 28/03/2023).

Karnad, R. and Karnad, R. K. (2019) You’ll Never See the Iconic Photo of the ‘Afghan Girl’ the Same Way Again. At: https://thewire.in/media/afghan-girl-steve-mccurry-national-geographic (Accessed 17/10/2023).

Batty, D. (2022) 'Médecins Sans Frontières pulls images of teenage rape survivor after outcry' In: The Guardian 23/05/2022 At: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/23/medecins-sans-frontieres-pulls-images-of-teenage-survivor-after-outcry (Accessed 18/10/2023).

‘I was gutted that I’d been such a coward’: photographers who didn’t step in to help (2012) In: The Guardian28/07/2012 At: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/jul/28/gutted-photographers-who-didnt-help(Accessed 31/10/2023).

Vnuk, H. (2021) Kevin Carter took one of the most famous photos of all time. The following year, he was dead.At: https://www.mamamia.com.au/kevin-carter-photo/ (Accessed 31/10/2023).

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog blogger compassion fatigue controversy critical review critique debate decision discuss documentary essay ethics film investigate Kevin Carter learning narrative photographer photography photojournalism prioritising representation review right or wrong decision shock shocking shot student the struggling girl thoughts tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/11/prioritising-the-shot Sat, 04 Nov 2023 15:38:09 GMT
Check Your Bias at the Door https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/10/check-your-bias-at-the-door As with previous projects for my course, I’ve chosen a challenging subject for this year.  I’ve regularly been asked why I don’t choose something easier or less emotionally taxing and, in all honesty, I do not have an answer.  Perhaps I just look for things that make me somehow uncomfortable.  It’s fair to say that my work last year, a video slideshow called Modern Monsters that explored cyber-trolling in the context of Norse mythology, really took it out of me.   Not only were the images themselves challenging, owing to the extensive use of self-portraiture in constructed tableaux, but the research for the project was emotionally draining.  Stories of cyberbully that ranged from teenagers to charity organisations revealed the darker side of 24/7 communication and social media.  In some cases, the activity was declared to be ‘banter’, with the perpetrators attacking what they see as an oversensitive society.  In others, though, blatant racism, homophobia, body shaming, and humiliation led to tragic circumstances where people fell victim to suicide and, in some cases, murder.  During that time, I was considering how our use of technology encourages this behaviour where there appears to be little or no consequence, but it was while I was talking to a friend last week that I started to think about it in the context of this year’s project.  During our conversation, he said that he was increasingly concerned about the polarisation of world views, with people either firmly for or against something happening or being discussed, and little room for balanced debate.  I too share this concern, as I observe that such polarisation encourages extremism in the form of media outlets that stoke prejudices, in whichever direction, to the point where people take to their socials and so on.  The sheer volume of this kind of traffic for me deprives us of many, more constructive, debates. 

I don’t want to dwell on these specific points here, though, because we all see the effects of them in our daily interactions with the internet.  Instead, I want to highlight the layer beneath the establishment of a viewpoint, known as unconscious bias.   According to The Royal Society, unconscious bias is “…when we make judgments or decisions on the basis of our prior experience, our own personal deep-seated thought patterns, assumptions or interpretations, and we are not aware that we are doing it”.  It is a thought process that is within all of us, is informed by the way we are brought up as children and shaped in our continued development as adults.  What we are exposed to in terms of teaching, literature, television etc, builds that ‘prior experience’ as we get older.  Unconscious bias can put us into a kind of automatic pilot mode for everything from a trivial day to day assumption to the longer-term political perspective, and it is this idea of its being so commonplace that we are unaware of doing it, that bothers me about my project.  

At this point, I should probably say what the project is intended to be about.  For the past two years, I have had the great pleasure of photographing Malvern’s Pride event, held in our main park in the centre of town in July.  In being their official photographer, I’ve met and gotten to know many people from the LGBTQ+ community who are involved with organising the event, from which I’ve in turn learned about their lives and struggles with sexual, gender and identity in what feels like an increasingly intolerant world.  We’ve talked about the origins of Pride, starting with the Stonewall riots of 1969, through Section 28, and on to the present day with the continuing need to keep making both a celebration of, and a protest for, equality and respect.  Pride is very still very much seen as a way of making this happen.  My photo project idea was to explore these people’s stories and the importance of maintaining Pride from their perspective; or at least this is what the original intention was.   The evolution of the idea has been largely caused by the relationships built between us, the growing respect I have for them, and my recognition of my own unconscious bias.  What do I mean by this?  Well, the first time I really became aware of it was when I was pulled up in conversation for using the phrase ‘LGBTQ+ community’.  I had been liberally using it as a way to describe them as a group, both in terms of the interviewees for my project and within the wider population.  However, every person I’ve interviewed has pointed out that they are not part of a community as defined by this term, and that this categorisation was largely created by straight people to be able to describe a group that were different to them.  I was quite surprised by this, but when I thought about it, I’ve rarely heard a gay man or lesbian woman describe themselves in community terms beyond “We gays” or “Us lesbians”, and certainly not in a singular group.  The point was reinforced when I was asked whether I would know someone’s sexuality or gender if I saw them in the street.  Did I identify signs of these small aspects of a person’s life by visual cues or stereotypes?  This was pretty uncomfortable to answer at first, because like everyone I get drawn into LGBTQ+ stereotypes; that man’s clothing is flamboyant, that woman looks masculine, that person sounds camp…etc…etc.  These stereotypes, which I have grown up with for the past 50 years, create an unconscious bias in me that could lead to further assumptions about a person before even getting to know them.  It’s not a huge leap from that to being somehow judgemental and, more seriously, extreme.  I’m happy to say that neither of these is the case with me.  What keeps my assumptions in check, as far as I am concerned, is not only my strong belief in equality, but also my continual learning from the people who are kindly taking part in my project.  The work is transforming into a piece more about representing the person, not the stereotype, and challenging the viewer to recognise where their own unconscious bias might be at play.  Herein lies the real problem.  As I said, I feel very strongly about equality, the right for people to live their lives and to respect them for doing so.  I despise right-wing politics and the organisations and movements that follow them, people who seek to prevent other people from being themselves, who label those who are sensitive to being respectful with ridiculous terms like ‘woke’, which if you think about it, is another simplistic categorisation of people and attitudes ‘that are not like us’.   My concern is that my strength of feeling on these subjects, and in particular how I feel about the chastisement of LGBTQ+ people, is in itself an unconscious bias.  This could easily, if unchecked, influence the story that I am looking to tell in my project.  As part of the research for this section of my course, we were directed to a TED talk by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who talked about the dangers of telling a ‘single story’.  She grew up a veracious reader of novels written by Western authors who were almost entirely white, and while she loved what she was reading, her concept of all literature was shaped by their cultural anchors and not her own.  It wasn’t until she was older that she became aware of black Nigerian literature that spoke more to her culture and help undo that bias.  While it might appear a relatively harmless example on the surface, she talks about how stories that focus on one idea or point of view, can unintentionally make it difficult to see the wider story behind the subject; to almost discount other ideas even when presented with alternative ideas of equal weight.  The most dangerous course of the single story is to further create its own stereotype that could potentially do more harm to the subject than good, even if the original intention was entirely honourable.   In the context of my project, my own unconscious bias from strength of feeling, could make the story a rallying cry for the protection of LGBTQ+ rights, which I naturally see as basic human rights.  It could only focus on the pressure put on the people and call for Pride to return to its origins of protest, which itself can be traced back to Stonewall in 1969.  However, doing so would in a way overshadow the main point about treating people of all genders, sexualities and identities equally simply because it is a relatively small part of who they are.   In embracing my bias, I could totally miss the important story.  Now, I am not saying that wanting to make a statement about something using photography is wrong, of course.  Some of the greatest photographers and photojournalists in history have created work aligned with their own narratives, which is entirely valid.  Artists are supposed to create meaning, and that comes most naturally from our own life experiences, biases and all.  

 What do you see when you first look at the picture?  Is an unconscious bias directing how you read it? Let me know!

What I’m saying here is that if we take a moment to ask ourselves why we have a particular view or demand a particular action about something, or where we might be able to trace a prejudice or stereotype back to, we might recognise the work of unconscious bias, lurking behind the scenes.   Some of these biases can be challenged by broadening our learning, while others are not so easy.  For example, I went to shoot a couple of my portrait subjects recently and they asked me why I’d taken my shoes off when I entered their house.  I explained that it’s something I cannot instinctively control, being a product of the way I was raised. I recognise that unconscious behaviour easily enough, but despite being able to, and even if I have permission to keep my shoes on, I just cannot override it.  It’s a trivial example, that I’m not particularly unhappy about, because I was raised a polite boy. 

To conclude then, I am thinking carefully about where I want to take the project, despite making already photographs for it.  Whatever direction I take it in, I want to achieve a balanced narrative that respectfully and faithfully represents my subjects, while highlighting what they see as the challenges in their lives, however controversial or trivial they might appear to others.  I’ve talked about representation before and, in this case, it’s central to making a piece of work that they, and I, are happy with.  I just need to check my bias at the door beforehand, along with my shoes. 

For Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's excellent TED talk click here

For my series from last year, Modern Monsters, click here

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist balance blog careful consideration challenging challenging stereotypes creativity equality evolving influences learned behaviour learning lgbtq+ media narrative photographer photography portraiture pride project questioning representation respect single story stereotypes stories taking time tuition unconscious bias understanding upbringing https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/10/check-your-bias-at-the-door Mon, 16 Oct 2023 18:12:27 GMT
Seeing is Believing? Ghostly Goings-on in Photography https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/10/seeing-is-believing-ghostly-goings-on-in-photography The scene is one of my favourite places to take photographs, the time is around 6.30 am, and I’m sitting on a moss-covered rock, having a panic attack.  When I say panic attack, I’m not talking the kind of anxiety we experience when anticipating something uncomfortable like public speaking or being interviewed.  This panic was a more primal confusion than anything else.  My brain couldn’t comprehend what had just happened, couldn’t determine a rational explanation could be processed then either accepted or rejected.  As it careered about from irrational thought to irrational thought, the only thing I could do was panic, breathe rapidly and feel my heart racing in my chest.  What had reduced me to this state of gibbering imbecile?  Well, in some quarters it would be called a paranormal event but, knowing the scepticism with which these lines may be met, let me just give you the facts.   I’d been stood in the middle of the river just down from the Cauldron Falls in the village of West Burton in Wensleydale which, as I said, is one of my favourite locations.  The reason is that the falls are on the outskirts of the village, where the Waldon Beck passes through a gorge lined with trees as it makes its way toward the River Ure.  It’s easy to access and, at the right time of the day, completely private if you want to take some photographs.  Did I mention that the falls themselves are also very beautiful?  I’ve photographed them many times over the years, with a variety of cameras and even if I feel that there is little new to capture, I still loved visiting when I’m in the area.   This particular morning, I’d taken my ONDU pinhole camera with me and wanted to get into the perfect position to make use of its vast field of view and depth of focus (having no lens and a very tiny aperture of f/128).  Using a pinhole is a liberating experience in itself, because the lack of viewfinder makes composition more luck than judgement. We only have control over the film’s ISO and shutter speed, the former being determined by the choice of film and the latter usually being measured in seconds or minutes, owing to that tiny hole that lets in the light.  With this simplicity comes an emphasis on how to best meter the scene, and it was while doing this that I had my encounter.  I was looking through the light meter’s eyeglass when a female voice no more than a couple of feet from my right ear said “hello”.   I thought there was unusual about being noticed by someone, being a man knee deep in water with a strange wooden camera, so I turned to say hello back.  There was nobody there and I was completely alone. Here’s the thing, I have excellent hearing and have always been able to pinpoint where a sound is coming from.  The voice had no echo, so I quickly ruled out a distant voice reflected off the walls of the river gorge.  The sound of the waterfall itself was being reflected around me, so the voice had to have been loud and close for me to hear it.  What happened next was the panic.  I had to move to the nearest rock in the river, sit down and try to regulate my rapid breathing.  It wasn’t long before I packed up my gear and went back to the cottage we were renting.  Ever since then, the memory of that experience still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.  

Cauldron Falls at West Burton (2021), by Richard Fletcher

The sceptics among you will undoubtedly have some theories that might explain the event and believe me I’ve tried over the years to come up with my own.  This need to be able to explain the unexplainable is part of human nature, driven by our history of exploration and shaped by our life experiences.  However, there was a period in Britain where people were apparently happy to believe in the paranormal with only their senses or feelings as persuasive evidence.  That period was the Victorian age, between 1837 and 1901, which happened to also be the golden era of the emerging medium of photography.  Here was this new technology, where whatever object was placed in front of the lens was faithfully represented on the photosensitive plate in the camera.  Photography would play its part in the people’s desire to believe in the paranormal, and its reputation as a form of evidential documentary would conversely take and a bit of a beating in doing so. I refer, of course, to ghost photography.

From the earliest experiments with fixing photosensitive glass, tin, and paper to retain the image, photographers have noticed the effects of accidental leaking of light into the camera during exposure, motion blur caused by having a very slow shutter speed, and in the cases of basic human error, the dreaded double exposure.  It’s a familiar problem where older cameras are capable of accidentally exposing two different scenes onto the same negative frame.  The result is a strange combination of a clean image with a translucent second one caused by the non-linear behaviour of the emulsion as it is exposed to light over time.  The two images occupy the same frame which, to the uninitiated, looks like it was a single photograph all along.  To the photographer, this was a costly mistake both in wasting money, but also ruining a picture that could have special meaning to them.   As photographers and camera manufacturers became more experienced, measures were taken to avoid these sorts of problems through better design meaning that modern cameras can make double exposures, but it is something that cannot happen by accident.  Very early on, the camera built a reputation for being honest and truthful, so it’s no surprise that light leaks and the creepy effect of double exposure were used by unscrupulous photographers of the day to tap into the Victorian obsession with the notion of life after death.  Ghost photographs popped up all over the place, heralded by a narrative from the photographer about the shocking experience they’d had when developing the picture and seeing the phantom emerge from the gloom of the darkroom.  It would be easy to think that only the gullible or vulnerable in society were taken in by ghost photography, but this was not the case.  Many learned people such as the legendary authors Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens had a fascination with ghosts and the paranormal, the former being a spiritualist who would later be drawn into the elaborate Cottingley Fairies hoax in 1917.   Dickens was said to be a ‘fascinated sceptic’, who desperately wanted to witness a ghost for himself, but settled for using the ideas of the paranormal to thrill his readers instead.  It was this tantalising of the already susceptible public that led to the creation of one of the most famous pieces of visual trickery of the time, the Pepper’s Ghost.  Although the illusion can be traced back to the 16th Century, the ‘inventor’ of the theatrical version is credited as English scientist Dr John Pepper in 1862.  He first demonstrated the technique in the production of a play called based on a Dickens short story called The Haunted Man.  The effect was genius in its simplicity, using a large pane of glass angled toward the audience at around 45 degrees.  The ‘ghost’ actor would be concealed beneath the front of the stage and brightly lit so that their image could be seen by the audience in the surface of the glass facing them.  As the stages were generally dimly lit at the time, the glass was effectively invisible to the audience, who could see the rest of the play’s action through it. What they saw was a translucent ghost on stage that was interacting with the rest of the cast, because the actor offstage was receiving his or her own direction. 

It’s fair to say that the audiences loved it, and Pepper’s Ghost has remained popular ever since, with uses including Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, Coachella’s famous appearance by late rapper Tupac Shakur, and more recently Yoko Sayema’s performance art collaboration with Fernando Melo in 2017.   But what is the point of all this?  To thrill?  To deceive?  Well, we know that art provokes an emotional response that says something about what it means to be human.  In the case of the paranormal, it doesn’t matter if the audience believes or is sceptical, they still imagine the ‘what if…?’ because of the lack of physical evidence to the contrary.  The drama of seeing a ‘real’ see-through ghost floating around the stage, interacting with living actors must have been thrilling before the audience cottoned on to the way it was achieved.  I doubt somehow that it converted sceptics into believers, though, as what were the chances of seeing an actual ghost during a performance of a play?  When we feel we need proof of something in order to believe it, we say that we see something “with our own eyes”, as if our eyesight gives us that truth.  This connection between seeing and believing is almost unbreakable, so it is no surprise that a good illusion of trick makes us think twice.   With unexplained ghost sightings, that link becomes more problematic, because we believe we’ve seen something visible so it must be translatable onto a piece of film or sensor, right?  Even though there is no tangible evidence that ghosts are purely visual or emit light that could be captured by a camera, the urge to believe that it does is very strong indeed.  Sceptics point back to those technical tricks that the Victorian photographers did their best to eradicate, and so the arguments about authenticity rage on, often for decades. 

Perhaps the most famous of ghost photographs is The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall, taken in 1936.  The photographers were shooting for a piece about the house in Country Life magazine and had just completed a shot of the grand staircase, when one man spotted the ghost of a woman in a long brown dress, floating down the stairs towards them.  He hastily took a picture, which has intrigued paranormal investigators, photographers, and scientists ever since. 

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall (1936) by Hubert C. Provand & Indra Shira, perhaps the most famous ghost photograph of them all
 

The picture looks authentic enough and the story that they told to go with it was indeed convincing.  Historical accounts of sightings of the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole support the belief that the image is indeed of her walking the corridors of her old home.  On the rare days every year that Raynham Hall is open to the public, many flock to the house to see if, while touring the grand building, they might catch a glimpse of the famous phantom.   Even though our desire to believe is still strong, we have moved away from the Victorian attitude that believes everything they see in an image like this one, instead favouring the approach to prove that it’s all a fake.  As recently as 2006, people claiming to be specialists in this field (whatever that means) were asserting that the Brown Lady image was a fabrication, by either the photographers or magazine, to increase interest in the article about the house.  

My recreation of The Brown Lady using the Pepper's Ghost illusion.  

 

How it was done (1) - A sheet of transparent plastic angled in front of my tablet, which displays the background.  My phone is set off-axis to provide the 'ghost'

How it was done (2) - the arrangement adjusted to that she appears floating on the staircase

For me, I feel that in the absence of malicious hoax, deliberate double exposure, or optical illusion, there are still things we cannot explain.  I love the Pepper’s Ghost illusion as a way of entertaining, and The Brown Lady is a provocative story and accompanying photograph, but wouldn’t say I was a firm ‘believer’.  What I do know is that I most definitely heard a woman’s voice, one that was not familiar to me, say “hello” during that early morning shoot.  It frightened me at the time and thrills me to this day because it remains a mystery. Perhaps I don’t want or need it to be solved in case it loses that thrill.  Make of it what you will.

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist belief believe blog brown lady camera creativity Dickensian double exposure film ghost ghost photography hoax illusion inspiration learning peppers ghost photographer photography raynham hall technical technical photography technique theatrical tuition Victorian https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/10/seeing-is-believing-ghostly-goings-on-in-photography Thu, 12 Oct 2023 15:59:33 GMT
Somehow a Vital Connection is Made https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/10/somehow-a-vital-connection-is-made “How long has it been?” asked my friend.  The question was followed by some rapid calculations, after which we realised that it had been around 25 years since we’d last seen each other, and it would have been more if our wives hadn’t shared a passion for competing in multi-sport events.  Our chance meeting, a few years ago now, led to a chat that took us right back to when we first met as teenage apprentices at the beginning of our engineering careers. What we quickly realised was that we didn’t really have any of the usual questions one asks on these ‘bumping into’ occasions, not because we were somehow socially awkward, but because we’ve been connected to each other on social media for many of the intervening years.  It’s very much a 21st Century thing to share many details of our daily lives, families, even our dinner on these online platforms, and it is this familiarity that left my old friend and I making small talk instead of finding out more about that past quarter of a century.   Now, I’ve talked about this sort of thing before, and I am not against social media at all (I am on a few of them myself, of course).  However, social media has become so ingrained in our lives that it is entirely possible to use it as our sole form of communication, and not really engage with people in a physical way if we don’t want to.   While that might suit someone who is severely introverted, for most the need for actual human contact is a strong one.  It was great to see my friend, and I’m happy to say we’ve caught up a few times since.  

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, and another opportunity to meet friends who I have previously only ever seen in a small on-screen window, came along.  As you know, my degree studies are what is known as ‘distance learning’, a term that often feels like a more than adequate description of it.  Unlike a traditional university, the students are all at different stages of the course, have limited access to their tutors beyond marking assignments and while they have access to many resources, are left to follow a course schedule by themselves.  It is often a lonely experience, particularly when a project brief is difficult to understand, or an area of research doesn’t make sense. A few years ago, some of the students formed a group aimed at supporting each other through these tricky times, to inspire each other’s creative work, and have the odd laugh along the way.  We’ve regularly met on Zoom ever since, and our meeting has become an important part of our study schedule.  One of our number announced that he was heading to London to an exhibition related to his Self-directed Project, so a meetup was arranged for those who could easily get there.  We are an international group with members in Germany and New Zealand so unfortunately, we weren’t all able to make it.  When we gathered in the café at The Photographers’ Gallery near Soho, I had a similar experience to that encounter with my apprentice friend.  We all know each other from our extensive contact online, so we could dispense with the usual ‘getting to know you’ chit chat.  Instead, we filled in the blanks by talking about our lives away from our studies, what we did for a living etc.  Two of our number brought their partners, so we had their perspective on our study experiences, which was also fascinating.  What we were really in town for though, was to see some exhibitions.  As part of our shared knowledge, we were also aware of where we each drew artistic inspiration from, and that was brought into focus (pardon the pun) with the first exhibition we saw.  The Photographers’ Gallery was showing a collection of Evelyn Hofer’s works from across her 40-year career and seeing this exhibition really brought home the idea of familiarity and influence.  Her work covers a wide range of subjects from architecture to street photography, but it’s for her portraiture that she is perhaps best known.  Shot predominantly using a Linhoff 4x5 camera, her photographs have a quiet sensitivity to them, which reveals the person but avoids the kind of staged direction that one might normally associate with using complex large format cameras, which are not exactly point-and-shoots.  There was something about the way she engaged with her subjects that made them comfortable being photographed and kept them from becoming impatient. 

This book by Hofer contains some of her most 'connected' portraits

By all accounts, Hofer wasn’t a warm person, her assistant referring to her attention to detail and perfectionism that could be infuriating.  As a photographer, I find it difficult to square perfectionism with putting a subject at ease, but Hofer definitely achieved it through establishing a strong personal connection.  Her subjects hold the viewer’s attention, before visual context surrounding them draws us into an aspect of their lives. As we are studying ‘representation’ this year, Hofer’s work appeared to resonate with us all, which certainly made the process of viewing a different experience to what it would have been if done alone.

We moved on to the Centre for British Photography and some powerful work by Mandy Barker about the impact of plastic waste on our natural world.  It was particularly poignant as one of our number had recently completed his major project on a similar aspect of pollution in the landscape.  Where he had explored the seemingly normalised proliferation of small pieces of rubbish in the beauty of his local area, Barker’s images make the pollution look, at first glance, beautiful.  Only when looking closely, do the sinister implications of the objects present themselves and that beauty becomes uncomfortable.  Again, familiarity with the subject matter through another artist’s work made the connection for me.  Last stop was the recently reopened National Portrait Gallery, which always has a few photography exhibitions running.  The notable one here was Take a Moment, a series of portraits and self-portraits with the subject’s eyes closed, which was the result of a decade-long project to raise mental health awareness.  This exhibition combined the original series of famous faces with the opportunity to upload our own selfies so that we could become part of the work.  Standing on the designated spot and taking a selfie while not being able to see yourself might seem peculiar, but it was another experience of being physically present before becoming virtual in an online gallery.  I have a long history of taking bad selfies and this one is no exception, so no judgment please.  

Yep, another corker. Selfies of the Take a Moment Project.

“What’s the point of all this?”, I hear you ask.  Surely social media keeps us informed and Zoom and its contemporaries made the Covid lockdowns much more bearable while saving many businesses at the same time?  Well yes, those points are undoubtedly true, but as human beings we need to be physically present in a situation, whether that is meeting friends for the first time or visiting an exhibition to actually see art rather than viewing it on a website.  These engagements help us understand things, which is one of the other challenges in studying outside of the bricks and mortar universities; there is little human connection. The visit to London gave me an insight into my fellow students that I hadn’t noticed before and our discussions throughout the day, along with the works on display, inspired me to explore other avenues with my work.  This idea of being present was further brought home to me in the queue for the shop at The Photographers’ Gallery.  I was standing behind a young man carrying a Pentax 67, who was extolling the virtues of the favourite film stock he was purchasing. Film photography, and in particular film photography with Pentax’s bruiser of a camera, is a serious undertaking that is about as far from the virtual world as it’s possible to be. “I dunno why I like this one… it just feels right, you know?” he said to his friend.  “Good enough for me”, I thought.  So, if anyone wants me, I’ll be Googling ‘cheap flights to New Zealand’ for the next catch-up. 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) art artist blog camera connection contemplation creativity distance learning Evelyn Hofer gallery human importance inspiration learning London meet up narrative personal photographer photography portraiture representation student take a moment tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/10/somehow-a-vital-connection-is-made Wed, 04 Oct 2023 16:49:19 GMT
A Penny Drops from Height https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/9/a-penny-drops-from-height “What the hell is she doing?!”, I ask in a strained whisper which, if there had been more distance between us, would have been a scream.  The target of my very British outburst was a woman standing on what a nearby sign informed us was ‘The Needles Observation Point’, which might sound fairly innocuous, but when combined with the rest of the sign, was causing me to get anxious. Beneath the invitation to marvel at the beauty of the Needles rock formation, was the warning ‘Danger! Cliff Edge’.  The woman in question was not only standing on the crudely built platform but was leaning against the only thing between her and a plunge to certain death hundreds of feet below; a flimsy-looking chain-link fence, similar to the ones that surround tennis courts or playing fields.  As anyone who has a severe fear of heights will tell you, one of the worst causes of anxiety is when you see someone else, apparently unbothered or unaware of the danger that you perceive, taking what you see as an unnecessary risk.  Over the years, I’ve seen all manner of this behaviour all around the world, the most anxiety-provoking occasion being a 2-year-old standing on a parapet, holding onto the suicide railings at the top of the Empire State Building.  My palms are getting sweaty just remembering it.  Today, though, I just cannot fathom how someone could miss the obvious, that is, the chain-link fence not being designed to be some makeshift coastal ‘hammock’ for a tourist trying to get that shot of the vista.  I understood the appeal of the view, but not the lengths she was going to to photograph it with her phone.

Eventually, after what seemed like an age, she left the platform and I made the short but harrowing journey to the observation point to take my photograph.  Now, some people subscribe to the idea that in order to overcome our fears, we must confront them head-on.  They see themselves as David Goggins, Wim Hof, or Bear Grylls because they believe they have not let fear hold them back in some way.  Personally, I don’t buy into that idea.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it’s bollocks.   For me, fear is an important emotional response that has done a pretty good job of keeping us safe over many years and, as long as it isn’t so extreme that it becomes completely paralysing, is not something that I see we need ridding of.  I generally choose not to go to high places in order to avoid the unnecessary stress, resolving that if there is something worth doing it for, I might consider making some effort.  On this occasion, the view lured me to the point where I managed to get close enough to see the Needles, while shaking like a leaf and reciting the mantra “Don’t look down” out loud.  My wife pointed out that my knees were literally knocking together like something out of a cartoon.

My incredibly average shot of The Needles.  What can I say, I was scared. 

I should point out at this stage, so that you don’t have to Google ‘The Needles’, that we are on holiday in the camper on the beautiful Isle of Wight.  It’s only the second time I’ve visited here, the first being when I was very young, and the first time my wife has.   It is a stunning place that has so much to see and do, that the 4 day break we’re having isn’t really enough time.  However, on what we think will be the first of many visits, there was one place I desperately wanted to see: Dimbola Lodge, the former home of the great Julia Margaret Cameron.  I’ve talked about Cameron before in a previous post because she is one of the most significant and influential female photographers of all time.  A Victorian wife of a tea plantation owner, she had a passion for the medium right at the beginning of its emergence as a new technology and art form, even though she didn’t really start working with a camera herself until she was middle-aged.  Her approach to photographing people was responsible for the shift away from the classical Victorian portrait, where the subject was stiffly posed, concentrating hard on staying perfectly still (often with the aid of a hidden neck brace) and mostly instructed not to smile.  Cameron represented her subject as she saw them, their personality or in some cases the character she was asking them to play.  She often made photographs that were softly focused rather than sharp, or included motion blur because the subject moved during the exposure, but she always made sure that they were beautifully lit.  Given the significant limitations of the camera and wet plate technology of the time, the latter was a serious technical challenge, which often went unnoticed by her peers, who were almost entirely men, and universally dismissive of her work.  While at Dimbola Lodge, she created the majority of her work and many prints made from her glass plates are in a permanent collection on display there.  Unsurprising then, I was very excited to be surrounded by her pictures, largely because of my ongoing studies in which she has featured several times.   

Looking back at Cameron's famous portrait of Charles Darwin.  You can see Sir John Herschel in the background. Both men were in her social circle

We use the word ‘inspiring’ a great deal these days to describe actors, directors, painters, etc. but it’s a generalisation in many cases.  In a similar way to ‘iconic’, which I talked about previously, our glib throwing around of the word almost devalues its meaning and masks the people who really do help us improve.  For example, I am inspired by my photographer friends every time we share work with each other, but we don’t go around declaring that we are inspirational to each other.  Inspiration is a personal thing that forms a connection between people, resulting in some change, however small, to how they go about something in their lives.  Cameron does inspire me to look more closely at what I’m trying to represent in the subject, and her work fits very neatly into the idea of collaborative portraiture, again something that I’m currently learning about.  During this visit, however, I was struck by something else that on reflection should have been really obvious to me.  Cameron frequently took her inspiration from literature related to a variety of subjects.  Her famous work, Idylls of the King, which was described as an ‘illustration’ of her friend Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poetry of the same name, represents her visual appreciation and interpretation of the written word.  When we think about it, how we interpret a poem or fictional novel is based upon what we personally bring to the reading culturally and experientially, which is an area described at great length by post structuralist philosophers like Barthes and linguists like de Saussure.  Our cultural identity defines our understanding of the meanings of words and their place within contexts, so that a Westerner would see something different to someone from the Far East if reading the same book.  The story would be the same, but their visualisation of the characters, the situations and key plot points would have to be managed by, say, the language translation to achieve some kind of balance.  How many times have you read a novel and subconsciously imagined a character being played by a favourite actor?   When a film screenplay is made from a text we are familiar with, the writer focuses on the key plot points or character arcs to create something that is ‘based on’ the book.  We see the subsequent movie and sometimes the result doesn’t seem good enough, doesn’t connect with our appreciation of the source text.  If all that weren’t enough, sometimes we see issues surrounding some books and film adaptations where they are banned in certain regions of the world because of a specific connotation of some element of plot that causes offence.  In some cases, their titles have to be changed because the intended meaning may not be the same in another language or culture. If interpretation is in the eye of the viewer, then it’s reasonable to assume that a photograph inspired by a text includes a significant level of the photographer’s interpretation before it reaches its audience.  This was what struck me about Cameron’s photographs of Tennyson’s poetry.  They are her representations of what the poems meant to her, collaboratively shaped by Tennyson and his publishing editor, but unique all the same.  When we see the images from Idylls amongst her other work, we can see Cameron’s creative style come through in those interpretations.  This was my moment of the penny dropping, which caused me to question, as I did with the woman at The Needles, “how did I not see this in front of me?”  The answer was that I was aware, of course, but that it just didn’t register with me as important until I was confronted with the work in a gallery space.  Exhibitions are curated to present the viewer with a flow that takes them through an artist’s body of work, in this case Cameron’s entire career.  The sequencing is carefully planned so that the viewer can see connections between frames, and the pictures are captioned with the additional context to aid the creation of the viewer’s own narrative.  Here, I was seeing the images, recognising Cameron’s ‘voice’ and thinking about how I might incorporate literature into my own work in a way that represents a story and how I feel about it.  I’m currently working on this year’s Self-Directed Project (SDP), which is about the importance of the Pride movement in the modern era, in particular within my local community, and in the context of an ever-changing, increasingly intolerant society.  There series will comprise many portraits of people in the LGBTQ+ community as collaborative representations, some images from the event, and still life photographs, other media etc.  However, I’m now also considering how they could visually include more about the many written stories about the community, both positive and negative, without being riddled with plain old metaphors.  This might help to reveal more of the emotions within the community and set an historical anchor in terms of the quest for rights.  In essence, can Cameron’s work inspire my own?

I’m not going my experience at Dimbola as an epiphany, but more a recognition of something that might appear to be the obvious to everyone, but had gone unnoticed by me. Photography is such a vast medium with may different strands of creativity within.  Navigating them can often be a little overwhelming, which keeps us firmly in what we see as ‘our lane’. Perhaps once in a while we need a big sign that reminds us of this as an obvious hazard as well as indicating the potential gold we can find if we take a step outside of our fears.  I’m keeping this firmly in photography though.  Just don’t ask me to go up a ladder to clean anyone’s guttering anytime soon.

For more on Julia Margaret Cameron, check out this The Julia Margaret Cameron Trust.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist being inspired blog camera comfort creativity dimbola lodge fear influential inspiration Isle of Wight Julia Margaret Cameron learning literature narrative photographer photography photography blog poetry portraiture representation Tennyson tuition victorian photographer https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/9/a-penny-drops-from-height Mon, 18 Sep 2023 18:05:05 GMT
Kings of the Wild Frontier https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/9/kings-of-the-wild-frontier Is it just me, or is the world becoming an increasingly bizarre place these days?  I deliberately use the word ‘bizarre’ over those with more negative connotations, because I’m finding it too easy to slip into a mode of thinking that sees everything as broken, terrifying, or sad.  Am I going to blame the mainstream media, or social media for providing me with a path of least resistance to these emotions?  No, of course not.  I do, however, feel strongly about consuming media from multiple sources to ease what I see as manipulative behaviour by the outlets, but that is nothing new.  It’s well known, and I’ve discussed it before on this blog, that we are guided toward certain narratives that say more about a news company’s own perspectives and values than it does our own.  We identify with those we might agree with, or those who highlight issues that we are worried about.  By only consuming one message, we run the risk of becoming entrenched, which is something I actively try to avoid by reading a balance of good quality news feeds.  It was while doing this recently, that I thought about how photographs take on a life of their own when they are released into the wild.  At that time, there were two cases of images in the media that reminded me of how a photograph becomes both uncontrollable and a tool to create an alternative narrative, the latter being something I’ve touched on in a previous post.  

The first case was that of recently convicted murderer Lucy Letby, whose heinous crimes over several years have shocked the public in the UK.  The investigation and subsequent trial had been going on for over 5 years, and had been reported fairly regularly until the verdict, after which the media understandably exploded with rightly damning coverage.  What struck me was the use of photography in that coverage.  Throughout the trial, the press ran with pictures of an ordinary young woman, happily smiling at the camera, on a night out or at work.  We were being shown the contrast between the woman and the crimes she was alleged to have committed as if asking “how can this be?”.  Fast forward to the conclusion of the trial and we were presented with a formal police mugshot of the same woman, but with a very different expression.  We are drawn to the vacant, almost dead-eyed face of what we now know to be one of Britain’s worst serial killers, which the picture makes very clear.  If we think about the context of the earlier images, it’s pretty obvious that the original intention for them was not as they were eventually used.  We all take pictures of celebrations and happier times to document them, so that we can remember positive feelings associated with the whatever was happening.  Whoever took those pictures of Letby couldn’t have predicted their future use as a narrative tool.  In some cases, they might be unhappy to have a constant reminder of how that person wasn’t who they thought she was.  Similarly, the mugshot image is taken by the police for formal identification purposes and not intended to portray someone in a certain way, yet one look at the image alongside the rest of the story, and the picture takes on a very specific meaning.  What this means then, is that intent for an image changes with isolation from the original intent and with alternative contextual information added later, such as the knowledge of guilt in this case, and that once an image is in the public domain, it is in essence uncontrollable. 

The second case, around the same time, was that of former US President Donald Trump being indicted for racketeering in the state of Georgia.  In what we’ve come to expect, Trump surrendered himself to the police in a blaze of media, and when his mugshot was released, that blaze burned much brighter.  Again, the purpose of the photograph was to identify him formally for legal purposes but in the image, he stares into the camera with an angry, apparently defiant gaze.  The release of the image to the media is fairly standard practice when charges are brought, but in this case both sides of the political landscape have used it for their own purposes.  The Democrats have portrayed Trump as a dangerous figure, an alleged criminal who should never be in a position of power again.  The left-favouring media have lampooned his appearance, while their consumers create internet memes poking more fun at what is supposed to be a formal documentary photograph.  What’s more interesting is how the Trump campaign have used the image.  Their narrative portrays a man being persecuted by the left; a national hero who is the only man who can “save America”.  It has been reported that they have raised millions of dollars in donations to support the campaign just from this one picture.  

These two examples are major news stories of course, but this behaviour happens at all levels within photography.  Essentially, if an image has enough information to form a narrative yet is available without context that anchors it within a common idea or intent, then it is fair game for repurposing once published.   It’s an issue that dates back to the earliest days of documentary photography, with examples such as At the Café, Chez Fraysse, Rue de Seine, Paris, 1958, by French photographer Robert Doisneau (linked here).   Here we see a young woman sitting in a typical Parisian café with an older man.  They appear to be drinking wine, with several glasses in front of them. The man appears to be telling her something, which she may or may not be listening to, given her seemingly distant gaze that is not directed at him.  Doisneau shot many café scenes, documenting the social lives of Parisians with particular focus on their love of eating and drinking together.  In his paper Photographs and Context, Terry Barrett discusses the way that this photograph was used by the press without the artist’s consent:

“…the same photograph appeared a brochure on the evils of alcohol abuse published by a temperance league. Still later, and still without Doisneau's consent, the photograph again appeared, this time in a French scandal sheet with the caption “Prostitution in the Champs-Elysées." All three presentations were convincing; the third convincing enough that the gentleman in the photograph sued the scandal sheet and was awarded recompense.” (Barrett, 1985)

We see then that an image taken out of context can not only be subject to a variety of interpretations, but also a variety of misuses, without the artist either being aware of or consenting to them.  Like the Letby and Trump examples, once the image is out there in the wild frontier, the only recourse is to maybe take legal action, which isn’t as straightforward of as cost-effective as it sounds. 

I started to think about my own work, in particular the photographs that I’d received feedback from a much smaller audience about narrative.  Consider this example, which was a photograph I made as part of a series about my struggles with mental health over the years.  

Untitled (2019), by Richard Fletcher

Without the other 9 pictures that make up the series, the image has no external context.  We see a man embracing a woman.  What we see from his partially obscured expression appears contemplative, with engagement with the camera.  We only see the back of the woman with her posture and straight hair.   When I shared this image with my peers, friends and family, I received almost overwhelming feedback around narratives related to love, care, support and comfort, which pretty much aligned with my intent.  However, a couple of people saw something different.  Was the stiffness of the woman’s pose a sign of her discomfort or fear?  If that was the case, what might have caused it.  The man?   Could this be an abusive relationship captured at a moment of attempted reconciliation?  At the time, I was alarmed, because that wasn’t at all my intention for the image.  Indeed, when it is included in the whole series, my intent becomes clearer.  However, it the context of what we are discussing here, the image has potentially opposite meanings, depending on what the viewer brings to it.  For example, there is nothing stopping someone who has experienced abuse in a relationship from taking this picture and repurposing it to make their own point without my knowledge or consent, as in Doisneau’s case.  It’s very unlikely, given its circulation, but I can see how my control over it is lost the moment I publish it.   In a world where social media users share images, memes, videos etc that don’t belong to them, is there ever a way of regaining control?  Well, some of the artists that I am currently researching do try, through inclusion of textual or iconic context that makes it harder for the image to be isolated from their intent.  It’s debatable if it really works though, as art is supposed to provoke us into creating our own interpretations and form our own narratives.  Too much from the artist takes that away from the viewer.  I guess it’s just something we need to be mindful of, both as artists and as consumers. Think carefully before you share that photograph that you somehow relate to; the artist may have had other ideas.  There is a visual wild frontier, and the kings within it define how we see the world.

Bibliography

Barrett, T. (1985) 'Photographs and Contexts' In: Journal of Aesthetic Education 19 (3) pp.51–64.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) alternative artist artistic intent blog consent control creativity do the right thing documentary documentary photography images integrity intent meanings messages narrative photographer photography publishing repurposed responsibility study tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/9/kings-of-the-wild-frontier Fri, 08 Sep 2023 17:57:28 GMT
Iconic Fatigue Syndrome https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/8/iconic-fatigue-syndrome “We did the exact same things when we were young”, I said.  I’m sitting in a café with a friend of mine who I have known for over 30 years.  Our conversation started with some observations about how the cheap cars of our youth, in particular our first cars, had become really expensive in recent years.  A combination of nostalgia and the dwindling numbers of examples due to rust or accident damage, had meant that a late 1970s Ford Fiesta or Escort (our cars) are now fetching thousands of pounds, even in poor condition.  While we both enjoy our own nostalgia, he with computer technology and I with vintage cameras, we quickly got around to talking about how dangerous those old cars would be in the hands of young people today.  With virtually no safety equipment, a crash didn’t need to be all that serious to cause major injury or death.  The kids today, a phrase that I’d never thought I’d use, didn’t know how to drive safely according to us oldies.  Every night, they race around our little town as though they were in the Fast & Furious franchise and, in the case of a few recent incidents, have caused some serious accidents.  The thing is, we were young and very stupid once, having driven those old cars as if we were immortal.  Now, in our 50s, we see the world very differently. 

I’ve known for a while now that I’ve gone from a largely grumpy man to a grumpy old man with, despite my best efforts, more in common with Victor Meldrew than I would like.  With increased mileage on the clock, my perceptions of things that used to be familiar have also changed.  With the driving, I used to drive way too fast in cars that weren’t designed to cope with it, and I remember the thrill of doing so.  Now I drive a campervan, which does go a lot faster, but I naturally lack the inclination to reclaim my youth. 

A few days after the meeting of Malvern’s very own Statler and Waldorf, I was reading an article about cinema releases of the year so far.  It expressed a view on the best and worst films of the year, which I generally find interesting because of the rationale that such articles use in creating their lists.  In this piece I was more concerned about the repeated use of the word ‘iconic’.  This director is iconic, that actor is iconic, or the film is an icon of the genre…etc…etc.  The icons in question were related to a superhero franchise (no names), and I found myself both disagreeing with the use of the word but also considering why it was so prominant in what was only a few paragraphs.   To someone of my generation, the fantasy-action genre of filmmaking goes back decades and includes some of the earliest ‘big screen’ representations of superheroes, such as Superman (1978) and Batman (1989), and I would consider those to be iconic for their innovate use of cinematography and special effects, as well as their novelty.   However, they were building on earlier television representations from the 1950s and 60s, so should those be some thought of as more iconic?  Let’s consider what the word actually means.  According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition is “relating to or of the nature of an icon; regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration”. There’s that word ‘representation’ again, which I’ve discussed in previous posts.  We all consider representation differently, more so as we get older, and art continually evolves because of this.  In the case of photography, there are many examples of how a genre evolves with its audiences.  Classical landscape photography which originally documented and captured the beauty and power of the natural world, evolved to represent more complex relationships between nature and man.  These works can be considered iconic because they served to change the way we see our place in the world.  However, even they are being surpassed by contemporary ideas about the space we occupy.  In the case of the modern superhero movies, they have actually defined a genre of their own which is something the earlier films from my youth couldn’t lay claim to.  Therefore, they are iconic to the younger generation.  

So, why did the overuse of the word bother me so much?  Simply put, I think it’s lazy to go around assigning that label to anything that we think is special or really good.  I accept that the use of the word is a personal thing, but could the author of the article really be that excited by something that it warranted the label ‘iconic’? Maybe.  I guess if they had thought about the wider cultural context of their subject, what specifically made it ‘to be venerated’ etc, then it would work.   This got me thinking about a camera in my collection that I consider to be truly iconic; the small but mighty Olympus Trip 35. 

The Trip 35 has an excellent lens for a point-and-shoot camera

If you’ve never seen one of these cameras before, have you been living off grid?  This little camera was released in 1967 and was in production for a staggering 21 years, during which time over 10 million units were made.  An entirely mechanical camera, it offered the photographer an extremely simple way of shooting without compromising on build quality or needing a power source.  The Trip 35 is what’s known as a ‘viewfinder camera’, which means that focus is achieved by manually judging focus distance rather than using the viewing optics as in an SLR or rangefinder system.  This wasn’t an uncommon method in the 1960s, but the Trip’s zone focusing system made things much more convenient than setting focus using judgement alone.  A selection of ‘subject options’ could be selected ranging from single portrait (close-up) to landscape (infinity) on the lens.  Metering was taken care of by a selenium cell that required no batteries to power it, and the camera would take care of everything else.  These aspects, and its compact size and weight, made it a great camera but there was one thing that made it iconic from my perspective.  When I first became interested in photography, the Trip 35 had been in production for 15 years, so they were probably enjoying their peak popularity.  In fact, I regularly meet people today who have one in a drawer somewhere at home or were left one by a parent or grandparent.  It wasn’t the first camera I remember my dad having, but it is the first one I remember not having to sit still for when a picture was being taken.  I’ve never been comfortable being photographed, which is why I’ve pushed myself to shoot self-portraits for my studies. Imagine being that shy as a child and having a photographer for a father!  The Trip’s true point and shoot operation was noticed by the younger me as a real winner.   Unlike the cheap (and often fairly nasty) 110 cameras that I was using, the Trip was a proper 35mm camera that took proper pictures.  Fast forward 41 years and I have one in my collection that I must say is the easiest and most enjoyable camera to shoot with.  It’s perfect for street photography passes what I call The Wedding Guest Test.  Whenever I go to a wedding, I try to take the smallest camera possible, because lugging a giant DSLR around is a pain in the arse.  I could take an expensive rangefinder model, but then I’d continually worry about where I might have left it.  The Trip fits the bill being compact, relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. It's also particularly good if paired with a mini flashgun.  Yes, it doesn’t have any of the convenient technology of modern equivalent cameras, but it was fully automatic, thanks to that selenium light meter (that textured glass bit on the lens) and being mechanical, could be serviced of repaired easily.  I’m not the only one who celebrates it either.  There is a growing community of Trip 35 shooters, people who customise their camera’s appearance with brightly coloured skins, and some who even refurb broken units for resale.  With some many produced, there doesn’t appear to be a shortage of spare parts available.  For me, the camera invokes my earliest memories of photography, and perhaps it could be credited with starting my interest in it.  It’s an interest that became a passion that continues to this day, with the little Trip 35 still playing its part.  That makes it an icon to me.  Perhaps we need a new word, though, for the iconic fatigued.  How about an Olympus instead?  Just thought. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera compact creativity fatigue film gear iconic learning media Olympus Olympus Trip 35 overused photographer photography point and shoot representation simplicity social media technology tuition writing https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/8/iconic-fatigue-syndrome Tue, 29 Aug 2023 11:33:07 GMT
More Eggs for Your Basket https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/8/more-eggs-for-your-basket “Do you do anything other than swan about, drinking coffee?”  These words, or a variation of them, have drifted across many a conversation towards me these past few years.  The first time I heard them, I was quite offended.  I’d just left a fast-paced business that had just collided, like almost every other at that time, with the COVID19 pandemic.  I’d had lots of things planned for my new life and, after some period of contemplation, was getting on with some of them.  As time has passed, I find myself a lot busier and giving far less of a shit what people might think.  The past few weeks in particular have seen personal projects, university coursework, photo shoots and getting back to my swim training after Ullswater.  There have been times when I’ve just needed to detune, and I was having one of these moments when I thought about this blog post.  In a session of what my wife calls “lying in bed, looking at cat videos on Instagram”, I saw a post in my feed that got me thinking about individuality and personal voice.   I mainly follow photographers, artists and people that I find amusing, so I wasn’t surprised when this particular reel appeared.  It was one of those Instagram vs. Reality comparisons where an aesthetically beautiful scene is shown as it would be seen on Instagram, followed by the harsh reality of trying to capture the scene.  The latter is usually blighted by bad weather, something that obscures the vista, something that reveals that it’s a fake shot, and lots of people trying to take the same picture.  The subject?  Manhattanhenge.  For those who are not familiar with this portmanteau, it’s a phenomenon where the setting sun is perfectly aligned with a number of streets in Manhattan, appearing as if framed by the towering buildings; a Stonehenge in Manhattan, if you will.  It’s a rare occurrence, happening only a couple of times a year, and that in itself is enough to cause lots of excitement with tourists in the city. Quite naturally, many people who see it wish to photograph it for posterity or their socials.  The reel contrasted the perfect view of the ‘henge’ with the jostling crowd of people holding their phones up to photograph it.  

I’ve talked about the genre of landscape, the ideas of picturesque, beautiful and the sublime that are codes within it, in a previous post.  These shots clearly tend to the picturesque, with  their meanings closely associated with memory of travel and the need to inform the viewer about something they should consider seeing for themselves.  Picturesque images tend to be very similar and, indeed if you do a quick Google Images search on Manhattanhenge, you get a sense of that.  

Manhattanhenge (source: Google Images search)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this, of course, but I asked myself why everyone would want to take the same photograph, rather than look for another way to represent how they feel when they look at it.  I’m not going to dwell on that here, because I’m no psychologist, but I do acknowledge the dangers of settling into one way of seeing and working, so I do empathise to a point.  As with any learning experience, we gain some confidence in an aspect of the skill and practice until we feel as though we’ve ‘nailed it’.  While we are doing so, we might close ourselves off from other related ideas, perhaps committing to go back and look at it later.  In photography, this singlemindedness can be seen all around, from the Manhattanhenge images that require careful balancing of exposure and contrast, white balance etc, to the angle of elevation in the ubiquitous selfie that takes the pounds off.  We start to build rules into our workflow that kick in when we think about a landscape or portrait photograph.  When they are collected together, that sense of déjà vu about the images is very real.  I’m as guilty as the next photographer of doing this, I might add.  I like 85mm focal length for portraits, 35 or 50mm for street work, natural light over flash, prefer a 4x5 aspect ratio for pretty much everything because that’s what my large format cameras shoot etc..etc..  What I tell myself when I realise that I’m stuck in my lane, is based on some advice I was given when I first started out.  “Avoid assembling images that are either visually similar or contain symbolic or iconic context that say the signify the same thing”.  This means that if there is something in the first picture that describes something about the subject, setting or event, try to avoid something similar doing the same in the next frame.  I encountered an example of this a few weeks ago, when I was shooting a vintage car event near me.  The Prescott Hill Climb sees cars racing against the clock from the bottom of a hillside track to, well, the top.  My friends were racing their 1930s MGs (see previous post) and I was keen to make some pictures of them doing something that for me, is an unusual hobby.  There is a technique in sports photography that lends itself perfectly to capturing movement in a fast-moving subject, known as ‘panning’.  The photographer tracks the subject as it moves past, keeping the point of focus ‘locked’ on the interesting part of it, and shooting a relatively slow shutter speed.  If the rate of the camera panning and the subject are matched, the part that is in focus appears be stationary, so the shutter speed is fast enough to make it sharp.  However, the background is moving too quickly, so appears blurred.

Panning example from the Hill Climb, R Fletcher (2023)

Here’s the thing, it’s quite tricky to get right.  The latest digital cameras utilise state-of-the-art focus tracking which naturally helps, but an older camera like any of my collection requires manual timing, judgement on focus and depth of field, and lots of luck.  I found myself wanting some panning shots of my friends driving and, before I knew what had happened, that was the only thing I was shooting either as a practice to get the settings right, or capturing the fleeting moment where they flew past me.  I’d momentarily shut out any other thoughts about context, perspectives or mixing genres that might help support the narrative of the series, and if I hadn’t realised, I would have had a collection of really boring images, even if the panning had been perfect.  What does this mean?  Well, for me photography is a medium with a wealth of creative possibilities and a vast range of ways of representing a subject however we want it to.  There’s no doubt some truth to the adage about there being ‘no new ideas left’, but there is still the concept of individuality, which is an entirely different thing.  To be individual is to take all that we’ve learned and make our own decisions on how to proceed, being inspired but not directed by others of part of some herd mentality.  If we ask ourselves why we are making an image, what it means to us, what it might convey to the audience or how it might make them feel etc, we are forming an individual ‘voice’ that visually expresses an opinion, rather than simply going with the flow.  In the case of the ‘henge’, there may only be a few minutes before the effect is gone, so why not go crazy and try as many different ideas as possible in the time?  There may not be the next lauded artwork in that collection, but there may be something that grabs the attention of the viewer more than the traditional picturesque.  If creative ideas are the eggs, better to have multiple baskets rather than just the one. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist be different blog camera creativity individuality inspiration landscape learning motorsports narrative panning photographer photography picturesque similarity sports photography technique tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/8/more-eggs-for-your-basket Thu, 24 Aug 2023 14:51:37 GMT
Just Because You Can, Doesn't Mean You Should https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/8/just-because-you-can-doesnt-mean-you-should A few years ago, I received an official-looking letter in the post that accused me of committing a truly heinous crime, for which I should be very ashamed.  In amongst the formal language, that looked like it came straight from a policeman’s notebook, was the invitation to view a video of said crime.  After the usual mental security checks to make sure I wasn’t being had, I went to the website to have a look.  The video was of a busy road junction in what looked like a city centre, with traffic lights, lots of pedestrians, dogs etc.  In the top corner was a clock that documented when my crime took place.  This tedious piece of footage progressed for several seconds before the camera dramatically panned to the left and slowly zoomed in on something.  Wait, is that my car?  The zooming continued until all I could see was a front wheel and a number plate, which was indeed mine.  Then the crime itself.  More predictable than a Marvel film, and probably about as interesting, the plot of this film was pretty clear, and what had happened was that my car had crept about 6 inches over the edge of a box junction.  The letter informed me that the local authority was fining me for this transgression.  After much questioning of the authority’s parentage, I paid the fine and forgot about it.  Until this past weekend, that is. 

I was on assignment, shooting Malvern Pride, which was the second time I’d been part of this wonderful and important event.  This year would be a different experience for me, however, as a direct result of the unit that I’m currently studying for my degree.  I’ve mentioned ethicsrepresentation, and consent in previous blog posts, and how a photographer’s approach to them is a personal decision, based on their own values.  In the case of this shoot, ethical considerations had been on my mind for several weeks.  I had questioned whether I, as a heterosexual man, should be documenting the event in the first place, even if it was for the organisers. They were primarily interested in capturing the party spirit and the celebration of the LGBTQ+ community embodied in Pride, which is a big part of but not the whole story.  If I wanted the images to be as much about the continuing struggles that the community has to be accepted and respected as people in what seems to be an ever-uncaring political landscape, could an external observer ever do justice to that representation?  I had an idea to use the shots from the day to form part of a wider social documentary project, so this question was an important one to answer.  I eventually squared it away in my mind by considering Cornell Capa’s concept of the Concerned Photographer, formulated in the 1950s.  Capa was a respected photographer with Life Magazine for over a decade, who was also part of the renowned Magnum Photos agency.  He chose social and political issues that were important to him and created powerful photo-essays that didn’t merely document a situation, but instead advocated attention to them by educating his audience.  I wasn’t thinking of Pride specifically in these terms, as I am no Capa, but I eventually determined that I would be as good as any other photographer that I know at telling the stories of the people attending.  That left the consideration of consent, which is itself the purpose of this post.  I’m still learning about this subject, do don’t profess to be an expert.  These are my thoughts on what I experienced regarding consent on the day, and the behaviours I believed were needed in addressing it. 

One way of approaching consent in the commercial photography world is to use a consent form, that photographer and model agree to and sign.  These forms lay out the photographer’s intentions for using the work, where it will be published, the rights the model has over the images etc.  In simple terms, the parties agree and that forms the basis for a legal position that covers the work.  In the case of an event like Pride, a form isn’t at all practical, because of the number of people present and the potential style of the photography. It wouldn’t be limited to traditional portraiture, where the form works well, but include ‘street-style’ shots where the subjects were unaware of being photographed.  Event photography consent is usually done in the inverse, where instead of seeking individual consent, everyone is made aware that photographs are being made, and that they must seek exemption to avoid being photographed.  That works well in most cases, but Pride added another ethical consideration when thinking about consent.  The event was being held in public place, rather than a private venue.  In fact, the idea of a truly public space is a little bogus as most of the land in the UK is owned by someone.  In the case of Priory Park, there weren’t any overarching photography restrictions in place, so it could be treated as public.  The law in the UK (and in the US) currently states that a photographer can make images of other people in a public place without needing their consent.  There are campaigns to add restrictions, to cover children, or other subjects that could be treated as in the national interest, and therefore vulnerable to acts of terror etc, but thusfar they aren’t in place.  If someone asked me not to photograph them, I wouldn’t have to agree because I’m covered by law.  If you think about it, that’s a pretty extreme defence as surely intention comes into play at some point.  However, there are cases, such as the US lawsuit brought against Philip-lorca diCorcia following the publication of his Heads (2001) series that highlight the conflict between law and ethics when it comes to a person’s privacy.  In that particular case, the law actually sided with artistic expression over violation of religious beliefs, but it still revolved around the plaintiff’s case that he did not give consent because of his beliefs.  We think that we should have privacy rights, particularly when a camera is involved, whether we are in a private or public space, but that isn’t the case.  When I was filmed entering the box junction, I hadn’t given the local authority my permission to point their camera at me.  In fact, who among us has consented to being filmed by CCTV walking down the street?  The belief in the right to privacy is a powerful one, and I am certainly not offering an opinion on it here.  However, a belief isn’t the same as a legal responsibility.  I encountered this recently when someone started aggressively lectured me on photographic consent in a similar situation to the upcoming Pride shoot.  Her passion was admirable, but that was about it.  This is, of course, where a photographers personal ethics comes in to play and in that case, I just kept quiet and let her rant.  How I view privacy is driven by my both my personal ethical standards and my respect for the idea of it.  I know how I would react to the intrusion of being photographed, so tend to treat people in the same way when it’s the other way around.  That approach works with most of my work, and when it doesn’t, say in a street scene where there is no dialogue between me and my subject, I consider the ideas of representation and ‘doing no harm’.   If I photograph someone, am I treating them respectfully in the context of the picture or the series? Will my publishing the image do them harm?

Early in in the Pride shoot, a lady approached me with her child and asked me not to shoot them.  My instant response was to completely agree, try to put her at ease by assuring her that I would avoid where I could, but if they appeared in the background of a published image and I’d missed that in the edit, she should contact me (I gave her my card) and I would quickly remove it.  This chat took less than a minute and she opened up about her reasons, which I totally understood.  She went away trusting me to ‘do the right thing’. Another example resulted in the photograph below.  I was drawn to this gentlemen’s shirt and went over to chat to him.  We talked about how he felt how the event was going, the continued importance of Pride in the current climate, and the feeling of freedom that he felt as a gay man attending an event with others he could relate to.  “People like me”, is how he put it. At the end of our conversation, I asked him for a portrait, something I was doing with anyone I got talking to.  He did that ‘polite grimace face’ that instantly told me he wasn’t comfortable, which was followed by a respectful decline.  I said that it was no problem and was about to reassure him that I wouldn’t include him in any other pictures etc, when he said “you said you loved my shirt, how about photographing just that?”  I duly did so, showed him the image on the back of the camera, shook his hand and that was that.  

Untitled, from Malvern Pride 2023, by Richard Fletcher

None of this is rocket science, it’s just exploring consent with the subject in a polite and respectful manner.  That’s not to say that it ‘made me happy’, as I would have much preferred an actual portrait of him.  It’s not pandering to a subject either, as documentary photographers generally can’t afford to lean entirely towards their wishes.  If, for example, the subject belonged to an extreme political group or held controversial social beliefs, the photographer has a responsibility to represent the subject as honestly as possible, perhaps putting aside their own personal views.  What’s important is to establish an open dialogue about intent, consider any harm to the subject, that they might not be inviting themselves in some way, and then be prepared for further discussion about the outcome.  In this case, I could have sneakily grabbed a shot of the man without him knowing, but that image might have caused him difficulties elsewhere that I might not be aware of.  I read the situation through talking, and more importantly listening, and elected to talk to him instead in the same way as I dealt with the concerned parent.  

In conclusion, Pride was a huge success, and I believe my photographs represented the vibe on the day.  I shot other images that I want to use for the documentary study, which will include other material sourced from the media and through interviews with members of the LGBTQ+ community, but more of that another time.  The key learning from this experience though, was that ethical behaviour that drives dialogue between the photographer and subject, helps give the former a much broader understanding of the ‘story’ that they may have felt that they knew.  My understanding of Pride is largely built on what my gay friends have told me, but I cannot ever truly empathise for the obvious reason.  Working with my subjects helps me reconsider what I think I know, and incorporate new information from their personal experiences.  I also learned that if we are behaving ethically, consent is a continual process where a subject might later reconsider how they feel about their representation in a body of work.  Depending on the understanding or formal agreements in place, there may be a conversation long after publication, where they no longer consent. In the case of the street-style Pride images, someone might see themselves and decide that they no longer consent.  In a world where people film everything from their food to a road rage altercation and post it social media, perhaps a pause for thought about “Should I?” instead of “Can I?” would improve our society in many ways.   I’d like to think that it might.

 

You can see my Malvern Pride photographs at this address: https://www.richperspective.co.uk/p865073501

For more on Nussenzweig v. diCorcia, check out this article: https://museemagazine.com/features/2019/9/23/impact-philip-lorca-dicorcia-head-on

For more on ethics, take a look at the excellent Photography Ethics Centre here: https://www.photoethics.org

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist behaviour blog blogger camera consent dialogue documentary ethics law listening photographer photography pride representation tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/8/just-because-you-can-doesnt-mean-you-should Tue, 01 Aug 2023 17:23:38 GMT
Ulls Well That Ends Well https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/7/ulls-well-that-ends-well “I’ve completely forgotten”, came the reply in a panicky voice.  It’s 9am and my new soul mate and I are on a bus, heading through the winding roads of the Lake District on our way to the start line.  I’ve known this woman for about 10 minutes or so, during which time we’ve shared thoughts of how we’d trained, how we felt and “what the hell was all this rain doing here in July?”.  We had clearly prepared in different ways.  I had trained hard for 12 months, where she hadn’t been able to commit much time.  I had prepared my race fuelling based on what was provided by the race organisers, while she had secreted several energy gels in her wetsuit, something that I thought was a high-risk strategy, given the tightness of the fit.  What had prompted her panic was something really simple; she had forgotten to stick her number label on her tow float.  I, and my fellow swimmers, tried to reassure her that the number was just for there for identification when we finish, and that a kindly person at the start line could probably lend her a Sharpie to write it on if necessary.  I sympathised with her, because I had also recently had my own organisational brain fog a couple of days before getting on the bus.  I had just completed my last training swim the night before I was due to leave for the Lake District and, as it turned out, lost my goggles in the process of packing up my gear.  Now, I’ve generally found that people who do endurance events like this one are a cautious and superstitious bunch, for good reason.  For example, runners won’t replace their shoes just before a race for fear of the fit being slightly different, resulting in issues during the race.  Those issues could be real, or they could be a cause of worry that might psychologically affect their performance. Knowing this, I wouldn’t have replaced my goggles, even if they were completely knackered.  However, I found myself having to do just that.  I had a brief test in the pool just before we left, to check that they wouldn’t leak, but the whole experience was an unwelcome stress. 

In case you are wondering what on Earth I’m prattling on about, I’ll tell you.  Last weekend, I completed the Ullswater 7.5 mile swim, which runs from one end of the grand lake to the other.  In context, that’s 480 lengths of a standard 25 metre swimming pool, which is what makes it an ‘endurance’ swim that relatively few people would consider doing.  While the experience of that event doesn’t relate directly to photography, I’ve learned some things about how my mind works, which may be recognisable to a challenge being faced by readers of this blog.  Fear not, it’s isn’t some trite piece of ‘self-help’ bullshit aimed at changing your life, or an Instagram life hack that anyone over the age of 20 has known for several years.  It’s just my reflections on what happened to my mind while I undertook this challenge. Make of it what you will. 

The swim was organised such that we had to be taken to the start so that we would be swimming back to Race HQ, hence the bus, which I found to crank up the anticipation before even dipping a toe in the water.  The weather was shockingly bad, with the whole area being battered by heavy rain and high winds for 48 hours before the planned start.  The organisers had sent emails about their contingency plans which would kick in if the forecasted thunderstorms manifested on the day, which almost everyone I talked to on the bus thought was a really bad thing.  We’d all signed up to swim the length of the lake, so the idea of changing the route to smaller looks of a presumably sheltered area, didn’t really appeal to any of us as it would feel a lot like our training swims in smaller lakes.  Thankfully, when we arrived at the start, we were told that the route would remain point-to-point.  The first thing to note about the format was that once in the water, it was impossible for any supporters to ‘follow’ the swimmers.  Supporters could be at the start or the finish, but the long bit in the middle would be a very lonely experience.   I entered the water supremely confident because, unlike my friend on the bus, I had fully prepared for the distance over nearly a year in training.  The first mile was all smiles, although when I reached the first feed station, my fellow swimmers confirmed my suspicion that we’d swam closer to a mile and a half, according to our GPS watches.  Never mind, I thought. I knew I had the physical condition to cope and, being a silly sod, I asked the feed station volunteers for a ‘large Scotch, no ice’ when offered a cup of energy drink and some jelly babies.  The mood was certainly light at this point.  The next mile was straightforward enough too, but at this point my body decided to let me down.  Both calf muscles started to cramp, which is something I always have to manage on long swims and am not entirely certain of the cause.  Two miles in wasn’t great news, though, as I had a long way to go from here.  Again, I had prepared for ‘cramp management’, so I pressed on.  It was mile 4 when things started to affect me psychologically.  The weather was now so bad that the temperature had dropped considerably and was matched by waves tall enough to surf on.   Waves on a lake surrounded by mountains?  It was a reminder of how powerful nature is. They were in the same direction of travel as us, but anyone who believes that this helps push you along, is an idiot.  Timing your strokes to coincide with any push from the waves is a tricky thing to do and, it was frequently counter-productive.  I was now working twice as hard as I should have been to achieve a slower pace than in training.  My mind started to wander, and not in a good way.  I became angry at the organisers for proceeding with the event, when I know of some triathlon companies who would have cancelled it.  I started to question whether I’d done enough work in training, despite my experienced athlete friends telling me that I had.  My calf muscles had invited my hamstrings to the pain party, which now meant that I had more stretching and relaxation exercises to do, all while being thrown around by the waves.  On a couple of occasions, I was informed by the safety crew that I was drifting off course, which would need correcting.  In the end, I drifted nearly half a mile off course over the length of the swim.  It’s fair to say that the stretch from 4 to 5 miles was possibly the worst physical experience of my life.  My anger gave way to a total fear of failure.  Could I keep going? If I couldn’t, would I quit voluntarily or be forced to by the safety crew? What would I say to my family and friends who’d been so supportive? Would I end up reflecting on quitting and realise that I could have done more?  These questions whizzed around in my head with images of my loved ones, who I thought I was in danger of letting down.   I kept seeing my mother, who we lost 28 years ago, but they weren’t images of her as a I want to remember her.  Instead of the vibrant, strong woman who raised me, I only saw the memories of her being desperately ill, a shadow of her former self.  I’ve consciously tried to suppress every day since she died, so for them to reappear now was pretty distressing.  It was like I’d accessed an old hard disk from a long-lost computer and creating a random slideshow.  If my goggles hadn’t been so tightly (and uncomfortably) fixed to my face, I’d have probably cried.  But I didn’t.  Instead, all this conscious noise became just that…noise.  I really don’t remember the actual swimming during that mile, but my arms just kept turning over. When I reached the 5-mile marker, the feed station wasn’t there as we’d been told at the briefing.  It had moored at 5.5 miles, presumably because the water was so rough.  I swore (a lot) as I considered the irony of that, but pressed on.  The final feed station was supposed to be at 6 miles, and I figured that it had also moved, but I was wrong.  It was missing entirely.  Instead of the previous stream of consciousness and rage that I’d encountered way back at half-distance, I just kept turning the arms over.  At 6 miles, I could see the huge inflatable duck (yes, a duck!) that marked the finish line.  I still had to swim a mile and half to get to the big quacker, but again for some reason my mind was switched off and my body was just doing what I’d trained it to do.  At the finish, I was helped to my feet as my legs had decided that enough was enough.  I got my medal and was reunited with my wife and our friends who were supporting, which was wonderful but undramatic.  It wasn’t until much later that the elation at completing the swim, under those awful conditions, started to outweigh the horror of actually doing it.  I’ve been riding that euphoria ever since. 

In pain, but happy at the finish

Beginning to sink in

The medal, which will remind me of how hard it was

What does all this mean? I’m not really sure.  What I do know is that I have a lot of internal voices that start chattering when I perceive that I am ‘in danger’, not of something that will cause me actual harm, but more about potential embarrassment or failure.  When I tried to ignore them on the swim, my mind seemed to react by reminding me of hard times in a way so vivid as to overwhelm the immediate fear.   For example, I was never likely to drown because there were so many people around me in safety boats and kayaks. Nevertheless, I still saw the recent news article about the fireman who was lost attempting the channel swim, as if a subconscious comparison was being drawn.  What surprised me was that after a while, the nagging internal dialogue stopped altogether and I was left with the simplicity of just swimming.  I’ve no idea how, but I became more rational when my brain shut up and let me get on with the job in hand.  Yes, there were some very dark moments, but talking to other endurance sports competitors, this is actually very common.  None of them can explain how they keep going, but they just do.  It’s only at the end that they reflect and somehow appreciate coming through them.  By the time the mind can start asking questions about the lunacy of taking on such a feat, it’s done and dusted.  I went from wanting to cut my wetsuit into tiny pieces in the immediate aftermath, to wanting to sign up for the longer Windermere swim next year, all in the space of about 24 hours.  Now that I’m home, I don’t feel like some superhuman (that would be silly), but I do recognise how healthy it is to push myself, not just physically, but mentally as a way of building a better understanding of what really motivates you.  I said this wasn’t ‘self help’ and I stick by that.  It isn’t going to make me some epic creative, but it has had the effect of shifting my perspective a little.  Perhaps that fear of failure and embarrassment does hold me back creative, so anything that confronts it head on could be helpful.  I wonder if there might be more of these little shifts, the more I push myself with the swimming.  Also, perhaps if we shut ourselves up from time to time, we can actually gain some peace from the chaotic world around us, where we continuously analyse and compare ourselves to others.  Who knows?  What I do know is that I want to find out, and for now, I believe the answer is at the bottom of this hard-earned glass of champagne.  Cheers!

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) blog challenge endurance keeping going mind games open water open water swimming resilience swimming Ullswater https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/7/ulls-well-that-ends-well Thu, 20 Jul 2023 09:19:28 GMT
Not Saying Cheese: When Collaborating Makes it Better https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/7/not-saying-cheese-when-collaborating-makes-it-better “Well, I’m appalled at that”, I said as I sipped my mug of decaf.  In the months since giving up all forms of caffeine, I’ve learned to recognise how tame that statement appears.   I’ve always been a hot-headed guy, but my substantial daily coffee intake previously made my fuse short and my blood pressure high at the slightest little thing.  On this particular day, I had been triggered by some research that I’d been doing, following a conversation with a lovely friend of mine called Sarah.  We had been talking about motorsport, as she and her husband Colin race vintage cars as a hobby.  More specifically, we were talking about women in motorsport and how they were treated by a culture largely dominated by men.  Sarah was bemoaning the fact that most depictions of women in motorsport were either draped, half-naked over a car or motorcycle, or austerely standing next to their man who had just raced his car with some degree of success or adulation.  It wasn’t that I was sceptical, more that I wanted to see the proof for myself and, sure enough, it’s absolutely true.  Society knows that there are plenty of incredibly talented, successful women racing drivers in the world, so why does it feel like we are stuck in the 1970s?  How do these depictions of women affect those who want to take up motorsport? Somehow, I cannot see it having a positive effect. 

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and Sarah and I are sitting in a café, discussing the extent of this rampant sexism and her personal experiences of it in her format of the sport.  I’d invited her because I’d had an idea for a collaborative portraiture project.  As part of the current module of my course, I’m looking at the variety of ways that photographers work with their subjects collaboratively, as opposed to the idea of the classical idea of ‘sitting for a portrait’.  Approaching a portraiture session in a collaborative way means just that both photographer and model bring their own ideas, often share directional responsibilities, and provide critical feedback on the resulting work.  If the portrait is representing the subject’s identity, they get to influence how that is done, which elements of their personality they prefer to emphasise, and so on. If the portrait is more about a cultural or personal experience, recalling memories can also affect how they choose to present themselves to the camera.  The photographer brings their creative eye of course, as well as the technical skills needed to make the photograph.  Collaboration can potentially the challenge them to relinquish some control over the work, as the person who ultimately exhibiting or publishing it.  Sound like potential organised chaos?  Well, not really.  There are a number of ways that photographers enter into a creative collaboration with their subjects, which depend on what the story is.  If, for example, work is a series of documentary-style portraits of a community, the photographer may work many people within it, having them act as ‘editors’ whose collective opinions might dynamically influence the direction of the work, in contrast to the original idea.  The photographer might also provide a group of people with point-and-shoot cameras, so that they can document their own ideas outside of the more formal shooting sessions to be incorporated in the final work.  Anything that introduces diversity in the work, challenges the initial assumptions that the photographer might have about the people or the nuances of their lives, is potentially a powerful thing.  A good example of this is Dana Lixenberg’s Imperial Courts project, shot in a neighbourhood of Los Angeles over a 22 year period from 1993 (link).  She worked with the community to challenge the mass media narrative of the area as a dangerous, gang-infested ghetto, in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots.  The resulting series documents the people over the place, showing their daily struggles, but strong sense of community at the same time.

In my collaboration, I wanted to work with Sarah to tell her story of being a woman who not only races a car that’s nearly 90 years old but does all of the maintenance and preparation work to get to the start line in the first place.   We agreed to go ahead, and I started by sending her a short list of notes and ideas that had occurred to me during our conversations.  This would be a starting point for her to consider how she wanted to represent herself.  Once the practicalities, such as deciding on ‘when and where’, what lighting to use etc were finalised, we were ready to go. 

On the day, I saw the beautiful 1930s MG for the first time and was struck by how beautiful this machine was. It was sitting in a garage surrounded by lots of items that we could use as visual context for the portraits, and my brain started buzzing with ideas.  That wasn’t what we were here for though, and it began to dawn on me that this wouldn’t be as easy for me as I first thought.   We were also fortunate to be joined by her husband Colin, who also races MGs.  It turned out that this car was actually his, with Sarah’s being garaged elsewhere.  We chose this one because, as well as containing those objects that might support the narrative, the garage had power for the lights.   I decided that I had plenty of technical work to do lighting this dark space, so while I rushed around setting up my studio gear, the three of us chatted about ideas.  Sarah talked about how she prepares for a race, everything from checking the fluids to adjusting her long hair so that she could put on her helmet. Colin could see different aspects in terms of placing Sarah in the frame with the car, which was because of his experiences both racing with her and biting his tongue at the frequently asked question “how did you get your wife into racing?”.  I really admire him for that second one.  When it came to the shoot, we experimented with composition and adjusting the lights as one would expect during a shoot.  It became much more collaborative when I gave them the remote trigger for the camera.  Sarah admitted being fairly intimidated by having control over this machine that was pointed straight at her, which is entirely understandable.  The camera inherently has power in the portrait scenario, which stems from its earliest days when the subject had to stay perfectly still and ‘be captured’.  How many times have we been in a social situation, and someone produces a camera, prompting us to feel the need to smile?  As the shoot progressed, Sarah became more comfortable, but was much more so when coming up with ideas for the compositions.  Colin had no such issues, as he was looking more intently at the scene and deciding when the shutter should be released.  Between the three of us, we captured a number of images over a few hours that we were all really happy with.  Here are a few of them.

For my course, I wanted to present a triptych (a fancy word for 3 pictures together), that I thought best reflected Sarah’s story.  To help with the selection, I asked my fellow students to pick their favourites, and of course, Sarah and Colin.  This was the result:

The Triptych

This experience was a new one for all of us.  They hadn’t appreciated what was involved in setting up the shoot, which I was glad to learn they were fascinated by.  For me, taking a step back from the creative process to be more of a technical manager of the camera, was a difficult thing to do, but rewarding.  I think this is a mixture of my control-freakery and my creative curiosity, the former being a pain in the arse and the latter something I try to feed every day.  The freedom to just try something with only an outline plan was wonderful, and I definitely attribute that to working with two very enthusiastic people who weren’t photographers.  We were careful not to make Sarah’s story a ‘new stereotype’, where a woman is depicted as covertly masculine in this scenario.  Instead, there is a passionate, yet undramatic feel to the pictures, which suggests racing as a hobby like any other; gender having nothing to do with it.  Sarah's love for her sport comes through unhindered.  I particularly liked the placement of the ‘men at work’ sign and Sarah’s racing bikes in the wider composition, for the contrasts that they bring as a challenge to any preconceptions the viewer might have.

It was a great experience all round and I cannot wait to collaborate with a subject again in the future.  “I have lots of crazy ideas that might make a good photograph”, says Sarah.  Perhaps then, it won’t be that long before I do.

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera collaboration creative freedom creativity inspiration learning model narrative photographer photography portraiture representation tuition women in motorsport https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/7/not-saying-cheese-when-collaborating-makes-it-better Tue, 11 Jul 2023 11:43:07 GMT
Old's Cool, Apparently https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/7/olds-cool-apparently I was chatting with a friend of mine recently about a classic track from the 1990s that I was looking for on vinyl.  He owns an independent record shop in my hometown, so was the right guy to be talking to about it.  I wanted to know if it had originally been released on vinyl when it charted in 1995, and the answer was yes, but that it was a fairly rare item.  The reason? Well, the early 90s were dominated by the newly established Compact Disc format, which had signalled a decline in vinyl sales to the general public.  Artists still released their work on the format for DJs etc., but the majority of us now listened to CDs.  I vividly remember being very excited at the end of the 80s, when I purchased my first player, providing the ability to skip, shuffle and repeat my favourite tracks, without the hazardous manoeuvre that was ‘cueing’.  CDs were much more robust, took up less space etc etc, but like all technology, it was eventually overtaken in popularity by the download.  The conclusion to our discussion was that the single I was asking about hadn’t been re-released, as many classic 12 inch vinyls had, so if I wanted to listen to it I’d have to buy the album, which had been.  

The same afternoon, I was reading an article about the rise in popularity of early digital point-and-shoot cameras.  Wait a minute, what?.  While I’d got used to the idea of the re-emergence of audio cassettes, which stuck me as a little weird, and am anticipating the rediscovery of the mini-disc (which I still use in my studio), I hadn’t seen this coming at all.  With my large collection of vintage film cameras, I consider myself to be a fairly ‘retro’ guy, but really?  The cameras that were being referred to were the photographic equivalent of the CD.  They introduced inexpensive photography to the masses, with no more pesky developing of film, and the advantage that you could store and organise the pictures on your computer.  I bought my first digital point-and-shoot camera just before I got married in 2001.  It was a Canon Digital IXUS V2, which as a collector, I now bitterly regret getting rid of.  It was a beautiful design (see the below image), and boasted a whopping 2.1MP.  It took pretty good images too, which for me was a bonus because I wasn’t into post processing at all at that point, and therefore wanted the finished article straight out of the camera.  Eventually, I replaced it with another model, the IXUS 750, which increased the resolution to 7.1MP.  They were both great compact cameras 20 years ago, but why would anyone want to use them now?

The beautiful Canon IXUS V2 (Image from WikiCommons)

I guess the same question could be levelled at the audio world. Unless you’re using really decent equipment, playing music on an analogue format is a pretty poor experience.  Audiophiles will tell you that there is more depth, warmth etc, and while that may be true, you need to spend some serious money to be able to detect those qualities, even before considering how good your hearing is.  I love listening to vinyl because of the tactile nature of it, because it’s fragile and it draws me in to listening to a complete record; something that contrasts with my much younger self.  All other things are secondary to me, and I think that is what is going on here.  The younger generation is used to being surrounded by seriously good technology, whether it’s their noise cancelling headphones or the powerhouse camera in their mobile phones.  These gadgets insulate them from having to be involved in any way, which is fine when we consider how chaotic their lives are.  Taking time to engage with something on a technical or interactive level, is a luxury and perhaps the origin of these continually evolving trends as we older folk see them.  If we consider these humble cameras in 2023, they sit between film and modern digital alternatives, both of which can be very expensive.  Film and film camera prices have rocketed since I took it up again several years ago, and modern digital cameras are so pricey that they are often out of reach of young people.  It makes sense to play with a camera that requires some effort to get the best from it, everything from settings to getting the right cables to learning post processing, rather than embrace something more costly. 

While I get the idea, are they actually any good?  I’m one of the few people that don’t consider technically crappy photographs as ‘artistic’, which is why I have a pathological dislike for cameras like the Holga 120 or Diana, neither of which will ever likely become part of my collection.  That’s not to be confused with cameras where a particular look is associated with the way they work, of course.  I love Polaroid and pinhole photography for that very reason; the process is part of the result.  Light-leaks, manufacturing defects and bad optics, though, are not for me. Fortunately, I still have my little IXUS750, so I thought I’d see for myself how it stacks up some 18 years after I bought it.

Macro mode, f/2,8, 1/160th, ISO400

Normal Mode, f/13, 1/200th, ISO400

Portrait Mode, f/4.9, 1/400th, ISO400

The verdict? Surprisingly not bad.  These shots are unprocessed jpegs straight from the camera. Its 7.1MP sensor yields an image size of 3072 x 2304 pixels, which is certainly big enough to print at A4 without any major degradation.  The lens performance isn’t stellar, but nobody would really expect that.  The sensor renders the colours well enough, although contrast and noise performance, particularly at its highest sensitivity of ISO40, is lacking.  Again, this to be expected from a sensor of that period in a point-and-shoot.  Put it this way, I’ve seen worse shots from an equivalent film camera despite those being so-called ‘full frame’.  I’ve also seen plenty of mobile phone shots from the past decade that would be embarrassed by the little Canon.  What surprised me when I took this camera out, was how enjoyable it was to use.  The settings that can be changed are basic, so forget working the exposure triangle with it.  What you do get are special modes for macro, presets for portraits, landscapes etc., as you would with a zone-focused camera.  There’s White Balance adjustment, exposure compensation and a self-timer, all of which do the job.  There is enough about it to be tactile and experimental, something that I personally cannot say about any phone.  Best of all, the IXUS750 can be had for under 50 quid, which I actually think is a bit of a bargain.  

Perhaps then, the renewed interest in this old tech does actually make sense for those looking to escape the constant battle for megapixels, 8K video and novel ways to upload to Instagram.  It occurred to me that my generation is fortunate enough to have lived through some landmark shifts in technology, encapsulated by the digital revolution in personal computing, imaging and music.  We are also fortunate, in my opinion, to witness the acknowledgement of those past innovations for what they were, by a generation not old enough to remember the first time around.  Call it nostalgia, or call it curiosity, I think it’s pretty cool.  I also love the idea of appreciate and ‘re-use’ over ‘replace’, something that is more environmentally conscientious than vinyl or film photography appears to be in the 21st Century.  As far as I’m concerned, they should keep it going.  If they could just unearth the mini-disc, that would make me a very happy man. 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera creativity digital gear inexpensive inexpensive gear learning nostalgia obsolete tech photographer photography rediscover retro revival simplicity technology tuition vintage https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/7/olds-cool-apparently Tue, 04 Jul 2023 17:51:21 GMT
That Elusive Devil https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/6/that-elusive-devil As I write this post, I am sitting in a deckchair, next to my campervan.  We’re away for the weekend, so that I can continue my training for the 12km swim that I am doing next month.  The campsite where we are staying is blissfully quiet, so my only real companions this morning are the birds, singing in the trees overhead.  My wife has gone for a run, most of the other campers don’t appear to have surfaced yet, so I feel like I have the place to myself.   When these moments present themselves, which isn’t all that often, I tend to go into a reflective mood.  This morning is no different.  Today’s subject?  Preparedness.

This weekend actually started on Thursday, when my wife had to go to her office in Bristol.  I love Bristol for many reasons, but principally for its chilled-out vibe and the opportunities it presents for people watching.  As a photographer, people watching is usually a segue into the genre of Street Photography, which has been popular since the 1930s. Perhaps the most famous street photographer of them all was Henri Cartier-Bresson, who’s concept of The Decisive Moment, revolutionised the whole act of composing and shooting some action unfolding before us.  In layman’s terms, the decisive moment is an instant in time when something is captured, where nothing in the frame has been nor will be repeated either side of it.  Everything in the composition has a role within the picture, with nothing superfluous to describing the moment being included.  The viewer is presented with all the visual references needed to make sense of what the picture is, and derive some meaning from it.  There are many famous examples of the decisive moment throughout photography and it’s a notion that is regularly reassessed and challenged by artists to this day.  That’s not what I was reflecting on, however.  My wife and I had come up with a plan, where we would drive to her office on Thursday, I would spend the day in Bristol, and after she’d finished her work we would head straight to the campsite near Cirencester, which is closer than it would be to return home first.  I’d decided that this was an opportunity to experiment with some street photography, by using a slightly longer focal length lens than is usual.  The genre usually involves a small 35mm camera with a 28, 35 or 50mm lens fitted, in order to capture the action and whatever visual context is elsewhere in the scene, that will encourage the viewer to look at the whole frame.  28 and 35mm lenses are considered ‘wide-angle’ in terms of field of view, so are perfect for capturing those details, with the only drawback being that you have to get close to the subjects.  Street photographers who use these focal lengths tend to be pretty confident people, because alerting the subject(s) to them being photographed not only potentially alters ‘the moment’, but their reaction could become aggressive it they took exception to it.  For example, Bruce Gilden used to literally push his camera and flash gun close to the faces of his subjects, while shooting on the streets of New York.  Most people either flinched or forced themselves to ignore what was happening, but some reacted angrily.  Using a short focal length introduces some risks then, but the payoff is that wide angles offer interesting perspectives when shot closeup, while preserving more of the background context.  50mm is what’s known as a ‘normal’ lens for 35mm cameras as it closely represents what the human eye sees in its central field of view.  Cartier-Bresson used 50mm on a variety of Leica cameras, stating that he saw it as an extension of his eyeball.  Although these are traditions that date back 90 years or so, there’s nothing to stop someone using a longer focal length for street photography, and that is what I wanted to do.  There were a few good reasons, of course, the first being that when shooting digitally, my options are not all that great for this genre of photography.  My DSLRs are really noisy, with a mirror flapping up and down every time a picture is taken.  The best way of drawing unwanted attention to what you’re doing, is to use a camera that screams “look at me!”.  I have many film cameras that would do the job, but I didn’t really want to shoot film on this occasion, because I still have a backlog of developing get through before I return to that medium.  The only digital camera without a noisy mirror was my compact Sony which, although quiet, has no viewfinder and needs to be composed using the rear screen.  Again, if you don’t want to draw attention to yourself, best not use a camera where you’re waving your arms in the air like some demented chimpanzee.  Another more technical reason was the separation that can be achieved when using a longer focal length at a wider aperture.   Separation of the subject from background, where the latter details gradually blur out of focus, doesn’t fit the traditions of street photography or indeed Bresson’s decisive moment.  It does help draw the viewer to into the key subject in the frame though.  Again, traditional approaches didn’t mean that I couldn’t experiment with it a little.  I chose an 85mm f/1.4 lens to go shooting with, which traditionally used for portraiture.  The advantage of this lens, apart from its speed, was that I could compose from a comfortable distance with a setup that, from the subject’s perspective, looks like I’m shooting something broader, because it doesn’t look telephoto.   My plan was simple enough: walk around the city observing anything around 20m or so away from me, shooting with an aperture between f/4 and f/8 to get that separation of subject from background, but leaving enough of the latter for the image to make sense.  The day was great fun, as the sun was shining, and everyone in the city appeared to be having a good time.  

 

All photographs: Nikon D300, 85mm f/1.4, ISO250, Yellow Filter

However, when I returned to the van to edit the pictures, that’s when I realised that my seemingly careful planning of the shoot was somewhat lacking.  My old DSLR uses a Compact Flash memory card, which is generally used less and less in modern digital cameras, most manufacturers now choosing to favour smaller SD cards instead.  I have a card reader, but which I’d forgotten to bring with me.  In the event of this occurring (it does more frequently than I’d like), I can download the images from the camera directly, using a mini-USB cable and adapter for my MacBook, which has only USB-C compatible ports.  Of course, I had brought every conceivable cable with me in my camera bag, for connecting lots of other devices, except for that type.  Now, in the grand scheme of things, the ability to download and edit pictures immediately after shooting isn’t really all that important.  It was frustrating though, and it led me to reflect on how I tend to approach things these days and the conclusion was ‘increasingly lazy when considering the finer details’.  I’ll have an idea for a project, plan it to a point and then get shooting.  While you can’t plan creativity to the n’th degree, the practical details appear to get lost in my haste to get to the part that I most enjoy about photography.  What I find interesting is that I didn’t used to be this poorly organised in my previous career, where the smallest details needed to be captured and understood.  You couldn’t design a solution to a problem, for example, without carefully having planned how to validate that it works, both predictably and reliably.  You cannot just rush to what you believe the end goal is in an engineering environment.  Of course, coincident to my reflections here was the terrible news of the loss of five people aboard the Titan deep sea submersible.  With the realisation that the worst scenario has now happened, the questions have immediately started circulating about the machine, the robustness of its design and its suitability for the use in one of the harshest environments on the planet. It is wrong to speculate about such things while investigations are ongoing, and I won’t do that here.  However, as human beings we cannot help ourselves but ask ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ when something in our plans, whether trivial or serious, goes wrong.  What I’ve realised is that I sometimes focus too much on ‘letting go’, a criticism levelled at me by a few of my university tutors previously, in order to be creative and make photographs, leaving the other more mundane details to take care of themselves.  Perhaps I should be planning the practical side more to begin with, and give myself the space to create afterwards, rather than think of it as a single process.  As Burns said “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men, gang aft a-gley”, which make sense.  However, Nietzsche put what I see to be the counter suggestion, “The Devil is in the Detail” and I think he may have been on to something there.  

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist being prepared black and white blog camera creativity decisive moment digital experimentation inspiration no rules photographer photography simplicity street photography tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/6/that-elusive-devil Mon, 26 Jun 2023 17:14:35 GMT
Let Me Take Care of That for You. Considering Artificial Intelligence in Photography https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/6/let-me-take-care-of-that-for-you-considering-artificial-intelligence “As far as I am concerned, this is not photography”, some opinionated guy said to his bemused friends.  A lively discussion followed, before everyone decided that the meeting had overrun, and it was time to stop.   This happened last week on the regular call that I have with my fellow students.  The guy? That would be me.   

We were discussing a topic that, unless you’ve been living in the wilderness for the past year, has been a regular news item on almost every news outlet; that of Artificial Intelligence, or AI.  We got onto this slightly controversial chat because one of our group had uploaded an AI ‘photograph’ for our image challenge, just for the fun of it.  The conversation that followed was fascinating to me because my strong, and not particularly humble, opinion was met with some great arguments in support of the technology.  Our group is made up of very talent photographers, each with different experiences, genres of interest and styles of learning, which results in us all learning from each other.  After this call, I was left reflecting on what AI really means for the creative arts and whether I will ever likely use it. 

Artificial Intelligence, outside television and the blockbuster movie space, has been around for decades.  The idea of using machines to learn and think was postulated by Alan Turing, widely recognised as the father of modern computing, in his 1950 paper Computing Machinery and Intelligence, a lengthy debate about whether intelligence can be truly ascribed to a machine and how it might be tested.  Turing was limited by the technology of his time which though, unknown to most civilians, included computing machines that he developed during his code-breaking work in the Second World War.  With the evolution of computers, came the inevitable continuation of AI research, and eventually it started to become part of our everyday lives at some level or another.  We have the obvious examples, such as satellite systems in our cars, that can plan optimal routes and automatically adapt them with changing traffic conditions, smart speakers that can recognise voice commands, shuffle music that we might like etc., but we also have the more subtle uses too.  Social media, for example, uses sophisticated learning algorithms to present us with recommendations and tailored advertising based on what it they see as our interests.  We also have plugins for commonly used software like, well, Adobe Photoshop.  Being a regular user of its sister program for many years, Lightroom, I’ve seen the tools become more sophisticated, but its only recently that they added AI in the shape of noise reduction to the suite.  This kind of software has existed for a few years in other produces like Topaz Denoise AI, but it was only this change in my own workspace where I noticed the considerable difference in performance to how I was working previously.   Prior to the current version, reducing noise in a photograph was a process of trial and error, selecting the pixel size, deciding how much detail to preserve, masking etc.  Without using batch editing, it could be a fairly time-consuming process.  The new version presents the simple option of ‘how much do you want?’ as a percentage and takes care of everything else.  I used it for the first time a couple of weeks ago and, despite causing my elderly Macbook Pro some pain, it yielded impressive results.  So, AI for supportive tools that take more and more workload off is brilliant and harmless, right?.   Well, maybe not.  In his paper, Turing said of the objections to machine intelligence “The consequences of machines thinking would be too dreadful. Let us hope and believe that they cannot do so.", referring to the idea that ‘thinking’ machines could eventually lead to our subjugation or, worse still, our destruction.  Such fears have been creative fodder for the movie industry, with such films as Terminator, or the scarily realistic Ex Machina.  The news items that are around us daily, talk of people getting ChatGPT to write something that is passed off as original, or as in the context of my student call, creating ultra-realistic images that could be mistaken for actual photographs.  The image that was submitted in our photo challenge was created by an online AI research platform called MidJourney, and in essence it works by using a series of text descriptions, similar to metadata, to create an image. The software can also analyse an existing image to determine a set of text descriptors, and this is what my friend did to respond to the challenge’s brief.  He got MidJourney to analyse our ‘theme image’ and then used its own description as the information for it to create a new image.  When I was preparing to write this blog, I asked him to do the same with one of my photographs to see how close to the original it might be and, as I hope you agree, the results were remarkable. 

Abbey Mill, Tewkesbury, by Richard Fletcher

This photograph was shot with on film using a square format medium format camera.  Apart from dust removal and small adjustments to create the final photograph, it’s pretty much as shot.  

Output from MidJourney using the text: "black and white image of mill and bridge up river, in the style of dramatic movement, contemporary landscapes, hasselblad 1600f, vibrant airy scenes, dark sky-blue and white, shiny, suburban ennui capturer"

MidJourney created a number of versions for me to choose from and I’ve included the ones that best represents the original.  We see a building on a bridge, over a fast moving river, set in dramatic stormy conditions, much like mine.  The key elements work, such as the long exposure of the water, the light is coming from a consistent direction, the look and feel of contrasty black and white photography, and the aspect ratio.  I think it’s a pretty good effort with relatively little actual data.

Did I have an epiphany when I saw these, to the extent that I re-evaluated my opening comment?  Well, not really.  I certainly do not see this as ‘photography’ because the term inherently means ‘drawing with light’.  I don’t see photography in the traditional terms of being pure, truthful or incorruptible, because that’s all frankly nonsense.  Artists have been using photography to subvert stories or perspectives on the world since its conception.  We’ve been able to modify images to create rhetoric and alter narratives with ease as digital camera and editing technology has advance.  At its heart, though, it is a medium that represents what a real object or situation, even if the artist conceptually plays with how that representation might be interpreted by the viewer.   What I acknowledge after this exercise, and with some further prompting from my fellow friends, is that AI’s birth as a creative tool is very similar to that of photography, which suffered derision and suspicion from the painters of the mid-19th Century.  It evolved into a creative art in its own right because an artist used a tool to be creative.  All that has changed in the case of AI is the ability to create in a non-visual way.  The output is digital art, which is still art if it speaks to people about something related to the human condition.  If the spark of creativity comes from a different source and the computer does the leg work, who really cares?  After reading an article about how the use of text influences the context of a photograph, something the viewer is unaware of when looking at an AI image, I got to thinking about how this technology might work when in the hands of a true wordsmith.  If, for example, a poet were to write the text descriptors, what would the resulting image represent?  Would the AI be able to articulate, in some form, the poet’s ideas visually?  If a brilliant writer like the late, great Terry Pratchett had used AI, would we have a different sense of wonder when thinking about his fantasy realms?  Where would this ‘intermediate’ interpretation leave the ideas that Barthes’ postulated in The Death of the Author, where the burden of interpretation shifts to the reader (or viewer in this case)?  Sometimes, as in the case of William Fox Talbot, experimental technology unwittingly takes our skills in other areas to whole new levels.  Fox Talbot was a frustrated sketch artist, who used a camera obscura to help guide his pencil, before wanting to find a way to permanently freeze the image.  His technical mind created one of the inventions acknowledged as the beginning of photography, the silver and salt process.  Could a similarly inventive person take AI and digital art into a whole new direction by trying to overcome a creative problem?  I think so, which is why my perspective has shifted from where I belligerently started.  Yes, there are valid concerns about where AI images could find their way into a chain of evidence or derail a criminal prosecution.  It will undoubtedly get the ‘Fake News’ brigade excited too, who are keen to present a ‘truth’ that could do with some much-needed credibility.  Then again, if we need technology to protect core values like our courts, schools, media, etc, that will need to be developed alongside.  The media portrayal of the evil genius waiting to take over the world has been with us throughout the work on the human genome, the development of fertility treatment and genetic engineering of vaccines for so long that we are naturally afraid of anything new and complicated.  For now, I think AI is actually a potentially powerful tool, as long as we see it for what it is and what it is not.  Also, the engineer in me can’t help but want to play with it myself, now that I’ve seen that potential.  As a photographer though, I’m not interested in it forming part of my work, choosing instead to happily shoot with my ever-growing collection of film cameras.  The former may influence the latter in the end, though. If that happens, I guess I’m going to Photography Hell. Could someone put the kettle on when I get there?

Link to the article about AI and Text: https://www.lensculture.com/articles/gregory-eddi-jones-49-23-considering-technology-ai-and-photography

My thanks to Mark Racle for driving MidJourney and to my fellow students for widening my gaze.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) AI artificial intelligence artist blog camera creativity digital digital art film interpretation learning perspective persuasive argument photography technology traditionalism tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/6/let-me-take-care-of-that-for-you-considering-artificial-intelligence Wed, 21 Jun 2023 18:29:05 GMT
Never Gonna Give You Up https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/6/never-gonna-give-you-up This week I find myself contemplating a photography decision I made a couple of years back.  If anyone thought this post was a Rick Roll, a link to Mr Astley’s 1980s smash hit, I’m sorry (not sorry) to disappoint.  No, the decision I refer to was covered in End of the Aerochrome Road, where I tried, and failed, to get some decent images from the magical and incredibly rare film stock, Kodak Aerochrome Colour Infrared.   I’d stalked that film for several years, finally parting with a large sum of money for 3 rolls of it in 35mm, which went straight in the deep freeze.  Why was this film so special?   Well, Aerochrome was sensitive to light just beyond the end of the red region of the visible spectrum, called the near infrared.  The arrangement of the film’s layers and the dyes that formed in processing, meant that some properly funky colour shifts appeared in the final slide.  It was developed for ‘military and commercial’ applications and it’s easy to see why.  Used properly, the film highlighted some subjects better than others owing to the way IR light was reflected from them.  Man-made objects appear easily discriminated from the natural vegetation, which in turn stood out from water and so on.  Being able to see man-made structures hidden in vegetation has obvious military applications, but the film was also used for environmental surveys, where the types of vegetation could be observed.  Years later, it became a creative tool, most notably when Richard Mosse documented the conflict in the Congo on 16mm movie film (linked here). The main problem with Aerochrome is that it’s easy to get it wrong.  First, there’s the choice of which filter to use to block out large parts of the visible spectrum.  Then there is the matter of focus, which is slightly offset from where we would focus in the visible. Most of all, though, the issues of the film being expired (it was discontinued in 2008) and loading the film in total darkness present significant challenges.  If you don’t compensate for the degradation in sensitivity because of the former, you can easily get underexposed slide film, which is frankly the worst thing in film photography as far as I’m concerned.  Compensating for expired slide film is not quite as straightforward as for negative film, which typically involves overexposing by around a stop of light for every decade past the expiry date, depending on who you listen to. Slide film is notorious for having little in terms of exposure latitude, so overexposure is a veritable minefield. Too much, and the highlights become washed out and, because of the film is positive, unrecoverable.   Finally, forget to load in darkness or at least incredibly low light and, well, you’re royally screwed.  All but that last one happened to me on all three rolls of film that I had.  I knew that it had been stored correctly from supplier to my freezer, sent the rolls to a company that specialised in handling IR film for processing, and shot it in a professional SLR that I knew was able to handle it, my Nikon F6.  It was a disaster.  With the increasing rarity of Aerochrome and the eyewatering prices to match, I decided to call it quits. 

Then by chance, as I was looking for some sheet film in my stock, I noticed a film that I’d completely forgotten about, Rollei IR400.    This is a film that, like Aerochrome, is sensitive to light in the near infrared, although nowhere near as much.  It’s black and white, and more importantly, it’s still in production.  What if I had a go with this stuff instead?   Thing is, I’d had shot Rollei IR400 previously, which explained why I had some in my freezer.   Unfortunately, in an experience similar to its colour cousin, I didn’t do the best job with it.  I was still fairly new to shooting film at the time, so I thought it would be much the same as any other stock.  I did some research, picked up a Leica IR filter, which is a very dark red colour, and cockily started shooting anything I could find when the sun was out.  Pretty soon it became apparent that I’d been caught out by focus and metering.  There are a few problems with shooting IR in a modern 35mm SLR camera, the first being that if there is autofocus, it probably won’t be able to ‘see’ through the dark filter (dark red or orange are the popular ones), so you need to focus without the filter in place, then add it afterwards, remembering to switch off any autofocus system before pressing the shutter button.  That amount of faffing pretty much rules out handheld shooting.  You could, like me, use a rangefinder, where composition and focus are not achieved by viewing through the lens.  The second issue is as I said before, focus is slightly offset for IR, so simply focusing for visible light will introduce some tiny error.   Most photographers get around this by buying older lenses that have IR focus distances marked on their barrels or using a small aperture, say greater than f/11 to provide a larger depth of focus.  Me?  I just went ahead and shot that film wide open, which meant that quite a few of my photographs were blurry where I’d missed focus altogether.  Some might call this ‘creative’, but I call it a bit shit.  When it came to metering, there was another error that I made.  Rollei IR400 is rated, well, at ISO400, which is pretty fast.  However, when you slap a dark piece of glass in front of the lens, the light has to work much harder to get to the film, hence a dramatic drop in the equivalent film speed.  In fact, with an R72 filter the attenuation of the light is around 6 stops, which drops it to around 6.25.  I had the Leica IR filter, I couldn’t find any attenuation information for.   I could easily have measured it, but I am, frankly, lazy.  I metered my shots at anywhere between 12.5 and 25, so ended up with plenty of underexposure and ‘crusty’ grain, neither of which I am a fan. 

Here’s the thing, though.  None of that mattered when I first saw the flawed images.  Black and white IR film is just stunning.   Like the colour version, the contrast between the luminance of different surfaces, like water, ground and the sky is huge, but in this case it presents as tonal rather than shifted colour.  Clear skies tend towards black, foliage brilliant white and man-made structures ghostly.  Speaking of ghostly, try shooting a portrait with this stuff and your subject takes on an other-worldly glow.  It’s a great film stock if you fancy making some ‘authentic’ Victorian-style ghost photographs, although nobody is fooled by that anymore. 

Malvern Priory (2017)

Leytonstone (2017), featuring some dangerous measures to get 'that shot' 

Since my disastrous foray into colour IR, I’d pretty much given up on this type of film.  However, I’ve developed (pardon the pun) so much as a photographer in the years since those first rolls of Rollei, that I’m excited to give it another go.  I’ve bought an R72 filter that will fit most of my modern Nikon lenses and have loaded some 35mm into the F6.  Something must have subconsciously told me not to quit, because for some reason I had bought some Rollei 4x5 sheet film at some point, which I can shoot in my Crown Graphic. I am excited to see how those special tones come out on a large format scale, once I’ve mastered shooting the smaller version.  I say mastered, but in all honesty, predicting exactly how different subjects will reflect light in the near-IR band is a little hit and miss.  It’s what separates these film stocks from the more conventional and is why some photographers see it as an ultimate creative tool.  As we enter the summer in the UK, I now just need to go out and find some subjects and experiment with it.  So, as Rick would say, “we know the game and, we’re gonna play it”. Well, for now, at least.  I’ll share whatever comes of it in a few week’s time.  

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) Aerochrome artist blog camera creativity film film photography infrared Kodak learning persevering photography rollei trying again tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/6/never-gonna-give-you-up Mon, 12 Jun 2023 08:23:36 GMT
I Ain’t Afraid of No Change https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/5/i-ain-t-afraid-of-no-change Afraid of change?  Of course I am.  Perhaps ‘afraid’ is the wrong word, but I am definitely a creature of habit who is apprehensive of change.  Some people are excited by it, citing that old idiom “a change is as good as a rest”.  They relish the adventure, which I understand but don’t really relate to.  I’m happy if an activity or situation that I enjoy, remains the same because it gives me a sense of comfort and familiarity.  There is one area of my life, however, where I welcome change of all kinds, and that is in the art world.   What started me on this train of thought was an exhibition that I visited in New York last week.  The Gustav Klimt: Gold In Motion exhibition at Hall des Lumières was a different look at the work of the great Austrian painter in an immersive show with several other artists.   The gallery, which is in an former bank, opened last year and this was its first and rather unusual exhibition.  The show was a complex curation of animations of the artists’ works that dynamically projected on all of the walls and floors of the huge gallery space.  Visitors sat on small benches placed around the space, which meant that they were part of this digital canvas throughout the presentation.  The accompanying soundtrack further reinforced the idea of it being immersive, and I can honestly say that it was the most remarkable exhibition I’ve ever been to.  What interested me was the way that images of Klimt’s work, which are themselves captivating in their combining of traditional portraiture and the symbolism of still life, were presented as a moving picture.  What this does is effectively transpose Klimt into something new.  In one sequence, the famous Pallas Athena (1898), which depicts the Greek goddess Athena in golden battle armour, is introduced one element at a time.  First came her helmet, then just the eyes, which hold a very expressive gaze, followed by the rest of her face, and then figure.  Seeing the painting this way is not necessarily as the artist intended it to be viewed.  Instead, we are looking at the animator’s vision for the painting, which is then curated by the exhibition directors to appear within a wider sequence with accompanying drama added by the soundtrack.  The impact on me was to elevate the drama of the original painting (which you can find here) and to draw particular attention to how Klimt had represented Athena’s gaze, which is one of defiant strength.  When we left the exhibition, we resolved to visit the Neue Gallerie in the Upper East Side, which was founded to showcase Austrian artworks that had been recovered after the Nazi looting during the Second World War.  This gallery contains several of Klimt’s work, including perhaps his most famous painting Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907) which you can see here.  I was surprised at how I viewed these works, i.e., everything presented at the same time, with the animation and the details that I overlooked previously.  This got me thinking about how enriching it was to see art presented in more than one way, but also how there is a great deal of reluctance toward and almost protest against it.   I was reminded of the furore the blew up around the BBC’s reinterpretation of the story of Queen Anne Boleyn last year, in which the principal characters were played by black actors, and the ongoing debate about the race and gender of the next James Bond actor.  While I understand that the internet gives everyone an opinion on everything, and that these views will undoubtedly cause friction and anger in others, I think it goes beyond the simple refusal to accept change.  When we see a powerful piece of art that provokes a memorable response in us, whether intellectually or emotionally, that memory lasts a very long time.  For lovers of history, the story of Anne Boleyn is a factual event, even though there is a great deal of artistic licence in the seemingly factual telling of her story.  Since her short life is subject to documentary evidence and eyewitness accounts, we automatically assume that it must be told ‘truthfully’.  However, her story has been told and retold for nearly 500 years. Each telling of that story is an interpretation of the events by teachers, historians and, of course, writers.  Similar to Magritte’s The Treachery of Images (1929), "This is not Anne Boleyn, but a representation of her",  So with this in mind, why not reimagine the story with a cast of black actors?  Can we not re-interpret a story without being accused of ‘wokeism’ or being a ‘snowflake’ (two expressions that I loathe intensely, incidentally).   The same goes for James Bond which is, at its heart, a piece of literary fiction.  Similar protests about the choice of actor for that role happened when Daniel Craig took the role back in 2006.  Cries of “you can’t have a blond, blue-eyed man play this character” echoed around the internet, but now, 17 years later Craig is almost universally accepted as a great characterisation of the famous super spy. In short, we might not like a reinterpretation, we might reject it on the basis of perceived inaccuracy or just not like a specific detail about the work, but art is supposed to provoke some form of reaction.  It is the very definition of art’s place in the human experience.  Job done then, I reckon. 

After we left the Hall des Lumières, we walked around the corner to another reminder of the power of art and memory, the famous Hook and Ladder 8 building in Tribeca.   This was the exterior location for the Ghostbusters headquarters, first seen in the 1984 film. 

Who ya gonna call?  The FDNY, naturally. This fire station is actually called Ghostbusters HQ on Google Maps

I was 11 when the film was released and I vividly remember the hype and excitement among my peers about going to see it.  We were excited by the visuals, the logo, the special effects etc and the apparently endless merchandising aimed at our age-group was mindboggling (it was the 80s after all)  Now, aged 50, I was standing outside their HQ, which bears the large sign and some painted artworks on the pavement outside, despite being a working fire station.  Having thought about the Klimt exhibition, I wasn’t at all surprised to see a steady throng of Ghostbusters fans of all ages, taking selfies outside this building that they had a strong connection to.  The release of 3 films since that original in 1984 has cemented the iconic references in many people who on this day, like me, were really happy to see the place.  Ironically, the franchise also included a non-canon film with an all-female cast, a reimagining that I personally thought was pretty lazy, to be honest.  Nevertheless, I was able to choose not to go and see it and am similarly able to decide not to condemn it either.  The negative reaction in me was valid and I guess that’s what I’m getting at.  We should all take in art in whatever form it takes, whether classical or original, reimagined or a homage to, and extract from it whatever we can. Whatever our reaction, we should respect it for what it is and if possible, learn something from it as I did with the Klimt exhibition.  For me, it’s an aspect of change that I ain’t afraid of.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) art artist blog creativity exhibition Gustav iconography inspiration Klimt' learning memory narrative New York photographer photography symbolism tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/5/i-ain-t-afraid-of-no-change Sat, 06 May 2023 17:08:23 GMT
To 'shop or not to 'shop https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/3/to-shop-or-not-to-shop That is the question?  Well, it’s certainly a question and not one about hitting the high street or eBay with my increasingly anxious credit card.  It’s not intended to be a cheap rip-off of Shakespeare either, even if it looks that way.  The ‘shop’ here is Photoshop, although other editing programs are available of course.  For a while now, I’ve been reflecting on how my photographic practice has evolved over the past decade or so.  I’m not talking specifically about the technical ability to shoot a picture, which has naturally had to change given the number of different old cameras I now use.  Nor am I specifically talking about creativity, which is something that continually changes with whatever project I’m working on, as well as within my studies.  When I refer practice here, I mean the complete process from concept through to finished photograph, which includes the murky area of post-processing. 

Post processing isn’t anything new.  Since the early days of printing on photosensitive material, photographers experimented with a variety of elements in the production of a final image.  Variation in the emulsion, processing chemicals, temperatures and times, produced different results, any of which might be the preferred look. By the time photo papers for printing had become mainstream, darkroom techniques to achieve the best possible outcome from the original negative had become quite sophisticated.  Photographers would make a contact or test print which,in the case of the former, is simply laying a negative onto a paper and exposing through it.  The resulting print would then be annotated with a marker pen with the areas of the image that needed adjusting in during the making of the final piece.   Dodging and Burning became the techniques to lift shadows and retard highlights as the paper was being exposed.  The former involved temporarily blocking the light falling onto the paper, thus lightening the area when developed, while the latter involved exposing an area for longer.  Although I’ve never printed in a darkroom, I remember watching my Dad waving his hand over the areas that needed dodging, like some kind of magician waving a wand.  You couldn’t see the results until the paper was subsequently developed in the chemical baths, so it was all a case of judging the timing in both techniques.  The real skill was judging how long was too much and obviously how short was too little.  

When digital technology became the norm, the need for these skills largely disappeared with the decline in film photography, however they do survive today in the many software packages used to carry out post-processing.  Like all technology, the developers continually push for more and more tools and features for their digital users.  That is the purpose of this post, to share my thoughts on how much is too much and what is just right for my personal taste.

A few weeks ago, a photography Instagram account appeared in my stream (shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone) and the image being shared was a dramatic, contrasty portrait of a young woman.  It was certainly an expressive piece of work, but immediately clear to me that it had been processed to the point where it was no longer really a photograph.  Ever since my project on internet trolls last year, I’ve found myself automatically looking at the comments on these kinds of posts, as if I instinctively know that these morons will have something unkind to say about them.  Sure enough, there was outrage (not too strong a word) at the fact that the picture was ‘not a photograph’.  This image was an "Artificial Intelligence creation" at best, or a "clumsy attempt to be interesting" at worst.  Their views were that photography was a pure and truthful medium, which in actual fact couldn’t be further from the truth.  The act of transferring what is in front of the lens onto the sensor or film is scientific enough, but that certainly does not make it truthful.  As well as manipulating the technology as I mentioned before, photographers have pretty much always done the same to the subject, setting, lighting, context etc to make an image that they visualise. They may want to portray something honestly, but truth really doesn’t come into it.  I wasn’t surprised by the angst about the picture I was looking at, because I am a traditionalist at heart and my own work tends to be traditional in style.  However, the use of post processing in this case was pushing the aesthetic into what I consider the digital art space.  Although art is a complex concept to define, most experts agree that it’s an expression of human creativity that evokes some emotional response in the viewer.  To this end, the picture was a valid artwork as it grabbed my attention and invoked a sense of wonder about it, but admittedly I felt it had less in common with photography than perhaps a painting would have.  It stuck me that the anger at somehow contaminating the medium of photography seems to stem from the use of technology to hide errors or improve on something that wasn’t done properly in the first place. Did this digital art image start out as a poorly executed portrait?  As I said, the tools and features of most post-processing software does suggest that you can make a bad image better and, if so inclined, make something completely different from it. 

 

This guy (guilty as charged) thought he was being gritty and interesting in 2014. In fact, he was just being a bit of a dick

 I’ve found from my own experiences that extreme post-processing isn’t something that interests or appeals to me as a photographer, for a number of reasons.  The first relates to my film work, which I do because I like the look of particular film stocks, so naturally don’t want to lose that in the final piece.  The second is simpler, I just cannot be bothered to learn how to do it.  Whenever I use Photoshop, I usually spend the first half an hour re-learning the basic stuff that I’d used months ago when  last attempting to use the software.  I end up sliding controls and pressing buttons like a sugar-fuelled toddler with a crayon, resulting in something that is almost immediately deleted.  Instead, I tend to stick to the basic editing techniques that photographers used to use, like making small adjustments to exposure, dodging, burning and also dust removal, something either caused by pollen insisting on sticking itself to my DSLR sensor or my 130 year old house depositing crap all over my negatives.  The tools really help me when I look at a photograph and wish that we’d had a particular filter with me or had metered the subject slightly differently.  

 

From the Worcester Big Parade 2021, shot on Kodak Ektar.  Thought the sky could do with toning down a bit

Selecting the sky as an adjustment mask and shown here in pink so we can see the area that will be affected

Adjusted image.  Note the use of 'Burn' in the menu.  Have exaggerated the effect so it's more obvious on all displays

These sorts of mistakes can easily be corrected without losing the visual meaning of the original image, or the rationale for taking it in the first place.  That’s not to say that I’m against digital art, artificial intelligence adding creative elements or even adding a 1970s polaroid look to a phone shot for social media (although I would personally just buy a Polaroid camera, to be honest).  For me, digital art is like any other natural evolution of creativity, as photography was in the 19th Century.  Some painters of that era saw this new upstart as bordering on heresy, and some thought it would destroy painting altogether. However, what happened was nowhere near that dramatic. Photography took its position as a bone fide art form over the following 150 years and it’s the drive to explore new ideas and produce something original that has evolved it into what we have today, including the ability to digitally ‘create’.   If that’s your bag, then fair enough.  Just ask yourself, when your finger hovers over that fancy filter or other creative algorithm, why you might want to over-process and whether it really is a creative decision or merely something to do.   The key thing is to create something that expresses your subject or yourself, in whatever form suits your purpose.  That’s how we grow as artists.   Oh, and ignoring the trolls of course. 

 

 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera creativity digital digital art film learning photographer photography post-processing tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/3/to-shop-or-not-to-shop Thu, 23 Mar 2023 11:03:27 GMT
Let the light in, but not through there https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/3/let-the-light-in-but-not-through-there A few weeks ago, a friend and I visited an unusual location to take some photographs.  In the village of Purton in Gloucestershire is a graveyard of small boats and barges that were deliberately beached on the banks of the River Severn during the last century.  The idea was to create an artificial embankment to prevent flood water from the river from flowing into the nearby Gloucester and Sharpness canal, at the narrowest point of separation.  The resulting graveyard is an eerie but fascinating place, with the remains of wooden and concrete vessels sticking out of the ground.  I’d visited before and taken, among others, the image that is on the front page of my website.  The plan this time was for my friend to practice his photography skills and for me to shoot some pictures for a series that I’m working on about the reclaimed landscape.  His camera was digital and my weapon of choice was my Hasselblad 500c/m.  

I’ve written about the ‘Hassie’ on here previously, because while on holiday at the end of last summer, it spectacularly failed while I was out shooting in the middle of nowhere (see the post Blad Hassle linked here).  I was able to repair it once I’d got back to our rented cottage, but the shoot was a bit of a disaster as a result.  I’ve used the camera regularly since then, without any issues.  The key thing to remember here is that this camera, although legendary in status because of its optical and mechanical build quality, is nearly 40 years old.  It’s never been serviced during the time I’ve owned it, because I’ve found the shutter speeds to be pretty accurate and, as the old adage goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  The issue it had in September was traced to one of the three lenses that I have, and I’ve since found that regular use is what prevents that particular problem from reoccurring.  

We arrived at the ship graveyard and were blessed with plenty of winter sunshine, which I find to be much softer than later in the year.  I was shooting Kodak Ektar 100 film, which is the stock I’d selected from the wider series and I had a few rolls in the bag to ensure that I got the shots I wanted.  It was a great day, with lots of fresh air, laughs and both of us shooting some really interesting images…or so I thought.   A few days after sending the film away to the lab to be developed, I received the negatives.  The pictures were indeed good, but they had one thing in common….they were completely ruined by a light leak.   For the uninitiated, cameras rely on whatever photosensitive medium it uses to be kept in complete darkness.  The only light you want hitting the film, sensor, tin plate, piece of glass etc, should be coming through the lens when the shutter opens.  If there is light coming in from elsewhere, it’s bad news.  For shooters of ‘didge’, the photo can simply be deleted, an expletive uttered and the camera sent away for repair.  For film shooters, it’s a slow and painful burn.  I’d shot three rolls of Ektar, which retail at around £16 per roll.  Add to that, the cost of developing, in this case a total of £18, I’d just lost 66 quid.  The emotional rollercoaster of believing I’d shot some good work, followed by the anticipation while waiting for them to be developed, and finally the total loss of all 36 frames, resulted in a lot of anger and a few tears.  So what happened?

Well, the Hasselblad 500 series system uses a removable film transport or ‘back’ that the film is first loaded into and then attached to the camera body.  As a professional system that was very popular in its heyday, the concept was that the photographer could continuously shoot by having pre-loaded backs ready to go, swapping them out when a film was finished.  When my Dad was a wedding photographer, he’d hand his film backs to his assistant, who would reload in the time it took him to finish his next roll of film.  I have 3 backs for my Hasselblad, one which came with the camera when I bought it, and two that I’d found on eBay later.  In the post-mortem of this incident, I realised that the back was the most recent one I’d purchased, some 3 years ago.  It transpired that I’d loaded it with film at the time, shot most of the roll and forgot about it (when I’d got to Purton, I’d finished the 2 frames left on that roll to empty the back ready for the Ektar). What this meant was, the back was untested.  On closer inspection of the unit and the negatives from the shoot, I can see that the light is entering the back via a damaged light seal, which is essentially just a couple of strips of foam and plastic.  The problem had always been there, but I’d been too lazy to test it beforehand and hadn’t seen the issue in time to save my photographs. 

One of the images with the light leak visible

I always accidentally seem to shoot a blank frame (not the camera's fault), which in this case shows the leak in all its glory

I didn’t write this post to confess to being an idiot, though (I could have done that in much fewer words).  What I wanted to discuss are the pitfalls of buying camera gear online without having the chance to physically handle it.   I’ve been really lucky with my collection, in that most of the cameras I’ve bought have met the ‘tests’ that I generally go through.  Only on a couple of occasions, has poor information or a rogue seller caused me to receive something that doesn’t work properly.   The questions I ask are relevant to both film and digital cameras but are perhaps more crucial when dealing with something that could be decades old.  The first question or check that I make is simple enough; ‘has it been tested?’.  If a seller indicates that a camera has been ‘film tested’, it’s reasonable to assume that they have gone through the process of shooting and developing.  They might add that the shutter speeds appear to all work fine, (which is of course subjective rather than objective) but if they’ve shot with the camera, it would be apparent if there were significant inaccuracies.  If the camera has a light-meter and it said to be film tested, even better. Mentions of a recent CLA (clean, lubricate and adjust) are the nirvana; the camera has really been treated well if this is the case.  If the seller says that it appears to be working, ask questions to elicit the information above. The second thing I want to know is the condition of the lens (if there is one) that’s being sold with it.  If there is any mention of lens fungus (yes, fungus can grow on the glass and its coatings), I always avoid.  Fungus can be removed, but it’s costly to have it done properly and you can never be sure that it has been completely removed.  There are lots of tales about fungus spreading between lenses in the same bag, but I’ve never seen any evidence of it.  If a seller doesn’t provide decent pictures of the lenses or fails to admit to damage, there are routes to return the equipment as ‘not as described’.   When it comes to digital cameras, the two additional things I always ask are “how many shutter releases has it had?” and “what is the condition of the battery?”.  The first question is like asking how many miles a car has on the clock.  If the camera has an electro-mechanical shutter and in the case of a DSLR, a mirror, it’s useful to know the wear and tear on the camera, particularly if it’s getting on bit.  Digital cameras came into the fore in the early 2000s, so some of them are over 20 years old now.  The good news is that most digital cameras, particularly the higher-end ones, keep a record of shutter releases.  The seller should be able to find out how to furnish you with that information.  If the camera has been extensively used, there is a risk it might need costly work to repair in the near future.  The battery question is a real gotcha.  Some camera manufacturers maintain battery designs for many years, for example Nikon have refined the design of the battery for the D6 and D6s cameras, but they kept them compatible with my old D4, which is 10 years old.  However, some manufacturers don’t and when they are discontinued, that’s it.  In these cases, you need to know how well the battery charges and holds its charge.  If it turns out to be a problem after you’ve bought it, the only option may be to buy a third-party battery.  This path is very risky, as there are some proper cowboys making batteries these days.  Aside from all that, buying used gear is a great idea as cameras are often useful beyond their ‘fashionable’ life.  In the case of film cameras, there are some proper bargains out there and with the right treatment, will probably still be working long after we have gone.  In fact, most of the original owners of my film camera collection are long dead.  Whatever you do, I hope you buy something and start making photographs as it’s very rewarding, even when it goes wrong.  In my case, I’ll go back to Purton soon with a film back that doesn’t leak.  It’s not as though the wrecks are going anywhere, is it?

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera cost creativity error faulty film learning light leak photographer photography ruined tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/3/let-the-light-in-but-not-through-there Wed, 15 Mar 2023 12:07:35 GMT
Your mission, should you choose to accept it... https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/3/your-mission-should-you-choose-to-accept-it Picture the scene.  You’re in total darkness, holding a thin, delicate strip of plastic in one hand and a small bobbin that resembles a Ferris wheel in the other.  The task that you have to perform is to thread the plastic strip through a gap in the bobbin that is barely wide enough for it to fit through, and fully wind it on.  You cannot see beyond the end of your nose and, to make things a bit more spicy, the temperature of the air is rising rapidly and there is no draft to cool it down.   It’s getting hot in here, and the success of the operation hangs in the balance. Welcome to a process that can, and in my case has, reduced a grown adult to tears.  We are developing film.  

More accurately we have only just started the process by loading our film onto a developing reel, before we have any ideas about actually recovering our precious images from it.  It may seem overly dramatic, but this stage is where many an issue arises.  Firstly, our film has previously been exposed to light through the camera shutter when we took the photos and remains sensitive until it is developed, so we have to prepare it in complete darkness. The normal method of loading film takes place in a ‘dark bag’, which is exactly what is sounds like; a light-tight bag that is accessed via a pair of elasticated arm holes.  It’s a bit like the bio-hazard box that our movie action heroes use to neutralise the infectious virus or diffuse the bomb, the only problem here being that everything has to be done by touch alone.  We must take time and care over handling the film in the bag, avoiding touching the emulsion surface that hopefully holds our prized images, making sure the threading is done evenly so we don’t kink the plastic substrate, and winding slowly so that the film doesn’t jump out of the guides within the reel…etc.   This effort in a confined space, makes us nervous, which in turn makes us start to sweat.  Did I mention that getting the film wet in any way during this process makes it sticky and much, much harder to handle?  Well, it does.  So much so, that the ‘film sweats’ is a real phenomenon and I, like many, have suffered from it more than once.  The increasing frustration with the now-humid bag, the sticky film and the reel that just won’t wind properly, must be eased somehow, because it’s one of those rare situations where perseverance actually gets you nowhere.  When the sweats strike, the only real solution I’ve found is to carefully remove your hands and stick the whole bag in the fridge to cool down.  It’s still not ideal, but luck may be onside, and the process might be recoverable.  However if all goes well during loading, the reel goes into a developing tank (that’s in the same bag) and sealed shut, so that the actual process can take place in daylight (a darkroom isn’t needed for this process, contrary to popular belief). 

The kit.  The chemical bath with the three B&W chemicals, the reel and the developing tank.

Give yourself a pat on the back because we’re halfway there, right?  Wrong. If the idea of blindly loading delicate film scares you, wait until you get into choosing chemicals, dilutions, temperatures, timings and all that jazz.  Developing film is what could be described as a commitment, that is simple enough in concept but needs practice and care to get right.  As the legendary golfer Gary Player pointed out, 'the more you practice the luckier you get'.   So, why would any sane person put themselves through this torment the first place?   Well, assuming that this question isn’t being asked of a solely digital shooter (that would be stupid), the answer is of course that developing your own film is a rewarding part of a creative process that started when you picked up a camera and chose a film that best matched your ideas.  When it comes to developing, there are a variety of options to bring out the creative vision within your images, affecting sharpness, contrast, highlight and shadow, resulting in a crafted piece of work.  For example, you could shoot a high contrast scene in black and white, deliberately underexpose the film, and compensate in development in a way that produces a grainy, but dramatic 'film noir' look.  Known as pushing film, this technique highlights how the relationship between shooting and processing is symbiotic.  Understanding how to process film is one of those specialisms where there is always something to learn and a huge number of resources available, even though film photography is a much smaller undertaking than it was in its pre-digital heyday.  Fantastic reference books such as Steve Anchell’s The Darkroom Cookbook, with its custom recipes for developing chemicals, take us right back to our high school chemistry lessons and required a level of competence that I don’t really have (I spent most of my science lessons chatting up the girl I sat next to).  However, through trial and significant error, a preferred developer or developers can be settled on easily enough.  Some people prefer to use developers that are specifically designed for a film stock and others like to experiment, even developing in a coffee and Vitamin C solution (known as caffenol).   My own experience to date has been to gain confidence in black and white development, experiment with pushing film as described before, and trying new film stocks.  I dabbled in colour negative development for a short while, which in theory is simpler than black and white in terms of choice of chemicals and developing times, but my results were so inconsistent owing to its sensitivity to temperature fluctuations, that I’ve elected to get them done by a professional lab in future.  Fortunately, the rise in the number of people shooting film has resulted in many great labs who develop a variety of formats, so this isn’t a problem to me.  I’ve yet to try developing colour positive film (slides to those of a certain age), but I will at some point.  Regarding my creative process, the truth is that despite the pitfalls and failures that I’ve encountered developing film, and there have been many, I enjoy the simple pleasure of making something physical.  There is something about seeing the film come off the reel at the end, seeing the negatives on a light box for the first time and producing a finished work from them, that is for me more rewarding that downloading a RAW file from a memory card.  When I was a kid, I thought of film photography, which was really the only medium available, as some form of magic and the chap in the local chemist who turned my 35mm cartridge into a packet of prints, some kind of wizard.  When I develop film now, I still get that slight child-like wonder when all has gone to plan.   

Attention!, shot on Kodak TMax 100 film in the Hasselblad 500c/m, developed by Yours Truly
 

My process, like many who don’t have a darkroom, is to scan the developed film and print from that using an inkjet printer.  This may seem like heresy, or some might question the decision to move into digits after all that analogue stuff, but to be honest it’s a convenience more than anything.  Although film is enjoying a revival and new stocks are being released or discovered faster than the discontinuations (I’m looking at you, Fujifilm), there has been a decline in printing papers that makes creating a darkroom seem a little limited to me.  This is just my opinion though, as I know there are people taking up wet printing in community darkrooms, which I do think is a great idea.  It’s just not for me. 

You may be wondering why I’m writing about this now. Well, a nasty bout of Covid-19 has somewhat cramped my style this past couple of weeks, so I’ve been using the time to work through my backlog of film.  I should really stay on top of it to begin with, but life does have a habit of getting in the way. Each roll I develop yields photographs that I’d almost forgotten about, which is a nice surprise when you feel a bit under the weather.  I would hardly describe the process as therapeutic, though.  It’s enough to make Mr Bond sweat. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera creativity developing film film gear learning photographer photography process tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/3/your-mission-should-you-choose-to-accept-it Tue, 07 Mar 2023 16:37:34 GMT
The Need for Calm https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/2/the-need-for-calm If you’re wondering why I’ve neglected this blog for a couple of weeks, the answer is that things have been fairly chaotic here as they always are at the beginning of a new year.  As most readers will know, I’m currently studying for a photographic degree via distance learning, which is definitely a marathon rather than a sprint.  The course is structured to run over several years rather than the 3 or 4 year full-time equivalents that ‘bricks and mortar’ universities offer.  While this might seem like a drag, which is in fact the reaction from most people when I tell them how long each unit is, I actually find that it has many benefits.  The first is the obvious one: I can fit it around everything else that goes on in daily life.  I’m no longer working a 9 to 5 job, but that doesn’t mean that things are quiet; life has the habit of getting in the way at times.  The second benefit is far more important though, in that it offers the opportunity to take time to learn and evolve as a photographer.  Studying largely by myself, I can delve into much more detail on any genre or practice that interests me than I would be able to if I was attending classes every day.  

There are disadvantages too, which I won’t bore you with beyond talking about the reason why the first two months of every year are chaotically busy.  It’s assessment time again.  What this means is that having completed a course module within the allotted time, the work needs to be prepared to be formally assessed at one of three ‘events’ during the year.  Owing to the timing of when I started the degree, mine always falls in line with spring assessment, which is held in March.  In practice, assessment is a fairly straightforward process, involving selecting work that represents what I’ve learned, ensuring that all feedback and reflection has been accounted for and general admin.  What it means emotionally is a different story.  The killer questions that I ask myself are “have I done enough?” and “is the work good enough?”.  As the deadline looms, there are always difficult decisions to make about the work like sacrificing one or two favourite images or pieces of work if they don’t create the right impression with the assessors, for example.  Eventually, after lots of stress and affected sleep, the submission is complete and everything goes quiet.  It is in this quiet time that I now find myself in reflective mood. 

Wood for the Trees, R Fletcher (2021)

This past year has been a creative challenge for a number of reasons.  The main one being that as the course progresses, the work becomes more engaging and as a result, more challenging.  It should naturally be harder, right?  I don’t think I was prepared for the amount of research I would need to do in order to understand the key concepts, nor did do a particularly good job of managing the time spent on it.   When it came to the main project for the unit, I chose a subject that both fascinates and horrifies me in equal measure, the modern phenomenon of internet trolling.  While I was aware of how corrosive this behaviour could be, it wasn’t until the research and planning stage of the project that it started to get under my skin.  At first glance, the characteristics of the average troll were socially isolated, often lonely people, who saw the lives and opinions of others to be in such contrast to their own, that they felt the need to protest in some way.  I’ve talked before about the trolls who attack charities for the way they spend money, the decisions they make around who or what they support, how much their CEO gets paid etc…etc. When I first saw this appalling behaviour, I thought I’d seen it all but I was wrong, of course.  There are plenty of well-known cases of cyber trolling being so bad that the victim self-harms or, worse still, takes their own lives.  While researching the subject, I wondered how these awful perpetrators slept at night, knowing the damage they were doing.  Then it dawned on me that they are actually insulated from the effects of their actions.  The anonymity of the internet gives everyone the opportunity to offer an opinion or comment in whatever way they like, citing ‘free speech’ as the excuse for their behaviour, however abhorrent.  The continued rise of the low editorial value, right-wing media outlets that rage about the erosion of free speech, makes it even easier for trolls to disregard the impact on their victims because of some sense of entitlement.  Even after wading through a great deal of this unpleasantness, the most shocking realisation was yet to come; everyone is a troll in the making.  Unlike my first assumptions, the troll isn’t some societal outcast at all.  Instead, their kind of behaviour can surface when any person is undergoing personal stress, prolonged isolation from people or feeling the loss of what is familiar to them, however small or insignificant.  A friend of mine was telling me recently of a neighbour who couldn’t be nicer in person face to face, helpful and kind etc, but when they went on social media, they turned into an angry racist bigot.  They were apparently unaware when triggered by something they didn’t like online, that their comments were being read by people who actually knew them.  The result was a sort of Jekyll and Hyde character that my friend now consciously avoids whenever possible.  Given the problems that have surrounded us in the world this past few years, it’s hardly surprising that trolling is increasing as a mechanism for letting off steam.  While I understand this, all I knew was that my already challenging photographic series now had a sinister side to it, which was tricky to navigate.  I also found the research very emotionally damaging, which I think came through in the final series.  

Why am I discussing this here?  Well, since the unit completed, I’ve sought to find some measure of calm before the next course starts in a week or so.   I’ve spent some time taking photographs, thinking of new ideas for series and generally getting my creative head together.  I’ve also had to respond to some ongoing health concerns by completely overhauling my diet, which has helped me relax and given me more energy.  Training for my 12km swim in the summer has also intensified, which also seems to help. What I’m getting at here, is that there are much healthier ways of finding calm than ranting on the internet, particularly at the detriment of others.  We’ve all heard the mantra “be kind to yourself”, but I wonder how many of us actually do just that.  Finding another outlet for our frustration or anxiety can only be a good thing.  

How do you find calm?  Let me know in the comments.

If you haven’t seen my series Modern Monsters, you can find it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCouCCUDXog&t=5s
 

For more information about personalised tuition, please email me at [email protected]

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog calm camera creativity inspiration learning narrative photographer photography study trolls tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/2/the-need-for-calm Fri, 17 Feb 2023 11:47:00 GMT
Believe It or Not https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/1/believe-it-or-not The past week has seen me reach an important milestone, apparently.  Bizarrely, it appeared more important to other people than to me, but it is a special feeling to know how many people care about you.  The milestone in question was my 50th birthday.  As usual, I had no idea how to mark this seemingly momentous occasion, because I’m not a stereotypical party animal and I lack the patience to organise anything that resembles one.  As with previous decades, I’d elected instead to do something low key and in the case of the day itself, something different.  After several failed attempts at booking, I managed to get onto a care and rehabilitation course for my one of my favourite wild animals, Erinaceus Europaeus, better known as the European Hedgehog.   Those who know me well, will be aware of my obsession with these little creatures, caring for a number in my garden and working with local rescues etc.  This course was going to teach me everything I needed to know about their basic medical needs for the next time I found one unwell or injured; I can tell you that for such a seemingly simple animal, there is a great deal to learn.  Although aimed at everyone from ‘well-intentioned do-gooders’ like me to veterinary professionals, the course was also a useful source of information to debunk myths surrounding the humble hog.   As with all subjects it seems, there is a great deal of bad information out there, which for some reason permeates into the general public’s thinking and soon becomes gospel.  They don’t have to have any basis in medical science, nor in some cases any simple common sense.  The best example given by the course tutor was somebody that confidently claimed on social media that “if you feed hedgehogs fish-flavoured cat food, they develop a taste for it and will subsequently take all the goldfish from your ponds”.  We all found the notion of an animal that lacks real intelligence (being purely instinctive) identifying a flavour, associating it with another creature, observing where to find them, and teaching itself to fish, absolutely hilarious.  It is of course total nonsense.  Hedgehogs don’t generally like the flavour of fishy cat food and will often leave it in search of something more in line with its natural diet of insects or invertebrates.  If you put it out for them, it’ll likely still be there in the morning unless next door’s cat fancied it.  

I got to thinking about these nuggets of pure fiction that we encounter every day.  How did we get to the stage where everyone with a strong opinion on a subject can potentially remain unchallenged enough for people to buy into it?  It would be easy to blame social media for this phenomenon as this is where the majority of these things crop up these days.  Having just completed a piece of work about internet trolls, I’ve been shocked at the prevelance of ‘you’re wrong and I’m right’ attitudes that are aggressively published for all to see.   Some people take these trolls on, but most simply ignore them.  However, this isn’t a new phenomenon unique to the digital world.  Newspaper media, television and radio all have platforms that offer the audience the opportunity to take part in a debate or voice an opinion.   The difference for me is the scale and accountability between the platforms.  For example, if an opinion is presented on Question Time, the programme’s time constraints and the stewardship of the presenter, adds some control over any debate that arises.  The discussion concludes and everyone moves on.  However, the same things don’t exist online.  If the consensus of views grows sufficiently, and has a glimmer of credibility about it, some form of mythology can become established.  Another example in the hedgehog world is around the predation by badgers pushing their numbers to the brink of extinction.  Not only are there fewer badgers in the UK than hedgehogs, but the latter is actually considered a stable population across the European region, so the idea of extinction is wildly inaccurate despite their decline in the UK.   I mention this example, because until the course I attended and some subsequent research, I believed every word myself.  

The same established ‘ideas’ exist in the world of photography.  I was listening to an interview with Nan Goldin recently about how she wasn’t accepted within the photography establishment in her early years.  Goldin’s famous work The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, was severely criticised for being poor quality, badly lit, composed etc., because of her prioritisation of her subject over the technical aspects of the medium.  She freely admits to not being interested in camera gear (or the people who obsess over it), calls herself an artist rather than a photographer and confessed that it wasn’t until the 1990s that she learned about the different qualities of light.  We can see this in The Ballad images, which largely use flash to achieve exposure and emphasis large blocks of colour because that suited her vision at the time.   Many years after the establishment rejection, The Ballad is one of the most revered photography books of all time, because the style of the images supports intimate narratives about the artist and her close relationships with her friends.   Similar issues surrounded Julia Margaret Cameron and her unconventional way of representing her portrait subjects over 100 years ago.  Both women were subjected to judgement by the male-dominated art world, but that doesn’t completely explain their experience.  They worked differently to other people, which took a while to penetrate the ‘rules’ that had developed as the medium evolved.  Even now, photography is subject to lots of ‘rules’ and established ideas that almost determine whether the viewing public rate an image or not.  For example, there are plenty of Instagram ‘hacks’ that promise to make our phone images better, but in actual fact they are making them more like the other successful photographs on that platform.    Is this necessarily a bad thing?  Of course not.  The internet has provided us with a huge repository of learning material, which helps us improve our photographic practice.  What I’m saying is that I don’t accept that there are rules in photography.  For example, including a foreground subject in landscape makes it a more interesting picture than an empty vista.  It gives the eye something to ‘notice’, perhaps in the way it contrasts with its surroundings or to establish a sense of scale.  However, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, there are different creative ideas around landscape and how it is represented in art.  Doggedly placing structures or objects in the foreground of a picture tends towards the picturesque, neither emphasising the beauty or danger (sublime) quality of the ‘view’.  So, sometimes rules steer us into a particular style of image that is widely accepted by the viewing public, when that might not be what we originally intended.  Again, this isn’t a judgement.  I recently selected some landscapes from my collection to show a beginner and was dismayed to see that they all followed the picturesque composition style, rule of thirds, leading lines…blah blah.   I look at them now with the benefit of further learning and realise that they don’t convey what I was trying to represent about the scene in front of me.  When I ask people why they shoot a landscape with their phone, the answer is usually “because it was beautiful”.  I see a lot of these epiphany images on social media, and they generally grab the scene as quickly as possible, without emphasising the thing that appealed to them in the first place.  Composition ‘rules’ then, help us construct the image but it’s more important is asking ourselves ‘what am I trying to say here?’  If the answer is light, then make the light the dominant element, if it’s the calm sea in the foreground, work with that instead. 

NYC 2020. All about the people rather than the composition

In my opinion, the real evolution in photographic art is when artists ignore the rules. It could be Francesca Woodman’s or Lee Friedlander’s unconventional self-portraiture, where the artists placed themselves half out of frame or reflected in a mirrored surface, or the New Topgraphics movements highlight of the impact of manmade on the natural world.  Whatever your motivation for creating, don’t believe everything you read (including this, of course) or what is thought to be established practice, particularly if it interferes with your idea.  Just try to use your camera to reveal what you want to show to the viewer and beware the confident expert who tells you that you are wrong.  Now, I’m off to buy some organic vegetable catfood…hedgehogs like that, don’t they?

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog composition creativity establishment experts focus photography practices rules subject tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/1/believe-it-or-not Thu, 26 Jan 2023 12:28:50 GMT
Artists Who Inspire Me: Philip-Lorca diCorcia https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/1/artists-who-inspire-me-philip-lorca-dicorcia Back in 2014, my wife and I found ourselves locked in a tumultuous period of change.  We’d both left jobs at a company that we’d been with for decades, we’d been on a huge adventure to Japan for Jayne to continue her quest for the 6 major marathons of the world and I was having a short break from work while my new company went through its security checks.  During our break, we found ourselves looking for new places to check out.  During a visit to my in-laws we stumbled across The Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, near where they lived.  I say ‘stumbled across’, because I’m ashamed to say that I’d never heard of it, even though it’s one of the most celebrated modern art galleries in the UK.  Alongside works by sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, the gallery had a travelling photography exhibition by an American artist called Philip-Lorca diCorcia.   I was unfamiliar with his work at the time, but that was not only remedied by the exhibition, but in the way that he has been an ever-present artist during my studies ever since.  As we moved around the exhibition, we were introduced to two famous works, Hustlers (1993) and Heads (2002).  Both were photographic ideas that I’d never seen before.  In Hustlers, diCorcia had approached male prostitutes in Los Angeles, paid their usual fee but instead of a sexual encounter, photographed them in specially staged tableau images.  I’ve mentioned tableaux before in this blog; a directional style of photography that is similar to the movies, where every detail of the scene, the props, lighting etc. is carefully managed by the artist.  Hustlers placed the young men in everyday, almost banal situations with often dramatic lighting that conveyed a variety of moods.  The resulting pictures are an ambiguous blend of the real person and the fictional setting, which leads the viewer to view them carefully in order to understand what’s going on.  The reactions of his subjects to being photographed were, according to diCorcia, natural responses to the ‘assignment’.  Many acted out personas that they may have used in their profession, while others became visibly frustrated at the time taken to shoot the picture; after all it was taking them away from being able to earn a living.  It’s the ambiguity of the lines between what’s perceived as real and what is deliberately faked, which makes Hustlers an intriguing piece of work.  I soon learned that this was a common thread throughout diCorcia’s photographs when we saw Heads.  Here, the artist mounted strobe flash guns to the scaffolding of a building project over a street in Manhattan, with a very long remote control release to where he was sitting with his camera.   As people walked under the scaffolding, he would take the picture.  At first glance, the images look like they are entirely natural as with many that are shot within the street photography genre.  However, diCorcia maintains that the subjects could have see him sitting there if they had been paying attention.  They may not have noticed the flash, but there was no subterfuge in the act of taking the pictures.  The resulting series is a mixture of the candid and the performance, with those who were aware reacting to being observed and those who were unaware, going about their day.  Again, despite the their aesthetic similarity, the ambiguity between the two cases is what draws attention.   It’s fair to say that I was hooked on diCorcia’s work from that day. 

Fast forward a few years, and I had to write a critical review essay on a photograph by a famous photographer for my course.  My choice was from diCorcia’s East of Eden (2008) and it depicted a living room in an apparently expensive house with two elegant dogs sitting in front of a TV.  The room, with its elegant and clean white décor, muted furniture and the immaculately coiffured dogs looked as though it belonged to a wealthy member of society.  However, the dogs appear to be watching a scene from a pornographic film.  The image, called The Hamptons, is part of a series that explores the decline in societal values  and the loss of innocence during the time of the global financial crash of 2008, which coincided with the change of government (Bush Jr to Obama).  Each picture in the series deals with aspects of morality, class division, political tension, and the idea of the decline of innocence, invoking Steinbeck’s famous novel of the same name, and its own biblical references.  The Hamptons has a sinister, secretive feel to it, but has a humour to it as well.  My review of the picture for my essay had me creating my own narrative for both the single image and the rest of the series.  This is the key aspect of diCorcia’s work that appeals to me.  He includes enough visual elements or contextual references that the viewer can recognise, without telling them what the picture is about.  The viewer brings their own knowledge or experience to the picture and creates their own narrative.  In my case, I recognise the western ideas of design and wealth, the pampered dogs and the immaculate elegance of the scene.  I know enough about American society to recognise the sharp contrast of the pornography on the screen to the idealistic principles of family values, and the what the image might be saying about that period of history.  The rest of the series weaves similar symbolism with the biblical and for me, its strength is that it demands that the pictures are given plenty of attention, rather than a casual glance. 

Philip-Lorca diCorcia isn’t the only artist to work in tableaux, of course.  Gregory Crewsdon and Jeff Wall are famous for their hugely elaborate, almost cinematic images, while Nigel Shafran and Cindy Sherman explore identity through the staged portrait.   However, diCorcia is my favourite of them.  There is something about his use of light, stylish composition and his restraint that I really love, which has inspired me to work with my own tableaux.  My recent series Modern Monsters is shot in a similar way, mixing self-portraiture, iconography and careful use of light.  I have to say that I think the reason for resonating with diCorcia’s work so much, is that I get the combined satisfaction of the creativity in expressing an idea, with the technical challenge of making it look precisely how I want it to.  I get much more of a buzz from this way of working than, say landscape or street photography. It’s definitely something I will continue to explore both in my studies and my own work.

From the series Modern Monsters (2022), by yours truly

My discovery of his diCorcia’s work has taught me another lesson too, that we never know where inspiration is going to come from.  In my case, a chance visit to an exhibition in a new location, by an unfamiliar artist, planted a seed that I’m continuing grow nearly a decade later.  Next time you’re on holiday, have a look at what’s on nearby.  You may be surprised where it takes you.

A couple of links to diCorcia's work:

https://hepworthwakefield.org/artist/philip-lorca-dicorcia/

https://www.davidzwirner.com/artists/philip-lorca-dicorcia/survey

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera creativity gallery inspiration learning narrative photographer photography tableaux tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/1/artists-who-inspire-me-philip-lorca-dicorcia Wed, 18 Jan 2023 13:00:33 GMT
The Copyright Conundrum https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/1/the-copyright-conundrum A few years ago, I attended a management training course at work, which was all about problem-solving and efficiency.  It was common for group business training to be delivered to people in roles like mine, and I learned a great deal from some of them.  They were never a riot, though.  One of the challenges for those presenting material to these kinds of sessions, was to keep it upbeat and light-hearted.  If the presentation was straight after lunch in what was known as the ‘graveyard shift’, it became more important to add humour and interaction to make sure everyone was awake.  On this particular day, a senior manager was giving their presentation during ‘the shift’ while we all awaited the arrival of the fresh coffee; that a tough crowd for sure.  Lethargy wasn’t what was bothering me about the material on the screen, however.  The slides were littered with Dilbert cartoons.  Now, you must have been in a cave for the past 25 years if you haven’t seen or heard of Dilbert, the long-suffering engineer in a company surrounded by incompetent management, narrow-minded colleagues, and daft corporate processes.  The cartoon, by Scott Adams has made us laugh, albeit uncomfortably at times, because the situations the eponymous character finds himself in are often very familiar to those who work in corporate office jobs.  The slides that I was looking at were trying to inform as to ‘how not to motivate the team etc’ and used Adams’ humour to achieve their objective.   During the welcome coffee break, I said to the presenter that I didn’t know our business had a licence to use Dilbert. What I received in response was a blank look.   Eventually they said “it doesn’t matter, it’s public domain”.  Therein lay the problem.  Adams’ licences the cartoons to publications like newspapers and magazines, but he also has a licence for commercial use.   If there isn’t a licence in place, the cartoons could not be used by a company like ours for any kind of commercial gain.  Now, in fairness my employer was a huge business and I’m sure that licence existed somewhere in the vast structure of the organisation, but that’s not the point.  The point is that if you look closely at social media or small online businesses, you’ll become aware of how many times people share photographs without considering the owner or creator.   They are found on Google Images, so they must be ok, right? Well, no.  Like the Dilbert episode, it’s most likely an infringement of copyright to use a picture you find while wandering the internet, if you don’t have permission to do so.

Copyright Claim, by Markus Winkler (via Unsplash) https://markuswinkler.de

It doesn’t take a great deal of thought or expertise to recognise that the internet is a huge ‘place’ and as such, is very difficult to police in terms of copyright.  There are also other aspects to consider, like how the image is being used.  For example, in academic study in the UK, there is an exception in place that covers research and criticism.  In my degree course, I analyse and write essays about famous photographs, and I reference them properly in the writing to make it clear that the source doesn’t belong to me.  If I wanted to include them in my commercial work, I would need permission, which is the reason why I only include my own photographs in these blog posts for example.   I’m not sitting in judgement of people who accidentally breach copyright, but I am acutely aware of how I would feel if someone nicked one of my pictures for their Instagram (I had a couple of instances of that last year) or other purposes without my permission.   The reason for writing about copyright this week, is that I was accused of copyright infringement myself, falsely I might add.   I had just finished my photographic series for the current module of my course, called Modern Monsters, which is ironically about online trolling.  I chose to present the series as a video, hosted on YouTube, as I felt like this was the right context to set the project within.  Over the slideshow of my photographs, I used the famous piano piece Gnossiennes No.1, by Erik Satie.   As soon as the work was published, I was hit with a copyright infringement claim.  Here’s the thing, there is an expiry date for copyright that is 70 years after the death of the creator, so Satie’s sheet music for Gnossiennes is no longer covered as he died in 1925.  However, recordings of his work are covered by their own copyright as they were an interpretation of the original.  The musician uses their own style to perform it, perhaps creates a variation or includes other instruments or even a full-blown orchestra.  The moment they did that, they create something new, which is subject to copyright.  In my case, someone believed that I had used their work as part of Modern Monsters.  In fact, I’d carefully selected a recording that was subject to what is known as a Creative Commons licence, which means that the creator wishes it to be truly public domain.  This claim should be resolved pretty easily on the basis that I have the proof that it’s baseless.  However, the key learning from this was actually something else.   The claim was made literally seconds after the video went live, which to me suggests that there are content creators using automatic web bots to look for potential uses of their property.   Either that, or they were super-human or psychic.  If bots are being used to scour the internet, then we should all be careful where copyright of online material is concerned.   

Next time you see that  photograph that you like or a cartoon that makes you laugh, think about whether you can, or even should, share it.  Chances are the idea of going viral would be appealing to an artist, but there will be people who rely on their work for an income who object and, if proven right, might consider legal action.  The good news is that there are plenty of providers of imagery and music for content creators where copyright is handled by licencing or exemptions.  I’m certainly going to be using them more in 2023 as I pursue some content creation of my own, but more on that in the coming weeks. 

For my series Modern Monsters, please visit https://youtu.be/OCouCCUDXog

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera content copyright creativity creator photography tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/1/the-copyright-conundrum Tue, 10 Jan 2023 18:17:40 GMT
Looks Nothing Like You: Portraiture and the Selfie https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/1/looks-nothing-like-you-portraiture-and-the-selfie I was recently talking to a friend of mine about a job they were working on, when they told me a story that made us both laugh.  He’d asked someone for a profile picture to include in an upcoming article and the image they sent back was, frankly awful.  We couldn’t understand how anyone interested in creating an impression would knowingly offer a bad likeness, and not expect some sort of allergic reaction to it.  The obvious answer might be found at the heart of the popular portrait style that we are surrounded by in our everyday lives, the ubiquitous ‘selfie’.  I’m not a fan of this type of portraiture, principally because I’m really bad at taking them.  There’s something about the dexterity required to frame and trigger the phone’s camera that I struggle with.  If I’m with other people, to be fair the only time I bother to take them, my relatively short arms (for a big lad), means that my face always looks massive in the picture.  Even if I successfully navigate all of that without dropping my phone, I never look particularly happy in the finished image. 

Never knowing what to do with my face

Those who know me well, know that I have a ‘resting angry face’, which essentially means that I look incredibly grumpy when my expression is neutral, even if I’m not.  If I’m unhappy about something, my face doesn’t really change, hence my propensity for pulling silly faces during selfies as a way of introducing something different.  During the conversation with my friend, it occurred to me that something had changed in the past decade or so that resulted in the selfie becoming some form of social currency, and that in some cases we don’t seem to care greatly about how accurately they represent our likeness.   This, and concept of the self-portrait, aren’t new of course.  For centuries painters from all genres have, on occasion created portraits of themselves, either as a reflection of their status or a demonstration of their skill for ‘advertising’ purposes.  People were much more likely to pay attention to you if they thought you could paint a good nose.  Portrait paintings were popular with royalty and the aristocracy, because of the considerable expense that went into creating them.  To have a portrait commissioned, you needed money, so naturally the finished product was a way of showing off your wealth to others.  Another reason for its popularity was the creative licence that could be taken through the ‘collaboration’ between subject and artist.  The painting didn’t need to be accurate but instead needed to represent the client as they wished to be seen.  The story of how King Henry VIII accused Hans Holbein of embellishing a portrait of Anne of Cleves to make her prettier is legendary, even though unlikely to be true.  In fact, the King was presented by an idealised portrait of Anne, which was an elegant, dignified portrayal of a potential English Queen, but that masked the other information known about her being dull, bad mannered and apparently lacking in personal hygiene.  The portrait then, is a representation of a person how they wish to be seen combined with the intention of the artist or their commission.  

In the early days of photography, the idea of a technical process that captured light and shadow in a repeatable way, meant that its initial uses were primarily scientific.  The two men credited with its ‘invention’, William Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre, were said to be frustrated by their inability to draw, so wanted a way of ‘capturing’ the natural world.  Their processes for making photographs were seen by them to be a faithful representation of the subject, which led to the widely-accepted notion that ‘the camera doesn’t lie’.  When photography started to be used for portraiture in the mid 19th Century, people believed that the picture was a factual representation of the subject.  However, this was total nonsense, because although the process was technically repeatable, the subject could still present a persona and the photographer could choose the precise moment that the picture should be made; the habits of the portrait painters were alive and well in this new medium.  Their complicity made it apparent that the camera actually lies all the time.  The advances in camera technology (lenses, films, flash strobes etc) made it possible for the photographer to represent the subject however they chose to and, with the public’s unshakable belief of the medium being honest, got away with some proper corkers.  Everything from 19th Century ‘ghost’ photography, achieved by double exposure but convincing enough to fool many intelligent people (including one Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), to the Farm Securities Administration which yielded Lange’s infamous Migrant Mother in the 1930s, caused photography’s ‘objectivity’ to be continuously challenged.  That’s not to say this is bad thing, as it made it possible for photography to be seen as a creative tool.   Like many photographers, I wouldn’t have bothered with the medium if it was purely aimed at science rather than being creative.  

Within the portraiture photography genre, the variety of combinations where the artist and subject collaborate, don’t collaborate, are aware of each other, are not aware etc., make it an ever-evolving art form.  For example, In 1968 American photographer Tony Vaccaro plotted to capture an image of ‘the real’ Pablo Picasso.   He already knew famous artist, so his plan was straightforward enough; spend time relaxing with him and choose the right moment.  His problem was that Picasso was known to adopt conventional portrait poses whenever a camera was pointed at him, which generally frustrated photographers of the time.   Vaccaro pretended to be uninterested in taking a picture as they drank champagne together at Picasso’s apartment, even pretending at times that his camera was broken.  When Picasso lost interest and lowered his guard, Vaccaro shot his picture.  The result was a picture of a man who wasn’t portraying the persona that everyone might recognise and was more how Vaccaro saw him.  The famous image has since become a representation of Picasso that is adopted by the public, still seemingly believing in the honesty of the photograph.  

If we consider the original points about the selfie in this context, this idea of idealistic representation on the part of the subject and photographer makes sense.  We take selfies to show something, whether it’s ourselves, the people we are with or where we are at the time.  They often celebrate moment our lives, a night out or a holiday, and if we don’t like the result we can simply retake or delete them.  We are both photographer and subject, meaning we have complete control over how the image comes out, self-editing before we show them to other people.  It occurred to me that it doesn’t explain why someone would send my friend an image without caring about how they looked, though.  Perhaps the answer to that question could have something to do with how photography has been democratised in recent years.  Nearly everyone in the developed world has a smartphone with a camera and nearly everyone takes photographs with it.  The proliferation of images on the many social media platforms and their continual refreshing, has led to them having a very short shelf life.  For example, when Snapchat was launched in 2011 it was inconceivable that we would share pictures that were only available for a short time before being automatically deleted.  However, now we have the social media ‘story’ which exploits this temporary existence with the purpose of enticing people to ‘stay tuned’ for more content arriving soon.  Perhaps then, the selfie that isn’t perfect is just one in a long line that may or may not eventually be the likeness we crave; the less-than-perfect versions being discarded eventually because, well, they just don’t matter.  If they don’t matter, perhaps our standards have dropped too because of that throw-away mentality.  Whatever the reason, I now wonder what the great classical portrait painters would have made of this progression.  Perhaps the right collection of Anne selfies would have changed the course of history and let Holbein off the hook.  What I do know is that for now, I think I’ll stay behind the camera. 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) art artist blog creative creativity photographer photography portraiture representation selfie https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2023/1/looks-nothing-like-you-portraiture-and-the-selfie Wed, 04 Jan 2023 18:00:58 GMT
A Matter of Pressure and Time https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/12/pressure-and-time They say that inspiration comes from the most unusual of places, and how this post came about is no different.  I had just returned from the supermarket with a load of shopping and was in the process of unpacking the chilled items and putting them into the fridge.  Our fridge is one of those massive American-style side-by-side models that is completely over the top and way too big for two people’s groceries.  It’s a brilliant machine, but while it has some great qualities, there is a function that always bothers me even though I appreciate it being there. When either of doors is open for a while, an alarm sounds warning me to close them immediately.  It’s not particularly loud, nor is it a particularly annoying sound, but as I was unpacking my shopping, and it started to go off, I wondered why it bothered me so much.  The answer turned out to be a simple matter of time, or rather it being about to run out.  While I do not suffer from OCD, which I understand to be a very debilitating condition, I do find these micro-deadlines rather stressful.  The reality is that the interior of the fridge merely drops a couple of degrees while the door is open, but somehow with the current cost of energy and the desire not to waste it for the sake of the environment, that little alarm signals something more than “your food is gonna get warm”.  It suggests that we I need to be more organised, pack my groceries with a view to better unloading, and not to waste time leaving the door open.  We all have these ‘helpful’ warnings which are produced by modern technology, whose purpose is to make our lives easier by preventing us from forgetting something that might be important.  However, what they actually do is present us with a logical condition; if we don’t act, there will be consequences.  Those, however minor, might mean that we cannot achieve something that we want in the short term and potentially prevent us from revisiting it in the future.  The effect is to frighten us into action, rather than act as a simple reminder.  A more significant one than the fridge alarm that I’ve received from time to time, comes from the university that I’m studying with.  The course is hugely flexible within each module, but each one cannot take more than 12 months to complete.  As it’s a creative degree, most of us take advantage of the time available to learn more, which is how I explain the length of the course to people who say “couldn’t you just knock it out in 3 years?”  I feel like the length of the study is making me a more knowledgeable artist than I would be if I did a full-time course at a traditional university.   The difficulty is that with each increasingly challenging project, it takes more time to come up with an idea, explore how to shoot it and produce a body of work at the end.  Therein lies the problem, which the university is quick to be helpful about.  They continually monitor the elapsed time between coursework submissions, and if there is a longer period than expected, they send a reminder.  It takes the form of an email asking if everything is ok, because they are naturally worried about missing the deadline for the unit…etc…etc.  This has the effect of piling on the pressure, which is a good thing if you’re an engineer or accountant, but not if you’re trying to be a creative.   Worse still, the email comes from an automated mailbox, so there isn’t even anyone on the line to reassure or vent at.  Over the years, I’ve got used to them and am also acutely aware that getting stressed about it, makes me less creative and consumes more time.  I’ve mentioned before that I cannot force the idea into fruition, and this has been evident in some of the work I’ve produced in the past.  What it means these days is that every waking moment is consumed with some thought about what I’m working on, running in the background like a Windows Update.  Sometimes ideas flow freely as my wife pointed out recently.  We were out with friends and Jayne told of how she’d walk into the room and say “hello”, only to be greeted in reply with a torrent of ideas and thoughts about the current assignment.  “I only said hello”, she added.  On other occasions I’d have to console myself by knowing that even if I wasn’t shooting, researching or writing, at least I was using the available time to think, which goes some way to easing the pressure. 

Why am I telling you all this?  Well, because even my mitigation strategy isn’t effective all the time; if we constantly thought about everything we were trying to do, it would drive us crazy.  Instead, I wanted to highlight the importance of disconnecting from the modern world and its helpful reminders.  One of the best ways I’ve found as a photographer is to go out with a pinhole, or better still a large format camera.  I have 2 cameras in my collection that shoot 4x5 inch sheet film, one recent model made by Intrepid Camera and the other being an early 1960s Graflex Crown Graphic.   The Graflex is a camera that everyone will recognise if they watch a movie set during that period, as they were the ones used by the press corps, stereotypically wearing trench coats and fedora hats.  The camera is also well known in the world of Star Wars as their sidecar flashgun battery tubes were used as the prop for the original lightsabers in the first film in 1977.   Fans of the films tend to buy the flashguns in order to make their own lightsaber handles, which means they are becoming increasingly rare.  

My 1962 Graflex Crown Graphic 4x5 camera with its original box just before it was shipped from the US

The escapism provided by shooting the Graflex is twofold.  Firstly, the camera works like the old-fashioned box cameras of the early days of photography, with the image being composed and focussed on a ground glass screen and being upside down like with a camera obscura.  This requires concentration and some imagination to make sure that the elements being photographed actually fit into the frame.   Secondly, the camera has no electronics which means that metering with an external lightmeter is needed to determine exposure.  This isn’t uncommon with old cameras, but the high cost of each individual sheet of film (around £5 for a good black and white stock) means that determining exposure is a job that requires great care.  With all cameras, there is a single value of exposure, which is determined by a meter reading and the setting of aperture, shutter speed and ISO (sensitivity) accordingly.  Whatever value the photographer chooses from metering, becomes a single setting on the camera and it will yield different results depending on where that reading  was taken from and, in the case of film, the characteristics of the emulsion.  Most film photographers meter using Adams & Archer’s Zone System from 1940 if they want to weigh up the lighting conditions and select an average exposure value for the scene.  This involves looking for the middle tone of the scene, taking a reading and then determining the dynamic range by taking further readings of highlight and shadow.  Once the range the light is known, the photographer can choose how they want the picture to look and set exposure accordingly.  This all takes a fair amount of time, which when coupled with the operation of the camera, isn’t exactly a ‘point and shoot’ situation.  This is what I love about it.   I’ve been out with the Graflex and taken 4 sheets of film, all loaded and ready to go, and taken over 2 ½ hours to shoot them.  I’m not sure exactly what happens, but the concentration and lack of digital distractions, social media and other crap, means that the time just whizzes by.  That slow process is in itself relaxing and at the same time exciting, as the photographer is hopeful of getting everything right in the camera resulting in the perfect negative (we are a delusional bunch) 

Salvador Dali graffiti mural, shot on 4x5 slide film.  The resulting slide was so detailed that the client enlarged to a huge poster that was many feet high

Now I’m not suggesting that everyone takes up shooting large format film cameras, but I am saying that self-isolating from the pace of the technological world, with its micro deadlines and constant reminders, is a healthy thing.  I’ve found it to help calm my mind enough to overcome any creative roadblocks I might be having, which also means that I can meet the deadlines that are really important.  It’s definitely something to think about.  I’ll sign off there as my laptop is telling me I only have 10% battery life left before ‘computer armageddon’.  What fun. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) 4x5 artist blog calm camera creativity crown graphic film graflex inspiration learning photographer photography tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/12/pressure-and-time Mon, 12 Dec 2022 17:07:38 GMT
The Importance of Constructive Feedback for Creatives https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/12/the-importance-of-constructive-feedback-for-creatives It’s that time of year again, where I have a large deliverable project for my course, also known as ‘the longest degree course in the world’.  As I progress through it, the creative assignments get progressively harder and require me to demonstrate the more and more learning from the coursework.  This makes perfect sense of course, as by the end of the degree I should be expected to understand my own craft and produce work that has meaning the context of photographic art history.   

I’ve written about my imposter syndrome and highly developed skills in procrastination before, and nothing brings these to the fore more than producing a body of work in a specific, relatively short timeframe.   It goes something like this: I find that the more I try to force an idea to fruition, the harder it becomes and the more I start to question whether this is ‘really me’ (imposter).  I then try to relax and take my time, which means that progress slows to a crawl (procrastination).  Although I have some techniques that I can deploy to control these negative responses to the brief, I find the best way of combating them is through feedback. 

This image, showing the setup for a series last year, received feedback about the use of its two types of light. It helped shaped the finished picture

Feedback is something we experience every day in some form or another, whether about something fairly trivial like the choice of clothes on a night out or something more serious like our performance in our job.   The former is something we illicit based on trust; that which we build in relationships with our family and close friends.  When we receive feedback in this way, it’s often both solicited and unsolicited, with the common objective that the person cares about us and is trying to help.  It doesn’t make it any easier to take the feedback of course; how many times has a friend warned us off a bad relationship or criticised our behaviour on some occasion, and we haven’t appreciated it?  If the relationship is a strong one, the feedback is somehow ‘safe’ and most of the time, moved on from.   However, the second form of feedback which exists where the relationship might be built more on respect than love, is a different thing entirely.  This is the type that we use in our professional lives, is more powerful and sometimes more difficult to accept. That’s not to say that it’s more important to us, but it is more likely to be solicited and more constructive.  As an example, a critique of a piece of creative work such as a photograph or painting, will be balanced when another artist is asked for it, as opposed to a family member whose reaction might be ‘I like/don’t like’ that.  The latter might not feel comfortable in saying anything at all, to avoid hurting our feelings.  I love it when people 'like' my work, but that’s really more of an ego massage than a tool to help me improve.  When it comes to avoiding my old friends imposter syndrome and procrastination, I’ve tended to ask other artists for their feedback as it helps me to overcome creative blocks and helps me move the project forward.  The reason this works is that when you ask someone who is familiar with, or skilled in your area of creative interest, you had better be prepared for what comes back because it will challenge you to think about your idea or approach, whether you like it or not.   In my previous life, I used to tell my team, and people that I mentored, that you could accept feedback or ignore it, but you cannot reject it.  What I mean is, that feedback becomes a tangible thing.  Our response might be to be happy or dejected, and our subsequent actions could be to embrace or ignore, but we cannot reject something we asked for because, well, we asked for it and therefore made it ‘a thing’.   The person offering it needs to be objective though, in order to make the feedback useful.  If they were to say something like “this doesn’t work, it’s just shit”, there is nothing the receiver can really do with it apart from be disappointed or angry.  A mix of positive notes (understanding the idea, what you’re trying to achieve etc) and less positive ones (this element doesn’t fit, perhaps an alternative would etc) is what is needed.  The definition of criticism is actual a structured critique of a work or subject, and includes both of these elements.  It’s not, as commonly misinterpreted, a wholly negative thing as in “he or she can’t take criticism”, meaning that they are stubborn or closed off in some way. 

In the case of this project I am working on now, I hit what felt like a major roadblock fairly early on.  My subject is the modern phenomenon of online abuse or ‘trolling', and how the word has more in common with its origins in Norse mythology than we might expect.  I’m representing the subject by using portraiture (mainly self), and tableaux or mis-en-scene, which are constructed images that are directed rather than naturally occurring.  I’ve had feedback before about being restrained or ‘holding back’ creatively, so this time I’m letting my imagination run wild.  Sounds like a good idea, but actually causes me to worry more  about whether I’m on the right track, letting my old foes back into my frontal lobe.  This is where I’ve turned to the rest of my cohort, with whom I meet up fortnightly on Zoom.   Feedback from these folks is based on their understanding of the course and how we arrived at this point, some having finished the unit already, but also their understanding of how I approach storytelling in photographs.  By asking them, I have to steel myself to receive their feedback, but I know that they are essentially both trying to support my process and help make the series better.  So far, they have been overwhelmingly positive, but all the time challenging my to think about what I want the series to say and how it will come together when I’ve finished shooting.  The discussion, which takes place in amongst reviews of everyone else’s work, inspires me to alter the direction of my work, with some great ideas that I hadn’t thought about previously to consider. 

You may be wondering what the big deal is with the idea of asking for and receiving feedback, I mean it happens all the time and is surely an integral part of study, right?  Well, here’s the point.  My course is distance learning, with all of the reference material for each unit provided upfront.  We have tutors, they provide feedback on our specific deliverables for marking, but beyond that contact is very limited.  The students had to elect to form their own cohort group, run regular feedback meetings and structure them so that we help each other.   The university is delighted that we are doing this, but they had no part in its creation.  The key message here is that if you are struggling with a creative idea, nobody is just going to solve if for you.  It's best to find people that you think may be able to offer constructive feedback rather than platitudes, support your ideas even if they don’t immediately understand them, and make sure you engage with what comes from them.  Criticism in the true meaning of the word, is a powerful and positive thing that we shouldn’t be afraid of.  I’m currently not sure whether the outcome of this project will be exactly where I thought it would be when I started it, but with the help of my peers, it will be much better than it would be with a single perspective on it. In doing so, I keep imposter syndrome and procrastination at bay when it comes to my studies.  It just leaves me with the internal debate on what to have for dinner and whether I’m good enough a cook to make it.  One day at a time, Rich. One day at a time. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blockers blog constructive creativity feedback help photography progress support tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/12/the-importance-of-constructive-feedback-for-creatives Mon, 05 Dec 2022 15:07:01 GMT
Style and Substance – the magnificent Rolleiflex TLR https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/12/style-and-substance-the-magnificent-rolleiflex-tlr The most common question I get when people learn that I’m a camera collector, is “do you have a favourite?” I’ve never been able to find decent answer to this question, beyond some pithy response about “having to choose between your children”.  I have over 50 cameras in my collection after 6 years of researching and buying them.  Choosing one that stands out as my favourite is a problem for me, because the motivation behind their acquisition is pretty much unique for all of them.  It’s true that some were seen as exotic, some were an opportunity to explore a new format, and some had a specific connection to my past.  I’ve been interested in photography for most of my life and follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather before him.  This means that I have childhood memories of both taking photographs, of my thumb covering the lens mainly, but also captured by particular cameras.  In a perhaps futile attempt to answer the question about favourites, I’ve recently tried to document the thought processes that led to the collecting and I’ve concluded that in most cases, their story is the thing that initially piques my interest.  It’s worth pointing out at this point that the story is often not mine, but the previous owner(s).  Given that the majority of my collection is over 50 years old, it’s fair to assume that most of the previous owners are no longer with us.   One of the earliest examples of this influencing my decision, was when I bought my rather wonderful Rolleiflex T.

 

My Rolleiflex T working in the studio.  The name is covered with tape to preserve the selenium light meter and note the modern flash cable.  Works perfectly with the studio strobes

For those who’ve never used one before, Rolleiflex was the name of a high-end camera line made by German camera manufacturer Franke and Heidecke from the early 1920s, and were what’s known as Twin Lens Reflex or TLRs.   As the name suggests, the cameras have two lenses, one that is used for viewing and one that has the shutter behind it.  Like the Single Lens Reflex (SLR), the viewfinder’s focussing is achieved by reflecting the light coming into the viewing lens onto a ground glass ‘screen’.  Unlike the SLR, which then moves the mirror out of the way so that the focussed light falls on the film, the TLR uses its ‘taking’ lens to make the picture without having any other mechanical movements.  As both lenses are physically aligned and mounted on a single structure, they are focused together with a single control as with any other camera.  TLRs tended to be medium format with 6x6 negative size, and Rolleiflexes were considered the premium brand, boasting high quality optics and precision manufacturing.  In use, they are wonderfully quiet because of the lack of a big flapping mirror, and the viewfinder is accessed from above.  By looking down into the camera rather than holding it to the eye, it didn’t draw the subject’s attention to the photographer.  It also offered a slightly different composing perspective with the camera at waist-level, again very different from the traditional SLR.   I first became aware of them after I saw an exhibition of Vivian Maier’s work in Chicago in 2012.  Maier was a nanny who spent her time walking the streets shooting her Rolleiflex, often with the children she was looking after.  As she blended into the background of daily life, most of her subjects were unaware that she was photographing them.  Even when they were aware, there was something non-threatening about Maier herself as well as the waist-level camera.  The story of her life, obscurity and being discovered as a photographer after her death is a fascinating one (see the link below).  It was several years later than I came to own my own Rolleiflex, though. 

I was talking to my neighbour one day and she mentioned that her father had recently passed away and that he was a very keen amateur photographer.  What followed was a question that I’ve become fairly used to, “would you be interested in any of his camera gear?”  We arranged to get together to have a look through the box she’d collected from his house.  When it came to the meeting, she couldn’t face the task of going through them, which when we think of it, is no surprise.  We all associate something that our late loved ones did as hobbies with the tools or objects of that hobby.  We might have memories of them using it or their teaching us how to use it, or we may just remember how personal the hobby was to them, which brings out a nostalgic sadness that is part of grieving.  On this occasion, her husband stepped in to help.  The box contained a lot of cameras, but mostly 35mm consumer kit that, while good quality, weren’t of interest to me.  The two Leica 3s that were there were earmarked as heirlooms for her children, something that I thought very wise given their rising value.  Then, in the corner of the box I noticed a small brown leather case.   When he picked it out for me to look at, it was immediately obvious that this was a Rolleiflex.  Before I could really look at it, he started pulling and twisting at its controls, which were more than a little reluctant to cooperate.  One thing you never do with a mechanical camera is to force something.  The older the camera, the more likely it is that some lubrication has dried out and delicate parts are subject to stiction that prevents them from moving.  This can spell disaster, so this display of ignorance was not appreciated by me;  I winced at every action to try to get it to work.  When I was able to talk to the owner again later, it transpired that what she really wanted was for her dad’s camera to be used and cared for by another photographer.   She didn’t know if it worked (neither did I now, of course) but she also didn’t want much for it.  I bought it for the collection, with a view to get it repaired and back in use.  Therein lay my next problem.  Rolleiflex servicing isn’t all that common these days with the last TLRs being made in 2012 and the ‘T’ ending in 1976, so I struggled for a while to find an expert to take it on.  Eventually I found a mysterious chap online who was reputedly a retired Rolleiflex service engineer with an excellent reputation for the quality of his work.  His online presence was a mobile phone number being shared around Rollei owners like some dark secret.  After some exchanges of texts, I sent him the camera.   Within days, I received a call.   “It’s Brian.  How much did you pay for this, son?”, he said cheerily.  That wasn’t a good start.  Turned out that my new (old) camera had a long list of issues, some of which my neighbour’s dad had tried to fix himself.  My favourite one, if that’s the right expression, was the very delicate moving-coil light meter, which upon realising was beyond his repair capabilities, he’d superglued back together to make it look tidy.  My new friend Brian’s rather blunt question was aimed at determining whether I’d been ‘had’.  When I told him what I’d paid, he got very excited. “Once this is repaired, you’ve got one hell of a camera for the money”, he said.  He was right.  The Rolleiflex T is a brilliant camera, even though it’s not regarded as the best in the line-up.  Brian’s enthusiasm for the old camera was palpable, even asking about it when he later serviced my Rolleicord (a more basic version of the ‘flex), which I was gifted a few years later. Whenever I go out with the T, I regularly get questions from passers-by who are fascinated by its unusual appearance.  Some people want to know if it’s ‘the Vivian Maier camera’, which is testimony to how her story has captivated photographers many years after her death.  Fast forward 4 years and I’m still regularly using the Rollei.  In fact, my current university assignment is being shot with it alongside my digital camera, so that I can get that medium format look that people bang on about.  It might be 65 years old, but thanks to Brian, it’s the most accurate film camera I own in terms of speeds and focus.  What’s most satisfying to know is that in its current state, it will keep producing photographs for many years to come, probably outlasting me.  Who knows how many lives it may have if I continue to treasure it the way the previous owner did, minus the adhesive repairs of course.  What I do know, is that I intend to make as much of my time as its custodian as I can. 

Some photographs made with my Rolleiflex T

Vivian Maier's work:  http://www.vivianmaier.com

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera creativity film gear photography Rolleiflex stories tuition Vivian maier https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/12/style-and-substance-the-magnificent-rolleiflex-tlr Thu, 01 Dec 2022 12:31:51 GMT
"Which is it?” How contexts can alter our interpretation of the genre of a photograph https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/11/-which-is-it-how-contexts-can-alter-our-interpretation-of-the-genre-of-a-photograph Something a little different this week, as I’m away for our annual break in London.  I thought I’d share a recent critical essay assignment from my ongoing degree studies.  It discusses my confusion over attributing photographs to a particular genre.  

Here it is:

Critical Essay

"Landscapes can show the infrastructure of power, can show the dividing lines of power. Sometimes we don't think of these as landscape, but they are, because that is the defining part of them". (Colin Pantall Presentation “The way we see...”, s.d., video timestamp 11m,50s)

Pantall was referring to an image by Mohamed Bourouissa from his series Périphérique (2005-2008), which depicts groups of youths in what looks like an underpass. The classical visual codes that usually describe the landscape genre are missing. There is no apparent aesthetic beauty relating to the natural world, or a picturesque view attributed by the photographer. There is little to suggest that this image is about the setting, owing to the primary subject; events that are apparently unfolding in the foreground. At first glance, the image looks as though it belongs to Street Photography, a sub-genre of Documentary. How then, does Pantall’s identification of ‘power’, as a contextual element within the composition, make this a landscape? How do our considerations of the visual (internal) context affect our subsequent categorisation when we interpret as a single image and as part of a series (external context)? 

Figure 1 – From the series Périphérique (2005-2008), (Mohamed Bourouissa, s.d.) 

Barrett tells us that there are multiple interpretations to an image and that a critique is not intended to arrive at a single view. He goes on to say that the subject matter of any photograph is taken from a larger context which is both internal and external (Barrett, 2006, p.128). Using his CRIT approach to analysing images (Subject + Medium + Form + Context = Meanings), we can determine the following: the photograph shows two distinct groups of young people, one black and one white, each also being of different genders. The setting is an underpass of a major roadway, with the support structures and lighting visible. A group of black males stand next to one of the structures. The white girls appear to have walked past the men, one looking back at them, but both continuing to walk away. There are two other men outside of the main group, one on a bicycle and the other looking towards something out of frame. The landscape, in the traditional sense, is in the width and depth of the composition which is cinematic in aspect ratio. The use of space fits with the idea of a landscape being ‘a general coda’ for a whole range of cultural scenes (Bate, 2016, p109), this one being a city-scape. Indeed, any image from an urban environment would qualify owing to the predominance of architecture, concrete and artificial light. What prevents us from initially seeing the landscape in Bourouissa image is the dominant presence of main subjects, the people. The groups are staged in apparent confrontation, emphasised by the two groups maintaining eye-contact. The direction of the girls and the cyclist suggests an altercation has taken place between them; that sense of fear being clear on the expressions of both girls. Internal context suggests a narrative about racial, class or gender tension, of intimidation and prejudice, which is alluded to by the artist’s statement. 

“Confrontations, gatherings, incidents, looks, and frozen gestures all suggest a palpably dramatic tension. Readings of these images were inflected from the start by the violence of the 2005 riots in the French banlieues”. (Mohamed Bourouissa, s.d.) 

Any confusion regarding the image’s genre is further compounded by it being mise en scene, that is a carefully constructed composition, visually resembling the fantastical photographs of artists like Crewdson and Wall. The immediate interpretation becomes more a fictional storytelling instead of a representation of real events as would be expected in a street photograph. Those artists use landscape to direct mood, create a backdrop for the experience of the primary players in the scene, and to provide the viewer with signifiers to help create a narrative. Bourouissa uses the space within his scene to present a ‘battleground’, akin to his own experiences as an immigrant entering France from Algeria; this is borne out when we review the image as part of the wider series. Repeated visual themes of urban decay, waste, scars of violent behaviour become more obvious and the area of Le Périphérique, a ring road encircling and dividing Paris, becoming more recognisable as the boundary between societal groups. The contexts that Barrett refers to include the external, provided in this case by the image’s place within the series. Bourouissa uses repeated themes of the environment, the landscape, as an anchor for the stories, so it is critical that the other images are taken into account when trying to assign a genre to it. The image further conforms to the idea of landscape as three verities: geography, autobiography, and metaphor (Adams R, 1995). Bourouissa’s motivation was to represent his place and his friends in the work (Louisiana Channel, 2021), which covers the first two. The assembly of the image provides signs that are metaphorical battlegrounds, whether physical, psychological, or emotional. 

“Representation is, of course, ideological, but so is looking, since our engagement with what we perceive is subject to cultural currencies and preconceptions. The image is a statement of what was seen. We know that photographic vision is highly constructed. Nonetheless, photography significantly contributes to our sense of knowledge, perception and experience, and to (trans)forming our feelings about our relation to history and geography and, by extension, to our sense of ourselves.” (Wells L, 2011) 

By considering the image as landscape, we can connect with the cultural and ideological ideas of ownership and power woven through more traditional art from the genre. Works such as Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews (c1750) and Johan Zoffany’s Warren Hastings with his wife Marian in their Garden at Alipore (c1784) both convey the sense of ownership of land. The former creates tension between the subject and the viewer in terms of the vastness of the wealth being portrayed, taking the form of positive social affirmation and of ‘showing off’, depending on what the viewer brings. This was intentional as at the time, such paintings (this one could be considered a portrait) were commissioned for that very purpose. Zoffany’s painting extends the tension to cover people as possessions; painted during the colonial occupation of India, the inclusion of the Indian servant further emphasises the Hastings’ power and ownership of everything around him. Unlike Bourouissa’s image, the visual elements of the landscapes, which include the aesthetic beauty of the open countryside, are more obvious upon first inspection. The external context provided by British history soon provide some viewers with the narrative about the relationship between the people and their space. The inclusion of people is similar to Bourouissa’s photograph, but there is more balance between the portraiture/landscape codes, than his portraiture/documentary equivalents. 

Figure 2: Mr and Mrs Andrew (c1750) by Thomas Gainsborough 

Figure 3: Warren Hastings with his wife Marian in their Garden at Alipore (c1784) 

Bourouissa’s photograph uses the landscape as the demonstration of power, only differing from the above in that it conforms to the notion of the sublime. Sublime landscapes introduce unease or fear in the viewing, whether a demonstration of the raw power of nature or something that might cause harm to life. Sublime is not limited to this genre, as demonstrated in Le Périphérique as it is the action within the scenes that provide the fear that this really is a war zone. 

Conclusion 

When considering the contextual significance of the space in this photograph, an argument can be made that the strength of the combined verities (Adams R, 1995) can direct the viewer to categorise it as landscape. The iconic elements used as mise-en-scène, help form a narrative that is familiar with a contemporary eye, asking what the conflict is about, but bringing preconceptions based on current affairs. The sense that some people have strayed where they shouldn’t, provides the geography, while the repeated contexts in the rest of the series builds the autobiographical and metaphorical. Whether considered landscape or documentary, the narrative of the image and the series that it’s taken from, remain the same, even if it’s classification may not be. It is for the viewer to form an opinion as to the relevance of classifying the picture, beyond its use for academic study. 

Figures

Figure 1: Mohamed Bourouissa (s.d.) At: https://www.mohamedbourouissa.com/peripherique/ (Accessed 10/10/2022). 

Figure 2: One painting, many voices: Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews | Stories | National Gallery, London (s.d.) At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/stories/one-painting- many-voices-gainsboroughs-mr-and-mrs-andrews (Accessed 12/10/2022). 

Figure 3: E-Catalogue entry, VICTORIA::Home (s.d.) At: https://www.victoriamemorial- cal.org/home/content/en (Accessed 13/10/2022). 

References

Colin Pantall Presentation (s.d.) At: https://oca.cloud.panopto.eu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=7818fd51-11c1-4dec-b524- adc100b4b808 (Accessed 21/09/2022). 

Mohamed Bourouissa (s.d.) At: https://www.mohamedbourouissa.com/peripherique/ (Accessed 10/10/2022). 

Barrett, T. (2006) Criticizing photographs: an introduction to understanding images. (4th ed) Boston: McGraw-Hill. 

Bate, D. (2018) Photography: the key concepts. (Second Edition) London New York: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. 

‘I’m not a political artist. But it is political.’ | Artist Mohamed Bourouissa | Louisiana Channel 

(2021) At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9k_z2B8DfWw (Accessed 10/10/2022). Adams, R.(1995) Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values. (s.l.): 

Aperture. 

Wells, L. (2011) Land Matters: Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity. (s.l.): I/B Tauris & Co Ltd. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog creativity critical essay genre landscape photography question studies https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/11/-which-is-it-how-contexts-can-alter-our-interpretation-of-the-genre-of-a-photograph Tue, 08 Nov 2022 12:56:14 GMT
I Leica that very much https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/10/i-leica-that-very-much Something happened in world of photography during the last couple of weeks, that I confess to being very confused about.  Legendary camera manufacturer Leica announced a new camera in their iconic M series and, unsurprisingly, the buzz around it has been incredible.  The Cult of Leica has been around for decades, with some of the most influential photographers of the 20th Century using them because, well they were the best available.  These days there are many, more capable camera systems available from the other manufactures, that makes the brand less appealing to the jobbing professional; however, the cult remains.  Leica cameras are still made to the highest quality standards, have superb lenses and the price tag to go with them, but they also have a substantial fanbase, which includes yours truly.  In their line-up, the M is the one that most captivates us fanboys.  When the first M3 camera came out in 1954, it was a lesson in great ergonomic design, something that was lacking in Model III that preceded it.   Although great cameras in their own right, the III’s were complicated and a bit fiddly to use.  They prioritised precision and accuracy over usability, where the new M3 was all about the latter.   Everything on the new camera was within easy reach, the coupled rangefinder was now viewed through a single viewfinder window and anything that didn’t need to be there was left out.   The experience was one of spending more time looking at your subject, and less time fiddling with the controls.  I have two Ms in my collection, one of which is a 1957 M3; it remains one of my favourite cameras to use because it feels some simple.  Over the years, the M design was updated and naturally became digital in the early part of this century, the current model (at least until very recently) being the M11.  When the announcement of a new camera came, it was a surprise to learn that it wasn’t for an M12.  Leica had decided to resurrect perhaps the most popular and revered M of them all, the M6. 

The most famous of them all.  Still a favourite of street photographers and cool people the world over

Wait, what? Bringing back a 35mm film camera in 2022?  That cannot be right.  The other M that I have is an M6 from the 1980s and I completely understand the reputation it has.  Apart from some technical and manufacturing differences, the biggest improvement was that M6 had a light meter, which the M3 didn’t.  Now the photographer didn’t need to be a genius at calculating exposure in their head, or carry an external meter, like they did in the 1950s  In addition to the meter, the camera was a significant update to the earlier models in that it was manufactured from cast zinc instead of machined brass so was lighter, and had a more convenient film transport that simplified the act of loading the film.  Size and weight continued to be a key requirement for Leica as they moved into the digital age.  Rangefinders have no mirror box like SLR/DSLR cameras, and in the case of the M, the shutters were made of rubberised cloth which made them both lighter and quieter than their metal counterparts.  The task of improving the M series over the years, while maintaining what made the design special was, I imagine, akin to what a Formula 1 team might go through to increase performance of their car.  I was still totally confused.  As good as I think it is, I still couldn’t understand why Leica was choosing to bring it back.   All of that technological advancement just to go back to a design from 1984?  I started to look at the press coverage around the new camera and, sure enough the design is pretty much the same as the original model.  Some improvements in the anti-reflective coatings in the rangefinder optics, an improved ISO selector and new leatherette on the camera’s body, didn’t sound that innovative to me. 

I thought about other possible reasons, beyond nostalgia or to be popular with hipsters, for Leica to deviate from its digital path, and some things started to occur to me.   Firstly, it’s very easy in the modern age to jump to conclusions about technology, because of the pace of its evolution.  When new tech takes over from old, we immediately assume that the latter becomes obsolete.  It doesn’t occur to us that there are people who still use it.  Take the so-called ‘vinyl revival’ for example.  There are people who never stopped listening to music this way, and while they were not carried along by the age of the compact disc as the rest of us, they have continued to enjoy that unique listening experience.  I was one of the crowd who couldn’t wait to get rid of the crackly, fragile plastic in favour of a system where I could easily cue a track, and even shuffle them if I wanted to.  I was too young to care about the sound quality of vinyl compared to CDs; I just wanted convenience.  When I bought my first digital camera in 2001, I had the same feeling of Thank God I don’t have to buy and process film anymore.  There were people who didn’t jump to the new technology, which I was already aware of, given that I also have a Nikon F6 the collection; a digital camera manufactured for professionals right up until 2018!  Like vinyl before it, there has been a renaissance for this film technology that isn’t perfect, but whose imperfections lend themselves to a different creative experience.  Film is still expanding in its appeal, particularly with young people, who never previously had that experience of handling something physical that they made. 

The second thing that occurred to me was that some design ideas have an importance that isn’t measured on a technical drawing or in a spreadsheet.  For example, the original M3 had a brass top and bottom plate, which somehow made handling the camera a pleasurable experience.  By the time the M6 came along, this process was replaced by cast zinc for weight and presumably cost reasons.  As a consequence, for all its strengths, the M6 doesn’t have that same tactile feel to it.  The new M6 returns to the original brass manufacture, with Leica finding alternative ways to keep the weight down.  Perhaps then, intangible things that make a design work are as important as the tangible technological advances.  Many companies revisit their successful products and try to capture the essence of what made them special.  Lamborghini has recently produced a new Countach to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the car bearing only an aesthetic resemblance to the original.  Polaroid has re-invented its popular line of instant cameras, but with Bluetooth connectivity.  What Leica has done, is to restart the production of a previous product, with the kinds of minor tweaks that leave us with a camera sharing more than mere DNA.   They are, in essence the same camera.   It was when considering this last point, that I realised something that increases my fanboy-ism considerably.  My M6 is one of 175,000 units produced between 1984 and 2002, and its build quality means that many of them are still available to buy used.  The prices of these cameras have been increasing steadily over the few years that I’ve owned mine, with a similar vintage costing over 50% more than I paid at the time.  While owning the original is more cost effective than the new one (around $5k), getting the parts and having them serviced has been looking like a potential issue for the future, with only a handful of experienced companies left in the UK.  The release of the new model so similar in design to the old, potentially ‘future proofs’ the vintage M6, meaning that we can continue shooting with this brilliant camera for many more years to come.  Now, I Leica that very much.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera creativity film gear iconic legendary Leica Leica M6 photography reborn tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/10/i-leica-that-very-much Mon, 31 Oct 2022 17:03:06 GMT
Lemme tell you a story https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/10/lemme-tell-you-a-story As I write, I’m doing my usual ‘pause for reflection’ following the recent completion of a critical essay for my course.   To the untrained eye, these reflective moments could be interpreted as my having breathed a huge sigh of relief, and subsequently doing very little with my time.  I would say that this is half right.  As a man careering towards 50 years old, I’ve found returning to study rather challenging.  Prolonged concentration needed for study, difficulties with retaining what I’ve read etc, frustrate me.  However, my passion for all things photography and the problem-solving part of my mind work together to overcome this by practical demonstration.   The problem with this recent assignment was that it was pure research, analysis, and concise writing; that last one being something that readers of this blog might not recognise.   I don’t often write essays, and the prospect always transports me back to being at school, where I freely admit to doing the minimum to get by.  Having finished this essay about how visual elements affect the assignment of genre to photographs, I was now looking forward to starting my Self-Directed Project or SDP; a single large photographic work to take me up the end of the unit.   The project brief is completely open-ended, with the only requirement being to demonstrate an understanding of the course material thus far.  In my moment of reflection, I started to think about storytelling, specifically within the visual arts.  I was reminded of a throwaway remark made by Martin Scorsese during a press junket for his film The Irishman in 2019.  He was asked what he thought about the recent crop of Marvel Comics blockbusters that were proving incredibly successful at the box office.

“Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes” (Scorsese M, 2019)

This quotation was a clarification that he wrote after the predictable explosion that resulted in his criticism of those films and, in fact, most other films being made for modern consumption.  I’m not going to discuss whether I think he was right in his comments, although I do greatly admire his work.  He went on to make other points about the future of cinema in the interview, which isn’t the point of this post either.  Instead, let’s consider the art of storytelling.  By its definition, the telling of a story is to convey some form of narrative, generally about people, their environment and the events they are involved in.  For generations, stories have been told verbally and in writing.  However, visual representations of stories have also been present in paintings for centuries.  These different media have something in common when they are done well; they all demand the viewer or reader to bring their own ideas and experiences to the interpretation of the story.  Our imaginations help us picture the characters, appreciate their emotions, and feel the joy or horror of their situation.  If we look at Hieronymus Bosch’s famous The Garden of Earthly Delights (c1510), we are presented with three representations; of destruction of innocence, the subsequent short-term pleasures of man, and their dire consequences in the afterlife.  The story is presented all at once, but in triptych, with each panel introducing a sense of time passing.  The painter invites us to recognise ourselves and our future, linked to the religious iconography relating to damnation, that was a crucial part of many people’s lives during that era.   These visual elements that we read when we look at a picture, were explained by the structuralist philosophers of the 1960s with the application of semiotics, taken from the historical study of linguistics.  That’s a whole other post, though. 

When it comes to movies, there is a more significant challenge in presenting the visual elements.  The action plays out before us in real time, which means that we don’t have the same opportunity to read the elements as we would in a painting or a photograph.  A combination of a strong screenplay to define the story and clever direction, helps take the viewer through the story with just enough room to interpret what is going on, but without signposting the ‘meaning’.   This is where I understand and agree with Scorsese’s comments.   As I see it, the problem with the general superhero film genre, is that they are based on hugely complex comic books that weave a story from frame to frame, and let the reader take it all in.  As the resulting film must be a constrained to a couple of hours in length, the screenplays have to compress the material to the extent that they become formulaic; there’s a lead-in backstory, character development, a desperate situation that needs a hero, a large fight scene and a conclusion where some closure is achieved.  It’s not that the action isn’t exciting or the character development in anyway poor, it’s just that the frenetic pace and leading of the viewer through the story, leave little chance for the mystery, emotion and risk that Scorsese talks about.  We are not given the space to ask questions about the characters, because everything is put in front of us.  I believe this is one of the reasons that many comic book fans are not so keen on the cinematic representations, with some citing a lack of understanding of the characters.  This is of course subjective and created from their personal interpretation of the visual context in the printed version.  Everyone will see what they want to see.  That imagination is bypassed when the film presents the same characters or storyline. 

A great example of building emotional tension can be found in Scorsese’s own Goodfellas (1990), where a single long shot presents the viewer with a sense lead character Henry Hill.   

The camera follows Hill, played by Ray Liotta, and his girlfriend walking through the back entrance and kitchen to the Copacabana club.  

The route takes them through areas where people are busy working, with Hill choosing to interact with some and ‘tip money’ passing between them.  Those who deal with him show respect, where those who don’t, defer and stay clear.  Nobody really notices his companion.  Once inside the club, where the powerful mob figures are, they jump the queue for a table, to the frustration of the other diners, and only when seated is the line delivered that concludes the scene. “What do you do?”, asks the girl.   What makes the scene, apart from the single roving shot, is that all the details that hint at Hill’s power are there and we have time to notice them as the shot builds.  In one relatively short piece of film, we see the progress he has made since the beginning, where he starts out in the mob.  What it doesn’t do is dwell on that detail, nor does it signpost the way to the next scene.  We have a sense of recognition of the gangland genre, questions about the characters and an anxiety about what all that power might lead.  I think this is what is missing from the superhero films.

The same principles of careful construction of a scene are used by artists like Gregory Crewdson and Jeff Wall to tell their stories, only with the same time to linger as in classical painting.  They include enough visual references and symbolism for the viewer to draw some conclusion as to the meaning of the image.  It will not be the same as the next viewer, but the skill in granting both freedoms to interpret and constraint in keeping to the artist’s general intention, sets these mise-en-scéne images apart from the other genres.  My first attempt at this approach resulted in the picture below, which garnered a variety of different interpretations around the common theme of quiet reflection.  

Sanctum (2020), by Richard Fletcher

I found it the reaction of my viewers to be hugely rewarding as it was clear that the image resonated with elements of their own lives.  When it comes to my SDP, I intend to incorporate these kinds of pictures to create a backdrop for the main subject; to let viewer read the story’s context rather than have it read to them.  Wish me luck!

 

Bibliography

Scorsese, M. (2019) 'Opinion | Martin Scorsese: I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain.' In: The New York Times 05/11/2019 At: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/04/opinion/martin-scorsese-marvel.html(Accessed 19/10/2022).

The Long Take: Goodfellas (2009) At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJEEVtqXdK8 (Accessed 26/10/2022).

Links

https://gagosian.com/artists/gregory-crewdson/
https://gagosian.com/artists/jeff-wall/
 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog creativity mise-en-scéne movies narrative photography storytelling visual arts https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/10/lemme-tell-you-a-story Wed, 26 Oct 2022 11:09:05 GMT
Thinking about overthinking https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/10/Thinking-about-overthinking “What the hell am I doing?” 

That was the almost audible question that was spinning around in my head in the early hours of the morning recently when I woke in a sudden panic.  I’m sure that you’ve all experienced something similar; a good day, followed by an apparently good sleep, interrupted by something that in turn prevents you from getting back to sleep.  It’s in these moments that all our anxieties, no matter how trivial, start to whirl around in our minds like. washing machine on spin, further compounding the inability to relax.   I am no medical expert, but I’m told that this reaction is caused by something triggering our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ response.   Our heart rate and blood pressure increase, and the brain starts to try to process what to do about the imminent threat, which at night manifests as mind-racing anxiety.   This response originally evolved to save our lives, when presented with physical danger such as an attack from a wild animal or neighbouring tribe. Nowadays, our lives are so complicated that these threats can instead be the most trivial of issues we experience during the course of our day.

Now, there are lots of reasons that led do my late-night soap opera that I won’t bore you with, suffice to say they included a whiskey, an ‘argument’ and a very beautiful, but upsetting autobiography that I was listening to when I went to bed.  Topics included my abilities as a photographer, my self-assessment as to how good a husband I am, who I might be letting down in some way, whether I should stop ‘dreaming ‘and go back to work similar to what I did before, and so on.  I know with my rational brain that such thoughts are ridiculous, but in the early hours, they were driving me to ‘make some decisions’.   Fortunately, I understand the symptoms well enough to know that decisions should never be made when in that state.  When I finally got back to sleep, it was for about 1/2hr before my alarm went off.  That’s just typical.  I felt pretty bad, but an early training swim at the pool brought me back to reality.  

Night Terrors (2022) by Richard Fletcher

I started to think about why those things and not, say the problems with our economy or the war in Ukraine, featured in my night-time anxiety.  After all, those are really important world problems and in the case of the latter, pretty scary.   The answer is pretty simple: neither of those things are at all under my control.  The trivial shit that I was processing in the night was all related to something believe I should be able to control or could do better at.  While I don’t consider myself particularly insecure, I have always been a serious worrier.   The scale of my worrying varies from whether I remembered to lock the front door before going to bed, to whether that nagging pain is just indigestion or something more serious.  I generally require evidential proof that all is well before the associated anxiety truly dissipates, in some cases lurching the other way to cockiness.  My wife refers to this as ‘leaping tall buildings in single bound’.   An recent example was during the preparation for our summer trip to Austria in the camper.  At the last minute there were problems with COVID passports etc, but just when I thought it was all ok, a friend of mine pointed out that in order to drive in certain areas of France, we now needed a declaration of the emissions our vehicle produced.  Even though I researched what he was saying, and I knew we’d be avoiding those areas, I was sufficiently worried to go through the process of registering with the French transport authority for the sticker to be displayed in the window of the van.  The website was a pain; needing me to review the van manufacturers’s data, losing something in translation from French to English, only working with a particular web browser etc etc.  At the end of the process, I was informed that the sticker would take a week to arrive in the post and that there was no electronic equivalent.  We were leaving for France the following morning.   At this point, I flipped from worried to “well, I’ve paid for the bloody thing now, so if they have a problem with no sticker, I’ll show them the evidence and if they don’t like that, they can stick it”.  What an idiot. 

Thinking about my late-night drama, I wasn’t surprised to see my photography right up there on the worry list.  While I acknowledge how much my photographic practice has developed over the past 10 years and I’m continually receiving affirming feedback about my work, I still have a worry that I’m not somehow good enough.  This is partly just how I am, but it also comes from knowing some incredibly talented photographers, whose work amazes and inspires me on a daily basis.  We are not in competition, but I look at their images and think “I wouldn’t have thought about that” or “that look is something I doubt could have achieved” etc.   Of course, we are all very different personalities, so it stands to reason that we would have different ideas and approaches.  We are also interested in different subjects and genres, which informs what we produce.  It is the classic apples n’ oranges comparison.  Rationally, I know that I’m a good photographer and a developing artist, but there’s something that drives me to be better.  I need to remember that, not just when I’m working, but also when my brain is deciding whether I need to run or stand and fight a non-existent threat.  When I left my job last year, I found that for several months that I could not relax at all.  Every negative emotion related to walking away from my old company dominated the waking hours and sometimes the non-waking ones too.  I had some sessions with a hypnotherapist, which was great help.  My hypnotherapist talked about convincing that primitive part of the brain to stand down; there was no real danger, so no need to prepare to fight or run.   We can do this by using our imagination to picture a positive outcome to the problem we face at the time.  For me, the image of me receiving my degree and having my own exhibition (an ambition of mine for several years) that people actually want to see, featured in my thinking.  Gradually, all of that self-assessment and panicky fear began to subside.  It’s naturally a work in progress, and it needs to be paired with the traditional relaxation techniques such as breathing and stretching, but learning to control the response has been really useful.   That’s not to say that we cannot decide to think about anxiety more constructively when we are awake.  That particularly night’s excitement has prompted me to change direction with the business and with my own creativity.  It has motivated me to plan more effectively and accept that some things won’t work as expected.  As I mentioned in my previous post, letting go of being a grown-up and using our imaginations helps us be more creative.  As I write this, I’m dealing with a fair amount of grown-up stuff, but also thinking about my next photography challenge and the next chapter of my book.  It’s an antidote to overthinking and offers as much of an escape as is achievable while, say, waiting for my car to be repaired.   Next time the late-night wobbles happen to you, make a note of the ‘topics’ you were fretting about and give them some rational thought the following morning.  When you get the headspace to think about it and convince yourself of the reality of the situation, it should be easier to get past.   Now then, did I leave the iron on? 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) anxiety artist blog creativity metaphor overthinking photographer photography relaxation simplicity tuition worrying https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/10/Thinking-about-overthinking Mon, 17 Oct 2022 11:09:47 GMT
For the Love of Hog https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/10/for-the-love-of-hog It’s no secret that my two main interests in life are photography (who knew?) and wildlife, in particular the humble hedgehog.  I hadn’t seen a hedgehog for over 25 years and, like many, had thought them to be either extinct or so rare that there would be more chance of seeing a lottery win.   That all changed in 2018, when we had our back garden landscaped.  I’d like to say that it was our focus on making the design wildlife-friendly that made that first hog sighting possible, but it was in fact the new garage and driveway that enabled it to happen.  One evening, my wife saw the garage security light come on and went to the window to see what might have triggered it.   She was expecting one of the neighbourhood cats but there, trotting down the driveway, was a hedgehog.  By the time she’d called me downstairs to see, it had ducked under the fence into next door’s garden and back in the darkness from whence it came.   A minor ‘disagreement’ broke out, with me pointing out to my wife how long it had been since I’d seen one, but her being adamant that’s what she’d seen.  As any combined engineer and photography obsessive would do, I bought a camera the next in order to settle the argument.  The first night after the wildlife ‘trail cam’ was deployed on the garage drainpipe, there they were, not just the one and not just a single trip through our garden either.  It appeared as though we were a thoroughfare for these mysterious little creatures and possibly had been for many years; the drive making it easier to get about.  From that night, I started feeding them in an effort to keep them still long enough to really look at them.  To cut a very long, 4 year story short, I now have around half a dozen different hedgehogs that visit my feeding station every year.  I have worked with my local rescue to help hogs that have been injured, are visibly sick or too small to hibernate.  Our garden has been a formal release space for those who’ve been previously cared for…etc…etc.  It’s fair to say that it’s become an obsession.  What I hadn’t fully appreciated in those early days, was their plight.  That, and the subsequent knowledge I’ve accumulated on their physiology, lifecycle and behaviour since has helped me support them.  It was particularly handy the other night when my wife was out on a run and discovered a tiny autumn juvenile wandering aimlessly around a busy local road.  One swift rescue and weighing later (the latter is as tricky as it sounds) and I was concerned that this little female wouldn’t be big enough to survive the winter.  I decided to house her overnight and seek advice from the rescue centre in the morning.  I’d done this in the past, so had all the equipment needed to make a hedgehog comfortable.  In the end, it was determined that she was actually on track to be the right size and weight by winter, so she spend the day sleeping in a quiet room, waking only to scoff the food I’d given her, and then was released in our garden that night. 

Shortly before her release

The whole event was hugely rewarding for me.  But why?  Why this particular animal?  Contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with their ‘cuteness’.  Hedgehogs are indeed cute, having consistently been recognised as Britain’s favourite animal, so don’t get me wrong, I adore them in the same way as everyone else.  However, I support them the way I do, because of a sense of guilt.  Guilt because the hedgehog is an endangered species, which is almost entirely because of human behaviour.  Our continuing quest to build new houses, our use of pesticides that kill their food, our obsession with neat and tidy Chelsea Flower Show-like gardens with impenetrable fences enclosing them, have all contributed to the hog’s decline.  Lack of food, lack of territory in which to find a mate, and having to share more confined areas with their main predator (the badger) is literally destroying the species.  I’m not clambering onto a soapbox here; people are naturally free to do whatever they want.  The point I am making is that saddens me that in a decade or so, we could be describing them to young children in the past tense, instead of showing them.  The onky examples of the species will be the domesticated African Pygmy, which isn’t the slightest bit representative of its wild counterpart, despite what Instagram might have you believe. Truth is that unless we change some simple things, that’s where we are heading.  Not a burning issue in the context of the climate crisis or the war in Ukraine of course, but it is evidence of a human behaviour that will ultimately drive other native species into extinction  as well.  Think of the hedgehog as a warning sign.  A sign that I am personally paying attention to with the feeding, providing of habitat etc in my own area.   As I said, the purpose of this post is not to preach, but instead would like to connect it with a new project that I’m working on.  A while back, I was learning about landscape photography (I blogged about it at the time) and the different purposes that the genre serves.  Wanting to explore this further, I began a project looking at the ongoing battle between us and the natural landscape, whether through demarcation, urbanisation or possession.  What I had noticed was the way that nature eventually wins, once the human activity has stopped; think of the ruined historical monuments being reclaimed by vegetation, or the battlefields of the Somme.  Nature is patient and long after we are extinct, it will be reclaiming its natural spaces from everything we create.   My series isn’t intended to be depressing, though; it will take a closer look at what we might not notice, inspired in a similar way to the artists who formed the New Topographics movement in the 1970s.  They were railing against the aesthetic and the picturesque impressions of the world that were found in art history, their work revealing our relationship with the natural world.  My series will major on our attempts to control or restrain nature, with the varying degrees of success that go with them.  I started work while on a recent holiday and decided to shoot the series on medium format film, which offers a different perspective (particularly in the 6x6 frame), on composition and includes what they call the ‘medium format look’.  

 

From my landscape series, as yet untitled

My aim for the project is to really look at our environment in a way that hadn’t occurred to me previously.   Perhaps, as it did with that very first hedgehog sighting, photography will encourage me to notice things that are less obvious than what I had assumed within my understanding.  In documenting it, perhaps I can prove to myself that these things are real, much like that mysterious little creature that first captured my attention. 

For more information about hedgehog preservation: https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk

For the New Topographics movement, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/n/new-topographics

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog conservation creativity film hedgehog landscape medium format nature new topographics photography preservation tuition wildlife https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/10/for-the-love-of-hog Tue, 11 Oct 2022 15:17:47 GMT
Leaving the brakes on:  how creativity is held back https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/10/applying-the-brakes-how-creativity-is-held-back I’ve just had some feedback on my latest degree assignment that has a familiar, and somewhat frustrating, familiarity to it.  Unlike the classical déja vu, I really have heard this line before: “you appear to be holding back”.  “Holding back what?”, I hear you ask.  “The tide? The door? The years?” – if you’re too young to get that last one, I envy you.  What my tutor meant was ‘holding back with my creativity’.   I first heard something similar during the very first module, where, in my defence, I was still getting to grips with the idea of not thinking like an engineer.  My work in that module was considered to be a bit formulaic, that is taking influences from artists that I liked and applying the lessons I’d been learning to my pictures.   At the time, I felt this was rather harsh, given that I thought this was what ‘studying’ meant, hadn’t studied anything for nearly 20 years and I had a pretty good understanding of the fundamentals of photography.  What more did they want from me?   The answer, of course is pretty simple; the objective was to develop my own artistic ‘voice’.    Since art is given to be the creation of something using imagination and skill that has some meaning or emotion, it stands to reason that the voice we seek is more about what we want to say, than how we say it.  I understood the feedback that I’d received then, but why was I still apparently holding back now?  At each point in my studies, and in my new life outside of engineering, I’ve tried to improve my approach to creating new work, so was I somehow failing?

Well, no.  I believe the answer lies in research, carried out back in 1968 by Professor George Land, for the recruitment people at NASA.  He devised a test that could identify the markers for considering someone to be a creative genius.  By means of validation, the test was then given to a group of 1600 children aged between 3 and 5 years old.  Land and his team went on to test the same group every 5 years until they were 15 years old and compared the results.  When the group were at their youngest, an astonishing 98% of them exhibited the signs of creative genius, but by the time they had reached 15, the number had dropped to just 12%.  This staggering drop was further explored by Land, when the test was given to a group of around 280,000 adults.  Within that group, the were just 2% that showed the markers.  Land explained this by discussing divergent and convergent thinking, the former being the most common in young children.  Divergent thinking is essentially the exploration of ideas and scenarios through imagination.  It’s what children do when they play at being characters such as pirates, soldiers, Disney princesses etc.  Along with imagining themselves in character, they visualise props and surroundings with whatever things come to hand, so that a broom handle might become a lightsaber, a towel might be a magical cloak, and so on.  Divergent thinking doesn’t obey any inherent rules or constraints beyond our capacity to imagine.  What happens as we grow up is that we are bombarded by convergent thinking, that is structured messaging about subjects we have to learn, or rules we need to follow.  They become engrained in our personalities to the extent that we don’t realise them as affecting our behaviour.  For example, I cannot walk into a house without taking my shoes off unless the owner keeps theirs on.  This came from being told to remove my shoes when entering our house by my parents, who were pretty strict about it.  It comes as no surprise then, that Land’s results reflect the shift from divergent to convergent thinking as we get older and learn more in keeping with the latter.  Our need to imagine is replaced by tangible experience, whether applying a life skill like driving a car, or solving a problem in the workplace.  In my case, I’m a generally compliant person.  I loathe what I call ‘petty authority’ because of the attitude rather than the enforcement rules (overzealous security guards, traffic wardens with a superiority complex etc) and will rebel wherever possible.  However, by and large I will do as I’m told if the reason is genuine and that attitude missing.  My behaviour then, is a clue as to why I might be holding back.   Instead of letting my imagination run away with itself on a particular project or theme, my mind is subconsciously thinking about whether the images are good enough to be seen, whether the viewer will interpret them a certain way as I intended, and whether I’m demonstrating my learning through the work.  These self-imposed constraints make sense to me on some level, so I’m less likely to treat them like a traffic warden.  When I think about it, most of the artists who inspire me are rebels. Whether using colour film when everyone else was shooting black and white (Meyerowitz), shooting banal everyday objects in recognisable settings (Egglestone) or revealing beauty in overtly sexual images that shook conservative America (Mapplethorpe), they all freely expressed themselves against the traditions.  In doing so, they changed photographic art through imagining something different, inspiring others to follow suit.  Such changes don’t come freely through divergent thinking alone, of course.  They needed to gain the specific skills to make photographs, which undoubtedly needed traditional learning methods (convergent), but they also refused to be limited by other people’s ideas of what makes a good subject or image.  They were not holding back.

From a recent photography challenge reimagining the humble toothbrush

The message then is to be more divergent, but how do you do that when pushing 50 years old?  I’ve heard anecdotes of artists actually reverting to being a child, playing with toys etc and I know several very talented photographers who observe their young children’s play and try to relate to it.   I’ve taken a slightly different route, recently embarking on writing a novel, whose story has been loosely floating around in my head for years.  I don’t expect to get it published when finished, or indeed for it to be particularly good, but that’s not the point of doing it.  The enjoyment I now get from imagining my characters, and the fictional world they inhabit, has been liberating thus far.  I love the idea that the only real skills I need are to be able to write and to imagine, which takes me right back to being a child.  I’ll just have to make sure I don’t throw any of those vintage temper tantrums when I don’t get my own way.  Somethings do indeed need to be held back.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist blog camera convergent creativity divergent learning letting go photographer photography tuition writing https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/10/applying-the-brakes-how-creativity-is-held-back Mon, 03 Oct 2022 13:03:43 GMT
So many cameras, so many more https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/9/so-many-cameras-so-many-more Those who know me well, will know that as well as being a photographer, a student, a would-be artist, and tutor, I am also a prolific camera collector.  When I tell people that I have 52 cameras in the collection so far, the response I usually get is  “why?” Sometimes, they run away and on occasion have been known to tell me of the cameras in their loft/basement/parents’ house etc. that I might be interested in.  It’s all in fun, of course.  I guess that everyone who collects something is subjected to being categorised as being a bit of a nerd, which doesn’t bother me greatly. 

The answer to the first question, is that I’m fascinated by the evolution of the camera.  Photography as we know it has been around since the early 1800s, when Joseph Niépce conducted experiments with his new heliography process.   His used a camera obscura to make his famous image, credited as being the oldest surviving photograph, View from the Window as La Gras (c 1826).  The camera obscura had been around for many centuries before that; its origins dating as far back as ancient Greece.  They are widely still used today, and I have a modern variant in my collection, that I’ve talked about before in Forget the Gear, Have an Idea(linked below).  From the humble pinhole camera, the evolution of cameras kept in step with the evolution of the light-sensitive materials being used, from the heated bitumen of Niépce’s heliography, through Daguerre’s polished metal plates, to the modern films and papers pioneered by Kodak.  Improvements in lenses and shutters offered photographers more flexibility in how they shot their subjects, as well as a variety of creative styles that we see in photographs today.  Every camera manufacturer that emerged during the 20th Century wanted to add their own special design ‘sauce’ to their equipment, and it is this that got me started in collecting cameras of historical significance.  That’s not to say that they are all of the highest quality or have the greatest lenses etc., they just need to have been important in moving photography forward in some way.   Take the Nikon F (1959), for example.  Here was a camera that offered a true ‘system’ for the first time in 35mm.  The viewfinder prisms, focusing screens and even the film transport could be changed to suit a variety of needs.  Not surprisingly, it rapidly became a choice for professionals and photojournalists, who up until then were probably shooting 35mm Leicas.  It was so popular that it forced the mighty Leica to up their game, in order to survive.  The F was the blueprint for 5 further variants, as well as many other derivative consumer models.  I have an F in the collection and an F6, which was the last of the line.  The latter looks and feels like my digital SLR cameras, so it could be argued that the DNA lives on, some 63 years after the first version.   

The first and the last - My 1960s Nikon F and 2018 Nikon F6

The other major manufacturers of the age were also blazing their own trails in 35mm, each time offering more reliability, compactness, lighter weight, better glass quality and, with the advances in electronics, more accurate metering.   In the medium format world, the professionals were shooting Hasselblad, Rolleiflex, Mamiya etc., all offering something new, in similar way, as they evolved.  It’s to be expected, of course because that’s how technology works, right?

Well, not entirely.  It is true that camera technology marches on at great pace – I talked about that in my recent blog about mirrorless.  Cameras are becoming much more than they were, most notably in their ability to shoot video; a must if anyone wants to become a vlogger or professional videographer.   All of this is not what I’m referring to.  My concern is more about the concept of designing new film cameras, something I have mixed feelings about.  I applaud the desire to make new cameras for the film community,  but in some cases, I have a problem with what they are trying to produce.  I regularly read about people seeking funding to make quirky or unusual cameras, some of which I don’t really see any merit in at all.  Producing something that looks cool, operates in an unusual fashion, but has limited shutter speeds or poorly made lenses, doesn’t make any sense to me.  It seems to be a modern misconception, that producing photographs that are the result of poor technique or a crappily made camera, is somehow creative.  For me, this is not the case.  In my view, creativity uses whatever is to hand that helps bring the creator’s vision to life; anything beyond doing that is embellishment.  Simply producing something bad without knowing why, is not creativity as I see it.  A new camera dedicated to this is certainly not needed. If you want to create strange or unusual images, use an unusual film, or buy a Holga.  Holgas have been around for decades, are widely known to be poorly made, but produce those ‘interesting’ pictures that I’m talking about and are popular with film photographers.  Whatever the motivation, here is my main gripe with ‘new badness’.  We live in a world where natural resources are declining, in some cases at an alarming rate.  We are facing changes in our natural world that ultimately must change our attitude towards energy consumption, manufacturing and waste.   The millions of film cameras that were made during film’s golden age are still out there, many of them still in good working order and available to buy in online market places, in many cases for not that much money.   They were all made to enhance the experience of photography in some way, whether from a usability or performance perspective, so why not pick one up as opposed to wasting money on ‘recreating’ them in the 21s Century?  

I want you to understand that I’m not just ranting against new technology going ‘all retro’, far from it.  What I am saying is that I understand and welcome the revival of film photography, something that I only really rediscovered for myself 6 years ago.  Anything that encourages people to take it up is a good thing, but I’d prefer the balance to be struck between our future global challenges and the need to be somehow ‘cool’.  There are some fantastic cameras out there, just waiting to be used by a newcomer.  In my case, around two thirds of the collection’s original owners are no longer with us, which I think about a lot whenever I take them out on a shoot.  With me, they are being given an new life where the expectation might have been that they’d end up in landfill.  This got me thinking, perhaps I’ve become a camera recycler as well as just a collector. Now there’s a thought.  

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist camera creativity environmental awareness film less waste Nikon Nikon F photography recycle rediscover film photography reuse tuition vintage https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/9/so-many-cameras-so-many-more Tue, 27 Sep 2022 11:50:35 GMT
Postmemory and the importance of the family archive https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/9/postmemory-and-the-importance-of-the-family-archive As I write this blog, Britain continues to deal with one of those cultural and societal changes that is hard to put into context.  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away a couple of weeks ago at the age of 96, having spent 70 years as our nation’s monarch.  Like many, I am deeply saddened by her loss, and like many, have been overwhelmed by the extent of the 24/7 media coverage of the aftermath, the alleged family feuds and hitherto unseen processes that take place in the accession of the new King.  However, once the state funeral, with all its pomp and ceremony, had taken place I found myself thinking “what choice did the media have?”  I mean, as an almost 50-year-old man, I’ve only ever known life under the reign of The Queen.  Her name, image and influence has been woven throughout our culture in a way that frankly makes me feel a little lost.  From EIIR phone boxes to coins and stamps, one of the Bond films and lots of music to her many Royal Warrants, she is still everywhere.  Most of these things will naturally change over time, but for the foreseeable future, we’ll be regularly reminded of her because of these ordinary, everyday details.  

Away from the news, there have been some wonderful documentaries about her life and reign, and that was what prompted me to write this post.  One of them, called Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen, fascinated me because it comprised old newsreel footage, home movies shot by her and her family, and audio recordings of her telling her own story.  I already knew that she was a keen photographer and had seen the many pictures of her holding bespoke cameras made for her by the likes of Leica and Rollei, but I didn’t know that she used an 8mm movie camera as well.  The footage that she shot on her trusty Kodak of her young family was revealing, but also hugely nostalgic.  How could be nostalgic to someone who wasn’t even born when it was shot?  The answer is because of the concept postmemory.

Postmemory is a phenomenon where we ‘remember’ something from the previous generation to ours, whether a specific event or an emotional connection with a general time or place in history.  We cannot physically remember it because we were either not yet born or present when it took place, but the knowledge that we do have creates a virtual memory so strong, that we become deeply affected by it.   The term was first coined by Marianne Hirsch, a university academic in the early 1990s who has continued to quantify what it means ever since, through a number of historical events, most notably The Holocaust.   The horrific industrial slaughter of Jewish families, unsurprisingly left those who survived with memories that nobody else can ever truly comprehend.  These memories became stories that Holocaust survivors naturally passed through the generations in a way that would likely have been cathartic, but also driven by the need for the atrocity to never be forgotten.  Descendents of the survivors continue to pass these stories on down through the generations, each time making the retelling more personal and more alive as they told their children.  Hirsch was one such descendant, who realised that her Holocaust ‘memories’ were sometimes more vivid, more real than her actual childhood memories, which struck her as odd.  She coined the term postmemory to describe these ‘memories that aren’t’, and when I think about it, my reaction to the footage of Queen Elizabeth can be explained by this theory.  Postmemory is influenced not only by the familial stories we are told, but the images, news articles and even music of the time.  When I see footage of 1950s England, I connect with it because I have a sense of those difficult post-war years, where prosperity had yet to return, old war allies were reverting to type, the development and proliferation of nuclear technology, etc..etc…  I have this knowledge from many different sources, to such an extent that my recognition of the era is palpable.  Add to that the fact that the current royal family is instantly recognisable (even when younger) for the reasons I mentioned previously, and I found myself deeply moved by the programme.  

You don’t have to be royalty to create powerful postmemory, of course.  Alongside the personal stories that we tell the next generation, is the family ‘archive’.   When I say archive here, I really mean a collection of photographs, whether or not they are organised formally as an archive implies. When I was growing up, I naturally had a camera and took pictures of my family – Who knew?.  I wasn’t alone, though as other members of the family also had cameras and documented holidays, Christmases, Birthdays etc over the years.  In those days, we kept the prints and negatives, sometimes putting them into albums that we could take out and look at from time to time.  What we ended up with was a huge collection of pictures covering a substantial period of time, but we also had something that physically lasted.  Even if lost for a few years, we could still rediscover our prints from time to time and be reminded of those special occasions.  With the passing of time, these images act as an aide-memoire, but they take on a special significance when members of the previous generation who are in them are no longer with is.  I look at the many pictures I have of my parents when they first got married and I feel like I know that holiday or that party or family gathering with their parents, as if I were able to step into the photographs.  For me, this is why we should take pictures of everything.  

My dear old Grandad Charlie, pictured getting Christmas dinner ready several years before I was born.  My memories of him, his kindness and generosity and the house instantly transport me to that time and place

Before everyone points out that in the modern world, we literally photograph everything from ourselves to our cups of coffee, the issue with the proliferation of digital images is that, unless we print them, they stay as 1s and 0s on a hard drive somewhere.  There are questions about how long digital media lasts, because of the lifespan of the hardware that it’s stored on.  With changes in technology and accessibility (the technical interfaces between devices etc), it could be that pictures we took 20 years ago might not be available to us at some point in the future.  I find that a little scary, to be honest.   We might not be able to preserve historical pictures without some effort, but I’m not trying to argue that film is the way forward - heaven forbid.  What I am saying, is that we really should print pictures whenever we can.  They don’t have to be framed and hung on the wall as art.  They don’t even have to be that good, but just the act of being able to keep something for the next generation to own along with our tall tales, has got to be a good thing.  There are many inexpensive options for portable printers that can wirelessly connect to our phones and quickly produce high quality prints on paper or, if you like a bit of nostalgia, on instant film.   Just remember that in 50 years’ time, someone might be telling a story about you, just as with the documentary about Her Majesty.  For that postmemory to be passed on, the visuals might just make all the difference.


 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist creativity nostalgia photography postmemory printing the queen tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/9/postmemory-and-the-importance-of-the-family-archive Thu, 22 Sep 2022 13:00:00 GMT
Through the Squarish Window https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/9/through-the-squarish-window This year marks 10 years since London played host to the Olympic Games which, for me, was perhaps the most magical and unifying event I’ve ever experienced.  Yes, it was expensive and yes, there were plenty of naysayers who couldn’t see the point, but when Games began in late July 2012, the overwhelming moods were of joy and excitement, coupled with the recurring thought “I wish I had tickets for that”.   Ticketing for the event was through a nationwide ballot and when the registration window opened, my wife applied for pretty much every event going.  At the time I thought she was quite mad, but soon changed my tune when the results were in.  We had been offered lots of tickets, but most importantly, they included Saturday’s athletics event at the Olympic Stadium.  Only with hindsight can we really appreciate what became known as Super Saturday.  By the end of that day, the British team had won a slew of gold medals in track & field and Usain Bolt had set the stadium alight in the 100m.  Our session was the morning, where there were less fireworks, but we were still able to see our heroes in action.  

At the time, I was just 2 years into my renewed interest in photography and using my first ever DSLR.  I had yet to do any formal training to improve my skills, but I had the next best thing, all the gear.  When we left for London, I had packed every piece of camera gear I owned.  Camera, long telephoto lens, monopod, loads of memory cards etc…etc.  I wanted to shoot everything, just as long as I could get into the events themselves.   The London Games had been dogged by issues in preparation, one of which was the bizarre shortage of staff to man the entrances to the venues, an apparent recruitment and training miscalculation.  To ease the embarrassment of the company who’d made the error, British Armed Forces personnel were drafted in to help.  As we approached the stadium in Stratford, East London, I could see a large Army contingent checking bags.   No chance, I thought.  To my surprise, however, I was allowed to take my mountain of kit into the stadium with the simple instruction to ‘not get in anyone’s way or spoil their enjoyment of the event’. Result.

I shot continuously throughout the day, with each exciting event yielding opportunities to capture a piece of history as they went.  I was pretty rubbish at that time and my long telephoto lens was, at 300mm, not really long enough to get good frame-filling compositions.  Still, I did get some shots I was (and still am) proud of.   The thing is, when I reflected on the day immediately afterwards and in the years since, all I can really remember is taking photographs.  For example, I can’t really recall the experience of the atmosphere when a ‘disguised’ Bolt snuck onto the track largely unnoticed.  I had spotted him but was immediately consumed with taking a picture as he made his presence known.   It occurred to me that this was a disappointing outcome to my Olympic experience and it was something to do with being a photographer. 

Usain Bolt offers a fist bump to his box carrier.  He was the only athlete to show appreciation, as everyone else prepared for the race

Fast forward to a Diamond League athletics meet in Birmingham a few years later.  I now had my new camera and what I considered to be a better lens.  I’d learned more about the basics of photography with regard to the technical camera settings and composition, so I thought this would be an opportunity to show off a little.  The first hurdle was a conflict with the marshalling staff at the venue – long story short, they confiscated my camera and I only got It back from the head of security when I pointed out that they’d have to pay many thousands of pounds if it was lost or damaged by the muppets on the gate.   Perhaps it was the stress of that confrontation or the memory of London, but once inside, I actually didn’t want to take pictures of the event.  I just sat and watched instead. 

Why am I rambling on about all this?  Well, I’ve been on holiday this past couple of weeks and during that time, I’ve visited many tourist attractions.  Holidays present a challenge for me with my collection of 52 cameras, principally which one(s) to take with me.  For this trip, I uncharacteristically chose to ‘travel light’.  My Nikon D300 (that very first DSLR), which is light enough to carry around with me and good enough to do some of my study work on, and my Hasselblad that I talked about last week, were selected.  I took the latter with me because I had a project that I wanted to shoot specifically on medium format film.  This choice of minimal gear not only made my wife happier, but it also meant that I would be forced into accepting that I could not shoot every subject or setting that was presented to me during our trip.   This started thinking about not taking pictures when it’s better to just watch what is happening, when we visited the wonderful National Centre for Birds of Prey, near the town of Helmsley.  The centre had three flying sessions throughout the day, during which a variety of falcons, eagles and owls demonstrated their amazing aerobatic and hunting skills.  As I didn’t have any of the right gear with which to shoot the display, I just watched in amazement with the other spectators.   It then dawned on me how much we miss when we are focused on what might be about to happen in front of us.  The camera gives us a perspective through a small rectangular viewfinder which, even with a wide-angle lens fitted, restricts our ability to see everything that our eyes would normally.  In the case of the birds, a long telephoto shot of a bird in flight is much like any other and, while impressive details can be revealed, we don’t get any sense of its behaviour or plan of attack if we just see it flying within a narrow field of view.  That’s not to say that I am against this style of wildlife photography, far from it.  It’s just that when the action is fast and furious, our attention is all about the split-second decision to shoot rather than being immersed in the moment.  By stepping back from this method of photographing we observe more, so that when a less frenetic moment presents itself, we can still get a picture.  

A mischievous Kite lands for a quick pit stop, photographed by the ubiquitous camera phone

As with the Olympics, I was witnessing something really special only this time, without my camera, I was able to experience the anticipation of the action in front of me.   We are continually surrounded by this phenomenon of ruthlessly capturing what we can from an event, because our trusty camera phones are always available to us.  People visit the Museé du Louvre in Paris every day and take a camera-phone picture of the Mona Lisa, not because they believe it is a good representation of the painting, but just to say they were there.  I often wonder what they do with the pictures beyond sharing them on social media.  Do the print them or keep them as a screensaver on their computer?  Doubtful.  Perhaps if we consciously decided to just experience the moment once in a while, without the need to document it, we’d enjoy it more.  Or perhaps our perspectives really are being more and more defined by a squarish window.   

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist camera concentration creativity gear in the moment less is more photographer photography tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/9/through-the-squarish-window Thu, 15 Sep 2022 16:32:22 GMT
Blad Hassle - The Need to Always be Prepared https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/9/blad-hassle---the-need-to-always-be-prepared As I write this post, I am sitting at the garden table outside the idyllic cottage that we are staying in while on holiday in the North York Moors.  It’s truly beautiful here and, under normal circumstances I would just be taking in the tranquillity and enjoying the warm, dry weather.  However, this isn’t one of those “look at me, I’m having a wonderful time” posts that are so popular on social media.  Instead, I am trying to cheer myself up a little and learn a lesson while I’m at it. 

This tale starts back at home, with me thinking about the landscape series I wanted to shoot away.  I’d recently been learning about the subtleties of landscape in my current course, which opened my eyes to the proliferation of photographs of the aesthetic or picturesque.  I covered this topic during a recent blog post that you can see here if you’ve not read it already. blog post

My idea for a landscape series, was to capture the apparently futile attempts that people make to tame the landscape in some way and, in some cases, how nature takes it back from them.  I wanted to shoot the images as documentary rather than picturesque, so no running water, strategically-placed ruined castles or beautiful sunsets lighting the rolling fields for me.  The images needed to work together as a series that challenged the viewer to understand what they were about, while at the same time looking as though they belong together, which is easily achieved by using the same compositional approach.   One of the early I had was to shoot in medium format and in a square composition.  For those not in the know, medium format is a name given to images that are captured using a sensing area larger than 35mm but smaller than 4x5 inches.  The term was derived principally for roll and sheet film that was available for a group of camera systems, the most common of which was 120 roll film that is 6cms in width. Shooting on a larger area has a number of advantages.  The first is that the larger the sensor area, the higher the grain/pixel density for the size of image being projected by the lens, meaning that resulting photographs can be blown up in size without losing the detail.  The second is that the lenses for medium format cameras create a different ‘look’ in terms of depth of field because they are designed to work with the larger areas.  I know this isn’t a particularly technical explanation (I didn’t want it to be), but suffice to say, photographers refer to the medium format ‘look’, where the extra subject isolation and detail draws the viewer in.  Truth is, a well shot medium format image is very beautiful indeed, far more so than a native 35mm frame.  Now, I have a fairly large collection of medium format film cameras and 5 of them shoot a square format of 6x6cms onto 120 roll film.  I have no favourites, but for this trip I wanted the flexibility of a system camera, so my Hasselblad V500c/m was the logical choice.  It’s a legendary Swedish medium format SLR, popular with famous artists, wedding photographers and even astronauts, being the basic design for the cameras used on the Apollo missions.  Those magnificent lunar surface and Earth rising shots?  They were shot on a variant of the V500.   It was also the first camera I bought when I went back to shooting film, so it should be the one I’m most familiar with, right?  Not quite.   Being the camera that took my medium format virginity, the Blad was quick to show me its quirks early on, some of which I’ve not seen in any other camera I’ve since collected.   One of the great things about the camera is that it is completely modular.  It can be easily stripped down to its sub-assemblies, which not only means that it can be easily cleaned and maintained, but there are a wide range of options for components like viewfinders, light meters, focusing screens, even the handle that winds the film.  The individual film enclosures are swappable too, which was a huge benefit to the wedding shooting crowd, as it meant that they could carry several pre-loaded film ‘backs’ and have an assistant reload them as they swapped them out; picture a machine gun magazine but for a camera. The quirks of the design are intended to make sure that it performs properly when assembled, prevents mechanical damage or ruins the film being shot.  No matter though, as after a few weeks of shooting the Blad, these were all well understood; back in 2016, that is. 

The mighty Swede.  Lenses with Carl Zeiss glass contain all of the controls apart from Shutter Release and Mirror Lock-up

 

Dismantled.  Changeable everything, plus Yours Truly reflected in the internal mirror

One of the ‘features’ of how the camera operates is that the winder (mine’s a knob rather than a crank), advances the film in the back, winds a spring in the main body, and also one in the lens.  The modular nature of the camera means that the shutter and its speed control, are in the lens and not the camera (unlike most other SLR cameras), so it needs winding up at the same time as the mirror assembly in the body.  All sounds ok, but in order to keep them synchronised, the camera must be wound (cocked) in order to fit or remove the lens.  If you try to remove the lens when both springs are exhausted, you’ll find that they are locked together, only to be released when winding on to take the next picture.  Quirky, but not a problem.  Furthermore, if you wind the camera without the film back attached, they then get out of synch which, unless manually reset, results in an additional frame being advanced and a piece of film wasted.  Believe me, the stuff is so expensive now, that wasting shots is painful.  Again, I learned this the hard way in the beginning.

Fast forward from that initial learning to this morning.  I’d scouted the first images I wanted in the series while we were walking the other day and, as the camera is too heavy to walk long distances with, I resolved to shoot them properly on a different day.  This morning, we loaded up and hiked up the incredibly steep Rosedale Chimney Bank, which has a heart-pumping 1 in 3 incline.  When we got to the first composition, I set up the camera, metered the scene and pressed the shutter.  The mirror in the camera dutifully flipped up, but the shutter didn’t fire. Strange.  The camera and lens were now out of synch for some unknown reason and they were completely locked.  Worse still, the issue had prevented the winder from releasing so that I could be turned to cock the camera for the next frame.  I was left on a hillside with a large block of useless machinery.  I quickly realised what was wrong and the gravity of the situation regarding fixing it.  The fix for this issue involves the delicate process of resynching camera and lens with a watchmaker’s screwdriver to turn a tiny screw, that is right in front of the rear optic of a very expensive lens. Naturally, I didn’t have a screwdriver with me while in the middle of nowhere, even if I had been brave enough to attempt it.  No option then, but to abandon the shoot altogether and trudge back down the hill.

Danger Close!  The tiny screw that is perilously close to the back lens element.  By the state of the anti-reflective paint, this has been operated before

What had happened was that over time and lack of use, the lens I’d selected lost some of its spring tension.  When it came to shooting that first frame, the two springs were completely out of synch, with the obvious result.  Back at the cottage, the process of resynching was carefully completed, and the camera came back to life.  

The moral of this story?  Technology, however clever, has some situations where it won’t perform as expected.  This camera is nearly 40 years old and hasn’t had the maintenance regime that other machines of a similar vintage would have (there’s lesson 1). Secondly, knowing this might happen, I should really carry a basic toolkit with me when I go out with a camera like this.  I still might not be able to fix it while out in a field, but I would stand a better chance.  In the end, the light is still good so the Blad and I will be heading out again this afternoon.  At least the exercise is doing me some good. 

New to photography or have you found an old camera like this one?  Why not have some beginner's tuition to learn the basics?  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details. 

 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) camera creativity film Hasselblad learning lessons photograph photography prepared tuition V500c/m https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/9/blad-hassle---the-need-to-always-be-prepared Wed, 07 Sep 2022 18:06:46 GMT
Mirror, Mirror in the Camera https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/9/mirror-mirror-in-the-camera Over the past few years, I’ve sat back and watched most of my photography friends upgrade their cameras to mirrorless technology.  I say ‘sat back’, because I’m still using my trusty Nikon D4 that I’ve had for the past 10 years.  I collect old cameras, some of which are over 70 years old, but that doesn’t mean I’m some kind of luddite when it comes to photographic technology, far from it.  The D4 was Nikon’s newest professional DSLR when it came out in 2012 and, despite not winning any prizes in the modern-world obsession with megapixels, it still holds its own in terms of image quality.  As long as severe cropping isn’t your thing, it is still a fine camera and as such, I currently feel no need to change it.

The progression to mirrorless does interest me, though.  For the uninitiated, a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera has a single lens (duh!) which is used for both composition and acquisition.  The camera achieves both by using a mirror that, when down, covers the sensor (or film) and directs light from the lens into the viewfinder so you that can see the scene.  When the shutter button is pressed, the mirror flips up out of the way and allows the light to fall on the sensor when the shutter opens, making the image.  This arrangement has been around for decades and was seen by many as the most convenient way to shoot, because what you see is essentially what you get.  The alternative rangefinder and viewfinder cameras at the time relied on precise alignment of the viewfinder optics and a little guesswork to accurately compose the image, but they had the advantage of not needing a mirror.  The mirror has always been seen as the SLR/DSLR camera’s Achilles’ heel, as the act of quickly flipping a mirror requires mechanical stabilisation, vibration damping etc to avoid any problems with blurring of the image.  It also adds size and weight to the design of the camera body as well as making the shutter-release process noisy.  When I’m shooting in burst mode, which fires the shutter at up to 10 frames/second, it literally sounds like a machine gun.  Forget any ideas of being the next Cartier-Bresson and shooting in discreet pictures of people and events unfolding on the street, as they will almost certainly hear you. The great man used a selection of Leica rangefinder cameras, which I know from experience to be near silent.

As the name suggests, mirrorless cameras don’t have the same arrangement as DSLRs, with the viewfinder being a direct, live preview of what the lens sees provided by the sensor itself.  When the shutter is released, the sensor quickly switches off the preview mode and the image is made like any other camera.   Removing the mirror means that camera manufacturers have been able to exploit advances in electronics to achieve smaller size, lighter weight, higher shutter speeds and burst rates, as well as using the most advanced sensors available today.  All sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

Well, not quite.   There are some problems that I’ve noticed with mirrorless technology that means I won’t be moving to it any time soon.   The first is that the systems use different lenses to their DSLR counterparts.  There are several reasons for the difference, but the main one is that with the mirror mechanism removed, the distance between the lens’ rear optic and the sensor can be greatly reduced, which in theory makes for improvements in lens design where size and weight are concerned.  I say ‘in theory’ because like everything, it’s not quite as simple as that.   Suffice to say, the lenses are different and, in many cases, they are lighter than their DSLR counterparts.  However, I have about £20k worth of excellent lenses for my DSLR that I’ve collected over the past decade, so what do I do with those if I move to mirrorless?  To get around compatibility, Nikon have produced an adapter that allows DSLR lenses to work with their Z series mirrorless cameras (the same is true of the other major DSLR manufacturers).  The drawbacks of the adapter are that it makes the now-slim camera rather bulky, even before the bulky lens is fitted.  Also, in some cases there have been reports of the adapter’s interface affecting the available apertures and dramatically reducing the autofocus performance, particularly on some of the large telephoto lenses that I have.   In my case then, I would have to trade in the lenses as well as my D4, which is essentially the same hassle as changing camera brand entirely.  Add to that the fact that there are currently fewer lens options available for mirrorless, and it’s not looking like an enticing proposition. 

Another potential issue is the battery life.  One of the interesting things about modern use of cameras is the way that phones have influenced how we compose photographs.  We hold up the phone and use the screen to compose, focus and take the picture.  Mirrorless cameras also offer some of that convenience with their reviewing screen, so it’s not surprising to see photographers taking advantage of it.  All that screen time, coupled with the high-performance functions like burst-mode and enhanced videography, can quickly drain the battery.  I was on a photography trip earlier this year and saw the issue first-hand as one of my friends had to keep swapping batteries throughout the day.  Even using the dedicated viewfinder involves a small digital screen to be active during composition, unlike the optical arrangement of a DSLR.  Sure, the mirror is moved electrically in modern DSLRs, but the manufactures have had a long time to refine the efficiency of that.  Naturally, there are steps that can be taken to reduce mirrorless power consumption, but for me it’s an added complication when my camera’s batteries last for days at a time, no matter how much abuse they get.  It might seem like an unfair comparison given that my D4 was designed for professional work and its batteries are enormous, but I suspect the same is true of my other, consumer DSLR.

They say that life is a series of compromises, which is definitely true when it comes to the choice of camera gear.  I really like where the mirrorless technology is going and the cameras my friends have been buying are spectacular performers.  It’s true that when I want to shoot on the street, I’m forced to take one of my film rangefinders in order to be quiet, but that introduces a whole series of other problems.  In Cartier-Bresson’s day, nobody paid him or his camera any attention as he walked around the streets.  Today however, the sight of a Leica (particularly an M model) has fellow photographers coming over to ask about the camera.  If it’s a Rolleiflex TLR like the one in the picture, the attention is exponentially increased.  People are genuinely fascinated to see old gear like this (this Rollei was made in 1958) still being used, so want to ask lots of questions about it.  A mirrorless camera would definitely be an advantage in that situation if I grew tired of it (I’m not, though – I love their interest).  

My 1958 Rolleiflex T, a beautiful Twin Lens Reflex camera that always attracts attention

In the end, it comes down to personal choice – how much effort we want to put into the upgrade vs. the potential payoff.  For me, the balance isn’t right yet so any upgrade I’d make right now would be one of Nikon’s flagship DSLRs, the Nikon D6 or the D850.  With the pace of technological advance, it may soon be that I won’t have any choice in the matter.  Rest assured though, when the time is right, I’ll be a willing convert. 

Bought a new camera or found an old one in the loft?  Get started with some personal tuition for beginners.  It's tailored to your particular area of interests and can be delivered either in person or via video call.  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details. 

For more about Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of street photography, visit www.henricartierbresson.org/en/

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) blog camera DSLR gear mirrorless Nikon photography tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/9/mirror-mirror-in-the-camera Fri, 02 Sep 2022 11:02:31 GMT
Just Keep Swimming https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/8/just-keep-swimming Last month, my wife and I left for a road trip to Austria in the camper.  Ordinarily this would have been quite the adventure its own right, given that last time I drove in Europe, we were all one big happy family of nations. This trip was particularly exciting and nerve-wracking because my wife was competing in Ironman Austria.  For those who don’t know the full extent of this madness, Ironman is a triathlon with the following distances:  3.9km swimming, 180km cycling and 42km running.  In context, that last one is a full marathon.  Needless to say, I’d been in awe of her commitment to training, as I am with all of our friends and family who have taken on such a challenge.  However, it wasn’t until the end of the event, after some 15 ½ hrs of gruelling competition in 35°C heat, that I gained some sense of how it affects the mind as well as the body.  She crossed the line to the sounds of the cheering crowd and the loud music as expected, but after she received her medal, she headed for the platform next to the DJ and started dancing! Why? Because the track was a favourite of hers.   I couldn’t believe it.  She had finished the culmination of many months hard training, the long journey and the intense heat and just fancied a boogie.  When I asked her about it afterwards, she told me that she had no idea why, it just seemed like something to do. 

Fast forward to last Sunday and we found ourselves standing by a lake in the Cotswolds, with me about to start a challenge that I’d set myself nearly 2 years ago.  I was going to swim 10km open water, in an event aptly described as ‘a marathon’.  I’d had a false start last year, when training was interrupted by my falling down a flight of stairs (another tale entirely).  This year, I had worked very hard to prepare for this day and it was finally here.  Although nervous as we set off, I completed the first 7km without any drama – I was actually enjoying the experience.  Then it started.  The slight aches in my shoulders became stabbing pains.  My calf muscles decided to cramp in unison, and I began to worry that with 3km still to go, I’d struggle to get to the finish.  Here is where my conscious and subconscious went their separate ways too.  I am normally someone who thinks they are aware of the level that is ‘doing my best’ and generally, when I reach that without completing something, I stop. It’s been a defence mechanism for most of my adult life against the risk of provoking my anxiety, something I’ve suffered from form many years.   The idea is that if I don’t think something is possible despite my best efforts, pushing further is a bad idea.  This is, of course, completely unhelpful nonsense.  In the swim, my conscious mind had started to freak out, while my subconscious was on auto-pilot.  Call it the inbuilt knowledge that I’d trained for this if you like.  A friend of mine quoted the character Dory from Finding Nemo, with her chant of “Just Keep Swimming”, which I think was actually reciting during laps 8 and 9.  Whatever the motivation, I just moved on to the next 1km loop, regardless of the pain I was in.   When I reached the end, it was all matter of fact; no excitable celebration or emotional outburst, those would come later when the scale of the achievement had sunk in.  

Tired but happy.  Note that the clock is the time of day - I wasn't swimming for 13 hours!​​​​​

The golf legend Gary Player once said, “the more I practice the luckier I get”, which I think is a good description of all training and experience.  I had recalled this quotation when I was fortunate enough to shoot the Malvern Pride event a few weeks ago.   As the official photographer, it was up to me to represent the what the day meant both in terms of the struggle for equality and the celebration of self – no pressure there, then.  As I began the shoot, I noticed a few errors creeping into my technical process, which led to some shots not being as I expected.  My mind started to panic at the prospect of not doing a good enough job.  Then I thought “hang on, I know photography and how to use a camera.  Just relax and let your knowledge take over!”.  Almost immediately, the shoot started to go well and I was really happy with the outcome.   

What I learned from this race was that I have the tendency to talk myself out of things when I subconsciously know that I am more than capable of doing them.   Our subconscious is responsible for our basic instincts, which includes whether to stand and fight or run away.  Stands to reason that it has some idea of how confident we are in a situation as well.  I’m definitely going to listen to it more in future instead of letting my conscious mind run away with itself. 

As for the swimming, my plan to complete one of the toughest lake swims in the UK, the 18km Windermere One Way, within the next two years, is on track.   Just need to make sure I am as ‘lucky’ as I can get. 

For details of personal beginners' tuition in photography, please drop me a line at [email protected]

The Malvern Pride photographs can be found at: https://www.richperspective.co.uk/p82495918

My other work can be found in the gallery at www.richperspective.co.uk

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) challenge conscious open water photographer subconscious swimming training trust https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/8/just-keep-swimming Wed, 24 Aug 2022 08:37:52 GMT
That’s nice, or perhaps not: The Beauty, the Picturesque and the Sublime in Landscape https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/8/that-s-nice-or-perhaps-not-the-beauty-the-picturesque-and-the-sublime-in-landscape I was recently chatting to a member of my family about my progress as a photographer, both in terms of leaving my previous career and my academic studies.  I pointed out that I had changed a lot when it came to my own work, but also in how I view the work of others.  I’ve never been shy in offering my opinion on a wide range of subjects, but when it comes to photography, I’ve had to learn to keep them to myself unless asked.  This could be seen as my mellowing as I get older or it could be that I’ve just decided to stay away from artistic ‘judgement’ because I have developed a broader view of what for me, makes a ‘good photograph’.  During our conversation, it was pointed out to me that the majority of people don’t look at photographs with a critical eye, that they simply like it or not, depending on their perspective or life experience.  I’ve talked about this before in earlier blogs and my assertion was that there is nothing wrong with going with our immediate emotional reaction to an image.  I’ve also made no secret of my contempt for what I call the ‘camera club mentality’ where work is often judged merely on its technical merit.   My critical approach to looking at photographs is being shaped by what I continue to learn about visual codes and artistic genres through my study, which results in an appreciation of an image that is very personal to me.  I realised that this is what I mean by keeping my judgements to myself. 

The discussion got me thinking about some of these critical ideas that I base my interpretations upon and my most recent research into the concepts of the beautiful, the picturesque and the sublime, which exist across the genres, but none more obviously than in landscape.  When thinking about beauty, we all rightly believe what that means to us.  We associate beauty with liking or loving something, a provocation of a sometimes-overwhelming sense of wellbeing.  In landscape art, the idea of beauty was associated with nature and the elements in the natural world that create an almost primeval sense of wonder.  Natural light, colour, texture and scale can all combine visually in landscape invoke a sense of beauty, but nature is also capable of creating a sense of fear and despair.  If the landscape image contains treacherous rocks or violent weather, our experience changes.  We still take a pleasure from viewing the image, but it is now an excitement at the danger or threat to our lives that might ultimately result in death.  It might sound perverse, but this concept, known as the sublime, has been an important part of art history for centuries. 

It won’t be a surprise to learn that these are not simple categories that pictures can be placed in through some form of scientific analysis.  Discussions about whether the natural world in the form of wilderness is actually real or whether human impact has practically eliminated it, have continued since the 18h Century.  If you place yourself in wilderness, is it really still wild or at some level colonised?  The idea of artists shaping and representing the aesthetic beauty of nature for their own purposes became the basis of the third category, the picturesque, which was conceived by the artist William Gilpin at the end of the 18th Century.  Picturesque (as in a picture) imagery contains a romanticised notion of the landscape which often means idealised weather conditions and carefully placed buildings, structures or features in carefully constructed compositions.  They are pleasing on the eye but don’t necessarily provoke any extreme emotions in the viewer.  Not surprisingly, the majority of landscape photographs that surround us are picturesque and these tend to be what most people hang on their walls.  A simple Google search of a famous location such as Durdle Door in Dorset provides us with many examples of the picturesque.

Almost every image is the same view, with only the weather and foreground details changing between photographs.  We get no real sense of the natural formation of the cliff from them, nor the conditions under which it might have been formed over the millenia.  The are ‘nice’ photographs, but personally they have little emotional impact beyond “I’d quite like to go there”.  However, in the photographer the vision was unlikely to have been ‘you should go there’.   They would have seen the rock formation and the lighting conditions and wanted to represent its beauty.   The resulting image though, is directed by the idea of the picturesque which presents us modern photographers with a problem.  The main issue with the idea of a beautiful or sublime landscape photograph is that it cannot really exist.  As with the arguments about man’s impact on the wilderness, the landscape photograph is still driven by a specific observation by the photographer about the scene.  The events leading up to the decision to shoot the picture may well contain elements of the sublime, but the image itself still tends towards the picturesque, i.e what makes it look good in a picture.  The sublime then, is a visual code for analysis of elements that provoke the emotions, rather than a classification or specific artistic intent.  It makes us think differently about the picture we are looking at and how it makes us feel. 

In preparing my thoughts for this post, I looked through my own collection for landscapes that could be considered sublime and found only one.  Many years of considering landscape photography as the representation of something pleasing that I might want to print, have directed me, like everyone else, to shoot toward the picturesque.   


In this scene, I was struck by how quickly the conditions change in the Yorkshire Dales and how man’s efforts to tame the landscape, with walls and fences, is insignificant compared to the power of nature.  What I hadn’t considered as I pressed the shutter, was how to best represent that power; the sublime element not really occurring to me until afterwards.  You can bet that my future landscape images will consider precisely what I want to say about what I am seeing and feeling.  That’s nice, or perhaps not. 

Interested in taking up photography?  Bought a new camera and don't know how to use it? Why not have some beginners' tuition that is tailored to your interests.  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details or have a look at my work at www.richperspective.co.uk for some ideas. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist beauty blog camera landscape photography picturesque sublime tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/8/that-s-nice-or-perhaps-not-the-beauty-the-picturesque-and-the-sublime-in-landscape Tue, 09 Aug 2022 10:33:53 GMT
Artists Who Inspire Me: Julia Margaret Cameron https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/7/artists-who-inspire-me-julia-margaret-cameron Ask anyone to name five famous female photographers and you’ll invariably get a list that includes Dorothea Lange, Imogen Cunningham, Diane Arbus, Annie Liebowitz and many others from the 20th Century.  They’re all widely regarded as being hugely influential to many contemporary photographers of both genders in the fields of portraiture, street and documentary photography.   It’s a much harder job to think of the influential women who pioneered photography from its very beginnings in the 19th Century though, which is a great shame because there definitely were some.  The most important one to me, and who changed my perspective on portraiture, was Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 to 1879).  

Born into a colonial society family in Calcutta, she was what we might think of now as a socialite, moving in ‘celebrity’ circles and pursuing her artistic interests.  After marrying and having children, the family moved to the Isle of Wight where Cameron, having been introduced to photography by astronomer Sir John Hershel, built a small studio and darkroom.   As a relative newcomer to the new technology of photography, Cameron’s portraits were considered by many to be amateurish for a variety of reasons.  The first was to be expected as everyone working in this relatively new medium was striving for the perfect negative on the wet plate (many were using the collodion process on glass plates at the time).  They were using neck braces to keep the subject from moving during the relatively long exposures, ensuring the camera was as sharply focused as possible and using the best chemicals available to make the finished plate.  Cameron was doing none of this and the result was that her images were soft in terms of focus and the exposures often damaged or inconsistently processed etc.   The second main reason is something we still sadly encounter today, rampant misogyny.  Most photographers of the time were men, so they judged Cameron’s work both as not being up to their standards, but also as no surprise, because of her gender.   After all, the equipment was heavy and the processing tricky, perhaps too tricky for a woman.   Of course, they were all as wrong as they were stupidly arrogant.  Cameron was developing her own style and, as a consequence, her own voice.  I can tell you that these two things are what we all strive for in photography and where, in modern times, the adage goes “there are not new ideas under the sun”, Cameron was at the forefront of a style of portrait photography that still influences artists over a century after her death. 

What made her special was how she represented in her photographs what she saw in her subjects.  Sounds obvious, but where commissioned portraits in society were all about status and the projection of wealth or intellect, Cameron’s pictures subtly revealed something about the subject that, when combined with the viewer’s knowledge of the person, led them to their own interpretation.  Her use of soft-focus, sometimes movement and subdued lighting all enhanced the visual context rather than distracted from it.  A great example is the image she made of Hershel, which you can see here:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Herschel

The picture deviates from the already traditional by having Hershel not look at the camera.  His face is picked out by the lighting in a way that the rest of his figure blends into the background.  His wild hair and slightly dishevelled appearance suggest a free spirit, while the piercing gaze points to a man of focus and learning.  When we look at this image today, we can easily draw the connections with scientists such as Albert Einstein, who’s appearance was almost as famous as his academic achievement.  Cameron also shot other famous friends like Charles Darwin and Alfred Tennyson and it’s in these images that we see similar attention to the personality of the subject over the technical grandeur of the studio portrait photograph. 

Cameron’s other work was heavily influenced by traditional paintings and sculptures of religious iconography, where she posed her models in a way to create a similar connected narrative.  Although this sort of work was part of early photography’s growing pains, again Cameron’s focus on subject and not perfect technique makes her work stand out as dreamlike, almost how we imagine a ‘real’ telling of religious stories to be. 

So how has she inspired me?  Well, firstly in her determination to pursue her art in the face of judgement and dismissal.  While I don’t really have either of these issues on a regular basis, I think every photographer has some level of imposter syndrome.  Cameron smashed through that and for me, she blazed a trail for photographers in general, but in particular the female artists that followed.   Secondly, her work flies against the idea of technical perfection being the main consideration in a photograph.  I see this every day with people sharing and critiquing images online and the dreaded ‘camera club’ mentality (as I see it), which often rejects what is considered to be not good technically.  Photography challenges the viewer to interpret what they are seeing, both with what the artist might be trying to say with the inclusion of internal context, and with their own cultural and historical experiences.  Yes, the image should not be so badly executed that this cannot happen or that it somehow jars with the viewer, but the obsession with perfect exposure, sharpness and abiding by the so-called composition rules is really not the point of the medium, as far as I am concerned.  Consider Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother (1936), perhaps the most famous portrait photograph of the 20th Century.  Look closely and you’ll notice that it is neither particularly sharp nor traditionally composed, and in fact it required the subject’s left thumb to be painted out in the final print (no Photoshop in the 1930s).  Despite that, it’s still as provocative (and controversial) today as it was when it was commissioned over 85 years ago.  So there you have it.  These days, I am far more interested in making a photograph that says what I want it to and hoping that it challenges the viewer to create their own narrative from it.  If it does that, I’m happy.  I owe that way of thinking to this amazing innovator. 

From the Polaroid series 'My Face', made in 2020 for my course

 

For more information on Julia Margaret Cameron:

https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/julia-margaret-cameron

Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother (1936) can be found here:

https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/dorothea-lange-migrant-mother-nipomo-california-1936/

Interested in taking up photography or improving on using your phone on automatic?  Why not drop me a line for details of my beginners’ One-to-One tuition at [email protected] or simply have a look at some of my photographs at www.richperspective.co.uk.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist creativity influential Julia Margaret Cameron photographer photography portrait tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/7/artists-who-inspire-me-julia-margaret-cameron Fri, 29 Jul 2022 15:31:40 GMT
Artists who Inspire Me: Ansel Adams https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/7/artists-who-inspire-me-ansel-adams It’s difficult to talk about famous photographers to people who aren’t all that interested in photography, as most of the time they’ve never heard of them.  It seems that many artists who have shaped the medium are generally not all that well-known beyond it.  However, this isn’t really the case with Ansel Adams.   When I was younger, people who wanted to add a touch of class to their homes would hang large prints on the wall and, apart from those awful ‘magic eye’ prints that were popular in the early ‘90s, many people chose Adams’ beautiful landscapes.  His photographs of Yosemite National Park became perhaps the most famous, so even if the name wasn’t familiar, the images of Half Dome and El Capitan were instantly recognisable to many people. 

His pictures emphasised the features of the landscape that we might not be familiar with, particularly if photographs were our only experience of the location.  The scale, beauty and fragility of the natural world are represented primarily in black and white, with drama introduced through his use of contrast, both in camera and in post-production.  

“The negative is the equivalent of the composer's score, and the print the performance”, Ansel Adams

What he meant here was that the process of making a picture (‘making’ as opposed to ‘taking’) doesn’t end with the shutter being pressed; the film negative is the basis for the finished picture after work in the laboratory.   Examples of his work are linked below.  It’s safe to say that with his ability to really look at a landscape, coupled with his vast technical skill resulted in Adams having more of an impact on my photographic learning than any other practitioner.

In 1932 he collaborated with fellow photographers in California to form the f/64 group.  The name referred to f/64, which is a very small aperture used in large format photography to capture as much detail in focus as possible.  This inferred the purpose of the group.  They became passionate about a subject being recorded as precisely and with as much detail as possible, regardless of the genre.  This was in direct conflict with pictorialism, which dominated photography at the time.  Pictorialism was the application of photography in a similar way to traditional arts such as painting and sculpture, where the photographer manipulated tonality and composition to satisfy their aesthetic aims.  The approach of the f/64 group inspired the early documentary photographers such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange who started out recording life ‘as is’ and later evolved their own creative voices in telling stories.  For many years, the precise, accurate images made by the group were not considered art, instead being thought of as aesthetically pleasing.  As photography evolved, so too did the attitudes to the subject with the visualisation by the photographer being every bit as much artistic voice as what was in the mind of a painter.  Adams’ work became commercially successful during the latter part of his life and it continues to be prized nearly 40 years after his death. 

In the early 1940s, Adams collaborated with fellow photographer and teacher Fred Archer to create The Zone System, a method by which the tonal values of a scene could be identified and translated into exposure on film.  This work would become hugely influential in how photographs were made.  The system helped the photographer understand the scene during what Adams called pre-visualisation (how the picture would look) and then determine the settings for the camera.  When I started using film again a few years ago, I turned to Adam’s book The Negative in order to learn how to shoot for the best negative I could get.  It helps slow the process of viewing and visualising in a way that gives the photographer a good chance of achieving a workable negative for printing.  I didn’t get it right all the time, but the picture below is from my first roll of Ilford FP4 shot in my Hasselblad 500c/m.  It was enough to encourage me to keep shooting and learning. 

The book is part of a three-book series which includes The Camera and The Print, all published towards the end of Adams’ life and being the culmination of his considerable technical knowledge. 

I still consider these to be the most important books ever published on the whole photographic process, despite the advances in digital technology.  By the time digital imaging technology came on the scene, Adams was an old man.  However, he did live to see scanning technology used on his book series and was said to be impressed by the quality of the reproductions of his pictures.  People who knew him well said that he was excited about the digital future, not wanting to stand still in the face of progress.  Sadly, when he died in 1984, digital cameras hadn’t quite made it to market with the first commercially available models being made in the early 1990s.   I like to think about what kind of photographer Adams would be today.  Would he have embraced Photoshop and become the world authority on it?  Would he have taught photography via Youtube?  Would he have had an Instagram account for his latest work?   I like to think so. 

You can check out Adams’ work here:-

https://www.anseladams.com
 

Interested in taking up photography?  I’m certainly no Ansel, but I am passionate about passing on what I’ve learned, both technically and creatively.  Drop me a line for more details of tailored beginners’ tuition at [email protected].   If you'd like to see some of my work, please visit www.richperspective.co.uk

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) Ansel Adams artist blog camera creativity f/64 film inspiration negative photography print tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/7/artists-who-inspire-me-ansel-adams Fri, 22 Jul 2022 10:32:26 GMT
Artists Who Inspire Me: Joel Meyerowitz https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/7/artists-who-inspire-me-joel-meyerowitz I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to write about the artists who inspire me as a photographer. The first thing to mention is that not all of them are photographers, which might seem a little odd at first, but will make sense when we think of photography’s roots as a technical medium.  Except for documentary, the photographic genres as we know them, portraiture, landscape etc., all evolved from classical art such as painting and sculpture, so there will be a few of each in this series of posts. First up though, is the photographer who inspired me to take up film again: Joel Meyerowitz. 

Meyerowitz is an American photographer, known for his street work and in particular pioneering the use of colour in the genre.  He’s also known for his hugely emotive images of the aftermath of 9/11 and his candid portraiture throughout the 1970s and 80s.  I first became aware of him while watching the 2007 BBC television series The Genius of Photography.   He was shown walking the streets of New York City getting close to people with his Leica M and taking pictures.  In his interview piece, he described how the city was so anonymous that his subjects didn’t believe he was actually taking a picture of them –  the thinking being ‘why would this guy be interested in me?’. His ability to go largely unnoticed in the crowd resonated with me, as being conspicuous makes me really uncomfortable when I’m out with my camera.   I started to look closely at his street work, first in black and white and then in colour.  Colour film was first available in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until decades later that it became financially viable to be shot in 35mm format.  Meyerowitz started to see the colour as ‘supporting’ the composition rather than being a distraction; the latter still being a consideration today.   At the time, black and white photography was seen as ‘art’ and colour as for ‘snapshots’.  His street work draws on the decisive moment, where a unique moment from an event unfolding is observed and captured (for more on this idea, see Decisive Moment Article.  It is one of his images from the 1960s that for me, is the best example of the decisive moment (I’m not including it here as it’s one of my pet hates when bloggers appropriate artists’ work for their own ends).  Paris, 1967 depicts a chaotic scene involving a man who has fallen in the street in front of many passers-by.  The image asks many questions about them moment because standing over the fallen man, is another man holding a hammer.  Is he the aggressor in a fight that has just happened, or is he simply rushing to help the man?  Are the onlookers shocked by the fall or the cause of it?.  Have a look and let me know how you read it.

From there, I discovered his large format portraiture and landscape work that he shot in Cape Cod in the late 1970s.  The portraits have an uncluttered feel to them, but the subject’s gaze lets the viewer connect with their personality and how they feel at that moment being photographed.  I’ve been studying the idea of the gaze in my course this past year and I keep coming back to Meyerowitz’s Cape Cod portraits as a reference.  

His landscapes taken during the same period, reveal the natural beauty of the sunrise and sunset over the Cape.  The 8x10 inch negatives were used to produce very large prints which, when viewed, draw us into the landscape as if we could feel the sunlight and hear the sea.  It was this series, called Cape Light, which led me to briefly meet Meyerowitz at a gallery show in London in 2016.  He was just milling around, signing books and while he did mine, we talked briefly about his using the 8x10 camera for the series.  He told me that shooting the camera with its single sheet of film, forced him to take his time over a shot.  He could observe the scene carefully, without feeling the need to rush to pressing the shutter.  Slowing down was a way of improving concentration and making a picture of what we have visualised in our minds.  In addition, the sheer effort of lugging the heavy camera around, increased the need to make every shot count.   I thanked him, bought a limited edition of his collective works Taking My Time (which he also signed), and went home.  The next day I ordered a second-hand Hasselblad 500c/m medium format film camera online and started learning and shooting film.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Now in his 80s, Joel Meyerowitz continues to work across the genres that interest him, most notably in still life.  He revisits and re-evaluates his previous work on his Instagram page, engaging in discussion with his followers, and shares previously unseen images from his long career.  They say, “Never meet your heroes”, but on this occasion what the hell do they know?

To see Joel’s work, please visit https://www.joelmeyerowitz.com/ or joel_meyerowitz on Instagram.

Are you inspired to take up photography?  Bought a shiny new camera (or even a shiny old one) that you don’t know how to use?  Why not drop me a line at [email protected] to find out about some beginners’ tuition?  My programme assumes no prior knowledge, can be delivered in person or online, and can be extended beyond the core principles as needed. 

 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist creativity decisive moment film landscape Meyerowitz photography portrait street https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/7/artists-who-inspire-me-joel-meyerowitz Sat, 02 Jul 2022 10:15:10 GMT
Brand Loyalty or Brand Snobbery? https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/6/brand-loyalty-or-snobbery One of the most tedious questions I get asked when people learn that I’m a photographer is “What do you shoot with?”  In some cases, it’s a simple ice-breaker, which indicates that the person doesn’t really know what to say or how to react (in fact it’s often being followed with “I just use my phone”).  However, on some occasions it is the start of a conversation about brand loyalty.  Over the past few years, I tend to mention that I’m brand agnostic because I have a collection of 50 cameras from a wide range of manufacturers.  If that doesn’t send my converser running for the hills, I then confess to being ‘a Nikon man’.

Thing is, I didn’t start out wanting to shoot Nikon.  My first ever camera was a Voigtländer 110 and first SLR was a Fujica (I still have the latter).  I ended up being a Nikon shooter because of my dad.  He was a professional photographer and it was his recommendation that led me to my first DSLR, a Nikon D300 (yep, I still have it) and later to the camera I still shoot with now, the hefty D4.  Like many, the decision to stick with a brand is driven by many factors but the main one is just being used to the way it handles.  What irks me about that question though, is the frenzy of comments about megapixels, glass quality, ability to shoot video (which I genuinely don’t care about) etc that follows.   The comparison can quickly turn into judgement, which for me just puts people off talking about photography.  If someone is passionate about something, why make them feel like that?

A few years ago, I was in New York for my birthday and I dragged my lovely wife to the Leica store to look at a very special lens that I had ambitions of owning one day.  The store was everything one might expect from a premium camera manufacturer and very soon an immaculately dressed gentleman came over to ask me if he could help (or perhaps thrown me out).   I told him that I wanted to try the Noctilux f/0.95, the fastest lens that Leica make.  He dutifully brought out the beast, fitted to their M10 digital camera which at the time was the current incarnation of arguably one of the finest 35mm cameras ever made.  The M series had been around for 70 years and was famed for its ease of use and near-silent shutter.  I excitedly shot some pictures around the store and then the damned question came.  The relevant answer was an M3 (1957) and an M6 (1984) which are two of the prized cameras in my collection.  After the genial ‘congratulations’ on my choice of the classics, his next comment resonated and has stuck with me ever since.  “The camera is really just a holder for the lens”.  Wow!  It’s not strictly true, but the sentiment behind it is spot on.  The quality of an image is dominated by the quality of the lens and no number of functions or megapixels will really change that.  

The spectacular Noctilux f/0.95 being held by my Leica M6 - not a brand that I am loyal to or snobby about, though
 

When put into context of brand snobbery, all the mainstream manufacturers produce superb quality lenses for the whole range of their cameras.  Legendary lens manufacturers such as Leitz/Leica, Carl Zeiss and Voigtländer make lenses that can be used with the major camera brands as well as some of the lesser-known ones.  A friend of mine shoots a Panasonic G camera and encounters brand snobbery from time to time.  What the people who judge her camera system often miss is that the lens she uses for her spectacular wildlife photographs is made by Leica.  It certainly raises some eyebrows, including mine. 

What really matters then, is to have a camera that is comfortable and easy to control, with the best quality lenses that you can afford.  Beyond that, it comes down to the skill of the photographer.  As another friend pointed out so someone in the same debate, “Do you like my photographs?  Why does it matter what gear I’m using?”  Just pick a brand, grab a camera and get shooting.  If you need help getting to know what you’ve bought, you know where to find me…

…buying more cameras and avoiding any questions, most likely.

For details of tailored tuition for beginners, please drop me a line at [email protected].

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) brand camera loyalty photography simplicity snobbery tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/6/brand-loyalty-or-snobbery Mon, 20 Jun 2022 10:13:05 GMT
Life on a Small Scale https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/6/life-on-a-small-scale A few years ago, we had our neglected back garden landscaped.  The word ‘landscaped’ doesn’t really do the project justice, as the whole space was reduced to dirt so that we could start again.  When it came to the new design, we opted for the usual things like borders, lawn, a pond, summerhouse etc., but we also had some ideas about how to make our garden more attractive to wildlife.  People that know me well are aware of my efforts to help hedgehogs (we have at least half a dozen regular visitors throughout the year), but in addition, I have been concerned for a long time about our insect population, in particular the pollinators.  We decided to plant a wildflower area in the garden to attract these little creatures that are so important to our own ecosystem and our own survival.  Now we have a thriving habitat, which feels like a positive contribution. 

Around the same time the garden was being done, I bought a lens on the spur of the moment, which I instantly regretted.  That old sinking feeling of ‘buyer’s remorse’ hit me as I wondered just when I was ever going to use it.  The lens in question was a macro lens, which is commonly used to photograph very small things.  Often mixed up with the term ‘close-up photography’, macro is actually the achievement of 1:1 magnification or greater, meaning that the image of the subject on the sensor is life-size or bigger.   Whichever way we like to describe it, macro photography results in very small subjects being captured in phenomenal detail, which has led it to becoming a genre in its own right.    My concern with my purchase was that I hadn’t really ever shot any macro photography, so was concerned that I’d wasted a lot of money on something too niche.  However, as it turns out that couldn’t have been further from the truth.   The lens is one of my favourites and I need little excuse to fit it to the camera and go shooting.  The reason?  In terms of nature, it reveals a whole other world that we cannot normally see with the naked eye.  As a result, the intricate structures of plants and the insects that live on them is lost to us as we deal with much bigger things.  Macro gives us an appreciation of how beautiful and resourceful nature is, even if some of the creatures concerned can be a little scary close up.  I’ve included a few examples below:

Compared with other genres of photography, it’s quite tricky.  The lenses generally have a wide range of apertures, but the depth of field is so shallow even at the smallest, that the slightest movement of the camera or the subject causes the point of focus to move – you might think you’re locked on to that insect’s compound eye but in fact it’s now frustratingly out of focus.  It’s worth persevering with though, because the results that you get can be very rewarding.  If the subject is a manmade surface or object (that doesn’t fly away when disturbed), the problems diminish somewhat, because you can take time over the shot.  For example, this shot of the surface of a vinyl record below reveals the groove in minute detail largely because of the control I had over the camera and subject. 

Whatever the area of interest, macro definitely adds another style to a photographer’s repertoire, even though a special lens is required to achieve it.  That said, there are many affordable options out there for all the major camera manufactures and even some older manual lenses for film cameras that can be used on a digital camera.  So, why not give it a go?

 

If you’re interested in learning more about macro photography, it features in my session on lens selection in the tuition programme.  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist creativity insects macro nature photography tuition wildlife https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/6/life-on-a-small-scale Mon, 13 Jun 2022 15:45:21 GMT
Can you spare 5 mins? https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/6/can-you-spare-5-mins I don’t know about you, but I am tired.  It seems that everything around us moves at such a pace that I often feel it’s a struggle to keep up.  This was brought into focus for me recently, when I received some feedback about my blog.   It wasn’t the first time I’d received it and, like all feedback should be, it was valuable.  The feedbacker (made-up word) said that the blog was an enjoyable read, something else that I’m happy to say has been said to me more than one.  However, they raised the question “Do you think the posts might be a little long?” 

My initial reaction was to quietly roll my eyes like a petulant teenager and say to myself “Really?”  After all, the social media platforms that I post the blog links to calculate the estimated reading time for a post and the blogs are rarely over 5 minutes.  It got me thinking about whether we really have reached a situation where we can’t spare 5 minutes to read something, even if we don’t end up engaging with the subject.  If that’s the case, why are we in such a hurry?  

In attempting to answer this question, I started to think about my own use of time, the amount spent looking at my phone.   Like many people who grew up without the mobile technology, I still find a certain amount of novelty in the power of these devices and generally embrace new apps when someone suggests one.  When I looked at the number of apps on my phone, I was surprised to see how many of them were set up to ‘push’ information to me instead of my having to go look for it.  I am literally bombarded by information all day, a consequence of which is that I spend a great deal of time glancing at the phone screen in short bursts.  It isn’t really a surprise then, that the amount of attention that each piece of information gets is minimal.  Try thinking about that next time you are using your phone and you will understand what I mean. 

“What has this got to do with blogs or photography?”, I hear you ask.  Well, I’ve found in recent months that aspects of everyday life that we take for granted, either through cultural evolution or apathy, inspire me to make photographic series about them.  For this year’s module on the degree course, I have to create a piece of work in a structured fashion, refining it as the idea develops.  Communication, its evolution through technology and the affect it has on our perception of the real world, is the central theme for my series.  We rush from one source of information to another without being aware of it, which leaves us frequently oblivious to the 'real' world around us.  The many questions that relate to my original thoughts about ‘5 minutes to read a blog post’ could take my series in a variety of directions about isolation, social etiquette, mental stress, relationships etc, which I’m looking forward to exploring.   I’ve already started to experiment with the way we are directed and controlled by signs and how we both include and reject their messages from our lives.  

 

I took this photograph during a recent visit to a friend on the South coast.  The scene lent itself neatly to what I was thinking about how we are wrapped up inside our little digital bubbles (I’d be interested in your thoughts if you’d like to share them) and almost need to have ‘the rules’ spelled out to us.   I loved the fact that the man is sitting on one of the signs.   Personally, I am trying to spend less time there, deleting all the apps that I don’t really need and limiting myself when looking at my phone.  Getting out there and taking photographs is one method I’m using, just for the sheer joy of the experience.  It doesn’t have to be a major art project, just a way of spending more time paying attention to the world.  It’s difficult though, as I guess that the need to be informed is a kind of addiction in the modern world.  I’ll let you know how I get on, if you can spare me 5 minutes.

Interested in taking up photography?  Drop me a line for details about beginners’ tutition at [email protected].

 

 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist attention communication digital photography simplicity technology Time https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/6/can-you-spare-5-mins Wed, 08 Jun 2022 10:39:54 GMT
In an Instant https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/instant-joy Several years ago, I noticed the something strange in an area of photography that I didn’t think would ever happen in the 21st Century.  I was minding my own business, taking photographs in Covent Garden in London, when a young lady from the Eastern Asia tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I’d take a picture of her and her friends as a souvenir of their visit.  “Of course, no problem!” was my response, which quickly turned to confusion when she handed me her camera.  Being a gentleman of a certain age without any children, I had little idea what Hello Kitty! was as a brand, although a future trip to Tokyo would sort that out.  I looked at this little cat-shaped plastic thing with some bemusement, until the penny dropped that it was a Fuji Instax camera. 

I had been aware of Instax (it first came out in 1998) for a while, but until then had never shot with the format.  I duly pointed the cat camera at the girls, who by this time had worked out which pose they liked best and pressed the button.  Everything had been taken care of automatically and a small print, a little bigger than a credit card, popped out of the side.  I was immediately taken back to my memories of Polaroid as the girls excitedly waited for their picture to develop.  A couple of minutes later they thanked me and went on their way.

Nearly a decade later and Instax is hugely popular around the world, consistently being one of the highest selling photographic products in Bezo’s empire.  The younger generations are attracted to its ‘social value’, the fun of creating something and watching it appear before their eyes and the way that the physical result can be handed out to friends.  Prints have always had the same appeal for me, but they require a lot of work – this all happens…in an instant. 

Some years after Hello Kitty! I decided to have a go at instant photography myself, but again being someone of a certain age, I was more interested in Polaroid.  The problem was the gradual disappearance of Polaroid both as a legendary brand and as a set of technologies.  Their highest quality offering, the peel-apart type film, was discontinued many years ago and only Fuji were manufacturing a compatible stock for countries that used it for passport photographs.  When the last of those moved over to digital in 2016, Fuji also discontinued their film.  Since then, cameras that shoot if have become worthless and the remaining stocks of the film ruinously expensive.  Even though I do own two cameras and a stock of the rare film, my first foray into instant photography was the more familiar integral or ‘spit-out’ film that people of my generation grew up with.  However, that was also initially a bad news story. Or so I thought. 

Back in 2008, a small group of entrepreneurs led by the charismatic Florian Kaps had acquired the last working Polaroid film factory in the Netherlands.  The company’s decline was well known, but Kaps’ vision was to keep the famous integral film alive for future generations to enjoy in a similar way to Instax.  His start-up company, called The Impossible Project, went from strength to strength, keeping up with pop culture with its cool borders and accessories, much like the Fuji ‘themed’ cameras.  More importantly as far as I was concerned, they started buying up and restoring old SX-70 Land Cameras, which were perhaps the best of the instant bunch.  I have to say that it ranks as one of my favourites in my collection because, well, just look at it!

This camera is the one of the last models designed by Polaroid founder Edwin Land, released in 1972.  It’s a fully automatic SLR which in layman’s terms has a single lens that the viewfinder looks through.  Its folding design is very clever and, in my humble opinion, very cool.  Apart from focusing, the only other control is for exposure compensation which is essentially brightness.  Composing in the square format is a different experience to most consumer cameras, while experimenting with exposure has the benefit of fairly rapid feedback which lends itself to being more creative.   When it came out, it was a favourite of famous artists such as Andy Warhol, Walker Evans and Ansel Adams.  

When Impossible started making their new film, there were changes.  Gone were the worst of the environmentally-damaging chemicals and sadly as a result, the ability watch it develop because of its new process.  There were now only 8 prints in a pack instead of the traditional 10 and It was more expensive than before, but isn’t everything?  That said, the results retained the look of the originals and had that analogue imperfection to them.  Unlike Fuji Instax, which had consistently great colours and tones, Impossible was more unpredictable, which frustrated some but excited many as every picture had a uniqueness to it.  So successful was the film revival that Impossible bought the rights to the Polaroid name in 2017 and became Polaroid Originals.  Both Polaroid and Instax have their fans and the experiences of shooting them are rewarding for different reasons.  Instax is cheaper and more stable, but for me the own-brand cameras aren’t great.  Despite some valiant efforts by third-party manufacturers, the film is still way better than the cameras that shoot it.  Polaroid meanwhile, is bringing out better and better versions of the film as well as some interesting new takes on their classic cameras, offering phone integration and printing capabilities.  They also maintain their programme of restoring and selling vintage cameras from the 1970s and 80s.  If you pick up one of the vintage SX-70s that works or has been restored like mine, you get the nostalgia factor and the quality to go with it. 

Polaroid Originals B&W shot of the Elgar mural in Malvern

Polaroid Originals B&W shot of the Elgar mural in Malvern

 

Lotus sports car shot on Fuji FP100c peel-apart film

 

Misty Morning, shot on Fuji Instax Wide

 

Whichever brand appeals most, I would certainly encourage anyone who hasn’t tried instant film to give it a go.  In a world where we are surrounded by digital images displayed on phone screens, it’s important to remember that part of the joy of photography is the making of something tangible.  Not saying that digital is a bad thing, but few people print their pictures these days.  There is something magical about being able to take a picture and give it to someone within minutes, making instant film every bit a conversation starter as a Japanese cat camera.

Getting started with a camera and are stuck on automatic?  Personally tailored tuition can help.  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist creativity Film Fuji Impossible Project Instant Instax Kaps Photography Polaroid simplicity https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/instant-joy Mon, 30 May 2022 13:15:36 GMT
Thinking in Black and White https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/thinking-in-black-and-white Has anyone ever said to you “You’re so black and white”, meaning that you are extremes with no in-betweens?  If they have, you’ll be relieved to know that this post is nothing to do with that.  It is in fact about one of my photographic pet hates, the act of randomly converting digital images into black and white.   It’s nothing new or course, but I see it more and more on social media platforms where the photographer has added a ‘filter’ to their upload with little regard for what’s in the frame.  The other common occurrence is when a photographer isn’t happy with the impact of the picture (impact is one of those nonsense words used to describe photographs – see my last post about elements and meanings) and tries to make it more interesting by converting it.  Thing is, taking either approach doesn’t necessarily do anything for the image, in fact for me it often makes the result less interesting.  The problem as I see it is not thinking in black and white.  

Unlike my opening question, black and white photography is far from just extreme black and extreme white. There are many more grey tones between them that the human eye can discriminate and while there is a great deal of research and debate about how many we can resolve, it’s accepted that it could be as many as 900.  The grey tones we see in a black and white photograph are dependent on the amount of light reflected from the subject as well as the colour (wavelength) of that light.   In the early days of photography, photo-sensitive materials such as film were responsive to only certain colours in the scene.  These orthochromatic films were generally sensitive to the blue region of the spectrum, while attenuating everything in the red region, playing havoc with outdoor scenes where the blue sky appeared overexposed (very light grey), and the actors underexposed (very dark grey).  Early filmmakers had to experiment with set design, costumes and even make-up to ensure that when the film was exposed, everything appeared as the cinematographer intended.  In those days, watching a movie being produced would have been a strange experience with the exaggerated white makeup and bright paint used to lift some surfaces.   As technology advanced, panchromatic films were developed that were sensitive to much more of the visible spectrum which meant a more balanced response to light, but with many shades of colours now looking similar when represented by the film’s greyscale.  The look of a movie could further be controlled by fitting colour filters to the lenses (more on that later), but the key thing that had to be considered was ‘what would this scene look like in black and white?’  Hence the idea of specifically thinking this way.   For example, imagine you saw a woodland scene where the light was dull or flat and the greens had a pleasant but subtle variation to them.  You take that picture in colour and look at the result.  The image will represent what you saw and your brain discriminate between the subtle changes in colour.  If that picture is turned into black and white, those variations become less clear because essentially the scene is green and being represented by relatively few grey tones.  Now, if the sun comes out and lights the trees e.g streaming through the canopy onto the ground, then that image would look different as a black and white photograph.  The difference is the introduction of more highlight and shadow, in which the subjects are more vividly presented as contrast.  Now the intensity of the reflected light is uppermost in our minds and the colours of the trees less important.   Thinking in black and white then is more a consideration of contrast and tone rather than colour and what appears to work in one doesn’t necessarily work in the other.

Ansel Adams, perhaps the greatest ever technical photographer, used to hold up a Wratten 99 filter to his eye when viewing a scene.  The filter effectively reduces the image to its tones, flattening the colours momentarily while the brain attempts to compensate.  For a brief moment though, Adams could see what the scene would look like in terms of black and white tones in order to set up his shot.  Once he’d done that, he could consider if he wanted to use a colour filter on his lens to enhance particular areas of the picture based on the colour of the light being reflected.  Colour filters, pieces of glass or plastic fitted to the end of the lens, effectively control the light hitting the film or sensor by only passing colours in the spectral region around its colour.  For example, red filters pass light in the regions of the red/orange/yellow spectrum, while green pass regions of green/blue/violet.  The impact of a filter when the image is black and white is how the colours are represented as grey tones, namely the passed regions look lighter in the image, while the attenuated regions (the ‘complementary colours’ on the colour wheel – see link below) look darker.   Another effect of changing the way the tones are represented is on the contrast with some filters, such as red and orange increasing it considerably.  Take the example below.  

The first  colour image is a simple scene which is contains areas of blue sky and clouds, the latter, along with the telegraph pole, being highlighted by sun.   However, the lens is fitted with an orange filter, which in addition to making everything look orange (don’t forget it only passes that colour), has attenuated the blue sky while passing the light reflected from the other elements.  The second image is a conversion, without adjustments, to black and white and shows the darkened blue sky and elevated highlights from the subjects reflecting the most orange light.  The overall effect is a high contrast scene with deliberate emphasis on the highlighted areas.  These effects can be further enhanced in post-production, something that is present in all of Adams’ famous images.  He viewed the finished print as the culmination of work both in camera and in the darkroom.

"…in the sense that the negative is like the composer’s score. Then, using that musical analogy, the print is the performance". – Ansel Adams

There are some great modern digital processing plug-ins that replicate the effects of lens filters, but for me they don’t replace the need to pre-visualise the shot before pressing the shutter button.  Taking our time to look at how the subject is lit, thinking about how to bring out the best in the composition when converted, then employing some techniques in-camera, really helps our understanding of image making.  So next time you’re hovering over that ‘just do it’ button, ask yourself whether it make the picture look any better.  With a little pre-visualisation beforehand, it just might. 

For more information about colours and complementary colours:

https://www.canva.com/colors/color-wheel/

For Ansel Adam's work:

https://www.anseladams.com

Fancy learning more about filters and the way they affect photographs?  There is an introduction to their use in my core modules for beginners.  The core modules give you everything you need to get started in this wonderful hobby.  Find out more by dropping me a line at [email protected].  

 

 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist black and white creativity film filters photography tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/thinking-in-black-and-white Tue, 24 May 2022 10:57:25 GMT
As you ‘like’ it https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/as-you-like-it As many of you know by now, I am currently studying for a BA(Hons) degree in Photography.  It’s part-time so a long old course, but I am meeting and working with some very interesting and talented people along the way.  During a recent student meet-up, we started discussing the idea of ‘liking’ a photograph.  Our course leader had previously, and light-heartedly, banned the word ‘like’ from our discussion, noting that it had no relevance to a structured analysis of the potential meanings of an image.   We were well aware that very few people consume photography in this way, I mean imagine if you stopped to study every image you were presented with, nothing would ever get done!   The idea of ‘liking’ a picture for some reason vs. the artist’s intended and deliberate messages contained within it, is something that interests me because I occasionally run into the sometime conflict between them.  I have to say that it still frustrates me, although I am getting better at appreciating  where my influence ends and the viewer’s ‘ownership’ of the interpretation begins. 

A good example was during a recent course exercise where I had to recreate an image in particular genre (see my previous post The Importance of Method, published in March).  I chose an iconic portrait by Elliott Erwitt from his book Dogs (2008).  The picture had to break down the elements of the portrait and recreate them in new composition.  

 

 

The main difference between the original and my shot was the reworking of the ‘American-ness’ of the image. Erwitt’s was shot on a New York sidewalk, which contributes to the scale relative to the dog and his owner.  With the best will in the world, I couldn’t make a street in Malvern look anything like New York, so instead I changed one of the other elements; the owner’s shoes.  In using my wife’s outrageous Stars and Stripes heels, I could introduce the ‘place’ without spoiling the composition.  In every other respect I tried to make the image a recreation of Erwitt’s, despite it being shot with different technical approaches, technology and being separated by some 76 years.  When I shared the picture around social media, the first (and most popular) reaction was to the shoes.  I had messages asking who made them, where they could be bought etc, which for me missed the point.  However, it was clearly what resonated with them, and I have no right to be grumpy about it.  We look at a picture and we are struck by any number of elements that mean something to us.  It could be a memory, or something that we are currently familiar with, or it could just simply make us smile.   Whatever the thing we see, it’s as relevant as artistic analysis of composition and the reading of a picture using semiotics or other analytical tools.  Analysis allows us to gain an understanding of the many connotations or meanings that an image may have.  We can recognise how the photographer has included their own personal perspective on a subject, whether emotional, social or political, but fundamentally it is the viewer that develops and completes their own narrative.  In my picture, I unintentionally added a new element of glamour that wasn’t in the original.  The chihuahua is the same breed but looks very different and almost complements the elegance of the legs and shoes.  While it’s not what I was trying to achieve, it’s interesting to hear what people see.   In considering this, I was reminded of a great piece of advice that I was given by a previous tutor.   He had criticised me for only researching artists whose work I ‘liked’ and disregarding those that I did not.  He pointed out that this habit doesn’t lead to any kind of expansion of our understanding or appreciation of art, instead keeping us comfortable with what we know.  I am definitely a creature of habit, just ask the Indian restaurant where I order the same thing every time.   I started to look at artists that I wasn’t keen on and carefully studying their pictures. I was pleasantly surprised how I gained more of an appreciation and respect for their work. 


What’s the big message from all this?  Well, even in a world where we are surrounded by imagery 24/7, it’s only when we take some time to look at a photograph, do we derive a more enriched sense of its meaning than a casual glance affords.  Clearly, we don’t want to put the rest of our lives on hold to do this, but next time you’re at a gallery, art fair or just cruising Instagram (lots of famous photographers use that platform), pause for a moment to ask yourself “What are the elements in this picture?” “Do any of them resonate with me?” and “what might this picture mean to me?”.  You might not initially ‘like’ it, but you may also be surprised as you grow to appreciate it.  I’d like that. 

Thinking of taking up photography as a hobby?  Have you bought a new camera and are stuck on Automatic?  Tuition could be the way forward.  My beginner’s tuition takes you through the basics of how the camera works, which mode to use, lens selection etc, all aimed at helping you take better photographs.  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details. 

For Elliott Erwitt’s original image https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/art/elliott-erwitt-dog-dogs/

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist creativity Dogs Erwitt narrative photography tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/as-you-like-it Tue, 17 May 2022 10:43:20 GMT
The Rise of Face Value https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/the-rise-of-face-value I was watching the news recently, something I try to avoid doing for long periods these days, because of some of the truly awful things going on in the world.  The ongoing news item that has taken on the name Partygate was being discussed and I found myself looking at the viral video footage of the Labour party leader drinking a beer in an office.  Now, I’m not discussing the political issues at the heart of this story, whether any of the politicians broke Covid restrictions etc as that is for others to write about.   What interested me about this piece of video was more about the way it was being used in the news broadcast.   The video, around 30 seconds in length, shows Sir Keir Starmer standing by a window, drinking a beer.  There are other people present in the room, but the video is of fairly poor quality they are more difficult to see clearly than he is.  We can see their positions relative to Starmer and, apart from recording them having some form of conversation, there isn’t much else of interesting in the video.  On the surface, the video shows a gathering indoors during a time where the rules in the UK stated that we couldn’t do that – this rule-breaking is the whole premise of Partygate.  However, the news item made the claim that the video ‘proves that rules were being broken’.  Leaving aside the politics of the news outlet, this is clearly not the case.  On its own, it merely shows an event happening without context, whose legality or otherwise is the subject of an investigation.  This got me thinking about how we increasingly take visuals at face value, extrapolating what we believe to be obvious when paired with a persuasive argument.  I wondered how we got to this point and whether it’s a symptom of the modern age. 

We’ve all heard the saying ‘the camera never lies’.  This myth has its origins in the very beginnings of photography, with the early pioneers like  Fox Talbot and Daguerre seeking to faithfully produce ‘drawings’ of things.  In Fox Talbot’s case, he was frustrated by what he saw as his lack of drawing skill, producing early photograms of plant structures using his new photographic technique before considering the camera.  Photograms involved placing a translucent subject on a piece of photo-sensitive paper and illuminating it with a light source.  The light passing through (and being obscured) by the object creates an image of the structure of the object onto the paper as highlights and shadows.   This idea of the photography producing accurate images was the dominant view of the art world at the time, with many disregarding the medium as being mechanical and therefore not art.  

In the early 20th Century, the use of photography to record events gave birth to the ‘documentary’ genre, which is where some of the most noticeable doubts about photography’s ‘honesty’ can be seen.  In the 1930’s the US Farm Security Administration embarked on a project to document the migration of farm workers from the deprived rural areas to the cities during the Great Depression.   The series that was produced included works by many famous contemporary photographers, perhaps the most famous being Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother.  The series sought to show the US people and the states legislature that there was this huge suffering in large sections of the rural population in an effort to get them help.  It’s said that the publication of the photographs and accompanying writing ultimately helped thousands of impoverished farmers.  What wasn’t common knowledge at the time was that the narrative was very carefully managed.  The editor, Roy Stryker, was known for his close attention to editing the pictures in such a brutal fashion that those not fitting the narrative were badly damaged using a hole punch so that they couldn’t be printed.  The discovery and subsequent printing of the destroyed negatives gives us an insight into what Stryker was trying to avoid, including images of farmers smiling at the camera, children at play and compositions that showed the defiance of the poor.  None of these things supported what Stryker wanted to say.  The camera then, was accurately capturing what was put in front of it, but the use of the results was tailored for a target audience with a very specific message.  That message wasn’t necessarily the whole truth, particularly in the case of Migrant Mother, but that didn’t matter.  The camera didn’t lie, so the readers took the pictures and the accompanying narrative at Face Value. 

When we think about Partygate in the context of ‘documentary’, this use of the visual being bent to suit a narrative is no longer a surprise.  Starmer has been highly critical of similar behaviour on the opposing benches so, in a way to balance the argument, certain press outlets are bound to use a video like this one in their counter-argument – who wouldn’t? 

Is 'face value' a modern affliction?  No, of course not.  Photography has been associated with the notion of truth for its whole existence, but the subversion of an idea such as the ‘perception of truth’ often creates the most interesting art (I’ll discuss the artists who inspire me in upcoming blog posts).  What is a symptom of the digital age, however is the ease with which we can all ‘document’ something with our smartphones and instantly share it with the whole world.  The seemingly infinite narratives that can be derived from one or more of these documents are up for grabs.  In the case of the Starmer video, it offers a narrative to one side of the argument more than the other, one that suggests hypocrisy.  This is why I’ve limited my consumption of the news, because it’s so easy to be taken in by a persuasive narrative that is not the whole story. Perhaps the consumption of many different news viewpoints on a subject is the way to combat the bias, but to be honest I personally find it to be anxiety-inducing and who needs that in their life?  One thing is for certain, the camera is a tool who’s use in capable hands can be a little dishonest when needs be. 

If you’re interested in the ‘truth’ of Lange’s famous Migrant Mother, my friend and fellow artist has posted a great telling of its story on his Youtube channel ‘Before the Shutter’:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLXRMNlxxec&t=24s

Similarly, the Killed Negatives exhibition mentioned can be found here:-

https://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/killed-negatives-unseen-images-1930s-america/

Finally, if you’re interested in telling your own stories, true or otherwise, through photography then why not start the journey with some tuition?  My tailored beginner’s tuition will help you become familiar in the basics of photography and you’ll be shooting documentary in no time – just be careful shooting through people’s windows.   Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) FSA Lange narrative photography truth tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/the-rise-of-face-value Tue, 10 May 2022 14:27:37 GMT
I procrastinate; therefore I am (maybe) https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/i-procrastinate-therefore-i-am-maybe A couple of months ago I started the next level of my degree course.  It’s been an interesting ride so far, but the new unit promises to be much more involved creatively.  In addition to this, the course is structured differently from the previous units, which I knew would present me with some issues.  The main issue would be the dreaded procrastination.  

When I don’t fully understand something that I have to do, I procrastinate to the extent where there have been times I just haven’t started.  It’s not fear as such, but a need to completely understand the parameters that I am to work within.  Once I get started on something, I usually fill in the blanks as I go along.  During the first few units of the degree, I found that I would slowly make my way through the first assignments and hit my stride about halfway through the course.  By the end, I would be completely comfortable with the subject just before the unit ended and the whole cycle started again.   Procrastination, as Dickens put it “is a thief of time”, the main effect being that it increases pressure when we have a deadline we must meet.

It takes many forms but the main driver behind putting things off is a concern about a potential negative outcome.  In my case, it’s about worrying about being on the right track or somehow ‘getting it wrong’.  My most recent example was the preparation for the first assignment of this new course.  The subject investigates the concepts of photographic genre and the conventions that each follows.  If we consider portraiture, there are many approaches to representing our subject or model using their facial features, expression, stature, clothing etc. that are consistent across the genre.  Some of these are rooted in art history, but some are unique to the medium of photography.  Looking at each of the main genres involved a great deal of reading and individual research.  The question that kept going through my head was ‘how much is enough?’  At what point should I draw a line under this work and write the essay that constituted Assignment 1?  The answer was, of course, entirely up to me which was the main issue.  Not knowing when to stop the one task and start the other led to my procrastinating.  I found lots of other less important things to do and before I knew it, three weeks had gone by.  It was my fellow cohort members that snapped me out of it as I was able to relate what I was doing to how they were approaching the assignment.  I finally got the assignment finished and a great weight lifted from my shoulders.  It’s not a pithy success story, though.  I continually struggle with procrastination for the reasons mentioned earlier and I don’t have a magic bullet for avoiding it.  There are a few things that I have learned recently that have helped, though.  I include them here, on the off-chance that they help you in some way. 

The first lesson learned was one that generally applies to people who manage their own time; having a plan.  When I say plan, I’m not talking about a grand ambition like making that first million or retiring at 55.  Planning in this case is merely a schedule of what to achieve during the day.  In my case I have learned that progress, no matter how apparently insignificant, is still progress.  If I make my objectives achievable each day, I stand a better chance of getting something done.  The second was that the world is full of distractions, some positive and some not.  To the procrastinator, a distraction diverts attention from both the task and the worry related to it.  It’s easier to avoid something challenging by cleaning that camera/reading the news/looking at that funny cat video on Instagram.  Most of us carry around a device packed with distractions which we find difficult to ignore.  The same distraction issue occurs with people, who can easily derail the plan for the day without knowing it.  I still need to be better at saying ‘no’, even if the distraction is a potentially enjoyable or interesting one.    The final lesson was to stop worrying about failing.  In the creative world, it doesn’t matter if that internet pedant corrects you or someone trolls your work when they don’t like it.  The fear of people hating what we do almost paralyses us from a productivity perspective.  Remembering that we do it for ourselves helps quash that anxiety, even if it doesn’t completely go away.  

All easier said than done and for me, definitely work-in-progress.  My advice would be to plan small objectives and don’t forget to reflect on anything you achieve, turn off your phone and practice the ‘can we do that some other time?’ smile.  Definitely don’t read ‘the comments’ if you do stray onto social media.  I am committing to doing these things from now on…or will that be next week?  Who can tell…

 

If you’ve been procrastinating about getting to know that new (or new to you) camera, why consider some beginners’ tuition?  There is everything you need to get started, the key is just…well, you know.  Check out the Tuition tab on this site or drop me a line at [email protected] for more details. 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist creativity overcome failure photography plan procrastination simplicity tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/5/i-procrastinate-therefore-i-am-maybe Tue, 03 May 2022 17:28:16 GMT
The Importance of Method https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/3/the-importance-of-method When I was a kid, one of my favourite subjects at school was physics.  There was something about the need to be able to explain the tiniest physical actions, cause and effect, transfer of energy etc that appealed to me.  More importantly, we had the chance to try things out to test a theory or demonstrate learning.  Thing is, the experiments weren’t just random ‘playtime’, they had a system or method to them.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but what might do is the realisation that in photographic art, the same is true.  

I’m not talking about the technical here, but instead exploring a creative idea within some form of structure. 

I first learned this lesson in 2020 when I had a university assignment to complete which was about ‘photographing the unseen’.  I essentially had to create narratives using contextual elements rather than including the actual subject of the story.  My idea was to include pictures and text to describe the random, often bizarre thoughts that people have immediately after they suffer a trauma of some kind.  I’d asked friends and family to contribute the thoughts as they remembered them, but planned to leave out their descriptions of the trauma itself in order to let the viewer make up their own mind.  Emboldened with my idea, I went out looking for subjects and scenes to shoot and that was when the trouble started.  Wandering around with a camera looking for inspiration is, it turns out, very stressful.  The more you try to will a picture into existence, the harder and more frustrating it gets.  This also has the effect of making you lose concentration when it comes to looking at a scene, which is kind of important in photography.  When a close deadline was added to the mix, it all got a bit messy.  With perseverance, I eventually managed to create the series and discussed my problems with my tutor.  She pointed out that having a plan, far from being restrictive to the creative process, actually helps take care of the practical logistics.  If you can plan these, there is less pressure on the creative phase of making the work.  She told me of a wonderful series called Geolocation (2007)[1], where artists Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman took a number of very emotional tweets from Twitter and made a note of their geotag data, i.e. the location where they were posted.  They then visited the locations and made a photograph for each tweet.  Combining the tweets with their images tells compelling, albeit fictional stories about the people who posted them (who remained anonymous) which are driven by the what the viewer brings to them.   

From Geolocation by Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman[1]
 

The point my tutor made was reflected in this series as the artists had the ‘where’ nailed down – something at that location would make the picture.  They could still be creative, but the structure meant that they spent more time thinking about what they wanted to say.

This idea of having some form of plan has stayed with me in every constructed tableau or documentary image I’ve shot since, and was just as important when making my latest work for my course.  The objective was to re-create a famous image using the conventions of the genre it belonged to.  I chose a portrait image from legendary photographer Elliott Erwitt’s book Dogs, which is one of my favourites.  

 

ERE1946001W0N101/XXERE1946001W0N101/XXUSA. New York City. 1946.

Chihuahua, New York City (1946), from the book Dogs, by Elliott Erwitt[2]

If ever I needed a plan, now was it.  Working with a very excitable chihuahua on a busy street?  Once I’d planned out in advance the location, angle and the props (my wife’s shoes), it was simply a matter of getting the model to stay still.  He was great, giving me a whole range of expressions and reactions to hearing his name etc.  Taking out the practical considerations to begin with kept my blood pressure down as I tried to get his best side.   We all want to make our lives easier, right?

After Elliott Erwitt (2022), by Richard Fletcher

Interested in taking up photography or just starting out with your camera?  Why not have some beginners’ tuition?  I offer a structured series of one-to-one sessions aimed at getting you off Auto mode and taking better pictures.  For more details, drop me a line at [email protected] or visit www.richperspective.co.uk

Bibliography

[1] Geolocation: Two Photographers’ Heartbreaking Visualization of Tweets (s.d.) At: http://hafny.org/blog/2016/geolocation-two-photographers-heartbreaking-visualization-of-tweets

[2] Chinese Year of the Dog • Elliott Erwitt • Magnum Photos Magnum Photos (s.d.) At: https://www.magnumphotos.com/arts-culture/art/elliott-erwitt-dog-dogs/ (Accessed 13/03/2022).

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) creative process dogs erwitt photography Plan https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/3/the-importance-of-method Tue, 15 Mar 2022 12:17:55 GMT
The Comfort Zone https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/3/the-comfort-zone I was talking to a friend of mine recently about a genre of photography that neither of us had really explored to date.  We were trying to work out whether this was just a lack of interest or something else more rooted in our similar personalities.  In the end, we concluded that it was just not in our ‘comfort zones’.  It later dawned on me that this expression neatly describes what it is like for most people when they are trying to justify not doing something difficult and I realised that it’s actually pretty awful thing to say.  The idea that we only ever do things that we are comfortable with inside some mythical boundary implies, for me, existing rather than living.  It doesn’t lend itself to learning or making mistakes, discovering new interests or hobbies, instead just the notion of ‘same old same old’.  This isn’t a particularly insightful thought, nor can it be considered a eureka moment, but it did get me thinking about what I am currently avoiding in order to stay ‘comfortable’. 

It was always my intention to do three things when I changed career.  The first was to pursue my artistic development through my continued studies on my degree course, the second was to help people get into photography through beginners’ tuition and courses and the third was to create a YouTube channel where I could share my experiences as a camera collector.  The first two have had degrees of success, but the last one has been something I’ve almost completely avoided for the past 12 months.   The reason? - appearing and speaking on camera has never been something I’ve been comfortable with.  In my previous life I had no problem standing in front of large groups of people and speaking, whether delivering scripted training or ad-libbing a short-notice presentation, so I wasn’t sure why the camera made any difference.  The answer, of course is that the camera presents us with a view of ourselves that we wouldn’t ordinarily see beyond looking at a reflection in the mirror.  With video, we also get to hear our own voice in a way that differs from what it sounds like in our heads.  If there is any level of self-consciousness about how we perceive both, it isn’t likely that we’d knowingly make such a recording of ourselves.  

In my case, I am an introvert so the idea of sharing my thoughts and ideas in a way that I can be seen and heard is a pretty scary thing.  Add to that the way that social media platforms have given everyone a voice that some often use without any restraint or consideration, and the whole idea of ‘putting myself out there’ goes beyond scary and on to terror.  This free will to comment and criticise was brought home recently to me when I noticed a post by the RNLI which was, quite reasonably, trying to raise money.  The comments below the post ranged from the admiration such an organisation deserves to the blatant trolling of their perceived ‘stance’ on rescuing immigrants from the Channel.  I initially couldn’t believe what I was reading, but then it occurred to me that since all ‘subjective’ opinion is just that, needs no evidence to back it up etc., such people will always be there.  In this case, though I was pretty sure they would be extremely grateful to be rescued by that fine organisation should they get into trouble at sea.  

We can’t really control what people say, just accept or argue the point with them if we can be bothered.  For me, remaining isolated from opinions that I might find hurtful or offensive isn’t conducive to building my tuition business, nor does it satisfy my need to pass on my knowledge and passion for photography and vintage cameras to others.  I decided to think of things like YouTube as not being outside of some mythical bubble I live in called ‘comfort’, but instead something that I’d have a go at and, if I didn’t the result, move on to the next thing.  There will likely be people who know more than I do, will pedantically point out any mistakes and generally not enjoy what I’m trying to do.  However, there will also hopefully be some who connect with it.  My perception of how people might react really shouldn’t hold me back.  All of this reflection led to me posting my first video, which you can find at the link below.  Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges and yes, I don’t actually appear on camera… but it’s a start.  I’d be interested in what you think of it, good or bad – I just won’t take it personally.

  

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) camera collector comfort zone Comfortable first photography tuition video YouTube https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/3/the-comfort-zone Wed, 09 Mar 2022 14:10:23 GMT
Advanced Photo System – The Last Roll of the Dice https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/2/aps-the-last-roll-of-the-dice I was recently helping a friend sort out her late father’s extensive camera collection so that it could be sold.  Like many keen photographers (including yours truly), the acquisition of new gear is something that goes hand in hand with discovering a new area or genre of interest.  For example, my recent interest in wildlife photography led to the purchase of a super-telephoto lens, which means that I now frequently go looking for opportunities to shoot wildlife and make the most of my investment.  The collection that we were sorting out was comprised of many modern cameras and lenses but in amongst them were a few ‘specials’.  Of these was a peculiar compact camera from the 1990s called the Fujifilm Fotonex 3500ix Zoom.  In fact, the first thing that struck me wasn’t related to the camera itself, but the fact that manufacturers had a lack of imagination when it came to naming cameras for some reason.  The same is true today; more Z7 than ‘Super Ikonta’.  However, my interest in this unusual little camera was wider than that. It took APS film. 

The compact Fotonex APS camera by Fuji. Shown here with it's clever remote control unit that doubles as a lens cap

The Fuji Fotonex with its clever remote control that doubles as a lens cap

APS, or Advanced Photo System to give it its proper handle, was a system conceived by the major film and camera manufacturers in the 1990s.  At this time Kodak still had its stuck in the ground about the emerging digital camera technology, but like the other film and camera manufacturers they were clear that in order to strengthen their position and keep film photography fresh, something new and exciting was needed.  Kodak had been burned in the 1980s by the awful Disc format, for which they used the laughable tagline “Picture a Brand New World” (check out the link to the Kodak advert on Youtube below).  It was short-lived when people realised that their old compact 110 format cameras shot better photographs, despite the disc cameras being technologically advanced.  After this disaster, Kodak went back to 135 which is what we know and love as 35mm.  The collaboration with the other major manufacturers had to work, and it actually did. The APS format was the result. 

APS used a new self-loading cartridge system which simplified the user experience from 35mm.  It also served as the home for the unexposed film when new and the exposed negatives once developed.  The idea was that the photographer would shoot the roll and the lab would send the film back in its cartridge along with prints made from the negatives.  If they subsequently wanted other prints, they could take the cartridge to any film developer who had an APS processor, and the film would tell the machine which prints to make.  More interesting was that the photographer could also shoot different formats one one roll and the film would record this information too.  The frame on the negative would be full size but when the photographer wanted to print a different, the machine would read what the camera was set to at the time and make the print accordingly.  Another benefit was that the film recorded partially shot film, which meant in the higher end cameras, that a cannister could be wound back in mid-roll, replaced for different conditions (light etc) and then reinserted for the rest of the roll to be shot.  The whole shooting experience was simplified for the photographer while simultaneously demonstrating a significant advance in the equipment.  Cameras had to be smarter and the processing machines were also different from traditional 135.  The processing machines locked the developing houses into the technology, which was fairly common with film manufacturers of the day.  All in all, it looked like a great idea.  However, the digital age was dawning and as cameras improved in image quality and the price came down, APS and film in general started to become obsolete. 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) APS camera compact film Fujifilm https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/2/aps-the-last-roll-of-the-dice Sat, 26 Feb 2022 19:19:59 GMT
Reciprocity Failure and the Silver Lining https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/2/reciprocity-failure-and-the-silver-lining Back in 2016, I had a momentary loss of control of my faculties and thought ‘why not have a go at shooting some film?’  It was a peculiar idea, given that I had a great digital camera and collection of high-quality glass for it.  I’d learned a great deal about exposure, composition, use of filters and tripods etc through academic study and trial-and-error, which is easy when you shoot with ‘didge’.  Why on Earth would I want to return to the days of anxiously waiting for my film to come back from the developers, or in my case growing up, a well- known High Street chemist?  

Well, it started with a chance meeting with one of my photographic heroes, a pioneer in street photography in the 1960s.  His recommendation during our brief 2 minutes together, most of which involved me awkwardly trying to think of questions to ask, was to have a go with an old film camera.  The rationale was that film make us slow down.  We want to make the best image as possible on the film because, amongst other things, it costs real money.  On his advice,  I went straight out and bought a Hasselblad 500c/m, which the word ‘iconic’ doesn’t begin to cover.  Fast-forward 5 years and I have a collection of 42 film cameras from the past 100 years or so.  My rapid development (pardon the pun) of a love for film has been largely down to the fact that it is a predictable but varied medium.  What I mean by this is that by and large we can work film to achieve the photograph that we want, but there will always be subtle variations in the emulsion being used and, more crucially, our choice of stock will have its own aesthetic quality.  The fancy digital filters that we have for our phones and social media apps often mimic the variability of film, but personally I prefer the real effect over any of those.   I’m not alone it would appear, as the film industry has been enjoying a mini revival over the past few years.  More and more stocks are being discovered and rebranded, some are being reintroduced and shooting expired film has become a genre in its own right.  

When it comes to using film over digital, there are some key differences when it comes to metering and development.  The reaction of the film to light is, unsurprisingly, different to that of a digital sensor.  A good example would be the old adage about “exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights”, which refers to the fact that the development of film starts with the details in the shadows and progresses to the highlights over time.  If there isn’t sufficient light exposing the shadow regions, the negative will effectively look clear in those areas.  No information in the shadows means no recovery when it comes to scanning or printing.  As the development progresses to the highlight regions, we have the ability to shorten the developing time to keep them under control if needed.  Understanding the process that the film goes through when it’s exposed to light and then developing chemicals is crucial to making the best negative possible.   In the 1940s, legendary photographers Ansel Adams and Fred Archer developed The Zone System, which helps the photographer understand the scene and choose the right exposure for the negative.  Adams’ book series The Camera, The Negative and The Print are arguably the most important documents of the photographic process ever written.  

When it comes to shooting film, though there is another phenomenon that many people starting out have discover by accident: Reciprocity Failure.  This is the name given to the non-linearity of the film’s reaction to light over time, specifically when the exposure is a long one measured in seconds.  What happens is that the film sensitivity decreases with the amount of time it is exposed to light, meaning that it doesn’t react as quickly after a second or so as it does when the shutter first opens.  When Reciprocity Failure becomes a factor, the exposure that we think we have metered correctly, suddenly results in underexposure, wasted money and occasionally, tears.  I first encountered it not long after I bought the ‘Blad.  I was out shooting a derelict barn on a cloudy day.  I thought the metering was correct and shot the picture with a shutter speed of around 2 seconds.  The result was a disaster.  After some research, I realised that my exposure of 2 seconds should actually have been 3 seconds.  Further digging revealed that films have different Reciprocity Failure rates and response curves that exacerbate the non-linear behaviour the longer the exposure.  Fortunately, there are apps available that will calculate the factor for the film stock being used, so photographers can simply include that in their deliberations about exposure – we’re taking our time, remember?  

If this sounds like a pain, it’s actually just a minor inconvenience.  It was enough for me to get excited though, when I learned that one of my favourite film stocks was pretty much immune to it.  Kodak Ektachrome is what we children of the 1970s would call ‘slide film’.  It was the chosen stock for holiday photographs, which were projected for friends and family back home.  Ever wondered where the term slideshow came from?  Now you know.   Ektachrome is a favourite of mine because it renders colours beautifully and has very little grain.  When a perfectly exposed Ektachrome slide is projected onto a screen, it’s real thing of beauty.  Imagine my joy when I learned that Ektachrome doesn’t suffer from the pesky reciprocity failure until shutter has been open for more than 10 seconds – that’s huge compared to most negative films.  I don’t understand the physics (nor do I really care), but this knowledge leads to potentially using slide film for long exposures which is something I’d never considered.  One style of photography that I’d yet to explore with film was shooting at night. Exposures typically last a few seconds, which would suit Ektachrome perfectly I thought.  A little digging around the internet confirmed that the film, although colour balanced for daylight, would render artificial light beautifully at night.   Armed with my ‘Blad and a few rolls, I went out one evening to have a go. 

I was amazed at how the film performed in these shots, all of which had exposures less than 10 seconds.  The colours are vivid and the blue tint that Ektachrome is known for in daylight has almost completely disappeared.  There's plenty of sharpness but very little grain, which would look cool when projected.  The whole experience was so easy, I cannot wait to get out there again and shoot some urban scenes at night.  

Unlike some of my blog posts, this doesn’t conclude with some deep spiritual revelation or lightbulb moment. What I realised in this discovery is that there is still so much to learn from something that isn’t cutting-edge technology such as slide film.  I’d learned about reciprocity through making mistakes and analysing the possible causes.  It didn’t bother me, but discovering that there are films that can get around it was a real step forward. 

 

Thinking about shooting film for the first time?  Found an old camera in the loft that you fancy trying?  Why not have some beginner’s tuition to get you started.  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) ektachrome film Kodak night photography photography reciprocity failure https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/2/reciprocity-failure-and-the-silver-lining Tue, 08 Feb 2022 10:15:17 GMT
“Make it more complex”, said nobody ever https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/1/-make-it-more-complex-said-nobody-ever As I write this, we have moved into 2022 (Happy New Year, by the way) which for me is a bit of a mixed bag.  I love the celebrations at the end of a year and even engage with some of the popular New Year’s resolutions – I probably have the same level of success of most other people.  The tricky part of New Year for me is almost always my attempts at prioritising what I want to do for the next 12 months.  This was something I didn’t have much of a problem with when it came to other people during my engineering career but when it comes to me, it’s always been a challenge that leads to a strange paralysis.  2021 had been a great year for change and I had developed new relationships, learned many lessons about how I wanted to operate in my business and delivered some great tuition sessions.  As my old boss used to say “that was last year, Rich…it’s done mate”.  Now I found myself planning this year and as usual, my state of confusion permeated through the first week of 2022.  Then, something shifted.  

Last year, we took delivery of a beautiful, new, factory-built campervan. It was something we’d promised ourselves at some point in the future, but when the pandemic struck in early, we changed our plans to bring it forward.  It has been magnificent so far, with us making the most of the summer and autumn with many trips away in it.  The shift in my procrastinating about this year came from a small problem we had with the van earlier this week.  Like all modern cars, the van has hugely sophisticated systems that control and monitor the health of its functions.  One of these, we were told, had an intermittent fault that needs investigating.  Just one of those things that can happen with any vehicle, new or second hand but it’s frustrating all the same.  It got me thinking, though – How has everything become so complex?  

Of course, the answer is simple.  The complexity of something like the system on my van is designed with the intention to improve our lives in some way; the function concerned reduces emissions that harm the environment, so that benefit is a clearer conscience.  The complexity of the system only reveals itself when it goes wrong however, which is when someone with specialist knowledge is required to sort it out.   In the case of photography, cameras are also becoming much more technically advanced and we see this most clearly in those that are built into mobile phones.  I recently saw an advert for a major phone manufacturer (no names…etc) that was announcing a new function that digitally removes clutter from the image.  It turns out that if you are taking that special holiday selfie next to one of the seven wonders of the world and somebody ‘photo-bombs’ it, you can now draw a circle around the idiot and have them surgically removed from your photo.  Far from being a gimmick, this function allows the photographer to recover what might be a once-in-a-lifetime image and spare them from the disappointment of getting it wrong in the first place.  The technology isn’t perfect, though.  Removing something from a digital image requires sophisticated artificial intelligence that can use the area surrounding the object to extrapolate what it should look like.  It always leaves some distortion at the pixel level that can only really be improved rather than eliminated.  For most applications, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks though.  

 

The irony of all this is that technological advances can have the effect of ‘dumbing down’ our knowledge.  In the case of the van, I have no idea how this stuff works because the last time I serviced a car myself, I only needed a famous brand of workshop manual and some spanners.  The investigation they are doing as I write this involves a laptop computer and diagnostics instrumentation – I’m not sure the spanners are needed until much later.   In the case of the photograph, the ability to correct it afterwards could mean that we aren’t paying attention to the composition before we press the shutter button.  It’s much simpler to recognise and consciously avoid ‘visual debris’ (whether it’s a tree ‘growing’ out of a person’s head or someone acting up in the background) than rely on technology to save the day.  I was asked recently how much post-production I do in my work and my answer was, well, simple.  I only adjust what used to be done in the traditional darkroom environment, which limits me to selective brightness (dodging and burning), contrast and, if the image is a film scan, dust removal.  I don’t add or subtract anything and am not greatly fond of special effects etc.  I’m not saying that it’s wrong to do that, of course – creativity shouldn’t be limited by ‘rules’.  It’s just that I prefer to keep it simple.

How does this all relate to 2022?  Well, the key lesson for me here is to plan to achieve a small number of things to the best of my abilities rather than to spread myself too thin.  If I take my time, concentrate on what makes something a success, I’ll not only be healthier mentally, but will continue to build on my achievements of last year. Keep It Simple.  Let’s just hope I can get it together to settle in what those things are.

 

Interested in learning photography?  My tailored tuition covers, amongst other aspects, the basics of composition and how to avoid the common mistakes.  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) composition creativity new year's Photography prioritise resolutions simplicity https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2022/1/-make-it-more-complex-said-nobody-ever Mon, 10 Jan 2022 09:38:58 GMT
To Imagine or To Know https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/11/to-imagine-or-to-know I’ve recently returned from what has become an annual pilgrimage to London during November.  The main purpose is to visit some galleries, take some pictures and visit some nice restaurants – not sure why, but I seem to enjoy these activities more in Autumn than at other times of the year.  One of the visits we made this year was to the Natural History Museum, which has always been a favourite.  This year, alongside the usual permanent exhibitions, there was a special one about dinosaurs.  Unsurprisingly, I was instantly transported back to my childhood, a time when I was completely obsessed with dinosaurs (looking around the exhibition I could see that I wasn’t the only middle-aged man going into a trance).  As a kid, dinosaurs held a fascination with me for the obvious reasons that they were often huge, majestic and completely different from any animal I had ever seen.  The firm favourite with my friends and I was the Tyrannosaurus Rex (again, I suspect this isn’t unique). T-Rex combined the key features of a dinosaur but was a predator who, we were led to believe, ate everything in its path.  Standing in the NHM exhibit I was looking at the fossilised skull of a T-Rex and an animatronic version of the fearsome predator behind it.  The robot T-Rex swayed around and roared at the viewers, most of them children.  Lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ followed, which got me thinking.  I turned to my wife and pointed out that we have no real idea what a T-Rex sounded like or indeed how it moved.  Science had learned a huge amount about these creatures, about their size by their skeletons and was also able to extrapolate aspects like diet and migration from where the fossils had been found.  When it comes to sound and indeed colour, we have to ‘fill in the blanks’.  Our knowledge is supplemented by imagination.  A good example of the differences between ideas about T-Rex comes from Steven Spielberg’s huge hit movie ‘Jurassic Park’, released in 1993.  Spielberg’s T-Rex was depicted as massive and dark green.  She rampaged through the ailing safari park eating people whole, tipping over cars and generally being as terrifying as I hoped she’d be when I was a small boy.  Here, in the NHM, the ‘realistic’ T-Rex was considerably smaller and a lighter green colour.  It could of course be argued that a smaller T-Rex wouldn’t have had the impact in the movie so artistic licence was adopted for the sake of the narrative.  However, what is interesting is that nobody cared.  We all had our imaginary dinosaur in mind and as long as those key narrative points about its behaviour were included, we were happy. 

What’s the point of all this, then?  Well, I’ve just finished a section of my degree course that deals with reading images and how narratives are influenced by iconic messages.  In his paper The Rhetoric of the Image, French philosopher Roland Barthes used linguistics to ‘read’ an example photograph, something that linguistics experts of the time didn’t really believe was relevant.  Barthes’ example was an advert for Italian food products made by a French manufacturer.  The image contained signs that suggested what Barthes referred to as Italianicity, that is what points to Italian culture.  However, he went on to demonstrate that the reading of an image’s iconic and symbolic messages is dependent on what the viewer brings to it.   A European person associates pasta, tomatoes and parmesan cheese with Italian culture, but an Italian wouldn’t recognise the same stereotype themselves. To an Italian, they are just ingredients for their traditional dishes. Barthes’ paper is a difficult and involving read, but part of his message was that the viewer brings their own experiences, cultural history and historical learning to the reading of an image.  In the case of the advertiser in his essay, they wanted to sell to the French people so the messages in the image were tailored specifically for them.  Outside of the obvious nature of advertising, there really is no real ‘truth’, only interpretation.  What made me want to write this post wasn’t Barthes, however.  It was this quote from Albert Einstein, perhaps the most famous scientist of the past 150 years.  

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

When I think about this quotation in the context of standing in the museum, I realise that Einstein is talking about knowledge as being the gap-filler rather than imagination.  We all started out imagining what dinosaurs were like, but for a select group it was the driving force to learn more about them; to ‘fill the gaps’.  Imagination then is the catalyst for learning, which is definitely my experience over the past few years.  Since studying on my degree course and in my tuition work with beginners, I’ve used learning to not only broaden my understanding of the craft of photography, but also to let my imagination run a little wilder than before.  When I see a student realise how one small shift in how they use their camera can make all of their pictures better than before, that strikes a chord with me.  What I’ve learned from thinking about this is to incorporate the freeing their imagination as well as the basic camera skills into our tuition sessions.  That way, they can start to imagine what they want their picture to look like and use their new-found skills to help make it happen.   Who’d have thought this realisation would come from looking into the ‘eyes’ of perhaps the coolest, most imagined dinosaur of them all.

Thinking of getting creative?  If photography is high on your list, why not get some tuition?  Our programme covers the basics of photography, using a camera without Auto mode, composition and so much more.  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details. 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) Barthes creativity dinosaurs Imagination photography tuition https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/11/to-imagine-or-to-know Mon, 22 Nov 2021 12:57:59 GMT
Forget the gear, have an idea https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/10/forget-the-gear-have-an-idea I’ve recently returned from a few days away in the beautiful Ribble Valley in Lancashire, which was another early adventure in our new campervan.  We decided to buy the van back in 2020 while the country was in the grip of a national lockdown due to you-know-what.  The combined effect of the changes to our working lives and reluctance to consider travelling abroad, brought forward this plan that we had conceived for later in our retirement.  We went for the VW factory-built California, a van based on the hugely successful work vans that we see everywhere in the UK.  Being people that ‘just want it to work’, the VW California suited us perfectly as everything onboard was designed to work with everything else.  

We’ve used our van, named Ruby because of her colour, several times already this year and are learning more about both camping and this wonderful machine every time we do so.  This trip was no exception, with the list of accessories we’d forgotten to buy/bring with us being added as the week progressed.  This was also the first time we’d used the van in really bad weather.  The rain was relentless and the balmy temperatures of the week before quickly abandoned us too, which meant that we spent a great deal of time staying inside.  Plenty of coffee, the odd glass of wine and a Scrabble marathon kept us amused as well as the mandatory ‘people watching’.  It was while doing the latter, that I noticed someone setting up camp who would get me thinking about how in some ways our consumerism drives us on an endless quest to have the best possible kit.

The camper in question was a young woman in her early twenties who was traveling with her dog.  She rolled into the site in a late 90s Land Rover Discovery with no trailer or caravan behind it.  I watched as she started to ‘assemble’ her campervan, first running an electrical hook-up through one of the car’s windows, then fixing some metallic insulating material to the windscreen with what looked like gaffer tape, and finally erecting a tarpaulin gazebo off the back.  Then came the seemingly endless equipment from the back of the car including a stove, chair, water container, small table, pots and pans.  Within about 10 minutes, the old car had become a camper on a shoestring.  I sat in the heated comfort of our Cali watching in amazement for a couple of reasons. The first was the notion of someone so young building such an ingeniously simple, yet effective camper and the second being that despite its Heath Robinson appearance, the camper worked perfectly.  The former is a result of my simply getting older realising that what I’ve learned in my professional and personal life is rightly being challenged by the new ideas of younger people.  I was fortunate enough to work closely with some brilliant engineering graduates in my former company, but it didn’t stop me from being ‘that grumpy old bugger’ that every business has on more than one occasion.  Perhaps more interesting to me was the second point, which was that she had cobbled together a working van from bits and pieces and it had worked.  I had no idea about how she got to this point or why and I wasn’t about to go and ask.  It could have been that this was what she could afford or perhaps just making something that was fit for purpose was the goal.   I started to think about my own experiences with buying gear, which goes far beyond our purchase of the California.  In my photography, I have always aspired to get the highest possible specification for whatever I could afford at the time.  As a result, I’m very fortunate to have a great DSLR camera and the professional lenses to go with it.  It has cost me a small fortune over the years, but I’ve been driven by some internal idea that having the best in some way makes me a better photographer.  But is this really true? Of course not.  Take these photographs for example:

Malvern Pinhole #7Malvern Pinhole #7

They were taken with the most basic form of camera there is, the pinhole.  You will have undoubtedly seen pinhole cameras before as they have been made from tin cans, carboard boxes and even sheds over many years.  All you need is a sealed box with a small hole in the front that can be covered/uncovered long enough to expose the film inside.  The resulting image is of course not razor sharp, nor is there any control over field-of-view or perspective, but oddly that doesn’t matter.  It is because the process is so simple (only having to work out how long to leave the hole uncovered for the film type), that the effort can instead be put into looking for a subject that might look good as a pinhole photograph.  For example, anything with moving water or clouds looks good because the ‘shutter speed’ is so low, often many seconds in length.  Pinhole has its own aesthetic which isn’t dramatically enhanced by the quality of the camera design or manufacture.  Taking a pinhole photograph is oddly rewarding because of the level of guesswork in composition, image contrast etc. involved in doing so.  You don’t know exactly what you’ll get, but know that you just don’t need the expensive equipment or labour-saving accessories to have a good time with it. Much like the woman with her DIY camping rig, whose the goal of relaxing with some food, wine and a companion was most important, not how easy it was to ‘get there’.   

She left a couple of days later, with the disassembly of her camper being just as straightforward as its assembly.  Perhaps the final point about the quality of gear was her laughing at my getting soaked when trying to release the water that had collected on Ruby’s awning.  She had experienced the exact same just moments before.  What I learned as she drove away was the importance of making best use of what you have and enjoying the results of your creative labours.  Forget the gear, have the idea.

Fancy having a go with at building and shooting your own pinhole camera?  The first part of my tuition programme deals with the basics of camera operation and exposure, which starts with the pinhole.  Drop me a line at [email protected] for more details.

 

 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) creative enjoyment gear idea photography pinhole simplicity https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/10/forget-the-gear-have-an-idea Tue, 05 Oct 2021 15:57:26 GMT
Why Wildlife? https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/9/why-wildlife What’s so interesting about Wildlife?

Since finishing my work at the end of January, I have discovered a passion for an area of photography that I’d only really dabbled in previously, Wildlife.  I’m not really sure why my previous experiences with this genre didn’t leave me hooked, but I do know that I always viewed the results with a certain disinterest afterwards.  It wasn’t that they were poor shots, or that I wasn’t interested in the subject at all, it was just that in my mind, one photograph of a particular bird was very much the same as another.  So, what changed?

The first change was the amount of time I now had.  It took a few months to get used to not having a 9 to 5 job anymore and I spend most of that time going for long walks and spending time in my local park.  When I didn’t have to rush to any meetings or the dreaded ‘Teams calls’, I found myself just looking at nature, which I know sounds a little cliché but it’s true, I genuinely hadn’t really just watched.   I started to notice the variety of wildlife that visited the park, from ducks to squirrels, herons to the illusive kingfisher.  Each appeared to have a set of behaviours that fitted a loose routine.  The heron would normally appear in the afternoon, the ducks would roost on dry land and move to the pond in the morning etc.   This was the first thing that piqued my interest in wildlife photography - the behaviours and patterns of the different species, which could be observed easily enough if one puts in the time.  I started to learn things too, the first being how violent and potentially fatal the mating ritual of mallard ducks is.  I watched in horror as the drake almost drowned the female, only to be chased off by her when it was all over.   The drama of the ritual and how to represent it in a photograph became the challenge which put my previous experiences with wildlife photography into context.  There is a ‘creativity’ in telling a story of an animal’s behaviour which is, in my opinion, far more interesting than simply capturing its perceived ‘beauty’.

Mating

Continuing the duck theme, the next thing I learned was that they fish.  I had gone 48 years without ever having known or seen a duck fishing, so it was quite a surprise to experience it for the first time.  I was watching a group of ducks diving completely under the surface of the water, which isn’t really news to be honest as I’ve seen them do this many times before.  However, I then saw a female leap onto the bank with a small fish in her mouth, which I quickly learned was a tactic to stop said fish from escaping her grasp in the water.  The problem was that she was then spotted by a nearby group of drakes, looking like a gang from West Side Story.  They decided that they were going to steal the fish and started to walk menacingly toward her.  For some reason, I decided that I wouldn’t let them take it from her, so positioned myself between them and their target.   Once the danger had passed, she was relaxed enough for me to take this shot of her and her catch.  

 

Fishing 1Fishing 1

 

I’d now observed a behaviour that I kept seeing repeatedly over the next few weeks.  Then it dawned on me that the females were far better fishers than the males because they needed the nutrition to help produce their eggs.  As I continued to watch them, I noticed the fishing decline once the broods had hatched.   From a photographic perspective I was beginning to see the point of shooting wildlife as it opened up a whole new world that we just don’t see because we are busy rushing from one place to another. 

My new-found passion for wildlife photography has also taught me how to get the most out of my camera and selected lens.  I was asked recently what settings I generally use, and I couldn’t really answer.  My workflow with the camera has evolved for my equipment and the conditions that I am shooting under, so it’ll vary from someone else’s experience or objective.  Wildlife photography has come at a cost too, with the recent purchase of a longer telephoto lens so that I can increase my distance from the subject.  I’m looking forward to getting out there to shoot with it. 

For me, the learnings from this experience so far are to take time to look closely at something we might not immediately see any interest in.  Slowing things down helps us to appreciate what our busy lives prevent us from noticing.  This applies to all aspects of our lives, but in terms of my photography, only when I stopped and looked did this make sense. 

You can see more of my wildlife photographs at www.richperspective.co.uk in the album 'Wildlife'  If you’d like to know more or are thinking of taking up photography for the first time, please drop me a line about some beginner’s tuition.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) blog interesting passion photography wildlife https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/9/why-wildlife Sun, 26 Sep 2021 08:45:44 GMT
You Must Have a Really Good Camera -  The Accessibility of Photography https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/8/you-must-have-a-really-good-camera---the-accessibility-of-photography A friend recently asked how long I have been interested in/obsessed with photography and my answer was, as usual related to when my Dad loaned me my first camera back in the early 1980s.  It was a Voigtländer Vitoret 110, which shot the conventiently small 110 cartridge film that was around at the time.  My Dad thought I might be interested in taking up what was his hobby and his father’s before him.  Needless to say, I shot through loads of 110 film over the next couple of years and enjoyed it so much that I never got around to returning it to him.  

The Voigtländer Vitoret 110

While small and beautifully designed, the Vitoret wasn’t very flexible in its controls.  You could select the type of weather conditions and…well that was it really. Focusing was a set of preset distances that were selected by the choice of weather, which many years later I realised meant a function of the lens aperture. It had the capability of firing a flash as well, but since there were no electronics the camera used one of those exploding flash cubes that literally went off to the left of your eyeball.  Things were much more dangerous in the Seventies.  Regardless, I was hooked.  Fast-forward to 1986 and I was bought my first SLR camera, a Fujica STX-1N.  Now I could experiment with different ISO films, aperture and shutter speed which set me loose and the rest, as they say, is history. 

The friend who asked me then followed up their question with “these days I just use my phone”.  I’ve never been a snob about phones as their cameras and processing software are becoming more and more sophisticated with every new release.   Further discussion revealed an reluctance to using a so-called proper camera as being the expense of buying one.  It got me thinking about how accessible photography is right now and whether there is enough of a draw to lure people away from a camera that comes free with their mobile.  The old adage about ‘getting what you pay for’ does apply to photography and the rather flippant title of this post is something I’ve had said of my professional camera gear on more than one occasion.   It’s not hard to see how the importance of having a fancy camera does, in many cases, turn people off to the prospect of taking up photography.  Of course, the camera is only a small part of the equation that produces a ‘good’ photograph and I usually feign being offended when people imply that my ‘really good camera’ is entirely responsible for my work.  I started to consider whether there was some way of showing that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The first thought was about the Digital Single Lens Reflex or DSLR, which is everyone’s idea of what a camera looks like these days.  DSLRs are essentially the same as the old film cameras like my Fujica, but updated to produce a file rather than a film frame.  Entry-level DSLRs can be purchased for a few hundred pounds with a cheap lens included and, in my experience the ones made by the main manufacturers such as Nikon, Canon or Sony, are excellent.  They are certainly more than sufficient to get started with, but a few hundred pounds is still often prohibitively expensive, particularly if photography is something being ‘tried out’.  You can buy them used online easily enough, but care is needed in finding out what sort of life a camera has had.  Firstly, understanding how many times the shutter and internal mirror have fired can be the difference between a great camera and a disaster.  IF the camera has been well used, these electronic systems can become unreliable.   Another area of weakness is the battery, which if too degraded may be hard to replace with a genuine part.  There are a few things then that make DSLRs a pricey prospect.  

There is another way, however.   Irrespective of the camera technology, the principles of exposure, composition etc are universal.  As long as you have a camera that has the ability to alter ISO, aperture and shutter speed, you can learn photography.  The beauty of this is that there are literally millions of old film cameras languishing in peoples’ lofts and kitchen drawers that could be an entry point into photography.  If they are sufficiently old enough to be entirely mechanical and have been dry stored, they may well be perfectly functional.  If not, there are many examples of manual film cameras online ranging from a few pounds to a few thousand.  Some of these cameras are really special too.  Icons like the Canon AE1, Nikon F3 and Olympus OM1 can be picked up for less than an entry-level DSLR – these cameras and their lenses were highly regarded in their day and still hold their own in our digital world.  There are obviously running costs in the form of film and processing, but  with the recent resurgence in the medium, there are still many labs around and great suppliers like Analogue Wonderland in the UK and The Film Photography Project in the US who stock film for all budgets down to around £4 per roll.  Processing and scanning services are also wide available for around £10 for a roll of 36 shots, which makes each photograph around 40p to produce.  I’m not suggesting that this is better than digital in any way (arguments about the way that the two formats differ aesthetically have raged for years), but a cheap film camera is a way of trying photography without having to invest in expensive kit.  As an example, I bought this little camera for my collection earlier this year.  

Early Zeiss Werra c1950s Early Zeiss Werra c1950s

It’s a mint condition Zeiss Werra from the early 1950s and it cost me around £60 from eBay.  It isn’t an SLR camera, doesn’t have a light meter or in-viewfinder focusing as with most cameras.  However, it does have manual control over aperture and shutter speed which means that it can be used to practice the basics.  I used a free light meter app on my phone to determine exposure for the film’s ISO and estimated the focal distance which is then set on the lens barrel.  The great thing about this camera apart from the price is the lens, which is made by the legendary manufacturer Carl Zeiss.  As you can see from the results below, it performs really well and its unusual form factor makes it an interesting and enjoyable camera to shoot. 

Examples from the Zeiss Werra Examples from the Zeiss Werra

Examples from the Zeiss Werra

What can we conclude from this?  For me, photography is now more accessible than ever with the availability of high-quality digital cameras and a buoyant market for old film cameras that are just ready for a second life with an enthusiastic beginner.  Regardless of the technology, the key thing is to have a go and to bear in mind that the camera is merely the tool with which to create.  This idea of having to invest heavily is simply not true.   

Whichever route you take, remember that I can help you with some beginner tuition sessions.  Hopefully, you get to love photography as much as I do.   Just drop me a line at [email protected] for more details.  

 

 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) accessibility beginner cameras film photography https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/8/you-must-have-a-really-good-camera---the-accessibility-of-photography Tue, 24 Aug 2021 10:24:12 GMT
End of the Aerochrome Road https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/8/end-of-the-aerochrome-road In my previous post I described the humbling experience of shooting my first roll of Kodak Aerochrome colour slide film and getting what can only be described as awful results.  In the analysis that followed, I concluded that I wasn’t entirely sure what had caused the shots to look so bad, but resolved to have another go with my remaining two rolls of film.  In the back of my mind, I thought that perhaps the time of year was a factor, having shot the first roll on the first sunny day we’d had in the spring this year.  Perhaps the film really needed mid-summer light in order to respond with that beautiful colour shift that Aerochrome was famous for.  

As the country headed into a heatwave and I had a holiday in the Yorkshire Dales coming up, this seemed to be the ideal opportunity to have another go.  Once again, I used my Nikon F6, which has one of the best meters of any film SLR, and that I had shot many rolls through without any exposure issues.  I loaded the film in the dark, fitted the filter to my lens as instructed and headed out.  Perceived wisdom, otherwise known as the internet, suggested that as the film had expired over a decade ago, I should overexpose by anywhere between 1/3 and 1 stop to counteract its age.  As the film had been frozen since it was discovered by the FPP way back when, I was pretty confident that there weren’t any other mishandling issues that could contribute to the condition of the emulsion.  Slide film is notoriously intolerant to overexposing, so I would need to ‘bracket’ the shots.  This means taking a number of pictures of the same composition and varying their exposures to see which one works best.  It’s a costly but useful thing to do in film, however bracketing is still used in digital photography today because there is no impact in doing so.  Ansel Adams once said that if you need to bracket, you don’t know what you are doing – we’ll just leave that thought alone for now.

Conscious that I was suspicious of the lab that I used last time, I did some research and found one who specialised in developing IR film.   Feeling really confident, I went out to shoot the beautiful Dales countryside.  When I got the film back from the developers, I was distraught.  Despite my best efforts, the film was totally ruined with a every shot saturated with a purple hue and all the contrast lost.   

I was at a complete loss as to what had happened this time.  Some more research online revealed that others had suffered the same problems despite doing everything possible to shoot and develop according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  In my case, the bracketing made no difference at all, which led me to ultimately conclude that it was an issue with the film.  Something had affected its behaviour in a way that I couldn’t comprehend.  All I knew was that the issue was consistent with both rolls which, given they were hand-rolled from a bulk reel, isn’t a surprise.  To be clear, I’m not making a point about the previous owner or supplier, just that this was my experience. 

I guess my learning from this experience was swift.  I have no rolls of Aerochrome left and it is now incredibly rare and expensive to get hold of.  Even if it could be sourced the same risks associated with expired film, such as storage and handling, still exist.  What this means is that whatever the reason for the poor results, my time with this film stock is done.  Yes, it personally cost me a lot of money, but I don’t regret tying it.  Film can be a cruel mistress with its lack of immediate feedback, the potential waste of actual money and errors creeping into the end-to-end process.  That is why ‘digital’ took over and remains the dominant technology.  For those who want the reward of the beautifully natural look of how film renders an image, we must accept that risk.  I was certainly angry and disappointed, but it was worth giving it a go simply because of the mystique surrounding Aerochrome.  The reward didn’t come, but I can’t dwell on that – time to move on to the next project.  When I think about this, it’s pretty much the same for anything in life where if our best isn’t quite good enough, there isn’t much to be done but move on.   In my case, I’m going to stick to the paths trodden by Kodak and Ilford from now on. 

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/8/end-of-the-aerochrome-road Thu, 05 Aug 2021 10:28:23 GMT
Expired Infrared Ektachrome Fail and Learning https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/6/expired-infrared-ektachrome-fail-and-learning A couple of years ago I had a momentary loss of my faculties and bought 3 rolls of what is probably the most rare and mysterious film stock out there.  Kodak Aerochrome is a colour infrared (IR) film that was originally designed for military use in locating man-made objects hiding in vegetation.  The film renders organic materials that naturally reflect light in the IR spectrum as varying degrees of bold, mainly red colour where artificial materials generally look similar to how they do in visible light.   In short, any plant or tree life looks like something out of a science fiction movie, while man-made stuff like artillery and camouflaging don’t.  The film found other uses in airborne survey of vegetation after the military need diminished, but eventually Kodak called time on the film in around 2010.  Since then, photographers and film-makers have used the remaining stock to create beautiful, other-world artworks.  As the film became rarer, the laws of supply and demand drove up the price to an eye-watering $40 per roll (back when I bought mine).  I grabbed my 3 rolls and put them in the deep freeze until I could find a subject.  Then came the pandemic and my priorities changed.  The film is ideally shot during the summer when the intensity of the infrared in the sunlight is at its highest.  Once the summer of 2020 had passed, I resolved to shoot it in 2021.  As the film was in the deep-freeze, it wouldn’t dramatically age during that year…unlike me. 

Once the impact of the pandemic began to ease towards the end March 2021, I thought I would have a go at shooting one of the rolls during a brief period of bright, sunny weather.  I selected my Nikon F6 to shoot it in, having first checked that it would work.  Lots of film SLRs used light emitting diodes (LEDs) to determine how far the film was being advanced with each frame shot and this is a big problem with IR film.  These lights emit sufficient light in the IR band to fog the film before we even start.  The F6, being a professional SLR didn’t suffer from this problem and it had the additional benefit of having a very accurate light meter.  I thought this combination would be a winner.  After loading the film in the dark…yes, even loading in normal light can fog the film inside the cartridge, I was ready to shoot.   I went to the local park to find some compositions that would include vegetation and man-made structures to really bring out the legendary look of the film.  Once done, it was just a case of waiting for the lab to develop them.  When it comes to processing, the film is a positive slide which needs to be done as E6 process.  Anyone who grew up in the 1970s will remember sitting around a big screen looking at slides of someone’s holiday photos.  Tedious slide marathons aside, in my opinion there is no more magical a film than a positive slide.  Anyway, the IR film can’t just be put in a processing machine for similar ‘LEDs-ruining-everything’ reasons as mention previously.  My lab uses a manual process that was established as safe for colour IR.   With all of these elements in place, I was confident.  How wrong could I have been?

When the film came back, the clearest issue was that they were all under-exposed. The film is expired and although it had been tested, I didn’t take the age of the film into account.  There is a school of thought that says that if you’re using expired film, you need to over-expose by 1 stop for every 10 years by its expiry date for negative film.  Wasn’t sure this also applied to positives.  Perhaps I was instinctively worried that if I deliberately over-exposed to compensate, I would then run into the well-known narrow dynamic range associated with positive slide films - slides are notoriously stingy when it comes to exposure and demand to be spot on to get good results. Whatever the reason, there is nothing worse in film photography than under-exposed slide film and that is what I had. 

When I look at these shots, I can see the desired infrared effect.  However, the shadows are a mess.  I used matrix metering on the camera to get the average meter reading based on the dynamic range of the scene.  The loss of shadow detail and the weird grain that appears points to the exposure being well off.  Like all film fails, it’s hard not to ask other questions.  Was the film any good to begin with? Did the camera work properly? Did the lab screw up the processing?  I started to think about these other possibilities.

Taking them in turn, the film came from the brilliant Film Photography Project in the U.S. and they in turn got it from a vault in a military facility.  It had been stored properly by both parties and the FPP did their own testing on the batch before they hand-roll it.  I find it hard to blame the film knowing how it was handled all the way from the various freezers to my camera. As for the camera, my F6 is only a few years old and has worked perfectly with every other roll I’ve shot through it - so I guess that’s not it either.  That leaves the lab, which is an easy target and people often pin their photographic failings on the poor technician who processed the film.  I can’t find any variations between the frames on the film and the image structure is present in each.  No matter how I look at it, this was my issue and not theirs.   One thing I’ve learned about film photography is that it pays to be humble about one’s own shortcomings when things go wrong rather than try to blame something else.  Sometimes, you just get it wrong and the consequences as well as costs are yours alone.   

What I’ve learned about this first roll and this experience is that trying something different and being prepared to get it wrong is a positive thing.  I had to look past the cost of the roll, admittedly through my tears, and see what I would do differently next time.  More research into shooting expired slide film and even waiting until the proper summertime conditions would be top of the list.  I would also think about developing it myself if I can get some E6 practice before then.  What I know for sure is that I can’t wait to have another go. With a holiday coming up, perhaps the stars will align next time. 


 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist film infrared' 'film photography fail learning https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/6/expired-infrared-ektachrome-fail-and-learning Thu, 17 Jun 2021 15:36:11 GMT
The Pointless Debate - Film or Digital? https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/5/the-pointless-debate---film-or-digital I heard an age-old debate on the radio recently about the acceptable order of applying cream and jam to a scone in a traditional cream tea.  I had to roll my eyes a little, firstly at the idea that a whole radio segment could be created from something so trivial, but also that there is of course no ‘correct answer.  The order of things depends on a personal preference that is often driven by local traditions passed down through families.  Since I have no connections with Devon or Cornwall, I’m not taking sides here because frankly, I don’t care as long the scone has both. 

It got me thinking about a similarly over-debated idea of which is best, film or digital. For me, this discussion used to rage between a colleague and I several years ago.  He was a traditional medium-format film photographer and I had just acquired my shiny new DSLR.  Naturally, my Nikon D4 was the best camera I had ever seen, technically advanced but relatively simple to use and with a passing resemblance in size to a Howitzer anti-aircraft gun.  I wasn’t going to hear a word against it or digital, besides which I hadn’t shot any film since I was a teenager and that is further back than I am prepared to admit.  When I did use it, I remember the excitement that I felt as I rattled through roll after roll, followed by the crushing disappointment when they were processed and found to be utter rubbish.  Digital was cool, you could see the results instantly and didn’t have to suffer the ignominy of the photo lab putting a sticker on your prints telling you where you went wrong.  My colleague was having none of it.  In his view, the look of a picture shot on film and the subsequent wet print made from the negative could not be matched by what was essentially a computer.  He was fully involved in the creation of his work, processing the film and making prints in his darkroom that he then sold online.  Not surprisingly, his work is excellent because he is very skilled at his craft, but I was adamant that it was an outdated medium that ‘progress’ had killed off.  In my defence, I was young(er) and stupid(er).

About 5 years ago, I was inspired to shoot film by a chance meeting with a famous American photographer.  The inspiration wasn’t just some silly hero-worship, though. What resonated with me during our brief conversation was the idea of slowing everything down and concentrating on being in the moment.  Although this could be achieved with a digital camera, nothing focused the mind quite like every frame costing actual money.  Also, many of the available film cameras were entirely mechanical, which meant that in addition to avoiding bankruptcy an actual knowledge of the craft itself would also be important.  The impact of these factors grew with the type of film being used.  A 35mm film might be cheap enough at around 20 pence per frame, but 8x10 inch film for a large-format camera can cost an eyewatering £20 per frame.  Add processing to that and you have a significant investment in your art. 

I started out by buying my first medium-format SLR camera, a Hasselblad 500c/m, from a faceless stranger on the internet.  Although the risk of parting with my hard-earned money on something I had not seen or tested hadn’t really registered, I was to learn as I collected more film cameras that care was needed here too.  Old cameras like any machines require looking after and being maintained properly, otherwise they can fail.  Fortunately, my Hasselblad is a good condition camera and the very first roll of Ilford FP4 I shot yielded some images that began luring me into this analogue world that I had previously been reluctant to accept as being anything but dead.  From there the next stage was ‘developing at home’, a similarly magical pastime full of excitement and anxiety and therein lies the thing.    I hadn’t appreciated the variability of this medium.  Film is made by a chemical deposition process to a recipe. Each emulsion is created to achieve a certain sensitivity or speed, tone and contrast and the way they look when exposed can vary significantly.  I learned about how film grains vary in size, how film ages and how that affects its performance, how there is exposure latitude in some stocks more than others and how the response to light is non-linear during long exposures.  I then learned that the choice of chemicals to process the film, the temperature, timing, etc also made a huge difference to how the shot would look as well as whether there would even be a usable image to begin with.  Yes, all of this appealed to my engineering curiosity, but the big learning for me was the need for total concentration from the moment you load the camera to hanging up the film to dry.   It’s the pace of film that really appeals, standing in a field looking at a beautiful landscape or piece of architecture and thinking through the shot.  Will I shoot colour or black and white?  If the latter, how will the highlights and shadows translate onto the film?  Will the ghost of Ansel Adams help me with interpreting his Zone System to get the most out of the exposure?  The old adage of ‘measure twice, cut once’ never seems so right as at the moment of releasing the shutter. Once it’s done, all you can do is wait.

After 5 years of playing with film, I can honestly say that I love it.  My enjoyment of shooting it has driven my passion to improve as a photographer and the more I learn, the happier it makes me.  More widely the resurgence in film photography, particularly in the younger generation, is encouraging the development of new film stocks such as Lomography Metropolis and Bergger Pancro and even the re-introduction of classics such as the legendary Kodak Ektachrome.  This medium in photography seems to be alive and kicking.  Young people are getting hold of their parents’ old cameras (they don’t use them anymore so they must be cool, right?), cruising charity shops, car boot sales and eBay for anything to shoot with.  I was in London last year during one of the brief respites from the pandemic and I saw a young man walking around the streets carrying a Mamiya RB67 around his neck. Now that is a camera that makes my D4 look like a compact!  The camera and film market grows healthier every day in the hands of these people and I for one am a fan. 

What does this have to do with cream teas? Well, I learned that film was something very special and continue to be inspired to shoot it, but that doesn’t make me a better photographer.  It isn’t better than digital nor is the opposite true – they are just different.  Everything I have learned about composition, light and meaning can be achieved just as easily with a digital camera as with film.  In the end, it really isn’t anything to do with the gear but the creativity of the artist in control of it.  I’ve seen amazing work shot digitally using state-of-the-art cameras, on film using a van converted into a giant pinhole camera, and on a humble mobile phone.  In equal measure I’ve seen some awful photographs made with all of three types.  For me, creativity is about having an idea and using whatever tools you have available to help you realise that idea.  As long as you get your cream and jam, it doesn’t really matter how you get there.

 

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[email protected] (Rich Perspective) artist concentration creativity debate digital film whatever works https://www.richperspective.co.uk/blog/2021/5/the-pointless-debate---film-or-digital Mon, 03 May 2021 08:31:10 GMT