Saturday, 28 February 2009

Color or black and white

Yes I have looked at the Edward Weston school of fruit and vegetable photography and no I am not up to his standard but it does not preclude me trying.

I am pleased with the black and white (B&W) image ... but has the colour worked:

~ No IMHO....


Because I see EW's images in black and white and although others have used colour, exotic images of fruit should of course be black and white....

Some - no many years ago I heard a photographer explaining how he had been commissioned to take photographs of some ~ well lets call it industrial transport to save embarrassment. The brief was simple B&W images of the item plus two workmen outside each of their factories so hire a car arrange itinerary take photographs process and deliver finished prints... job done client pleased with results. ... by the way did you happen to take any in colour.... no you just asked for B&W. ... Yes our mistake we realised we should also have asked for colour as well so could you go and take them in colour...hire car ...arrange itinerary ...take photographs etc... apocryphal well I heard it first hand from the photographer along with the clients name and the industrial item.

In those days 'industrial' photographs were B&W - only... and... and this may be apocryphal.... the head of my photographic school renowned for his B&W images and assistants arriving by large van a couple of days before to set up the megawatts of lighting, arrived to take the two photographs (process one first and alter development on the second if necessary) . When he had taken them he was very timidly asked if he would mind terribly also taking the image in colour. Request rejected ~ probably along the lines that there were other people could take snapshots if they wanted some .... Yes B&W was serious stuff and colour was for your Kodak Retinette or Instamatics.

So what about this image of a Stygian pond in the woods...

The water was black, well almost but not photographically black and I tried for an impressionist type image:

Well impressionism was colour ... so would this have worked in black and white. I did not think so at the time but a recent file conversion makes me wonder...

If only they had had access to digital photography when I was a college!

Friday, 27 February 2009

A Different Perspective: The World is a Pattern

Sometimes you just need a different perspective.

It was easier then... hire a plane and tell the pilot where to go... and as long as you kept to 1000 or was it 1500 feet over towns you were OK.

Now ?

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Selective Views

My view of a city is different to yours. This city was sad.

I have come from a different place
....................with a different background,
......................................a different viewpoint
.............................................and possibly a different agenda.

What was my agenda?

Could I have arrived with the idea of showing 'Vibrant and colourful Xxxxxx 'or 'New Xxxxxx 'instead of 'Depressing Xxxxxx with its poverty, oppression, dilapidation and fear'?

The factory, the street, and the canal were not the sum total of Xxxxxx, so is it fair only to have these representing it.?

In presenting these images am I pushing my emotions on you?

Where does nostalgia come in (these are not current images) to take over from my selective documentary?

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Politicians' Buildings

Forgive me Lord I have not been political.

In The Bard's day calling someone a politician was an insult of the type that may well have involved meeting the recipient with their companion at dawn the following morning... a possible translation being 'a dirty evil schemer'. I will leave you to consider the appropriateness for today?

Utilitarian 60s buildings - remember the stories... Just done a land deal lets put this up and when we have finished decide whether it will be an office block, flats, school or university - no takers - oh well its a car park for the moment. So lets reduce it to its plain form by contrast and produce an almost abstract image... then we can pretend it is not there.

It is your error - not mine. An example...

Sometimes IMHO buildings are where they should not be (and not where they should be ~ sounds like the words from the old Anglican service...) so please look at them differently...

A road to nowhere except up into the valleys on foot or motorbike. How close are the houses together ~ count the chimney pots. Let's close the ...... it is not profitable today, for a few hours...

Someone lived and worked here....

.............................Another way of living but I would have found it very difficult
... I would this. Who would want to pay the odd half a million for one of the 18, I think, stacked summertime goldfish bowls, even though they are on the beach. Who would want the awful family with crying sunburnt children resting against your glass panels for their eight hours mandatory occupation until dinner. Winter may be better, but I would have preferred the original bungalow or house that these replaced.

The trouble is the area is/was one of the most expensive in the world and the stomping ground for undesirables, 'wannabe important people' and the retired or not so retired villains (whether caught and convicted or just should have been). ...

So the villeins and give them these apartments ....and the motor yachts. Convict the criminals.... no not the youngsters with alcopops.... or those cycling on the promenade: but those:
involved with serious crime who have been living on the proceeds and those whose greed is so unacceptable that society needs to do something about it.

If society does not... how long before the best beaches become privatised ...and most people are excluded?

Yes strong feelings... so how have they come out photographically speaking.

I have taken this in the style of the Brand and Hild Becher and cropped it in the camera (the sea is good for cropping images since it defines your angle of view if you have no wish to be up to your waist in water with a large format camera). The building has lost most of its location. It could be somewhere on the east coast, say near Newcastle (sorry Newcastle) and no longer in superrichmansland.

Taken or Made

Sometimes an image is waiting for you to stumble across it, everything has arrived at exactly the right time and all you have to do is press the shutter ...well a bit more than that but you get the drift.

This was the case with images 1-3.

1 Yes I realise the river had flooded as I was getting wet. I was looking for images, but not expecting to find three cheerful ladies who look like they had been auditioning for Last of the Summer Wine, shoes discarded sitting on the bench. As for the leader posing on the back like a fourteen year old... They had no chance with a Nikon F, but then they seemed quite please to be my subject, unlike Mr KGB man earlier who looked like his meet had been interrupted, first by the river and then the photographer.

2 Early evening, arriving at the trattoria by vaporetto and there they were patiently waiting for me. A 6x12 is not a fast camera to operate, centre filter on, lens hood, use hand held meter and transfer to camera, judge and set distance, cock shutter, take image. They waited patiently. Oblivious. Thank you, especially for arranging yourselves as you did.

3 Perhaps it was the only place he could get a signal....
Sometimes you are drawn to a place or view and another element creeps in and translates it into something out of the ordinary. Yes it does look as if it was commissioned for an advert for 'Our network has 99.99% coverage of the UK', but it also speaks in more worthwhile ways ...Peace... solitude... harmony... nature beauty...

On other occasions you work hard and bring the components together ~ images 4 & 5

4 Preconceived.
Collect friend who will model for college assignment on 'boots'... 90 miles to Dover... day crossing on hovercraft to France... train journeys... find suitable train to suggest that these boots are what you wear when travelling across Europe, images made have meal back to Dover... 90 miles... return friend.

5 Working with identified subject ...College project...Travel to Wales and sleep in car. Find colliery railway leading to pit that is being dismantled... hitch ride on train... meet railway workers... persuade one formally pose for me ... move to appropriate place... take image (and many others at location) ... how did we get back to the car???

Crossing Borders

WW2 finished later round here... it was really nowhere important... just a few houses

A hire car... park up and make some images... the house(s) are a bit dilapidated and worthy of more attention... but it was the (and here I show my botanical ignorance) blossom on the tree that caught my attention... almost too perfect...weighed down and hanging over the road...

So whoever planted it there or was it just a wind blown seed?

We all have mopeds in our rooms don't we? Yes I can remember taking a scooter engine to bits in our hall but there is just something sombre about this one. Probably beyond repair, as is the house.

And why is there only one piece of wallpaper left? Who is going to pull that inviting piece?

A motorbike stands for freedom ~ a long way down and Easy Rider ~ it should not end its days framed as if in a picture by the window.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Rose Tinted Nostalgia

I think we can safely say that these are now a documentary record of past places or practices.
What history would you understand if these were the only images left from the 1970s?

1 - 3 are the Thames at London, 4 the railway going up to the then disused colliery at Maesteg and 5 near Leeds

Do you see progress or just a difference?
So who will archive all the images taken today on mobile phones and P&S digital cameras?
Is there any point?
Who will search through them in fifty years time?

How many thousand negatives do you have?
What will happen to the history they contain?

Dividing Lines 1

About two miles apart.

About two thousand years ago... the Romans forded it.

About a thousand years ago ... a dividing line separating two ecclesiastical areas as towns had not been built.

Today ... a place of leisure and tranquility... where bridges abound and only cows have to ford on their way to milking

I could never be a fisherman... but I could watch the river... and be in its presence...

A place to return to and no longer a dividing line.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

When images are painful - 2

Over 25 years...

It was more than 25 years after I took these images that I printed any of them. Yes I had contact sheets and knew the images were good, but they were painful because the people in them had been discarded.

They were the unwanted.

I still find it hard to go through them without emotion.

I prepared a portfolio of the images for an interview for my MA a few years ago and this image made my interviewers stop for some time before saying that it was a great portrait. When on the course I showed a colour version the same thing happened. Why him? There were more gut-wrenching pictures, more emotive ones: this was just a portrait of someone sitting outside the home on a spring day.

When images are painful - 1

Sometimes you have to make painful images, sometimes images become painful through time. Alfredo Jarr has talked about his images of Rwanda being left for a couple of years before exhibiting them in boxes, while Tom Stoddart refers to taking images when it hurts because that is what you are there for and what you can do. Sebastio Salgado ceased being an economist and turned to photography as a means of telling the world about what was happening outside of BBC24 and CNN. Some people will not photograph the unlovely; others find an element of beauty to capture from within it. Simon Norfolk’s images of sites of genocide contained the most beautiful images as he looked back through history, whilst his work in Afghanistan presents at one level an amazing collection of landscapes to die for until at the second level you realise that is just what happened. With his image of a balloon seller you require the key that balloons were not allowed under the Taliban. So do these painful images speak and what do they say: if they don’t speak how do you obtain the key to unravel them?

Consider these
two images:

Do you require the key?

It is not a shed and a billiard table.

This was 1975 in North East Austria near the Czechoslovak border. We had entered the place in late afternoon and heard the main doors close whilst we were there. Everything appeared new, freshly painted just ready for occupants. We thought we heard a wolf in the forest and we were told there were still no birds around.

Picture 1 is of a ‘guest’ room, Picture 2 is of a dissection table.

Do you need more?

This was one of Hitler’s ‘medical experiment’ concentration camps: twins, dwarfs, and any other group that became undesirable were suitable subjects for research both whilst alive and shortly afterwards:


It was kept as a multinational memorial to those who died there and we saw some communist bloc officials who came over regularly to attend their memorial on the site. A couple of yeas ago I saw a a documentary about a classical concert given in the camp quarry, a place where many died 'working'. As a fit 20 something it was not much fun climbing down and back, but they had to do it with heavy rocks on their back... in all weathers... for long days... with little food... and in atrocious living conditions.

I could show you images of the towers, the ovens, some of the prisoners' items or someone I met in a home where staff told me he had survived being one of their brain experiments of the "how much can we remove" variety ... and who reacted violently to hearing the word "Mauthausen".

I believe these speak more.

Here shortly will be two other photographs from Mauthausen. They do not require any key to speak.

We were very quiet when we left.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Girl at the fountain

Should I have removed her sandals?

Well since IMHO it was not documentary or reportage but art I could have done.

In the South of France less than four years ago, a storm was brewing and the light had fallen as we turned a corner in this medieval hilltop village and went back in time over a hundred years. and saw this ~ well almost this...

The only camera we had was a small digital without manual settings, so no flash and bracing myself as best as I could I made three quick images. This was the best but there is still some movement in it. Some photoshop work (including moving a small twentieth century notice on the fountain).

Should I have removed the girls' sandals? I decided not to at the time and .... Sepia, B&W, colour and part colour images followed.

Two weeks ago someone saw some versions of this image and asked if they could have a copy to produce an image in copper.

Last week his wife gave us the copper image and he had removed her sandals!

And now for something completely different

So how do you see colour?

Is it natural, subdued, garish, subtle, vivid, a single hue, complimentary or contrasting? Essential or unnecessary? These are my scans from transparencies and are reasonably faithful to the original image. They are my colours from the shoots (from 1970s to 2000s), where would yours have been?

I learnt about colour (and movement) from looking at images by Ernst Hass in the days when paint was normally magnolia unless you had 60s/70s colours of brown, green and orange. EH seemed to find colour where it did not exist and produce subtle images from scenes that I knew would have been vivid. And for any with intellectual tendancies (why are you reading this blog then?) check out his philosophy as well... And remember the Mateus Rose images... and attempts to replicate them.

The red image was almost certainly Kodachrome 2, the Fuji may have been Velvia or 100, the others I am not sure, probably Ektachrome or Agfa 120 for the ballet dancer and sunset with Agfa 35 mm for the building. The films certainly had different characteristics but colour just does not happen any more than a casserole prepares and cooks itself. I started real photography as colour was developing although black and white remained my favoured mode for most subjects.

It is easy now with colour temperature settings in camera and raw editing or Photoshop, but what I see and my resulting photograph are different from yours: neither is 'right' and neither is 'wrong'. I made myself take the Fuji image ~ a set up picture with the intention of producing this result and deliberately took the building roof because the colours were so vivid / garish, but the others were more in keeping with my way of seeing.

Photographers, equipment and technical stuff

Some photographers will be able to tell you everything technically about any photograph they have taken; however I have never been like that and whilst I may remember peculiar instances and general trends that is about it and whilst digital will tell all, I rarely look at those details after the event. Whilst there may be the odd comment about equipment after today's piece this blog is about mainly about photography and generating interest in the '4Ws' (why when where what) rather than the 'H' (how). I will, subject to my technical ability include some links to other photographers.

Perhaps it is getting older and possibly a little bit wiser that provides this different perspective. When asked by friends and family 'what camera should I buy? or I am wondering about buying a *****xs mk 24 I respond by asking questions around:
  1. What sort of photography do they they want to do?
  2. Does that camera feel comfortable in their hands?
  3. Does the camera / outfit feel comfortable to carry?
It is not me getting touchy / feely, just put it down to experience and learning a lesson the hard way. I had had a number of medium format SLRs, relatively heavy by modern digital SLR standards but often used on a tripod with a waist level finder. Having had 6x6 Hasselblads with the 110 f2 medium portrait lens when I went digital I bought their H1 and a digital back. The trouble was that I had about two years of right shoulder / elbow trouble and the H1 was designed to be held in your right hand at eye level. By the time the fabulous 110 zoom lens was attached the kilos were rising exponentially and there were many days when I was simply unable lift the camera anywhere near eye level, so now old Hasselblads with waist level viewing and a digital back seem so sensible.

I also recall picking up a Contax RTS when they came out. Nikons were angular rough bricks covered in sandpaper in comparison and the Contax was so smooth nearly I dropped it. Once you were used to this it felt great, but you always felt it should have been in a showcase at a design exhibition rather than being one of two cameras slung round the neck on an assignment.

So Nikon, Canon, Leica, Contax, Olympus, Pentax, Minolta ( the Leica R series cameras were based on them) and now Sigma, Panasonic and Sony all produce great cameras and lenses, so do those who make medium and large format cameras and while I have personal preferences they are mine for my photography and body, not yours for your images and your body. And while you can now do most things with a digital SLR what it does not do is slow you right down, make you methodical and give you that upside down image that works with the artistic side of your brain ~ you really need large format for that.

So here are some simple large format images, scanned from the split toned prints:

Cell 2

Secure ensuite accommodation available

Here I can tell you that the lighting was mixed fluorescent and daylight, a 210 mm lens and camera movements were used, the aperture was probably around f22 and the exposure was long. I also lent against the alarm strip setting it off, but that was not a requirement, just a problem you may encounter in small spaces!

So ... How would you photograph a prison cell?

Do you think less is more in this instance?

How different would it be if it was captioned as:

'Condemned cell'?


'Dr Crippin was here' ?

Yes a picture paints a thousand words, but adding a word or two can paint a thousand different pictures in our minds. Perhaps that is why some photographers provide little information and deliberately leave the viewer to read the image. So now having been told that it was neither a condemned cell nor one inhabited by Dr Crippin where is your mind and your viewing of the images? Your mind probably raced away with both those thoughts. Supposing I had captioned it:

'This is not the condemned cell'


'Dr Crippin was never here';

what images and thoughts would have gone through your mind? Would you have preferred to see the prisoner details filled in on the board adjacent to the door or know more about the piece that these images came from?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Streets of London

London ~ you love it or hate it ... ... or want to laugh or cry at what is happening. Having lived there for a couple of years I suppose that I never saw it with a tourist's eye

Who is behind the bars? The viewer who is looking out on the tourists or the tourists who are being watced by the viewer?

Bresson's 'decisive moment' and the contradiction between the advert for affluence and the man with his plastic raincoat....

...While whenever you've got the odd moment (for Bourneville chocolate), the no waiting, the bus stop and the 'queue' are in conflict.


You could wander around London taking photographs wherever you wanted of whoever you wanted with a camera held up to the eye or looking down into the waist level viewer.



South East London

1973 with an old Nikon F

and an older Bronica

in a children's adventure playground...

You would no longer be able take photograhs in the same way and this type of childrens' playground falls short of today's legislation.