Thursday, September 30, 2010


Seeing as this is a photography blog I thought I would share these two photo's taken recently on my Holidays in France.  Both of them were taken by the ocean, I love photographing water.  The first was a lesson in carrying a camera at all times if you can, I just happened to be out for a walk along the sea front in Hossegor when this amazing storm came in off the ocean.  I happened to have my camera and as we ran for cover from the approaching down pour I grabbed the above shot.

The shot below was taken in the Carmargue.  It was the most amazing sunset set I have seen in a long time without a breath of wind to ruffle the water.  I had previously visited this spot a few months ago and came back for a look.  Being in the right place at the right time.

Mark Nixon

Although I haven't seen him for a long, long time, I consider Mark Nixon both a friend and an inspiration.  He was the photographer at our wedding a few years ago and he is both an excellent photographer and a real people person.  He has a gift for putting people at ease and capturing the essence of whoever is on the other side of the lens.  I really like this set of photos of Sharon Corr.

Matt Stuart.

Found the work of Matt Stuart via the blog of John Beardsworth.  Brilliant photos to bring a smile to your face.  All taken in the street and a real example of how keeping your eyes open and patience pays off.  Humour plays a big part.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Training your Gaze.

I am reading Train your gaze by Roswell Angier.  If you are interested in photographs of people, portraiture, social documentary then I highly recommend it.  I was struck by the very first chapter titled about looking.  It mentions the work of Richard Avendon.  I have not seen his work yet but it is on my list. He used silence in his way of working.  He chose his subject, set up the photograph, lighting, camera etc and then asked them to look at the camera.  He observed them and took a series of photos in complete silence not letting the camera get in the way.  No fiddling with the focusing, no changing the lighting, no direction.  He was freed to just observe, to look.
At the end of the chapter there is an assignment based on this idea and I am going to try to shoot it today.  Basically I will set up the session in advance.  I mount the camera on a tripod and use a cable release.  Focus the lens and ask the model to look at the camera.  Then I shoot 36 shots in complete silence over an hour.  All I have to do is observe, look nothing else.
The following two quotes, for me sum up the point;
"Allow your self to stare.  You will find that minor fluctuations in expression, or small involuntary gestures, become significant events." 

This, I think points up a major social taboo that gets in the way of taking photos of people;  allowing oneself to stare is something we never do.  Funny thing is that the more I try it in the street with or without a camera the easier and more enjoyable it becomes.

"Silence is a prerequisite for fascination, that state of heightened attention in which particular effects of meaning can be produced.  First and foremost the photographer must be quiet, thereby relinquishing the responsibility to keep the subject amused with reassuring banter."

One of the hardest parts of taking a portrait is having to supply banter, to relax the subject.  That and fiddling with the camera, the lights, the tripod and so on.

Magnum Stories; Abbas

I have just managed to drag my new copy of Magnum stories into the room, man its sooo heavy.....
The photo essay by Abbas is the first in the book.  His explanatory text is relatively short and there are some real gems in it.  Like diamonds sprinkled in the dust.
"  there are two ways to think of photography:  one is writing with light, and the other is drawing with light.  The school of Henri Cartier-Bresson, they draw with light. They sketch with light.  the single image is paramount for them.  For me that was never the point.  My pictures are always part of a series, an essay.  each picture should be good enough to stand on its own, but its value is as part of something larger".
Now if that doesn't explain narrative I don't know what does.
Also this;
"I rarely think about the sequence when I am shooting"
This is interesting to me as I have tried to almost make up the narrative sequence and then go looking for the pictures that fit.  I have found that it doesn't work this way round and that I need to go out and look through the view finder, being free of any constraints.
This next quote, I think, is very incisive;
" I am among the generation of photographers who believe a picture is sacred.  that once you take, it that's it.  You don't crop it, you don't touch it, you don't fool around with it.  You might use it or not use it but that's something else."
The digital age has changed that sacrosanctity.  Now we have the leisure to shoot, shoot, shoot.  There is definitely an upside this, but it can get in the way of looking.  Also in terms of altering a photo digital does give the feeling that we can crop or Photoshop an image on the computer later.  I have heard the accusation many times about digital that it can make a mediocre photo good.  Now personally I do not think this is the case.  I think the error is that it takes the photographers emphasis away from looking at the scene in front of him or her because we are under the illusion that we can crop or edit it later as well as the fact that we have a huge amount of shots on a memory card now whereas with film we had 36 shots then change the roll.  But I take his point.

What makes a good photo?

There is a thread on the OCA page on flickr about this very subject.  It is a very interesting and essential subject for anyone interested in photography.  The answer is very subjective because it is a subjective question.  In fact I have to say that in all honesty it is a question that does not seem to have an answer or at least it doesn't have a single answer.  There was something about the whole discussion that reminded me of the Taoh of Pooh, I have to say that in my opinion people have a habit of over complicating this issue.  This quote from the book comes to mind;

"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that's why he never understands anything."

I was discussing this subject this morning with my wife.  Her opinion on it was that if you answer yes to the following question it must be;  "would I hang it on my wall"?  Now there is no arguing with that is there?  Its a subjective question and it is a subjective answer.  

Perhaps we should be asking a different question .....

Monday, September 27, 2010

Les Rencontres D'Arles

I originally published this a few weeks ago on my P & P Blog.

We went down to Arles to see the photo exhibition Rencontres D'Arles a couple of days ago. This is an enormous exhibition. It is displayed in venues all over the city. The main attraction for me was exhibition of Ernst Haas's work. It was displayed in Cloitre Saint-Trophime, a beautiful venue and worthy of a visit in its own right. In fact I spent as much time admiring the cloister and soaking up the atmosphere here as I did in the exhibition.

Arles itself is worthy of a visit. It is bursting with history and culture. The people are colourful and friendly. The light here is beautiful and Vincent Van Gogh was fascinated by the area. I could see why. It must have been a real change from the stiffness and formality of Paris. The light makes the most ordinary of things seem glowing and significantly beautiful. Colour is everywhere.

The exhibition itself was on two floors. The lower floor was lit by artificial light and the upper by natural. The difference between them was noticeable. The artificial lighting caused direct reflections from the glass and made it more difficult to enjoy the work behind it. But this was only a minor inconvenience. Of the work itself, well what can I say? For one thing seeing the prints is very different to looking at them on a website. This was one of the pictures that was on display. The reproduction on the web site does not do it justice. The colours here are faded. In the printed image the blue colour is a deeper blue and the yellow is stronger. The motel sign seems to glow. What interested me in this work was the way the colours work together to give a 3 dimensional feel to the picture. It was easy to forget that I was looking at a flat piece of paper. Another thing that was apparent was that Haas in his composition was deliberate. Nothing was there in the frame by chance. One of the photos showed some old rusty tin cans and a bale of rusty wire on the ground in a field. At first look it appeared that was all that was there. There was a kind of "so what" feeling to the picture. Until you noticed the background, which was the top 1/3 of the frame. Here you could see trees in full autumn regalia, reds, yellows, golden browns all the colours that were in the rusting metal cans and wire.

On the introduction to the works the curators says this;

For some time now, however, the pictures that brought him a worldwide reputation have been derided by critics and curators as ‘too commercial’: for some reason he has come to be seen as too feel-good, too sentimental. As a result his prestige has declined in relation to that of later practitioners of colour, and in particular William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Joel Meyerowitz. In parallel with his commissions, though, Haas never stopped working in a more personal vein—for himself, you might say—and here we find a totally different kind of sensibility: these images are edgier, freer, more ambiguous—in other words much more radical. With very few exceptions they were never published or exhibited during his lifetime, perhaps because Haas feared incomprehension or a lack of appreciation. And yet these are works of great complexity and stand up very well against anything that came after them. This exhibition offers a selection.

I found that a little sad. Perhaps it doesn't mean he kept these locked away but to me that is what comes across. Also I think it says something about the fashions in art and how fickle it is. It certainly says something about our need to compare two different things like apples and oranges and reach a subjective decision on which one is "better".

Trends aside the pictures were, in a too well used word - beautiful. Dare I say, and this is my own interpretation, they display a love of colour just for colours sake. On the TAOP course colour is a separate section all to itself. The colour circle is discussed as are colour relationships, cool colours, warm colours ect. This exhibition reminded me that intuitively we all "understand" colour. However not many people take the time to study it. We take it for granted. If Ernst Haas had a message for us it would be to look again.