Ann Cook FRPS was our speaker Thursday last and her reflections of over two decades as an accredited photographer at the Glastonbury Festival, entitled “Granny goes to Glastonbury”. Ann has a fine sense of humour as well as a sharp eye for the photogenic and both were exhibited to a good degree in what was an enjoyable evening. You can always tell when a speaker hits the spot with her audience with the buzz thereafter and thereafter there was quite a buzz.
Ann talked of what she regards an anthropological endeavour using what social scientists would call a longitudinal study, that is the study of human beings’ similarity to and differences from other animals that repeats observations over time, in this case 23 years. She is undecided about the 24th as she feels that there has been a disconnect between what it was and what it has become, a price, if you will, of its success. Or maybe when the Glastonbury Festival became Glasto. Whatever the decision, Ann has amassed a very interesting collection and just as importantly she has a tale to tell. If that sounds like ground we have touched on before then you would be right, but it is ground that, this week, we are going to look into a little deeper, highlighting some of the themes that Ann put across.
The picture is about the subject, not the photographer. Well it should be, sometimes I am not entirely sure as there comes a point when this gets forgotten, when the name attached to a photograph automatically lends it a credibility that otherwise might be lacking. Everyone takes poor frames once in a while, indeed probably most of the time, well no probably about it, just some people are better at not letting the poor ones see the light of day. You have to get through a lot of shots to get “The Shot” or as I like to call it: “The Principle of Frogs and Princes”. Sounds much better than “Glasto” anyway. So lesson one: The picture is in there somewhere, find it.
We have flogged composition pretty much to death over the last couple of months, but the rules of composition still apply. There are not just one set for portraits, though there are common rules, the differences between the corporate PR mug shot and the fine art portrait are quite profound based on perceptions of end use, just as the similarities are grounded in the same principles of connection and composition. All the portraits that Ann showed had a connection. Again there were two sorts of connection on show: The performer with their performance and the festival goers with the photographer. Again these are based on perceptions of difference. The performer may be performing with you but they do this by connecting with something elemental in themselves that they share with us the audience. It isn’t just visual, Ann commented several times on the quality of the voices, the Bassey’s, Williams’s, Winehouses’s, the Tony Bennett’s verses the rest. That individuality is pronounced and is what got the performers on stage in the first place, dare I say it, the X-factor. That factor is in everyone, sometimes it is because they are charismatic, sometimes because they seem “Odd”, sometimes it is forced upon them by circumstance (like the Glastonbury Mud, for instance), often it is an incongruity, I would call it the poetry. Ann’s pictures of festival goers reflected their own poetry. Lesson 2: Photograph the connection.
In Round 4 of the ROC judge Tony Byram was most insistent on the value of “Boarder Patrol” (what’s going on at the edge of the frame) and Ann certainly had her own answers to this. On stage of course there is very little choice and metering, to which we shall return, is difficult. Ann pointed out that you have to be aware of opportunities for backgrounds, as they tend to be clashing and messy and full of cables, generators and detritus and in the case of the performers, not necessarily a great deal of cooperation. She described the dilemma with the festival goers as slightly different. The choice of backgrounds is somewhat limited to the tents, skips, toilets, screens erected around the site. The dilemma comes in the shape of do you go looking for interesting characters to photograph and seize upon the nearest (hopefully close enough that you don’t lose your subject through navigation error or boredom) or as the Press who cover the Magistrates Courts call it, “Stalking”, or do you find your background and wait for your subject to come within range, or as the Press who cover the Criminal Courts call it “Sniping”.
Part of that is going to be kit related. As far as artists are concerned you are going to be shooting in low light most of the time and you are going to be shooting at very high ISO’s. Therefore the wider you go and (generally) the bigger the sensor in your camera (noise related issues tend to be lesser with larger sensors) and depth of field is going to be minimal compatible to the lens you are shooting with. Potentially expensive, for sure, the ideal being wide aperture and high ISO on a big (full frame) sensor. You are going to have to crop tight and post process. The festival goers question is really a matter of personal choice, both, in this case, are functions of your preparedness, the more prepared you are, the luckier you get. Again be prepared to crop tight either in or out of the camera. Lesson 3: “Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted” N. Bonaparte.
Of course there is the question of who wants to be photographed. As part of the ticket purchase most people don’t realise that in the terms and conditions for Glastonbury they agree to also include distribution rights to photographs of them. Read the small print. Always read the small print. Ann could only recount two occasions in 23 years where people had said no, part of the festival spirit, I suppose. All in all a good thing, but Ann also related that that could well be part the way she goes about asking. She is not festooned in lenses, nor aggressive and possibly not being male has its advantages. So does age. And the accreditation as an event photographer. And experience. Photographing children? Always, ALWAYS get the parents/responsible adults permission first. Especially in these paranoid times. Don’t be pushy, always smile and do take no for an answer. Lesson 4: Play Nicely, it pays dividends.
Finally there are the technicalities. We have partially touched on these already, but especially in the matter of photographing performers on stage in poor light you give yourself, Ann reckons, two opportunities to come away with useable shots. The first is to meter for the face, as at Glastonbury in particular there is always a spotlight on the singers face at least, and secondly shoot in RAW to give yourself the most opportunities to make or recover an image in post processing. If you know what you are after, know your equipment then you have a good idea of what you will get. Lesson 5: Photograph. Criticise. Apply. Repeat.
So ended Ann’s excellent overview of “The Evolution of an anthropological, longitudinal study of the Genus Festival Go-er in their interpersonal and tribal settings within the 1,000 acres of the village of Pilton, Somerset, England and the application of lessons for photographers” – there is a reason she calls it “Granny goes to Glastonbury” after all. The current update of this study contains five conclusions: 1. Find the Picture. 2. Photograph the connection. 3. Be prepared. 4. Play nicely. 5. Practice, practice ,practice.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
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