Chair’s night and who should we have as Guest speaker? None other than David Bailey, Yeah, you read me right. David Bailey. The David Bailey, you know, the one that used to work at Asda? One of those 164 David Bailey’s who were used by Samsung to promote the NX1000 back in 2012? Being David Bailey and a photographer has been of the occasional advantage, as David outlined, though any namesake can expect to spend a certain part of their waking day in disambiguation. Especially if, at least part of your day, involves doing the same thing.
David’s theme was on the role of serendipity, the happy accident, which we have looked at as a result of the planned and the purposeful pursuit of the photograph. To be sure there were some very specific happen-stances along the way. Like the NX1000 campaign, where he got to meet the most famous of the David Bailey’s and the over the shoulder query on a London bound train, among others. In between there were long periods of learning. Each and every frame is a learning opportunity, if you have the mindset to turn it into one. Each and every frame is a unique fragment of time and geometry. Whether it is the one we were looking for …..
Bailey, as the 60’s trend for one named photographers labelled him, was, and is, by David’s account, a prodigious producer of frames, sometimes only he can see the difference in. There is a difference to be made here between the practised artist looking for what s/he knows is there and the amateur blindly firing off frames in the hope of hitting on something worth keeping. The camera becomes the instrument of discernment when it is in the hands of someone who can use it as a tool to pursue a clear idea relentlessly. The effect of a planned serendipity, the happy accident that comes from being the right person in the right place at the right time, often lies in the fact that the photographer kept on photographing those small differences until the story gelled with the one they had in mind. In this way photography is as much a process of revealing as constructing.
We have previously referred to four kinds of happy accident:
Firstly: that which is just, or seems to be, random “Sheer dumb luck”.
Secondly: chance from purposely acting towards a defined end running out of “Unluck”, you know the sort of thing, entering photos into competitions, getting feedback, putting that into action, where keeping doing things in search of something particular stirs up the creative pot.
Thirdly: chance favouring the prepared mind (“Sagacity“), that is thinking like and acting purposefully as a photographer as opposed to a person with a camera bumping into photo ops.
Fourthly: the sort that comes from being us, our actions, likes and dislikes, or as the great Victorian politician Benjamin Disraeli put it ” We make our fortunes and we call them fate”. (James Austin: Chase Chance and Creativity).
In Austin’s words David was talking about “Chance interacting with creativity”, here through four evolutionary stages from spray and pray to an ingrained, experience and evidence based work flow. This is not exclusively about style. Style will evolve with practice and a critical eye and determine the way that the forces in the happy accident come together. It will also alter subtly over time. It is about persistence an open mind and the habit of looking, really looking, persistence and anticipation. And persistence. It has long been the case that as a brand you hire Bailey because he is Bailey. You get the Bailey style, the Bailey view. More likely you don’t as he doesn’t do commissions these days, but the point is this has taken decades to evolve and it didn’t happen by itself. And it is still happening.
In the second half David moved to wedding photography as an example of a shoot closer to what the rest of us have a concept of, either as the photographer or the subject, major and/or minor, in illustrating chance interacting with creativity.
There is a long list of “Must have” shots in the expectations of clients. These have grown over the years, farmed by fashion magazines, celebrity weddings, the “Wedding industry” as the costs, technicalities and expectations of the exceptional have grown. It is a journey through a very special day and it has a number of moments in it, actually built in it. Yes these will become the prompts for reminiscences, as will the things that went right and wrong, to other events that came before and after. As time passes photographs move from being a record to being a prompt for triggering those memories.
So stiffed backed and formal are the traditional wedding shots that some of them look like they came off a production line and this in part, I suggest, became a driver for what, in some instances, have become full blown, multi-day, intercontinental celebrations. Yet, even if the day runs on the rails that the timetable of essential images suggests, there will be moments of interaction that make each part unique. Those angles, those interactions as things come together or go their separate ways, children/animals going off script, laughter, the unexpected glint of light from the bride’s father’s shotgun.
Now, note, we can get those through any of the four stages above described. The more developed we are, however, in terms of spotting, forming, framing and taking the opportunities presented, the more of them there will be and the more these things will contribute to our style. In short it is our journey from looking to seeing.ai
Light painting, the more advanced bit, with guest Tony Cullen and our own Myk Garton and what an evening it was too. Lots of good stuff going on and some special images. It showed us that some forethought and planning, lights from various sources and a willingness to experiment and you can get some very interesting results. On the cheap too. With virtually no DIY skills you can come up with a variety of home-made or shop-bought resources (usually a mixture of the two) which can have some very interesting effects. Thanks also to Mark for another of his ladies-in-boxes, odd hobby but there you go, this one very shiny. Members can see results that have been posted to the club Facebook page and the club Flickr page is always worth checking out, of course.
As we have previously circumnavigated light painting over the course of this blog, and you can get as detailed as you wish with it, there are plenty of articles and videos to watch out there, we will do a little tour of a couple of things that caught my eye in the photographic press this week. Basically I am going to take the bullet points in an article that chimed and try and get the great photographers to comment on them. With a little bit of commentary by yours truly.
There were two articles on Petapixel, taken from different perspectives of the photographic experience, lessons learned from a new-to-it and someone who had been shooting for 15 years (professionally). The one I am going to take up is the newbie, by Marcus V Petri, worrying that, after a year and 5,000 frames, he is not making the progress that he thinks he should ” Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst“. – Henri Cartier-Bresson.
This is an interesting point as it speaks to “keepers”, which really is the point for everyone, is it not? Part of being a professional, or even a more experienced amateur, is taking very careful control of what you let be seen. This will be a tiny proportion of the shutter actuations. He writes “I’m the type of person that takes hundreds of pictures at slightly different angles and then I chose one that is best. I envy those who just go there, take one great shot, and done”. I am sceptical of those who just go there, take one great shot, and done. There are two ways this happens.
One is dumb luck, possibly moderated by having learned from the past and is never consistent. The other is from a rigorous and time consuming planning and execution process that takes days, weeks, months possibly years. Or you have a battery of assistants who do the spade work and you turn up and press the shutter so that it is “your picture”. Some very expensive photographic workshops run like this, making everything feel seamless – a huge amount of work before and after goes on to make it this way – just so that the client goes away with great shots – also some light painting sessions I have recently attended – which may or may not be down to the quality of the tutoring but is the whole point of the business. The one shot idea is actually corrosive to learning the craft, the idea that you take the one great shot only, then what do you do? “Everyone will take one great picture, I’ve done better because I’ve taken two” – David Bailey. Ansel Adams was a little more generous: “ Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop“.
“There is no such thing as a ‘non-processed pictures.'(sic) Every picture is processed, even the analog ones. Even your eyes process what they are seeing”. As I have expressed the same opinion many times in these posts I can hardly aver. “ You don’t take a photograph, you make it“. – Ansel Adams or more philosophically: “The magic of photography is metaphysical. What you see in the photograph isn’t what you saw at the time. The real skill of photography is organized visual lying”. – Terence Donovan – Guardian (London, 19 Nov. 1983) Or as Bailey put it: “It takes a lot of imagination to be a good photographer. You need less imagination to be a painter, because you can invent things. But in photography everything is so ordinary; it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary“. “Face,” (London), Dec 1984.
Actually, in the second article I referred to a very similar point is made: “A photo is an extraction. It is a simplification. It is reality seen through certain limitations. It is those limitations that make a photo. Four straight edges and a 2D simplification of reality. You need those limitations to make this an art—if you are trying to 100% capture reality you are not taking a photo and it doesn’t make sense. A photo is a haiku. 17 syllables and done. Without those walls, you’re lost. So embrace the walls and find a way to express everything there is between them. There will always be something outside the walls, but that’s okay too. Do what you can and that’s all you can do“. Patrick Beggan, Petapixel.com, 5 Dec 2016.
“You and the people you know will usually prefer different pictures. My favorites (sic) are rarely my most popular photos”. “There is no special way a photograph should look“. – Garry Winogrand.
All in all if you take the two articles n comparison you can see two poles of the same journey, in some ways. We all do this journey, it doesn’t matter how many years we have been doing photography if we are serious then we will be on it. It doesn’t have a final destination we are always at a way station somewhere towards the last frame we ever take. Good to see that we are not alone though.
Quotes from www.photoquote.com
N E X T M E E T I N G.
R.O.C. Round 2 judging.
A happy new year to you all. We kicked off 2016 with the Chair’s evening and this year Maurice brought in a tutor to help us with our portraiture. So a good start with cameras and tripods to hand we welcomed Ruth Bennett, photography lecturer at St Brendan’s College, who led us in an informative, practical, evening.
The portrait, of course, predates the invention of photography by a long way, well about 2,500 years, which qualifies for me. Within the history of photography the invention of the Daguerreotype broadly signifies not only the start of the process as we know it, but also a gradual democratisation of the art form. It was still prohibitively expensive. The posing times came down though, as we have noted before, that probably troubled the dead subjects rather less than the living ones, as did the costs but it wasn’t until the 1860’s that the momentum really started to grow. And that required a change in technology. Shorter but by no means fast by modern standards exposure times, simpler processes, better image fixing to more widely available materials, such as paper, overall combining to bring the costs down and speeding up the production.
As the technology changed so did the scope of the imaginations of the photographers. Classical art initially was the ruler of taste and composition, especially the Neo-classical and the Rococo, but as the interest in and accessibility of art grew, styles changed, Romanticism and Realism developed as movements and it’s hard not to see that photography as a technology has an influence in this, at least as a provocateur – the French poet and critic, Charles Baudelaire, thought it the “Enemy of Art” and was often rude about the medium at some length. The middle classes took up the form as it was more affordable than portraiture in oils, the number of professional photographers and the subjects they captured, grew. So did the uses of photographs. In the late 1850’s Carte-de-visite (visiting cards featuring portraits) became popular in France, then across Europe.
The first “Celebrity” photographer was Felix Nadar (1820-1910), who used optical and lighting, including artificial lighting, experiments to bring new qualities to his portraits of people such as Sarah Bernhardt, Victor Hugo, Franz List and Claude Debussy. Nadar (real name Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) managed to fit in the photography around drawing caricatures, writing novels, journalism and ballooning and used his interest in the latter to bring the mail into a besieged Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. Photography continues to borrow from art, Rembrandt (1606-1698) lighting taken from the artists use of a single high window to give a distinctive light and shadow, Renoir‘s distinct diffuse lighting is practiced through the use of reflectors. The medium moved on but truly became democratised by the Box Brownie in 1900. Arguably this is the point where photography as art and photography as pass time part company and the whole question of photography as art takes a class based twist.
The interpretation/record debate takes on a mass dimension, but family, friends, occasions people in different circumstances still remain the important subjects but with less artifice. That, however, is a different topic and one we have touched on before. The other great photographic expansion at this time is also film based, but one where the images move and after 1927, talk. But the key to promoting them was the still picture of the stars, possibly as an art form at its height in the 1930’s and 40’s. Butterfly lighting came from the cinema, it is also known as Paramount lighting after the studio, sometimes Glamour Lighting. Loop lighting, open and closed (closed see Rembrandt link above) and Split Lighting come from the same base makes for dramatic effects in quite subtle ways using shadows on the facial features (an overview of some of these techniques can be found here).
The style started to shift in the 1950’s with the impact of photojournalism on the portrait style, though movie stars were still the people setting the pace – rather the studios’ publicity departments were the people setting the pace. The style was more raw, more like today’s street and environmental styles, but the output was still strictly controlled by the studios. That control thing is still pertinent if harder to control today, if only because cameras are pretty much universal. As the 50’s became the 60’s this more casual style of portrait became the norm as the conventions of traditional art were thrown down. Andy Warhol fused the fine art and photography in his silk screen paintings of Marilyn Monroe based on a publicity still for the film Niagara. Bert Stern, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn picked up the baton laid down by the likes of Bob Willoughby, Phil Stern, Sid Avery, Peter Basch, Andre de Diene who had taken up where and others had lead in the 50’s. The movement towards a more candid approach to portraiture continued. On this side of the pond Snowden, Bailey, Donovan, Jane Brown and others.
Robert Mapplethorpe, is probably best known for his homoerotic images taken in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but that was only a part of his oeuvre and he was, in a sort of full circle, influenced by classical styles in his portraits. Yes he was often sexually explicit, yes his subjects could include Sadomasochism but pushing boundaries was part of who Mapplethorpe was. Well not so much pushing as driving a truck at, but that does not fundamentally undermine his technical abilities or his vision, regardless of your views on his distaste for convention, ironically using conventional, classical, ideas of beauty to deliver his art. The sensationalism of this part of his work often overshadows the portraiture of many well known artists and he was never short of sitters. Patti Smith, Marianne Faithful, Bruce Chatwin, Philip Glass, David Hockney among many others.
The late 80’s and 90’s also saw the likes of Annie Leibovitz, Mario Testino and Bruce Weber rise to prominence among many others, technology changes, the spread of affordable video for instance and the growth of and acceptance of installation art – we have touched on this before so I’ll skip it here – and with them the shared mission of portraiture to go beyond just the image of the sitter to some other truth of character and moment. And it starts with lighting, which is where we came in.
N E X T M E E T I N G
John Chamberlain – “Images from around the World”.
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