Peter Phillips was our speaker last meeting and he gave us his “Photographic Journey” from aerospace Image Scientist to his post retirement destination of Photographer. Peter gave us a chronological tour through his prints – made a refreshing change to the projected image and of course, takes most of those issues that can arise with the digital projection and colour shift that can occasionally arise. That said I wouldn’t want prints only every week.
Peter is unusual in his route into photography came from the technical side and the art only really appeared as a factor after 40 years at the cutting edge of aerospace imaging. He related his landscape, pattern and street photography images through Joe Cornish’s observations on the inter-relationships of craft, art and soul, all needing to be inherent in a photograph for it to truly work. His approach is very particular. He knows the image he is after, plans for it, I suspect meticulously, invests the time in research and patience in execution then packs his gear away until the next time. This is quite different to the way a lot of people would go about it and opens up an interesting view on our relationship with the camera as an object and as a tool and how we approach photography in general.
Yes the camera is just the means to an end, that end being taking a photograph, but I suspect many people, amateurs at the very least and I suspect quite a few people who get paid to take photographs, also take a pride in ownership. I am not talking about brand obsessed fan boys, but as you get used to your equipments strengths weaknesses and quirks you do forge a working relationship with it, become comfortable with it. This is only a problem when it gets in the way of making the best images you can. For sure, it is the photographer not the camera in the end, but we have all come across people who never seem to quite get beyond the prowess that the tool supposedly confers. The fact that this is not a cheap hobby certainly can add to the mystique of the kit, but to progress you have to get all that in perspective.
So when we take our cameras out, even if it is to get a specific image, most of us still snap away at interesting, vaguely interesting and what-the-hell-did-I-take-that-for? incidences of time, geography and otherwise vague intent. It’s a hobby, it’s done for enjoyment. The single mindedness of just taking the shot, ok from several angles with exposure triangle variations then packing up and going home is something that I bet that most of us in the club lack, at least on any regular basis, but that is just a more ordered way of working. Workflow needs a defined purpose to work otherwise we just end up meandering around in the grand scenery of a general waste of time. Then there is that bit with a fancy title, “Post Production” or at least it is when they do it in the movies, the bit when the actors have finished. We might bump into something useful or interesting but it is unlikely unless we have a definite idea of what the final product looks like. We’ve talked before about how luck falls to the prepared. It certainly helps to have that in your mind when you leave the house. Whether it is the only thing you have when you return is either the way the day was or the whole and only point of the day.
With the details of the craft, the technicalities are constantly changing and challenging, the key is in getting them all in order to form an image with impact. This is the art. The composition element is as much a part of the craft as it is of the art, it is I would venture where the two overlap. The art is created by melding of the craft elements to capture the imagination that sparked the interest in the first place. If missing or poorly executed the story can get lost. You can get all the elements of a picture to line up and be on your way to a great picture but is it one that elevates the imagination captures the attention and makes you pause, even briefly? Are you engaged? If you are not your viewers certainly won’t be, almost can’t be, though the visceral and compelling horrors of a murder scene as an art form may not be the best way to win friends and influence people some haunt the memory, others fade. Yes the subject can have impact but the story is still the thing. We’ve come across the phrase “Technically correct, subject deficient” before so there has to be something else.
Soul, Peter offered, quoting Joe Cornish’s work. Problem with that is it is something beyond the words we can use to define it: “Emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, especially as revealed in a work of art or an artistic performance“. Problem with it is what moves one in say, a landscape, as that was Peter’s starting point, is just a pretty picture to another. Also it is difficult to replicate, even on the same scene, but maybe that is the point. Actually, that is the point or there wouldn’t be a market for prints. This is where the conversation truly gets vague and tends to wander off on its own direction, because we are trying to define the indefinable. We cannot touch it, feel, smell it, see it or hear it but we are affected by it.
Maybe for photographers it is Soul in the Aristotelian sense we are looking for. Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher and he defined soul as what makes us human but also as the essence in all living things that let us interact with the world around us. That is what we are trying to capture and the soul in the landscape is really the trigger in ourselves and in at looking at what is vital, essential, the thing that makes us, well, us.
N E X T W E E K
Architecture: Meet at Bath Abbey 19:30 hours. Oh and bring you camera. No event at the school.
“Just do it and let others sort out their problems with it”, was Justin Quinnell‘s advice to the club on Thursday night. Apparently the pinhole camera, admittedly a minority interest, is rather divisive. To artists it is science. To scientists it is art. By this division, apparently irreconcilable, a fascinating and deceptively simple technique for creating long term expressions of the passage of time and not a little mystery is largely disregarded. Links nicely with David Southwell’s definition of photography quoted in last week’s blog ,”An art supported by science”, which seems to square that circle, and, while we are on the topic, a conclusion from the blog before that, that we use tools as a means of controlling what we can in order to look for the art in the rest. Problems of the world solved we move on with this fascinating perspective.
The effect is not new, that is to say, our knowledge of the effect is not new, though its use is contested. Aristotle (384-322 BC) knew of the pinhole effect. Justin has christened it “Aristotle’s Hole” and pointed out that it’s an effect in nature traceable over 5,000,000 years, possibly more. That isn’t an argument for Intelligent Design, at least not one I recognise, but it does show that as a species we seem to be constantly trying to catch up with the rest of nature. Justin had his audience hooked from the off and a gallop through the history of the pinhole, taking in pretty much everything from nature, a sieve and leaves (Aristotle’s implements of choice), mirrors, the camera obscura, ancient Greece, the Renaissance and modern times, certainly added to the evening. Did you know that there are pinhole glasses as well as pinhole cameras? You won’t be getting them on prescription any time soon though.
So, just what is a pinhole camera? Well it’s an enclosed, dark space with a single, small, hole in it positioned so that light can enter through the hole. Light, as we know from previous blogs and those lessons in school science that we paid attention too, travels in straight lines. When it meets a surface it turns an angle and continues in straight lines. If there is a light sensitive material for those straight lines to bounce back off then an image can be fixed. If that material is translucent then it can, as long as a modicum of shade is preserved be used as a screen to view the live image on. Pretty straight forward (though you can make things as difficult for yourself as you wish). Use a mirror and you can project onto another surface, such as paper where you can trace over the image (as long as the light holds). This is a technique that has a long history, though the question of whether that is an honourable history is a provocation itself and goes to the very heart of the question of what should be called art, which I think rather nicely brings us back to where we started this post.
Justin introduced us to some major practitioners, (of whom he is one), my favourite being where whole rooms have been turned into camera obscura’s and the results captured on video or stills photography. One day, maybe. The fact is the physical limits are well known and, as usual, the most limiting factor is the imagination of the photographer. Certainly his own projects have shown that thinking unconventionally doesn’t have to mean great expense. Maybe it’s simplicity works against it. At its’ most unadorned it requires the cooperation of others, a beer can or similar container, some gaffer tape, something with a point on to make a small hole, tin opener and a photographic medium. The idea’s of short and long exposures has to be adjusted. We are talking seconds/minutes not fractions of seconds for short exposures and months (if not years) for long ones. Interestingly – though I suppose quite obviously – there is no development involved. This is because it will go completely dark when you develop the image, or try to, if the fix hasn’t washed the image away. Instead digital comes to the rescue, either using a scanner or a camera – you could probably use your camera phone – and then the reverse option in an image editing application. The truly amazing thing is the latitude the paper negative yields, meaning that the image burning out is rarely, if ever, a problem. Justine was at a loss to explain why, but that does not prevent him from exploiting the phenomenon.
All in all a fascinating evening and one which, maybe, the club could follow up with some practical work?
N E X T M E E T I N G
12th March – Tonight we’ll be answering many of the questions you submitted about photography back in January. The topics will cover all the more commonly asked questions as well as a few unusual ones. Join in the discussion afterwards. Entries for 3rd round of the Reflex Open Competition now due. Final submission for Banwell Photobattle, co-ordinate with Alison.
19th March – an evening in honour of St Patrick, see this PDF prepared by our own Mr Gerry Painter RCC_notice_Ian
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Firstly a very special Reflex congratulations to Ruth on her Ruby Wedding Anniversary celebrated last Saturday with family and friends at the Pomphrey Hill Pavillion, home of the Carsons & Mangotsfield Cricket Club. I admit I was ignorant of Ruth’s passion for the game until someone passed me this photo from her wedding day of Ruth appealing for an LBW.
Secondly, well there is no secondly, how could you possibly follow that?