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.
Our speaker Ian Wade a West Country landscape photographer, BBC Spring Watch contributor, author of Bristol Safari, traveller and photographer of wildlife near and far, professed to being a graphic designer first and foremost and that certainly comes across in his award winning photography – and even in the ones where he hasn’t won awards (yet).
Ansel Adams, wrote (and I am paraphrasing here) that no matter how devoid the image of human population there are always two people in a landscape photograph – the photographer and the viewer – and Ian’s photography and the way he talked about it underscored that observation and extended it beyond the landscape and into other areas of his photography where he challenges the normal aesthetic.
Dividing the evening up into sections Ian didn’t present a unified theme for his photography, but did give a lot of insight into what he was seeing and how he captured it and that built some common ground with his audience as most people’s photography is multi-stranded. Nonetheless, certain themes did arise.
The first of these was around people. Pointing a lens in someone’s face isn’t likely to make them feel well disposed towards you. Much can be gained by a simple and polite request and Ian suggested that sharing the result on the back of your camera always seems to seal compliance, even if that did involve the odd game of hide and seek! Ian talked about how he framed some of these with publishing in mind and about how it was important to leave space, in these instances to allow others to infill with text and other details. As we covered in last week’s presentation the advisability of release forms for commercial purposes is a concern (for minors and adults as models and property, see last week’s blog post). The UK legal position on taking photographs is covered here more fully. Ian basically concluded that you should if you can get these releases, though the practicality of getting each and every one in a crowd scene to do so isn’t practical (and may not be required – see the above advice link).
In his travel photography, Ian shared a wide variety of locations: Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Nepal were some of the destinations and he exhibited a range of topics, people, animals, landscapes, architecture in each of the sections he addressed over the evening. He related that in Cambodia he had suffered a kit failure and was forced back on a narrower selection of lenses than he had planned, but this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he was forced to look at potential images in different levels of detail and framing rather than succumbing to the fixed-point-and-zoom-ring solution. There is something to be said for leaving the house with just a prime lens fixed which forces you to adjust your position, to move closer or further away to get the framing that you want.
Another theme was patience. This is an absolute requirement of the wildlife photographer. Ian’s subjects ranged from arachnids to elephants and his kit from a Canon compact to a full frame 5D Mkii. He made the point that there is a limit to how much it is worth spending on glass and that is related to need. He showed some examples of wide angle macro-photography , most notably of squirrels, where a combination of patience, monkey nuts and the aforementioned Canon compact sourced from e-bay, and a wide angle converter from a video camera provided some impactful images at a very close range. Similar results, though presumably minus the monkey nuts, are to be found in his work with crabs. Both projects were shot locally. Ian spoke of a possible future project with the crabs using a fish tank to get both surface and submerged elements in the frame. His urban wildlife work on foxes has been published (Bristol Safari, Redcliffe Press) and he showed us a similar project on swans.
At the other extreme from the wide angle macro Ian has used longer focal lengths and shallow depths of field to not only isolate the subject but to reduce the form of backgrounds to daubs of colour that make the image pop. Again this strong graphic element divides opinion along a spectrum of standout feature to bokeh in crayon, but that is, as you will already have gathered, an important feature of Ian Wade’s philosophy, it appears, to challenge the viewer.
A graphic designer first and a photographer second Ian showed two images that illustrate the point, one of which seemed to work for club members and one of which didn’t, both of animals and both black and white images. The animals in question, a monkey (with a guest appearance from a dragon fly), and a fox. The monkey was jumping across the frame, just the legs and tail visible at the top. From the reaction of the members to Ian’s request for feedback it didn’t really work and the first impression that came to my mind was that it was the bottom half of a failed Qantas advert (yes wrong continent, wrong animal -by which I mean not a kangaroo- but I didn’t say it was a logical reaction, did I?) and the second impression was the content wasn’t substantial enough a part of the image. The second image, the snout and jaw of a fox in profile, was much better received, but there was more tone and fine detail and a stronger presence with the fox filling most of the frame. Ian pointed out that Foxes quite often, as a subject, don’t come across very strongly in black and white, but here it definitely did and got a lot more favourable reaction from the membership. Ian also said that he was thinking of doing a series of such close ups to cover the whole of the foxes body. This put me in mind of David Hockney’s collage of the Brooklyn Bridge, but I am not sure Ian intends to collage the results.
If you want to make a contribution to your income on a regular basis, however, convention does have to be addressed. This appears to be a part of another of the strings to Ian’s bow, and come across in his landscape photography, which still promotes his personal style. “Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment. ” Thus wrote Ansel Adams. That maybe because, according to Galen Rowell, “A lot of people think that when you have grand scenery, such as you have in Yosemite, that photography must be easy”, (The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography). It is, however, about a lot more than that. It is about the interaction of photographer and subject of which the photograph is a record as well as the technicalities. Point and shoot most often turns out looking like point and shoot. Planning and persistence, two more, inter-related themes that came across are a very big part of this. Many photographers will repeatedly revisit the same location in order to refine the images in their head and capture those images. He has some fine images from Clifton Suspension Bridge merging from the mist apparently to suspend itself on insubstantial cloud to the church on Lundy floating on a wave of corn.
All in all a very absorbing evening full of hints, tips and challenges and our thanks go to Ian and his partner for making it so.
Sunday is the PHOTO MARATHON and we have competition results next Thursday for the Creative Round.
See you there.
ON THE FLICKR COMPETITION.
Entries required folks, an Alphabetic theme was suggested, but entries to date have been low. GIVE IT A GO! You’ve nothing to loose.