The third round of the ROC, congratulations to the winners, thanks to Peter Weaver for his work as the judge, and it is good to see that the overall level of technical achievement is going in the right direction. To those members who are convincing themselves that their work isn’t good enough to show, I have to say you are probably wrong about that. The competitive element aside, and the importance of that will be personal to each entrant, getting feedback from experienced judges is a good way to look to our personal development as photographers.
It comes back to that word “Because”. I agree with the judge, because … I disagree with the judge, because … are two great places to start. Personal development involves reflecting on the work we produce and putting it forward in the first place is a great way to see things differently. Seeing things differently, trying things differently is the deliberate act that fires that improvement.
As I said in the closing remarks, £2.95 for a re-usable 40 x 50 cm (20 x 16 inch ) mount to fit a 16 x 12 inch (40.6 x 30.5 cm) aperture from The Range (cheaper on line, but make sure you know what you are buying first) and £1.82 for a 16 x 12 gloss or lustre print from Keynsham Photographic Centre and we are in business. Give it a go.
It is, after all, about perception. The whole conceive, frame, light, shoot thing is to capture a perception of something we saw, no matter how real that actually was. The camera may never lie but photographs do, because they are about slices of reality, selected contexts and an impression of a thing. If the camera thinks 18% Gray is half way between black and white we are starting from something of a skewed perspective anyway (here for the science of it).
The danger, at least to posterity, lies in what we perceive as a photograph. It used to be a lot narrower than it is today. A photograph was the finished product held in the hand, hung on the wall, or mounted in the family album. Today we stop a step short of that. What we have with digital technology – and I speak here as a fan – is a computer file as a “finished” article.
Unfortunately these files we keep on computers and so need complex and expensive technology to view them.
The files themselves are subject to physical loss (hence the need for back up), damage (hence the need for back up), infection by malicious code (hence the need for back up), and eventually and probably sooner than you think, redundancy (hence the need for back up in more than one file type if you are being particularly cautious). The back ups are also prone to all of the above.
Keeping your treasured images on the Cloud is one answer to this. Except it isn’t. They are still computer files and still need expensive technology to view them. “The Cloud” is a fluffy marketing term for someone else’s computers. Someone else’s very, very, very expensive computers.
These very, very, very expensive computers are mostly under someone else’s legal jurisdiction, are only going to operate as long as someone, the people who own and maintain those very, very, very expensive computers will only do so as long as they can make a profit from those very, very, very expensive computers. They also makes you images easier to steal, but that isn’t their purpose.
Yes this also applies to “Free” services. “Free” is another fluffy marketing term which means “You pay for this another way” usually by your personal data, which you give access to in the terms and conditions (EULA’s as they are technically called, End User Licensing Agreements), and everyone you interact with which, they do not, necessarily. This as far away as it can be from the harmless fair trade it sounds and it massively profits the collectors of such data.
After all, these very, very, very expensive computers are run for profit and not for the well-being of their users, who, by and large, are well and truly in the dark as to the real value of what they like, share and post and whereas buying that data is relatively inexpensive the worth to end users is far, far, far higher than what is paid to collect. Allegedly, it has been used to select governments and policies.
The cost of storing and displaying our jpegs is far higher than we may have thought and there are important political issues surrounding our ability to do so, but there are also aesthetic considerations. Looking at a print is an altogether different experience than looking at an image on a computer screen. I find that, probably because of their relative scarcity compared to screen images, that looking at prints invites an altogether slower, more absorbing process.
The same goes for making prints, whether we do them ourselves or have them done commercially. Again this something connected to the print process. We are saying that this particular image has some more than usual significance for us, that we want to spend more time on and with it and that, maybe, we want to display it – on the wall at home or in the club competitions or even in an exhibition – but above all we want to keep it.
So, why not leaf through your favourites and select half a dozen for printing and mounting? Then choose your best three and enter them for the ROC round 4. If you need help members can us the Facebook page or have a talk with someone at the next club meeting. You will have something to keep and you will have some constructive criticism which you can apply to your photography and that then becomes a strong base for improving your photography over all.
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.
Last meeting at Portishead Camera Club along with North West Bristol Camera Club for a thee way battle and I am glad to report that Reflex showed a strong foundation – we needed it to prop up the other two, higher scoring, clubs. That said it was very close, 6 points adrift and a tie break for the winner (Portishead), but we won the most raffle prizes! Victory!
Our thanks to Peter Weaver for his supportive judging, to Portishead our hosts, and to North West Bristol for a fine show. It was a high scoring event, the club’s been to other battles where our score would have been a winning one over the last couple of years. The number of members whose work was shown has grown beyond a small core and is gradually expanding. Our travelling support was just under half the room, so lots of signs of a healthy club. Long may it continue.
There were some particularly strong wild life pictures, as good as I have seen in any of the battles I have been to and a good deal stronger than some. Two outstanding shots from one of the NWB members took individual prizes, one for overall and one for digital. It’s not really an area our exhibiting members cover extensively, it is specialist in its devotion to time, its equipment demands and the ability to travel, not always huge distances to be sure, but Cheetahs aren’t in abundance here abouts, and for Egrets (Cattle, Small or Great White – yes I did have to look that up) you have to know where and when to look. You also have to develop the right habits and techniques. That said the overall winning image was a print was of an Exmoor pony, I’d say good enough for National Geographic (but that may be no recommendation at all), so not so inaccessible to a lot of people here in the West Country.
There are strict rules when it comes to wildlife photography and competitions. What is and what isn’t counted needs to be studied by would be entrants and there is a strong code of ethics (even if something is occasionally lost in translation) governing the acceptable face and reputation of the genre. The object is to record and preserve, some considerations that apply to our discussion on documentary photography last week and, just as in documentary, empathy with the subject goes a long way to getting the shot.
We all, though have to begin somewhere. Most of us will not start with the idea or the funds to kit ourselves out as wildlife photographers from the off and it can take some time to settle on a favourite genre. Even then it is likely to be one of several that we try out or practice. It also takes a lot of that practice thing, as does anything else to become good at it and as with every other genre in photography, the kit itself is not going to make you a photographer, it just helps those with the skill, time, patience, empathy (and money) get a small but slightly better chance of getting the shot and of the equipment surviving the experience. In wildlife photography those margins are often small.
But the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, at least according to Lau Zu, though he never picked a camera up in his life (they hadn’t been invented), and starting with what we have, then progressing as confidence and expertise grow into those areas where the margins make sense – photographically and financially. Lau Zu also had something to say about what he saw as hollow practices, those he though got in the way of spontaneity and true growth and in developing as a photographer there is some truth in that. All the gear and no idea is not new, it appears.
There are, of course, rules that port over from other areas of photography, such as: always focus on the eye from portraiture; dawn and dusk (though for different reasons in general) are the best shooting times from landscapers; be aware of the background from everybody. As always though, knowing your subject gets you a lot further than dumb luck. Starting with an interest in nature is the obvious, but that interest has to go beyond the pretty picture thing. All good pictures tell a story. That story may differ slightly (or even wildly) between viewers, but there has to be one to be extracted in the first place. You need to get beyond sticking the lens through the bars of the zoo to a point where you can anticipate your subjects next move. You don’t have to become a wildlife biologist to do this but you do need to learn the language and manners of your objective. You need field craft. You have to have the curiosity about it to develop the empathy we were talking about above.
OK that is the same for most types of photography. There is a field craft involved. With wildlife there is a more unpredictable element to account for and the more you know about it the more successful you are likely to be. That doesn’t mean that an intimate knowledge of sparrows transfers to the behaviour of grizzly bears. The differences are not only those in scale. The difference can be you removing a stain or being the stain. Outside of zoos and safari parks this isn’t a problem in the UK, of course and inside the environments are pretty controlled – but there are morons everywhere. The basic point is the same as the oath doctors take. First, do no harm. That takes knowledge too.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Robert Harvey: Landscapes for all seasons.
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”.
DEADLINE! Entries for the CREATIVE ROUND
Success! Reflex triumphed – admittedly our first in a time anyhow – in the inter club battle with Backwell. It was close all the way through and our excellent hosts with Reflex taking the Mono (174 to 180) and Colour Print (182:185) rounds and Backwell the Digital Projection (184:181). Final score Backwell 540 Reflex 546.
|1||Black Mountain Filly||Reflex||19|
|5||The 15:10 to Hasselfelde||Backwell||17|
|7||Look at That||Backwell||17|
|8||I’m in the Pub||Reflex||20|
|9||The Stamp Dealer||Reflex||17|
|10||Taking a Moment||Backwell||18|
|11||Vicar’s Close, Wells||Reflex||18|
|14||The Sign of Aries||Reflex||16|
|15||Cycling over the Bridge||Backwell||18|
|19||British Summer Time||Reflex||18|
|Monochrome Print Result||174||180|
|22||Leap of Faith||Backwell||18|
|23||I Wish I Was Out There||Reflex||18|
|27||Dancer and Guitarrista||Backwell||18|
|28||Lunch is Served||Reflex||18|
|31||Man from Trinidad||Backwell||18|
|32||Me and My Fella||Backwell||20|
|33||Cold Comfort Farm||Backwell||18|
|34||Lady of the Lake||Reflex||20|
|35||Ashton Star Hill||Reflex||18|
|41||That 80’s Feeling||Reflex||19|
|42||Behind the Curtain||Backwell||18|
|44||Wild Female Kestrel with Prey||Backwell||20|
|53||The Long Goodbye||Reflex||18|
|59||Glacial Ice Sunset||Reflex||18|
The standard was high, individual marks ranged between 16 and 20 with no less than 10 images rated at 20 out of 20 and a further 4 at 19 out of 20. The modal average score was 18, with just over half the images scoring thus and the remaining 25% 16 (3 images) and 17 (12 images). The distribution of marks between the clubs was pretty even as the table below shows:
Peter Weaver, our judge for the evening and our thanks to him for a sterling job on first sight of the entries, judged our last season’s battle with Bristol PS and of the two prints in common both were marked consistently (within 1 mark) so I think it valid to draw some conclusions about the development of the club in the intervening 15 months. In the Bristol battle the marks awarded for Reflex ranged between 14 and 17 with the majority at 15/16 (75% of the marks awarded). This time round, with a 50% larger entry, the majority of the images, 53%, were scored 18, that is higher than the top marks we scored 15 months ago. All in all 70% of the images entered scored higher than we did in competition, with the same judge, 15 months ago. OK the numbers are too small to be definitive statistically but trends are clear.
What might that be? There has been an improvement in the competitive quality of the entries that the club is putting out AND most importantly, we are not talking about the same few members increasing their competition output. We are seeing a mixture of established (pre BPS battle) and new (Post BPS battle) members putting their work forward and we are seeing an across the board improvement. If it is happening for some then I am pretty sure that it is happening across the board, whether you enter your images in competitions or not (and why not? You get free feedback from very experienced people specific to you). This, I would surmise, is down to the strength and variety of the programme and the fact that there is always someone willing to help out with questions on club nights or through its social media outlets. Maybe, and possibly counter-intuitively, it is down to the fact that we are not really a competition oriented club, that is to say we have four rounds plus a creative round and we do two club battles a year. Some clubs think nothing of having monthly competitions (OK we do have the club Flickr competition but that is pretty low key, awarded by popular acclimation and the voting is open now on April’s competition, so get voting!).
That is not the same as saying competition is a bad thing, what it does say is that the right sort of competition for the club you are in is the one where it develops its members abilities, curiosities, and, for Reflex, a willingness to share all that. Deliver that on the back of a strong programme and you might get the odd visit from the Goddess Nike.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
23rd April: Your Picture Your Way (Portraiture and Macro). Following the inaugural, and I thought successful, YPYW, we repeat the exercise with, you’ve guessed it, Portraiture and Macro. Mr Gerry Painter explains here >>>Your Picture Your Way.