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
Last evening the event was about making photography fun. Thank you to our speaker Margaret Collis. Fun, who could be against that? Well debates on Puritan Philosophy and outlook aside, fun is, generally, in the words of Sellar and Yateman “A good thing” (1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates). Fun with a camera, well what else?
Sometimes, some people make me wonder if the fascination with the craft squeezes the fun element out of it. Margaret pointed out that some people do seem to let competitions dictate their style and habits, which is a shame because that is also limiting of the ability to develop and learn in new directions. For the amateur fun forms a big part, there are plenty of other, less expensive hobbies out there after all. But even the best hobbies have their ups and downs, few though have the capacity for variation that photography offers. So, this week the blog is going to be dedicated to making pictures work. Basically we are limited by our own imagination, one of those useless truisms because if we can’t imagine it in the first place we are unlikely to do it ….
So let’s assume we are feeling lazy or for some other, less fortunate reason, we are housebound, where to start? There are plenty of things around the house. A favourite is to use toys or miniature figures to play with scale around common household goods, even foods. Then there are water droplets, frozen flowers, oil on and in water, the list goes on. You don’t need to sail the world to get your photographs, though that does sound like a great idea. Peering over the duvet or over the crater of a volcano the successful picture has variations around a common technical theme, the exposure triangle, but however well the technicalities are executed, all successful pictures prompt an emotional response. Avoid the technically proficient, artistically deficient. The key to that emotional response is to make a story out of the elements: a simple, bold, cleanly framed, single element which in the balance of everything in it, we call a narrative.
Narrative, is about events linked by common elements, a thread, a story. We are familiar with the idea of spoken or written narrative, of those told in films and on TV. Making the one frame narrative is actually more familiar to ourselves than we may think. In thinking it we can think it too difficult, but actually it is quite natural to us. We contrive these all the time because, it seems we are hard wired to make stories of things in order to make sense of them. We become photographers when we stop taking image of things and start making images about things.
There are two situations this covers, the individual photograph always and photographs in series, from a collage (which can be very difficult to get right) to a sequence around a common theme, which we will label a project. I stress the point about the individual photograph because even if it is being part of a wider story (the Kingswood Salver is an excellent case in point), it has to stand in relation to the others on its own technical and aesthetic merits. The technical we have talked about and talk about all the time, not least because it is generally easy to agree about. The aesthetic, what we consider beauty in relation to a person or object, is both what we are talking about and a subject all of its own. A philosophical one, a scientific one, a personal one, too big for this little blog, beauty is a context of a combination of qualities, including shape, colour, or form, that pleases the imaginative senses of an individual, especially the sight. Look at these photographs culled from Friday’s Guardian (14 October 2016) newspaper website, pick your favourite and decide what you like about its shapes, colours and forms.
So can we use a bit of logic from what we have said about the connectivity at the centre of our photographic narrative? Well a couple of points I think. Firstly it is made, on purpose by framing and lighting and positioning. It is a product of selection. It is made by context. Secondly, and derived from this, it is deliberate.
Now it is beginning to sound very complex and a little off-putting. It is actually a question of looking, actively looking, pictorially, at what is around you. Now we make images for more than one reason. It can be a quick note, a documentary record, a statement, a creative impulse, a memory, and so on and so forth. Our guides to looking are the rules of composition, they help us find those connections that we alluded to above. This is as much about learning to see in the picture format as anything else. That is the key to starting, being deliberate, we referred to this last week and before when we talked about opportunities falling to the prepared. Serendipity. That can be aided by putting in another step before we press the shutter and that is to ask ourselves why this picture appeals.
Essentially, then we are going to end up with a mixture of pictures (point, click and chimp) and images (see, compose and capture) and that is OK. In fact we can see the differences between them and that can help with our own development. But it should not be a trial, it is about moving and direction and seeing and taking those pictures for the same reasons as always. Because it is fun.