Mark Simmons was our speaker last meeting, a Bristol based photographer since 1985 Mark took us through some of the opportunities and causes he has been involved in over the last 30 years. He mainly concentrated on black and white work, though showed us some colour work of his too and posed some open ended questions, namely What makes a good photograph? and What comes next?
If I were to sum up Mark’s choices in photography in one word it would be “Eclectic“. Personal, political, spiritual, progressive, street, arts. He represents his world through the medium of the lens and monetarises it. It’s the way he makes his living. He talked about film and digital and whereas he is quite nostalgic for the former he works in the latter, though not exclusively. Black and white was really the choice when he started. Developing colour films has always been more involved, costly and time consuming than black and white and though perfectly feasible these factors meant that black and white was the only choice for those starting out developing their own images and those on a tight budget.
Now it is a no cost extra, ignored by many amateurs and often regarded as niche or specialist, with its own publications such as Adore Noire and even its own dedicated Leica camera line, the Monochrom Typ 246 range finder with a 50mm f1.2. Less complex in the sensor design it gives sharper results and less problems with artefacts (apparently). What is more one pixel on its monochrome sensor is doing the job of four (two greens one red one blue) on a colour sensor, so detail is more effectively rendered. It’s a snip at £4,500, but hey, it’s a Leica and you get a free Lightroom license with it. Whether this constitutes a bargain is contestable and it does rather reinforce the exclusive, arty view of black and white, even if it delivers a claimed 100% more detail than a colour sensor. This is a shame as black and white has its own aesthetics, its own strengths and it does get overlooked. For many of us I suspect it goes something like this….
“That would look better in black and white”. We’ve all said it. We’ve all done it. Sometimes we were right. Sometimes it was the fundamental composition that was wrong. Nothing to be done with that, apart from applying the delete button. If the fundamentals don’t work, no matter how much we wish them to, it’s a loss. I am not advocating not learning from our losses, that would be a chronic waste of time, but we don’t learn much from failing to rescue the not worth preserving to the status of still-should-have-pressed-the-delete-key-and-saved-x-hours, or, more succinctly, reviving the dead to the status of the un-dead. What that constitutes in reality is a matter of personal taste and judgement.
“That would look better in black and white”, or, if we are in posh company, or trying to sound like we know what we are talking about, monochrome,we have probably already taken the picture before the thought strikes. There is a solution, which I will come back to later, which at first is obvious, but which can make the most of both worlds and can make us look at things anew. First, however, it’s time to visit some things we already know, or at least know about. Is there a difference? I would say emphatically yes and the difference is knowing about something is being able to theorise that in these set of circumstances this will happen and owning that knowledge by using it with purpose and confidence. Learning is about the transition between one and the other and it’s not always obvious when we arrive at the latter.
Black and white is different from colour in the obvious and not so obvious. The obvious of course is the reduction in the colours we are presented with. More properly we are talking about the difference between grey scale and the gamut of colour our monitors generate – most likely sRGB. The black and the white represents extremes between which we have the grey scale. Absolute black and absolute white are theoretical points, but the question of how black is black and white is white need not concern us here. Our brains interpret these things and we get on with life. We are told that black and white makes us concentrate on subject, form, shape, tonality and texture. This is, of course, because colour has a range of psychological effects on the human brain. Physiologically we use the cones in the eye to see colours and rods black and white. Rods and cones are photoreceptors, like the pixels on a camera sensor, and take their names from their distinctive shapes. The rods and cones generate signals which the brain transforms into images to which it attaches meaning. The primary colours, in particular exercise a strong emotional effect on us, more so than the secondary colours.
Deprive the brain of these clues and it continues to search for meaning in patterns, which promotes the importance of subject through form, shape tonality and texture. We still connect but in a different way. If we are lucky the elements of form, shape, tonality and texture have already made their link if only subconsciously. Then, we might safely arrive sooner at the delayed conclusion “That would look better in black and white”.
Better yet is to start from the position of black and white, the technique I was referring to earlier, that is to say the camera is set to black and white deliberately at the point of capture. This is where a CSC really comes into its own with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) viewfinder/screen as some, if not many DSLR’s render as black and white only after the event as an editing choice (in which case save it until you get home and do it on the computer). If shooting RAW and Jpeg with the JPEG set to black and white as default we don’t, on a CSC at least, loose the colour option as RAW files are rendered in colour by default. What we can learn is to see those forms, shapes tonalities and textures as a critical starting point not a lifeline to the already drowned.
A N N O U N C E M E N T S
Something worth your consideration if you ever want to take a picture in the street again is something called the Freedom of Panorama and it is under threat (sort of). You might also want to sign the petition at the bottom of the article .Freedom of Panorama. In the interests of balance I would also say is that this is at the consultation stage, hasn’t been presented to the European Parliament for any legislative action (yet) but it still needs consideration and this is your chance to make opposition felt before it has the chance to gain any momentum. I would also point out that Mr Wales has a vested interest in such a possibility being put in place and this is an opinion piece in the Guardian, not a piece of investigative journalism. So for a bit of balance I would also read this from Full Facts (and still sign it).
N E X T M E E T I N G – Important information.
Our season at the school has drawn to a close. Please check the events clandar on the club website for details of meetings over the summer.
“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?
Ephemeral Ghosts: A talk by Ian Coombs
This Thursday we proudly present our very own Ian Coombs with what promises to be a superb evening of rare mostly unseen images of unknown people from 1850 to 1950 from his collection of vintage photographs.
A guest club instead of a guest speaker!
Your all used to us having guest speaker’s but just for a change we decided we’d have a guest club! How cool is that!
Burnham on Sea Camera Club graciously accepted our invitation to take the long journey all the way into Bristol to show us the best of their photography. We’ve told Joe to break out the good biscuits and I urge all of you to come along and enjoy what promises to be a night of fantastic photography.