The best pictures tell an unfinished story, with a sense of place or personality - what, where, when, how. I love painterly colour yet also see strength in black and white form and composition. Maybe too eclectic?
I have used Nikon for ever, and have been digital almost from the beginning. That said, I have rediscovered my Leica, especially for street and black & white. I also love the creative versatility and freedom of the iPhone, and some images here are Olympus 4/3.
- The Signs of Bath May 15, 2015
- Record Store Day – art, music and fun April 19, 2015
- Exploitation, or driving social awareness in Street Photography? April 9, 2015
- She wanted me to shoot her moods April 3, 2015
- Leica Noctilux F/1.0 – Backfocus March 8, 2015
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Category Archives: Art
Music is ever-present in our home, and I am enjoying the “vinyl revival”. I have several hundred from my early days of listening to music, and adding more.
The entire vinyl experience is, to my mind, completely different to all of the other ways we listen to music today. The “large scale” of the album ensures that you first study the album artwork, read about the music and how it was made, and generally gain a better appreciation of what the music and artist are all about. The best artwork delivers an almost visceral feeling about the music. Ask anyone that grew up with or is now collecting vinyl, and they will talk about the album cover almost as much as the music. The artwork often represents a moment in one’s own history, reinforcing both the impact and the memory of the music.
Then, you don’t just press “play”. You have to physically put your chosen record on the turntable – and turn it over. So retro-manual. And once it is on the platter, if you are like me, you will find it hard to leave the room whilst it is playing. The very act of placing the record on the turntable tends to ensure that you want to listen to it all. No background Spotify, or modern-day “muzak”. Much as I love streaming services, vinyl forces you to take notice in ways that even CDs don’t.
Of course, many listeners also swear by the warmth of the vinyl sound, compared with today’s digitisation. That is maybe true, and I always just play vinyl “straight’ – mono or stereo, with no fancy surround settings. In my opinion, though, a good sound system and speakers probably do more for the music than the actual recording format, assuming that the format you chose and the mastering is of the highest quality.
So it was a very special pleasure to have Record Store Day with us, once again. This was founded in 2007 in the US “as a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly independently owned record stores”. It started in the UK in 2008. There are Record Store Day participating stores on every continent except Antarctica, apparently.
Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day, and many stores host free gigs by local and international artists. Fun for all.
We went across to Raves from the Grave, in Warminster, Wiltshire. Their other store is at nearby Frome, where on the day they had artists performing live outside the store. The staff are extremely knowledgeable, super friendly – and there is a massive collection of new and old vinyl, CDs and DVDs at both stores. Warminster carries a lot of music memorabilia, too. T-Shirts or mugs, anyone?
A music lovers paradise, in other words. The clientele is varied and all ages, and all share a common passion for music. Oh, and I love the image above as I used to have a white MR-2 – my “rave from the grave”.
It’s a kind of “brinks and mortar” Glasto …
They had a terrific collection of Record Store Day specials – and I must admit I rather over-did the purchases. But the event is such a celebration of music, and is supporting independent retailers – so my excuse is that it is “a very good cause”.
Special 7″ Items that took my eye included Robert Plant, The Flaming Lips, Roxy Music and Holger Czukay. And there was a wonderful single from Johnny Marr.
Many of the major record labels produce (rather over priced) remasters of classic albums especially for the occasion. Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Eno, John Grant and The Small Faces amongst them.
Is this big label commercialisation some kind of “sell out”? I think not, as long as the independent retailer is making the sale, and I found this article in Pitchfork really thoughtful on the subject. I love this paragraph:
“A significant number of RSD shoppers are young people with little knowledge of vinyl records – 21-year-olds in 2015 were born at the peak of the CD-driven alt-rock boom in 1994, and even their parents grew up in the cassette and CD era. For a lot of these young music fans, vinyl records are as much “new media” as Songza or Spotify – a novel way of interacting with music that requires a bit of a learning curve.”
However, my “find of the day” was a compilation album, presented by Alocopop! on behalf of several indie labels, on Sensible Records. Not only was all the music refreshing and enjoyable, but the vinyl itself was beautifully produced in multiple, recycled colours. All limited to only 500 copies, and retailing at a fixed £10. As if that wasn’t enough, the album included a code card that allowed the free downloading of 160 tracks from the Indie labels – each label contributing about 150mb of music. A heck of a deal!
Summary and review here, on Forkster.
The whole experience was a wonderful confluence of music, art, photography and just old fashioned fun. If you didn’t get involved this year, please pop by your local store soon, and find out what the fuss is all about.
All images (except the Sensible album cover) taken with a Leica M-P and Noctilux F/1.0
I first posted a version of this in 2010, on mick’s leadership blog.
It still seems highly appropriate, though this time in a “photographic” context.
I got a little acquainted with Zen in the 1960’s, part of my own quest for “truth”. And whilst many other philosophies and concepts have entered my mind and been very helpful since, I have never forgotten the Zen Parable of “Beginner’s Mind“.
Here is one version:
“One day an important Samurai, a man used to being in control at all times came to visit a famous Zen master. “I would like you to teach me more about Zen, to help me gain enlightenment and so become a better sword fighter.”
Zen, a philosophy of action, is inextricably linked with the Samurai Way, so the request was not that unusual.
The Zen master smiled and said nothing. Instead he motioned to discuss the matter over a cup of tea. When the ceremony was complete, the tea was served. The master poured the tea. He poured and he poured. The tea flowed over the rim and began to spill over the hand of the samurai – who jumped and dropped the cup.
The samurai was angry. “I came to be taught, and all you do is spill the tea over my hands. Can’t you see the cup is full?”
The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this tea cup. You are so full of what you know that there is no room to add anything new. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind, a Beginner’s Mind.”
This rings so true, and is, in many ways, the key to all learning.
It has become clearer to me over the years that the more experience we have, in whatever field of endeavour, the more it’s actually harder to exercise “Beginner’s Mind”. We spend a long time learning how to use our cameras, studying how others succeed (or fail), wondering how “The Masters” did it, and seeking advice from others.
We might even develop our own signature style, and try to stick with it.
However, to be truly inventive, just like the samurai, you need to decide what to discard to make room for new things. Sometimes this just happens, when we “see” something new, and want to capture it a different way.
But, Louis Pasteur was right when he said that “chance favours the prepared mind”. We need to make space for the inventive, and the conscious act of thinking through what it means to us, is a great place to start. We need to “see” each picture both as a moment reflecting our own knowledge and style, and a new moment, never before seen by anyone, including ourselves.
Let’s use our existing wisdom and ideas to help others succeed, yet also find enough space to keep learning new things.
My New Year wish – may we all practice “Beginner’s Mind”.
“Perhaps in the end the difference between image and word isn’t relevant.
Because ultimately it’s all scriptural: things such as light or ink mark and are recorded on surfaces, and that’s an event of writing.
I also don’t think there is a massive categorical distinction between digital and analog photography, or digital writing on a laptop and writing on a typewriter or by hand.
We live in what Michel de Certeau calls the “scriptorium”. Everything is written. We’re within a set of networks of archiving, recording, transmitting and making visible, or hiding and eavesdropping”.
As Laurent Scheinfeld and I last night were talking about our “voice” in our photography, McCarthy’s words struck a cord. Is our “photographic voice” simply our words expressed in an image?
At the recent Leica Meet in Paris, I lost the group (!), and wandered off.
The Centre Pompidou is always interesting, and it had been a while since I had chance to really “see” it. I once more saw the spray stencil graffiti by Jef Aérosol (the pseudonym of Jean-François Perroy). It’s called Chuuuttt !!!, and it was inaugurated 18th June 2011. This has to be one of the best positioned graffiti selfies of all time!
Here are some links to Jef Aerosol
I did a version finished in Exposure 6 (Alien Skin) as Kodak Ultra Color Film. I really enjoy using the film settings with this software, though friends would say “why don’t you just shoot in film?” I guess I like to ring the changes and digital allows just that.
I also used Silver Efex Pro (Nik), with my usual “street’ contrast recipe.
This is one where I am really torn whether colour or black & white is best. Views?
There is so little time
Left in Eternity
For our dearest dreams
To reach their climax
So little time
Written November 1968
Photography is a passion
Photography is a record
Photography is time
Like most photographers, digital happened to me years ago. Digital has exploded photography. Creativity is everywhere. Social media compounds the creative energy.
And whilst we all still compose and “take” pictures, in so many ways the computer is leading us. It takes skill, even bravery to override the camera’s automatic settings. The camera beeps and flashes if it is not focused right. Numbers appear, and symbols rotate.
Magic happens behind the view screen.
And it works.
A long time Glastonbury fan, I rely on the Nikon to capture impossible shots, zoomed way out, in lighting so bad. Serendipity plays a part, but the Nikon handles chance with its computerised dice.
The show of the ages
The Stones at Glasto. Everyone’s dream. Mick has been in special training, studying headliners, not wanting to copy U2’s disappointment. 50 years in the business and still at the top. And what a great gig it was!
But, much though I love Mr Eavis, those damn flags just get in the way. So imagine my surprise when a sequence of shots captured the three Micks, perfectly.
I was going through the images, comparing and contrasting, looking at the settings used. And then I remembered the very last film camera that I bought.
A Leica. M6. And a couple of lenses.
Time to dig them out of the family squirrel box.
A Noctilux, a lens that can see in the dark. Let’s try it. Where can I get 35mm film? Better yet, didn’t I read somewhere that the digital brother of the M6 can use every lens ever made by Leica? No messing about with new fangled mounts.
You still set the shutter speed by hand. You can’t actually see through the lens. The rangefinder glows bright, and your fingers twiddle and turn. You mess up, and there is no way the camera will rescue your image.
Is it sharp? Isn’t this taking too long? Wouldn’t the Nikon have taken 10 pictures by now?
Well, it works.
The rangefinder forces you to compose, to consider. The manual settings force you to re-learn how light really works.
And you rediscover time.
Time to think. Time to compose. Time to be sure the image is right. Once it’s set up, it also eliminates false precision. Set the exposure, and leave it. Don’t fiddle.
A trip to Ghent was a good test.
Usually, it’s a bag full of lenses, switching to match the possibilities. I am proud of the kit, and know how to use it. It takes time, of course, but it’s action, movement.
So it’s not a waste. It’s a positive to have such complexity. What happens if we drop all of that?
What happens if we keep it simple?
Let’s try just one lens, and not even a zoom. Let’s try 28mm.
And let’s push it as far as you can. Low light. Low shutter speed, hand held.
Technically, the Leica M9 has a smaller sensor than the Nikon. Lower megapixels. It has a more restricted ISO range. So grain shouldn’t be handled as well. But the eye is happy with the results, and that’s what counts.
It is true that the D800 takes absolutely stunning images. But never take a Leica to a rock festival and try to shoot from the other side of the field. Never take a Leica to a Formula One event. Yes, by all means capture the driver’s mood, their confidence, and their escorts.
But if you want the racing action, the Nikon wins every time.
Then remember that some of the world’s greatest photographers only ever used a rangefinder, a Leica. They did it on film, and they took their time.
I can never be Henri, and would never even dream that I could be. His “perfect moment” is etched in the world’s consciousness.
But when you spend a little more time, thinking about the scene, you calm down. Your brain is at work, not the computer. Images are more instinctively about the people, and less about the technology.
You take time to be sure the image is sharp, and that it is well composed.
And time slows down
It even deals with those damn flags.
Ok, maybe not exactly flags, but the wind blowing the streamers. The man, the piano, the cyclist and the streamers.
With one lens. One setting.
Those damn flags. Captured. Frozen.
A moment in time.