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.
- Drawn by Light: The Royal Photographic Society Collection @ The Science Museum December 13, 2014
- Photography is writing November 19, 2014
- The colour – black & white conundrum November 15, 2014
- Portrait Salon – Salon des Refusés November 8, 2014
- London November 5th Protests November 6, 2014
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Category Archives: Painterly
I, The Painter
Mix the colours
of golden apricot
and Spring cabbage
Lay the mixture
on the warmest paper
Create a melee
of contortionate light.
This is the process of painting.
Written July 1970
Painting was where I started all those years ago.
Yet photography has always been close to my heart. I remember getting my first serious camera (a Pentax KX) shortly after leaving University. I was later lucky enough to become a Nikon devotee, and still am.
In 1990’s digital started to appear. The Nikon D1 broke all the rules, and helped to make digital accesible, professional and mainstream.
Now of course it is almost all digital – no messy chemicals, no risks with the film, instant pictures which are infinitely modifiable.
Not just professionals, but all of us now have the ability to fix things later. We do not need to just rely on the moment of capture. Photoshop takes care of that.
“Clone out the weeds, the detritus”.
But it’s not just the transformation from film to digits. It’s the transformation in the device we use to capture the image. We have the iPhone to thank for an enormous explosion in photographic creativity. The latest Apple TV Ad notes that there are more pictures taken every day on an iPhone than on any other device. Is that true? I think I can believe it.
Is there a debate any more? You still hear purists saying:
“Mobile is killing serious photography”
“The world has gone LoFi” – not just the music but also the images.
I think that’s nonsense.
It’s still true that some understanding of the basics of photography are essential to creating good images.
Is the subject in focus? Handling the backlight? When to fill-in with flash? What is the rule of thirds? How do you manage depth of field?
It’s not just the camera settings, though. How many filters do you have on your phone?
They might just be simple auto fixes – but then we can grunge things, make them “noir”, pointillist, artistic.
So the devices have changed. And the way we process has changed.
But perhaps the biggest difference is how we now share images.
Do you post to Facebook? Google? Instagram? Flickr? 500px? EyEm? Oggl? Blipfoto?
Do you post in carefully constructed albums, or for instant sharing?
I remember the mantra of “Good subject, good light and good composition”.
Today, that seems to become questions such as “Share with who, and with which filter”?
“Create a melee of contortionate light” I wrote all those years ago. And that’s still true today. The light is constant – that is the artistic given.
But the melee has changed.
The melee is the sharing.
Despite this change, behind every good photograph, the purpose of the image is still the central question. What is the photographer trying to portray? What emotion is being elicited? What information is being imparted to the viewer?
Isn’t that still true, when you share to Facebook?
Why are you sharing? What are you sharing? What response do you expect?
This sharing leads to another massive shift – the “instant” critique of the picture. Whatever you upload, there is no going back. No fiddling in the darkroom. The image is there. Public. And it is voted upon.
Is it liked? Loved? Commented upon?
Perhaps as well that Anselm Adams wasn’t subject to such stress.
All you can ever do is delete the image, and admit defeat. It’s now. Instant, and it’s public.
A kind of social polaroid. Fixed. Frozen. Locked. And either admired or ignored.
So, did digital kill the craft of photography? No, of course not. It simply spawned dozens of new crafts, and made a few unnecessary.
And is mobile killing quality?
No, the wisdom of crowds, and their appreciation or dislike push us to quality.
There has always been snapshots. Fodder for the processing lab. Instagram is home to a lot of rubbish.
But it seems to me that photography has never been creatively more alive
Images of all kinds. All genre. All styles. All in copious quantities.
Quality is getting better.
And our discernment of a powerful image has never been better.
Tall and straight with vestal eye.
Sunset embodied in life eternal,
Golden charm of folded petal.
Coloured scarlet with flaming torch.
Virgin purity of snowy white,
Or rainbow hues of any in nature.
Short and bushy in green confusion.
Often chosen with ecstatic movement,
Showing love, cherished enchantment,
But creature of death to people fallen.
This we ask of a solitary flower
Which we ourselves can never reach.
Written Summer 1967
It’s snowing out there. And, this being the UK, a national disaster is being declared. We read that 11 inches of snow fell on Moscow last night, and almost 200 people have died in that country because of extreme cold. “Snowpocalypse” the Moscow press are calling it.
Yet the M4 gets closed down with an inch of snow. People pretend they can’t get to work, and show themselves in snowball fights on Facebook. And then they wonder why their management get annoyed.
Some years back, I took a picture of a Rose, ignoring the odds and poking its tongue out at the heaviest frost of the year.
It became one of my most viewed images on flickr.
In 1967 I also wrote a poem about a rose. Looking back, it’s too complex and wordy – but it is a poem of its time. It’s how I felt, and it was of course heavily influenced by the sights, sounds and social upheaval of the “Summer of Love”.
It was the year that the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Who and many other bands tried to out-innovate the Beatles.
Which was an impossible task.
John, Paul, George and Ringo were demonstrating what a “high performance team” is. Extraordinary achievements followed with quickening momentum, and every member of the band contributed in a unique way – the smoke and the acid flowed like water untroubled by small pebbles. They were leaving the others behind.
“High Performance Team: A small group of people so committed to something larger than themselves that they will not be denied”
Katzenbach, J and Smith, D (1993), The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the high-performance organization.
“I am a Walrus”, sang the man in that high-performance team.
“Sitting in an english garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don’t come, you get a tan
From standing in the english rain.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen.
I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob goo goo g’joob”.
Was the Rose sitting in the garden, waiting for the sun? Or was the Rose in a team with the rain?
The Rose was both part of the whole and yet totally alone.
The picture doesn’t work without the background, and the Rose could not survive without the help of the sun, piercing the frost. Yet the Rose was standing tall, doing what it does best. It was not just surviving – it prospered.
And it made the garden and its world a happier place.
By being together alone.
“We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others”.
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Jump .. Home
Jump once Jump twice Jump thrice
And we feel the life that there is around us
within us beside us and beyond us.
And there is another jump with another beyond that.
Jump twice and there is no jump
Just a distant measure of success
Jump thrice and the smile disappears
Because the jumper has lost his beat
Jump once Jump twice Jump thrice
And the works becomes clear by comparison.
Home is where you came from. Home is where the family is. Home is where you work.
Home is where you are.
Where is that, exactly?
“Runaway Train” was a favourite song. Cool video too. But was years later that the meaning became clear, explained first hand by someone who did it. Someone who left home to find home. Someone who believed that actions not ideas were the key.
Home is not an idea. It’s an action.
Well, let’s recall the pediatrician story. Some time ago, a new expat family were asked how they would know if they were well settled in their new assignment.
“When your toddler has a problem, who will you call? Will you go to the local doctor, first, and ask for advice? Or will you call the pediatrician “back home”?
Call the local, it means you are home. Call the pediatrician, it means you aren’t home”
It’s the test of being home. Where is your doctor? Who do you trust?
Home. The place we feel safe. The place we go back to. Where we hide, and where we celebrate. We all have somewhere like that. Even travellers have the caravan, embedded in their group.
Home is where the way of life fits living the way you want to.
Jump home then.
The ugly Expat was having a beer by the pool, his pretty companion happily munching on nasi. She lounges with a certain style, practised and without conscience. The sun covers everything like a cloak of anonymity, baking everyone with its constant stare. Well trained staff walk backwards and forwards, offering ice but little consolation. He looks across the pool.
Is he thinking of home? Perhaps more to the point, where are her thoughts? She is a long way from home. Or maybe she is home. Who knows.
A young Japanese mother, daintily dressed in black, was also by the pool. She plays with her toddler. Careful to avoid the sun, and equally careful not to smile. Snacks arrive. Cold drinks refresh. Other mothers watch, yet they seem lost in their own dreams without truly seeing. The toddler is oblivious.
It’s raining at home. It usually does. The day you need the Sun it plays a peeking game.
The police car sat on the bypass, keeping watch lest laws get broken. At the Queens, the likely lads enjoy an illegal Scotch, hidden deep inside a creamy coffee. Scarves at a nautical angle, the afternoon will be spent playing snooker and giggling at music magazines.
Trying to be mod, failing to be hippie, ignoring the pervasive scent of hops and barley. And still hoping to have an amorous evening in the meadows.
Home it was.
Safe, comfortable even as wonders needed to be explored and worlds waited to be changed. Yet it was a place to leave, to put into the perspective of experience and never to repeat. But oh, the stories that it led to. The myths it created.
“Sing out if you want anything” said the Purser, knowing that the acquaintance was brief and the impression immense. Darkness enveloped the flight, with everyone doing their best to turn away. Too late now.
A single cube made it all right. Sleep now.
Home is where you stop, and this bird isn’t it. The infamous second night. But the bird is known, like so many others. It starts here, goes there, and does so with a cosy sequence.
Home used to be 2K. And it still is. But rarely.
Let’s catch some fish – coral trout, spangled emperor, Spanish mackerel and have a barbie. Family from all over, fishing, cooking, eating. And smiling. Don’t forget the smiling. They come together both through tragedy and the start of new lives. They are together because the chose to be. And home is wherever they are, as family.
Jump. Jump all over.
It was home, overlooking the South China Sea. No skyscrapers in sight so it couldn’t have been real. The big boss visited, inspecting the kingdom. Drinks flowed, and cautious small talk from the dozens present. “Would you like peanuts?” asked the 3 year old of the big boss. “Of course, thank you” he replied. He was handed exactly one peanut. Maybe for the first time in his life. One peanut. But it was the 3 year old that was home, not him. Her peanuts after all.
Spiritual home. What an old-fashioned concept, never recognised in an election. Is it a collectivist or individualist place. It’s neither. If individual, how can you be attached to others in some big whole? And, if collectivist, what does it mean to your soul?
So, “where is home”?
Home is where your spirit is. On the grass, by the pool, at work or in love. It’s everywhere and nowhere. It’s now yet, yet also was then. One thing is for sure, though. It will be there tomorrow.
Jump there. Once, twice or thrice.
Home will be right there.
There is a moment of sheer horror when truth is open for all to see.
When eyes that are closed are scared of the night time, and strangers that smile become the immortal.
If it t’were done, said the man, then get the f*** on with it.
Success is a virtue for those that don’t have it.
Speed is a problem for people in slow-mo.
Taste is a matter of feeling and substance.
Heat is a moment with wonderful distance.
If it t’were done, said the man, then get the f*** on with it.
So why this, why now? It’s because of a deal. The past and the future. Escape is always a negotiation between the two. A deal starts with what is, and moves to what should be.
He was in Paris on business this past week. Now, on other days, a trip to Paris is always an adventure. There are things to see, and people to observe. There are new tastes to acquire, and thrills to seek.
The adventure is still there, but there is something a little numbing about the Eurostar routine. It’s a comfortable way to travel of course, and the blackness of the tunnel marks a helpful moment in time. But the routine of a bus is not the same as a road trip. Ask the Beats. The crazy, DeLorean effect of time shift means that it’s just another taxi, just another office, just another meeting.
You are spoilt, the voice says. Others would love to be doing this. Maybe so, your quiet voice says. But your loud voice knows otherwise. That voice knows the pain, the hard work. It’s a job and that’s that.
Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 7
If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
Let’s hope that there is a difference between plunging a dagger into the back of a King, and making a business trip. Well, at least we read that there is. Macbeth’s problem was, of course, his wife, everyone agrees. Yes, he did the dirty dead. But was it his own choice, or did his Lady spur him on? Isn’t that all a bit ridiculous? People inspire others, to do all manner of things. But at the end of the day each of us decides what to do.
Macbeth killed. Fact. Can’t blame the Lady for the dagger.
Was success a virtue in its own right?
Did Macbeth’s success lead to an inevitable dénouement? Fate is at work. When a deal is done, do we recognise that moment of delicious unveiling? You know it’s for real. Yet you worry that there will there be a twist that blows everything apart.
There are too many questions.
The train speeds on. Missing stations. Hurtling into the fog with no chance of stopping in time. How the driver must trust. Signals. Radio. Putting instinct to one side and keeping steady as you go. Is it true that there is a Dead Man’s Handle? Is Macbeth nearby?
The passengers in the cabin pay attention to their tablets, and dismiss the quality of the air. No one notices the Tunnel. It’s a tube, which starts at one end and finishes at the other. It’s all over almost before it starts.
Always a schedule, always a plan. Speed.
The staff were friendly, they even joked. Was it really a stew? Road kill a fellow traveller offered. Taste in food. It begs the question, is there taste in a deal?
“I am a reformed lawyer – but not quite, as I still like to taste the blood.”
Could have been Lady Macbeth, washing her hands to get rid of the mortal stain. The Lady had style. She had taste. Occupying seat 43 another lady had style. Had taste. And she still hated the road kill. What deal had she been doing in Paris?
There’s something aesthetic about a deal, taking a view, connecting the dots. It’s a dance – sometimes a dance macabre, sometimes it rocks, and sometimes it’s just a jig, backwards and forwards. But it has its own rhythm, its own style. A deal is tasteful.
Or, as Macbeth discovered, it’s not when it has no taste. No style. No right.
Taste. The flavour of the deal.
Open the window, please; it’s hot in here. It’s always a game, negotiation. What would good look like? What are our asks? What are our gives? Who’s the good cop?
It gets warm. Ever had a “cold deal’? If you think you have, then to be honest you don’t know what a deal is. It’s always hot. It has pressure. There is a tiny volcano just beneath your seat.
Hold on, don’t move. Hold on.
You want to escape the heat.
You want to calm things down and slow events. You want to escape the volcano.
Macbeth tried. It was a deal that he thought was menacing and cold. But then there were ghosts testifying to the deed. He couldn’t escape. The past showed through, the prophecy foretold when the trees moved.
Escape the past – not possible.
There’s the heat.
Escape to the future.