Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Mad March Hares

A few more pictures from the weekend. I think the speed sign is a warning. March is an incredibly busy month for many reasons, and I’m looking forward to getting the next couple of days out of the way so that I can slow down to walking pace. At the moment I'm rushing around like a Mad March Hare.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Arrival of Spring

Spring arrived suddenly this past week. All at once, warm weather, bright sunshine and light evenings appeared all at the same time and it feels quite intoxicating. It’s a bit like the shock you can get travelling to southern France in the early months of the year, noticing the signs of growth and feeling the sun on the back of your neck.

With weather this nice I headed around to our local allotments as I had promised myself a few weeks ago. The warm weather meant that all the trees and bushes were just showing the first signs of leaf and blossom, but the only produce visible above ground were rather tired winter vegetables. But there is always plenty to see, and many of the fixtures, supports and nettings made for some interesting pictures. I love finding old rakes, spades, forks & other implements in these places. They have a lovely patina of rust, sun-bleaching and wear that speaks of years of hard use. Very wabi-sabi, to use the Japanese term.

One of the main reasons I recently moved over to using a mirrorless camera was because I wanted to use shallow depth of field at close distances. It became clear to me last year that my DSLR was not capable of focussing accurately when using my standard lens wide open at close distances, and that this was a problem inherent to all cameras of this type that use a dedicated focus sensor. The beauty of mirrorless cameras is that the focus and exposure data is taken directly from the image sensor, thus guaranteeing accurate focus.

When I bought the G3 I also purchased the Lumix 20mm/f1.7 lens specifically to take full aperture, close-up detail pictures. This weekend’s pictures were the first where I really started to explore the capabilities of the camera and the lens. The lens is very sharp, even wide open, and the camera allows accurate focus wherever I choose in the image – no more focus and recompose. But best of all, the wide aperture allows great control over the de-emphasis of the background. It’s a very powerful creative tool, and one that I will use quite a lot, I suspect.

Friday, 23 March 2012

One Year Ago Today

Feather, Spring 2011

One year ago today I was off work with an illness that was both undiagnosed and untreated. I had by then been off work for more than two months in some considerable pain. But the weather was beautiful and spring-like, so I dragged myself out of the house up to Cheesefoot Head to take advantage of the sunshine and the warmth. It was good, the sunshine and warmth were what I needed.  I was not going to be walking far that day, so my focus was on small details, especially those that hinted at the arrival of spring. 

Until the arrival of the G3, my small LX3 compact was always my camera of choice. The most remarkable aspect of this jewel of a machine is its wonderful lens that focuses right down to almost nothing. Because it does this at the wide end of the zoom range, it can create powerful images of very small details set in context against a background environment. It was the main reason why I bought the camera in the first place, and is why I won’t buy a macro lens for the G3. I’m not interested in isolating details as one does in conventional macro photography; I want to show the subject in context. 

When you start photographing very small details like the feather, it forces you to look long and hard at almost everything, and pictures can be plucked from seemingly unlikely places. Feathers act as useful metaphors for me. They suggest delicacy, fragility and impermanence. Easily blown away by forces that they cannot resist, they can intimate vulnerability and insecurity. Which is how I was feeling at the time, and why I felt drawn to make a picture of this tiny feather.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Can't see the Tree for all the Wood

Tree and Post

Post with Bonsai

Compare and Contrast!

Michael Stipe once said that REM had about 12 basic songs that they recomposed and re-recorded every time they made a new album. This is not a bad idea. Revisiting old ideas in new contexts will usually give new insights. Well, that's my excuse anyway...

Monday, 19 March 2012

Looking for Good Karma

There’s been a lot of bad karma running loose in the past week or so over many aspects of my life. This made me hanker for the serenity, calmness and stoicism that we found in the Buddhist cultures of Sri Lanka and Thailand on recent holidays.
A Little Buddha

Most of the temples we visited had an interesting mix of devotion, peace and joy that seemed at odds to the piousness and severity of so many Christian churches and cathedrals.

The picture above was taken in the Grand Palace complex in Bangkok. We were on our way to see the famous Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, a stop on our first day of sightseeing in the city. Our guide led us around the maze of impressive and beautiful buildings until we came to a little workshop where craftsmen were applying gold leaf to small statues and figurines. He proudly announced that here was the giant Reclining Buddha, much to the consternation of my children who were expecting something much bigger and impressive. He then burst into giggles and soon led us around to see the real Reclining Buddha. Which was much bigger, much more golden, and much more impressive. But I liked our little Buddha; it seemed to speak of peace, calm and devotion in a way that was more tangible than the its giant counterpart.
The Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Friday, 16 March 2012

Meeting Matt Stuart at the Arena Seminar

I’ve been closely involved in the running of the Arena seminar for several years now, and we’ve seen the event grow in popularity and stature to the point now when we are fortunate enough to secure lectures from some of the very practitioners of the art. The format is a day of three lectures, with the first from an Arena member and then two longer presentations from a couple of very well known guests. On the Saturday we host a hugely popular ‘print walk’ for all seminar participants, and there is plenty of time at meal times and in the bar to discuss photography. It is an exciting and stimulating weekend of photography. This year’s event was no exception, held last weekend.
Matt Stuart
Our first guest on this weekend was street photographer Matt Stuart. Matt has been making waves in street photography for some time now, and I’d strongly recommend that you visit his website for a few minutes to enjoy his work. Having seen his pictures you might well get the impression that he has a keen eye, a quick wit, is generous in spirit and able to charm his way in and out of most situations. And you would be right. In person he is funny, self deprecating, generous with advice, time and attention, and a tremendous speaker to boot.

Oxford Street - by Matt Stuart

Matt delivered a truly funny, informative and joyous romp through what it is to be a street photographer. So what did I learn? That you’ve got to keep smiling, be prepared to say something nice and make people comfortable near you. This clearly comes naturally to Matt, and is the polar opposite of Bruce Gilden, the famous NYC street shooter who is spectacularly rude and aggressive when taking pictures -see here . Matt stayed on after his lecture to talk with seminar guests and discuss their pictures and discuss technique.

Liverpool Street - by Matt Stuart
What else did I learn? Keep your elbows in, wear comfortable shoes and… go taking street pictures about 15 times a month! I’m not sure I’ve got the nerve or the eye these days to go taking street pictures these days, but I know I just don’t have the time. So I’ll just have to thank Matt for going out there and doing the work that I know I can’t do.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Who Created the First Joiner?

One band from my youth that I never tire of listening to are the wonderful Talking Heads. Ever fresh and full of ideas, their original sound is probably one of the reasons that their music never seems to date. One album that I don’t have in my collection is More Songs About Buildings and Food, which was released in July 1978. I mention this date because when reading my copy of Hockney’s Cameraworks, I was reminded of the multiple Polaroid image created for the cover of this album.

This complex, gridded joiner was made by the band’s frontman and sometime photographer David Byrne. That date is interesting – some 4 years earlier than Hockney’s first joiners, which are widely described as a discovery of his in spring 1982. Yes, he took pictures of a few irregularly overlapping prints much earlier than this, but this was a pretty common technique. Even I did it as a student at university! So it would seem that Bryne’s joiner pre-dates Hockney’s, something that David Byrne believed too, as retold in this amusing account on Grant Munroe’s blog.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Fuzzy Warbles

 My small (very small) collection of lenses deliver wonderfully sharp images. Detail that is so sharp that it can almost seem sharper than the eye. Oftentimes I will make a picture with sharp close-up focus against a soft diffused background, to concentrate the eye and paint the surroundings in large brushstrokes. And sometimes, I’m quite happy to make pictures that are completely out-of-focus, either by accident or by design. 

Images like this can be very dreamy in nature, whether they are created by lens defocussing or from pinhole cameras. For me, this has to be done in camera; the results look fake and artificial if done in Photoshop.

Messing about with camera can give some interesting results. I don’t care if it’s not meant to be done; it just gives me the fuzzy warbles…

Friday, 2 March 2012

Domain Field and the Chickenwire Farrier

There can be very few people in this country who are not aware of or have not seen the sculptures of Antony Gormley. From the Angel of the North, the beach figures at Crosby Beach to the Sound II in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral, his work is part of the establishment. In the same way as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore were a generation before, his work is brought by local authorities and large corporation to create a wide ranging series of landmark sculptures.

In 2003 he created a wonderful series of figures made up of many small ‘sticks’ of stainless steel. These started life as negative casts of real people, which were then only partially filled with these small pieces of metal. Only the end tips of these metal pieces coincided with the true surface of the subject. This series of statues was known as ‘Domain Field’ and was originally displayed at the then-new Baltic art gallery in Newcastle. After the Baltic exhibition, a smaller subset of some two dozen statues travelled south to be displayed in the Great Hall in my home town of Winchester, which is where I took my young family to see the works.

We went late on a rather gloomy winter’s afternoon and had a lot of fun walking around the figures who seemed to come alive in the spot lighting. More alarmingly, one of them started to shake and reverberate when my then little children could not resist giving one statue a whack to see what would happen! After a few anxious seconds while the statue teetered on its heels and toes, it regained its composure whilst I took a firmer grip on little hands. The appeal of these statues was the way in which an external surface could be interpreted from essentially a collection of points, how a human form could be described by the by the end points of a stack of sticks.

This past weekend we visited the Weyhill Hawk Conservancy near Andover. It’s been several years since we last visited and a lot has been done to move from a charming but a bit ramshackle place, to the charming, well run attraction that it now is. I’d recommend a visit for anyone in the area or who has an interest in nature. The flying displays are particularly well done.

In amongst all the large cages that protect and house the birds, there is currently a small sculpture trail, the most impressive of which was this sculpture of a farrier made out of chicken wire. Ok, it’s not a Gormley, but it was done well, with a similar visual and special experience to a domain field statue. Instead of points defining a surface, we had a series of line. Instead of welded stainless steel bars, we had bent and twisted chicken wire. And instead of being the creation of an internationally renowned artist, the farrier sculpture was the fruits of a student's ‘A’ level art project. It is unlikely that this artist will have a career that is even one hundredth of Gormley’s. But at least they will have knowledge that they have created a small work of art that entertained many thousands of people, which is no bad thing.