Monday, 14 October 2013

Light in the Coppice

Shooting Coppice, Crabwood, October 2013 © Graham Dew 2013
Shooting Coppice, Crabwood, October 2013

Another recent picture from Crabwood. Autumn is not very advanced and there are plenty of trees still in green leaf at the moment. It’s strange, the more I visit this place the more I find to photograph. Crabwood and the allotments are my two default locations to visit when I feel the need to photograph but have no specifics in mind.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Screen Burn

Woodland Mushroom, copyright Graham Dew 2013
Woodland Mushroom

The Guardian ran a small article today about the BBC presenter and commentator Andrew Marr. Rather than focus on his professional knowledge, this piece concerned his new book about his amateur passion, his joy of drawing, or sketching. The basic premise was that it is better to be doing something creative with one’s hands than it is to sit transfixed to a screen, be that a television, computer or tablet.

I couldn’t agree more. From necessity, I spend more hours in front of a computer monitor than I do anything else. I spend less time asleep than I do handling and writing emails, preparing spreadsheets or working on some web tool to carry out my daily fare of work tasks. The last thing I want to do when I have some free time is to sit in front of another glowing screen for my entertainment. To spend one’s evening passively being entertained seems to be an opportunity lost to do something worthwhile.

I used to carry a small netbook with me on my daily commute on the train, when I would write my blog posts, social emails or view my favourite blogs and websites. These days, I prefer to read books (on paper – not kindle!) or make the most of the view before we slip into the darkness of winter. On some journeys I will just take time off to think and dream, on others I will listen to one of the many spoken voice podcasts to which I subscribe (you must search out Radiolab if you have yet to hear it). On normal working days I rarely do any photo editing in the evening because of screen fatigue. Maybe one day we will have monitors that look like the paintings in Harry Potter, but until then I will guard against screen burn.

To go out with the camera is a different thing altogether, thank goodness. Although the cameras are now digital and the viewfinders are yet another splurge of illuminated pixels, it feels invigorating to be moving about, setting the camera and capturing the image. Of all the time spent looking, very little of it is through the viewfinder. Most of the time I am hunting down a telling icon or motif, searching out a viewpoint and composition, thinking about the lighting to tell the story. I almost never use a tripod, and I am often on my knees bending down to get low shots or interesting angles. I find it very absorbing and relaxing, therapeutic even, to be out making images.

So it was yesterday, on a visit with my son to Crabwood. I normally prefer to photograph by myself, but he is patient, inquisitive and good company. We explored and talked while I looked for pictures, coming away with a clutch of pictures, memories of a gorgeous autumnal morning, and the satisfaction of time well spent.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Missing Post


One of my New Year’s resolutions was to write a post at least once a week and preferably twice, on the premise that little and often is better than big and infrequent, especially if big does not mean better. Obviously I have failed in the quest, as it is more than a month since the last post. I could have written so much, but life has been too busy in the past few weeks to give me much time to record it. And I’ve been so tired during the recent heatwave. Normally I write my posts on the train on my way to and from work, but I’ve been too exhausted most days and have spent most journeys in a dozy stupor.

I could have written about the Arena exhibition at the Menier Gallery. The exhibition looked rather good and drew some favourable reviews online. But I do wonder about whole exercise of group exhibitions without a unifying theme. 

Another potential post was the RA summer show, which was the focus of a rather manic day in London. Diversity, as one might expect, was the name of the game for this exhibition, which had something for everyone, but a large amount of nothing for most. The photography section was rather mixed. As with a lot of modern photography, size trumps quality and there was a lot of mundane photography printed large that had passed the selection for the show.

I could have written about Broomberg and Chanarin winning the Deutsche Borse Photography prize, which is now an award about what you do with photos (preferably someone else’s) rather an award about the photographs you make yourself. In their winning book, War Primer 2, they stick contemporary library photos over the originals in Bertolt Brecht’s original War Primer. Hmmm... Is this to show how little has changed in the past 60 years? That we learn nothing from war? Please don't tell me that they are being ironic...

In the past month Panasonic released an updated version of their 20mm/f1.7 lens, with which I do 90% of my photography. With no changes to either the optics or the AF, they missed an opportunity to improve the close focussing of this lens, so I’m not tempted to upgrade. On the other hand the new GX7 camera does look rather nice and would be my choice if I was buying a new camera. But that day is a long way off.

I nearly wrote about the two films in the summer series of BBC’s Imagine programme. One was about the reclusive and only just found Vivian Maier. This was a nice biography and review of her work, but rather strange in that John Maloof, the guy who owns 90% of her archive and the key person in the story of her discovery, did not participate in the film. He is making one of his own, which is out later. Still, it seemed churlish not contribute and spread the word further about her rather wonderful work. The other Imagine programme was McCullin, a film about war photographer Don McCullin. I have only managed to watch half of this documentary; I could not stomach his blood lust. I’ve met and listened to other war photographers, and they all sit somewhere on the spectrum of wanting to bear witness of atrocities to an unknowing world, to that of adrenaline-fuelled junkies who will do anything to get the picture. Half are the latter, who use the witness argument as an excuse.

I have a few new books in my library that have taken my attention too. I’ve really enjoyed Robert MacFarlane’s mediation on landscape and paths The Old Ways. I also got Abelardo Morrell’s The Universe Next Door, a catalogue from a recent American exhibition, which shows a good cross section of his photography. I have seen him described as a photographer’s photographer and this is very apt; it is refreshing to see intelligent, attractive and clever photography rather than the weak and dull conceptual photography that seems to be everywhere today. 

So there have been things to write about, it’s just that I’ve not had the energy or motivation to do it recently. My batteries need recharging, so I’m going to stick myself in the garage on a long trickle charge and not post again until the middle of September. Have a good summer break!

Friday, 21 June 2013

Love in London Town

Love Padlocks – Charlotte & Ralf © Graham Dew, 2013
Love Padlocks – Charlotte & Ralf 

There are times when I feel so provincial that it’s easy to forget that I grew up in greater London and the big city is only an hour away by train.

Love Padlocks – If Music Be… © Graham Dew, 2013
Love Padlocks – If Music Be… 

On Sunday we travelled up to the open afternoon at the Arena exhibition in the Menier Gallery. The exhibition looked splendid BTW, with most of the members putting out the best of their recent work, and it all looked beautifully curated and hung by Kirsten Cooke. After the show, our family went for lunch at the nearby Borough Market and then on for stroll along the South Bank as a slow way of getting back to Waterloo. There was a nice relaxed vibe as everyone was enjoying the first of summer sunshine and warmth. We go the Tate modern and my son suggested that it might be nice to wander across the Millennium Bridge to look at the city and catch the breeze. It was here that we came across these ‘love padlocks’ that had been shackled to the thin steel hawsers that make up the fence and handrails for the bridge.

Love Padlocks – Voor & Emelina © Graham Dew, 2013
Love Padlocks – Voor & Emelina 

Although there were many people out with cameras I was the only one who was photographing these love padlocks. I guess I must have appeared like a country bumpkin complete with pitchfork and, smock and straw hat expressing wonder in the completely obvious and banal aspects of city life. I showed these pictures to my daughter a couple of days later, who told me the padlocks on the Millennium Bridge are nothing compared to those on the Pont des Arts in Paris. Yes indeed, search on Google you will see that that bridge is completely encrusted with the things, and in many ways has lost the poetry of the few that are in London. Wikipedia has a page that describes the phenomenon and underscores the fact that I don’t get out and about enough.

Love Padlocks – Stephane Mille + Mary © Graham Dew, 2013
Love Padlocks – Stephane Mille + Mary 
The padlocks still seem cute to me however, and a more gentle way of lovers leaving their mark on a city without vandalising the place by carving names on wood or spraying graffiti on walls.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Arena Photographers at the Menier Gallery

Looking at the date of the previous post I’m rather embarrassed to notice that it is almost one month since the last post. All the blogging guides stress the need to regularly post to maintain readership, and I’ve fallen well short of my target of at least one post per week. In my defence I’ll say that June is always a busy month in our family with many significant dates to be planned for and celebrated, the allotment is has plants growing like topsy requiring care and nuture, and the kids are keeping me busy with cricket matches and driving lessons. All of which has meant little spare time for photography, and what time I have had has been spent preparing for the Arena exhibition that opens in London today.

Beech Tree, Crabwood, 2011

This exhibition is the largest Arena has held for some time. In the past, the group has been able to hold shows at some prestiguois venues, including the Barbican Gallery and NMPFT. These days it is much more difficult to secure a good gallery in which to show work. The demand for exhibition space has increased at the same time as the supply of suitable venues has dried up. So for the next couple of weeks Arena has taken the bold step of renting a commercial gallery in which to hold a display of our work. After a lot of deliberation we settled on the Menier Gallery, situated on the edge of Borough Market, for its combination of exhibition space and busy (we hope) footfall.

Telegraph Hill, 2012

My contribution to the Menier exhibition are the four joiners shown here. Framed in two 70X70cm and 80X60cm mounts, these prints are somewhat larger than I normally exhibit and have taken a fair amount of effort to get printed, mounted, framed and packaged ready for the exhibition. These joiners look very good printed large, and I wonder how large I could make them. Since each individual cell could easily be printed to 30X30cm at quality print resolution, I could technically make a joiner bigger than I have wall space for at home.

Spring Trees, 2011

 I won’t be able to see the exhibition until this coming weekend, but I am sure that it will be very worthwhile and will look excellent. I must give a big public ‘thank you’ to Kirsten Cooke who has been the driving force behind this exhibition from its conception and has done a wonderful job in organising a disparate group of photographers into producing a good show. If you are in London over the next couple of weeks please take a look at the wide variety of work that is on display. For more information please visit the Arena website.

The Arena Summer exhibition is at the Menier Gallery in central London, 10th to 22nd June 2013.

Winter Field, Barton Farm, 2012

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Spoilt for Choice

Last Sunday morning I was busy doing that most manly of pursuits, that of pottering, when my wife phoned me in the middle of her run to say “you’ve just got to get up to the woods and take some pics of the bluebells”. So I got together my photo gear and put it in the car. I wasn’t sure which lenses to pack so I took all three for the G3. Since I was going to take picture of bluebells, and they are quite small, I packed the extension rings. But I had previous done some nice bluebell pictures with the LX3 which is brilliant at very-close-up-in-context situations, so I packed that too. It was quite sunny when she called, so I packed took my reflectors to help lift the shadows. Now, there were clouds beginning to fill the sky, so it might be cloudy when I get to the woods, in which case the flash kit would be more useful. And if I was going to take the flash kit, I might as well take the flash stands.

In the end, I was wandering around the woods with three bags wrapped around my shoulders, but mostly my neck, looking like some deranged photographic sherpa. It was never quite sunny enough to justify the use of the reflectors, never quite dull enough to need the flash. No need to use the flash stands either. It was such a drag lugging the gear around that when I put the bags down to use my camera I didn’t want to get out the other gear. The extension tubes got used for a couple of frames. The zoom lens was unused  and the LX3 stayed in its pouch. I didn’t get any decent pictures of bluebells. Next time I'll take a lot less gear and I'll not regret what's left behind.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

April Showers in May

After a long long winter spring has arrived and nature and the weather need to do some catching up. The current weather we are having is more like that which you might expect in April.

April in May - Spring Growth, Graham Dew 2013
April in May - Spring Growth

April in May - Tree in Rain, Graham Dew 2013
April in May - Tree in Rain

Monday, 22 April 2013

Crabwood Clearings

Logpile © Graham Dew 2013

There are virtually no unmanaged spaces in this country today, and this is just as true for nature reserves as it is for farmland and commercial forests. I've often mentioned Crabwood in posts, a small area of woodland that serves as a nature reserve a couple of miles west of Winchester. I've been visiting this area for the best part of three decades now, and in that time I've seen many clearings. Large trees are felled, coppices trimmed and new growth either in the form of plants or saplings take their place as the canopy of trees is removed or grows back.

Quatrefoil Stump © Graham Dew 2013
Quatrefoil Stump

It is hard to see the steady growth of the woodland; the rides are cleared on eight or sixteen year cycles and so one becomes accustomed to the layout of the trees. When an area is cleared it is very noticeable and sudden, and to my eyes, a very interesting place to explore. One particular ride has been extensively cleared of its small trees this winter. There has been a lot of activity by the foresters in recent weeks, and now, as spring starts, it is the turn of nature as new flowers and sapling start to shoot upwards. Soon the logs, stakes and trimmings will be removed and nature will be left to its own devices once again. As it does so, there will be plenty to reward the visitor who spends time to look.

Caught in the Trimmings © Graham Dew 2013
Caught in the Trimmings

Virtually all of these pictures were taken on the G3 with the 20mm lens. My camera bag is becoming lighter these days. I usually only carry the 20mm and 45mm lenses and try make sure I'm not carrying anything that won't be used. If it is sunny I will carry a small reflector. If the light is not so good I will take flash and diffusers in a separate large bag, but in general I’m happier when I carry less equipment.

Coppicing © Graham Dew 2013

Monday, 15 April 2013

Books by Artists

Art book and photo books have been occupying my thoughts a fair bit over the past few weeks. The Guardian this weekend had two  interesting articles and a photo gallery which seems based in large part on some of material from the Guardian Photobook Masterclass that I attended back in February. One of the small galleries in Winchester has just staged a small (but perfectly formed) exhibition of artists’ books, and I’m waiting for a Blurb book that I created from a small body of work created this Easter.

For the viewer or reader, there are few art forms that are as tactile as a book. For many forms of visual art you are encouraged to stand back, walk around and appreciate, but please do not touch. Sculptures may be made of durable materials such as rock or metal, but plinths pedestals and barriers exalt us to keep our hands to ourselves. Paintings, tapestries, photos are mounted on the wall, often behind glass to keep away sticky fingers. We understand and accept this because the work is unique, crafted and often delicate.

Books in contrast are designed to be touched, held, turned.  A book is intimate, and a well-crafted book is a pleasure to handle and to own. Oftentimes, and particularly with photography, it is the book that is the artwork, the finished article. Frank’s The Americans and Klein’s Life Is Good & Good for You in New York were first and foremost books and not gallery shows. Indeed, Christina de Middel is nominated for this year’s Deutsche Börse Prize on account of her book The Afronauts as was Rinko Kawauchi  in 2012 for Illuminance. One of the joys of the Afronauts was the feel of the book. From the stiff, buff cardboard covers, the matte paper, and the onion-skin diagrams and ‘handwritten’ letters interleaved between the photos, the book informed through the fingertips as much as by eye.

The Afronauts by Christina De Middel

For these reasons it was a pleasure to take in a small exhibition Books by Artists at the City Space, a small gallery that is part of Winchester’s Discovery Centre. This is a wonderful display of just some of the handmade artists’ books from the Artists’ Books Collection belonging to the University of Southampton, and housed at the Winchester School of Art. There are concertina books, hand-sewn books, pop-up construction, books with heavy wooden covers, photobooks and amazing feats of paper engineering. All of them were delightful and inspirational. The exhibition of about 50 works was divided up into several sections – fabric and textiles, text based, 3D and sculptural approaches, connections with the land or locale and so on. Most of the books presented were handmade one-offs or from very small runs, showing a very high level of craft skills. A great deal of imagination had gone into many of the works shown, by artist who were clearly thing ‘out of the book’. By necessity all the books were enclosed in glass cabinets. However, for an exhibition intended to inspire it did seem rather unnecessary though to deny the taking photographs as an aide memoire.

One of my very favourite services to come out of the digital age is the advent of the online book publishing services such as Blurb. With little effort one can create very attractive very short run books, something I’ve done several times myself. The results do vary, but in general it is a good way to create finish off a photo project. Now, after seeing the Artists Books exhibition I’m left wondering how I can create something that it a little more unique, a little more tactile and a little more special than a Blurb book.

The Books by Artists show has now closed, but for those that were unable to visit, the WSA Artists’ Book Collection is supported by some useful online resources about artists’ books. A nice booklet describing the WSA Library’s Artists’ Books Collection accompanied the exhibition, which can be downloaded as a PDF.