Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Anorak Potential

Interesting, interesting! My little rant from Monday – PMS-induced as I now know *ggg* – has received more attention (via social networking) than any other post before. Is that what people want? “Controversial” opinions, offensive views, opinionated rants? Ha, I can give you that, no problem. Let’s see if I can cause a controversy with this little gem of personal opinion: photography is for gadget nerds and tech anoraks!

That obviously and totally excludes me, of course. (I haven’t worn an anorak since 1983.) I am happy if I shoot a nice pic. Don’t give me your extra-gadgetry! ND filter for long exposures in daylight? Unnecessary! A normal long exposure will do the same trick, and even take less time. Fish-eye lens? Gimme a break! For the three times in a photographer’s life that you want that, you can just as well use Photoshop to create the effect. It’s cheaper, too. A white balance filter? *deepsigh* come OOOOON! There is a handy little button on your camera for setting the right white balance. Just get into the routine of setting it every time you shoot.

A nice long exposure, perfectly shot WITHOUT an ND filter!

Seriously, now – the anorak dimension of photography is frightening! I must point out, however, that the potential for intricate technical discussion usually comes from the anorak-wearing… eh… Y-chromosome-bearing part of the photography crowd. I do not recall ever discussing FEL settings, parallax errors, spherical aberrations and reciprocity laws with my female photographer friends. Don’t get me wrong – I know what all that means (test me!), but I don’t take much of an interest in that. Different ways of operating, eh?

Right, that concludes today’s rant.Waiting now with bated breath whether I have suitably excited some of my readers.

DISCLAIMER: The statements contained in this posting are entirely based on fictitious events. None have been elicited by actual events and/or experiences in the author’s own private life. *phew*

No Tolerance!

Arrrrgh! It’s time for a little rant. (I’m on a little endorphine high, so the adrenaline wants to match that…) Don’t you hate those people who make a fuss because they don’t want to be in a photograph? Arrrrgh, again. Ok, seriously, no, I don’t hate people like that, but I am developing a strong sense of no tolerance for those superficially shy people. Rather than being modest, they are only drawing even more attention to themselves by their behaviour.

Before I alienate any of my friends: This is not about anyone that I know personally, but comes as a reaction to my latest assistance experience. The scene was a professional shoot in a service business. We were taking shots of a public area that is manned by staff. And the shoot was delayed by unnecessary discussions with staff about being or not being in the shot. I have noticed this kind of thing before. You pull out a camera, and a number of people immediately start kicking up a fuss. “Oooh, you are not getting my face!” Come on, people, get a grip, that’s nothing but vanity!

To tell you the truth, I can even sympathise with that. The camera doesn’t love me, either (which is one of the reasons why I have chosen to work behind the camera *ggg*). Some people will always look fantastic on camera, others tend to be caught with their eyes half-shut, mouth gaping in mid-sentence, belly fat sticking out under the clothes. I am that kind of sitter. But I realised a while ago, that there is nothing more annoying than someone throwing a tantrum because they don’t want to be in a picture. So I have given up all resistance and have resigned myself to the fact that I look crap in photos. However, the least I can do is not to ruin the shoot for the photographer and the willing participants.

Here’s someone who is loved by the camera…

And as a bit of reassurance, I’d like to finish with this: Nobody – and least of all professional photographers – wants to deliberately make people look ugly in their photographs. The opposite is the case (unless you are Pol Pot or Stalin or Hitler). So relax, people, get into the frame, stop kicking up a fuss. Have your picture taken often, so you can find what is called the Schokoladenseite in German – your best side. And then arrange yourself surreptitiously at your preferred angle and look gorgeous!

Sonja was ‘ere

Holiday snapping is getting increasingly difficult for me. You think that is weird for a semi-professional photographer? Well, here is the issue: Like most people photographers I started out with photography as a holiday snapper, documenting the sights and the people (Mama in front of the Eiffel Tower, Mama beside the Brandenburg Gate, Mama on top of the World Trade Center… the list could go on endlessly…). With better hardware, I moved on to not only taking the usual landscape shot of *everythingplusMama*, but also trying some close-ups of such hiiiighly original items as foreign letterboxes/manhole covers/street signs. Um. The trouble is – when I am on holiday, I haven’t really quite progressed from that. I am too much of a tourist and still feel like documenting the sights. Yet the photographer’s eye is there, too. And I feel constantly torn between taking those tourist shots and doing slightly more artsy-fartsy stuff. 

The same on my recent trip back home to the “Fazerland”. I actually held back a bit and only shot about 250 images in five days. But at least three quarters of them are the usual, big-building-falling-over-backwards and lovely-back-lane-with-half-timbered-cottage shots, and only very few have any (vague) aesthetic merit. I personally prefer the affectedly artistic shots – but they are not as expressive in terms of touristic value. *sighs*

So I’ll leave you with what I consider a bit of a compromise. A visit to the crypt of Saint Trinitatis in Bad Langensalza yielded the following result: a suitably (?) atmospheric shot of some ancient coffins (Sonja playing with high ISO and negative space, I guess) while documenting that “Sonja was ‘ere”…

How do you deal with the schizophrenia of “holiday-me vs. artsy-me”?

Paul Seawright – "Volunteer" at the Kerlin Gallery, Dublin

Never judge a photo without reading the blurb! That is the lesson to be drawn from Paul Seawright’s current exhibition in Dublin’s Kerlin Gallery. Seawright’s exhibition is entitled “Volunteer” and takes up all the space of the Kerlin Gallery top floor. The plain, light-filled gallery space is perfectly matched by similarly plain images, all uniformly in landscape format and plainly framed in black frames.

The initial reaction to Seawright’s images is one of curiosity and confusion. Is this art? Is this aesthetically pleasing? What does this mean? Those thoughts went through this reviewer’s head upon examining the photos. Of the ten images, only one seemed aesthetically pleasing – the image entitled “Oil” (see it here), picturing three yellow posts on a parking lot, in front of a white-grey wall and with three large oil-spills on the tarmac. The composition of the image is beautifully balanced; the tones of the print soothingly neutral, apart from the yellow posts.

But what to make of the other images? The setting is the United States. Seawright photographed parking lots, empty warehouses in the background, the usual paraphernalia of industrial estates on the fringes of the images: portaloos, bins, fences, walls. There is little colour visible in the photographs – the places appear washed out, grey, bland. And bland was the word that came to my mind – where was the art in that???

Of course, Seawright is following in the footsteps of other “Master of the Mundane”. Long before him, Stephen Shore showed every-day scenes in his images that were among the first colour photographs to be considered “art”. And admittedly – there is beauty in the every-day-life. And some of Seawright’s images are very strong on composition, like this untitled picture of a warehouse (here). The photographer has a great eye for diverging diagional lines, balancing the delivery van on the left with the warehouse that is captured at an angle. The pole in the foreground almost jauntily leans at an angle and lends a bit of colour to the image. And amazingly, even the shadow of the telephone pole fits into the parallelogram of lines in the photograph.

Nonetheless – the images, while carefully composed and framed, did not resonate at first. The Eureka! moment came upon reading the exhibition notes. Seawright’s intention with this project was to photograph recruiting stations of the US Army. Hence the title “Volunteer”. And suddenly the photographs gain a new layer of meaning: The boring blandness suddenly becomes demonstrative starkness, the exchangeable views of defunct warehouses, cheap Dollar stores, fast food outlets a kind of industrial desert, a deliberate contrast to the fact that in these non-descript places the recruiters sign up young American men and women for the Army – to be deployed in Afghanistan. So what we see is not a documentation of American parking lots and industrial estates, but a social commentary on contemporary America. This is where the canonfodder is recruited, non-descript, plain, unknown people. To be sent to another country, most images of which are of non-descript, dusty, desert-y places.

So, don’t judge a book by its cover – or a photograph without reading the blurb!

Hardware Judgment

There is the – rather arrogant – view amongst photographers, that you need the proper gear in order to get the right shot. I have suffered long enough from what I call “lens envy” – prior to my switch over to marky Mark – to be familiar with this notion. One little episode comes to mind: I was taking part in the first ever Flickr group meet-up in Dublin a few years ago. The meeting point was the Spire on O’Connell Street. I got there at the agreed time and skulked around the Spire, camera dangling from my neck. As I walked around the monument, I spotted a group of people who suspicously looked like photographers. Well, *obviously* looked like photographers, judging by the number of biiiiig cameras on display. And I noticed with amusement how, as they were scanning the passing the pedestrians for potential attendees, they immediately recognised me as one of them. But unlike the familiar sensation that women often experience when they meet men, the gaze did not settle on the chest, but on the camera on the chest. I was being appraised by my photographic hardware (as opposed to the underlying software??? *hahaha*) and immediately put into the category of “total amateur, uses only a 350d”.

Even though I was at the receiving end of photography arrogance for long enough, I admit that judging other photographers by their hardware rather than their images is temptingly easy. But so misguided. Granted – shooting with proper equipment gives better results. But sometimes you have to make do with what you have got. And the results may have their own aesthetic merits and may still be worth while. That just happened to me the other day.

I was assisting at a fashion shoot the other day. Cristian Turcan, the photographer, has a knack of finding beautiful locations for his shoots. This time we were in an antiques shop on Dublin’s Capel Street, called Renaissance Antiques. (Unfortunately this gem of a shop is about to close next week and relocate to Belgium. Check it out before it closes – it’s amazing!) Knowing that I’d be busy holding the reflector and moving the lights, I did not bother bringing my 5D2. Oh, how I regretted that! But in the absence of marky Mark, I used the camera on my iPhone to capture what I was seeing.

Chandeliers, shot with iPhone 4

Yep, this would have been better, sharper, nicer with an SLR. And it isn’t going to win any prizes. But somehow I find it amazing what a little camera phone can do for you. It definitely should not be dismissed, just because it is way below par in comparison with a proper dSLR. Neither should I only be judged by the crappiness of some of my images.

So keep an open mind, people. It’s in the look, not in the hardware!

Overfamiliar

Sometimes the most obvious subjects for our photographic projects are so close that we don’t have them in focus. We venture out everyday, looking for something new, something we haven’t noticed before, to document it and represent it photographically. When all the time there may be a project right under our noses, yet its subject is so familiar that we have not considered it as interesting enough for photographic exploration.

The light catching Manie’s art on the wall in the hall.

Overfamiliarity has certainly stifled my interest in my immediate surroundings. That is not to say that I do not take pictures in my home. I do. All the time. But it is more in terms of documenting the changes we make in the house – a newly renovated bathroom, the un-blocked fireplace, the view into the garden. Yet the features of any house are aesthetically, architecturally and historically interesting enough to concentrate on them. 
Of course that had occurred to me, too. But truth is: Ever since I moved into this house eleven and a half years ago, I have constantly been photographing everything around me. I photographed the house with three different cameras that passed through my hands in that decade – a compact Pentax, my first SLR and finally my first dSLR. And about 8, 9 years ago I  documented the nice details of the house in a once-off photo project. I got used to the place, couldn’t see its beauty despite knowing it was there.

While looking for a subject for a college assignment, it suddenly occurred to me to force myself to examine my immediate surroundings. I knew, however, if I don’t want to simply re-take the shots that I have previously taken, I needed a different slant, a particular focus that makes me explore my familiar surroundings from a new perspective. And then it came to me: This is not just my house. It is the house that Irish painter Mainie Jellett was brought up in and worked in. (For some biographical details and examples of her art go to the National Gallery 😉 or check this link: Mainie Jellett.) And she has left her traces everywhere in this house.

So here is the deal – I will be tracing Mainie in her father’s house, look for the reminders of her life in the walls, her artefacts, her possessions, nooks and crannies that she may have hidden in.  I am actually quite excited about this project. It could be interesting for myself, for Mainie’s remaining family, for my children, possibly for the interested public.What will I see that I haven’t previously noticed???

Double Whammy

There are two types of photographers: Male and female. Well, if you don’t like sexism, we can also break it down along two other distinguishing characteristics: There are those who are into gadgetry and those who aren’t. Interestingly, those characteristics also depend on the existence of the Y-chromosome. From my own experience I can say that the women photographers I know, tend to be less interested in the hardware and the accompanying accessories while my male colleagues are very much au fait with any possible gimmick that might enhance their photographic output.

I am probably a double double-X carrier: My interest in gadgets, gimmicks and gizmos – sorry: filters, lenses and equipment – is fairly minimal. That’s one XX checked. BUT: In a rather housewifey, woman-of-leisure-with-time kind of way I am a craft-queen who likes to make things herself. (That’s the other XX checked.) And if my interest is piqued, I will persist with a crafty project and get it done, despite photography these days taking precedence over my crafty pursuits. Here is a project I just completed, where I was able to combine the two things. I made a camera bean bag, a sort of light-weight portable camera “tripod”. So may I present the “double-whammy”!?

Before you get a heart attack: Yes, this is an open window on the third floor, but marky Mark was sitting safe and sound on my bean bag. And it was quite stormy outside when I tested it. I designed this camera bean bag myself and tried and tested it today. The beauty of my bean bag is: It consists of two separate, but sewn together cushions, filled with styrofoam balls. Therefore it is light-weight and easy to carry if you are out and about (about 500g max). It has a handle for easy carrying and a carabiner with which it could be attached to the outside of a camera rucksack.

The material I used is waterproof, i.e. the bean bag can be placed on wet ground or beach sand, will protect the precious camera that way and at the same time won’t get soggy and damp. (I actually cut up my kids’ playtunnel for the material… superbadmum strikes again…) The two parts of the bean bag are sewn together in the middle. That means you can slide the bean bag over railings, a fence or a car door (for those occasions when you are on safari, *hahaha*) and it won’t slip. The weight of the camera will keep it in place. This works both in upright orientation or in horizontal orientation. You can rest the camera entirely on the bag and sprint into the frame for a self-timer shot, or you can use it as a cushion on a fence/banister/branch of a tree if you are shooting with a long lens that makes the camera too heavy to hand-hold.

Added bonus: the camera bean bag also works as a nice and soft pillow, should you feel the urgent desire for a little snooze on your shoot.

Sounds like an advertisement? Well, can’t hide the fact that I worked in marketing in a previous life. Comments? Ideas? Improvements? Suggestions are very welcome! Give me a shout if you want to try it out!

The "Friends of Analogue Photography", Strike One

There is only one shutter release button, one viewfinder on a camera. And there is only one point of view for each individual photographer. For the “social animals” among us, photography can be such a lonely business! Here we are, “hiding” behind our hardware, interpreting the world around us through our lens, and most often than not, noone else sees what we produce. (Unless you keep an exhibitionist platform… eh… blog, yourself :-))

Now, I have always been a strongly social person. I thrive on the exchange of ideas with other people, the challenge of matching up to other’s expectations and standards, and I love the sharing of knowledge and ideas. I am very lucky that I have met a lot of people in college over the last year and a half who seem to be similar in that respect. We gelled as a group and continue to communicate about photography outside of college. (You know who you are, guys and girls – a big, sentimental hug to all of you!) Today I want to show off what we produced in a little project that I instigated recently.

The Project:
The objective of the project was to shoot one 24 exposure colour film. Each participant had to supply two topics/themes to the group. A final list of 24 topics was given to each participant. Therefore each participant had exactly one shot to interpret each of the 24 themes on his/her roll of film. The picture format was to be landscape.

The Background:
“The Friends of Analogue Photography” got together because we had all studied for a Diploma in Photography last year, and we all agreed that we loved our first semester when we had to shoot only with film. All of us shoot digitally on a regular basis. And almost exclusively – for all the obvious advantages of digital photography. But film has its advantages, too. The fact that you need to think and prepare and plan your individual shots so much more in order to avoid film wastage, usually produces much better results in film photography. So we came up with a project that would force us to practice our film-abilities – in a fun way.

The Presentation:
After three weeks of shooting the 24 themes, the group got back together with their prints. In order to achieve a uniform look, all images had been printed in 6×4 format. The images were then hung on the wall, creating a grid with every theme resulting in one column, while each line would show the images of one photographer. That way we were able to compare the different interpretations of each theme in the corresponding column, while placing each photographer’s complete project in a line enabled us to spot the different “styles” of photography.

So without any further ado, here is our final “wall”:

And I will disregard the programme and title of this blog this week and actually display more than just one image in this post in order to give a bit more insight into this project:
A closer look at some of the results:
And finally the participants via a self-portrait:
Apart from the social aspect, the project has been inspiring and creative. All participants put a lot of care into their submissions. And we all agreed that the analogue project eventually took precedence over college or work obligations.  
I sincerely hope that this was not the last time we have worked together. 
What do you think?

Photo Assistant

A lot of people sneer at the notion of assisting at photo shoots for free. I know, time is money, but:

Seriously, assisting is invaluable, priceless, even. Ok, I wouldn’t exactly pay to be asked to hold the reflector, move the lights or boil the kettle for endless cups tea. But there is a huge benefit in assisting other photographers with their work: You pick up their tricks – or you learn from their mistakes. The latter is what I experienced on a recent bout as an assistant at a commercial shoot. There were a few things that were what I surreptitiously would call “sub-optimal” – but I wonder whether I have the wrong end of the stick, here. So I would appreciate your opinion on the issues we experienced. Please comment, if you have one (opinion, that is).

Corporate headshots was what was on the cards at the shoot. After a few testshots, the photographer concluded that there was not enough light coming from the brolli light – despite the light flashing at highest setting. We were in a really bright room with lots of south-facing windows around noon in early spring. Light was streaming into the room. How come she had to go up to ISO 400 and shoot at 1/80? Presumably a really small aperture?

The set up was a grey backdrop from which the subjects were going to sit about 1,5 m away. I assume the photographer wanted them so far away to avoid shadows on the backdrop. Also, the backdrop was a bit creased, so the photographer didn’t want those creases to show. However, the light was 2m away from the sitters. I suggested moving the light closer to the subjects working on the assumption that the further away you move the light, the less intense it is. Therefore, if you moved it closer, it would get brighter. The photographer didn’t try that, though… Instead she decided to put a diffuser on a speedlight and I was to hold it up and illuminate the subjects with that. And in place of the reflector the brolli lamp was used to cancel out shadows on the other side of the sitter. What do you think about that kind of set-up?? This was not particularly effective – as I found it difficult to hold the speedlight up and direct it properly at the sitters. Nonetheless – my ridiculous enactment of a 21st century version of the Statue of Liberty probably worked well for putting a continuous smile on the sitters’ faces… (not on mine, though…)

Anyway, if you have any comments, I’d love to hear what you think about this?