Monthly Archives: April 2011

Matters of Technical Interest

Hey. Notice anything different? If not, you are either reading this through the rss feed or you are blind ;-). Yep, it was time for a little redesign on 2picsaweek. The blackness of my soul site was beginning to get to me, it just doesn’t fit this time of year. Something a little more bright was needed. And while I haven’t changed the general design of the blog, I have at least freshened up the background of 2picsaweek and intend to soften up a bit here. Yep, from now on it’s all love hearts and bunny rabbits on 2picsaweek!
“Soft” focus
Ok, no, just a joke. The redesign was actually part of another project. As part of my BA I had to design and build my own photographer’s website in Dreamweaver. Now, when it comes to use and application of any kind of tech programme, yours truly is not exactly at the forefront of prowess and progress. But, hey, minimalism rules! And therefore my brandnew website is simple and no-nonsense: A few bits of info, contact details and some picture galleries. There you have it. Ever the communicator, blogging is much more “my thing”, and so a link to 2picsaweek features on my website. To tie it all in, I wanted to match the design of the blog with the look of the website. Hence out went the black background, in came white and courier font. 
White, by the way, is the “colour” of choice when it comes to photographer’s websites. Let the images speak for themselves by placing them on a monochrome background. Or maybe we were brainwashed into using the same design principles? Go and check out my own and my fellow sufferers’ students’ websites.
Think this is an improvement? Lemme know!

Dark and Light

“The blue and the dim and the dark cloths/Of night and light and the half light” have been fascinating me lately – as they would any photographer, not just poetry fans. (Well, good old Yeats was referencing the Celtic twilight here, not photography, methinks.) A natural nightowl – proud of it, actually (scientific research suggests that night-active people are more creative, smarter and humourous than morning people! There!) – I get itchy feet when holed up at night on my own. As luck would have it, I had a number of solitary evenings recently and was free to do what I want. Off I went with the camera, to catch the light at night.

I had no particular light in mind when I wandered off, no plan, I just walked aimlessly. It’s not that often that I am dawdling along at night. Usually I will be on my way to meeting someone at night, or heading home determinedly, keeping my eyes on the ground (In Dublin it’s sometimes better, not to catch anybody’s eye…). I was therefore amazed at the many interesting lights I came across on this random stroll.

“Light show” outside the NCH

All of this is possible thanks to the high ISO settings on marky Mark. Oh, and courtesy of my left biceps which has been growing and growing in recent time, because I have never been so active with the camera – on- and off-duty – ever. ISO 6400, f 9, though, and 1/30. I am developing a steady hand, again.

Not many pictures were taken that night, just a handful. But of them there were a few that are interesting enough for me to have become hooked on this urban exploration of light at night. Another excursion is planned for tonight, to whet my appetite for photography which is currently on the wane thanks to the pressure of my college deadlines. Do I have time for extracurricular activities? Frankly and emphatically, no! But do I need them? Boy, yes, I do, or I’ll go insane over visual diarrhoea diary, post-producing product shots and assembling uninspiring layout templates.

So, that’s my song of the wandering Aengus Sonja.

I will arise and go now and go to seek out light,
A small camera i will take there, of glass and metal made;
Nine film rolls will I take there, a project for students bright;
And be alone to see the darkness fade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
dropping from the veils of morning to where the camera rests;
there midnight’s all a glimmer with light approaching low
and morning full of tack sunsets’ best.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear the call from my camera with clicks and zooms galore;
while I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Thanks, WB! (Check the original “Lake Isle of Inishfree”, recited by the master himself, here. My little reference to Irish Easter Rising celebrations 😉 )

Tracing Mainie

The aim of my photo project  “Tracing Mainie” is to show the traces that well-known Irish artist Mainie Jellett left behind in the house she grew up in. More than 60 years after her death, the painter is still remembered by the art world  – and she has left her mark on the domestic environment she lived in. The insight into the private life of the artist – the house she grew up in, the studio she painted in, the artefacts and the every-day objects  she left behind – is intended for the art-interested public and the remaining family of Jellett alike. 
Busts on the living room mantlepiece
Jellett is not visible in the images (unless in photographs in photographs), but the things that belonged to her, which she used or which she painted/made are still in the house and give us glimpse of her life. “Tracing Mainie” is a long-term project that is intended to be continued beyond an upcoming exhibition in May 2011 and will hopefully result in a photography book that also contains captions and explanations.
Mainie’s ancestors
The house which Jellett grew up in has been in family ownership for more than 120 years. Not much has been changed in the Georgian House and many artefacts that Jellett would have used and owned back in her day are still on view in the house. However, the family is not paying particular reverence to their ancestor. Sketchbooks, photos, art objects that Jellett produced and used are kept in use. By documenting the remaining objects, the project helps to give proper attention to Jellett’s possessions and surroundings, and may also serve as a reminder to the family to look after Jellett’s heritage.
Mainie’s sketchbooks in a trunk
On a personal level, the motivation for this project came from a curiosity about Jellett’s life and work. Moreover, being an occupant of Jellett’s house myself, I wanted to document my own surroundings which I “share” with Jellett. The latter is also an important aspect for following generations of Jellett descendants who may grow up in her house. As time progresses and changes are made, her remaining artefacts may get lost. In the photographs they will remain forever.
Hall table

Phone and Shoot

Online photo community flickr is a good barometer for current trends in photography. With 4.5 billion images hosted on the photo sharing site, there are some interesting statistics available there. Mind you, the majority of flickr users are of course photo amateurs. Nonetheless, the current stats published on are actually mind-blowing. Or would you have guessed that the iPhone 4 is about to overtake the Nikon D90 as the most popular camera in the flickr community?

According to their graphs, the iPhone 4 has been an overwhelming success story in terms of photo uploads. Remember – the iPhone was only launched at the end of June 2010. Nikon’s D90 has been around for about three years, and is a proper SLR to boot (yehyeh, don’t shoot me, Canon users…). And yet the iPhone 4 accounts for almost as many uploads as the D90. So close are the two “cameras”, in fact, that we can assume the iPhone 4 is going to overtake the D90 in popularity within weeks.

No power for no one – shot on iPhone 4

What is the implication of this meteoric rise of the camera phone? Well, nothing really. If you are a serious photography head, you will laugh at any box that does not have a single lens and a collapsing mirror. But you may find, like I do, that the camera phone has already crept into photographic pratice. Proud owner of an iPhone 4 myself, I appreciate the fact that I carry a camera with me now, whenever I leave the house. I try to bring marky Mark with me almost all the time. But let’s face it: It is a heavy piece of equipment that bears down on your shoulders. Bouncers give you trouble if your equipment looks too professional when you are trying to go to a gig. And taking an expensive camera to a weekend festival where you also might want to leave the camera behind to go wild enjoy yourself without lugging the equipment around, you are simply asking for it to be stolen. The iPhone 4 allows you to phone point and shoot while still taking half-way decent pics.

I don’t think I will ever become as attached – photographically – to my iPhone as to lovely, reliable, gorgeous marky Mark, but it has helped me out on occasion (as mentioned in this recent post). I love the easiness of it, not much fumbling with settings just quickly recording a gig, “grabbing a slice of reality” to annoy impress my FB friends with what I am seeing, documenting family life in a handy and always-accessible photo album. The image quality is crap way below anything shot on a proper camera. But as a quick capture of memories it is unsurpassed.

Snap on!

Art or Craft?

The fact that you are reading this blog means, that you love photography. Needless to say, so do I. Hang on, I need to qualify that. I like the process of taking pictures – thinking of a project or a motive, being outside or in the studio, setting up the lighting, deciding the settings for my exposure – which culminates in that split-second “high” of pressing the shutter release, followed by the curious glance at the display screen. … And then it kind of fizzles out, to be honest. Because what I am not particularly fond of is post-production. I just about tolerate transferring the images onto my laptop, archiving them and checking them on the bigger screen. But then I hit the wall.

Unfortunately that is where the real challenge starts. Getting pictures ready for display – or for submitting into college – is what I still need to learn about. Sometimes, though, sometimes, inspiration strikes. Something catches your eye, your aesthetic tastebuds are tickled and you feel the need to work on your images. I am currently in the throes of deadline stress artistic experimentation. It has been set off by researching a favourite painter of mine, Mainie Jellett, whose house I am photographing for college. And now I am looking into referencing Jellett’s cubism in my photography. And I am playing with collaging and modifying my photos.

That’s just an experiment, trying to emulate the strong block outlines on Jellett’s abstract compositions, playing with the irregular shapes of some of her canvasses. I kind of like it, but this little doubt remains: Is there any extra value in modifying an image? Is documentary not valuable enough? Is artistic expression worth more than realistic documentation? Or really what I mean is: Is that all artsy-fartsy crap? Seriously?

In this particular case, I need to make a decision (fast!!!! deadline is approaching at lightning speed!) whether I want this to be a straightforward documentary-style submission, or whether it is an art project with less obvious content but more aesthetic value. When I started out in college year before last, I thought I’d be well into the art side of things. But can one decide to be an artist? I don’t think so. I think it is decided for you. And over the course of the last 18 months I have been coming round to the realisation that art may not be where my strength lies.

Originality excapes me. But at least I still have my capacity to be self-critical. Let’s see whether that also extends to the capacity to accept criticism. Go on, slag me.

Pi(e)ling up the Pounds

Disgusting, bitter tasting, long lingering, much too expensive. That’s humble pie for you. Actually, I get it for free quite often. I am having another slice of it. And you can watch me eat it and gloat: It’s from an ND pie, actually… Yeeeeeeees, I concede defeat. I was wrong. ND filters have a right to exist. And I was rash in pronouncing them unnecessary. I sooo could have done with one yesterday!

Boats in Dun Laoghaire Harbour

The table was truly set for me. I was wrong clueless on so many levels, I should really eat a whole photography humble pie. The weather being bright and sunny, I decided to go out to Dun Laoghaire pier and practice a bit. I packed the gear, even brought the 70-300mm lens, and grabbed the tripod on the way out. I lugged the latter all the way to the harbour and onto the pier, telling myself, I would play around with some long exposures of the waves on the rocks.

The first slice of pie: I should have known the weather conditions were far too bright for a play with long exposures! Photography is logical, and here is the theory behind it: It was bright and sunny. In order to get a long exposure, I needed to balance it out with the aperture set at the highest f-stop I could get. But that didn’t do the trick; with f22 I was still at 1/125 of a second, even at ISO 100.

The second slice (and the bitterest tasting, really): The only thing that could’ve given me darker conditions in which to set the shutter speed really slow (apart from some dark clouds), is a bloody ND filter. *arrrrrrgh* And that’s one of the things I ridiculed the other day when I was in ranting mode. So gimme the ND filter, I’ll even wear the anorak!

Slice 3 –  What’s the point of lugging a tripod around when you have no need to shoot at slow shutter speed (hence need a steady camera)? The sea was as calm as a millpond. No dramatic waves crashing picturesquely onto rocks. Should’ve checked the wind before I brought out the tripod. Yeah, I looked important, casually carrying my big tripod *haha*, but that was about the only benefit I could get. And only from those not in the know.

I really have to cut down on humble pie-eating. I’ll be non-controversial from now on. And I’ll wear that anorak to hide the humble pie slices, pi(e)ling up!

The Concept Crap… eh… Trap

Concept is overshadowing skill in contemporary photography! There is another provocative theory of mine. Seriously, the stuff you nowadays see from established and newbie “emerging” photographers… (Don’t you hate these terms? “Emerging”. As in: I have just hatched from the egg, the slime and goo are still sticking to my feathers. *doh*) Where has good, old-fashioned proficiency gone? Is concept all and competence secondary? What is the key to making good photography?

Rusty keys growing from a tree in The Square.

Art has to push the boundaries both of its own genre’s conventions, as well as the society it documents/criticises/interprets. Photography is not just a simple representation of reality, but an art form in its own right, with its own aesthetics and possibilities. Therefore and undoubtedly, originality of ideas is needed to bring something new to photography. But some of the crap stuff you see in galleries nowadays just simply throws me.

What is it with monster size prints of “carpark with telephone poles“, “white blobs on blurry background”  or series of photographs with “untidy crap on dirty window sill“. Yeah, I guess you can come up with some serious meta-blurb about the alienation of society and the subjectivity of perception. Or the beauty of the banal and the reality of decay. And now jumble the words: the alienation of perception and the society of subjectivity. Or the beauty of decay and the banality of reality. Equally valid? Well, game, set, match Sonja – the concept is as interchangeable as the images. And the images do not even stand up by themselves.

Yes, this is some serious blasphemy here. After all I am using images from three established artists – Seawright, Goldin, Tillmans – as examples. I am not saying that subject matter has to be of superficial aesthetic merit. There is beauty in the mundane! But to get back to the beginning of my post: Would these images/concepts stand up, if they were produced by a new name on the scene, an unestablished photographer who does not have agents and galleries behind him/herself? I somehow doubt that. And yet newbies are being forced under the yoke of concept, when it comes to art photography.

The concept crap trap certainly puts me off from pursuing art photography. No, I am not advocating pictorialism. But I would like to see relevant images, that are skilfully produced. And I would like to see an equality of perception when it comes to new and established photographers. Or should that be a perception of equality? Anyway, good bye, bye good.

Put up or Shut up!

Right, I have got to get out of the habit to rant – as much as I enjoyed my “obstinacy week”, last week. But it seems as if I have alienated a portion of my readership at this stage, with my nasty comments about nerd potential and gizmo addiction.

Put up or shut up, Sonja! I went to a photography trade fair yesterday. (Yes, nerd city, and me a citizen of that, of course.) This being Ireland, it was not a fair on the scale of the Photokina. Unfortunately. There were a number of businesses represented which showed their latest products from areas like post-production software, camera equipment or general photography supplies. As usual, the men-women-ratio was rather unfairly divided with about 85% of the visitors carrying a Y-chromosome. Not that I mind that – I was not in search of a hen party, I was there for the photography. But I was slightly put out by what happened to me and my friend and fellow student J___.

Ok, picture these two women ambling through the fair. Me carrying my camera bag, but marky Mark not on show. My blasphemous “I am unimpressed with Nikon”-bag over the shoulder. We are walking around, when this man, wielding a big camera, more or less jumps into our path. “Ladies, would you like a free make-over?” “Ehm, do we need one???” “Please have a free make-over.” “No, isn’t that going to take too long?” “Ah, it’ll only take 20 minutes.” “Ah, we don’t know…” “Please, have a make-over!” And *bang* he pushed J___ behind the stall onto the stool into the make-up artist’s hands. – Doubtful result of the “make-over” aside: Maybe I am overly sensitive here, and/or maybe I am still that feminist shotgun dame of my radical youth, but I felt that we were being labelled as “photographers’ girlfriends – need some entertainment at boring trade fair that they are accompanying hubbies to”. *graaaaaaaaaah* How come your man didn’t ask a man to be made over?

Anyway, we attended a couple of seminars on product photography and portrait lighting that were quite interesting. A good few notes were taken and some things will have to be checked out. So the € 10 entrance fee was not altogether lost.

I am not back-pedalling on what I said last week, but I do have to eat a couple of slices of humble pie, too. I admit, that some gadgets I’ve seen I am actually quite interested in. No, not the ND 10 😛 – but I would actually like to experiment with an infrared filter. If I ever find the time…