Monthly Archives: January 2012

Oh Vienna

Just back from a wonderful short break in Vienna. What a magnificent city, definitely a city of emperors and kings. Despite having been there 25 years ago – yes, literally, I was only 2 years old at the time (ahem…) – I was majorly impressed by the scale of Vienna’s architecture. Such high houses, palatial, baroque, grand, I had forgotten it was so big. Dear dirty Dublin is a mere village… “second city of the Empire” my arse… So you can expect to be inundated with impressions of Vienna in the next while. Cos while there, I took plenty of pictures – and visited three fabulous photo exhibitions which I intend to review on the blog, too.
“Booty” – three exhibitions in Vienna
This is how things go nowadays. I go on holidays or short breaks somewhere, and instead of looking at the sights I go and see photography exhibitions. I used to be very pushed about properly “doing” all the sights and getting an in-depth feel of the place I was visiting. No holiday was worth-while if there wasn’t a museum-a-day on the programme. Photography has changed that. Well, or maybe it is only old age – I am quite happy to forgo museum and castle visits, even ignore the history section in the guidebook and instead just wander around with the camera and explore the place through the lens.
I still like to look at exhibitions, however, and my first port of call when organising a holiday programme is Google for an overview over what is on. On this occasion I was in big, big luck. Vienna was hosting a Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition entitled “The Compass in the Eye”, featuring images from Cartier-Bresson’s travels in the US, Russia and India. This had top priority for me. – Then there was an equally interesting exhibition on fashion photography called “Vanity” with exhibits from fashion photographer C.F. Gundlach’s private collection. Checked. And finally, accompanying “Vanity” was another photo exhibition in the same venue entitled “No fashion please” with photographs from newcomers.
Needless to say I got my priorities not only right but also done – I saw all three exhibitions and was thrilled with myself. Ahem. And I managed to take some lovely images of Vienna as well, as there was a good bit of walking done while there. All that remains is to post-produce them. *yawn*

Photography Testimonial Part 5

Once on SLR, there is no going back. The quality of the images as much as the possibilities of settings spoil you for any other camera. And I am saying that even though I had not really used manual settings until then. A long-distance holiday in China gave me the excuse to buy my first digital SLR camera: the Canon eos 350d.
This is the view of the Bund, Shanghai’s old promenade on the riverfront. The picture was taken – much to the embarrassment of my accompanying friends – from the balcony of “M – The Glamour Bar”. The bar was interesting, too, especially as I rarely go into establishments that call themselves glamorous, but this is definitely the place to go for a cool bar and a great view. Too great to be missed due to silly embarrassments ;-).
Digital changed everything for me. Because of the instant nature of digital photography, I was able to shoot and shoot and learn and learn. No waiting for development involved, no extra costs. For a long time, however, I stayed safely with the automatic settings. I eventually ventured out to half-automatic, using the Av and Tv settings to guide me. With the help of a photo course, however, I finally understood how to operate the settings manually – and there was no holding me back. DoF experiments, slow syncing, night shots, long exposure… Together with a friend who is equally photography-mad I set up our own photogroup and went on regular shoots which we afterwards critiqued and reviewed together. We organised our own private showing of our photo project and we continue to work together.

I am sure there is still more that I don’t know than what I do know about “painting with light”. And the fact that I eventually progressed onto semi-professional equipment and am hoping to receive a degree in photography this summer does not mean that my education has finished. With the constant advances in technology – both in terms of cameras and digital post-production – there will always be something else to learn. And if there is one thing I love about photography, it is, that it allows you to look at the world from a different perspective every day.

Photography Testimonial Part 4

The sad demise of my Pentax compact gave me the opportunity to progress to more sophisticated photographic equipment. I finally got an SLR – in exchange for my old car – in 2001. The Canon eos 500 made me a Canon-girl. I had lots of opportunity to shoot take pictures of my children, take snaps on holidays and get into macro photography. The 35mm to 80mm lens which came with it provided me with everything an amateur needs. I subsequently documented the flower growing business of my friend and even produced lots of cards for sale with my images of flowers. 
My SLR gave me more confidence when taking pictures. I started experimenting more but basically always stayed with the automatic settings as they seemed to do everything right.  At the same time, digital photography was becoming available to the amateur market. I had slightly missed the boat when I invested in my analogue SLR and so had to make use of it for a while until I could afford to finally buy a much coveted digital SLR.
Follow me on the last big leap then, to my first digital SLR in the next instalment of 2picsaweek. The rest is – history 😉

Growth. Sustainability. Globalisation. *YAWN*

The Prix Pictet has only been around for three years – and yet has managed to become one of the most well known photography prizes in the world. That – no doubt – probably on the back of a generous prize money of 100.000 Swiss Francs (€ 82.000) and its contextualisation with one of the buzzwords of the 21st century: “sustainability”. Yes, my eyes kind of glaze over, when I happen upon one of those yawn-inducing vogue words/vague words. And what exactly is the connection of sustainability and photography? Sure,  100.000 Swiss Francs are probably well capable of sustaining a photographer for a while… But otherwise?
Eco jargon taken aside, the current Prix Pictet exhibition “Growth” is touring the world, and since December 2011 it has been on show in Dublin’s Gallery of Photography. Stifling the yawn, I went in to take the opportunity of seeing some big names of international art photography exhibiting in our own town, Christian Als, Vera Lutter, Nyaba Leon Ouedraogo, Thomas Struth and more.
The exhibited artists were all shortlisted for the 2011 Prix Pictet. The winning entry is Mitch Epstein’s body of work “American Power”. An impressive visual documentation of the effects of consumerism on his native America, Epstein found vistas which contrasted the presence of monumental industrial plants beside evidence of nature, sustainable living *yawn* and renewable energy *zzzz*. – What? Where? Who? Sorry, must have fallen asleep there. And that’s a bit mean, because Epstein’s images are far from boring. They are well composed and brilliantly evocative. It’s just… haven’t we seen all this before?
I was certainly much more excited by some of the other projects on show. Take Vera Lutter’s “Body of work” for instance. Yes, the title of her body of work is body of work. And that is not a printer’s mistake, but appropriate when you look at the images: Lutter went around photographing industrial growth, i.e. she photographs industrial scenes, industrial plants, factories. Her technical concept is interesting, though – her images are captured by pinhole photography. What an amazing contrast: the simplest and most basic form of photography that anyone could replicate with a box, a piece of film and a bit of tape. And this juxtaposed with the accomplishments of 21st century industry. The resulting images are negatives, of course, and she displays them as such. Particularly her inside view of a zeppelin plant had me transfixed: Wonderful detail and clarity – and a zeppelin vanishing in thin air… (Presumably the airship must have been moved while she was exposing via pinhole, hence the incomplete image.)
Own pinhole experiment, 2009
Yeondoo Jung’s project “Evergreen Tower” had me transfixed. Possibly because the accompanying slide show was hypnotical with its slow transits from image to image. Jung took family portraits in a residential tower block in Seoul. The flats inside the tower are identical. The people and their lives are not. And maybe just because he is placing the camera always in the same spot, facing the balcony windows, taking a straight-on shot of the boxy living rooms, the differences between the flats and the people are highlighted. It is amazing how much you can deduce from one glimpse at a family’s apartment – and one split second of their lives. At least that they all favour a certain make of sideboard…
“Architecture of Density” by Michael Wolf had me in goosepimples and in thrall in equal measure. Wonderfully abstract and graphic, the images by Wolf depict a monotony of concrete towerblocks, multi-storey, all regular lines, all angles, all lifeless. Or really? Taken in Hong Kong, Wolf shows the most densely populated area of the world. The high-rise buildings appear uninhabited. Only upon closer inspection there are signs of life: washing lines in front of the windows, curtains, air conditioning. I was actually delighted to even spot a human being in the photograph entitled aod #43. And even more so when I realised that it depicts a man looking through binoculars. How wonderful is that – the process of spying being captured on film while spying. Beautiful and thought-provoking.
There are more noteworthy projects in the exhibition – but instead of boring everyone to tears here, I suggest you head down to the gallery yourselves. You must hurry up – it is on until January 15th, only!
Prix Pictet – “Growth”
Gallery of Photography
’til Jan 15th, 2012.

Photography Testimonial Part 3

Photo technology was getting more sophisticated in the 80s. And so was I. The first compact cameras came in, and I was at the forefront with my Pentax Espio 115. This was a rather heavy, but therefore sturdy camera with an inbuilt flash and – a motorised zoom! 38mm to 115mm meant that you could take nice macros. I read the manual back to back (forgot all about the manual settings) but learnt that if photographing people, as a rule of thumb one should always get them as big into the picture as possible. 
The Pentax certainly was the one that really set me on my way to photography. I started arranging little still lifes for table top shoots – just for the fun of it. I enjoyed several years of photographing with it and was always happy with the quality of the images. A large number of B/W photos made it into my college thesis in the mid-90s. 
The Horseshoe 1996
Then it sadly fell on the floor and smashed.
What happened next? Find out in Part 4 of the Photography Testimonial :-).

Photography Testimonial Part 2

Still reminiscing here about my path into photography and the pieces of equipment that sent me on my way. In hindsight, they really were not the greatest stuff at all. Some credit goes to my dad who was always interested in photography himself, snapping away and recording everything for posterity. From the 1970s onwards he shot everything on slide film – which was regarded as a nuisance by photographic nimwits like my mother and myself who were disappointed that the slides were not instantly accessible in the same way that a photoalbum is. My father, however, knew, that the best quality pictures you could only shoot on positive film…
 
But I digress. My approach to photography seemed to get better when my dad handed me down his Revue Automatic Camera when he bought himself a Minolta SLR in about 1984. The Revue 400S was a fixed-lens rangefinder with only a couple of manual options – portrait or landscape anyone? – and it was built for the photographic department German mailorder store Quelle. (See an image of the 400S here.) The Revue accompanied me on my first holiday to Ireland. I snapped away and got some decent pictures as a result.
Fanad Head, Co. Donegal
This was the first time that I realized how satisfying it was to take pictures – not to simply point the magic eye somewhere and push a button, but to think about the composition. What did I want to have in the image? Could I frame a view nicely with a few branches from a tree above? How would I get a sunset transferred onto film?  I remember taking pictures from my attic window just to try out.
Follow me making the leap to my first *new* camera in the next instalment of my Photography Testimonial…

Ready to Start

Happy new year, everyone. All well? All poised for 2012? A fresh start is always nice, isn’t it? And if you are a history head like myself, it also is an occasion to look back – which I intend to do over the next few posts.
Where does this sentimentality come from? Sudden realisation that I am old and withered? Impending old age and death before my eyes? No. Rather, I came across a piece of paper while perusing some old photo albums back home over Christmas. That sent me on a trip down memory lane…
This is a birthday wishlist for my 8th birthday which occurred in 1977 *arrrrrrgh* (f*ck, I am old). Sorry, it is in German (yours truly had not started her love affair with the English language back then), but you may nonetheless surmise what the top wish was?! A “Fotoapparat” – a camera, also illustrated top left. What a sweet discovery this wish list was for me! To find corroborated my love for photography back then… It almost seems like an authorization of my present occupation.
So, photography has always been something that I was interested in. My first camera was my mum’s old 35mm camera (no SLR) from the 1960s that produced rather dull pictures. (Or was it me who produced the dull pictures?) That was the camera I was given as a response to above wish list. In the late 70s I was given an Agfa Pocketcamera. Those cameras were then sold as practical easy cameras. The film was transported by squeezing the camera together. There were no settings, just one little red button to push. The attractive sound it produced when transporting the film certainly spurned me on to take pictures. But back then, developing film was expensive – and my parents did not exactly encourage taking unnecessary pictures.
Let’s draw the veil of blindness over the resulting pictures. They are nothing to write home about. What was important was, that a flame had been ignited, the love for photography started. Little did I know where this was eventually leading… Well, I still don’t know where it will lead me, ultimately. Who does? What matters is that photography still gives me immense pleasure. And I hope it will stay like that for the next year, too. Hugs and wishes to all of you!