Monthly Archives: March 2012

Go and Shoot

Another weekend, another canteen shoot. This time it took me into a Dublin department store, courtesy of another one of my lovely friends in photography, J___. After shooting my main 4×5 shots, I preceded with my usual digital exploration of the places in question. And one shoot in J___ commented: “Oh, you are like me, you do just go and shoot.”
What you see below is a typical example of my policy of non-intervention. When I go on shoots for my canteen project or any other documentary-style shoot, I never touch my environment. I do not change anything around me. Just as my friends get me warts and all, I also shoot warts and all: I believe that reality can only be reproduced adequately if we do not intervene with its shape and form. Mind you, I am aware that me making a picture is already a form of intervention. Just the act of pressing the shutter release will result in only an interpretation of reality but not representation of reality. 
The truth of the matter is, of course, that I am a lazy slob. I just don’t like getting my fingers dirty and as a rule I do as little cleaning and tidying as I can get away with. Especially in places that I am not responsible for. Just kidding! I am of course a textbook German Hausfrau (although I wouldn’t really recommend anyone to eat from my kitchen floor… my standards have slipped after 13 years of life in Ireland…)! But when I am shooting documentary, prettying the environment up would alter its essence, would mean that I am interfering with its message.
Yes, I could have made this shot more symmetrical. I could have moved the two stools that are half visible at the left and right of the image. I could have taken the salt cellar from the left table and moved the table from the foreground. But messiness is a sign of life, of a place being lived in and used. This is a working canteen and not a showroom for canteen furniture. 
I like messy. It’s real. And so am I. (On both accounts.)

Curiosity Killed the Cat…

No! Curiosity drives the photographer! Don’t you think? 
I was already thinking along those lines when I was shooting at the last location for my college project on staff canteens. It took me into the canteen of a well-known British department store, located in a large shopping centre on the outskirts of Dublin. It was really quiet in there, people obviously not shopping but home after work, because it was already after 6.30 pm. The shop is open until 9 pm, though. But being in a quiet shop wasn’t what thrilled me . What I loved was being allowed to look behind the scenes, however mundane they may be. In this case it meant I was allowed to go through the “staff only” door and into the administrative and logistic vaults.
There is nothing special about the “behind-the-scenes” – if anything it looks worse than the front of house: no natural light, endless corridors, no fancy adornments on walls. What is special is seeing something that is usually hidden. (Ha, you could say that this is interior porn, I guess *rofl*. Rather hardcore, though… ) But if you are a curious cat then that is exactly the attraction – being allowed into spaces that are usually closed: warehouse areas, administrative offices, staff canteens, meeting rooms, catering kitchens, staff corridors…
Being a photographer gives you a reason and an excuse to go, to be anywhere. Because as a photographer you are a documentary maker – and noone ever questions that, as long as you have the camera to prove it ;-). You can follow your own interests and ask to get into places that are otherwise closed to you. And the added bonus of photographing such spaces is the inherent possibility that you may show what you have seen to others by way of your photography… and therefore satisfying other people’s curiosity in turn.
And so I am heading off to another shoot this morning. Today I am going to shoot the staff canteen of Dublin Bus, again a place that I am quite curious about. I am sure it will not be as fancy as the corridor above. But fancy isn’t needed at all – I am not looking for beauty. I am only craving to satisfy my curiosity, curiosity junkie that I am…

Inside Jobs

I have often complained claimed that photography is a lonely business. True, essentially the photographer makes the picture alone – there is only space for one index finger on the shutter release button. But friends can be involved in the process of photography with more than sitting for portraits. (And I have taken my share of exploiting my friends’ availability as models.) But recently I am taking advantage of more than just their pretty faces.
This picture would not have been possible without the wonderful support of my friend B___ …
My final project for college involves shooting staff canteens.  A fairly straight-forward project – if it weren’t for the suspicions that a request for permission to take pictures in a canteen raises!!! Industrial espionage? Food inspectors’ front? MI5 drop zones? Canteen managers must be reading too many thrillers, otherwise I can’t explain why some of my requests for permission to shoot have been rejected. 
The safest way into a canteen – I have found out – is through the door by way of introduction through a company insider. And this is where my friends come in: I have taken advantage of my friendships by asking my friends to get me into their very own staff canteens. They have been very supportive and absolutely great. In fact, more than half of my shoots have been thanks to “inside jobs”! And moreover, my lovely friends have also given up their own free time to accompany me into their canteens after work – and taken some piss-taking from their co-workers as to why they are bringing a weird photographer friend into their (usually fairly non-descript) canteen, of all places.
So, guys, it’s time to be humble. I need to show a bit of appreciation here. Thank you all so much for getting me into your workplaces, for suggesting places I should go to, for giving me input and support. It is much appreciated. And I will make up for it, in some shape or form. I am very happy to have such wonderful friends!

Into Interiors

Phew, I never thought it, but thanks to large format photography and my subsequent decision to make a project about staff canteens I have essentially reaffirmed my interest in interior photography. I have always had an interest in that – except I hadn’t quite copped on. I thought that I bought those interior design magazines every month because I was interested in interior design. No! I bought them, because I like looking at photos that feature interiors. 
There is a major distinction there and I know that that is the case because I have my particular favourites when it comes to the mags that I buy on an irregular basis: My favourite mag is called living etc. And what stands out about the mag is not necessarily the design, but the emphasis on good photography in there – as opposed to some of the cheaper magazines that have the same contents, but print on cheap paper and have shitty images. Not exactly stuff that the editors have shot on their own camera phone, but simply not nicely composed. What I love about the photography in living etc is that quite a few of the photographers seem to work with available light only.  Maybe that is the thing to do in that industry – you probably can’t schlepp the lighting gear around everywhere. Well, actually you could. There are plenty of mobile lighting kits, so… But by using available light, the photography references the design principles that have hopefully been used when designing the spaces – and the light from the windows and fixtures is defining for design.
Anyhow, I had great fun the other day playing with my passion for interior photography and bringing my own (badly developed) sense of graphic design and my expertise as a copy writer into it. While developing my assignment for professional practice, I came up with the idea of presenting my images that have to be shot for that class in the format of a interior design magazine. And I quickly made a mock-up of the cover just for fun:
Would be a dream to actually work in that field. I am wondering how to get into it. Unfortunately it is not the best of times for it. In boom time it would have been a great service to offer home photography for all those people who were selling their properties. Or is that even more important nowadays that people find it hard to sell their houses? Would they be willing to fork out money for that, though? Maybe I should start a survey and find out?Or someone will reply and tell me in the comments what they think about that idea…

One Way Street – No Entry!

Ok, on we go. I have calmed down considerably. Maybe it was a good advice to step away from that project? I nearly had a nervous breakdown last week, if I am totally honest. Well, that’s overstating it, but I had to let the effin’ thing lie for a while and just trust that things would eventually sort themselves out.
They have, to some degree. Well, at least when it comes to further canteens that I am shooting. I have permission to shoot in two more places, four if I finally get my arse in gear and finally shoot in the places I already have organised permissions in… Anyway, I immediately got on to my friend to see if he can assist me in there, show me around etc. We have scheduled our shoot for Friday afternoon.

Really looking forward to that now – I have to get moving again. And I am bloody stuck with the LF. Everyone is pushing me to continue with it. Yet I am still annoyed that I have that millstone around my neck. To clear this up: I LOVE LF photography. I love the outcome, the brillance, the clarity, the richness of detail. I love the process of setting up, of focussing, of shooting. I don’t find it difficult either, and my results have been good so far (apart from that one silly fuck-up), so I am not worried about my technical prowess here. What I am annoyed with is getting the bloody thing to my location!!! Because that makes me dependent on private transport, i.e. a car. I do not have access to a car all the time, and if I do there is still the issue of parking.

Well, however much I complain, it looks as if I am stuck with it. Well then, I better accept it and get on with it.

Audience Taste

“Step away from that project, Ma’m! I need you to step – away – from – that – project!” Alright, alright, I will. Thoroughly disgusted with it, anyway. Or maybe more disgusted with myself? For not knowing what’s up, what’s down, what’s good and what’s shite. Maybe a look at flickr will prove useful in gauging what the public’s taste is?
Check out that image above. An excerpt from my flickr stream. I have deliberately left the small print in because it is more telling than this odd assortment of pictures. Because it provides insight into the likes and dislikes of the audience. Not that the image even records that the pictures have been in any way “liked”, it merely records the amount of times they have been viewed. And yet there are interesting conclusions to be drawn from these six images.
1. People photography sucks!
The picture that has people in it is the one which has the lowest view count by far. It was clicked on only four times. *boohoo*. Ok, it’s quite obviously not a very exciting image, anyway – forgive me please, dear A___ and J___ who are in this shot. Oh,  and K___, too.
2. Never work with animals or children
The picture of a bumble bee – taken by iPhone, not even a proper picture!!! – drew 16 views. My flickr audience therefore seems to be very much interested in animals, I presume? Or was this a case of close-up photography attracting their attention? I must confess that that always draws me in.
3. Sunrise is not tacky
I thought that it was common taste nowadays to abhor sunsets, sunrises and any manner of tacky, colourful sky photo. Well, my sunrise in this example gets quite a bit of attention. 17 views – that’s second place in this unofficial mini-poll. And I am surprised because I thought sky images are only for romantics and imbeciles?

4. Daylight sky rocks – in b/w
Daylight skies, however, are allowed as a photo op. The Curragh Sky gets a good mid-range view number. And now the surprising bit: The b/w version of the same image gets more views than the full colour original. Hm. Is b/w more dramatic? Is it more mysterious and therefore people click to see it in full size? Is it more original to take away the colour from a rather ordinary scene and aestheticise it that way?
5. Bland industrialism works
Top spot goes to my canteen shot with 22 views. Ehm. Hello? Somebody care to explain that??? Is it because the image has a pleasing kind of symmetry? Is it the colours which are kind of pleasant and therefore draw the attention of the viewers? Or is it the faint knowledge that there is something written on the ceiling in the shot – and people are ALWAYS curious when they see writing anywhere?
I should draw some conclusions for my own work from this. Here they are: In the future I will take care to shoot sunrises in b/w with a close-up of an animal in the foreground. No idea how I can work the canteen in there. Maybe if I have a breakfast roll in the nearest one, that counts?

Sky’s the Limit

Right, let’s get out of lethargy and back into action. No time for stalling, really. And after a right old pep talk from my second tutor, K___, I am suitably fired up. Hungry for more, you could almost say. You see, the thing with me is that I need positive reinforcement. By that I do not mean a band of SAS soldiers, backing me up while I “shoot”. (Although… come to think if it, if John Porter leads the mission, I might reconsider…) Sorry, getting carried away here *sighs*. What I do mean, however, is that I react to negative criticism with general depression and paralysis while positive criticism spurs me on. The artist as a mimosa??? In my case you could say so. *um* 
I am constantly struggling with the fact that I know when my project does not work. But I cannot put my finger on the why. That’s where a second opinion comes in. Or a third opinion. And listening to my tutors, I immediately understand what they are pointing out and I take it on board. But every time it happens, it totally throws me that they see the solution to my problem and I can’t. Shouldn’t I know this myself? After all I am the most familiar with my project…
Ah well, overanalysing, as usual. I should just get on with it. And in this case that means I need to get more canteens on board here. I am still waiting for a few contacts to get back to me about permissions, but of course this is not something that canteen and facilities managers are particularly pushed about. I may have to go down another route, one that K___ suggested, which is widening the project and looking at any space used for communal eating.
Right, I’ll ring the Garda Commissioner now to shoot in the Garda canteen *ggg*. Well, the sky is the limit!


I am stalling a bit for time here. I know I should be working on many projects – I should be shooting more Hollywood Glamour, organise another canteen to shoot in or to try and get some more interior images done. But guess what? I am somehow a bit burnt out. I don’t think I have ever pursued a project for more than three shoots. 
That’s a slightly shocking admission, isn’t it. Well, it had never occurred to me up until I started studying that a photo project requires more than just being in the right place at the right time. Ok, that is enough if you are doing street photography here and there. But even then that may mean that you shoot 500 images in an hour or lurking on the streets and still come away with nothing.
Similary, set-up shots need more than just one try. I know I have been joking a bit about my four shoots in Trinity. And yet I somehow feel that is the best prepared of my project shoots because I had become so familiar with the place, I really knew about its light, its dark, its nooks and crannies.
Maybe that is why I am not feeling “guilty” anymore about my regular fall-back when it comes to a soothing, beauty project: I love my sunrises. I know they are tacky and overstretched, but somehow they are always new and always challenging. The best thing is: it is right there, in the morning, when I get up, and all I need to do is hang myself out the window and I get the shot. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission, there is no model release form to be signed, the result is instant. I love it – and who knows – maybe my sun-indulgence will eventually become a project in its own right? Ad sole!