Category Archives: photographers

More Antique Portraiture

Bear with me. There’s a number of portraiture shots coming up over the next weeks. There was just too much going on with Locks and Lashes recently *ggg*. They keep me shooting – which is great, btw.

I have always been fascinated by the Hollywood Glamour style of photography. The use of light – or rather shade! – is just so dramatic, and makes the sitters look good in any case. I came across the “inventor” of Hollywood Glamour photography when I was researching for one of my college projects. George Hurrell actually had pretensions of becoming a painter. He initially started photographing as an aide for his painting. Or rather, to document his paintings. Gradually, however, he got into photography, takeing pictures of other artists’ paintings and eventually discovering that he could actually earn money with photography. Hurrell revolutionised portrait photography and famously declared that it was not about where the light was, but where the shadows are.

He also invented possible the boom light. An obvious idea for a photographer to have – easily movable lights that can illuminate the sitter from above, drowning out lines and wrinkles, creating what we nowadays call beauty light. Not only did Hurrell perfect the lighting techniques he pioneered, according to a website I found, he was also a master of retouching. I could go on and on here with more examples of his fascinating work. The photographs are just stunning. And while I am neither a fan of Hollywood nor of beauty as such, this footnote in photographic history utterly transfixes me.

Not that I come close to his work, but it’s certainly an inspiration, and it is fun to play with light and shadow. Here is my take on it:

Locks n Lashes (33)

Light is too soft for Hurrell – and it’s a colour image, too, but I like the shadows drowning the image to the right. It pays to look at the old masters, in any case.

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A Gaggle of Photographers

What do you get when four photographers go on a mini-break together? Two car boots full of gear – and hardly any pictures taken. Well, I exaggerate. The boots also held our overnight bags and a shopping trolley full of bottles. But prepared we were. The four of us were heading off for a weekend in the country. Admittedly, the intention was not to go on a photo excursion. We only wanted to spend some time together, away from it all, enjoying each others’ company. Not since the end of our degree course last summer had we been together so intensely. Plus – without any pressure of impending deadlines or looming exams.

However, the full loot of the weekend away was 12 shots taken with Marky Mark – and 30 iPhone shots. *arrrrgh* And I really couldn’t pretend that there was nothing to photograph. As a matter of fact, the area where we were, turned out to have some of the most stunning Irish scenery I have ever come across. South Co. Fermanagh with its interconnected waterways and Lough Erne was absolutely gorgeous, both on the cloudy Saturday, as well as the bright and sunny Sunday.

Alas, we were not exactly doing photo-friendly things, I suppose… The most stunning vistas passed us by as we were sitting in the car, driving to our first port of call – a cave. Now, I have shot in caves before. (And you can see some evidence of that here…) But – if you have seen *one* cave, you have seen them all… Not that that would keep me from visiting yet another cave. I still love going underground – but this cave was really special because the tour involved a little boat ride on the underground river that has created the cave system of Marble Arch Caves. On the flipside, dark, damp caves are just not particularly conducive to shooting pictures. That coupled with the fact that my footwear was rather incompatible with cave exploration (flipflops should really only be worn on sandy beaches, not rough, wet, subterranean passage ways), meant that I stowed Marky Mark safely in my camera bag because I just didn’t trust myself to slip, bump, stumble or trip and crash the precious hardware in the dark. The iPhone was much quicker, too, as opposed to the fancy-schmancy massive cameras which brought up the rear of the group *ahem*.

If it hadn’t been for the proximity of a particularly stunning view just 2 minutes away from the Caves carpark, I would not have exercised Marky Mark’s shutter even *once* all weekend… What was so beautiful of this view was the absence of signs of habitation in it. There was one farm house in the distance, but everything else was green rolling hills, cliffs, a table mountain in the distance. A few cows dotting the landscape, some trees – this could’ve been Hobbiton for all I know…

Hobbiton, Co. Fermanagh. Awwwww.

BTW, I must point out that I was not the *only* lazy photographer. None of my fellow snappers made many photographs. Does it matter? Hell, no. The impressions are all there in our brains. The eyes are, probably, the best camera in the world. They only really haven’t yet developed a printer that you can rig up to your hippothalamus and print what your eyes recorded. Unless  you consider drawing from memory an adequate conservation and sharing process. Analog, though.

A wonderful weekend it was, nonetheless. And any time spent with good friends is worth-while, even if you don’t make any pictures at all. But if I am honest, I would love to go back – and next time hardly take the camera away from my eye. Must go on my own then, because two many photographers spoil the picture.

(Anti-)War Photography – Part 2

It has taken me a whole month to finally conclude with part 2 of my impressions of the thought-provoking photography talks that I attended at the Borris House Festival of Writing & Ideas 2013. (Read Part 1 here.) What has finally prompted me to conclude is the arrival of a photobook that I ordered as a result of the talks, and I will discuss that in a separate post at another time. But back to Borris, Co. Carlow, where A___ and I had travelled with the intention of fangurling over Don McCullin.

Booking the second photography-related talk that was on the same afternoon that we had heard McCullin being interviewed by Colm O’Gorman, was a bit of an after-thought. Billed as “candid discussion on war journalism by three of its most admired practitioners”, I had never heard of the other two particpants, Ben Anderson and Giles Duley. To my shame! There was only sparse info on the Festival website, but the main attraction for booking the event was hearing Don McCullin speak twice. At € 10 a no-brainer, considering that we were over there in Borris, anyway.

The Venue in Borris, Co. Carlow. Incidentally I snapped Duley and Anderson in the foreground of the iPhone image – before I knew who they were…

The talk with McCullin had been great, but in retrospect we had heard nothing that we hadn’t already seen in the eponymous documentary. Interestingly, but maybe not surprisingly then, the talk with Duley and Anderson turned out to be the highlight of the day. We were in the presence of three impressive, remarkable men. – Duley set the tone of the event right at the beginning. The talk was taking place in the private chapel of Borris House, where the panel sat behind the altar rails at the front. Duley had been setting up a slideshow of photographs at the front, facing the audience as he was clicking on his laptop. Clutching his beer glass, he turned around and took the right-most seat and deposited his pint next to his chair to his left. As the discussion had just started, he suddenly broke out in loud laughter, leaned over to Anderson who was sitting in the middle and whispered something to him. Anderson got up and moved Duley’s beer glass from his left to his right. “I haven’t got a hand on that side!”, Duley cheerfully informed the audience and chuckled again.

As I had not done my homework – again! – and researched the participants prior to the talk, it only occurred to me then that Duley was missing an arm. But from this episode it was already clear that this man was not in any way broken, despite a broken body. Duley duly took the lead in the discussion, launching it by explaining his own path into photography – a path that was actually inspired by discovering McCullin’s work at age 18. He became a photographer and specialised in music and fashion photography. Burnt out after a few years, he completely stopped, not seeing any value in his work. He abandoned his career as a photographer and stopped photographing entirely. Instead, he became a careworker, intensely looking after a single client. Gradually, it occurred to him that he wanted to tell the story of his client through photography. Motivated by compassion, this launched an interest in telling the unheard stories of those without a voice. He started covering the stories of conflict victims and humanitarian issues and shot in places like the Sudan, culminating with a project in Afghanistan where he wanted to show the impact of conflict on all victims of war, including soldiers. While embedded with the US Army in Afghanistan, Duley stepped on a landmine, losing three limbs – and almost his life. He became the story. And he became a victim. But not really a victim – the audience could clearly see his unbroken spirit, positive attitude, courage and will.

Anderson’s track record is equally impressive. An investigative journalist, Anderson has been covering conflict for the last ten years. He has filmed a number of in-depth documentaries in conflict zones such as Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Cuba. In 2007 he was embedded with the British Army in Afghanistan, later he followed the US Marines on their battle for Marjah which resulted in an insightful documentary of the same name. His most recent work is the deeply disturbing documentary “This is what winning looks like”, which again took him back to Afghanistan, covering the preparations for the take-over of the Afghan security services after the international troops leave the country in 2014. (Urging all readers to watch this film online on Vice.com. The documentary will have you shake your head in disbelief, disgust and horror!)

It was clear from the introductions and the following discussion that neither of these men are in their dangerous business for fame and fortune. They appear to be deeply compassionate people who have an urge to tell stories, to document, to give a voice to the victims of conflict and to speak the truth. They embodied that in the way they appeared on the panel and spoke candidly of their experiences and their work. It was clear that you can and must believe them and trust them.

McCullin stayed at the side-lines in this discussion, allowing the two younger men to explain their perspectives and to talk about the challenges of their work. What shocked me most was that both spoke of their difficulty of getting funding for their work. They are both free-lancers. There is no media corporation in the background to pay and pamper them. Their way of working is the way all free-lancers work: You work first, and get paid later. With an outlay of time and money, they have great difficulty getting their work published. Noone wants to see this??? Where has the world come to? A dumbed-down celebrity culture?

That was McCullin’s description of our contemporary world. When directly asked for advice on the future career paths of Duley and Anderson, McCullin emphatically discouraged them from continuing with conflict coverage. “It is not worth the high price that you pay, personally!” His view is, of course, shaped by his own experiences. It is a retrospective view and an honest answer. Somehow, though, I disapprove of his honesty here. The world needs courageous people like Anderson and Duley, to push our noses in the mess that we have created on this planet. Even if McCullin’s experience tells him otherwise, the public still has to be able to see reality, if we so wish. Not all the world is disinterested. And maybe we, as the public, should make that clear by supporting the work of documentary makers such as Anderson and Duley by buying their books and by pushing for publishing. Buying their work would also help fund their future projects. (See links to books at the bottom of the text.)

Anderson and Duley, thankfully, expressed in clear terms that they will not cease their pursuit of truth. They clearly held their “elder” in respect and awe, but their own convictions clearly shone through their contribution to this panel discussion. Both spoke eloquently and awarely of the challenges and ethical dilemma of their work – documenting the essence of human suffering by shoving a lens into the victims’ faces. They appear to be very conscious of the dangers of their professions (well, obviously) and the exploitative nature of photographic/cinematographic documentation. They are a generation after McCullin whose (provocatively emphasised?) outdated views occasionally drew a hiss from the audience – such as his slightly chauvinist remark, that he could not understand why women would cover conflict as reporters, photographers or filmmakers. – But then again, what do we know? We have seen nothing yet, while he has been there.

The discussion, although light in tone, was one of the most impressive talks I have ever attended. The personalities of the three speakers held everyone in thrall, as they spoke openly and honestly about their experiences, the media, their respective areas of media, their view of their work and the state of conflict zones in general. There was no bravado and no non-chalance in the face of war. All three, McCullin, Anderson, and Duley, came across as honest, deeply humanitarian individuals. Frankly, with people like this in the world, we can rest assured that the stories of the victims will be heard. That does not absolve us from our own responsibilities, and we should be conscious of the fact that they are paying a high personal price for the pursuit of truth. The least we can do, is spread their message by talking about their work and by supporting them through buying their books or pushing locally for opportunities of showing their projects.

Ben Anderson: No Worse Enemy

Giles Duley: Afghanistan 2012

Don McCullin: Unreasonable Behaviour: An Autobiography

(Anti)-War Photography – Part I

This is a dangerous post. One that runs danger of becoming a sermon. Or a virtual soapbox rant. Or a glorification. Hence I have been mulling over it for more than a week, trying to get my emotions sorted, and am only posting now. I had not anticipated that at all when I booked tickets for the event that I was allowed to be present at the weekend before last. A month or two ago a friend of mine spotted the announcement of an event in the deepest, darkest sticks of Ireland which featured a talk by photographer Don McCullin. Ever since watching the documentary “McCullin” in the cinema last February, I have been an admirer of McCullin and his work. He impressed me as an honest, honorable, humble man, who reflected back on his life as a photographer in warzones with self-criticism and integrity. He also made some of the most stunning imagery during his 55 years as a photographer – both in war and in peace. I did not have to think twice when I heard he was speaking at the “Borris House Festival of Writing and Ideas” – I booked the tickets straight away, and also convinced my fiends A___ and C___ that we should also attend the other event the same day that featured McCullin in conversation with fellow photographer Giles Duley and film maker Ben Anderson. Booked – and nearly forgotten. No, that is not quite true – I had not forgotten it at all. I was hugely looking forward to seeing McCullin in the flesh, hearing him speak, and soaking up his wisdom.  Even the prospect of sitting inside on a day of glorious sunshine did not deter me. I knew, this was going to be great. But nothing prepared me for the impact the talks were going to have on me.

The big day came, and A___ and myself made our way out to the village of Borris, Co. Carlow, 140 kilometres away from Dublin. To my shame I have to admit that I had not bothered to prepare for the two talks at all. All I knew was that Don McCullin was going to speak twice, and we were going to be there. Where “there” was, I did not care, neither did I look into the two other panelists that McCullin was going to appear with. Nor the venue for the event, which turned out to be an 18th century gem of a mock-Tudor country pile, the ballroom and chapel of which were the stage for the talks.

We arrived pretty much right on time for the McCullin talk. He was being interviewed very thoughtfully and efficiently by Colm O’Gorman, and proved to be every bit as honest and of integrity as he had come across in the documentary film. McCullin spoke about his growing up and his path into photography. How his humble beginnings in an underprivileged part of London proved to be both a preparation as well as a motivation for his later career as a documentary photographer in war zones. McCullin’s modesty proved to be a decisive obstacle for O’Gorman to get at his motivations for putting his own life at risk in order to make the pictures that would shock and inform the public. Yes, he did want to bring the stories of the unfortunate victims of war back to the public, but what kept him doing his work was a selfish desire to better himself, an addiction to the adrenaline-fuelled life in a warzone and the pleasures of being served complimentary drinks on a flight back home. There was nothing noble about what he did, he claimed. And looking back on his years covering conflict, he saw little worth-while in it. Nothing had changed. Wars still affect the poorest and the defenseless the most. And his pictures did not have any power to change that, he resignedly claimed. – There was an atmosphere of negativity around him, despite his obvious good-spirited humour. No rose-tinted glasses for McCullin. Wars still destroy lives, and it is an awful shame that mankind cannot employ their brains for peaceful conflict-solution. His work as a documentary photographer has taken its toll, and clearly,McCullin does not feel that his efforts have made any difference.

For a man with a conscience, it seems impossible to put the years spent documenting wars at rest. There is the air of a haunted man around him – all to easy to understand and to forgive, considering what the man must have seen – and *has* seen. We know the evidence. He documented it with his imagery that has become iconic over the years. The grieving wife in Cyprus (1963), the shell-shocked soldier in Vietnam (1968), the starving Albino child in Biafra (1969)… there are too many to mention. Having seen all that, and knowing first hand that these people died or suffered (innocently) must leave scars on your soul.

McCullin is extraordinarily hard on himself. Has he really not made any difference? I do not think so. No man can single-handedly stop a war. Noone can change mankind’s belligerent nature. And even if McCullin was unable to help those whose suffering he documented, he *has* made a difference. He has spread the knowledge about the individual conflicts he was covering. He brought awareness of the impact of war on its participants and victims to the world. And even if he could not get governments to stop their support of war, his work will not have been in vain if just *one single person* has felt affected by his images. Hearing him talk about the story of the Biafra child made me cry twice – in the documentary and again at the interview in Borris. Undoubtedly *thousands* have felt affected by his images. And it is difficult not to feel affected by the man himself – his uncompromising honesty and his humility are to his credit.

Having been asked at the end of the talk whether it was worth it, he answered clearly “no”. While I cannot speak for the price he has paid as an individual, I otherwise dispute that. It was worth it. And I thank him for his effort.