Archive for Photography

Horizons broadened

A couple of accidental discoveries that have broadened my horizons a little over the last few days…

Accidental Discovery #1: In the absence of anything else to do on a dreary Sunday afternoon, Sarah and I dropped in to Oriel Ynys Mon in Llangefni, intending to view the exhibition of previously unseen Charles Tunnicliffe’s portraits (he being famous for his wildlife art…). Just before we arrived, the Association of Anglesey Arts Clubs’ exhibition had also opened, so we wandered in, without expectation. We were pleasantly surprised at the excellent standard of work on display, particularly with the work of Jenny Armour; so much so, that we bought 3 of her 4 works in the exhibition. Check her Facebook page out; I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as we were.

Accidental Discovery #2: I look for any photography books coming into Bangor’s Oxfam branch while I’m there doing my volunteering. One that caught my eye last week was “Letting Go Of The Camera (Essays On Photography & The Creative Life)”, by Brooks Jensen. I was intrigued, and having bought it, I’m finding it very entertaining. It’s essentially a series of anecdotes and musings on trying to make a living from photography as an artistic pursuit. I followed up on Brooks Jensen, and his web site contains many freely-downloadable photo-essays and books in PDF format. His work is excellent, and very well worth looking at, covering many different types of photography.

Two exhibitions – Julia Margaret Cameron v. Richard Learoyd

Whenever I visit London, I try to visit as many photography exhibitions as I can squeeze in and this time has been no exception.

Yesterday, I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, to see an extensive exhibition celebrating 150 years since the revered 19th century portrait photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, began her work. Cameron was associated with the South Kensington Gallery for many years, and exhibited her work there contemporaneously.

Her portraits were almost without exception very carefully staged, often to represent biblical or other classical scenes. She quickly gained expertise with, by today’s standards, very cumbersome equipment and painstaking processes, and developed a style that ran contrary to most of her peers. She often deliberately used soft focus, or even out of focus in her photographs. She would also present pictures with visible flaws – blots, scratches or dust on the prints, but make them a virtue, when the rest of the photographic community was striving for perfection.

However, ground-breaking though her approach was and iconic as her portraits unarguably are in the context of portrait photography, her style hasn’t worn well, for me. The poses look a little too staged, and the themes are beyond corny. All of the subjects, without exception, look miserable; of the dozens of portraits in the exhibition, not one betrayed even the beginnings of an enigmatic Mon Lisa-like smile. This may have been partly due to the long exposure times need to make some of the images, but joie de vivre seemed to be sadly lacking. The upshot of this is that the subjects end up looking desolate and almost hopeless.

Almost by accident, I ended up getting a second dose of JMC’s work when I visited the Science Museum, just across the road from the V & A. Another 94 equally desolate and depressing images were arranged for my perusal  and they only served to underline the impression I got yesterday.

But also by accident, as I was heading to the JMC exhibition in the V & A, I noticed another gallery with a smaller exhibition by Richard Learoyd, a contemporary photographer who produces large-scale images in a camera obscura. In some respects, they sit in the same sort of territory as JMC’s, but with significant differences that lift them into a more human context.

Most of these images (but not all) are portraits, many of the subjects with similarly unsmiling expressions. Learoyd eschews conventional modern techniques and equipment, and uses very narrow depth of field in most of the images, which focuses the viewer’s attention on a relatively narrow plane in the picture. Some of the compositions break rules such as the rule of thirds; for example, in one pair of pictures of a female subject, her face is placed dead-centre in the frame, with a lot of white space above and around her. But it works.

Despite these similarities to JMC, though, Learoyd’s picture have so much more warmth. Perhaps the brighter lit, unfussy settings help lift the mood, or perhaps it’s the use of colour. Maybe it’s that the subjects are contemporary figures, dressed in modern clothing (where they are dressed at all…), rather than staring blankly out across 150 years.

Whatever it is, the subjects don’t look restricted or stifled. They seem to be expressing their own personalities through the photographer, rather than one that the photographer has imposed upon them. Despite the fact that a couple of the images are distinctly uncomfortable – one featuring a dead hare, the other a profile of a horse’s severed head – I felt much more able to connect with Learoyd’s photographs. JMC’s place in photographic history is assured, and it may be influencing the work of contemporary photographers such as Learoyd, but from that perspective, it’s work is done. I won’t be in a rush to see more of her work in the near future.

Image processing in Android

Finally found a decent RAW processing app for Android – RawDroid. Works very well, and integrates with other installed image processing apps, but the demo version is SLOOOOW and puts watermarks on the images. The Pro version is just over GBP3, though, and promises better speed with no watermarks, so upgrading looks like a no-brainer.

That’s a job for this evening, in the hotel.

Hawking my pics…

Just in case you were champing at the bit to buy my photos – I know it’s a big ask, but please be patient.

I’m developing a shopping cart feature for this site, and it’s difficult to do that in an integrated way without it being visible during the development process, so please ignore anything to do with photo sales for the moment. It won’t be too long before I’ve wrapped my tiny mind around the subtleties of the shopping cart software though, and done the donkey work of adding all of my images-for-sale to the inventory.

When I do, I’ll go public, but in the meantime, should you wish to buy any of the images, please use the Contact Me page to specify which images you want and in what format. I’ll contact you as soon as possible to confirm your purchase.

They are available in exhibition quality, A3+ & A4 sizes, unmounted or mounted on black or white mounting card.

Crap, I know, but the full glory of e-shopping will be available soon.

Eat your heart out, Amazon.

Artist’s Statement

Never having had the gall, until recently, to exhibit my “art” in public, I hadn’t given much thought to how I should articulate my artistic influences and motivations. But having joined the UK’s art elite, I feel compelled to crystallise them into a full personal rationale.

So, here it is:

My work explores the relationship between the tyranny of ageing and counter-terrorism.

With influences as diverse as Camus and Roy Lichtenstein, new tensions are crafted from both mundane and transcendant discourse.

Ever since I was a pre-adolescent I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of the universe. What starts out as vision soon becomes corrupted into a manifesto of futility, leaving only a sense of nihilism and the prospect of a new beginning.

As shifting forms become frozen through boundaried and personal practice, the viewer is left with a testament to the possibilities of our condition.

Confession: Partly because I’m not very good at/keen on personal trumpet-blowing and partly because I couldn’t be arsed, I sought a little help, and found it at the Arty Bollocks Generator web site. The site provided me, with no effort on my part, the triumph of bullshit that you see above. Be honest, though – we’ve all seen stuff written in all seriousness, by and about artists, that matches this, bollock for bollock. It does the art world no favours in my humble view.

So, sod that for a game of soldiers. Here’s the real one:

I like to take photographs. A few occasionally turn out OK, I think. You can have a look at some of them on this site, if you want to. These are the ones that I like.  I hope you like them too, but you may not. Never mind. They’re only photographs.

Yep, that’s more like it.

Change of plan…

Today was supposed to be spent with a couple of colleagues from StreetSeen, prowling the mean streets of Chester and adding to our gritty portfolios. Familial illness and other issues have conspired against us, so it’ll have to be put off until another day. Bah!

Never mind, the weather is pretty lousy anyway – it’ll give me the chance to catch up on some image-editing, and maybe contribute to the refinement of the body of work that I can consider to be almost acceptable.

The Photographers’ Gallery Exhibitions

OK, so here I am in the coffee shop at The Photographers’ Gallery in London’s Ramillies Street, having just visited their three main exhibitions.

The first, “Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity”  is uncompromising; it shows images of the utmost intimacy, brutality, tenderness and fragility in works by eight photographers; seven women – Janine Antoni, Elina Brotherus, Elinor Carucci, Ana Casa Broda, Leigh Ledare, Katie Murray and Hanna Putz and one man – Fred Hüning, alongside each other.

This extensive exhibition fills two whole galleries over two floors and portrays, without cloying sentimentality, all aspects of motherhood.

Elina Brotherus’s five years of trying to become a mother through in vitero fertilisation is not comfortable viewing, and is perhaps the most poignant work on show, although elements of Fred Hüning’s depiction of the loss of a child (his own and his partner’s), runs it close. The latter is redeemed somewhat, though, by images of a later, successful birth, and the subsequent images of the child and his mother. Brotherus’s outcome is less clearly defined – we are left uncertain of her ultimate success or failure.

Leigh Ledare’s photographs are possibly the most challenging, showing a couple of images amongst others, of her own 50-something mother in situations of extreme intimacy with her obviously younger boyfriend.

However, all of the photographers’ works present the viewer with their own challenges. Clichéd, saccharine mother and baby snapshots they most certainly aren’t. I’d recommend anyone to see the exhibition, but be prepared to be confronted with some uncomfortably honest imagery.

For details and examples of the exhibition’s images, visit the exhibition’s page at The Photographers’ Gallery web site.

The second exhbition, “Bibi” by Jacques Henri Lartigue, shows photographs by the renowned French photographer, Jacques Henri Lartigue, documenting his life and relationship with his wife Madeleine Messager, also known as Bibi, in the 1920s until their parting in 1930.

The contrast between this and the “Home Truths” exhibition could hardly be stronger. This extensive collection of photographs, almost entirely in black and white (about 10 are in colour) shows a social environment that would not look out of place in Brideshead Revisited. Rich young socialites enjoying a privileged and unreal existence – a polar opposite to the work of his contemporary countrymen, such as Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson and Brassaï, who were documenting the lives of ordinary folk on the streets of Paris and other cities.

The exhibition documents the passion and ultimate disintegration of Lartigue’s relationship with Bibi, but the novelty of seeing image after image of people living in a bubble of privilege, especially after the upheaval and trauma that France had just witnessed in the First World War, soon begins to wane. This is very subjective, of course, but I have very similar feelings about most society photographers’ work – Cecil Beaton, et al – whose work is very staged. I find it difficult to connect with it and it leaves me a little cold, I’m afraid.

Excellent photography though it undeniably is, I soon found myself not really caring. And I never thought I’d say that about such a famous photographer’s work.

For details and examples of the exhibition’s images, visit the exhibition’s page at The Photographers’ Gallery web site.

The last exhibition, “Here, Far Away” by Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti is a different kettle of fish to both of the others. It is a series of extremely well observed and captured high contrast black and white images of various rural settings, many in extreme northern European locations, mostly in winter and many with snow. The majority include animals and signs of human life, but people are mostly absent; only a few have any human presence at all. Humanity is mostly represented by its artefacts. Where people are present, they are merely part of the landscape; this is not portraiture.

I’m not sure quite how to describe the images. The subject matter itself is distinctive, but not unique, yet they manage to be simultaneously graphic and ethereal without falling into the trap of being over sentimental, or clichéd. Certainly worth seeing to make your own mind up!

For details and examples of the exhibition’s images, visit the exhibition’s page at The Photographers’ Gallery web site.

This weekend’s exhibition visits

49th Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition – Natural History Museum, London

I’ve been in London this weekend, and took the opportunity today of making my annual pilgrimage to the Natural History Museum for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

Wildlife photography has never been my forte. It requires far more patience than I can muster to do it well enough to satisfy my own standards, and I don’t have the funds to invest in the kind of equipment that makes the difference in the sheer quality of the pictures. A very wide aperture lens is really needed to get the sort of shutter speeds at sensible ISO settings for the sharpest shots, often in very poor light conditions. And apart from that, the little so and sos won’t keep still long enough.

No, I’ll leave wildlife photograpy to the experts.

Nevertheless, I do enjoy seeing top quality wildlife photography as represented at this annual exhibition, and it never fails to deliver. The standard is uniformly brilliant, across all the age-groups, including the Under-10s. I have begun collecting the exhibition’s books and although the style of photography has changed over the 49 years that the competition has been running, the standards have always been top notch.

I strongly recommend visiting the exhibition – even if you’re not particularly a nature lover, you certainly won’t be disappointed. The images are, without exception, stunningly good and show the natural world in all its glory, grandeur, brutality and fragility.

I’d recommend leaving visiting the exhibition for a few weeks, though. It was very crowded, which made relaxed viewing of the superb images very difficult. It’s on until 23 March 2013, so there’s plenty of time, and the crowds should have thinned out a bit by then.

Visit the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition web site, where you can see many of the exhibition’s photographs.

Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity -The Photographers’ Gallery, London

My train home tomorrow doesn’t leave Euston until 1.40pm, so I’ll have plenty of time to kill.

There’s an exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery in Ramillies Street, just off Oxford Street, which looks very interesting. I heard it reviewed on Radio 4 recently, and was intrigued, so I’m glad to have the opportunity to see it.

The Photographers’ Gallery web site describes it thus:

The work in Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity aims to challenge long held stereotypes and sentimental views of motherhood. Set against a backdrop of the seemingly insatiable appetite for pictures of celebrity mums, streams of Instagram bumps and babies and a history of the Madonna motif in art history, the work hereaddresses changing conditions of power, gender, domesticity, the maternal body and familial relations. It is a critical space for the representation of mothers to exist aside from more reductive cultural assumptions of mothering.

It’s an intriguing description, and while I’m keeping a very open mind about what will be portrayed, I expect it to be a rewarding visit.

I’ll record my impressions of the exhibitions here when I get home.

Photo Sales

I’m working on enabling visitors to buy, at very reasonable prices, exhibition-quality prints of the images on this site. Watch this space, as they say…

New Gallery added

I’ve added a new gallery to the site – “New Arrivals”. This is where I’ll post new stuff in future.

Hope you find something to like!