Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Rephotographing at Lacock

Since I was visiting Lacock, the former home of Fox Talbot and where the photographic negative was invented, I decided to do some rephotographing.

The day before i visited a bureau in town to make laser copies of Fox Talbot's different views of the house; my intention was to relocate these and photograph them as they are today. The juxtaposition between some of the first ever photographs made and the present day interested me!

I was able to locate all the views thanks to some help from staff! Each Fox Talbot view is followed by my rephotograph ...

Looking at the two photographs above, one can see that the doorway appears narrower in the original; this can be explained by the fact that I was using a wide-angle 18mm focal length where Fox Talbot would have been using a more standard length of lens.

In the second series of images, one might well wonder whether it is the same door in both photographs. It seems likely but a new door has obviously been fitted while there have been changes inside since one can no longer see a window in the background.

The difference between the two photographs here is immense and reveals just how far photography has come in the 180 years of it's existence with detail both on the inside the window and without. Having said this, one can marvel at the first negative and a camera that can produce an image with very little distortion.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Julia Margaret Cameron

I began this series of posts about People and Place by discussing the work of David Bailey and also Richard Avedon; this was partly by coincidence and so I wanted to include another portrait photographer whose work is quite different and yet something I find inspiring.

First, a little about Julia Margaret Cameron ...

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was born in Calcutta in 1815, one of seven daughters to a man known as "the biggest liar in India". After being educated in Europe, she returned to the Cape of Good Hope where she met Charles Hay Cameron, whom she married in 1838. On Charles's retirement in 1848, they moved to London where Julia became part of Kensington's artistic community, including poet Henry Taylor, painter G.F. Watts and Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The gift of a camera from one of her daughters in 1863 sparked an enthusiasm in Julia Margaret Cameron for this new art form. Within a year she had begun to present her friends with albums of her work and was elected a member of the Photographic Society in London. She outraged society by becoming an experimental photographer, though because of her refusal to "retouch", many considered her a bungling amateur. Then, in 1875, at the peak of her fame as photographer, her husband wanted to return to his sons in India so that he might be with them for his last years. She gave it all up, and the Camerons departed for Ceylon.

I consider her work worthy of consideration not just because it is classed as great photographer but also because she was operating at a time when techniques were quite different owing to the limitations placed on early photographers by the medium. For instance, the portrait photographer often had to request their subjects to hold a pose for long periods of time. This resulted in rather forced poses as well as blurred or soft focus faces.

It is interesting to note that a book about her entitled "Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs" published by Thames and Hudson in 2003 is now being sold for over £1,000 although one can pick up new copies for £375. The original price was probably about £25.

I am looking for the monograph that was published by The National Portrait Gallery at the time of thie exhibition of her work; it does not seen to be available on Amazon. In the meantime, I have ordered a book in Phaidon's 55 series about Great Portrait Photographers as she is one of them.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

National Portrait Galllery photographic workshop afternoon of saturday jan 29'th 2011

I had lunch in the National Portrait Gallery restaurant. On the walls, were a couple of black and white photographs from the 1960's which seemed to conform almost perfectly to the rule of thirds owing to the way the head was positioned in the frame!

I seem to have developed a more post-modern outlook and find this kind of composition rather too formalist particularly when it involves a blending of the subject with the background.

The Indians : 150 years of portrait photography ; 2 - a portrait of Moraji Desai and a viewer's projection

In the book of Indian portraits by Raghu Rai discussed earlier, there is a photo of Moraji Desai, a former prime minister of India who lived to be almost 100 years old, and who was responsible for the jailing of his rival, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. It is an image that makes me laugh because it reveals the man as a bit of a "goonda" (a Hindi word that means ruffian yet when anglicised also implies foolishness).

Another photographer raised an objection to this photograph because it has apparently been photoshopped with the white of the khadi cloth that Desai is wearing being a slightly darker colour. This other photographer felt it was disrespectful since however "dirty" a politician Desai might have been, his khadi was always white.

I decided to ask Raghu Rai about this to ascertain his reasons for doing so. Was he motivated to portray Desai in this way?

The first thing that Raghu pointed out was that the image had not been photoshopped. It was one that he no longer has the negative of and so the print had been scanned.

To make an effective print, Raghu needed to burn in the detail of the hat and cloth and hence they appear darker; there was no attempt on his side to portray Desai as a dirty politician by darkening his khadi !!

Raghu Rai then went on to reveal how the detail in the clothes contrasted with the detail in the face of Desai and the way in which this lay at the heart of the design of this photograph.

FINDING YOUR OWN VISION - 3 (Alex and Rebecca as photographers)

Alex's work seems to be mostly about places I don't know and have only marginal interest in but his Istanbul series is intriguing ...


Rebecca's book, The Glass Between Us, is an interesting look at people watching animals that is composed almost entirely it seems of reflections in glass ...

FINDING YOUR OWN VISION - 2 (about the workshop)

For some reason I felt rather apprehensive about this workshop. Can not ever see myself doing this kind of work, at this level at least, and am wary of being drawn into an art world where hype so often seems to be used to hide the need for money.

Looking at old work I have done, I see good work that somehow has not found the light. Maybe I am a sad old geezer dreaming of success yet maybe I can look again at past work and see a way it might be seen by others.

The following is from the Magnum website and details the workshop ...L
ondon: Finding Your Vision

Through group portfolio reviews, discussions, presentations, and an editing exercise, this weekend intensive workshop will help photographers begin to understand their own distinct way of seeing the world, and discuss their next step photographically.
A workshop for photographers at all levels – from serious amateurs to professional photographers – this weekend workshop will begin on Friday night with a welcome reception and intimate slide talk and conversation with the Webbs. The next morning will begin with reviews of each participant's work by Alex and Rebecca – a creative team who often edit projects, books, and exhibitions together, including their joint book and museum exhibition, Violet Isle: A Duet of Photographs from Cuba –– a process that will serve as a jumping off point for a larger discussion about various photographic issues, including the process of photographing spontaneously and intuitively, how to edit photographs intuitively, the emotional and psychological implications of working in color vs. black and white, how to work in cultures different than one’s own, the difference between images in a book and images on the wall (all participants will be invited to Alex’s opening/book launch of The Suffering of Light: Thirty Years of Photographs at the Magnum Print Room on Thursday, June 16, which is an optional event for participants), and how long-term projects can evolve into books and exhibitions. The workshop will explore how to find or deepen one’s vision, and discuss what each photographer’s next step photographically might be. Participants should be prepared to ask questions, as these concerns will help shape the ultimate direction of the workshop.
WHAT TO BRING: Participants should bring about 30-40 PRINTS (Please bring prints, NOT digital files. The prints don’t have to be fine prints, they can be small, inexpensive work prints, such as inkjet prints. The main focus is the image, NOT the quality of the print.). Those working in series of photographs should bring a selection of photographs from two or three series, or an excerpt from a long-term project. We are interested in each participant’s individual vision, rather than whether he or she can work professionally or not. So bring the personal project or projects –– the work that represents your passions, your obsessions –– not the set of portraits done simply to satisfy an editor or art director.
For the Sunday class, those photographers working on long-term project are welcome to bring up to 40 additional small prints from a project, which we will look at, time permitting.
Alex Webb is best known for his vibrant and complex color work, especially from Latin America and the Caribbean. He has published eight books, including Istanbul: City of a Hundred Names, and his ninth, The Suffering of Light: Thirty Years of Photographs, will be published in spring 2011 (Aperture/Thames and Hudson, UK Edition). Alex has exhibited at museums worldwide including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, and the Guggenheim Museum, NY. Alex became a full member of Magnum Photos in 1979. His work has appeared in National Geographic, the New York Times Magazine, Geo, and other magazines. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2007 for continuing working in Cuba, and the Premio Internacional de Fotografia Alcobendas in 2009.
For the past decade, Rebecca Norris Webb has been exploring the complicated relationship between people and the natural world. Originally a poet, she has shown her photographic work internationally, including at the George Eastman House Museum and Ricco Maresca Gallery, New York. Her first book, The Glass Between Us, was published in 2006, and her second book, Violet Isle: A Duet of Photographs from Cuba (with Alex Webb), was published in November 2009. Her photographs are in the collections of the George Eastman House Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, and she is represented by the Photographers’ Gallery in London. Rebecca’s work has appeared in Time, New Letters, Orion, and other magazines. Her third book, My Dakota, will be published in 2012 by Radius, and exhibited at the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Alex and Rebecca will have a joint exhibition of their Cuba photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from May 2011 to January 2012, and the Hong Kong Photo Festival in fall 2012. The couple is currently collaborating on a project in the U.S.

making a Photobook (Gerry Badger Blurb interview)


Gerry: I love to look at photographic books, and am always looking for the next great one.
Blurb: What are you looking for in a PBN winning book?
Gerry: I quote my friend John Gossage on this: 
“Firstly, it should contain great work. 
Secondly, it should make that work function as a concise world within the book itself. 
Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what is being dealt with. 
And finally, it should deal with content that sustains an ongoing interest.”
Blurb: What are your top five tips for an aspiring photographer?
1) Shoot with spontaneity
2) Consider what you’ve shot at length
3) Throw most of what you’ve shot away
4) Edit, edit, edit
5) When it comes to making books, less is usually more
Blurb: What do you believe the value is for a photographer to self-publish their work?
Gerry: Making a book makes a photographer think about what they’re doing. A book is a richer and more complex statement than just a bunch of pictures.

chat over the phone with my tutor about assignment 5 and more !!

My tutor had suggested I might call him if I liked before embarking on the final assignment of the People and Place module. Have more or less decided to call my next assignment The Taj Mahal Today and to make it into a book proposal. Although RE thinks this is a brilliant idea, he correctly notes that that this project looks as though it is becoming a bit of a burden to me. He is finding my assignments difficult to review because they are becoming thin (not quite sure what RE means here) and that I have reached a point beyond which I am not yet ready to go. There is a need to try something different with a different subject matter (have done 10 assignments relating to the Taj Mahal).

I had just downloaded a book about photographing at the Taj Mahal by Bruce Perry. It is full of his insights about photographing a particular location and while it is an impressive read, I can not help noting that there are errors .. he refers to the the early morning mist that sometimes comes off the river as smog (not really the case since a lot has ben done to keep industry at a safe distance from the monument) ... while a lot of what he is saying is pretty obvious and while it may sound like his unique experience, it is in fact quite ordinary.

Do I need to distance myself from the Taj Mahal project? It does feel as though I am a bit stuck on it.

RE mentions that I might try something with a more landscaped view. He suggests Ville Lenkkeri a photographer he knows whose work might mean something to me ...

One of his images that catches my eye is called Airport; it consists of 2 toy aeroplanes placed on some paving stones! Grass and earth in the background help to bring it into perspective. Its' number 4 from the following link ...

further work at ...

If I do go for a totally new assignment then what might I do?
My suggestion is to photograph a number of shopkeepers in my local town of Wellington standing outside their shops. If I did proceed with this project, what end might the photographs serve?

What about using Large Format cameras !? A new one is expensive to buy. Looking at various places that hire out cameras, it appears that none do Large Format. There is probably somewhere!

Do I need large format? A tripod mounted higher end DSLR can produce wonderful results.
Large Format can be excellent for portraits in the environment.

Need to develop my own way of seeing "place".

Might the "Kingfishers of Goa" work as an assignment? Too specialised. Needs to be about people rather than animals.

Photographing the relationship between tourists and places. The kind of work Martin Parr does requires great dedication ... also possibly luck and time!

Confrontational experiences sometimes result; need to get permissions where appropriate though this is no safeguard since one can be aggressively challenged when permission is not needed.

RE's own work has a conceptual approach. For instance, he has taken the word FREE and also LOVE and photographed instances where this word occurs in public places.

Am planning another meditation book (its' already written) and shall be illustrating this; however, this does not really fit the OCA brief.

ER thinks that I have an eye for landscape and that this would be a good option to follow.

Photographing people is not easy ... it involves relationship.

If I think in terms of doing books (photography with a commercial end in mind) then it is not going to help my photography to develop.

One thing one can do, is to put one's own photographs up on the walls around one's study. This can help  one's vision. Let the work resonate ... see what one really wants.

I don't seem to be a desire lead person. Someone who enjoys study days.

Neitsche "Only so much you can edit!"

ER did not do a photography degree but did Fine Art. He also learnt how to make good photographs.

As an artist, he makes his own definitions.

Photography can be a way to search for meaning in life !

ER again recommends the book by Charlotte Cotton The Photograph As Contemporary Art which I have read; might the new edition be worth reading!?

Personally, I have a more documentary approach. Spend 2 weeks living in a hedge to photograph a bird? It might be necessary but am more likely to put a hide up nearby! Missing the experience of what it is like to live in a hedge!!

Cotton's book says in the introduction, "To identify "art" as the preferred territory for their images is now the aspiration of many photographers." I do not think I am one of those photographers yet I do think that photography can be intelligent rather than merely representative and this is what makes me engage with the medium.

Photographers are continually searching for subject matter .. like miners seeking gold!

Another photographer to look out for is Geerte Goires (Belgian)

I find his work strangely moving, touching. Would like to know more about the mysterious places he has photographed.

As I wrote in my blog, street photography is not really what I like to do.

Most photographic magazines are not worth reading; removed from the real photographic world ... Portfolio is one however one might look at.

Do I want to be a professional photographer? I have a small private income and probably don't have the stamina!? Presently caring for my mother.

Documenting the relationship between my mother and her dog .. or just the dog!

Tigers look sad in a zoo. The horde of jeeps outside a nature camp waiting to go and see tigers is another strange image.

need to realise one's artistic ideas; photographs are stepping stones

photographing people meditating?

ER practices a form of Christian meditation known as electio-designa !!?

If I need to extend my time as a student to complete the assignment then he can do that for me.

What about photographing man looking at nature, the man/tourist and nature.

photographing a paddock with tigers and their keepers

drop the notion that the photograph is a commercial object

notify people you are a student and so gain access to a zoo

official T shirt!? e.g. Somerset Wildlife Trust T shirt would be good for photographing on a SWT nature reserve

OK to photograph and publish pictures of people in public unless those people are conspicuous in the image and help to make it worthwhile

Abhishiktananada who lives/d in a cave on top of Mount Arunachal

publishing photos in a book cheaper than presenting an exhibition

photographing to communicate with nature; photographs about one's experience; communicating this to others!

snobbery around art? artists themselves are humble!?

I am a lonely photographer .. no one to share experience with !?

Our conversation ends when I bring up the final quote from Barthes in Camera Lucida about photography being a free spirit that art tries to control; ER does not think this can happen owing to the nature of photography! Photography is too mobile to be formalised, a "people's art". Will resist attempts to restrict it, to be merely an aesthetic.

need to take photos of what means something to one; making a photograph is part of one's development

let the Taj Mahal project go for awhile; can come back to it!

try landscape! would be worth my looking into it. In some of my Taj Mahal photographs, I illustrate a feel for landscape (particularly the long shot I made with a 20mm lens of the Great Gate from the Mausoleum)

Is my apparent aptitude for landscape a result of having studied landscape photography with some quite eminent people such as Fay Godwin or something inherited from my father who painted landscapes?


The suggestion that I am thinking too commercially about my work, trying to create something that would sell rather than something that means something to me, might be true yet as Cotton says in her book, "photographers consider the art gallery or book the natural home for their work."

I remember a Magnum photographer who said that I was only taking a series of photographs because they were to promote an event; while it was true that they were being used to promote such an event, the series actually started before the event, a photo-workshop in Delhi, was conceived.

I find myself trying to create work that other people can relate to otherwise it may become too self-indulgent.

reflections on assignment 1 : extended portrait session

When I sent off my first assignment, I wondered if I might not have done more to present it better. For instance, the photographs that were taken of a thirteen year old, Katy at thirteen is the title I gave the assignment, were placed in the order they were taken which spanned almost a full year. Might not a more formal presentation have been better!?

If I did make a mistake, it was in not being clear about which photographs were part of the portfolio; others were included to give an idea of the way I went about the selection of images, an approach revealed in Sarah Greenough's book about Robert Frank's famous photo-book, The Americans, in which his contact sheets are revealed publically for the first time, allowing one to see something of the working process in the making of the original book.

Instead of gaining some insight into the way I went about this project, the tutor has therefore reviewed images that were not meant to invite comment and were only incidental to the actual portfolio, being mere rejects for reference only. Hence, the comment that "Although you do get good eye contact in most of these photos, her jolly expression and smiling eyes – although beautiful – are a little boring to have to view in almost every photograph" relates more to the excluded photos than the original portfolio which has only one image that is smiling definitely. Of course, there is a trend in photographic portraiture to include only portraits with gravitas, a certain kind of expressionless look, but personally I am more interested in people who look alive. 

Some of the tutor's comments are interesting but need time to absorb. He writes, "You are seeking a subtle moment in some of these portraits, similar to Vermeer, where the person is somewhat aloof from their surroundings, as if at the same time engaged and free." Is that really my situation? Maybe it is a comment on myself as photographer. I find myself trying to discover the person I am confronted with. I may know them well but to find the face behind the mask is my real concern; possibly it is an impossible one since the real face may not be visual. As the Buddhists say, "Show me the face you had before you were born!" This is impossible and the question is a humorous one although it is worth contemplating since we did have a face of sorts before we were born. 

Is &&&&& showing us his real face? Probably, it is just another mask.

Raghu Rai comments

The following is from my Art of Photography blog about a meeting with Raghu Rai, a Magnum associate, about whom I record the following ...

"People have a natural dignity and it needs to be respected. When Raghu photographs in India he is one of it's people and he emphasises with his subjects; to impose upon them might create dramatic photography but does not create truly insightful photography.

The West has adopted an arrogant approach."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Martin Parr comment

My experience of and response to Martin Parr's exhibition in Bristol is noted in my Art of Photography blog.

However, I came across an interview with him and consider this quote as worthy of note in the context of People and Place ...

Do you think your work is exploitative?

I think that all photography involving people has an element of exploitation, and therefore I am no exception. However it would be a very sad world if photographers were not allowed to photograph in public places. I often think of what I photograph as a soap opera where I am waiting for the right cast to fall into place. In more recent years I have photographed much closer where bits of people and food become part of the big picture, and one advantage of this is that it means people are less recognisable.