I have had an intense feeling of nostalgia the past few weeks. Maybe it is because my son has left home for school or maybe it is the change in the seasons. It is very hard to tell with these types of emotions.
It got me thinking about film and how much the craft of photography has changed so much.
It started thinking about my film cameras I still have but never use anymore, so I decided to share with you my last real film project, Arboreal Dreams. This was very successful for me, and I sold editions of almost every print (except the one below, Fairyroots).
Strangely enough this is still my favourite from the project even though I felt it was rejected out of hand the last time it was on the walls.
Maybe I am feeling more sentimental than nostalgic.
I’ve included some words about the project and my film technique below, and you can also see the full gallery on my website. I would love to hear your thoughts on this project. As always, hit reply to be in touch.
Thank you for support,
This is the statement that explained the project when people arrived at the gallery
As a young child growing up in Maine the forest was my back garden. I would leave my house early in the morning and wander the forest all day. For me the natural world is a second life, a fantasy land of purity and calm that I escape to when the violence of our concrete city gets too much for me.
In Arboreal Dreams I want to convey the powerful feelings that I get when I wander through a forest, as well as drawing in that fantasy element into my work. The images are developed through a dual film process which I have evolved in order to get a sense of ‘hyper reality’.
I feel an attachment to the artistic tradition of reverence for natural beauty and reverence for the technical skill of the artist. The rejection of beauty and skill in much of modern photography makes me return with stronger conviction to my beliefs.
..and this I felt I needed also so people would not think the images were made digitally. It was about that time just as digital art became wide spread.
A note about my photographic technique:
The images in Arboreal Dreams were shot on medium format film(Hasselblad) and hand processed through a technique called Colour Acceleration. It is process I have been experimenting with for fifteen years. Colour Acceleration is a “dual film” process not a “cross process”, as most altered film is. In the first phase the film is processed in black and white chemistry, fixated, then bleached and re-exposed to light. The result is a negative that has been “solarized”, which I control in the bleach step.
The images in Arboreal Dreams are printed on Fuji Supergloss polyester based photographic paper. It’s qualities are deep saturation, and high contrast with an archival life of five hundred years.
The image colours are natural and are inherent qualities of its negative and are not manipulated digitally or enhanced.
One of my most successful shots of 2020 was also one of the easiest I made during that year. Living by the sea on the south coast of Spain is very peaceful and beautiful, but being on the edge of the sea also brings tempestuous weather. Like most southern European houses, mine has roll-down steel shutters.
On the morning of November 26th I was woken up by my shutters rattling in the frame; just another day on the coast I thought. The shutters were down in the living room overlooking the sea (I had put them down due to the storm warning the previous day) so I pulled them up and was greeted by a dark sky and rolling sea only illuminated by multiple lightning strikes.
My heart jumped! Camera! Camera I need a….Oh, here it is, all setup already from the still life I was shooting the day before. (Zero effort before coffee is always a good thing in my book.)
So here I am still in my pyjamas going onto the balcony with my camera and tripod. It was still 30 minutes before blue hour, leaving astronomical twilight (when the sun is 12 degrees below horizon) and coming into nautical twilight (when the sun is 6 degrees below the horizon).
It wasn’t easy framing with barely any light, so I mostly just filled the frame with sky and put it on a timer to take continuous shots. I set the aperture at f/6.3 for 10 seconds as a test shot. This is what I got:
This is NOT sunlight but light from the lightning!
10sec @f/6.3 ISO640
When shooting lightning you don’t want to use small apertures. Why? Because apertures control the INTENSITY of light. And you want the lightning to be intense yes? If you shoot, say at, F/16 then you get thinner, weaker looking lightning. Apertures between 2.8- 8 work best.
This image is actually f/10. But still too skinny and dull.
Once my camera was on the tripod with the 50mm I attached the remote release that I use mostly for timelapses, and set the exposure time for 13 seconds @ f/6.3. Then I went to go make coffee.
After about 3 minutes of exposing, I reviewed (chimped) the images to see what I’d caught. There were loads of good lightning strikes! I made another 2 minutes of exposures adjusting as I went along.
50mm 20sec@ f/5.6 ISO50
The 50mm was working well but as I was shooting the lightning strikes kept getting closer. I mean really close, right overhead – if I had been on the open beach I would have left, that close! But since I was safe on my balcony undercover on the side of a building, I felt secure in my now cold pyjamas… So I switched to a 17mm to achieve more coverage and distort the angle-up perspective a bit.
Now that I could see better I reframed to include the top of a tree and the horizon for added perspective. I think without the tree the size and magnitude of the lighting is lost. Now it was just a matter of luck and patience.
2.5sec @f/6.3 ISO50
At this point in time it was blue hour and the sun had just started to warm up the Eastern sky, which you can see in the final shot. I started the remote again with 2.5 second exposures. I was sipping my coffee transfixed by how awesome nature is when bang! A strike so close and so bright.
I was looking right at the space it happened and it burned itself into my retina as I heard my camera shutter go click and I thought: ” Yeah, I got that!” – followed by the instant rumble of deep thunder. Amazing I tell you!
Soon after, the storm moved away and the sunrise came up and I was done.
I reviewed the camera images again and there it was – the perfect strike right on top of me. And I hadn’t even finished my whole cup of coffee yet. A second cup of coffee later and I was sitting at my computer uploading.
A few people have asked me how I processed this image so I will start by showing you the out-of-camera file:
Doesn’t appear so colourful, in fact, it looks rather flat and dull. But don’t judge a file until you have a good look at the histogram. What do you see here?:
Low contrast, yes, to be expected by looking at the file itself. But what I want you to notice are the colour channels of yellow and blue.
That is a lot of yellow towards the darker tones and a lot of blue towards the lighter tones. What this tells me is that I can push these channels and really make the image colourful without making it seem over-processed and fake. I am taking the inherent qualities and enhancing them with saturation and contrast.
And when I do I get a histogram that looks like this:
After processing histogram
I have spread all the tones out, increasing contrast. I also upped the vibrance and saturation which you can see in the colour channels.
This is my best processing result but not my first. When I first worked on this image I was into my 2nd cup of coffee the same morning, still hadn’t eaten and was “over-excited”, and when I am “over-excited” I tend to push sliders too far to the right, especially Clarity and sometimes Dehaze (ouch!).
This is what that looks like:
For me this did not reflect my personal experience as it feels too dark and brooding when it was actually highly energetic and intense. This feeling is also mostly due to over using the Dehaze slider. It is a cool look but later I felt I wanted it to be more natural.
I could shoot lighting everyday for the rest of my life and still love it. I love zooming in at 200% and looking super close at lightning. It is awe-inspiring for me. And so, so beautiful. I did 263 frames over 45 minutes. Maybe 30 with strikes!
I now have weather apps that forewarn me of lightning in my area so next time I will be ready to go…as long as I can stay safely on my balcony drinking coffee 8).
A couple of the last strikes of the morning. It was amazing how the colour dramatically cooled at sunrise. Strange, strange weather but I live for it.
I’d love to know what you think of this, or if you have questions ask them here on my blog and I’ll answer them.
“How lovely yellow is! It stands for the sun.” Vincent Van Gogh
Today I want to dive into a lesson all about colour. I have already done articles on the colours purple and blue and one exploring many different colours.
I love to photograph colour, and am always ready to let colour take centre stage in my images.
Because, and I repeat these quotes a lot, because I couldn’t say it better:
“Color is joy. One does not think joy. One is carried by it.” Photographer, Ernst Haas
“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” Painter, Georgia O’Keeffe.
Even if colour doesn’t capture your imagination in the same way it does for me – because we live in a world awash with colour, you need to be able to work with the impact that it creates, and the power that it has, so that you can master using it in your compositions.
Just a splash of yellow in this photo – but doesn’t it make a huge impact?
You don’t want your photos to be hijacked by unintentional forces – and this is what colour that you haven’t fully considered, can do to your photos.
A splash of red can distract the eye, a dark grey sky can create a feeling of foreboding on a joyful subject and just the merest hint of green could create imbalance in an image.
We want to be intentional about everything we are placing in the frame, therefore developing an awareness of colour is vital, so that we can be in control of our compositions.
I like to think sometimes that we are just working with shapes and forms in different colours. It can make thinking about composition much easier.
Even though Claude Monet is talking about painting here, this totally applies to photography:
“Try to forget what objects you have before you – a tree, a house, a field, or whatever. Merely think, ‘Here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow,’ and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives you your own impression of the scene before you”.
We create the photos. We place all the elements that we want in the frame.
Everything is intentional, and colour is really good to focus on because it’s one of the easiest compositional tools to become aware of and start working with.
Today I want to explore a colour that is often associated with the feeling of joy, happiness, brightness, positivity. And that colour is of course YELLOW.
Now like everything in our universe, where there is light there is also dark. The ying and the yang.
Yellow can also invoke feelings of decay, cowardice, fear, sickness and jealousy.
But why do I talk about the feeling of colours?
Because firstly – photography is all about feeling. Most photos don’t ignite any feeling because most of the photos we take are not good photos.
All excellent photos are made excellent because they create a feeling within the viewer.
It could be any feeling – awe, joy, love, fear, apprehension, melancholy, desire etc.
And this is because it doesn’t matter how great the photo is, your viewer will never remember it or take pleasure or interest in it if it feels meaningless, devoid of feeling.
“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” Don McCullin
I always like to ask myself:
How do colours make me feel?
How do they affect the scene and my subject?
Yellow is a warm colour and sits next to orange and red on the colour wheel.
It stimulates the nervous system and energises us (and painter Kandisky said that if colour were a sound it would be a joyous one) but if overused it can feel nauseating, tiring and be a strain on the eyes (rooms painted yellow are quite rare because of this fact.)
So let’s dive in and explore the different ways you can use yellow to create different feelings and messages in your photos.
Bright yellow is very powerful, and grabs your attention, even the merest hint of it. It is bold, joyous, positive and uplifting.
Bright yellow is used to attract attention. For example the combination of black writing on yellow is one of the easiest colour combinations for the eye to see on things like buses and signs.
It is also the colour of warning and danger. This is because it is the first colour that is seen with our eyes and that is why it is used as a warning all over the world.
What does this yellow say to you? What about the combination of bright colours?
These splashes of yellow are so strong and vibrant, right? Bright yellow is such a dominating colour that you only need a few suggestions of it for it to really create a powerful feeling in your photos.
For example, this photo below is very busy – but look how how striking the yellow elements are:
How about the yellow in this photo I shot in Morocco – how does it interact with the other colours?
To me the line of yellow is so bright and happy it connects with the smiling boys, and contrasts with the more sombre face of the woman.
Look at the photo below. Even though this is also a bright yellow, how do the textures of the street affect how you think about the colour?
Now to Istanbul and its famous tulips. To me this bright yellow is a burst of joy against the dull light and the grey wall. It says to me, the beauty of nature is amazing, even on the greyest, saddest of days:
Now, how about this – yellow is playing a big role in the photo – as a contrast to all the blue – and blue and yellow are complementary colours (opposites). Doesn’t the yellow here feel a little melancholy?
Let’s jump over to Cuba now. I love to place people against bold, simple and colourful backgrounds. Especially when you can contrast the colour of the outfit with the wall:
The yellow in the photo above is not as bright, and to me not a joyful feeling at all. What does it make you think of?
This photo below is one of my favourite images, and it takes on that more melancholic- decay feeling that yellow can imbue that I mentioned earlier.
Do you think it’s the fact that it is tape on the street or the shade of yellow that creates that feeling – or maybe both?
Now to the glorious glow of sunlight on the sea below. It’s so rich and golden. It has such a different feeling to the bright yellow, no?
To me this golden yellow feels so opulent. It’s like summer in one colour. You can feel the radiance of the sun, its heat and almost feel this rich light on your skin.
Now, how about the yellow glow of this street light, a totally different feeling, right? You can feel the atmosphere it creates in the early morning.
So that finished up my mini-study about the colour yellow.
Did this help you think about the role colour plays in your compositions? I would love to know – please share your thoughts in the comments below.
I look at many people’s photographs and I’ve noticed that how people take photos is in direct correlation to how they live their day to day lives. This may not sound like a startlingly profound fact but, put simply: your personality can create the biggest barrier to achieving interesting and unique photographs.
It’s not your kit, it’s not your ability to capture perfect focus. It’s who you are and how you live that you need to examine.
Let me delve a bit deeper and explain.
For example, let’s take me. One thing that I do profoundly well is live in the moment. I am very present and that is stunningly useful when I want to connect to the world around me and take photos. It’s also super cool when you are around kids, because kids are just so totally present. Even my uber-dreamy son doesn’t understand later – he wants to share his discovery about slugs with me right now, because it’s just so exciting.
So presence is a very awesome attribute to have as a photographer. But guess what – there is an aspect to it that makes my photography more challenging, that I’ve had to work on getting over, so that I can be a better photographer.
I realised a while back that neither the past nor the future seem to occupy my mind much, so it made creating long term projects and stories very hard. I have always found it easy to take singular wonderful images.
But the part that I have had to really work on and push myself out of my comfort zone with – is creating these stories and projects.
Now here are some stereotypes…
Are you a busy, task-oriented person? Your photos are more than likely going to be rushed and you are going to struggle to be present, truly in the moment and to take photos that are meaningful and well composed. They may make you feel like you’ve achieved something, but really you haven’t. Taking 500 photos is not an accomplishment, taking 2 or 3 well composed, meaningful photos is.
Are you a very practical, handy person? Can you read a manual for a washing machine and understand it? The issues you are likely to have are excellent technical skills in your photography, but ones that don’t capture mood, feeling or experience well.
Are you a very creative, dreamy, ideas person? You are likely to have the opposite problem. Your photos will probably full of mood and emotion.
You’ll be able to recognise in the world around you wonderful moments of human expression, or evocative moods in the changing weather. But technically? You’ll likely struggle as you try and kick that bit of your brain that is underutilised into action.
Now I ask you: what do you see in your personality that is reflected in your photos? Both the strengths and the weaknesses. And if you recognise it, you can discover the key of what you need to learn and it is that that will radically improve your photography.
Photography is a very personal journey and everyone needs to learn different aspects at different times. I work with beginner photographers all the time and no two beginners are the same, we are all on our separate path.
We all learn at different rates – and more importantly we absorb information differently. Some people find things like learning manual a breeze, while others struggle for years. And the same goes for composition, capturing emotion etc.
Learning is a hugely personal thing that is most effective when it meets us where we are.
When I looked recently at the portfolios of images that my students give me, it is obvious that everyone’s challenges are distinctive. And it basically comes down to their personalities.
But what exactly is the problem?
Now, we could just accept who we are, carry on and just try improving over time, right? We could just focus on our strengths and keep going – which is what I find many of my students do.
The super-techy ones just keep learning more and more about tech things, the creatives keep reacting to the tech stuff with horror and working harder on capturing mood and emotion.
Developing a skill, though, is not just about increasing your strengths, but working on your weaknesses. This will help you create balance within your imagery.
You don’t have to make your weaknesses as strong as your strengths, or be totally in harmony – but by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone you will surprise yourself, you will generate new ideas, you’ll even start lighting up different parts of that big ole brain of yours. Clear the dust out I say!
Photography is an inner process. It’s not an outer process. It’s about you, your experience, your passions, your mood etc. So by looking clearly and objectively at yourself you can more easily identify where you should be improving.
And you know what’s so funny about this? When I tell people where I think they are weak, they always know deep down. They see immediately what I am saying because when I demonstrate the weakness in their creative output, their photography, they see that weakness in their personality.
Now how do you we identify our weaknesses and improve?
Ask your nearest and dearest! Ask them not just about what your weaknesses are (because after all by living with or close to other humans we are often helpfully reminded by them what our weakness are :)) but also our strengths.
We usually think we know our strengths, but you can also get super surprised about other people’s opinions of your strengths.
And often our perceptions of ourselves are outdated. What we were told as children we were good at is often what we carry as a permanent vision of ourselves – and that gets outdated! You need a fresh vision of yourself as an older person 🙂
I know you aren’t all trying to be the world’s greatest photographers. But if you want this photographic journey to keep reaping its beautiful benefits on your life, then it’s worthwhile examining what might be limiting you, or stopping you from developing.
I want to encourage everyone whom I teach to think about photography not as an endpoint or an output – how can I get the very best focal length etc.
I mean of course that all has a place, a very good place, and a function – but as a sense that your photography is on the same journey as you. It’s intertwined with your life. For me, taking photos is how I make sense of, remember, enjoy and connect with what’s around me.
Photography is not always easy or effortless for me either, it does kick my butt at times – but it keeps me thinking, keeps me fresh and most of all it keeps me awake to this amazing world.
I’d love to know what you think. What do you think that is in your personality that is holding your photography back? Please comment below.
And as always, get in touch if you have any thoughts, questions etc. about anything to do with photography at all.
“For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock.
Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” James Baldwin
How are you today?
It’s Diana here, hello 🙂
Today many of us in the world are in the flux of the feeling of uncertainty and fear. Justified or unjustified fear, to me that is not the point.
The point is how we all live through these times, or any times, that bring up so many feelings of uncertainty and instability.
How do we live with the challenges that life brings us? And it doesn’t have to be a global virus, but all of the other things that life throws at us – the death of loved ones, financial problems, political problems in our respective countries. You know what I mean.
How do we live well in these times when we feel challenged, and how can we do more to make sure our days are good and positive and feel like we aren’t just feeling that sense of contraction and fear that challenges bring.
Ultimately, after dealing with the practical aspects of our lives, our creativity practices are the things that Anthony and I turn to to bring in feelings of expanse and joy.
We want to use our creative practices to gain more perspective so that we aren’t just making our lives about the challenges we are facing.
One of the reasons that doing something creative brings good things into your life is simply because:
“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”
And also because, and I share another quote from my favourite writer James Baldwin because he had so much to share about the interminginly of creativity and the challenges of life:
“The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
I would like to share a few of the reasons and ideas that make creativity so fruitful and helpful for our lives in times of unpredictability – I hope these are of help or service to you.
Creativity is a way to work things out
We humans like to figure things out. We like to know why things are the way they are. And facing the challenges we feel head on are ways to work through the fears that may stick in our minds.
“We are born makers. We move what we’re learning from our heads to our hearts through our hands.” Brene Brown
A perfect example is why I felt the desire to write this post. It is not just to share my thoughts with you, but by exploring these thoughts and writing about them, I am working things out myself.
We can use the environment we encounter to create things. To process what we might be feeling.
It’s about not letting things get stuck in your brain, or just complaining or freaking out. It is using the conduit of creativity to find a positive way to deal with the challenges.
To allow us the chance to see other possibilities
For me being creative is about bringing me away from the big, sometimes anxious things, and down into the beauty and joy of the moment.
“Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heartache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty.” Henry Miller
Bringing calm to our minds and bodies
Being creative is often compared to meditation as we get lost in the task, and the nature of getting lost in something is so positive that it has a calming effect on our nervous systems.
“The average person has about 60,000 thoughts in a day. A creative act such as crafting can help focus the mind, and has even been compared to meditation due to its calming effects on the brain and body. Even just gardening or sewing releases dopamine, a natural anti-depressant.” Forbes Magazine
To engage our imaginations and go beyond ourselves
Being creative is like a lot of things that release us from the tightness of stress – exercise, meditation, laughing with friends. It creates good chemicals within our brains. It makes us happier, more joyful.
Being creative can help us accept what the world and its challenges are.
This is Diana and today I am standing in for Anthony as he is deep into teaching our workshop in Vietnam. It’s got off to an amazing start, and the group are loving the experience.
I am always learning things from Anthony about being a creative person, and he vice versa I would say. One thing that I feel is so significant is that he never stands still with his photography, there is always a process of evolution.
Now it’s a very slow, long process of evolution. His photo obsessions and projects can take a year, or even a decade. But evolve he always does.
And even within a project like his Cities at Dawn, on which he has been working in different cities since the early 2000’s, the way he shoots and what he shoots, and how he shoots is always developing and changing. Slowly but surely, it’s like a very long, windy road leading from one place to the next, landscapes slowly changing.
So I suppose what I have learnt from this way of working – is the importance of being committed to things you love, the subjects that make you feel excited and passionate, but gently keep pushing yourself to learn more, see more, and do more with that subject.
Keep asking questions, keep looking to get deeper into your subject.
This morning Anthony sent me some new photos he’d taken of the little village of Du Gia in Ha Giang. After our most recent post all about photography in COLOUR they were surprising – because all of these photos were in monochrome.
Anthony does occasionally take photos in monochrome, but never a series. So I was delighted to see them.
When I asked him why he chose monochrome for this selection of images he said:
“I went for the monochrome because after travelling through miles and miles of green – and shooting this dense, verdant green – I wanted to experiment with a new look. Something with a heightened and exaggerated texture.”
I thought this was very cool because it’s this idea of always gently developing one’s photography. Always pushing a little envelope.
So here are some more photos from this beautiful little village in the mountains of Northern Vietnam.
I’ve interspersed it with some extracts from poems by famous Vietnamese poets, which I thought would be wonderful to share.
“The grieving willows droop in deep mourning,
Their sad hair streaming like teardrops falling.
Here comes autumn, here comes the autumn cold
In its faded mantle woven with leaves of gold.Various blossoms have fallen off their branch
Amidst a garden where the red mingles with blue.
The trembling breath of breeze shakes the leaves and
A few shriveled limbs like fragile bones in somber hue.”
From Here Comes Autumn by Xuân Diệu, translated by Thomas D. Le
“Drop by drop rain slaps the banana leaves.
Praise whoever sketched this desolate scene:
the lush, dark canopies of the gnarled trees,
the long river, sliding smooth and white.
I lift my wine flask, drunk with rivers and hills.
My backpack, breathing moonlight, sags with poems.
From Haste by Xuân Diệu, translated by Thomas D. Le
“The russet and the brown of distant woods of maple trees seemed like a background frieze, new-painted by the autumn sun in colours drab and dun to symbolise their parting woe, towards which, sad and slow, the horseman rode in robes of rust, wreathed in red clouds of dust, and slowly disappeared from sight…” The Tale of Kieu, by Nguyễn Du, Huỳnh Sanh Thông (Translator)
We’d love to know what you think about Anthony’s new images – please comment below.
How is everyone on this fine day? I hope life is good and your camera is getting to see some fascinating things.
I agree with the great writer E.B. White when he said “Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder.”
This is what we can use our cameras and photography for. To remind us to be always looking, seeking and searching for wonder, beauty and things that provoke in us a feeling of awe.
This week I was in a deep state of awe, watching the sunset from my apartment. The photo above displays my feelings 🙂 It’s hard not to be awed by views of the ocean. We all find ourselves standing and watching it at various times of the day, like magnets, drawn to its soothing sounds and beauty.
A gratuitous ocean shot 🙂 And it’s a full moon again this weekend. Get your cameras out if you like full moon scenes like I do.
Today we have another brilliantly simple idea for your photography, with a myriad of tips, which we hope you find super useful.
So let’s get started.
Photography is a process of construction AND reduction.
The construction part comes when you start composing well and placing elements in powerful places within the frame, but this comes after the phase of reduction – removing anything, if possible, from within the frame that does not compliment or support your subject.
When you are standing in front of a scene and wondering how to frame your shot, you are focused on the subject, but hopefully too you are thinking about the surrounding elements, and how to position yourself so you can create the most pleasing composition.
What I like to think of when I am composing is – what can I leave out?
What needs to be removed, what is unnecessary, what is irrelevant?
The more I remove the unnecessary, the more I am left with the very best elements with which to compose my shot.
Think of it this way – if it is not complementing my subject then what can I do to make its impact less – or even remove it completely?
Sounds simple right? Well it is, but sometimes it can be tricky to put into practise, so let’s expand on this idea.
As I explore this topic, I am going to use some image from the amazing late photographer – Bill Brandt. When I thought about this topic, I immediately thought of his photography.
And then I’ll be using some of my own photos to show you exactly what I mean.
Bill Brandt was a British-German photographer particularly famous for his black and white work. There is a simplicity and often stark beauty to his images that frequently came from working with a small number of elements, creating a strong feeling of atmosphere and the power of suggestion.
“I am not very interested in extraordinary angles. They can be effective on certain occasions, but I do not feel the necessity for them in my own work. Indeed, I feel the simplest approach can often be most effective. A subject placed squarely in the centre of the frame, if attention is not distracted from it by fussy surroundings, has a simple dignity which makes it all the more impressive.” Bill Brandt
Why the process of reduction is important
There is a confidence in exclusion and reducing what is not needed in the photo. And the way you do that successfully is taking time with your position.
This is not the same as simplicity – which to me conjures up a specific aesthetic.
I find studying the work of photographers you love to be so useful in training our eye in composition. See what others have done and get into the habit of breaking down other peoples compositions so you can learn their process.
The power of suggestion
When you are consciously thinking – what can I leave out, you gain the confidence to use the power of suggestion.
For example, in Bill Brandt’s famous nude series, there was often very little nudity, but the power of suggestion makes them seem so evocative of the human body.
I am going to show some photos of mine now that could have been way more complex because they were of scenes that had many more elements in them – but I was thinking, of course, what should I leave out of this shot?
Sometimes we get hung up on providing context for our photos, we want people to see the scene we saw. Often that doesn’t matter, and the elements, the subject you focus on provide enough of a story:
To me this photo of some wires I saw in Havana just spoke of intense confusion. I wanted to show this chaos, but not provide too much context because to broaden it out would lose the effect of the lines.
The power of imagination
When you leave out the context of your location you allow new and strange stories to be imagined in the mind of the viewer, like in the photo above. What does it say to you?
What is this? Where is this?
And it sparks thoughts in the mind of the viewer. Instead of showing everything, allow the view to guess and ponder and wonder…
And most importantly – provoke their imagination.
Imagination is such a gift to us as humans – and it is under-nourished and under-utilized in adults.
Spend time with any young kids and you’ll soon see your imagination deficit.
Bring your imagination into your photography, and that will invite the views of your images to use their imaginations too.
The power of storytelling
In this photo below I suppose you could ask the opposite question – why did I choose to include all of the elements next to the painting?
Because you have this very compelling painting on the wall it would have been easy to frame the photo around the painting. But to me that would have just been a shot of a painting, and I wanted to show something else, to tell a story about where I found this painting.
But I also chose to shoot this because the elements next to the painting were so interesting. You had this brown door with the railings, then the blue wall, then another wooden door with different shape slats of wood.
These elements make the shot compelling, to have those shapes and textures next to the beautiful and very detailed painting of the girl.
I could, of course, just made the shot about the wall. But I wanted to also include the pavement, grounding the elements, but also the pavement is broken and has little plants sprouting out of it.
So it’s not a ‘clean and perfect’ composition. I like things not being too clean, especially when you are organising composition carefully like I do.
Keeping room and space for some of the chaoticness of life!
The power of clarity
When you find the confidence to leave things out, reduce and reduce some more, and see how it can bring such a powerful clarity to your photographs.
It’s more than simplicity – which as I said earlier speaks to me more as an aesthetic. It’s about even very complex shots having exactly the right amount of elements – no more, no less.
So next time you are out taking photos ask yourself – what am I going to leave out of my shot?
What don’t I need?
I hope you enjoyed these ideas and tips.
We will have more ideas for you tomorrow, which I am excited to share.
In the meantime – I’d love to know what you thought of today’s ideas. Comment below 🙂
Have a fantastic day,
Anthony and Diana
Photos of the Full Moon + 11 Mary Oliver quotes to inspire bold creativity
This is Diana, hello! I hope life is good and you are having a delightful and stimulating day.
This morning I was roused from my sleep around 3.30 by Anthony slipping out of bed to go off to photograph the full moon.
He was heading back to the spot in the Cerro Gordo area near us, where earlier this month he made his first Astrophotography shot.
You might think I get annoyed to be woken at such an hour, but actually I love it because I so enjoy being around people doing creative things. It inspires me to make things of my very own.
I got up – much later! – and while I was drinking my morning coffee, my thoughts turned to someone else I find intensely inspiring: the poet, Mary Oliver.
Mary Oliver died earlier this year, after a long and very productive life. She won a Pulitzer prize and became one of the best selling poets of her age.
She had the most exquisite ability to capture some of the beautiful truths about recognising the very best of this life and being creative. Her poems make me want to reach for my notebook and write.
Her writing focuses on so many things that Anthony talks about as being essential to photography – being present to the world around us, not rushing through it, opening up our awareness to the magic of light, nature and the beauty surrounding us. Finding beauty in the mundane, everyday elements of life.
These ideas are relevant to all creative practices – so I thought an intriguing piece for you all would be to combine the shots Anthony got this morning with some of my favourite quotes of Oliver’s.
I hope you find something creatively nourishing in this – and it sparks some ideas for your own photography.
“Hello, sun in my face. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields.” Mary Oliver
“And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” Mary Oliver
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” Mary Oliver
“Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled— to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.” Mary Oliver
“It is a serious thing // just to be alive / on this fresh morning / in this broken world.” Mary Oliver
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver
“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” Mary Oliver
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” Mary Oliver
“And now I understand something so frightening & wonderful-how the mind clings to the road it knows, rushing through crossroads, sticking like lint to the familiar.” Mary Oliver
“Do you love this world? Do you cherish your humble and silky life? Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?” ~ Mary Oliver
“I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…” Mary Oliver
A note about the location of the photos – Cerro Gordo is a little stretch of protected coast on the Costa Tropical in Andalucia, that gives dramatic views over sheer cliffs, hidden caves, tiny unspoilt beaches, grazing wild goats and stunning plants and trees.
It’s a magical spot to relax in nature, but Anthony has found it a fantastic place to shoot things like the full moon, and Astrophotography.
Greetings from Palermo, on the beautiful island of Sicily. I have just finished running a workshop and now I am shooting and filming. It’s been a great week for me!
Di and I were talking recently about why travel feels so exhilarating to us.
We travel to see the beauty of nature and the ingenuity of people.
We travel to see the majestic buildings, the ancient sites of worship, the beauty of the old.
We travel to see different formations of nature, animals and wildlife.
We travel to see different colours, smell different smells, try different foods, feel the air of a faraway place.
But we also travel to remove ourselves from ourselves. To find other ways to live, and to be away from everything that traps us into who we have become.
To experiment and explore other ways of being – and that is exhilarating.
It brings life, and it’s meaning to us, into focus in way that being at home day after day doesn’t.
I wonder if you like to travel? What does travelling mean to you?
When I travel I have one essential need – and that is to meet local people.
Even though I am not a people-centred photographer, I have more photos of nature, empty streets and sunrises than the humans living in these places.
But it is the people I meet that makes my experience of a new country deeper, more fascinating than anything I could do on my own – by simply bearing witness.
Meeting local people brings to life everything I am seeing. Instead of just seeing history I become part of local culture, living history as it were.
Instead of just eating the local foods, observing local culture, seeing the sights – by meeting people, and becoming involved in the community, I become part of life being lived.
I recently came across the Instagram account @everydayeverywhere. Growing out of the success of @everydayafrica, whose aim has been to break down stereotypes of the continent, tell stories and show those outside of Africa a different collection of images than the ones we just see on the news.
I like that it reflects my experiences of travelling – where I see people living their lives in almost exactly the same way, with similar values, as I have in my country (or what has recently become my many home countries :))
Why is this important?
Because we often form view of countries we don’t know from our media, and they are usually highly selective views about a tiny collection of events.
We start building up ideas in our mind of cities, groups of people, whole countries or continents being dangerous or totally poverty stricken or inhospitable – when in fact the majority of life being lived in that place is just like ours.
We often think – over there – is so much more dangerous than right here at home.
For me – one of the best way to eradicate stereotypes is to travel.
“I have no reason to go, except that I have never been, and knowledge is better than ignorance. What better reason could there be for travelling?” Freya Stark
And if you can’t travel or you just love to explore – thankfully we have fantastic projects like Everyday Everywhere where we can see lives all over the world.
In an age where stereotypes are becoming used politically to alienate and separate – I can’t think of a better way to combat this than be focusing instead on our similarities.
“Color is joy. One does not think joy. One is carried by it.”Ernst Haas
Today I want to focus on how we can use colour in our composition, and I am going to focus on the colour purple to tell some stories and share some ideas with you that you can use straight away in your photography.
I am such a lover of colour in my photography – I have not done much black and white photography because colour speaks to me so powerfully, like it did for Georgia O’Keefe:
“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”
Colour can be used as a major element in our compositions – it doesn’t have to be an afterthought or just one of the many layers in an image.
Colour and shape can also be the whole composition. As it was also for the painter Wassily Kandinsky:
“For Kandinsky, art was a spiritual and emotional experience. He wanted his paintings to transcend recognized forms and express feelings through colors and shapes. To him, copying from nature stifled artistic expression.” Anne Butler on Study.com
I like, too, how colour is a sensory experience, but also a cultural one. How we perceived colour throughout history still echoes in our subliminal feelings about it.
The subject of this photo of is…purple! The contrasting yellow-green grass is simply framing it for impact. There is also the texture of the plant, which is pretty.
Colour brings feeling into your images
When we are looking at colour – any colour – as we look out into the world, it’s good to get quiet and think – how is this making me feel?
I think you need to be a little quiet so that you aren’t analysing how you feel, but you are allowing the feeling to arise naturally.
“I would never choose a subject for what it means to me. I choose a subject and then what I feel about it, what it means, begins to unfold.” – Diane Arbus
As photographers we can use colour as a compositional tool
“Everything that you can see in the world around you presents itself to your eyes only as an arrangement of patches of different colors.” John Ruskin
I like to suggest simple ideas for composition, to help to break down what can feel like an overwhelmingly large amount of things to learn.
And by focusing on colour – any colour – we can help break the world down into subjects and elements to make it easier to find compelling subjects.
What you will now find after reading this is that you see purple everywhere. It will suddenly start to pop out at you in all kinds of interesting ways.
Early morning in Paris. I love the lines in this photo. The surreal colours create a slight otherworldliness.
And that is part of the reason I want to draw your attention to how significant your focus is.
So you can use this a seeing exercise (how much purple can I see today? Or yellow? Doesn’t matter what colour you pick.)
And you can use this as a way to create a little see-ing project.
We can also ask:
What does colour mean to you?
How do you use colour in your photography?
What can I see today?
Purple is a rare colour
“Purple combines the calm stability of blue and the fierce energy of red.” Bourn Creative
I like that it’s not a common colour; it’s rarer than, say, blue or yellow. I feel it a colour of great power, majesty and distinction.
What does it make you think of?
I recently read a literary exploration on Two Hundred Years of Blue (and I will do a photo exploration on the colour blue, as well as some others).
I found it fascinating to read about how single colours can create such a proud impact on our psyches.
It is has been suggested that until modern times we couldn’t see the colour blue (so what else can’t we see?)
And that is why Homer wrote about the ‘wine dark sea’ rather than a blue sea. In this amazing article they build a pretty strong case for how people didn’t see blue, until someone created a word for it in modern times.
I find this a fascinating idea. If people couldn’t see it then what are we not seeing now?
Or what can I see that you don’t, and vice versa? Totally trippy.
For me, it obviously chimes in with my teaching that generally, we notice very little – and it is by developing our ability to see more that we develop our photography.
It is also that our vision develops and changes as we expand our understanding of the world.
When we are taking photos, it’s important to lose as much of our thinking-baggage about the world is like this – and instead bring an attitude of: I would like to see things as they are. That way you open yourself up to so many more interesting experiences and ways to see things.
Purple works well with other strong colours.
Purple was made a in totally strange way
As a brilliant piece of history about the colour purple (it has a pretty extraordinary history), my favourite thing I’ve learnt about purple is this:
“Purple is a paradox, a contradiction of a colour. Associated since antiquity with regality, luxuriance, and the loftiness of intellectual and spiritual ideals, purple was, for many millennia, chiefly distilled from a dehydrated mucous gland of molluscs that lies just behind the rectum: the bottom of the bottom-feeders.” BBC Culture
Purple is not a real colour…
“There is no purple light in a rainbow. When white light splits through a prism or refracts as it passes through a raindrop, expanding in to bands of multicolored light, nothing purple comes out the other end.” Smithsonian Magazine
Purple is a composite, as though our brains can’t work out what it is and so have figured out purple. It is more on the ultraviolet end of the spectrum of light.
Mixed with blue, purple is such a calming colour. The desert, late evening
If we are wondering how this can help us – in my courses I often set people the challenge of choosing a colour to photograph. But it’s not just capturing the colour – it’s capturing the feeling of the color that is important.
It’s looking at the colour and feeling its qualities – and using your skills to capture that.
We can also think about all the other shades, colours and tones associated with purple – lilacs, violet, magenta, plum, mauve. We can explore the world through colour in many ways.
From grey to blue to orange to brown – what can we do with the vast array of colours available for us to work with?
I hope you have enjoyed our sojourn through the colour Purple. I’d love to know how you use colour in your photography. Let us know in the comments.
A little purple here. An early morning market in Paris. Again, the purple is showing up along with a strong yellow.
I’ve had a many cameras in my 36 plus years as a photographer. I started with a Pentax K1000 – a brilliant camera – then I moved on to my beautiful Hassleblad – and many Canon’s.
The cameras come and go, either from wear and tear or the demands of needing new technology. But in all my time my as photographer I’ve only had 3 tripods.
The first was a studio tripod I used in school for studio stuff. It was big, heavy and boring. The second tripod saw 3 or 4 cameras come and go. It was sturdy, light, made of aluminium and lasted 20 years.
Tripods allow you to take shots you couldn’t otherwise – 149 sec @ f/8 ISO400
I am currently on my 3rd tripod – although I still have the second as a backup. This one is bigger, lighter, more sturdy and made of carbon fibre.
The function of a tripod is of course the same, regardless of the material it’s made from – holding a camera very still for extended periods for time.
This is the longest exposure I’ve taken in a few years – 419sec @f/16 ISO200
But apart from their inherit functionality there is one other thing they have in common – they have changed the way I approach my photography.
Even when I’m not shooting at shutter speeds slower than 1 second (which is the essential time gauge of when you must have a tripod) I still carry my camera around on a tripod.
I find it comforting as it gives me so many options with my aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Having a tripod means I am prepared to shoot in any lighting condition – in low light inside a building, at night – I can be anywhere at any time.
15 sec @ f/11 ISO 100
And that is just the technical side. What it has done for my creative side is encourage me to slow down and really look at all aspects of my compositions with a very intentional mindset – micro movements with the tripod head became something I just do. One millimeter here another there.
So as I was shooting and getting better as a fine artist my tripod was always there with me making me think and move with greater attention to detail. Helping me make more perfect exposures, horizons and compositions.
I didn’t really need a tripod for this shot but it sure did help with composition. 1/400th @f/13 ISO400
Thank you tripod! I really do believe it has been the one piece of kit that shaped me, and not just my photography but my MIND as well. It set the pace of my journey.
Nowadays I only use my tripod primarily for long exposures but still find myself lugging it about even in full sun. I don’t even use it 80% of the time but I take it because I never like the feeling of maybe needing it.
I think my relationship with my tripod is a bit like Luke Skywalker and Yoda – it’s on my back as I trek and train, speaking words of knowledge and encouragement and when I’m having trouble it will always, if not reluctantly come to my rescue.
Making a timelapse is something I love doing and I never know when a good one will present itself – 1/125th @ f/8 ISO100
Some tips on buying a tripod
I get asked frequently about how to approach buying a tripod. There are 3 basic things you should consider when buying one. And these are VERY important since you will probably spend nearly the rest of your lives together.
In order of importance I consider:
A lot of people put weight as the first priority, but not me. My tripod needs to meet me on MY level not me on its! It’s nice to have a compact and light 3 legged companion, but not if you have to bend over to use it.
You will soon find that you are not the perfect match if you have to constantly bend yourself in half to look into the viewer finder or screen. You will find your relationship soon fades and there will come a day when you completely forget to take it out.
A good tripod is one, that fully extended, is perfectly aligned with your eyes.
15 sec @ f/11 ISO 100
Is important but it is the second consideration for me. Find one with a good height first that doesn’t weigh too much. If you don’t there will come a day when you look at it in the corner of the room and say “Ugh…!” If you do often say “ugh” then you probably have the wrong tripod and your relationship will never fully develop.
After height and weight the 3rd consideration most photographers will mention is sturdiness. Unless you plan to spend £20 on a Velbon, sturdiness is something that almost all tripod are good at and for general photography your average tripod is plenty sturdy.
So, instead my 3rd requirement is profile.
Being a travel photographer it is important that my tripod fits nicely on my bag and when it is stowed away I can forget it is even with me. It can be stowed in the centre of your bag or on the side. I prefer it in the centre, better balance and less fatigue over long treks.
Finding your perfect tripod is not an easy thing to do. It needs to be the perfect balance of height, weight and profile (or sturdiness…I won’t argue.) There are dozens of manufacturers and hundreds upon hundreds to choose from. Ranging in price from £30 to £2000 ($40-3,000) and up.
Making long exposures is a really fun way to enhance the feel of an image – 6 sec @ f/5.0 ISO200
My last – essential tip – visit a camera store!
Visit you local camera shop and try out the tripods – fully extend it, feel the weight and understand how you will carry it on and off you bag.
If you do this then you are guaranteed to have a long a mutually loving relationship for many decades to come. Good luck folks and may the 3-legged force be with you!
I’d love to know – do you use a tripod or are you planning to buy one?
Let me know – please comment below and let me know.
10 Lessons On Photography & Art From Richard Avedon And James Baldwin
My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph. Richard Avedon
I hope life is good. We are settling into the lovely town of Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains of Morocco. We’ll be here for a few weeks as we love it so much. The colours, the light, the pretty town and the mountain views.
It’s easy to work here and I am doing a lot of great photography. We are all basking in the peace and calm of such a magnificent place.
Today I’ve been reading about the book – Nothing Personal – which I hadn’t heard of before. It is a collaboration between photographer Richard Avedon and writer James Baldwin. These are two men I really admire and whose work I delight in. I had no idea they collaborated in the 1960’s on a project about America.
Nothing Personal is being exhibited in New York and the book was just republished by Taschen. (Here is a blogger showcasing the previous edition on Youtube. Highly recommend it, it shows you the progression of the book – fascinating.)
Avedon was an amazing photographer, known for his fashion and portrait work. Baldwin wrote one of my favourite novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain, but was also an essayist, and political activist.
(I like to remind myself of these wise words of Baldwin when I think about my kids: “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” James Baldwin)
How many photos that I take of my wife does she actually like? Possibly only 1%, I am sorry to say. I can love a photo of her, and she hates it. But this is just par for the course of photography.
People will always have sensitivity about their own image. Let’s face it, we all have a vision in our head of how we’d like to look, and when photos don’t match up to that vision then we dislike them. Nothing us photographers can do about that! Except really, to not take it personally.
Do the best that you can, and accept that if you photograph people you’ll find a lot of them disliking the resulting photo.
Jeffrey Brown: Not everyone is always happy with the results. Avedon took this portrait of the renowned literary critic Harold Bloom.
Richard Avedon: And he said, “I hate that picture. It doesn’t look like me.” Well, for a very smart man to think that a picture is supposed to look like him… would you go to Modigliani and say, “I want it to look like me?”
You have to remember when you look at his photographs that Avedon will have had time with his subjects, will have shot many different photos – and most importantly chosen each image on purpose – to match his vision.
There will always be a range of expressions and poses, and part of the genius of photography is the edit, is the photos you actually choose.
Avedon took some stunning photographs of his father, which he wrote about beautifully. He said:
His [Avedon’s father] allegiance was to the way he wanted to be seen; mine was to the way I saw him, which had to do not only with my feelings about my father, but with my feelings about what it is to be anyone. Richard Avedon in ASX
3. Photography is not the truth – it’s an interpretation
A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is truth. Richard Avedon
Photographers are opinion-makers, they are forming people’s interpretation of the people around them.
4. To be an artist— to be a photographer, you need to nurture the thing that most people discard….
….You have to keep them alive in order to tap them. It’s been important my entire life not to let go of anything which most people would throw in the ashcan. I need to be in touch with my fragility, the man in me, the woman in me. The child in me. The grandfather in me. All these things, they need to be kept alive. Richard Avedon
I like this quote so much. It is showing us that nothing in life is irrelevant to our craft. Watching the metal glisten on the train tracks as we wait for our morning train. Studying the face of a client at a meeting. Watching the shapes on the window in the dark of night as we lay with our child because they had a bad dream.
All of life informs our choices as photographers. You are never not taking in visual information! You can use the time when you are doing other things, to notice, to see, to feel, to absorb, to spark ideas.
For me this is also about learning to live in a different way to others. Not gliding through life, to sometimes find the inane – fascinating; the boring -stimulating; the useless – useful. It’s those contradictions.
Sometimes I feel like I am going the opposite way to people in my life. Instead of building more security I am building less, instead of acquiring more things, I am discarding everything I don’t need.
And because “When one begins to live by habit and by quotation, one has begun to stop living.” James Baldwin
Plus when you think of doing something different or difficult, it’s useful to remember that:
“Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” James Baldwin
I love the angular nature of so many of Avedon’s portraits. He uses the body in such an interesting way. Slightly reminds me of Bill Brandt, who had a very different style but he also made interesting shapes with the body.
5. I hate cameras. They interfere, they’re always in the way. I wish I could just work with my eyes alone. Richard Avedon
I love this. This is going beyond the camera and its many facets. It’s going beyond the tools and being someone with a vision and passion for examining life.
6. My photographs don’t go below the surface. They don’t go below anything. They’re readings of the surface. I have great faith in surfaces. A good one is full of clues. Richard Avedon
This makes me laugh! Because it’s true and also not true. So much is revealed in people’s faces, in a moment, so much is being communicated. And yet it is just a moment. It is just a fleeting moment that has been subjectively captured by a biased individual.
Whenever I become absorbed in the beauty of a face, in the excellence of a single feature, I feel I’ve lost what’s really there…been seduced by someone else’s standard of beauty or by the sitter’s own idea of the best in him. That’s not usually the best. So each sitting becomes a contest. Richard Avedon
When you become so involved in how interesting your subject is, you aren’t looking at them objectively, but almost as an element in your scene.
Snapshots that have been taken of me working show something I was not aware of at all, that over and over again I’m holding my own body or my own hands exactly like the person I’m photographing. I never knew I did that, and obviously what I’m doing is trying to feel, actually physically feel, the way he or she feels at the moment I’m photographing them in order to deepen the sense of connection. Richard Avedon
Interesting quote. It shows us how important connecting to your subject is – and it’s not just about getting along with them. It’s about observing and connecting with their mood and energy, how they are feeling.
This is about observering and trying to allow the subject space, so they can unfold themselves.
I think I’m sort of a reader— I used to love handwriting analysis. But that’s nothing compared to reading a face. I think if I had decided to go into the fortune telling business, I would have probably been very good. What happens to me in work— I look for something in a face, and I look for contradiction, complexity. Somethings that are contradictory and yet connected. Richard Avedon
9. Fear is there, regardless of how accomplished you are
There’s nothing hard about photography. I get scared, and I’m longing for the fear to come back. I feel the fear when I have the camera in hand. I’m scared like when an athlete is scared, you’re going for the high jump. You can blow it. That’s what taking a photo is. Richard Avedon
I talk about fear a lot. I will continue. This is a reminder to me that it doesn’t matter how much you’ve done in your life, fear can always be there. And that’s OK.
I think I do photograph what I’m afraid of. Things I couldn’t deal with … My father’s death, madness, when I was young—women. I didn’t understand. It gave me a sort of control over the situation which was legitimate, because good work was being done. And by photographing what I was afraid of, or what I was interested in— I laid the ghost. It got out of my system and onto the page.Richard Avedon
I’d like to finish with a short extract from an essay by James Baldwinwhich is think is really enlightening, about the role of the creative act in the day-to-day of life:
“Perhaps the primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid; the state of being alone.
That all men are, when the chips are down, alone, is a banality — the banality because it is very frequently stated, but very rarely, on the evidence, believed.
Most of us are not compelled to linger with the knowledge of our aloneness, for it is a knowledge that can paralyze all action in this world.
There are, forever, swamps to be drained, cities to be created, mines to be exploited, children to be fed. None of these things can be done alone.
But the conquest of the physical world is not man’s only duty. He is also enjoined to conquer the great wilderness of himself.
The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
This is a photo from my workshop last week. The busyness of a city like Hong Kong gives you so many opportunities to play with long exposures.
Good day to you,
I hope life is really super good, and that you are happy, nourished, enjoying life in all the many places that you live.
Today’s post is inspired a little by Vangelis, the composer who scored films such as Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. He composes quite spacey, evocative music – melodies that seem to often grab you by the emotions (see Conquest of Paradise, although I love his more sedate, laid-back music like Blade Runner Blues).
I read an interview with Vangelis in which he was asked:
Many of your fans might have expected a synthetic, ‘Beaubourg’-style score for Blade Runner, rather than the rich and emotional tapestry of themes that you came up with. How concerned were you with disassociating the Blade Runner score from the bombast of Star Wars and the ‘artificial’ style of many previous sci-fi themes?
Vangelis – In order to answer your question I need a special talent that some people have to talk about their work endlessly, something I find very difficult and boring to do. So, I will just say that I did what I felt like doing at the moment I did it.
Awesomely funny! But as well as making me laugh – it made me think that really this last point is the essence of creating and photography.
Creating anything happens in a moment by moment basis – and it is dominated by the choices you make and how you feel.
Great photography is about depth of feeling, not depth of field – Peter Adams
What is happening in the moment that you take the photo?
You may think by that I mean what’s happening outside of you. But what I really mean is what is happening inside of you?
Now – the biggest problem I’ve seen for most photographers is actually – they are not in the present moment.
Most photographers are being distracted by the place they are in, the thoughts running through their head about things in the future, thoughts about their camera and things like ‘am I doing this right?’
But what we need to be aiming for is being totally and fully present in the moment. Totally there in the place, totally connected to what we are doing. Almost pretending there is no past or future, because, actually, is there? All we have for sure is now.
So when you have anchored yourself in this magical present moment you want to figure out how you feel.
How do you feel about this place that you are in? Alone? Excited? Exhilerated? Nervous? Unsure?
Because all of those feelings will translate into your photos.
A very common emotion in photography is nerves, especially when photographing people and street photography.
Nerves lead to people ‘holding back’ and not truly jumping in and embracing the moment.
And I can see when people are holding themselves back, I can see it in their photos. When they are not giving the experience everything they want to give.
To fully embrace the experience, the moment you are in. Surrendering to what is happening now, and pulling yourself away from anything else that will distract you.
You will see in my photos of Hong Kong how I felt about the city. What my dominating emotions were.
Life is fleeting. We get obsessed with the little things – the day to day when we are running around so don’t forget to fully embrace the times when you get to do all of this wonderful creating. Don’t forget to fully embrace the moment.
So those are some thoughts about photography and the essentialness of being ‘in the moment’. I hope you enjoyed them (as well as some of my new photos of Hong Kong).
That’s it for now. Any thoughts, questions or queries – just comment below.