There’s always more to a place than first meets the eye

It’s always tempting to think that what you need for inspiration, photographically, is to visit some exciting new place and it’s true that being somewhere new and different can give you a real creative boost.  But if you look at many famous photographers, you find that their best shots were often taken very close to home.  For example, Ansel Adams lived near Yosemite and visited it again and again; Edward Weston lived near Point Lobos and did the same.  Painters, too, often paint the same thing over and over – think of Monet with his lilypond, haystacks and Rouen Cathedral.

Going back time and again to the same places enables you to fully explore them and your own reaction to them.  I first noticed this when I did a course assignment on Canterbury Cathedral.  I had to make several visits to get enough material for the assignment, but even when it was finished I kept going back.  Each time I went there, I saw different things, and my seeing became more nuanced and subtle.  The kind of photographs I took there began to change, and began to express better how I felt about the place.  That’s not to say that these were the photographs that everybody else liked best, but they were the ones that made me feel I’d done what I wanted to do – which, let’s face it, is what’s important in the long run.

But cathedrals are a bit of a visual feast anyway, and what do you do when you’re going back to places that don’t inspire you that much in the first place?  I often feel the need to get out of the house and away from the computer, but I’m very limited in where I can walk to without getting in the car first.  My usual walk takes me up a country lane and back through the orchards, which sounds nice but there isn’t a lot there that’s particularly inspiring.  The last time I took my camera with me, for some reason my eyes seemed wider open to the possibilities and these shots were the result.  It did help that someone had been playing with the apples and plums!

Apples and plums

Apples and plums

Applies and plums on fence

This one’s a little bit macabre, but on the way there I spotted this headless doll lying on the other side of the fence and it reminded me of a crime scene.  I shot the whole body at first, but then I thought that just having the hands reaching out for something said a lot more.  Not my jolliest of shots, but I like them in their own way and feel they say something.

Crime scene

Crime scene - reaching

The wheatfield looked wonderful, but at first I couldn’t figure out how to get a shot that made it look the way I felt when I saw it.  There were some narrow tracks through it and I thought I’d try to use one of those to lead the eye through the image.  When I got home and put it up on the computer screen, it just didn’t give the effect I wanted.  The path didn’t stand out enough because there wasn’t enough contrast, but when I increased the contrast the wheat looked harsh and hard-edged.  I wanted to get the feeling of softness and abundance that I was experiencing.  After a bit of experimenting, I tried the Orton technique on it and got what I wanted.  It emphasised the path enough to show it up, and added to the soft feel that I was trying for.

Path through the wheat field

And then on the way home, I spotted these flowers and petals which had fallen from an overhanging tree onto the concrete path.  I thought the colours were lovely – this is probably my favourite shot of the day and I like the way it looks a bit painterly without me having done anything much to it to make it that way.  I’ve also realised that I have quite a few images of fallen petals, flowers and leaves, and I think I might try to add to this and develop it into a little personal project.

Fallen flowers

It’s about the picture, not the camera

Tulips

One of the first photos I ever took – before I knew anything at all about how to use a camera – on a Nikon, 2-megapixel, point-and-shoot

When I first started running photography workshops, I set up two different workshops that I thought would complement each other.  One was a creative one, aimed at helping people see a good picture, and the other was a technical one that showed them how to use their cameras.  In my naivety I put the creative one on first, which caused some consternation among people who phoned to book.  “Well I’d like to do the creative one”, said one woman, “but I don’t see how I can do that until I’ve learned how the camera works”.  This view turned out to be shared by just about everyone.

But I had a reason for putting the creative one first – well, two reasons really.  The first is that if you have a good eye, you can take fantastic shots without ever moving off the Auto setting, but no amount of technical expertise in the world will make up for not being able to ‘see’ photographically.  I’ve seen this played out time and again; I’ve had several students (on the technical course) who’ve already been taking amazing photos without being able to do anything with their camera other than press the shutter button.

The second reason is that this is how I learned myself.  I came to photography from a fine art perspective and started out taking photos to use as the basis for drawings and paintings.  Pretty soon that changed into falling in love with photography for its own sake, and before long I became frustrated that I couldn’t achieve the look I wanted without knowing more about how my camera worked.  So I learned.  I’m someone who just isn’t interested in learning technical stuff unless I have a purpose in mind, and the need to be able to put my creative ideas into effect was what motivated me to get to grips with it.  I thought running a creative class first might inspire people and give them the motivation, too, to persevere with something that can be difficult at first.

This all came back to me when I came across a post by Ken Rockwell, called How to Learn Photography. He says:

Most people start by buying a camera, and learning how to use that camera and all its lenses and accessories……..Far fewer people start in photography by taking pictures, which is the correct way.

He goes on to explain how easy it is to get snarled up in trying to learn all the technical ins and outs, without actually spending much time just taking pictures.  And more controversially he states:

Women are better photographers than men as a whole because women worry about their pictures, and not about their cameras. Men spend lifetimes researching and talking about cameras, which does nothing to advance their photography.

Women and children take pictures because they like them, not because they like playing with cameras. Their natural curiosity leads them to better pictures.

This is a bit of a sweeping generalisation, and I certainly don’t want to offend any men who might be reading, but in my own experience it contains at least a nugget of truth.  Women usually come to photography primarily because they want to create pictures, and are often quite put off by having to tackle the technical side of things.  Men seem – on the whole – much more interested in the equipment you take the photos with, and can even get a little obsessed about what settings have been used where, and how to get things technically perfect.

I once went on a workshop where one of the students (male) had a Hasselblad camera and every piece of photographic equipment you could want in a lifetime.  He spent the whole workshop zooming in on his images on his laptop, saying “Look how sharp that is!  Just look at the sharpness there!!” His pictures were at best conventional, at worst, dull.  (Perfectly sharp shots of tractors, anyone?….)  I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t much interested in photography, only cameras.

I’d better say very quickly here that I’m not claiming there’s no need to learn technical stuff; you can do so much more, and realise your creative vision so much better, once you know a bit about technique.  I wouldn’t be teaching classes in it if I didn’t think that.  And I have come across the other point of view at times, where learning the basics has been discouraged as unnecessary and even undesirable, and I disagree strongly with that.  My point is that we need both, but that if you had to choose one over the other, then the pictures are more important than the camera.

Which is why it really surprises me that it’s so difficult to get people to sign up for creative photo workshops (at least in the off-line world). I’ve worked with Corinna, from Hairy Goat Photo Tours in London over the last year to help set up a range of photography workshops.  The technical ones usually fill up quite easily, but attempts to run creative workshops have been a dismal failure – it seems no-one wants these or even sees the importance of them.  When I’ve tried doing this in my own neighbourhood, it’s been exactly the same.  I’m confused as to why this is, since I see lots of people online who’re exploring the creative side of things.  I can’t believe there aren’t at least some people in the south-east of England who realise that learning about the camera is only one half of the equation, and the slightly less important half, at that.  The whole thing leaves me very puzzled……..

“I’m always and forever looking for the image that has spirit! I don’t give a damn how it got made.”

Minor White

 

Charleston Farmhouse – living at its most creative

Dahlias, Charleston Farmhouse

We visited Charleston Farmhouse, in Sussex, a week or so ago. This was the home of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, who were part of the Bloomsbury group of artists and writers, which included people such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster.

Inside, the house is large and rambling, and just about everything has been crafted and decorated by its inhabitants.  The interior is fundamentally quite shabby, but every surface – walls, floors, fireplaces, furniture – has been decoratively painted.  The furniture is a motley collection of different styles but it’s been covered with decorative designs, and old chairs were re-upholstered with hand painted textiles.  Lampshades are made out of pottery and attached to the ceiling with wires in a Heath-Robinson-ish sort of way.  Every inch of the place displays the creativity of its inhabitants.  Paintings – their own and others – cover the walls, and one room is lined with old books.

It was a place where artists and writers came to stay, to sit by open fires and talk of life and ideas late into the night, and to relax, play and paint in the walled garden and grounds.

What struck me most was what an idyllic life it seemed to be. They did have some money problems – although coming from a fairly gentrified background this was all relative – but they used their creativity to make a wonderful, welcoming home out of what must have been a rather scruffy old farmhouse.  Instead of employing interior designers, or buying expensive furniture, they used their own skills and talents to create one of the most individual places I’ve ever seen.  And they pretty much did whatever they wanted to do there – painting, writing, creating, talking.

They also made a stunningly lovely walled garden. Walking into it through the door in the wall takes you into a magical space – it’s criss-crossed by narrow paths which are almost hidden by the luxurious spilling over of vividly coloured flowers and plants.  In many places the plants grow up to shoulder-height so that you only see the bit of the garden you’re in and the rest becomes an intriguing mystery.  It was:

“a summer garden for playing and painting, an enchanted retreat from London life. As Vanessa Bell wrote in 1936, “The house seems full of young people in very high spirits, laughing a great deal at their own jokes… lying about in the garden which is simply a dithering blaze of flowers and butterflies and apples.”

I love that phrase ‘dithering blaze’, don’t you?  It sums it up entirely – a cottage garden of the best kind, an untidy abundance of everything summer has to offer.

I’m sure it wasn’t quite as idyllic as it looks to us now, but I love the idea that these people created the kind of life they wanted, doing what was important to them, following their passions, and making a life where being creative wasn’t a thing apart, but spilled over into every area of their lives.

Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed inside the house, and the garden was so full of people on the sunny August Sunday when we went, that photography on anything other than a fairly small scale was almost impossible.  However, I did manage to get these small vignettes that I hope give a little flavour of how it was.

Sculpture, in Charleston garden

Sunflowers, Charleston garden

Daisies, Charleston garden

Hose, Charleston Garden

Snails, Charleston garden

Happiness is…..a good hot shower

Shower feet

We’re not good at showers, here in the UK. Visit a lot of our bed and breakfast places and you’ll find yourself having to soap up and rinse off under a pathetic trickle of water that emerges from a very small shower-head with an array of tiny pinhead-sized holes. Usually quite a few of these are blocked up with limescale and it’s often more like standing in heavy mist than it is like being showered.

You’ll have gathered from this that I like a good powerful shower, and usually I get one, but last week the tube that runs inside the metal shower hose split, and most of the water wasn’t making it more than an inch or so upwards.  But it’s an easy thing to fix so we got a new hose from Wilkinson and Geoff put it on.  Two days later the tube in that one split, even worse this time, and for the last few days we’ve been trying to shower under the equivalent of a small leak in the plumbing.

This morning involved a trip to somewhere that sells shower hoses of a quality that lasts longer than a couple of days (never buy one of these from Wilkinsons!), and you’ve no idea how wonderful it was to get a decent shower at last.  I stood there, water cascading steamily over me, and thought how the hot shower is one of life’s great, under-appreciated pleasures.

 

Kertesz, the Polaroids, and the Royal Academy

 

Kertesz polaroids

A selection of Andre Kertesz’ still life Polaroids

I went to the Royal Academy recently to see Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century.  I so enjoyed this exhibition – the Hungarian photographers have a style and visual language that’s very close to what I love to do myself.  I’ve always adored Andre Kertesz’ work – he’s got to be in my top ten list of favourite photographers – and there was lots of it here as well as loads of other amazing stuff.

I like pretty much everything Kertesz has ever done, but my absolute favourites are the series of Polaroids he took towards the end of his life.  In many ways Kertesz is a sad figure – after considerable early success in Hungary and Paris, he emigrated to New York and then war broke out in Europe leaving him unable to go back.  Unfortunately New Yorkers didn’t appreciate his distinctive style and approach, and although he continued to work for magazines there were frequent disputes with editors and cancelled commissions, and he also found himself too busy to work on his personal projects.  It wasn’t a happy time for him – he never really learned to speak English very well, which added to his isolation, and he always felt like an outsider.  Many of his New York photographs reflect the sadness of that time.

His wife Elizabeth, whom he adored, died in 1977. There’s a terribly poignant photograph called “Flowers for Elizabeth”, taken while his wife was in hospital.  In the book ‘Kertesz on Kertesz’ he says: “I wanted the apartment to be painted for her when she came back, but she never came back.”

More or less confined to his apartment, and depressed after Elizabeth’s death, he started playing with a Polaroid camera that was lying around.  In his own words:

Years ago I was given a little primitive Polaroid camera and I didn’t like it – it was for snapshots.  But one day I took it out.  I had discovered, in the window of a shop, a little glass bust, and I was very moved because it resembled my wife- the shoulder and the neck were Elizabeth.  For months and months I looked at the bust in the window, and finally I bought it…….And I took it home, put it in my window, and began shooting and shooting with the Polaroid camera – in the morning, in the afternoon, in different lights.  Something came out of this little incident, this little object.  They made a book of all the pictures I took.  It is dedicated to my wife.

Kertesz on Kertesz, 1985

I think these photos are small and exquisite treasures; they represent everything I’d like to be able to do with still life.  I’ve been trying to get a copy of the book, which is out of print, for some time now and was thrilled to get an email from Amazon this morning saying that it’s on its way – I can’t wait to see it.

After going round the exhibition, Eileen and I sat outside in the forecourt for a couple of hours, talking, people-watching, enjoying the evening sun, and taking photos.  Here are a few.

 

Buildings reflected in Jeff Koons' sculpture

Buildings reflected in a sculpture by Jeff Koons, at the Royal Academy

Cooling down

Splash!

Colour reflections

Last of the evening light

Evening sun

I used to be indecisive, but now I’m not quite sure……

Dandelion seedhead

 

Some of you may know that I’ve recently become a Mortal Muse. One of my Muse-ly duties is to choose a photo from each of the three Mortal Muse Flickr groups once a fortnight.  This is a lot harder than you’d think and has involved much chewing of lower lip, releasing of troubled sighs, and eating of chocolate.  I should have known this wasn’t the job for someone who suffers from terminal indecision on a regular basis. (And I’m going to have to do it once a fortnight!)

It did make me start thinking about what it was that made me look closer at something and what kind of images were making it onto my shortlist.  This is all personal stuff of course, and I’m not claiming my criteria are the right ones, or that anyone should try to fit in with them.  Nonetheless, they are mine and I thought it might be interesting to figure out exactly what they are, because I’m not sure I know myself.  Here are some thoughts:

  • I wanted to find something a little different. Clichés are clichés for good reason, and a dandelion head is a beautiful thing even if it has been photographed a million times – and then some more.  But the problem with a cliché is that it doesn’t mark you out from the crowd unless you do it more beautifully and more stunningly than anyone else has.  And sometimes somebody does.  But most of the time I moved quickly past anything there was a lot of.
  • I saw some wonderful shots of babies and children, and I may yet choose some of these.  On the whole, though, these shots are more meaningful to parents and relatives than they are to anyone else, and the same goes for wedding and engagement shots.  If I choose something like this, it will be because it goes beyond that meaning and says something universal – or maybe just because it’s really funny (like this shot – which was chosen by another Muse before I got to it).
  • I’m getting into little idiosyncrasies now, but I hate it when people put large watermarks on their pictures.  I can’t look at anything but the watermark and it really puts me off.  I know it’s not nice to have your pictures stolen, but if you put them on as low-res shots, nobody can do much with them anyway.  And did I say it really puts me off?
  • And finally lots of photos were really nice – but just nice, really.  I felt the need of something more, some undefinable ingredient that stopped me in my tracks.
Chocolate and toffee brownies

It's a well-known fact that lots of this stuff makes decision-making much easier

That ruled out loads, but still left me with a lot more to choose from. It’s much harder to say what it was about a picture that made me take a better look than it is to say what made me pass on by.  I’ve just tried making a list but that didn’t work at all, because the shots that spoke to me did so because it wasn’t easy to lump them together in any kind of way.  They might have a certain mood or atmosphere or gorgeously beautiful light, might be funny or quirky (I do favour things that make me smile), could be unusual takes on usual things or interestingly composed, or they might show a wonderful appreciation of colour.  And of course, so much of it depended on what I brought to the picture myself – my own associations and feelings and memories.

When I was choosing from the pool that has a fortnightly theme, I did like it a lot when people interpreted that theme in a way you might not immediately think of.  And then sometimes I liked something quite ordinary simply because it was so beautifully done.  I think, on the whole, I’m drawn to things that are a little different, but the difference can manifest in all sorts of ways.

The hardest bit came when I did have a shortlist, because sometimes there was something I loved that I couldn’t choose because that person had been featured too recently, or it belonged to another Muse (I can choose these, but it doesn’t seem right somehow), or it was too similar to another Muse’s choice.  And then I felt sad for the ones that got away.

It feels strange and a little disquieting to be One Who Decides. I want everyone to feel huge pleasure in their own photography and creativity, even if the result isn’t always something I’d make my personal choice –  I’d like everyone to have that gold star feeling.  (I know how chuffed I was when one of mine got picked many months ago.)  And there are all these pictures I’d like to choose but can’t, because I only get to do this once a fortnight and I can only pick three. I want to leave messages saying, ‘I nearly chose yours!’

All I can say is, thank heavens there are nine of us, with a wide variety of tastes and interests that lead to an interesting mix of styles and subject matter – otherwise I think the responsibility would be just too much!

 

Taken for a ride….in a good way

Chevrolet Belair

We recently had our second wedding anniversary and, as is our custom (although obviously not a very long-established one), we booked a table for lunch at the restaurant where we held our reception.  So there we were, all dressed up and ready to go, and out the front door and heading for the car…….or so I thought.  We don’t have a driveway so the car can sometimes be parked a bit of a distance away.  Still, some way down the road I began to think that this was much further than usual and I said to Geoff, ‘Where is the car?’  ‘Opposite the house’, he replied.  ‘So why are we walking this way?’, I asked.  ‘You’ll see’, he said, with a small smile and a glint of something in his eye.

I kept going with the questions but obviously wasn’t going to get an answer.  Eventually we ended up at the main road and crossed it, then he stopped.  I looked at him.  ‘We’re waiting for a car’, he said.  I started mentally flipping through the options of who might be giving us a lift – there weren’t many and none seemed likely.  I looked at him again.  ‘Just watch the road.  You’ll know which car it is when you see it’, he said.

And suddenly, there it was.  A 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air looking very out of place among the usual Friday lunchtime traffic.  And what a car!  I don’t get at all excited about cars usually, but I do love old ones – they have so much character and quality about them.  And this was a beauty – roughly the same age as me, but in considerably better nick, inside and out.  It was driven by Geoff’s friend Stuart, who provides classic cars for weddings when he’s not being a driving instructor – a group of them had been out drinking a week or so before and Geoff had hatched this plan to surprise me.

As you can see, he was mightily pleased with himself, and I do think he had every reason to be – even if we did have to come home on the bus!

Geoff laughing

Chevrolet front

Check out the fluffy dice hanging from the rear-view mirror!

Stuart and car

Stuart – our chauffeur for the day

And if you want proof that using a wide-angle lens makes things further away look smaller than they really are, here it is.  Sorry, Stuart – if I’d had longer I’d have stretched you to normal height in Photoshop.

 

A magazine of ideas – and an editor with a great sense of humour

Philosophy Now

My ebook is nearly ready to go, and I’ve been giving the sales page a lot of thought recently.  I want to write it in a way that’s true to myself but might still entice somebody (maybe even more than one somebody) to actually buy it.  I really hate these hugely-long, yellow-highlighted, online sales letters full of sensational promises that no product could ever fulfil, but in the back of my mind a little voice has been saying ‘but that’s what you have to do if you want to sell your book’.

So I was absolutely delighted this morning to get a subscription reminder notice from Philosophy Now magazine, in which the first paragraph goes like this:

Dear Philosopher,

Your subscription to Philosophy Now ran out with Issue 83, and ever since then we’ve been inconsolable.  “What”, we ask ourselves rhetorically, “is the point of continuing?  Issue 85 is really good, but the achievement seems hollow, futile, if you aren’t going to read it…”  Bring meaning back to our lives: if you send us a cheque for £15.50 we’ll send you the next six issues and I’ll be able to wean my colleagues off their anti-depressants….

…..Rick Lewis, Editor

I only let the subscription lapse because I’m very, very broke at the moment, but this letter means that I’ll be renewing the moment I have some spare cash.  It not only made my day – I laughed out loud when I read it – it taught me a few things too about how connecting with people gets far better results than an in-your-face sales letter ever could.

 

Summer has failed to install

Tea in the garden

Anyone who knows me well also knows that I like my bed and am not in the habit of leaping out of it at anything other than a civilised time, and even then after at least an hour of leisurely reading with a cup of tea.  But this morning I made an exception, and was in my car and heading over to Alexandra’s garden in Faversham before 8.00am.  Alexandra* has a gorgeous garden that’s just begging to be photographed, and we’d been trying to arrange this date for quite a while.

There’s a photographic version of sod’s law that says the light is always at its best the day before you get there, and this was one of those times.  For most of the last week I’ve been waking up to beautiful sunshine and blue skies; the sun has usually disappeared by the time morning gets going in earnest, but has stayed around long enough for a potential photo session.  This morning – of course – I opened my eyes to dull, flat light and grey skies and realised it was going to be pretty tough to get any decent images at all.

The only thing you can do when the light is like this is to keep the sky out of things altogether and concentrate on small, intimate areas of garden where you at least have the advantage of there being no harsh shadows.  Even so, I’m not about to burst with excitement at the photos I’ve got. In a bid to add some extra interest to what would otherwise have been some very dull shots because of the light, I took quite a few of them using the Lensbaby – for the same reason, I’ve added the Orton effect to a couple of them.  Even so, you still can’t expect to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

(If you haven’t heard of the Orton technique, or you have but you don’t know how to do it, I wrote a tutorial on it a while ago for the Mortal Muses site.  I can’t get a unique url that will send you to the right place, but if you want to find it, go to www.mortalmuses.com, click on Muse University in the left-hand side panel, then scroll down several posts till you come to mine.)

Alexandra has two of these wonderful dog statues in the garden.  I had to do huge amounts of processing to get this image to look good at all.  It’s had curves, a solid colour adjustment layer, warming photo filter, and vignetting applied, to mention just a few of the things I did to it.  It still isn’t great, but probably the best I was ever going to get in the dull light.

Stone dog

She also has the real thing; isn’t he lovely? – unfortunately I can’t remember his name.  I’ve also managed to mess up with the focussing, which is centred on his collar rather than his eyes, as it should be.  It’s been a while since I’ve used my Lensbaby and my lack of practice is showing.

Saluki

The garden has loads of lovely little details like these:

Wrought iron chair

Red Crocosmia

Terracotta ball

Flower pot

There are some amazing and interesting flowers and plants, too.  My ignorance of plant names and species is extensive, but I can tell you this is some kind of hydrangea.  The flowers are fascinating – like little parasols with dainty flower heads dangling from them.  I think I could have done with a bit more depth of field here (it’s probably wise not to employ me to do photography early in the morning before my brain’s booted up), but the soft pinks are rather nice.

Pink hydrangea

But my favourite shots of the day were these wonderful leaves, which had the most amazing colours in them.  No, please don’t ask me what they are – I have no idea!  I processed the two shots a bit differently, with the first one kept very soft and the second with more sharpness and saturation.  I’m not sure which one I like best; I think they both work, in different ways.

Colourful leaves

Colourful leaves 2

We’re going to try again soon, in the hope of better light next time.  The reason for all these grey skies, according to an email I got the other day, is because Summer has failed to install….

INSTALLING SUMMER…..
Install delayed…please wait.  Installation failed.  Please try again.
404 error: Season not found.  Season “Summer” cannot be located.  The season you are looking for might have been removed, had its name changed or is temporarily unavailable.  Please try again later……
Maybe we could install “Mediterranean Summer” instead…that would be nice.  Any techies out there?

*Alexandra is an author who writes under the name of Nina Bell.  She has four books in print, on the theme of family dramas, and you can find details of them on her website: www.ninabell.co.uk

And if you’ve ever wondered about getting to grips with Twitter, do read Alexandra’s blog post on it – it’s one of the best I’ve ever come across on telling you why you should join in and how it all works.  You can find her blog on the website link above.

Repeating patterns

Canterbury Cathedral, ceiling

Kat Sloma is blogging on repeating patterns this week.

If you stop to think about it, life is made up of repeating patterns. Anything that becomes a routine or a habit is also a recurring pattern, and it’s these patterns that make up the bulk of our lives.  We need them – just imagine a life where no pattern is ever repeated and think how chaotic that would be.  So rhythms and patterns feel reassuring and secure and maybe that’s why we’re drawn to spotting them and photographing them.

Having said that, I realise that patterns are not something I tend to photograph much; if I do, it’s usually because of something else that goes along with them, like colours, or shadows, or a subject that has the pattern as a background.  Where there’s a very regular pattern, to me it works best as a backdrop that makes the other features of the photo more interesting.  And sometimes when I’ve photographed patterns it’s more of an echo effect than a neatly repeating one.  In the image below, the pattern can be found in all the arch shapes, but they repeat at different angles and sizes and so it’s not as obvious to spot at first glance.

Cathedral arches

Where there’s a more obvious and regular pattern to be found, it’s usually the small (or sometimes large) interruptions and variations in a pattern that make it worth looking at.  That’s probably why we prefer handmade things to machine-made ones: there’s a deadly, clone-like perfection to the patterns that a machine produces, but something handmade has little irregularities and variations in its patterns that keep it interesting while still retaining the satisfying feeling of the ongoing basic pattern.

In the photo below, the shadows are all slightly different and the building facade has little differences in it that stop it becoming boring – some blinds are up and some are down, some of the plaster is smooth, some is stained or damaged.

Shadows, Sant'Agata

Sometimes what makes the patterns more interesting, too, is where you have several repeating patterns together, as in the Cathedral ceiling image at the top.  Patterns combined hold more interest than one on its own but still give that satisfying, repetitive effect.

If we think about it in terms of life, we need a foundation of repeating patterns to form a structure to how we live.  The routines and habits that we have form a secure base for the rest of our lives to rest on.  So sleeping at night, waking during the day, brushing your teeth and washing your face in the morning, doing the laundry at the weekends, and so on is a good foundation that makes life run smoothly.  If we have that, then now and again we can interrupt the pattern without repercussions – it doesn’t matter if the laundry doesn’t get done this week because you’re off to Paris for the weekend.  It would matter if it didn’t get done for several weeks in a row.

So interrupting and varying the pattern makes life more interesting, but not having patterns at all would make it unliveable.  Patterns hold things together and make life cohesive, but it’s the irregularities that make it interesting.  The trick in life, as in photography, is to find the balance between the two.

Smithfield Market, arches.

Despite the fabulous colours in the image above, it just doesn’t hold my interest.

This has got me wondering if the kind of patterns we’re drawn to and the way we photograph them are reflected in our attitudes to routine?  I know I need a certain amount of routine, but more than a little and I find it gets stifling very quickly.  I also try to create variations within the routines I follow as much as I can; for example, taking a different route to a regular destination.  I think most of my ‘pattern’ images reflect this: I don’t have many that form straightforward, clearly-repeating patterns and, where I’ve taken photos like this, I don’t really like them.  We can’t help but show our selves in our photography, so I wonder – if you looked, would you find the same thing?