A strange one this week, and one that I have to admit I’m not sure about – is it too ambiguous, too messy, too unformed? But there’s something about the way the tree branches seem to drape themselves over what could be boulders but are actually seats inside the car that I find interesting, and I keep coming back to it to have another look. Does it have something, or am I fooling myself? That’s always a tricky one to answer.
I may be getting a little hooked on ‘tree in car window’ reflections right now, and have been taking rather a lot of them. The more I look, the more I see, and of course they’re everywhere. It’s the multi-layered, ‘double exposure’ effect that appeals to me, where you see both the reflection of what’s outside the car and also through the window to what’s inside it. I tend to like images that are either very simple and minimalist or very complicated – complicated in the sense of creating ambiguity and mystery and with that idea of different layers in the image. This one definitely falls into the second camp.
I have another, similar, image that’s easier to ‘read’ and had intended to use that one for this week’s post, but sometimes it’s good to be a little controversial. However, just in case you really hate the one above, here’s the other one below.
Lots of bits and pieces this week, plus a few images that I like with but about which I don’t have a great deal to say. To start with the images, they were taken by the road bridge over the River Trent in Newark where, on a sunny day, there’s a reflection in the water of the metal posts that fence the road up above. When the ducks swim through it the reflections get swirled around and this zebra effect is created. This appeals to me greatly, and that’s really all there is to to say………….
We visited Connected 2016 this weekend, an annual photography exhibition which is on at Patchings Art Centre in Notts till May 21st. I would have been going anyway, but when I saw the poster advertising it I realised that a photographer whose work I’ve been following for a while was going to be giving a talk at the Launch Event, so that made it an absolute must. If you haven’t come across Vanda Ralevska, she creates wonderful and very individual images and is currently doing a 366 project on her blog. I find it hard enough doing my rather more modest 52 Trees project, and how she manages to maintain such a high standard on a daily basis, I really don’t know. I got to meet Vanda, who is a very lovely lady, and her talk was excellent – funny, fresh, interesting and hugely enjoyable. There was also a talk by Guy Aubertin, who himself creates beautiful landscape photos. If you’re in the area a visit to the exhibition is well worth it – the standard is high, and the work varied.
I’ve been interested for a long time in methods for teaching the creative side of photography, and Sean Kernan’s approach is unusual, to say the least. He uses theatrical exercises to give people the experience of cultivating awareness without analysis, and the exercise in the video below (which has a number of professional dancers taking part) is a lot of fun to watch.
Kernan is also an amazing photographer and well worth checking out. I came to his work through his still life series Secret Books, which were like nothing I’d ever seen before.
The video above reminds me of reading John Daido Loori’s account of going on a workshop in 1980 with Minor White – someone well known for his unorthodox photographic teaching methods. Students were expected to get up at 4.00am and participate in dance and meditation exercises, and were often not allowed to pick up their cameras till after a day or two of this had passed. Loori, at the time, thought this was ridiculous and nearly stormed out; however he was persuaded to stay and came to see the value in White’s approach by the time he finished the workshop. You can read his account of this in The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life.
Moving on, I came across an article called Why Typical Preschool Crafts are a Total Waste of Time. The main thrust of the article is that these crafts are both too ‘ready-made’ and thus about as creative as painting by numbers, and more importantly, that they put too much emphasis on the end product rather than the process. By doing this, the article claims, we’re indoctrinating young children in the belief that you must have something to show for any time you spend on creative pursuits. There’s a parallel here in that so much emphasis is put on the images we manage to ‘capture’ and not enough on what the process of photographing does for us in itself. After all, even if you don’t catch a fish, going fishing can still be rewarding.
As someone who can procrastinate with the best of them, I really liked this article’s take on how to use it to your advantage, and found it quite amusing: ‘All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured Procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you.’
The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.
I have never kept a photography sketchbook. We were encouraged to do this when I was studying photography, but a blog was thought to be an acceptable alternative. I kept the blog, which has morphed into the one you’re reading now, but I’m wondering if I’ve missed a trick in not keeping a more tangible and less public sketchbook where I could explore ideas and keep a record of them. These examples of photography students’ sketchbooks make me want to join in.
One of the first books I read that introduced me to the idea that photography was about a whole lot more than the camera, was Freeman Patterson’s Photography and the Art of Seeing. I loved this book, still re-read it regularly, and think it should probably be required reading for every photographer. This interview with Patterson is long and dates back a bit, but well worth reading through to the end. Patterson is another person whose photography teaching goes far beyond the usual ‘this is how your camera works’ style of classes. Here he is, talking about the kind of assignments he gives to his students, each one individually designed for that particular student:
…..one person might be given a white sheet and asked to photograph it as a landscape; somebody else might be given the topic ‘outer space’. We don’t care how they deal with it. Someone else might be given a colourful shirt and told to photograph it, but only in water. One of my favourite assignments, and I’ve only given it two or three times, is the Joseph Campbell quote “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are”. We gave it to a guy this week from near Chicago and it was just one of those intuitive things. We could tell this guy was experiencing a period of real personal liberation, and he really carried that assignment off, it was beautiful to see what he did.
And on that note, I leave you with some more zebra-patterned water:
What it looked like before the ducks swam through:
Newark Library is housed in a modern building largely made up of glass and surrounded by trees. The glass is tinted to stop excess heat and glare, but there are also blinds high up on the glass walls to help give shade from the heat in summer. I often do some shifts there, and I’d noticed that on sunny days the trees outside cast their shadows on these blinds, and I’d just as often felt the urge to photograph them.
I don’t take my camera to work as I don’t want to risk leaving it in the lockers, and I’d been meaning for some time to make a visit there specially to take some shots, but sod’s law had seen to it that my free time and the right weather hadn’t coincided. However it had to happen sooner or later, and this week I finally got the opportunity.
I also got some strange looks from people wondering what I was doing. As I’m sure lots of you know, this is an occupational hazard when you’re into photography, particularly the kind of photography where you’re using your own vision and awareness to see things that other people miss. I’ve got used to the embarrassment factor now, and mostly feel sad that people miss so many of these visual pleasures. I always did notice things that others didn’t, but photography took that ability and expanded it tenfold. This has been one of its greatest gifts to me, and I can’t imagine life without it now.
I couldn’t decide which of several shots to post, so I thought I’d include a couple of other favourites as well.
Last week I mentioned that I wanted to try a new technique, called ‘in the round’ where the photographer takes a series of pictures while moving 360 degrees round her subject and then combines them in post-processing to give an impressionist effect. You can see an example of how it’s supposed to look here!
The image above is the result of my having a very casual and not very serious go at it (it’s just a detail of the whole as it was the only part that I felt was at all successful; you can see the whole image at the end of the post). The result isn’t great and has lots wrong with it, but it’s good enough to let me see that it’s possible to produce something I’d actually be pleased with. I got a lot of things wrong and I learned a lot from that, so here’s the benefit of my experience.
First off, you need more than nine shots, which is all I used. Most photographers using this technique will use around 20-30 shots and I can see why. The more shots you have to layer, the more the central subject stands out and the extra bits that you don’t want to emphasise disappear.
The next thing is that it’s important to line each shot up, as you take it, in exactly the same way, or at least as close as you can get. When I saw each photo being layered over the previous one, I realised that my distance from the bandstand as I walked around it had obviously varied quite a bit, which increased or decreased the size of the bandstand in the frame and made it harder to align. You need to keep the position of the subject in the frame constant, as well – I think a tripod might be the thing here.
I’m also a hopeless case when it comes to getting things straight. I do try, because it would obviously be far better to get this right in-camera, but no matter how I try my verticals and horizontals are never straight and I have to straighten everything up afterwards – I’ve learned to add some space round the edge of the image to allow for this. Obviously it’s important to do the straightening before you start layering each image over the others.
I am still a bit confused about how best to carry out the layering process. The basic idea is that you start with the first image, then add each subsequent one as a Photoshop layer on top – think of piling several transparencies on top of one another. If you were to leave the opacity of each layer at 100%, all you’d see would be the top one, so the transparency of each layer has to be increased to let the layers underneath show through. The article I read suggested that the opacity of the first layer be set at 50%, then the next at 25%, then 12%, and so on. However, even with only nine layers, by halving the opacity each time the final ones were down to less than 1%. I’m not sure this can be right. I need to both experiment and do a bit more research on how best to do it.
It’s fun to have tried this, although I didn’t get much out of taking the photographs themselves. You end up with a batch of very ordinary images that aren’t very exciting to take and all the excitement comes purely from the post-processing. Fortunately I really enjoy this part too, so I’m intrigued enough to give this technique at least a few more tries.
If you want to see the entire image, rather than the cropped section, here it is below. You can see that the van has appeared three times and is quite obtrusive, and there are a lot more benches round the bandstand than exist in reality. Although I’ve seen this successfully done with quite busy backgrounds, I feel that the simpler the background, the better the result is likely to be.
The originator of the ‘in the round’ technique is Pep Ventosa, and you can see on his website how it looks when it’s done really well.
Not a very big tree this week, but it counts, I think. I liked the way the shadow of the picket fence leads you to the tree, and how the electrical cable on the right somehow works to balance the whole thing out.
Life feels very full at the moment – I haven’t been out much with my camera, and what pictures I have been taking all seem to be of water reflections (which I’m rather obsessed with right now). However, it looks like the busyness is beginning to slow down a little, so I’m hopeful that this week will see me with a little time to play.
And play is what I need right now. I have all sorts of things I’d like to try photographically, including a technique usually referred to as ‘in the round’. It involves taking a series of pictures while moving 360 degrees round the subject, then combining these afterwards to give a very painterly, impressionist effect. If you want to see some examples, or read a bit more about it, there’s a great article on Stephen D’Agostino’s site. I’m pretty sure it’s a lot harder than it looks, but if I have any success with it I’ll be putting the results on here.
I’d also like to do more with Intentional Camera Movement, experiment with pinhole, and spend some time with my Lensbaby, among other things. It won’t all happen, of course, but perhaps some of it will. Finally there’s some spring colour around, and that wonderful haze of green that appears just before the trees come fully into leaf. It’s all so much more inspiring than the grey days we’ve had for so long, and I’m longing to get out there.
The black line behind the tree shows where the weir is situated
Still on the quest for lovely places to walk in this area, we went to the RSPB nature reserve near Collingham. It’s certainly nicer than most of the walks I’ve tried so far, and part of it takes you alongside Cromwell Weir – the point at which the tidal part of the River Trent meets the non-tidal part.
Weirs are quite scary things, and this one is no exception. In fact, on the other side of the river next to the lock, there is a memorial to ten soldiers who died when their craft was swept over this weir during a night-time exercise. The sheer power of the water is frightening, and we watched some flotsam being rhythmically swept under and then bobbing up again, trapped in the circular motion of the water. In another area the water formed a small whirlpool, with the central portion being a foot or two lower than the rest of the water. Despite many attempts, I couldn’t get an image that clearly showed this, but you can get an impression of the violent churning of the water in the picture second from last, below.
Water has always fascinated me in all its various forms, but it’s the sheer power of something so innately formless that takes my breath away. It always amazes me how something that can be as soft and gentle as mist, can also turn into something overwhelmingly powerful when it gains volume and speed.
Although I’ve only once posted some of my ripple reflection pictures on the blog, I’ve been working on them for the last little while behind the scenes and now have quite a collection of them. This reflected tree, however, is a little different due to the inclusion of some colour and the hint of sun. It’s one of my favourites so far, and I’m hoping to be able to go on developing this theme as the trees come into leaf, although the lines formed by the bare branches are not going to be there. As always, though, there will be something else to take their place and I’m interested to see what that might be.
Another sunset. At this time of year we begin to get spectacular sunsets much of the time, and the sun goes down just behind the huge tree that grows a couple of gardens over. Later in the summer, with the earth’s rotation, the sunset moves clockwise past the tree and the skyline isn’t nearly so interesting there, so it’s good to make the most of it while it’s happening. Well, that’s my excuse, anyway!
I’ve photographed the amazing sunsets I see from my study window plenty of times before, but this is the first time I’ve tried some intentional camera movement. I had to delete most of the shots I took as they didn’t work at all, but this one, my last one, came together in the way I was hoping for. I found the trick was to jiggle the camera rather than move it in any particular direction. It was a bit of a rush job as the colours were fading fast and I had to grab my camera, find the key that opens the window, lean out, and shoot like mad in those few moments.
I’m pleased with the result, as I think it captures the feeling of the soft but fiery sky, and the quiet gentleness of dusk. I can see myself moving more and more towards this impressionistic style of photography as time goes on.
My contribution to the project – low tide, West Kirby, on the Wirral Peninsula
Ages ago – years ago, now – when I was just finishing studying with Open College of the Arts, some students on the Flickr forum got together and designed a collaborative project. It was called The Nearest Faraway Place, and each of us who wanted to take part had to supply a 6 x 4 print that interpreted the title any way we wanted.
The book took a concertina form which made it easy for each person to add their bit onto the end of it, and it travelled round the world to one student at a time so that they could personally attach their contribution. Each person also saved the stamps from the parcel it arrived in and added them to the metal box in which the book travelled. The idea was that these would become part of a collage that made up the book’s cover.
I remember the day it came to me in the post. It was incredibly exciting to be holding something that had travelled so far, and had been put together by many people whom I knew online but had never actually met. There was something very special about holding the book and knowing that these people had also held it in their hands. This is how it looked when I got it:
The book made its way round a large chunk of the world – USA, China, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, Tanzania, Japan, Switzerland, Greece, Ireland, and more – eventually ending up in the UK. There were one or two hairy moments when it seemed to have got lost in the post – with one notably long and anxious wait when it was making its way from South Africa to the UK – but it always turned up eventually.
I think it took about two years in the end for everyone to get their chance to contribute, but a few months ago the book finally made it to the last person on the list. This person is Yiann, who had volunteered to tidy the book up, make a cover for it, and generally put it into its final physical form. On one of my increasingly rare visits to Flickr, I discovered that she’s now done just that and, even better, made a video of the finished thing. She’s done a brilliant job with it, as you can see in the video below: