Quiet Moments

At heart I am a bit of a minimalist, and I do love a good photorealistic painting, which is why the late Jeffrey Smart has been one of my favorite painters ever since I first saw his work in Sydney back in 2003.

So it would come as no surprise that I look for similar-style scenes to photograph. It’s the precise positioning of every element in a Jeffrey Smart painting that I find most engaging. Unfortunately, the very mechanical nature of the photographic medium under normal circumstances prohibits such fine placing of the elements at least for someone of my Photoshop skill level.

Photography does have the decisive moment, but that’s more about capturing a fleeting moment, a slice of time as it flashes by. What appeals to me in this picture is its contemplative restfulness. We can see that this isn’t a fleeting instance of action but a period of quiet stillness, made visually enjoyable by what we know as the appeal of vertical lines, disappearing perspectives and frames within frames. But without what Kandinsky explained as the tension within the frame, a tension that’s supplied by the almost perfect positioning of the people, it would be a dull lifeless image.

If it was a painting it would be ­­possible to correct the problems of left leaning, but in a photograph, despite the wonders of PS, when you correct that problem, other dimensions change, so more work is required.

The end result would be different, more constrained image, and not a picture I like.

 

FujifilmX20, f5.6, 1/250sec, ISO200

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Framed

Another thing I like to do when photographing events like writers festivals is to include the audience in the picture while maintaining the viewers concentration on the principle author on the stage, which in this case is Samanta Schweblin, who is both centered within the frame and in the brightest part of the picture­.

Naturally I have headshots of her and the other authors, such shots are mandatory and everybody does them because they’re expected by the organisers for the web etc.

However, although these oddly framed shots are rarely used on festival internet pages, they do often appear much­ later in printed matter or online articles and the reason for this is something I find very interesting. Although such pictures appear to have been shot by an amateur they are in fact a part of the professionals toolbox. The deliberate “amateurish” framing of the shot makes the picture appear more spontaneous or truthful than its tightly framed brethren, a “this is how it really was on the day”-type of photo that adds visual engagement and points of reference to an article or review.

However, you do sometimes get some odd looks from people who wonder if you know what you are doing.

50mm, f4, 1/80sec, ISO12,800 (in these situations I always have the ISO set to auto)

Reflecting on Reflections

Shooting photos at a day-long event for authors is often both a very tiring and boring assignment, despite the fact that the authors themselves and what they have to say is very interesting.

Basically I am there to get images that record the day in a way that people who visit the event’s web page will find interesting, which is not really challenging.

On this occasion it was Parataxe, a symposium for South American writers in Berlin. The event, which started at 10 in the morning, closed twelve hour later and no matter how interesting the conversations of the panelists are, my field of interest is always the large table on the stage that has the current four to five authors.

You can shoot the stage and panelists from every angle in the room, but after the first hour or 2nd group you really are just repeating yourself.

To make things more interesting (mainly for myself) on this occasion, I moved outside the main room and began taking photos of the authors on stage through the glass panels of the entrance doors.

I was attracted by the way the glass was reflecting the people moving around outside the room, which I thought could add an extra almost surreal dimension to the picture.

This is not a new or original technique.

Quite the opposite.

If I remember correctly a similar technique was all the rage in the 1950’s, but here’s the rub. Now that it’s 2017 most people looking at the picture think they have been manipulated in Photoshop. I was disconcerted by this at first, but after some consideration felt a little flattered that people thought I could be creative enough to find two opposing images which went so well together and that I was skillful enough to seamlessly blend them.

In fact, all that has been done to this image is a little added contrast after it was converted to B&W.

 

70-200mm, F4.5, 1/40sec, ISO 1000

Another Street Sign

With the way the talking heads in the media are ranting and frothing at the mouth about religious fundamentalism you would be pardoned if you thought it was a new phenomenon. Of course it’s not, the ebb and flow of violent pious beliefs is a historical fact.

One day’s crackpot is tomorrow’s martyr.

On a lighter note; a sure way of recognizing a photograph shot with a medium format film camera is the so-called waist-level shot – so named because the camera is held just above the waist and you look down into the viewfinder to focus and a fine example of what happens is this picture.

The picture was shot about 22years ago so it is also a fine example of the continuity of religious bigotry.

If there is one thing that I find exceptionally hard to understand it’s the large swaths of angry people who believe that their belief in a loving god demands that they abuse and persecute those who don’t have the same beliefs, when in fact such overweaning narcissism is an anathema to all religious teaching with the possible exception of Satanism.
Bronica SQA, 80mm, Kodak Tri-x, asa 400

A Tale of Resilience

One of the major differences between film and digital photography are the stories one can tell. In the digital realm to tell someone that you underexposed 10 or 12 photos 2 or 3 stops without noticing just means you are not very good at what your doing.

Alternatively, mistakenly putting a 50 ASA film in the camera and metering for a 400ASA film will extract humorous groans from those who have also done it. It becomes an more interesting tale when you compound the mistakes. In this picture which I shot two weeks ago I never noticed that the film was not the much faster HP5 that I thought it to be and I consequently metered and developed it as if it was. But what makes the tale interesting for those who like such things are the extraordinary details. Such as because the film was over ten years out of date I was reluctant to buy new developer and the internet said that Rodinal  film developer could be kept for a few years before it went off. I had an open bottle of it that had been hanging around for about a year and a half so I thought  why not give it a go, even though the chemical’s colour had shifted from light amber to almost black.

The fixer (just as old) smelt a little, but what the hell.

The end result is that the chemicals did their job and properly developed the film , but due to the massive underexposure  when I shot the film the negatives are seriously thin and it took a slow 3200 dpi scan to get a sort of image.

Considering everything, a 4-second handheld exposure, terrible lighting conditions, gross underexposure, old out-of-date film and failing chemicals, I was surprised to get anything and yet I still got a picture. And it looks like a very old photograph  straight out of the camera, which is cool.

Film, it’s amazing stuff.

Bronica SQa, 50mm wide angle, f4, 4 second exposure, Ilford Pan F, ISO 50.

Street Signs

Still with film in the land that time forgot.

Here is a little proof that the Catholic pedophile story was out in the open a long, long time before the early part of this century when the avalanche of abuse stories could no longer be ignored and the world was forced to take notice.

Like yesterday’s photo, this one was also taken in 1994, that’s about seven years before the Australian police and politicians caved in to public pressure and decided they could no longer ignore the fact that boys had been repeatedly abused by the clergy, who under the auspices of the courts had been operating as their legal guardians.

I met and talked to this man after I saw him three days in a row moving slowly up and down a street in Perth, Western Australia. He told me that he was being treated as a crank and trouble maker by the authorities, and while the police at first had tried to stop him from carrying his sign they had soon realized that due to lack of interest from passersby it was easier to just to ignore him.

Castledare, Clontarf, Bindoon and Tardun were all Catholic boys’ schools. All of them had been quietly closed by the 1970s without any priests being charged, that was to come later, much later.

 

Bronica SQA 80mm lens, Kodak Tri-x, asa 400.

On Film, Ism’s and Rituals

Once a site of resistance, the Peace Wall in Prague is now a place where insignificant individuals desecrate symbols of resistance for reasons of narcissism. Let’s face it, the mass of tourists who feel a need to write on walls such as the John Lennon Peace Wall are those who come late to history via a homogenized journey but want others to think they would have risked life and limb if only they had been born earlier, or in a less salubrious location, or under an oppressive regime, or didn’t have to go to uni, or….

The folk law version I heard from the locals back in the mid 1990s was that during the communist era someone did the original graffiti/paintings and the authorities painted over them, and then more were done, the authorities would removed them and back and forth it went. Finally someone who was caught repainting the J.L. mural was badly beaten, which resulted in the violent protests of record.

Ironically, Wikipedia gives a different, more homogenized and palatable version, but by the 1990s tourists had begun to do what organized oppression could not, they were taking the wall away piece by piece, paint chip by paint chip as souvenirs to put away and forget or were tagging what was left with rather stupid minutia.

The wall looks much different today, I guess because it’s now a site of entertainment, an ode to the corrosive power of any dominant ism no matter the label

The reason for these pictures is that I have begun to regress and have once again fallen in love with film. Not for the nostalgic reasons so popular today or because film is better, but for the ritual of loading film, taking light meter readings and being restricted to the amount of shots (12 in the case of this camera) to a roll of film. These actions slow everything down, makes me more selective and contemplative about composition and why I want to shoot the image. It also costs 30 to 50 cents a shot and a lot of work goes into making the final picture so each image is important. The process is therapeutic you might say, in its own odd way.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lennon_Wall

Bronica SQA, 80mm, Ilford HP5, developed in Rodinol. 1994