Okay, I win the award for Clickbait of the Day on wordpress if such a think exists for that title, but hey we’re all allowed a bit of clickbaiting now and again. Though frankly my readership isn’t the sort to fall for clickbait.
Last year, year before maybe, the financial company St James’ Place (not a sponsored post) demolished an old garage and car dealership and built themselves a swanky new office block in the ultra modern style. I was very exited by this because, well frankly I thought you’d never get to build anything in the Cotswolds if it wasnt’ made of stone effect blocks and somehow resembled something from a remake of a costume drama. I blame ‘A Vision of Britain‘ by HRH, a book which probably has a huge readership in these parts. But build it they did. Well the other day I was out and about with my new Olympus Trip looking for something to photograph with it, and the sun was shining on the SJP building and I thought “It’s like Dessau…” Full disclosure, I’ve never been to Dessau (though I’m hoping to go later this year) but I’ve seen the pictures and something about the SJP building in cirencester made me think of them. So I used up half a roll on it.
I don’t normally do posts with multiple photos, but I’m really pleased with these and wanted to share them. I’m coming to the idea that I’m an urban landscape photographer if I’m going to have a label. I don’t really do well photographing the great outdoors, the majestic views and so forth. I like some sign of human occuapation for my images and I think I produce better work when there is some.
If you’re British, and of a certain age, you’ll remember the commercials for the Olympus Trip with Brian Pringle as the wedding photographer and David Bailey as, well, himself. If you don’t remember them, or just want a rip down nostalgia lane, you can see it on here on youtube. I never owned one in the 70s mind you, way out of my price range.
But a while back I found myself thinking of getting a nice film compact camera, something I could put in my pocket. There was also an element of the fact that we’re going to Berlin later this year and I rather liked the idea of shooting film in that most creative of cities, on a vintage camera. Sort of get in touch with Bowie changing popular music, that sort of thing. So when I found myself thinking ‘vintage point and shoot’, well there really was only one camera springing to mind. An Olympus Trip. I checked on eBay and they were consistently available, and I read some online reviews by people who said that a good one really held up well and produced some great photos, almost certainly due to that bit of Zuiko glass at the front. So I started following them and set myself a ceiling price of forty quid and it had to be a decent one. I missed several as they were going for forty plus, and I’m in no time pressure, when somebody advertised one going with a Yashica 35 (for which I also found postive stuff online), so I set a celing of fifty five on the grounds there were two of them and got them for fifty one. The whole thing being made even better by the fact that while they weren’t tested the seller said if they didn’t work he’d take them back for a refund.
Well the box arrived, and the trip wasn’t in good condition, it was pretty much factory new! Not a mark on it, no scuffs, dents, none of that stuff cameras pick up in the process of being used. It felt mechanically okay so I stuck a roll of hp5 in it and saw what it could do. I was blown away, the results were great. The selenium light meter coped admirably with snow, which is a challenge for anything and I got crisp and clean images well on a par with those I get from film SLRs. There wasn’t any flaring, but I checked and the light seals are shot and will need to be replaced. I even went out and got a genunine original skylight filter and a lens cap for it to protect the glass.
Okay, so Bailey really used a Rolleiflex for most of his stuff, but he didn’t really care much about the hardware so I can believe he might well have shot with one…well I want to believe he did anyway.
I was watching the latest video by Amy Landino on Youtube, she’s all about efficiency and stuff – full disclosure because I’m going to tell her I’ve writtent this, I don’t watch all her videos all the way through because, well, I’m not really driven enough (sorry, Amy), but she is fun and has interesting stuff to say. So in the latest one she talks about Insta-Envy, which I think may be a new linguistic coinage. The idea that if scrolling though Instagram makes you feel envious rather than motivated, then stop doing it and be more careful about whom you pick to follow. It’s good advice. Instagram is famous as a giant highlight reel, full of people picking out (or setting up and photographing) the best moments of their lives to appear beautifully lit and post-processed for the enjoyment of their followers. Or sometimes to generate followers who can then, if not enjoy them, at least keep following and producing that all powerful thing…..ta da…engagement.
Ohhhkay Amy, I’m with you. But this led me to wonder something about Insta-Envy; why don’t I have it?
The thing is, I follow a number of folks on my Instagram accounts (yes, I have two), people who take photographs I like on one and people who take photographs of gardens I like on the other. I can lose time scrolling both of them which Amy would almost certainly, and correctly, tell me I could be using more profitably. But I never find myself envious in the sense that it upsets me or gets me down. Sure I wish I had that greenhouse, or a witch hazel like that, or could photograph in that location, or in that light. But never in the sense that I feel less happy with my own work or lose motivation. I mean I do feel unhappy with my own work, but I’d feel that without social networking to help me, every artist, photographer, musician, whatever feels unhappy with their own work, it’s the nature of the beast.
So I’ve been thinking about this, first off it’s not that I’m unusually self-confident and robust I’m sure. I think it’s down to three things, and one of them is pretty much in line with Amy’s idea of who you should follow. I follow people on Instagram because I enjoy their work. The thing which links everybody I follow on both my accounts is that I scroll through and think ‘great work on that photo’ and my choice of words here is important, it’s not the place, or the model or the other stuff, it’s the work. It’s the thought and effort which went into the image which impresses me. Some, ok much, of it is work on a level to which I just will never aspire, and I’m happy with that. Some sparks ideas of places or techniques I’d like to try out, or lets me (and this is one of the best bits) connect with other people because I like to make new online friends. The second is that I think as a photographer, I’m very aware of the fact that what I’m seeing is a crafted image. I know it’s not somebody living a wonderful life, I know it’s somebody who picked that window for the light, or that dress because it works with the colour palatte they wanted to achieve. I can tell a photo which didn’t just happen. The third thing I think is age, I come from before the Internet, and even before people had computers – heck when I was at school we didn’t even learn what a computer was and then when I left school I spent years in public-facing roles. I’ve met a lot of people, some of whom did live in lovely houses, and go on great foreign trips and the rest of it, but I also know they took their bins out, walked the dog and shouted at their kids. They had lovely cars, which broke down. They lived in lovely places and their neigbours were snobby gits. Deep down I know that nobody, but nobody actually lives the showreel life.
So, my suggestions for avoiding Insta-Envy, because well I’m allowed my brief excursion into being a self help and motivation guru am I not?
Follow people because you like their work, because their photos make you happy / impressed / inspired / whatever
As a photographer, you know that the camera never tells the whole truth
This one is just a photo post. Last week I got up early because it was supposed to be sunny all day and I was hoping or spectacular dawn light at Buscot in Oxfordshire which is one of my favourite locations. Well the spectacular light didn’t happen, but I was quite pleased with what did.
These are all taken on my Mamiya 645, shot on Portra 400. Processed and scannned by A G Photolab who do all my colour stuff, and then tweaked in Lightroom.
I was hoping the early light would break right over the old pillbox, and TPE said it would, but the cloud just sat, though there was a faint hint of pink on the horizon. Needless to say, half an hour later when the sun was up the clouds had cleared, but that’s photography for you.
said it would, but the cloud just sat, though there was a faint hint of pink on the horizon. Needless to say, half an hour later when the sun was up the clouds had cleared, but that’s photography for you.
Oh, and yes, I do know there’s a bit of grit or something in my film holder! 🙂
Another photo from my youth this one, I’ve got lots of negatives in thef file, I just need to remember to scan one now and again!
Back in the late 70s or early 80s, at Olympia in London, there used to be held the festival of Mind, Body and Spirit, which was a deeply alternative, or at least tried to be deeply alternative, event for a whole raft of faintly alternative activities. It was never really Alternative with a capital A, the people exhibiting were always rather clean cut (the same could not always be said for those attending), and there was never a hint you were going to be munching a nut burger one minute and on the minibus to Los Angeles the next as somebody I once worked with used to say. But you could go there and find out about lots of and lots of interesting things, eat interesting vegetarian food, and nobody minded you taking photos; none of this ‘you can’t photograph me because my aura will be damaged’ stuff.
It was never all just spiritual practices, as this photo of some people playing Go illustrates. At this time it was really quite unknown in the UK, remember before t’Internet pretty much all this stuff was pretty much unknown in the UK unless you could make it in to London for the bookshops or were lucky enough to have a genunine grow your own sandles wholefood shop in your town. Those were great of course, pity they’re dying out. It’s going to be taken on my Pentax K100 using Ilford HP5, scanned using VueScan and cleaned up in Photoshop. I love their expressions, it’s as though they’re okay but not okay with being photographed, and sort of don’t really know what to do so they’ve just opted to look at the camera, apart from the beared guy who is either contemplating his next move or definitely NOT being photographed.
I’ve made my mind up, 2019 is the year I finally get to grips with the flashgun.
In my decades long experiment with being a photographer I’ve had a mixed relationship with the flashgun; ok, look, ‘_speedlight_’ wasn’t a thing in 1977 and it’s not going to be a thing now, it’s a flashgun. I mean I’ve owned one since the first camera I owned which didn’t have one built in, but I’ve never really felt like I wanted to use it. The first thing was a little two AA thing, can’t remember the make, certainly I couldn’t afford a Vivitar. Anyway we’re talking your classic early, one step up from the bulb, flashgun. Camera to 1/60, guess how far away the subject was, set the aperture from the table on the back and bob’s your uncle. So long as you got the steps right it didn’t turn in a bad job really. But I didn’t really use it much, mainly because I didn’t really think I needed to as most of what I photographed was outdoors. A couple of years later I traded up to one which took 4 AAs, and had a cable so it didn’t have to sit on top of the prism; still got it. Okay, sidebar, a year or so back my mother in law gave me all her old camera stuff she no longer had use for, in it was a Vivitar flashgun! Yep, at long last I have one, you know, when it’s obsolete..
Well I did use that one more, I’d graduated to taking photographs indoors a lot by that stage; museum exhibits and so forth that being the days when you could detonate an old fashioned flash gun in a museum gallery and nobody cared. I’d also begun to use it to photograph people, with the aid of an impressive bit of engineering called a flash bracket which moved the flashgun off to the side, think press photographer in the 50s and you’re there. Again, it was all down to remembering to set the flash sync speed of 1/60, distance, aperture off the table, job’s a good-un. Or more often than not, it wasn’t. I blame the lack of comprehensible instructions as we didn’t have ‘online’ then, just the occasionally helpful article in Amateur Photographer (or Amateur Pornographer as it was widely known then). Or I blame the fact that in the days of film it was too expensive to practice systematically. Actually I think I need to blame the fact that I didn’t put in the effort. It wasn’t something I thought you needed to ‘learn’, it just happened.
So fast forward to today and, as a result of a lot of Youtube one thing is clear. Flash photography bloody well is something you need to learn, you can’t just pick it up and go for it. There’s a whole world of modifiers, light stands, C stands, reflectors, ttl, ettl, manual triggers, etc out there. Compared to my old ‘not a vivitar’ flashgun it’s like commanding The Enterprise. Last year I decided to at least make the investment in a decent modern flashgun, based on advice on the Interwebs I opted for a Yongnuo as a budget beast. But still I wasn’t actually using flash, it was all about ‘natural light’, what the hell would be ‘unnatural light’, does it mean you’ve summoned Cthulhu or something? Essentially though, I just don’t believe that I can get a decent photo with a flashgun because in all this technology I’m going to stuff it up. At least with available light I know what I’m doing. But this year, in 2019 CE, 1440 if you’re a muslim, 227 if you’re a lingering French Revolutionary and 2772 if you’re holding out for the return of the legions, _I’m going to learn to shoot with flash_.
It’s occurred to me you see that, actually, I’m ducking this bit of kit for no good reason and potentially I’m just not taking the best photos I could. So many great photographers use flash because they need to in order to get the results they want. Also this year I want to do more people photography and I don’t want to limit my options to only being able to shoot outdoors during the day when it’s not raining. I short enough of subjects as it is, I don’t want to miss out on any opportunities. Also, there are creative options I’m not able to explore at the moment to use light in an imaginative way. So I’ve decided to get out the Yongnuo, work through the tutorials on Lynda on using Flash (no they don’t sponsor my blog), and take loads of flash photos. I finished the first part of the beginner’s flash course on flash as fill light. Simply this involves sticking it on the top of the camera and using the flash compensation to get the right degree of light. And took this rather nice photo of Suki the cat, which I couldn’t have done with the available room light.
So it’s opening up new creative opportunities already, right now I’m just working with the flash on top of the camera with a small softbox attached to the front. The Lynda course I did was pretty much all about that method so I’m going with that; given that almost all the tutorials you find on Youtube are about off camera flash with a radio trigger and stands it’s a relief. I suspect that having to get out ‘the stuff’ before I could practice was one of the barriers, while now I keep the camera with the flash attached on the desk and periodically I just get up and photograph the cats, or something inanimate around the house, or anything just to get used to the idea of using the flash. I’m just working with the TTL mode on the Flash and using the inbuilt compensation on it rather than moving on to manual flash adjustment straight away.
Don’t know what flashgun phobia is…but I think I’m cured of it.
I’m a fairly regular, though by no means exclusive, film shooter; of course coming from the pre-digital days what all the hipster types are calling retro I’m just treating as normal. I’m not especially brand loyal, but I do tend to buy HP5 like I did back in the 70s. Side note of course, back in the 70s I mainly bought Kodachrome….all hail Kodachrome….bring it back….pause for nostalgia.
Okay, nostalgia break over and back to the post. I was looking on the Lomography site and found they were offering a film called Berlin Kino 400. Now I’m self-knowing enough to realise that this is buying right into the whole aesthetic of an arty, edgy middle europe, the one in which Bowie re-invented himself and wrote Heroes, in which people created art communes in the shadow of the wall, of students sitting around talking about important things, etc. Heck I know what’s going on here! On top of that the reviews and sample images from people who’ve tried it were positive, and now I can do my own monochrome processing (you did read my blog post on that didn’t you?) it’s more economical and fun. Also, got to admit the packaging is gorgeous (it’s actually a colour pack, but hey, it’s a mono film)!
So I bit the bullet and ordered 5 rolls of it, I’ve never actually bought film by more than a single before so this was a bit of a first; I have ‘stock’. My wife is very good about not commenting on the erosion of the top shelf in the fridge door to film too..
Well, the thing is of course, I want to use it for, well, photos which have the air of something Bowie might have appeared in while heading to the studio, photos with an edge, perhaps a bit of somewhat run down industrial (I do like a bit of run down industrial). I want to consider the images I want to make, and then go out and make them. I want to look at them and be pleased with them and how they fit in with my vision. But, and there’s a but.
What I really need now is somebody with the right sort of 70s or 80s continental art student edgy look: the Cotswolds is a bit from the Brandenburg Gate for that.