Looking for somebody edgy

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.

What Did TS Elliot Know About Photography? Nothing!

The Waste Land begins ‘April is the Cruelest Month’, which one has to assume reflects in some way the opinions of TS Elliot on the subject of the calendar. Whatever the merits of the poem, and it is very good, it reveals one thing and one thing only about TS Elliot’s knowledge of photography.

He clearly didn’t have any!

How do we know this? Well clearly no photographer if asked to choose the cruellest month is going to pick bloody april are they? Spring in full, well, spring. Loads of colour. Great Light. Long days (but not so long you don’t get great golden hour without having to stay up till after the late news on TV. Bit of rain to dampen things down, make some puddles and give you interesting reflections. April cruel? Don’t make me laugh.. Hell you’ve even cleared your credit card statement from Christmas by then and can think about some equipment upgrades!

Nope, I would defy any photographer to opt for any month other than January. It’s dark when you go to work and it’s dark when you get home and the weekends are, well, dark. A dank, grey claginess covers everything, broken up only by the times when it’s actually raining. Of course while there are loads of puddles you don’t get interesting reflections because the light is so flat. If you’re lucky you might get a bit of snow, but that’s going to be short lived and then contributes to the overall dampness. At least you’d stand a chance of some golden hour and still be home for tea, but of course you don’t get golden hour twilight, it just gets progressively greyer and greyer till you realise it’s actually dark.

Great poet, crap understanding of photography I say.

Finding Models

Authors note, while some of the points in this are, I hope, true for many people, it’s supposed to be taken with a cheek full of tongue…

Like a lot of photographers who don’t have access to model agencies and want to perfect their portrait skills I have problems finding models. It’s a common problem given the number of web pages and youtube channels on the subject. Don’t believe me? Search for something like ‘how do I find photographic models’. There’s a lot of advice, and on the surface it’s good advice. Generally it amounts to using family, friends and friends of friends.

But I’m not sure how helpful this is, really, when you come down to it. Let’s take family first of all. Ok, so they’re, sort of, obliged to help you out and so they’re a great choice. But you’ve probably been photographing them anyway, and also, some of them might just really not like being photographed. So even if they help you out, they’re not going to enjoy it, and photographing somebody who isn’t enjoying it stands out in the resulting photos like a sore thumb. They’re not going to look good so you’re not going to be pleased with the results, and the shoot is going to feel off because lets face it, you’re going to know they’re not enjoying it so you hurry up. Also, some folks don’t come from the sort of family where they’re close enough, either geographically or personally, for this to be an option. Cousin Iona might love being photographed and is a natural model, but if cousin Iona lives in Stirling and you’re in Norwich it’s just not going to happen, so she might live round the corner and you’re just not that close. Growing up we had relatives in the same town we never spoke to: go figure. Also, your nearest and dearest might just be heartily hacked off with being the crash test dummies for the development of your portrait skills.

So we move onto friends. Well, at least you’re likely to be on good terms with them, and at least some of them are going to live nearby, so possibly this is ahead of family for the aspiring snapper of people. But friendship is a tricky thing, it may extend far in some ways but not in others. You might get together regularly for curry or to go to the pictures, but you might just not feel comfortable asking. Being photographed is a very intimate thing, and your friends might not feel comfortable with it, or indeed you might not feel comfortable asking. True story time. My wife doesn’t really enjoy being photographed and one of my friend’s partner is just bored with being photographed. I’m okay with it and she actually enjoys it, so we went to Oxford Botanic for a morning and photographed each other. Not everybody has friends like that. Not everybody has partners who are okay with that sort of thing happening.

So, friends of friends, and even the proverbial interesting people, who seem to feature in Youtube videos on this sort of thing. Ever noticed something about these videos? They’re always in impersonal urban environments. Photographers go up to people eating their sandwiches in city centres and ask to take their photo, and even if the person says no it’s all smiles. Heck I’ve photographed complete strangers in central London and they don’t bat an eyelid. I await, with baited mouse, the video in which somebody does this in some small English town or village and makes it work. In rural Britain that person is going to know almost everybody else and no sooner have you clicked the shutter on frame one than the woman in the post office will have heard from her cousin who happens to be the brother in law of the model that you’ve done it and then all the kids in the local school will know and then their parents (in case they didn’t get it from the woman in the post office). Before you know it you’ll be the person who asks strangers if they can take a photograph, aka ‘you are weird’.

So, in the end, you’re faced with popping into the city to look for people, or using one of the model sites like Model Mayhem or PurplePort. A combination of inconvenient and / or expensive options.

So, you’re reading this and you’re nodding sagely and waiting for my solution. You’re sitting there on a cosy evening in Little Snoddling in the Wold, having photographed your family till they’re sick of it, not able to pop up to Stirling to photograph cousin Iona, and unable to ask the locals because you don’t want to be a suspected pervert. You are waiting for me to tell you how I solved this conundrum. Sorry, but I never have. But at least, you’ll know you’re not alone…



Personal Projects: so much more than the photography

Personal projects.

We all love them, for amateurs they’re all personal projects. But they’re where we get to express ourselves.

I’ve realised that for me the fun lies not only in taking the photos, but in the planning and preparation which goes with it. Actually taking the photos is the tip of the iceberg. Once I’ve had the idea, I play around with it in my head, expand the idea, create a Pinterest board, think so more. I wanted to do some portrait shots of my wife a while back and had loads of fun making the backdrop: buying fabric and dye, tie-dying, seeing how it turned out.  I wanted to do a floral still life and so got to make a base board out of discarded tongue and groove timber, put on some distressed paint, etc.

Amateurs like me are lucky, we have the time to make all our shoots like this without the pressure to deliver for a client to time and budget!