Foggy Tintype

I was walking to work this morning through the mist, well almost fog and decided a photo was worth taking “and I’ll decide what to do later”. Later turned out to be loading it into the tin type app.. I think it works, bit of fun…

Delta 3200

I’ve had a couple of rolls of Delta 3200 which I got from a friend in the fridge for a while, there’s going to be a chance for some city centre evening photography coming up this weekend so I thought I’d break it out. Expiry date of 2004 so I’m going to rate it at 1600, which is the highest ISO my Pentax MX can take. Coupled with the f2 widest apature on the vintage 50mm I bought in 1978 (or maybe the 2.8 22mm of the same vintage, not decided yet) I reckon I could be in with a chance of getting something at least…

I prophesy grain like marbles though!

Morocco ’88 (part two)

I’ve got it down to the final 31. Interestingly, even now shooting digital I still psychologically feel that nobody wants to look at more than a roll when they look at photos so 36 or less is a magic number! It’s been less of a tough sort than I thought it might be, I’ve had to let go of images I liked, but which in the end I decided just didn’t have it.

The final count was, of the 31, 23 were ones which I’d originally put into the album with 8 new entrants. I think this is because, frankly, a lot of the ones which didn’t make it into the album, which was originally 80 images, just werent that good and now I probably wouldn’t have even tried to take, or would have taken ‘better’ so statistically most of the worthwhile ones would have been in that 80 image subset.

So now it’s going to be down to a lot of scanning….here’s where I find if investing in Vuescan was worth the money 🙂

Morocco ’88 Revisted: part one

In 1988 Sue and I visited friends of her’s in Morocco. My memories, to be frank, are not great: I’d never been abroard before, it was very different to anything I’d seen in my life, it was very hot, and I got food poisoning (the only time I was happy to get on an airplane and be presented with cardboard food processed to within an inch of it’s life was on the way home). But I took a lot of photos, which in the days of film meant less than it did now but definitely a fair few rolls of, I suspect, Kodacolour II.

These got sorted through and the best 80 put into a flip album of the trip: 80 being chosen because it’s the number of pockets in the album rather than for artistic or philosophical reasons. The rest went into a file box where they’ve sat for the past 31 years, and I doubt I’ve looked through the album more than half a dozen times. Quite often I get an old negative out and scan it to put it on my blog or Instagram, and I found myself wondering three things about the Morocco trip

  1. If I were picking now, would I pick the same images as the strongest?
  2. What do they look like scanned from the negatives and digitally processed rather than the somewhat bland prints from Supersnaps I got back in ’88?
  3. Back then I sequenced them chronologically, would I do that again now?

So I’ve taken them out of the album, numbering them in order so I know which were in the original sort, I want to put the album back as it was because it’s part of our history and also represents my photographic thinking thirty one years ago, though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t thinking like a photographer back then! I’ve mixed up the album photos with the spares for each town and picked out the ten or so images I think are the strongest, eh photo above shows the town of Meknes. The next step will be to take the ones I’ve picked for each location and pull them down to the forty strongest overall. I sense this is going to be tougher, but I’m following more or less the process I go through from a shoot now where I hammer through the images in Lightroom accepting or rejecting, then go through a process of making choices, doing some processing at which point I invariably decide some just are not working, then pulling out the small percentage of the originals to go here, or my website, or social media. I’ve already found something I’d hoped which is that I’m removed enough from the taking for them almost to seem like somebody else’s images rather than mine, though a lot do still make me absolutely remember taking the photo, and the circumstances around that. Lots of these don’t make it into what you might call the semi-finals as one thing I’ve learned is that just because it’s a massive memory jogger for me doesn’t (necessarily) make it a strong image which somebody else might enjoy.

But in a lot I’m catching a faint smell of heat and dust; of of Rick and Ilsa.

Photographic Expertise

I was reading a blog post yesterday by education leadership theorist Matthew Evans in which he took apart the idea of The Expert. He goes into a fair bit of depth, and I really urge you to read his post, but essentially he says there are two kinds of expert. Those he calls K Experts, who are experts in complicated systems. These are the folks who fix your boiler and make sure the trains don’t crash. They deal with situations and systems which, while complicated, have ‘right and wrong’ answers and definable solutions; you’ve got hot water, your train isn’t on the news. These are the people we think of as experts. Then there are X Experts who deal in complex situations and systems, like Economists and I’d suggest meteorologists and military strategists. They are experts in situations in which possibly there are not ‘right and wrong’ answers, where things are fluid and they’re making choices against that background. They’re the ones we get angry at when they make wrong predictions or choices because we’re confusing them with K Experts. I think I’ve summarised that correctly, but by now you’ve read his blog and will know: if not go and read it.

So this got me thinking about what an expert photographer is.

I’d say that to be a photographer requires some, in the case of good photographers, a lot, of K Expertise. You’re not going to get far without a grasp of the exposure triangle, lens choice, possibly film stock, processing technique (wet or dry, dark or light room), and the rest of it. The more you understand all this the better technically your images get because, ultimately, there are ‘right and wrong’ choices to making a photograph. Right choices give you a nicely exposed and in focus image, wrong choices give you ones like your dad took of you when you were on the beach as a kid. You can get a hell of a long way in photography and never stray for K expertise, you learn more, you practice more, you get more expert.

But what is it that lifts some photographers, Michael Kenna, Walker Evans, Lee Miller, Robert Capa, The Westons (all of them), Bailey et al above this and into the realm of not only making photos which stay with you but make them over and over again? I’m going to tentatively suggest it’s because they’re X Experts. Sure they can understand all the complicated stuff and do it in their sleep but they can also operate consistently when it’s complex. Because the environment around making an image is complex, the light is changing if it’s natural light, if there is a model they’re moving, the environment is subtly altering. Maybe they’re working out of the studio doing reportage, or more dramatically conflict, photography where everything is an unknown. There isn’t a ‘right’ way to make a great photograph, because that transcends being nicely exposed and in focus, it’s about the composition, the light, possibly the colour, the tones, the mood. It’s about making a choice which works in the situation you have in that moment, frequently actually in that split second. They can be as patient as a cat in front of a mouse hole waiting, and then utterly decisive when the moment appears (see what I did there?).

All of us, however little experience we have as photographers, can nail an amazing photo now and again because sometimes we all just get it right by luck as much as judgement. The great photographers get it right over and over again because in the highly complex environment just before the shutter clicks, they’re experts.

We’re All Photographers Now – or not

A friend of mine has had a couple of annoying experiences lately. In the first she did some photos for somebody starting out as a makeup artist (who had decided what sort of photos she wanted by picking out pro model photos on location from Pinterest and offering her friends in the back garden of course), which started as “I’ll pay you”, turned into “I’ll buy you lunch” and fairly quickly back into “No, You’ll pay me!”. Got her money eventually but no thanks and no credit for the photos when they got shared around. The other was photographing a friend’s wedding, a very low key affair but here we are, three weeks down the line, and the friend hasn’t said thank you yet. So she’s feeling a bit put upon, as though people are taking advantage of her skills.

We thought about this and decided that it’s because everyone’s a photographer now.Only of course, they’re not. Unlike other skills, now everybody has a smartphone, and digital cameras are cheap, and you can clock up hours watching Youtube videos on how to take better landscapes/portraits/kiddie photos/whatever then people lose sight of the fact that actual photographers are skilled experts who understand what they’re doing rather than just clicking away or rote following what they’ve seen on Youtube. Last series of Masters of Photography I’m pretty sure Oliviero Toscani said something like “you give a camera to monkey it goes click, it doesn’t make it a photographer”. It’s odd really, because everybody who can use a spanner doesn’t think they’re a car mechanic and everybody who can mow a lawn think they’re a landscape architect. Part of the blame for this I think lies with the huge volume of online photo sharing; let’s be honest, a huge percentage of the photos on Instagram really just aren’t that great, and a lot of the stuff on Youtube is pretty samey, and if this is all people see then they just start seeing all images as the same. I reckon you could spend a lot of time looking at photos of ‘models’ on the ‘gram before you saw something to even come close to Bailey’s 1962 photos of Jean Shrimpton in New York (and yes, they’re personal favourites of mine, you can pick your own).

I think that, ultimately, as photographers we just have to accept the fact that a whole of people just don’t realise that a good photograph is not (generally) produced by pointing a camera and clicking. After all that’s how they produce a photograph, that’s all photographers on telly and youtube are doing, therefore that’s all there is to it. What they’re missing is that the photographer is thinking and clicking, they’re aware of lamp posts sticking out of heads, of how the sunlight is hitting the model, of how blurry the background is, and they made choices based on this before they began taking photos. A couple of years ago I sat in a cafe in Piazza Navona in Rome and watched, with mounting frustration, people photographing their friends and loved ones in front of the fountains; hell it’s one of those things you simply have to do. But every single pigging one of them had the friend facing straight into the Roman sunshine and I knew full well that every one of them was going to have a photo of their friend or partner squinting in Rome, or at least with killer shadows which was going to make it look like a mug shot. Of course I photographed my wife in front of a fountain in Piazza Navona, it really is something you have to do…but on the other side of a fountain facing away from the sun. I have a photo of her smiling in Rome with her hair (she has great hair) nicely backlit by the same light which was blinding everybody else. I got this because I knew what was happening and made choices about the image accordingly.

Everybody isn’t a photographer, and if people want to get one to take photos for them, then they need to realise it’s no more just ‘pointing and clicking’ than fixing a car engine is ‘doing up a few nuts and bolts’ and at least say thanks and treat the snapper with some respect

Berlin, on Film

@ Andy Smart – all rights reserved

Back in the spring we went to Berlin – mixture a my wife’s work and holiday. On one of her work days (aka, the days I could do the stuff which would bore her a bit) I went to the Stasi Museum and then walked all the way back along Karl Marx Allee to the city centre, it’s fair walk and the sun was pounding down, which while it made for hot walking meant the combination of my Olympus Trip and Lomography ‘Berlin’ film (what else) really came into it’s own. I’ve decided the trip does buildings in bright sunshine better than just about anything else and these are so amazing. I love the woman with the pram, who I didn’t actually see when I took the photo…