Category Archives: All About the Pictures
Being free to make mistakes provides an opportunity to learn. On commission, or if your own personal investment is high, the possibility of making a big mistake is scary. Digital kind of rules out total failure (unless your cameras/computers go bang) and that rules out a lot of happy accident too.
The last time I went into the studio I used a twin lens film camera and only put the close-up filter I like to use on the taking lens, so all the pictures where blurred. Actually I love the soft images no focus produces but somehow can never intentionally bring myself to screw-up the focus. So fate did it for me.
Finding time to print is a stress but here is the one I’ve made so far this year being flattened underglass (fibrebased prints curl when they dry). It is a lithprint from a time exposure made in the studio in Oxford. I am keeping everything stripped down and non technical both in the image and the technique.
‘Kill Your Darlings.’
I am printing tomorrow, first time in ages. I have some new pictures which have a model moving throughout a time exposure. Sounds rubbish but it’s the best I’ve got. Tight editing this year and sharper ideas. Still no time for my own work so must be efficient. If I still don’t have a set of pictures by the summer then it won’t just be ‘My Darlings’ I am going to kill.
Ps I never get a comment from these pages so even if you want to say ‘So What’ please let me know you are there on the other side of The Web.
In progress I have a nude picture based on the ‘Female Nude’ by Modigliani. I was lucky enough to have seen the original during a school trip to The Courtlauld Gallery back in the 1970’s. By the way the piece is back on show there (just off The Strand in London) after a loan to Russia.
I want a second piece to be in a completely stripped back style (which at a push I have to admit is David Bailey influenced).
The third piece I want to be a montage but I have so far never made a successful one.
In the mid 1980’s I worked in television when the first video cameras for news gathering came in. Point and shoot mode digital nearly always works, a fact which kind of detracts from the pride of craftsmanship film photographers like to experience. In news photography an instant results is definitely a good thing. I was one of the first news photographers in London to own a digital stills camera which I married to sending pictures all round on a multiple address email, a masterstroke which took a surprisingly long time for the other photographers to pick-up on.
Now I have gone back to film for my own pictures because I like working with actual materials and I believe that the craft of handling real materials produces photographs which feel their own personality rather than being electronic clones. Also I feel a link to the photographers who have made photography what it is, the great masters whose work I have admired all my life. The next generation will be dominated by people who want the camera to be just an eye for their computer… not a bad way of working but it is a different experience. There will still be photographers who will make pictures that tell their story, and for print or web publication digital is the obvious choice.
I have had success in making news photographs, not a brilliant career but enough to know the taste of seeing my byline in the national press. Now I want to earn success making photographs which draw on my life experiences and my love of traditional film photography.
‘The Loneliness Of the Long Distance Runner’ by Alan Sillitoe hit accord with me. At school rowing had been my big thing, dumb I know, and his underachieving protagonist getting back at the world through running hit the spot with me. I even got my friend and rowing partner Tim to run around some fields so I could make a photographic homage!
So I was pleased when Alan Sillitoe agreed for me to visit him at his Notting Hill home for some photos. He had a tiny study where he worked and smoked with a framed map of Nottinghamshire the setting for his best known works. Alan was really generous and sent me a letter saying “You’ve got me absolutely right”.
Technical Notes – Lighting
This picture was taken in April 2004. The second floor room was small, in particular there was next to no room in front of Alan’s narrow desk. The only option was for him to be at his desk but thankfully there was a good sized window to his left which provided usable light. Alan wore a black leather waist-coat and wrote on white paper. He was a small man with intense observing eyes, ready to pounce on and store away any passing detail or characteristic.
I needed to put in flash light to get a usable exposure value. I like to work between f5.6 and f11 for portraits, this was made at f5.6 to blur the back wall and prevent it winning the fight for eye attention. I use shutter speeds near to 125th. Happily there was some white objects behind Alan so I was off to a good start in making him standout from the background. What I did was to use the available window light as fill but I had to add a main light with enough power to lift the black leather waist-coat. I used Fuji slide film as it is sharp and has good colours, 400 ASA to make to most of the light without looking too pushed.
To punch the light onto his body and shape his face I used a studio flash head aimed in low from his right side but softened off through a large diffuser panel. This light was placed in tight to keep it all a bit intense on his face and away from the background which was in danger of becoming over-bright and conflicting with Alan himself. I kept the flash quite level to his eye-line about half a stop brighter than the window light, this angle kept the flash off the writing paper and on the black leather waist-coat to give it a bit of kick-back. The close light also gave sharp catchlights in both eyes in sympathy with his author’s preditory nature.
At this time I was just getting back into using film after being knocked out by the new digital cameras. Alan Sillitoe’s writing is an icon of the 1950’s and so I wanted to use my twin lens roll film camera, with a standard 80 mm lens and it’s square format it is the look of that era. But I did not want the portrait to be too straight as Sillitoe’s writing questions societies values, so I gave the camera a bit of a twisty angle putting him as the upright commentator in a capsizing world.