Tag Archives: abstract

Revisiting images, locations

We are on holiday in the north-west of Scotland, escaping the rain our house-sitter is experiencing, and getting different rain! 🙂

I’ve revisited some locations that I first encountered on the two Bruce Percy workshops I’ve been to in this area – one based around Torridon (2009), one around Assynt (2011).  It’s been very interesting photographing one or two of these locations again and seeing how differently I’ve approached them.  Here are three images from Achnahaird Bay that are quite different to the previous ones from four years ago; clicking them will show you the older images from the bay.

This first image is really what the bay is about for me, I think: three elements in different patterns.  It’s not always necessary to be really clear about what I’m seeing when standing in the middle of the bay looking around it, something I’ve tried to achieve by the grasses being sufficiently in focus to be discernible as grasses, but not clearly defined (I know, I know, thousands of £ on camera equipment to make out-of-focus images, but…!).

Achnahaird Bay, 2015

Achnahaird Bay, 2015

Achnahaird Bay, 2015

Achnahaird Bay, 2015

Achnahaird Bay, 2015

Achnahaird Bay, 2015

These are, of course, digital images.  I have been making large format film images of my wanderings too, but they’ll come later.

PS As it happens, I caught up with some of Bruce’s recent blog posts, and he wrote about revisiting images too (but honestly, after I took these and thought of posting them here!)

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Some nudes

I have made some new photographs.  The first is available to see now, and others will be added in the coming days; clicking the image below will take you to the right page (I’ll probably post them on social media as they are added to the page).  Those who know me well might be surprised at the subject material – nudes – but I trust that it is possible to read beyond the imagery to something more meaningful than “just the image” and in that sense, I will be posting the various photographs (I think there might be 5 or 6) without further comment apart from giving them a title.  The images speak to me, and really do need to speak for themselves to others; if they don’t do that for you, please just pass on by…

And the curve of her knee beguiled me.

And the curve of her knee beguiled me.

In the snow

Here are a few images from an excursion into the snow early on Saturday morning.  I was going out to make one particular image (not shown here – it’ll come in due course), and made several others at the same time.  After what feels like a protracted break from making photos, I feel as if I’m discovering something new again.

This is probably my favourite image of the day, and perhaps the one that took longest to compose:

Just about alive

Just about alive

In contrast, these trees – large and small, though I suspect the little one on the far side of the water is much the same size as the near one! – seemed just perfectly placed in the landscape for me:

Trees, large and small

Trees, large and small

Other trees and bushes offered further insights into the tangle of life:

Branches 1

Branches 1

This seemed to be an invitation through the branches (that I didn’t take up; there’s another image of these branches here):

Branches 2

Branches 2

I’m busy writing something about ‘wild places’ for this website, and it’s helpful to be reminded that some of these apparently ‘wild places’ are not as wild as they might at first appear:

Branches 2

Branches 2

There is something magnificent about going through snow that others have not yet been through, even in a car – but I know where this road leads, and did not want to go up the hill and down the sharp bends in my wee car, especially as it is only a front wheel drive (given that accidents can easily happen, even to professionals with better vehicles)!  Still, it’s an enticing prospect:

The open road

The open road

 

The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness

I feel I owe those of you who follow me on Twitter for my photography an apology for the paucity of images in recent months – this is entirely due to the stress of recent months at work, as I mentioned in my last posting (Preview: The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness).  It seems almost perverse that such experiences could be the inspiration for a series of images that really speak to me.

I have now posted the complete set – 22 images – of The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness online, my first substantial complete set of images since 1. February this year.  It is a dark and lonely set of images that reflect an abstract interior landscape of the self, but I hope they will be of interest to some of you, and not just to me!  Click on the image to be taken to the page:

The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness 14

The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness 14

All were made on a Nikon FM2 with a 28mm lens, on a film emulsion that is new to me, but very beautiful: Neopan Acros 100.  I might still tend towards Ilford’s FP4+ or Delta 100, but the Acros is definitely a film I will use again.

Preview: The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness

This is not one of the images in the series that some people may be aware I’ve been working on, The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness, but it is the precursor to that series, made near Beauly in Scotland on a trip with Mike Colechin in March this year:

Introductory image - The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness

Introductory image – The Wide Open Spaces of Infinite Darkness

It was made with a large format camera (the series itself is made with a Nikon 35mm camera). It is a negative image, both in terms of what I see it communicating, and the fact that it really is the negative image (i.e. not reversed from the film).

I will upload the series to the page shortly (at the moment, there is just this introductory image on the page, with a short text). Every other image in the series is made using the same lens (28mm) and though shutter speeds change (generally they are very slow), the aperture is kept at f2.8 (wide open…) and the focus is always set to infinity and mostly shot at night (infinite darkness…). Everything about this series is both literal and figurative…

(And if you still think photographs represent some kind of documentary evidence, here’s Mike Colechin’s image of exactly the same bit of ground, made maybe half an hour earlier…)

Friedensreich Hundertwasser and creative processes

I am currently in Kiel in northern Germany, and yesterday I went to the Hundertwasser exhibition in the Ostseehalle (that’s what everyone still calls it, despite the sponsoring bank insisting on naming it after itself…!). It was fantastic – do go if you’re anywhere near it!

Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) came across as somewhat eccentric but fantastically creative, and applied his art to the ‘real world’, designing stamps, number plates, humus toilets, buildings/windows and much more, as well as creating more abstract imagery. The exhibition was extremely engaging, and I want to point to two significant thoughts that emerged for me.

A relative of mine had a large mounted reproduction print by Hundertwasser, L’expulsion, on her living room wall, and left it to me when she died… so it’s now hanging on my living room wall (sadly, it’s not a “real” Hundertwasser…!). I have always loved this image, though the colours on my print are different: they are richer, more saturated, than the image I’ve linked to and that was in the exhibition. In fact, many of his images were created in different colour palettes, though it is not clear to me what prompted him to choose the varying colour schemes. This is interesting to me: he seems to have seen various final possibilities for his images, none completely definitive, though all existing within certain fixed parameters. So often I try to get to one final image, but perhaps I should be more open to the multiplicity of possibilities that each image is offering me.

Secondly, it seemed to me that Hundertwasser had a perfect understanding of the theory and practice of pre-visualisation (what Steve Coleman memorably describes as taking a photograph you cannot see; I’ve also found Bruce Percy’s books to be most helpful on this topic) – he knew just what he was aiming for, and created images or objects that corresponded to an image he already understood and had discerned in some form. I don’t know that this was necessarily in the sense that the completed artwork was in some way visible to him in his imagination, but certain principles or guidelines – such as his understanding of the importance of spirals and his antipathy to straight lines – seem to have helped him to understand what he was working towards and what he wanted to reach with his art. In the same way, I think we as photographers need to know what we’re aiming for and what is guiding our creation of images, as this will help us in knowing what it is we are trying to achieve.

I think it is great to pick up on these questions in other art forms. I’m in the process of creating new image galleries to go online here sometime soon, and it’s helpful to be reminded of some of these themes as I try to think about the narrative underpinning images and image collections, however much of a novice I might be in this area.

Torridon – the art of adventure photography part 2

Day two of our course began very early.  Here’s an approximate breakdown of my day:

  • get up 5:30
  • out 6h (rain)
  • ca. 6:20 arrive on location (a LOT of rain) – we are at Loch Clare
  • waiting in the van
  • rain clears a bit, returning intermittently; we’re out, taking photographs
  • back to the hotel and breakfast for 9h
  • out to another location shortly after 10h – this time Loch Torridon
  • more photos, more rain – then lots more rain (run back to minibus)
  • new location (no rain)
  • ca. 13h rain
  • at Bruce’s suggestion, we decide to return to the hotel and have lunch
  • 14h everyone chooses two photos to critique
  • 15:30 out for sunset
  • periods of heavy rain, and beautiful calm
  • moon photographs (visible for exactly 25 seconds – see below!) and more
  • return to hotel
  • 18:30 in the bar
  • 19h dinner
  • and then blog writing and bed!

An excellent day, though a long one… and I think all six of us felt that.

When out, we all wandered off in our own direction, photographing what we saw.  Bruce knows the area, and chose locations that he had either photographed in the past, or that he knew would offer something tangible for us to photograph (after all, this weekend is about learning techniques etc., not about photographing something that has never been photographed before – though, of course, each of us returned with very different images from each location).  He then made a point of going to each person and reviewing some of their photographs (we’re all on digital this weekend to help with the teaching process, though I am not the only film shooter here), talking through how they were approaching their imaging, what might work differently, ways to deal with particular compositional or lighting problems, suggesting alternative perspectives, exposures and so on.  For example, I have often felt that the metering on my Nikon D40 was out, and have therefore almost always had the exposure compensation set at -2/3.  Bruce discussed this with me at length and demonstrated, even on the crappy wee screen at the back of the camera, that this resulted in problems with my shadow detail (lesson: there is a difference between dark and moody… and just dark).  I realise that this is also partly Bruce’s style – I sometimes think that although he describes himself as a landscape photographer, I wonder if this not more of a convenient label: his images are often not really landscapes, but images of light that is transformed in some way through reflection, absorption etc. in the encounter with the land.  That is what attracted me so much to his art in the first place, and so I have no objection if even a tiny fraction of this sensibility rubs off on me.

I want to describe some images.  After breakfast we went to Loch Torridon.  Bruce drove us quite high up, and we took photographs overlooking the loch, towards the mountains around the water.  In the foreground, there were substantial erratics (a new term I learnt: these are the rocks that have been brought to their present location by glaciers that have long since vanished, leaving just the rocks in their incongruous locations), and Bruce wanted us to try and think about the use of foreground detail as well as background material.  The wind was strong, it was raining, but despite water droplets dribbling down both sides of the filter, we managed some spectacular images.  When Bruce came over to me, we talked about what I had been trying to do, and he asked me if I had turned and seen a particular tree; I hadn’t.  He borrowed my camera, and took three or four photographs.  He showed me the last one, pointing out the simplicity of the image, and the ways in which the mist isolated the tree from the mountain in the background, making for a very simple, but very powerful image of the tree.  This is his photograph (which I post here and on my website with his permission):

Tree and mountain (Bruce Percy)

Tree and mountain (Bruce Percy)

I liked this immediately, but also wondered about other ways of taking this photograph.  I took several photographs, and ended up with this one:

Mountains and tree

Mountains and tree

Bruce’s photograph is undoubtedly fantastic (though he said he thought it was a little underexposed; without wanting to sound presumptuous, I’d agree – and also add that mine was underexposed too; I’ve corrected this a little here, but didn’t feel I should manipulate his photograph!).  But I also like mine, bringing in more of the mountain outlines, setting a wider context, and offering a different role for the tree.  In my image, I realised later, the tree almost serves as an anchor for the mountains, rather than the mountains doing that for the tree.  It’s as if the majesty and grandeur of these incredible hills is given additional meaning by the tree’s inclusion in the image – although several times as tall as me, it is quite tiny in comparison to the massive mountains in the background – and thereby it perhaps helps to give a sense of the amazing landscape we were in.  I also converted this to black and white, and cannot quite decide which I prefer – the subtle tones of the colours in the original, or the even more simple tones of the black and white (comments on this are very welcome!):

Mountains and tree

Mountains and tree

As we were driving back in really hard rain, Bruce slowed the minibus and pointed out the view.  He asked if anyone wanted to photograph this, and two of us leapt out of the bus, getting ourselves and our dried off cameras wet all over again.  This is the image I came up with:

Mountains, Torridon

Mountains, Torridon

I post it here as a kind of contrast to the tree/moutain images.  Although I think this is beautiful, the large white expanse (that’s the mist…) in the bottom left corner decontextualises the mountains, making them almost more of an abstract series of lines than a mountain range.  Although these are pretty much the same mountains as in the tree photograph, in this photograph there is nothing much that anchors them to the earth, and so the photograph becomes something quite different.

Undoubtedly the most useful part of the day was the critical review.  We had very little time, but we each had to choose two photographs we had taken, and offer them for review (not easy to choose, when you have just a few minutes and are scanning 150 images!).  Bruce had brought a projector and showed us our images on a large screen.  We then explained what we had been trying to do, why the image was important to us, what we felt about how it had turned out, and so on.  Other participants then offered comment, as did Bruce.  This was in all cases incredibly positive and helpful criticism.  Bruce then went through the images in Photoshop, and showed us simple and effective ways of manipulating them in order to bring out contrasts, highlights etc.  There are many many ‘small’ things that I took from this, but the really major one that I took away was a reflection on image size: even when I crop my images, I tend to leave them in the original aspect ratio (i.e. based on a 35mm film image – perhaps this is a subcounscious desire to ‘retain’ something of the ‘original’? even though I know this is a nonsense), even though most images benefit from different shapes.  I’ve often felt my images were too ‘long’, and this session radically opened my eyes to the more pleasing ratios of 4×5, 6×7, or 1×1 as well as arbitrary crops – you’ll see that nearly all the images from today on my website are now cropped in such a way, almost as if to make a point to me, never mind anyone else.

In the late afternoon, we went to another loch, Bruce hoping to offer us a location and a sunset for trying out some of the techniques we had talked about in the critique and other locations.  It was very wet.  Not just the loch from below, but also the clouds from above.  I sometimes think that rain in Scotland must have magical molecular properties that other rain does not have… but more on that later!  I went down to the edge of the loch, and also into the loch (very slight shoreline, so that wellies were more than adequate).  It was cloudy and overcast, making for very soft light.  No real sign of a sunset, but despite this, some of the resulting images were great.  I was very pleased with my foregrounding of stones, for example, and the capture of the moonlight, which appeared once, for about 10 seconds, and I missed it; but I saw the clouds moving in such a way that it might reappear.  It did, for precisely 25 seconds (I know this, because I took five images at 5 seconds each – and it was gone!).  The image originally has the moonlight curving, which I think might be the lens’ barrel distortion (I’ll perhaps get around to correcting this at some point…):

Moonlight, Torridon

Moonlight, Torridon

Bruce then took us all back to the hotel – and our first shower of the day!  The dinner discussion in the evening was stimulating, covering the purpose of this kind of photography (one participant argued that it is to document reality/something ‘real’; Bruce asked if that was so, why was this person using a wide-angle lens?!), the processing stage (are images ‘doctored’ if they’re manipulated in Photoshop to bring out the highlights etc.?), Vettriano (is it art?), the BNP on BBC Question Time (should they have done/should they not have done?), free speech in a democracy, the Iraq invasion/war, the significance of 11.9.2001…