Tag Archives: inspiration

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.


Intentional Film Movement

No, the Intentional Film Movement is not a radical revolutionary brigade, forcing all digital camera users to move to film…! It’s just my play on words in relation to the current trend for ‘intentional camera movement’ (I think ICM – a bit like HDR – is interesting the first few times you see it and then it just gets tedious, mostly because it’s rarely done well, and is often done just for the sake of being able to do it, with little underlying narrative).

Anyway, rant over.  Holidays at home are wonderful: I have been tidying up this week, and came across 19 rolls of film (14 rolls of 35mm and 5 rolls of 120) that I had had developed but then never really looked at. I knew there were some portraits in amongst them that I was somewhat concerned at having lost, but also some experimental images.

Un-Intentional Film Movement - a typical 'accident'

Un-Intentional Film Movement – a typical ‘accident’

My old Rolleiflex, with six decades behind it, works really well. Except for those times it doesn’t. In particular, the film transport mechanism can be a bit dodgy: the film doesn’t always quite engage the way it should, and then the winding mechanism fails: it becomes possible to wind through the whole film without making a single image, as it doesn’t ‘lock’ for each exposure, even though the shutter can be cocked. That has resulted in some rather strange double (triple?!) exposures, in part covering the bottom or top of an image, but I found that when the film fails to engage properly (and in the meantime I can tell when this happens with the first winding of the film to get to the first frame), it also becomes possible to wind the film on whilst having the shutter open. Some of the ‘problem’ images I was getting were like this one here (oops – some of my wife’s family at a celebration last year!).

Intentional Film Movement

Intentional Film Movement

However, this also offers some interesting opportunities. Rather than being annoyed about the film mechanism, I began to experiment, whilst also still making ‘proper’ images in between the experiments (after all, this can easily be done, if you guess how far to wind the film on – does cock the shutter, it just doesn’t move the film on evenly). I tend to used Ilford FP4+ in this camera, which has such a wide latitude that exposure doesn’t really matter – and that makes it ideal for things such as this. I began to try doing two or three things simultaneously to create new images:

  1. using a small aperture, open the shutter
  2. turn the film crank whilst the shutter is open
  3. at the same time, also move the camera.

I was using a tripod (I find that easiest with the Rolleiflex – I struggle to keep the image even vaguely straight without a tripod, and so if it’s important to keep straight, then I need a tripod!), but even doing the first two of these three actions requires a degree of coordination that I struggle with – and moving the camera at the same time becomes much harder! However, the images do then become more interesting.

I tried several experiments with these techniques, using several films, all of them in this pile of unexamined films that I found this week.

Only having seen the negatives, I have been aware of the effect I was generating, and did see how moving the camera also played a role (I didn’t do so for the first roll, and, of course, just ended up with a blur). So here are some of the attempts that have resulted in more interesting shapes.

Intentional Film Movement

Intentional Film Movement

This one, which has a floaty lightness to it, is perhaps my favourite of this group of photographs – it involved a longer exposure, a smaller aperture, and slow consistent movement of the film (I think the darker line is when I stopped winding consistently). I was actually seeking to make a portrait of a friend, but I’ll not give her name here – suffice it to say that the subsequent images of her worked really rather well, even if this one doesn’t actually look anything like her!

Intentional Film Movement - a landscape

Intentional Film Movement – a landscape

I think this last image is interesting for a different reason. I intended to create a ‘cloud’, but this worked exceptionally well: what I am including here is not just the image on the film, but the jagged edge where it has been cut, and the straight line from the scanner’s film-tray. It may be quite hard to see on smaller devices (and perhaps I should have processed this a little more to bring out this contrast – all of these are simply straight from the scanner with no adjustments of any kind), but on a larger screen, I can quite clearly see a night landscape here. The jagged edge is a curved hill, and the lighter areas further up the image are (strange-looking) clouds. Of course, it is not just landscapes that can represent more abstract concepts – abstract concepts can also represent landscapes!

There is a pleasant mix here of images. Creating them involves an element of randomness, but I have tried to create certain kinds of shapes and patterns too, even if I don’t see if they’ve worked until the film has been developed.

Do I think this is going to be something I do more of? Probably not, unless there is a motif that I think might be made more interesting with this technique – AND I happen to have the Rolleiflex with me AND the film hasn’t loaded properly! The one thing I can’t predict is when the Rollleiflex will work properly and when it won’t, so there is a further element of randomness in these kinds of images – most of the time I don’t know when I might (have the opportunity to) create more!

Not a review of the year…

Of all the constructions we create in the world, I sometimes think that time is the ultimate construction. Such breaks as exist are created by us, whether this be 1/125 of a second, or the end and beginning of a year. These segments are imbued with meaning only if we give them meaning, and in that context I grow very weary of reviews of the year (the only one I’ve read that is really worth reading is this one, by Deborah Parkin). So that’s not what this short posting is.

Scarista Bay

Scarista Bay

Instead, I want to show briefly where I am: this photograph from the Isle of Harris describes my photographic mood at the moment: a wide, apparently empty desert, with minor undulations and seemingly no points of interest (Michael Jackson clearly shows us that no beach is really empty). The mountains in the distance, to which I am more naturally drawn, seem a long way off, but I think I am perhaps also beginning to see much more in the emptiness of the sands and find new ways of expressing myself in such contexts. The move towards large-format photography is, for me, a part of that, and something that I look forward to developing in the coming months.


Vee, crossing a dark field

At times this is simply about not being alone. In recent months especially, I have felt as if I am walking in the dark with little light, and no idea where I’m going, resulting in much frustration. Often that is quite ok, but at times it can also be rather depressing. But I want to acknowledge all the people who have played a role in keeping me going by engaging in conversation and argument, thereby enabling me to keep going even if there’s not a lot of light. It seems invidious to name people, but… Rob, Lucy, James, Alastair (x2!), Deborah, Alex, Matt, Antonio, Mark, Mabel, Duncan, Mike, Marc, Tom and many more – thank you for the inspiration and motivation to continue exploring different aspects of creativity. A lengthy Twitter conversation with some of these lovely people last night reminded me of how much I value the kind of discussion that enables thinking to be clarified – even if I’m walking in the dark!

In that sense then, happy new year to all…

Rob Hudson’s reflections on landscapes and the idea of the muse

To my immense frustration, I’ve had a frantically busy work time recently, and have neglected not only this blog, but also my cameras: I’ve simply not had time to get out and make any photographs at all recently.  I hope this will change in the near future.

However, I do want to point to an article, written by Rob Hudson, that picks up on landscape-related themes on the idea of a muse.  I mentioned Rob in my recent blog posting on this topic, and he also commented on it.  In fact, he even wrote this latest article for me:

Ok, maybe it was not just for me, but it certainly speaks to me in terms of the subject matter, and I highly recommend it.

There are, I think, questions that arise from Rob’s article around the intellectual as well as the emotional response to landscape (or indeed, any subject matter), but I think I need to formulate that more coherently in a response on the On Landscape website – I’ll do that sometime soon.

Note that to read Rob’s article you will need a free subscription to the magazine, but you may also want to pay for more of it… I do, and it is worth it!

Alan Ross’ photography and his #PostAPhotoFriday idea

To my considerable astonishment, Alan Ross recently started following me on Twitter.  Although I had come across his images before, I didn’t know he was on Twitter until then; I am (of course!) following him now too.  I really like the subtlety of his images, which for me are not ‘in your face’ ‘wow’ photographs – excuse the crudity of this description: it relates to debates in the Great British Landscapes magazine (see especially here and here) – but are long drawn out intakes of breath in appreciation at the compositions, tones and textures.  Even in small sizes on a computer screen, I can look at his photographs for ages, and I encourage you to take some time to explore his gallery.  I’d love to see some of his printed work sometime.

Alan posts new images regularly, sometimes daily, but there is no way I can keep up with that, given that I have a full-time job that has nothing to do with my photography.  But he also suggests a challenge, that he tags as ‘#PostAPhotoFriday‘ – the idea being that sharing a photograph with this tag every Friday enables others to see your efforts (of course, he posts his own images too).  For example, here is his message from last week:

I think this is an inspired idea: a weekly post should usually be a manageable time frame for me, even with a full time job, and because I think I need the discipline of a time frame to make sure I regularly put images out there for people to see and critique, I’m going to try and follow Alan’s suggestion.  So, below is my first of these Friday photos, on the beach at the bottom of my road.  This was taken whilst out walking with Alastair Cook at the beginning of October, with autumnal skies and tones.  It’s on Kodak T-Max 400 (that expired in July 2009), using my medium format Mamiya and an 80mm lens.  To me it looks a bit like a drunk has staggered along the beach before us (I assure you these prints are not Alastair’s – nor mine!).

Finally, I heartily recommend following Alan on Twitter and taking time for studying the images on his website!

Portobello beach - but not my footprints!

Portobello beach - but not my footprints!

Of course, I’m always open to comments – but if they’re about this image, can I request that you comment in the gallery location instead (clicking on the image also takes you to the gallery image).  Comments on this blog posting can be made below as usual.  Thank you!


Why workshop?

A while ago I mentioned on Twitter that I had booked myself a place on a photography workshop. Someone commented on this in what felt like a throw-away remark, saying they had never seen the point of going on workshops. So I – in 140 characters! – sought to explain why this was important to me. Now that I’m just back from the workshop I booked on at the time, I thought I’d try and say more about it, and include some images from the time away (these are just the digital ones – I have yet to take the film rolls to be developed).

Achnahaird Bay

Achnahaird Bay

Firstly, it’s worth noting that I have no formal artistic training (unlike my correspondent, who has, I think, a degree in art/photography), and so for me, I hope that a workshop can serve partly to teach me something. Secondly, having a pretty intense full-time job means that if I get the time to go and photograph for a few days and do nothing but think about photography, that is really fantastic!  The week was a proper holiday, and I didn’t read a single academic text whilst away (even though I did have a book with me… I rarely travel without one!).

Thirdly, and most importantly for me, engaging with a photographer leading a workshop is about having someone critique what I do and help me move forward in my thinking and my photography.

Loch Bad a' Ghaill

Loch Bad a' Ghaill

My week away was with Bruce Percy, who has been running workshops for several years now.  Exactly two years before going on this Assynt workshop, I went (with my neighbour, Mabel Forsyth) to Torridon on one of his weekend workshops.  That was a great experience, as I wrote about here at the time.  So I was confident the week in Assynt would be a good week.

There are some people who seem to be workshop-regulars, going from one to the next all the time. I am not like that: I have attended a couple of other day-workshops in recent years, but have not been on residential workshops other than the one in Torridon and this one in Assynt.  So if you’re wanting me to offer comparisons, I can’t do so (though I have now heard quite a few horror stories of other workshops, some by really famous photographers… and no, I won’t say more on this).  My main purpose in going to Assynt with Bruce was that I wanted to rediscover something about my own reasoning and motivation for making photographs – especially landscapes – that I had found increasingly difficult to identify in recent times.  I felt I knew enough theory in terms of operating my cameras (though of course, Bruce was able to help me improve in certain areas, such as my exposures and hyperfocal focusing). But I felt I needed input on more important things, especially aspects of composition and how and why I frame the way I do or give more attention to certain things in a scene, and what all that says about my own ‘visioning process’ (sorry, I think that is a rather horrible phrase, but I can’t think of a more suitable one; pre-visualisation covers some of it, but is not the same thing).

Glencanisp Lodge, with view to Suilven

Glencanisp Lodge, with view to Suilven

Of course, this is not something that I discussed in any detail with Bruce before or during the workshop, because I knew from previous experience that this might come anyway – and it did.  One of the two key things for me in thinking about a workshop is that I have to like the photographs that the workshop leader makes, and I really love Bruce’s work – it offers depth and challenge, simplicity and elegance, in both his landscapes and portraits. Of course, I have no desire to create images that are like Bruce’s, even if I could do so, since they represent his vision and not mine; however, I feel I can relate to his vision. I have come to realise that the other key thing for me is that I have to feel I can connect to the leader, and that he or she can connect to me.  Of course, I’m privileged in that I was able to go on the Torridon workshop with Bruce and I therefore knew him a little already; and we’ve also become friends over the last couple of years – that is not something that is necessarily open to people who don’t live in the next neighbourhood to a workshop leader!  But it is possible to at least gain some impression of the person from their images and their writings (such as their blog) and this offers good clues.  And, of course, you can trust my recommendation that Bruce is a great workshop leader! 🙂

So, is it possible to sum up what it was that I gained from Bruce’s input? There are a number of things that come to mind, but the main one for me can be outlined in the following terms.  At the beginning of the week, he noted that he sometimes found it difficult to understand exactly what I was seeing and why I had gone for a certain composition (I did say this was perhaps because the images were no good, but Bruce disagreed!).  A day or two later he began to suggest that my visualising of scenes was perhaps too selective – I tended to visualise one or two really significant elements in a potential image, but I did not always frame these in a way that meant they were as apparent as I wanted them to be, whether this be unusual shapes, repeated lines, patterns on hills, the interplay between different elements in a scene, and so on. This is not simply about excluding extraneous elements – even if I intended to crop the image from whatever I saw in the viewfinder – although this is also a factor (see the tree image I discussed here recently and the grass in the bottom right of the image: 1, 2). Rather, for me, it is about expanding the view of the scene as a whole, about being able to encompass the elements that form the shapes, colours and tones in a way that enables a more holistic image to emerge.  That is what I want to achieve, and I know that I do that, but not always as consistently as I would like.

At Achnahaird Bay, looking south

At Achnahaird Bay, looking south

Of course, this is just me.  Other participants will hopefully have found something in Bruce’s critiques (there were 2-3 hours of image critiques on every day but one; other participants also commented on images) that helped them with whatever they thought they needed – or perhaps that they didn’t know they needed.

A month or two ago I removed all the landscape galleries from this site.  There really was a lot of rubbish there, in amidst some images that I liked.  Before going to Assynt I had begun the process of recreating the galleries and they are gradually going to reappear, but this time with far fewer, more carefully selected images.  In general, I make photographs for myself and not for others: being clearer about what I’m doing is therefore essential, and I feel the week away with Bruce has enabled me to see much more clearly exactly what kind of images I want to create, and given me more tools to enable me to go about doing that.  Those are the images I want to show here.

In essence, I feel I am approaching my photography with new confidence, a clearer sense of why I’m doing it, and how to go about achieving what I want. So in answer to my correspondent: that’s why I wanted to go on this workshop! 🙂

Exciting news – book cover commission

I’ve had some very exciting news – the author of the book mentioned in my last posting likes my proposal and the image that I created, and it will therefore be on the cover of his new book.

A friend of mine, Simon Barrow, is involved in a publishing house, Shoving Leopard, and a new book by Kevin Scully is due out shortly (shortly being… a launch on 2. July!).  The book is called Imperfect Mirrors, and although I’ve not had the opportunity to read it, Simon has talked to me about it, and the advance blurb gives some indication of the book’s contents:

What can be brought to the liturgy by the disciplines of dramatic performance? How are the respective theatres of daily life and worship to be seen and experienced together? East End priest, playwright, actor, writer and broadcaster Kevin Scully is very well placed to tackle these issues. In this eagerly awaited forthcoming title from Shoving Leopard [he] does so with insight, humour, a sharp eye, and a well-crafted turn of phrase.

What the author wanted was something that represented the idea of an imperfect mirror as a way of thinking about how theatre might impact on the church.  Simon initially asked if I had an image he could use, but nothing really suitable came to mind: an image I sent him of a church reflected in a lake received a lukewarm reaction when sent on to the author.  So something else was needed.

For quite a while I’ve had an idea I wanted to play with questions of how we understand and interpret reality.  I imagined someone looking into a mirror, but whilst the pose would be identical (I had thought of applying make-up or brushing hair or similar) the mirror image would not be an exact reflection: from the back they would be naked/dressed in one way, but in the mirror they would be dressed/dressed in something completely different.  From this it was a short step to suggest to Simon and Kevin theatrical clothing of some kind for the image from the back, with a reflection of the same person in a clerical shirt in the mirror.  But what kind of theatrical clothing?  What would obviously communicate drama when all that was visible was the back?  The back of most clothing is often rather boring… The obvious solution was to think of something with representational detail on the back, so some kind of vintage dress with ribbon ties at the back seemed like a good option.  But aside from being potentially rather expensive, I thought a full dress might detract from the image in the mirror, and so I decided that a corset would be better: (a) it would leave naked skin visible above the fabric providing more of a contrast with the clerical shirt, (b) the ribbons would contrast with and provide shadows on the skin, and (c) the suggestion of sex that a corset makes would contrast nicely with the power of a clerical shirt to kill off any sensuality on the part of the wearer.  After visiting the wonderful Armstrong’s Vintage in Clerk Street I was the proud owner of two different vintage-style corsets.  The clerical shirt was even easier to procure as I’m married to a church minister!  My friend Fran Whitton, who quite a while ago said she would be happy to model for me (though we never quite managed to organise it), was happy to be drafted in at short notice, and with a little bit of help from my friend Photoshop, she makes for a perfect corset-wearing actor as well as a church minister (warm thanks to Mabel Forsyth who acted as my assistant, and to my wife for helping Fran with the clothes as well as assisting me):

Imperfect mirrors

Imperfect mirrors

Interestingly, after sending a first version of my image to Kevin Scully, he told me that he had suggested René Magritte’s La Reproduction Interdite to Simon a while ago as the basis of a cover image – though Simon had completely forgotten to tell me about this.  Though I had come across it years ago, I had not consciously thought of it at all in my plans.

Of course, I’m delighted that my image is going to be used for a book, and I can’t wait for it to come out (and then read it!).  But one of the interesting issues for me here is the question of inspiration and ownership.  Whilst Magritte’s painting must have been buried somewhere in my subconscious memory, the idea for such a reflected image had been with me for a while. Kevin Scully’s book – even though I haven’t read it! – provided that last little prompt to come up with something a bit different.  I keep my browser’s internet history for a year, and on skimming through it there is nothing that looks like this.  But there are clearly multiple sources of inspiration in each image we create, and in this instance I am happy to acknowledge René Magritte’s painting, Kevin Scully’s book theme, and Simon Barrow’s blurb writing skills – and of course, Fran’s posing.  Whilst in western thought we have created an ideology of ‘intellectual property’ that means this photograph is my copyright, the inspiration and ‘intellectual ownership’ for almost everything we create surely belongs to a much wider circle of people.  A reflective little essay on inspirations is beginning to come together for release here.

P.S. I’m sure someone will add a comment with a link pointing to an image that does just the same kind of thing with distorting reality in a mirror… if you know of one, please do add it below! 🙂