Shaking things up

Getting out of a photographic rut is quite difficult. When I shot Cinestill film back in February for a project, I was hoping to stretch my style out so that it involved more elements in the frame. My main approach was to position people predominantly in a ‘rule of thirds’ framework. My inspiration for this idea was the work of Alex Webb. I didn’t quite work.

However, I think the idea of freshening things up is a good one. When I look back at my work, I always notice that certain types of shots are dominant in my repertoire. I usually call them ‘environmental portraits’ as they often set the people in the context of their environment backdrop. This is often a reflection of how I think.

1g1a1976However, I do really like those (relatively) rare occasions in which I get up close and personal in my photography. The shots are much more intimate, involved, dynamic and intense. In the next few months, I might stick a wide angle lens on a camera and shoot specifically with this idea in mind as a ‘one project’.

img077One of the reasons I have started to set myself challenges in the form of the ‘one project’ each month, is that I want to stretch myself more creatively. This month, my interest is in trying to shoot objects that mark the presence of people in some way. I am getting more interested in vernacular photography, but I think there is a fine line between “that’s a great shot” and “who cares, that’s boring” responses to the images for me. I suspect my work this month will be the latter!

Ultimately, I would like to find ways to get out of my current creative rut to develop new ways of expressing myself photographically.

London anti-Trump protest

I have been to the Anti-Trump protest this evening. As I walked over Westminster bridge it was pretty impressive to see how many people had come. I was still someway off Downing Street at this point, but a lot of people had amassed and were continuing to arrive. After another 10 minutes I started to push through the crowd to get closer to number 10 and the public speakers. I got to the cenotaph, but that was as far as I could get. The crowd was so large that I couldn’t really get closer. I could hear people talking to the crowd, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.
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Grovely Wood

Recently, I have taken to doing some photography in Grovely Wood. It’s a strange place that reminds me of some parts of Cornwall (where I grew up) that have an eerie occult feel.  I went to the woods several weeks ago to try out the large format camera for the first time. As I walked through the wood, I saw a ceramic ‘goblin’ mask pinned to a tree staring at me. Initially, it sort of freaked me out, then I thought “hang on this’ll make a good shot to do with the new camera”. So, I took the shot (then, possibly messed it up by double exposing it whilst cocking up the dark slides, but that is another story). I must admit sticking my head under the dark cloth was a little unsettling at the time especially as I was focusing on the eyes of the mask through the magnifying loupe! I haven’t seen the mask since I have returned to the woods…

Whilst I was out there shooting this week, I saw some more interesting things. There were a couple of odd ‘gnarled’ trees amongst the straight trees which line the roman road that cuts through the woods. On closer inspection, I saw that one of the trees had a small cloth ‘bag’ in red and white in it. I have seen similar things at ancient sites in Cornwall too. I took a few shots of the tree and another one near by.

I checked up the trees on good old Wikipedia afterwards, and it said that four sisters were murdered here for apparently being witches and that the trees have seemingly grown above their graves. The wikipedia site also said that people left offerings to the sisters at the trees, which I guess is the bag that I saw.

When I lived in Essex, I lived just up the road from Matthew Hopkins house (now a nice restaurant) – he was the most infamous witch hunter in Britain in the 1600s. The nearby town of Manningtree was also a popular drowning and hanging spot for witches too!

As would be expected, all these spots are regarded as being haunted, Essex is a particularly popular place for ghosts to hang out it seems…

I also saw a couple of hides whilst I was there and photographed them too. The only other creatures I saw in the woods were a few jackdaws and deer.

My original intention was to shoot some test shots on digital then come back and commit the best ones to 5×4 black and white film (lovely Kodak Tri-X!).

I expect as I explore the wood further, I might come across a few more odd things. Either way, the wood has a very odd vibe to it!

Here are a few shots in the meantime…

Life in large format – Part one

Well, I am one step closer to working in large format now. I have bought a beautiful Ebony field camera. Mind you, that’s all I have bought so far. I still need to buy a lens (hopefully with lens board and shutter fitted), dark slides, dark cloth, film, etc. I am meandering across Evilbay and websites to find the rest of the kit.

To say that this is going to be a journey of discovery is probably a bit of an understatement. I have never even held a 5×4 inch camera until last weekend, so learning how to use it is going to be interesting. I have, however, managed to find some videos on YouTube about how to set up and use a large format camera, which is already very helpful.

Naturally, given that it is a large (and heavy) camera which can only shoot one image at a time the whole approach to photography needs to be different. Obviously, I need to slow down – in fact this almost Victorian era camera is going to force me to do this. I don’t mind this, as I have been purposely using a Mamiya 7ii for a while to force me to make my work more considered (you get 10 shots per roll of film on this camera). Then, there is the whole setting up, focusing and shooting experience – once you have focused and loaded the film into the back you are into the realms of guesstimating what the image will look like – unlike my usual cameras I won’t have lovely big viewfinders to peer through. After that, I need to work out how to get the film posted off somewhere to get it processed, as my local processor doesn’t do large format. I have seen a few places online, but would prefer something local. I could try and do it myself (I have processed E-6 slides before and black and white), but time is the main issue for me with a young family.

I am both excited but also anxious about the whole thing. I am excited as large format images look stunning when they are done well. The level of detail in them and particularly the tonality blow away any thing else that I have access to (I don’t have access to a 100mp Phase one 645 camera at £32,000!). But, I am anxious to say the least about actually using it. I am really clueless in this area of photography. But, if anything, I like the challenge of learning something new. Until I decide to take on the MA in documentary photography (a long-term goal), I have always taught myself how to use a camera – for me the process of discovery is part of the fun of trying out different cameras!


Diverse Britain – Chris Leslie

I have got to say this is an absolute cracker of a website, really professional and of exceptional quality. I have focused on his Red Road work in Glasgow, which is a in depth coverage of the culture and destruction of this housing estate. There is top draw documentary photography and videos (as he is also a film-maker) on this site. This is a website to absorb over time and a beer? 😉

Visit Britain: The weird and wonderful world of Britain’s ancient festivals

OK so I started with Visit Britain, but I will probably change the working title of this project to ‘Gatherings’, it sort of fits better now than Visit Britain for the project as the ideas are evolving.

I have been trawling across the internet looking for British Festivals, initially most of what I came across were music festivals. Which, whilst great, were not what I was looking for. However, after some more hit and miss searching, I came across the term ‘ancient festivals’. Suddenly, a lot of interesting and strange old festivals started to emerge. Turns out, they are also quite popular too!

It also turns out that there are a lot of these ancient ceremonies across the UK, some are internationally famous, like Up Helly Aa – the Lerwick fire festival – but there are a fair few that I have never heard of – like The Feast of St. Blaise in London, which is the patron saint of people afflicted with throat complaints! After a little digging around, it turns out that this ancient Catholic ceremony is also performed in other countries, like Croatia, as well.

The main problem that I am going to have is (1) selecting appropriate shoots from the incredible choice of ancient festivals out there and (2) quite a lot of events occur at night, which is going to be ‘interesting’ to shoot. However, my main interest is shooting night street photography, so I find this aspect quite exciting.

I think as a basic, I will try and cover the most important and famous events on the festival  calendar. Then, I might try and photograph some of the more unusual ceremonies to add a bit of novelty to the work.

These events are coming up all the time, some occur in January, which is too early for me at the moment – mainly due to the lack of large format camera! It’s going to take a little while to sort that piece of kit out.

What I am hoping is that these traditional festivals can be used to illustrate some of the diversity that occurs in Britain – whether it is diversity of events, places or people. What I would like to see is the relationship between these continuing ancient festivals and modern Britain.

I expect as the project unfolds other avenues that I could explore – or other understandings will open up. Hopefully, this will develop a deeper storyline to the project, but also make it potentially more interesting. Well, that’s the hope anyway!

Salisbury, Arts Week, 2013. Canon 5D3, 85mm