Istanbul Photo Trip

I had a long weekend with my wife in Istanbul, the weekend before Christmas, to indulge in a travel photo shoot. The weather was pretty poor (with rain for most of the time), but this didn't detract from such a fabulous city. It provided everything that you could wish for: friendly, open people; spectacular scenery and architecture; an absorbing and eclectic history; and (always my favourite for capturing social interaction) two outstanding bazaars. This time of year was great to travel as there were few tourists (so cheap hotels and no crowds or queues - barring the locals doing their Christmas shopping, which was wonderful to get involved in). The best thing of all (from a photographer's perspective) were the willingness of the Turkish people to allow me to photograph what I wanted (including them), without asking for money and being obstructive (of course I was always courteous and polite, and they rewarded this by being extremely helpful, open and honest - as well as having a wonderful sense of humour). It was a real pleasure to wander around and to be left (relatively) alone to absorb the sights, sounds and smells and capture the beauty of the place on camera. I will certainly be travelling throughout Turkey again in the near future.

First Book Publication

I'm absolutely delighted to have finally published my first photobook, called Sandringham: Walks With My Human. I self-published it under the 'HaVe' name, using the online publishing company, Blurb (the book can be viewed online by clicking on the Blurb link). I have been working on the images for the book for several months (a bit at a time - fitting in the work around my day-job, studies, and other photographic projects), so it was in some way a relief to finally see it in print. Blurb have, once again, delivered an excellent product, and the book now holds pride of place on my bookshelf (albeit over-shadowed by the exhalted company of the 'professional' photobooks on display).

The completion of the book is a key moment in my life. It is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and to sustain a project for a long period of time in order to collect the images was a real lesson in concentration and dedication to an idea. It was also an incredibly useful exercise in choosing what images to display, in what order, and in what format/size. I'm not saying that I have got it completely right, but it is certainly the first step on a long ladder of learning on which I wish to climb. Whilst the project may never see the light of day (in terms of an exhibition), it has provided the motivation to work on future, long-term projects, which I hope to one day exhibit and publish professionally.

Wedding Shoot

It's been an incredibly busy couple of months, during which I have completed a large piece of work for my Master's degree; however, that doesn't mean that I haven't focused on my photography. As well as putting the final images together for my OCA course (which will be sent to my tutor in the next week), I have also spent a good deal of time putting together a wedding album from a shoot I did in late October. As always with weddings, it was incredibly hard work, but I am delighted with the results. The album was published through the online publishing service, Blurb, who once again delivered an outstanding product. The album can be viewed by clicking on the Blurb link.

OCA - Printing Experimentation

One of the biggest challenges I have faced throughout this course (as I begin to look at the professional presentational aspects of photography more seriously) has been accuracy in printing colours and tones. It has been an absolute minefield, although I have taken steps to try and get the best results that I can with the equipment that I have.

My tutor gave me some excellent feedback on my last assignment, to point me in the right direction (which I have taken ‘on board’), but I decided to take it a step further, in order to ensure my prints were of a quality and standard that I would be happy with for my final exhibition (and final assignment submission).

I use an iMac (or MacBook) computer, attached to a HP B9180 Pro printer for all my prints. I have recently calibrated the monitor using a Spyder 3 Pro. The paper that I normally use is ‘Lyson Archival Quality Pro Photo Gloss’ (265 gsm), which was chosen some time ago after some experimentation using a variety of different papers from different manufacturers (Canon, Kodak and some lesser known makes). This has always given me good results, with the exception (as has been pointed out by my tutor) that there is a slight lack of ‘deep’ black (although this has often been overcome by tweaking the ‘blacks’ slider in my Camera Raw software).

As I am using a HP printer, I thought it might be beneficial to use HP paper, especially with the inbuilt printer/paper profiles available with the B9180 Pro. I therefore took a single photograph and printed it using the following papers (which I obtained in small index sheets from the Photo Plus Show at the NEC last year) (some of which were specialist papers, for the sake of experimentation):

HP Professional Semi-Gloss Contract Proofing Paper (235 gsm)

HP Hahmemuhle Watercolour Paper (210 gsm)

HP Aquarella Art Paper (240 gsm)

HP Artist Matte Canvas (380 gsm)

HP Premium Semi-Gloss Proofing Paper (240 gsm)

HP Everyday Pigment Ink Gloss Photo Paper (235 gsm)

HP Professional High-Gloss Contract Proofing Paper (200 gsm)

HP Hahnemuhle Smooth Fine Art Paper (265 gsm)

HP Professional Matte Canvas (430 gsm)

HP Universal Instant-Dry Gloss Photo Paper (190 gsm)

HP Advanced Glossy Photo Paper (250 gsm)

HP Premium Plus Gloss Photo Paper (286 gsm)

HP RC Matte Photo Paper (200 gsm)

HP Professional Satin Photo Paper (300 gsm)

HP Premium Instant-Dry Gloss Photo Paper (260 gsm)

HP Premium Matte Photo Paper (210 gsm)

HP Premium Vivid Colour Backlit Film (285 gsm)

I also experimented with another manufacturer’s paper, printing on the same paper but using two different printer profiles:

Ilford Premium Satin Inkjet Photo Paper (250 gsm) – printed using (1) HP Premium Satin Profile, and (2) using Other Inkjet Paper Profile.

What struck me was the incredible variation in both print quality and tonal range. I was very disappointed with all the Matte papers, the colours and tones within which I felt were very subdued. The speciality papers I also found very disappointing, although the HP Artist Matte Canvas gave quite an interesting finish (although unsuitable for the intentions of this project). Despite the wide variation in brightness and contrast, I felt that the best results came from the Satin and Gloss papers, with the Ilford Premium Satin (printed using the Satin profile) giving me the most satisfactory results. 

OCA - Assignment Four Feedback

I received my feedback for Assignment 4 a few days back, and am (once again) really pleased with the feedback. It’s extremely useful getting constructive criticism in order to propel me into new ways of thinking (or simply to encourage me to pursue avenues that I have only ‘dipped my toe’ into). I have been working hard to try and ‘define’ what my project is about, and through experimentation and tutorial guidance, I have honed it into something that I now feel passionate about.

Despite my deep interest in photojournalism, I have become more and more absorbed in the ‘fine art’ side of photography (not least of which because of the theoretical studies that I have done on the course), and this has really focused my final project. What started out as a very generic idea – ‘Workers’ – which was to be done in a photojournalistic style, has been modified and changed into an artistic ‘idea’ of marrying poetry (in a written sense, through the means of the haiku) with a ‘syllabic’ photographic interpretation of the poem. Through this method, I am hoping to portray the ambiguous nature of warfare, with its multitude of meanings and feelings for those involved (both directly and indirectly) by photographing those whose work will (and has) brought them into contact with it. The uniform they wear (camouflage material, known as DPM: Disrupted Pattern Material) is symbolic of warfare, but this in itself is ambiguous; the very nature of camouflage is to make it appear as something different. I have tried to display both the ‘blending’ (and almost ‘dreamlike’) nature of camouflage, but also the strangeness that camouflage can bring to a scene, when worn within a manufactured environment.

My photographs are therefore meant to provoke discussion, and encourage interpretation of meaning within the viewer, whatever that may be. My tutor has (throughout the course) encouraged me to let my images tell their own story, rather than me forcing the point to the viewer, and I hope I have managed to achieve this in my final selection of work. All images are captured moments, but I have included both sharp, intimate detail, interspersed with ghostlike patterns strewn across the frame by the use of long exposures and movement.

The ‘Haiku’ is a poetic form (originated in Japan) that has 17 syllables (5, 7, 5 over 3 lines). The images for my final ‘exhibition’ were therefore chosen to represent a single syllable (the metric as opposed to the actual word) within the poem (and would therefore be hung with 5 images in the top row, 7 in the middle, and 5 images on the bottom row). The poem is written below:

                                    In our dreams we wade

                                    Through a sea of camouflage

                                    Slipping and sliding

Elegy to Havana

I have recently come back from a trip to Cuba, which was a truly fascinating experience. Havana especially was remarkable, but I have to confess that I didn't feel quite the way I had expected about it. Friends who had been there were hugely complementary of the atmosphere and the culture, but my experiences of the city were quite different. I spent 4 days photographing various elements of the city, including the people, the buildings, the cars (very cliched, I know) and for a while I couldn't quite put a finger on why I felt a certain negativity, until I happened upon a scene outside an old cinema that had the title 'Elegy' written on the hoarding, with a man sweeping up below it. That was it! The city felt like an elegy; a lament for the dead. It seemed to me as though Havana was in mourning; the buildings crumbling, the cars coughing and spluttering and the people repressed and desperate for air, for life. I may be wrong, and as a tourist it is so difficult to see beneath the surface, but Havana felt like its soul had been taken and it was waiting (longing) for happiness to arrive.

Sandringham - Walks With My Human

I have been working away on the final selection of my project 'Sandringham - Walks With My Human' and have whittled my way down to 97 images (although my intention is to select 70 - which is going to be extremely difficult). As discussed in previous postings, the project stemmed from the idea of exploring my local area through the eyes of my dog (hence the point of view and image tones) in order to investigate the detail that is so often missed within the landscape. With my dog's sense of smell, the images not only give the viewer an intensified view of the 'micro-landscape' but also provides an olfactory journey (with smell being the main reason for my dog being interested in the subject of the photographs). The final selection of images will be self-published through Blurb in the next couple of months, but a few examples are shown below.

OCA - Assignment Three Feedback

I'm feeling a touch guilty in that it has been about 2 months since I have updated my blog (rather remiss of me). It's not that I haven't been doing any work - more to the contrary, I have been slaving away at my 'day job' in addition to completing a major essay for my masters degree and finalising the work for assignment 3 of my OCA course. Now that I have written that down I feel 'cleansed' - it's rather cathartic this blogging process!

Anyway, I received the feedback a few days ago for my OCA assignment and was (once again) delighted with the positive comments. It always helps to spurn me onto my next 'installment' and as time is getting quite precious at the moment, it was a boost I really needed. This particular assignment was really hard work as it involved not only taking photographs, but also an in-depth essay (of which I concentrated on the work of Martin Parr) and a theoretical study. I must say that whilst I enjoyed the challenge of writing about the creative process and investigating the work of prominent photographers, I was incredibly glad to 'get it out of the way' so that I could use my time to complete my photographic project. Ultimately, it is taking photographs that fires me up, not just talking about them.

Upon the advice of my tutor (and based upon the thoughts that I was having anyway), I have decided to refine my major project even further. The project had started out as a very 'open-ended' study of workers, which was later refined to focus upon workers in uniform. I have taken this a stage further to now concentrate specifically on those wearing camouflage uniform (or DPM - Disrupted Pattern Material - as the military define it). At the moment I will be concentrating on the British DPM uniform, but it leads to an idea for the future exploring the different DPM patterns worn by different nations (and the reasons behind the various constructions/patterns). Aside from the day-to-day wearing of the uniform, I want to concentrate on particular situations where it is mandated (and necessary) that the DPM uniform is worn. I have already taken images of the RAF Regiment on Pre-Deployment Training for Afghanistan and of the Royal Gurkha Regiment (see image above) during their 'downtime' on Operations in Kandahar (the latter of which will be submitted as part of Assignment 4). I will be taking some images of airmen training on a fitness assault course (which will form the second part of the Assignment 4 submission), and I intend to do some photographic studies of snipers training 'in the field' and of medics training for Afghanistan. There are some real challenges ahead, but the continued focus of the study has really helped to define its boundaries and has helped me to concentrate my efforts further.

OCA Major Project - New Focus

After all the reading I have been doing of late, I have been reflecting upon the focus of my Major Project for my OCA course. At the start of my course, when I first introduced the idea of doing my project on 'Workers', my tutor said that I may need to refine it, and he was undoubtedly right. This has been reiterated in the advice I received during my portfolio review, and was a major theme coming out of David Hurn's book - the need to be specific, with strong subject matter.

I have, therefore, refined my project to specifically focus on workers in uniform, particularly those that give of themselves for the greater good of others, such as in the Armed Services, the Fire Service and the NHS. Through the images I want to explore the work they do, and the conditions they find themselves in at times - sometimes cramped, cold and uncomfortable and at other times dangerous and/or immensely stressful. I have already started the project with a look at the RAF Regiment training for a deployment to Afghanistan, and also a brief glimpse into the lives of the Royal Gurkha Regiment in Kandahar. These images will form the basis of my next assignment, which will be followed up with work on Fire Fighters, Nurses and the Lifeboat Service.

An example image from this project is shown above, depicting a young airman (19 years old) trying to operate in the back of an armoured vehicle, during an Exercise in which the team were training to patrol against the ever-present threat of suicide bombers in Afghanistan.

Unusual Forms of Inspiration

It has been an incredibly hard couple of weeks in terms of workload. I seem to have done an inordinate amount of reading, but little picture-taking, which is rather frustrating. However, I have set aside some time this week to get out and work on some of my projects.

Aside from reading David Hurn's book (see previous post) and researching for my essay on Martin Parr, most of my reading has been for my Masters degree in HRD and Performance Management. I have an essay to write for next month on Learning Organisations and the research has taken up a great deal of my time. However, time learning is never wasted and you never know where inspiration reveals itself sometimes, which can cross subjects and disciplines. I was reading an article by Pak Tee Ng (2004) called The Learning Organisation and the Innovative Organisation, when I happened upon a couple of sentences that summed up the strive for the perfect photographic image:

"Glamour is associated only with the occasional success; failed experiments are the silent majority. Failure is one of the biggest struggles an individual will face in his efforts to be innovative. It takes personal mastery for this individual to keep on trying until he is successful."

The importance of learning, and of striving to be better at everything we do, is as important in business as it is photography or indeed any subject - including life in general!

On Being A Photographer

I have read (and re-read) On Being A Photographer by David Hurn and Bill Jay, and have found it truly inspirational (although, it must be said, a little 'opinionated' at times - but I suppose, that's the point). I will take away from it the following 'key messages', which for me will help to define my future photographic output:
  • On selecting a subject ask yourself:
  1. Is it visual?
  2. Is it practical?
  3. Do I know enough about it?
  4. Is it interesting to others?
  • I need to put my own visual stamp on my work (although without thought of self - let the subject speak freely and style will develop).
  • The subject needs to be continually accessible.
  • The subject needs to be as specific as possible.
  • Subject matter is everything - don't need visual 'pyrotechnics' with a great subject.
  • Decide on position and timing, and analyse contact sheets for the way you work.
  • Keep focusing in on the subject with subtle changes.
  • Always reach for your goal (the perfect image), even if it is rarely achieved.
  • When composing a picture, keep an eye on the main element, and then choose 2 or 3 sub-elements by position and timing.
  • KNOW what you are looking for; don't leave it to guesswork.
  • Good design is essential when its purpose is the clear projection of the subject matter. Design is secondary; the first priority must be to reveal the subject.
  • There is no such thing as a picture being 'too good' - the photographer's aim is to create beautiful pictures, of any and all subject matter.
  • The making of a perfect contact sheet is essential. One of the best learning methods is to ruthlessly examine contact sheets and analyse the reasons why shots were taken.
  • Photography demands a lot of work before and after shooting.
  • Photography is learned by continuous and dedicated (DIRECTED) practice.
  • On shooting a picture essay:
  1. Visit and absorb without a camera (or use purely for reference shots).
  2. Write down images you need to complete the project (what are your impressions?).
  3. Go back and attempt to shoot the images (once you have captured the image you want, tick it off and don't continue to waste time photographing it).
  4. Don't be afraid of tackling difficult subjects.
  5. Shoot outside the list if things come up, but then return to the list.
  6. Know when you have finished.
  7. A 7-picture essay equals (for David Hurn) about 720-1000 shots taken.
  8. 1 exhibition-quality image will be taken per 3600 shots (100 films).
  • It is important to have the right equipment for the purpose at hand and for the personality of the photographer.
  • All the technical decisions in photography should be so thoughtless that the act of shooting pictures is solely concentrated on the image in the viewfinder.
  • Truth is like a photograph in which thousands of different shades from black to white, and including both extremes, were necessary for full revelation.
  • Web displays need to have purpose, ideas, linking themes and cohesion.

Photojournalism Discussion With Reza

I went to one of the most enlightening evenings of my life today; a presentation of the work of Reza, who was at the Frontline Club to discuss his book ‘War and Peace’. After having had an excellent Portfolio Review at the foto8 offices this afternoon, it topped off a pretty fabulous day.

Reza’s work spans some of the most poignant moments of the 20th (and, indeed, the 21st) Century and is remarkable in both its breadth and quality; not surprising from a man whom National Geographic celebrated on film as one of the men in the world today capable of changing the way that lives are led. Of all his work, I find his images of children and the dignity and hope he portrays within their faces the most satisfying. Reza commented that within children he sees the possibility of change, and in some small way this is the same reason that I have taken many images of children throughout my own work around the world. I love their interest, fascination and the lack of social ‘fear’ that is often so ever-present within adults. Their minds are still free of restraint and open to the possibility of change, and you can see it their eyes.

Reza’s work with AINA is to be admired and is a lesson for us all in raising awareness for those who cannot do it by themselves. He has changed people’s lives in a way that most individuals cannot ever hope to replicate. And he does this with intense modesty. He is truly one of the most inspirational characters I have ever met.

When asked what advice he would give to aspiring photojournalists, Reza answered that one must be passionate, true and to ‘never sell your soul to the devil’. In all the successful people I have met, whatever their line of work, these qualities are present; passion above all. This message came through to me throughout my Portfolio Review as well, about ‘having heart and vision’, and is a real message for the future.

It really has been a life-changing day!

Portfolio Review

I have just taken one of the most important steps in my photographic 'journey' and had a professional portfolio review at the Foto8 offices in London. I had 2 reviews, the first by Nick Galvin (Archive Director, Magnum Photos) and Harry Hardie (Manager, HOST Gallery), and the second by Monica Allende (Picture Editor, Sunday Times Magazine) and Jon Levy (Director, Foto8). It was a very nervous step for me, as it was the first time that I have opened myself to serious criticism by those who deal with the best in the business.

I chose 25 images and showed them as a 'lightbox' slide show. I chose the images to display a variety of projects and ideas that I had been working on. With hindsight, and an important note for the future, I should have displayed half of the portfolio as an exploration of ideas and half of it depicting a singular project, as all of the reviewers said that they would have liked to see how I deal with an idea within a series of images. I had the greatest impact from the B&W images that I showed, especially the 'My Norfolk' series of images and the study of 'Mother and Child' (shown below) which both stemmed from the need to document what was around me and to try and give it meaning.

All of the reviewers were enthusiastic and encouraging, especially Nick and Harry. Nick was kind enough to comment that I had a very keen 'eye' and obvious talent, and Harry likened my work to David Hurn and Tony Ray-Jones (and gave me some very useful references from both photographers to look at, especially David Hurn's 'On Being A Photographer' co-written with Bill Jay). This was high praise indeed, as I am a keen fan of both photographers.

Jon Levy's comments were extremely valuable and gave great food for thought. Of note was his advice on finding a subject that is accessible, which can be worked on over a long period of time with relative ease. He also pointed out the need to put a 'stamp' on the work - to find something that is definitively 'me' and put something of that within the images. This complemented Harry Hardie's comment that a photographer should always have an idea as to what they want to capture - even 'accidents' are opportunities that are created by the photographer because he was looking for them in the first place. By having easy access to a place, it helps the photographer to continue to go back until he captures what it is he is searching for.

All in all, the advice has given me some useful tips on editing my work and has given me an insight as to how I should conduct my practice in the future.

Rodchenko & Popova Exhibition

After submitting my last assignment for my OCA course, I received feedback from my tutor on a theoretical study that I wrote on Modernism. I had focused very much on American Modernist photographers and my tutor suggested that I may want to look at Modernism within European photography, suggesting the likes of Aleksandr Rodchenko. Taking this 'on board' I went to visit the Tate Modern exhibition, Rodchenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism.

The exhibition gave me a fascinating insight into the Constructivist movement and because it spanned the whole range of Rodchenko's work (as well as Liubov Popova and others, such as Varvara Stepanova (Rodchenko's wife)) it allowed me to place his photography into greater context; showing how his photographic ideas grew out of his experiments with painting/drawing, and his ideas on art, politics and the societal movements that were happening around him. I found his 'mechanical' ideals of artistic construction fascinating, allowing me to compare these constructions to some of the Gestalt theories of image construction/composition that I had studied within my first assignment for this course. Over the past few months I have found myself venturing into more creative, thought-provoking artistic pieces to explore ideas and concepts - mixing photographic media with drawing and other mixed media. This is an area that I will be exploring further; I have a documentary project in mind that will explore parental relationships with their children, which will be developed through photography, drawing, sound and poetry.

All in all, the exhibition allowed me to put an added dimension to the ideas that I had explored through the American Modernist photographers and has inspired me to challenge myself yet further into new areas of project development.

OCA - Assignment Two Feedback

I received my Assignment Two feedback recently and was overjoyed with the response from my tutor, especially as I had really gone out on a limb with my approach to some of the assignment work. There were some really useful comments given, which I always welcome as it forces me to think about my work more critically and pushes me into new areas of development.

I was really pleased that my tutor liked the 'Walks With My Human' (a working title) series of images, depicting the local environment from the viewpoint of my dog. Since the initial assignment work, I have taken this series much further. It has manifested into an investigation into the impact that we have on our environment, both from a 'litter' perspective, and how we interact with the wildlife in terms of control (or not) and countryside management. My dog's sense of smell has brought so many issues to my attention (for example, the amount of litter that is dropped; fly-tipping; how and where animals are culled) and I have tried to depict this within the images that I have taken. I have also spoken to local farmers and country residents on the impact of litter within the countryside and about land management, to put the images into perspective. I intend to do some formal interviews and collate the images into a book and a soundslide show, although this project is long-term (I envisage doing it over 12 months to cover all seasons and compare the effects throughout the year).

I have begun to think of my work in 'deeper' terms; that is, what is the picture actually trying to achieve. I want to tell stories through my images, and to help open up further issues. I have several projects on the go at the moment (aside from my studies) and I have a major project idea that I intend to follow for my final course with the OCA later in the year (Level 3 Photography - Advanced - leading to a BA in Creative Arts); a documentary project looking at the 'Frontline' of poverty and struggle within Britain. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as important as they are for our soldiers, airmen and sailors in terms of attention and the respect they deserve, has often distracted people from the problems that are sat on their own doorsteps - as Martin Parr said to me last year after I posed a question to him at a college talk, ' don't have to travel to a warzone to be at the Frontline...' He couldn't be more right.