Sunday, 13 July 2014

Tom Wood says;

I think I understand why I like Tom Wood's approach to photography.

“The important thing is not to have an aim, I just go out the door and, whatever’s real, I try and deal with that.”

"When the stuff is too journalistic and documentary then it is journalism, if it is too conceptual and arty then that is another thing, but where the two meet - that is interesting."

None of which is as easy as it sounds...

The trade off or balance between art and documentary is ever present for me. I firmly believe that it is photography's ability to record, to make documents, that is it's greatest strength. Which is not to say that those documents can't go be something more.

I now regret that I didn't make an effort to document the demolition of the mill by the canal. When I moved to the village in the late 1960s and on until the eighties it was a major employer in the area - my mum worked there. It closed as a weaving mill in the nineties and became a factory shop. When I walked by it last week the last of it was gone. Soon it will be another housing estate. Maybe someone else has recorded its passing in full. The few pictures I have taken are gathered together here.

Once more I find myself struggling to come to terms with a 'small' camera. Daft as it sounds I prefer the results I get from my fishing compact to the mirrorless Fuji X-E2 I've been using for some time. Although I've finally managed to set it up so that I can use it more intuitively and quickly I still find a it frustrates. It's odd that little things you take for granted with a DSLR, in my case manually override the focus away from a focus point, can't be done with these 'lesser' cameras. It's handy if you are trying to shoot through a grill or branches at a subject in the background, and it's really useful when photographing people who are moving around faster than you can shift the focus point. Far better than letting the camera select where to focus too.

Mirrorless evangelists bang on about how much more accurate the focusing is with their cameras, and how superb the visual aids are for manually focussing. Yeah, but you can't have manual and auto focus at the same time. What's more the visual aids are only any use if you have time to use them. I also hate the way (at least on the Fuji) they only work in a zoomed in view of the centre of the frame. So you carefully frame, twist the focus ring and get a cropped and zoomed picture to look at - if the subject is off-centre you have to re-frame. By the time you have the subject in focus and zoomed out again you have to recompose. It's a faff. I don't care what anyone says, it's much easier (and quicker) to manually focus with the big, bright optical viewfinder of a DSLR.

Why is the picture above in black and white? Just because I don't think the Fuji makes a good job of photographing people. Skin colours always look too pinky-red and its texture unnaturally smooth. The texture thing even comes across in monochrome conversions. The woman's bare arm at the left of the frame looks like a prosthetic! All a great shame because the camera is small, light and fun and discreet to use. Maybe I should sell a kidney and buy a Leica?

For outdoor shots without people, however, it does a decent job,although I'm not sure the colours are as 'rich' as I get from my Nikons (even the compact). I might persevere with it for my latest project-without-end. Recently I've taken to wandering round the bits of the village I've never had any reason to visit in all the years I've lived here. Which makes them visually surprising and interesting to me.

Sure enough I've got funny looks and been asked what I'm photographing and why. My answers almost always result in a bemused shaking of the head!

"Are you photographing that bench?"
"Why not?"

Which is where I come back to searching for that intersection between documentary and art which Tom Wood mentions. It's all about trying to avoid the clichés used in photojournalism, and the pretentiousness of art photography. For me it's about the information in the pictures allied with formal arrangements. I'm also coming to favour making pictures which need time to understand rather than give everything at a glance. Pictures where small details matter. Which isn't easy...

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