A lot of hobbyist photographers, and some pros, suffer from GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), I've pretty much cured myself of that affliction having reconciled myself to the fact that there is no small camera/system that meets my needs and that I have all the lenses I'll ever need. I might even get rid of some lenses. No. My affliction is book acquisition syndrome. I keep on telling myself that enough is enough and I will only buy books of new photography and no 'must have' titles. The reissue of Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi tempted me and I have to say it didn't disappoint.
Another taboo for me was supposed to be black and white photography. Yet when Bluecoat Press announced two projects on Kickstarter I signed up. I didn't take the slightly more expensive, ego boosting option, to have my name included in the book's list of supporters though.
Small Town Inertia has had a lot of coverage for Jim Mortram. I saw an early exhibition a while back. The subject is a tough one. People with various health issues struggling to survive on benefits. All very worthy, but I do find myself wondering if such books make a difference. What coverage it has had seems to have been mainly in photography and culture circles. What might be called 'echo chambers' these days. The pictures are highly reliant on the accompanying text, in my opinion. Not that that's a negative. Photographs can't always tell the whole story. Certainly a book worth having. Although I do question why it Mortram has to work using black and white film. That's just my prejudice against using old media when newer ones which can do more are available.
The late Tish Murtha didn't have the option of using digital when she was working on the photographs in Youth Unemployment. Another book I'm glad to have broken my 'rule' for. Again I wonder how much effect these pictures had when they were originally made and shown. Maybe that's not the point. Perhaps they serve as social documents to warn future generations against what can happen? Maybe they're just pictures? That's part of the difficulty with photography. Photographs are documents and they can also work on an aesthetic level.
That is something James Ravilious was aware of. Reading his widow's memoir of his life it was made clear that, when cataloguing his archive, he drew a distinction between the photographs which he considered to be well made as pictures and those which served only as records of a disappearing world.
When I ordered the memoir I also ordered the new collection of Ravilious photographs, The Recent Past. More so with rural life than the urban life depicted in Tish Murtha's work from around the same time, there is an air of nostalgia in the Ravilious pictures. Even when they depict the harshness of the farming world we inevitably see it as romantic.
This continues today. The popularity of books written by shepherding folk is, I'm sure, due to some rose tinting on behalf of the readers. Living a rural idyll sounds great when sat reading these books in a cosy sitting room. But how many of the readers could face having to get up in the predawn cold every day? No days off because the stock doesn't take holidays. Whether it's possible to depict that sort of lifestyle without the romanticism, I really don't know.
The acknowledged influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson on Ravilious is obvious. But he was far from alone in that. Most documentary photographers who followed Cartier-Bresson were similalry influenced, at least in their early years. Some broke free of the chains of his formality of composition and the decisive moment. I don't think Ravilious did. While working in one area of the country on one theme for seventeen years is a rare luxury for a documentary photographer I get the feeling it trapped Ravilious in a way.
Getting burdened with a subject matter is something that always concerns me. The poultry thing is something I need to break free of. Hence my return to the beach. The photos I took there last winter, I think, are a little different to my chickeny ones. Unfortunately I can't seem to find the same enthusiasm for the beach as I did. There haven't been many people around during my two short visits this weekend, so that might explain it. Although the nagging feeling that I should be elsewhere (although I don't know where) photographing something else (although I don't know what) kept nagging away.
It could all too easily become a case of taking different pictures of the same subjects at the beach. There are only so many ways to photograph, for example, kite boarding without resorting to the clichés. That's where the line between documentary and photojournalism lies. The latter uses tricks of the trade like wide angle close ups and flash to give their pictures impact. The pictures still record, but they don't document. Documentary photographs are more matter of fact. At least that's the way I see it.
When I saw a 4x4 drive on to the beach towing a trailer I was intrigued. Even more so when I saw that a push net for shrimps was being unloaded. Unfortunately the shrimper didn't want to be photographed, but he didn't mind me taking a couple of snaps of his gear.
Leaving the beach I went in search of livestock. Conservation grazing is a big thing these days. All very right on. Land of conservation interest has rare breed cattle and/or sheep let loose on it during the winter to, in theory, keep the scrub at bay. Luckily I didn't have to go far to find the cattle, and the lowering sun was great for making romantic pictures of them. Foolishly I had gone out with the intention of trying to love a lens I keep thinking of getting rid of. Which meant I couldn't frame shots they way I would have liked to. With livestock a zoom is always a help when they don't go where you'd like them to. So my options were limited and the rapidly setting sun didn't give me much time.
It should go without saying that when I returned today with a more suitable lens the cattle were a long way off and the light was less favourable. I didn't bother tramping through the dunes to get closer.
Again the beach was fairly deserted. There were a few horsey types around, but as someone was already taking photographs of them I kept away making just a couple of environmental pictures. All in all my sense of directionless frustration continues.