Saturday, 17 October 2020

Scratching around in the same old hole

First the good news. Thanks to the social media PR skills of one of my poultry friends my book has covered its costs within a week of going on sale. With a handful of copies left from my initial tiny print run it's time to decided whether to get a lot more printed and make a proper job of promoting it more widely, or to leave it be. I hate making decisions. especially when they cost money!

In other publication news impatience got the better of me and I ordered 20 copies of my zine for the next Talk Photography zine swap at the end of this month.

It's turned out okay, with a couple of caveats. The trimming and stapling of the pages has messed up my careful design a little, and the paper isn't as heavy and glossy as I'd have liked. But it'll do. It is a zine after all. No pics of it yet as the zines are only revealed when they arrive through the post. The element of surprise is all part of the swapping experience. 

I have another zine all done and ready to print. I can't wait six months for the next swap so that one will probably be getting printed in a week or two once I've settled on paper stock to go for.

The meanygate/moss project is winding down. It may already have ground to a halt. Activity and change on the moss is minimal now that winter's approaching. I've had three wanders with next to nothing to show for my exertions. One time I came back without having taken a single shot.

There have been some additions since the last post on here. Time to knuckle down to some serious editing of what I've got.

As can be seen, there's been a lot of water about, which is partly responsible for the lack of work in the fields.

On the lookout for something to get my photographic teeth into I've been driving out locally to walk different areas of the flatlands. With my usual impeccable bad timing I happened across a group of detectorists just as they were packing up to leave one sunny weekend. If it hadn't been for all this Covid-19 distancing I might have engaged with them a bit more than I did. I was surprised that they had found musket balls in the field.

There might be a project to be had connected to the playing fields some day. The goalposts often draw my eye, as they have done for a long time, and often seem to make better black and white pictures than colour ones.

But I think a playing field project ought to be about the people who use it. Which brings us back to distancing.

With that idea kicked into touch I thought I'd revisit my after dark walks and see if they could be developed any further. The first one was pretty much a failure. So much so it's put me off the idea. It might just be that the weather was bland. My previous nocturnal walks have been in mist or light rain. Mist diffuses any light and rain makes for reflections on tarmac. Both can make for interesting pictures. I did start to get something going with security lights and cars behind hedges. And again, subjects which work well in black and white. Not least because noise isn't a distraction in monochromatic night time pictures.

Whenever I'm scratching around I tend to revisit places. The neglected barn is one such place. Other than the loss of some more corrugated sheeting not much had changed since my last visit. Although I don't know if the toy car was a new arrival or something recently uncovered. I tried to make a picture of it, this one using the pop-up flash on my camera.

In desperation today I went for a walk somewhere new, as far as looking for photographs goes. Still local, but a little different in character. If I'd not been so daft as to take just a 50mm lens and taken a standard zoom instead I think I might have come back with more food for thought. The light was flat, which doesn't bother me, but there was some subject potential which might have benefited from sunlight. Not these two though.

Nor this one. Which might have sparked an idea to follow up. This black and white trend is getting worrying!

All these pictures devoid of people is getting depressing. It's no wonder lots of photographers are making Covid-portraits of people wearing masks. A bit of an easy option if you're an urbanite. Out in the countryside masks are thin on the ground. That's another easy option...

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Changing season

The Indian Summer has certainly come to an end now. Daylight hours are shortening, there's a chill in the air first and last thing, the quality of light is changing too. It's strange but while the angle of the sun reflects that which it has in spring autumn light seems to be different. More melancholy somehow. That's probably all in my mind though. However I have been moved to photograph the visual effects of weather recently.

A passing rainstorm worked better in black and white as I was able to manipulate the contrast more easily than in the original colour file. Maybe that's more about my lack of my processing skills though.

Misty mornings have been a source of motivation to me ever since I started taking photographs. Unfortunately I'm not great at getting out of bed early and I often find the mist burning off by the time I'm somewhere there are pictures to be made. This has happened to me twice of late. I should have got in the car to reduce my walking time. So all I've come back with have been snaps, with the possible exception of the second picture here which has a look of that time when the sun is just about to break through, and a reasonable composition in keeping with my other fieldscapes.

Failing in the mornings I tried evening walks. This was when I really noticed the nights drawing in. No longer is it possible to set off at seven and have plenty of time to make pictures in daylight. Leaving home at six has seen me making my way home in fading dusk. That's not without its opportunities, even for hand-held shots thanks to the miracles of current digital image making technology. In fact, when I get the right conditions, I hope to get out after dark and continue a project I kicked off last winter.

One of my habits, good or bad I'm not sure, is photographing the same thing over and over. What it is about this greenhouse door I find fascinating is anyone's guess. It does change, not just in terms of being open or closed, or partially open, and what is inside the greenhouse, but the light alters how I look at it.

I've been making some 4x5 crops of a few of the pictures along with some of other greenouses. There may be a series in the making.

I'd been doing quite well at keeping my book buying to a minimum this year but once I started with that Meadows book temptation was to be found everywhere. It's just too easy to make a couple of mouse clicks and end up skint!

However, I have wanted a copy of Paul Graham's first book, A1, for some time. The secondhand prices were far too steep for me. A few years back I bought his retrospective type book which had a lot of the pictures from A1 in it. That was as close as I could get at the time. When a reissue was announced I was sorely tempted to preorder. Something stopped me. Once the book was a reality, however, I caved in. My copy arrived last week.

 Looking at photographs is great. Listening to photographers talking about their work is too. So is reading what they have to say. Sometimes. There is always the chance that they'll get carried away with themselves. So it was with a little trepidation I ordered How I Make Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz. He's not my favourite photographer, but I've heard him say interesting things so I took a chance.

The book is tied up with the Masters of Photography on-line classes, although it does stand alone. I won't be signing up for the classes as I'm a cheapskate. £15 for the book was worthwhile. There are plenty of Meyerowitz's photos in the book which he discusses. In places it gets a bit airy-fairy for my sensibilities but there is enough in the book to have made it a worthwhile buy. As it is really just 20 short 'lessons' it's something which can be dipped into every now and then when in need of a prod to get motivated. I've noted down a few quotes as reminders. One I think a lot of would-be photographers could take heed of is; "Almost everything is photographable. All you have to have is the interest and the appetite."

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Book thoughts

After making a few changes to the poultry book after getting the black and white copy printed the first colour proofs arrived a couple of weeks ago and looked just the way I'd hoped they would. Even so I let it sink in and become familiar with it before ordering a batch. That batch arrived today, along with some thank you cards.

I'd already got some cardboard envelopes for posting them out in. But typically I found a better sized envelope the day after those turned up. All that remains now is to try to get people to buy some copies! Marketing a fishing book is easy for me. I know where to promote it, who to send review copies to, and I have the confidence to do it as I have done it before and have a reputation as an angling writer. I've even been kind of nagged to produce another fishing book recently. I know there's a market for my fishing output, but my photographic stuff? Time to go into role playing mode, create an alter ego and blag it!

Over the weekend I showed the book to a friend who isn't into the photobook thing and he commented that it needed some words. That got me thinking again about the whole photobook thing. I have a growing feeling that photobooks can be a bit insular. For limited editions maybe only 500 people will see a book. They are, increasingly it strikes me, books of photographs made to be appreciated by a small coterie of photographers and photobook collectors. For some books that's just great. The subject matter might have a limited appeal. But for documentary work I find that approach troubling. 

I can understand the desire to have your pictures appreciated by those who also take pictures and make books, but if the subject matter is important then I think it needs to be widely seen. or at least seen by people who can relate to the subject matter. But there can also be a reason to step outside both those circles and show the pictures to people who don't have an understanding of the subject or of what makes for good photography. This is where words can be useful. If you have something to say don't tell half the story. A picture might paint a thousand words, but what if the story needs two thousand words to be told well? All this brings us back to the big question: Who are your pictures for?

My book buying has been restrained recently despite a few temptations. It would be easy yo get sucked into the habit of buying zines on a regular basis, but just as thinking about who pictures are for I also consider the subjects which interest me. And it is subjects rather than photographs which I find drawing me most these days. Zines very often are all about the photographs, with a preponderance of the kind of photographs which I don't find as appealing as I used to. The kind of stuff I often find myself doing. The boring pictures of mundane things passing itself off as meaningful records our time for posterity.

There's a place for that kind of photography, but what I am most interested in is British life, and British rural life in particular. At a pinch I'll let horse racing come under that second heading. Which is why I bought a surprisingly cheap book from ADM. A Day at the Races by Peter Bartlett is a small hardback book of pictures of, well, people at horse races!

Thankfully it's in colour. I'd possibly have given it a miss had it been in black and white. I still can't reconcile monochrome with contemporary documentary photography. In this case much of the atmosphere would have been lost if there was no colour, and as always the dreaded nostalgic aura would have manifested itself. Introduction aside there are no words in this book, which left me wondering which race courses were pictured. There are clues, and anyone familiar with the courses would know. But is it all that important? This did make me wonder if my friend was right about my poultry book needing words.

When it comes to pictures from the past, then I have no problem with back and white. That's why, after listening to Daniel Meadows setting out his Ten Rules of Photography Engagement on the United Nations of Photography podcast I went in search of a copy of his Nattering in Paradise book. I got one for peanuts. (Rules 1 and 9 are my special favourites.)

This is a book in which pictures and words play an equal part. The pictures are Meadows's, the words are (albeit edited) those of the people in the pictures. In this case the nostalgia is genuine. The pictures are from almost forty years ago.

When it comes to photography from this period my preference is to by second-hand copies of books, or more recent reprints of originals rather than new publications of old photographs. Worthy as it is to publish books of pictures taken decades ago in order to preserve them and/or bring them to a younger audience, their meaning has been changed by this repositioning. I want to see contemporary photography. To see what is going on today, or in the very recent past. Especially if it is 'hard hitting' documentary stuff - which should be in colour.

If I get round to doing a concerted project about an aspect of rural life when it's presented it will have words.

Saturday, 19 September 2020

Nothing to say again

I've been out and about on a regular basis since the previous post, but it's very much been a case of diminished returns and repetition. There have been few insights into what I'm doing, or anything else for that matter, and no breakthroughs. So it's pictures rather than words. There should be some thoughts about photobooks and documentary photography next time round.

Monday, 31 August 2020

A late catch up

The longer I leave it between posts the more I forget what I've been up to! The weather has continued to be a bit flaky with a couple of warm sunny days followed by a return to wet, and falling temperatures as autumn gets closer.

On one of the sunny days I revisited the pumpkins and got a slightly better picture, aided both by the light and a longer lens.

Elsewhere I made more pictures of the sodden fields and the effects of the rain and wind.

Another morning I tried to make a picture of two of the old working tractors but couldn't get a good angle.

Over to my left three farmers were stood taking a break. Their presence made for a slightly better picture, but the grey tractor was still not quite right - it really needed the front end showing, at least in part.

I did get spotted taking these pics though!

Out on a damp and deserted celery field I used my 35mm lens to take some environmental portraits of a celery harvester.

Greenhouses continue to grab my attention. In time I'll end up with enough pictures of them to make a zine or something with them.

At long last I'm learning to love the 70-200. For outdoor photography where getting close to things is difficult, in the case of the moss usually because there's a ditch in the way, I'm finding it's almost perfect. I'd prefer it to be a little wider at the short end but I'm coping so far. Rather than carry a wider zoom in my bag I've settled, for now, on having a second body with a 35mm lens on it. This pairing is doing fine.

However, one evening when I was out more for the walk than the photography I took one body and the old school twosome of a 50mm and a 28mm. It didn't hold me back.

In fact I was surprised how 'wide' the 50mm felt at times. As the sun set I decided to walk back home through habitation in the vain hope I might get some 'night time' shots (by under exposing) for an idea I've got. I was a bit early for that but I did make a couple of pictures with the moon in view. One of which I like quite a bit right now.

The next day it was out earlyish and more of the same old wet land pictures.

I also tried to get improve on my representation of the flattened cereal crops. I think this one is close to what I've been searching for.

On a sunny Bank Holiday Sunday I did some work, listened to some cricket, ten popped out towards sunset, heading merewards for a change of scenery. Out there the sandier soil was drier and some harvesting had been done. I was a bit late arriving to make the most of the rapidly changing light.

Monday morning and it was back to more familiar ground. And more of the same old stuff, just different vegetables.

Walking the flatlands gives me plenty of time to think. But that was this morning and now I've forgotten what I was thinking about!

It was actually about the reason I manage to keep interested in taking photographs. Like everyone I lose my mojo at times, but I know the only way to get it back is to take photos. One reason, I suspect, that a lot of hobbyist/amateur photographers get despondent is that they are not broadly enough interested in photography. They only want to take pictures of the genre/s they operate within. These seem very proscribed to me.

Having been mildly obsessed with photographing sheep dog trials, auction marts and sheep shows for the last couple of years I could easily have become despondent when the Covid-19 situation stopped that for me. But as I'm interested in making pictures all I had to do was keep on snapping until another identifiable subject captured my imagination.

Therein lies the secret. I can make pictures of pretty much anything because I'm interested in how cameras make pictures of the world around me as much as I am in documenting it. I'm not sure a lot of people have that fascination for the medium itself.

Anyway, every now and then I do show an interest in the technical side of photography which a lot of amateurs seem to enjoy. When I read on the photography forum I frequent that the software I'd recently bought was able to do focus stacking (shows how much interest I had in researching it's capabilities...) I thought I'd try it out as it could be useful for my business photos of rods and other bits of tackle. Until now I'd always gone for the 'arty' shallow focus look when photographing rods close up. But only because I couldn't get any more of the rods in focus!

Today I dug out the tripod and DIY table. I even made an effort to modify the light by placing a diffuser by the window to soften the sunlight and a reflector opposite that to bounce in some fill. With the camera locked down I took a number of shots focusing at different points along the rods then stacked them using the software. All very painless and pretty effective. Plenty good enough for my needs. I'll probably never do it again though!