Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Open door policy

Whenever I get stuck for ideas the beach seems to be as good a place as any to head for. I continue to find it more alluring in winter than summer. Maybe because the light is more interesting in winter; either harsh and low or dull and flat. As opposed to bright and overhead as in summer - apart from those horribly cheery sunsets.

Because the council have seen fit to prevent beach parking during the 'off season' there aren't as many people around at the south end of the shore. Not doing interesting things at any rate, mostly the well wrapped up dog walkers and people out for a bracing seaside wander. Although I tend to prefer flat light the low angled winter sun does make photographing the dunes more appealing. It can all get a bit contrasty making the files difficult to process. Shooting almost into the sun doesn't help matters. In the dunes the fencing makes a good compositional aid.

This kind of picture is what I class as 'easy'. Just a matter of framing and not much else. In this case the fence line reflects the shape of the dune beyond. I don't think the picture says much other than 'this is what it looked like, though. The next shot, on the other hand, was made because seeing the fence almost buried by sand made me think about the futility of trying to slow the march of the dunes. Particularly on a windy day when the sand was being blown landward. I made the effort to get down at sand level and frame the picture rather than make a simple record shot. Both approaches have their uses but I felt this called for some formal composition.

That was before the dreaded festive break. Yesterday was sunny once more with an even stiffer wind blowing. So strong a wind I could hardly stand being out in it. It proved worthwhile though as the usually padlocked gates to the shrimping compound were open. By the looks of the remains of one lying on the ground they'd suffered a sever impact of some sort. Anyway, using the Urban Explorer's approach of 'if the door's open it's OK to go in' I had a look around.

There was little to see. A few shrimp nets and plastic buckets. Quite dull. The variety of vehicles was interesting though. Unfortunately the light was harsh and not conducive to what I would have liked to do. I planned to return on a duller day.

As it turned out today started off bright and then clouded over. For once I didn't prevaricate and got my self back, with a different lens too. Having a plan in mind it was a quick job, after poking around a bit more with a wider lens, to take the 'portraits' of the tractors and conversions which have replaced the horses and carts of old. It was tricky to frame the shots without too much background clutter, but the results were ideal for making a grid.

With that done it was time to hit the beach. As I got back to the car I spotted two people walking along the shore with metal detectors. Potential portrait subjects for the Beach Life project. I had two choices. Try and catch them up on foot, or drive along and head them off at the pass. I went for the latter option. It worked too. And they were amenable to me taking their double portrait. They'd travelled from Huddersfield and Barnoldswick to search the sands while their wives went round the shops. I wasn't sure if the sun coming out might have made for too much of a contrast to my previous beach portrait, but the subdued palette seems to work OK.

What I am finally managing to do with my posed pictures is slow down and pay the same attention to them as I would to a static subject. Just as I altered my position to get the perspective I needed for the tractor shots, I did the same with this portrait. I managed to  get the horizon level (thanks to the tool in the camera's viewfinder, and I avoided it going through the men's heads. Having the pier in the background helps make the scene obviously the seaside. Without it the marsh grass could be anywhere. That said, I don't want the landmark in all the pictures. This picture has been cropped to 4:5 ratio as was the coal piker portrait. I'm not yet sure if this is something I'll stick to or not.

After that amiable encounter it was wander along the sea wall and part way back, round Ocean Plaza where I made some photographs which will appear on Sandgrounding, then along the side of Pleasureland. The problem with walking along the sea wall, or the beach for that matter, late in the day is that low sun. Heading north it's behind you and you can both see what is coming your way and get well illuminated pictures of people. Then you have to turn round and walk into the sun. Which can be blinding. Working for silhouettes and shadows is one option. A bit clich├ęd though. Alternatively use the potential for highlight and shadow recovery of a modern camera's files and see what can be done that way.

I tried levelling the horizon in the picture above, but it lost its vitality. Not the first time I've left a wonky horizon when the landscape isn't the subject.

Always keep looking behind you when out with a camera. Doing that presented me with an abstract view of the go-kart track. By now the clouds were coming back softening the light to the detriment of the vibrant colours. So not totally satisfactory. I made quite a few attempts at getting the framing right, and still had to crop slightly. What makes the picture is that blue to grey band. Had that been all blue the picture would have been less interesting. Not that it's all that interesting anyway!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

History in the making

I've been prevaricating over buying a copy of Stuart Franklin's The Documentary Impulse for some time. Reading the revue on The Online Photographer prompted me to click on 'buy'. I'm glad I did. It's a thought provoking read about what constitutes documentary photography, its uses and purposes, and a whole lot more. I know it's one of those books I'll reread, maybe not all at once but certainly a chapter or passage now and then. It sits along side On Being a Photographer as a must read for anyone interested in reportage or documentary photography in my opinion.

With the book recently read some of the issues it deals with have been in my mind as I've been out with my cameras this week. Although I've not had much spare time as work continues to be hectic by my standards I have forced myself to take pictures this weekend.

With just the short afternoons to work in I returned to old themes which have stagnated. The first was a misty drive around the flatlands. I was looking for agricultural scenes to try out some ideas on but ended up photographing a pumping station on the river. I sort of liked the results but need time to let the initial impression fade to decide if they are any good. They might be a bit too picturesque for my liking. However, the book has made me think again about the worth of making 'nice' pictures as documents. At least I have found an angle (literally) to work from.

Earlier in the day I took my usual morning walk to the Post Office. At that time the fog had barely started to lift. I always like taking photographs when it's foggy. It can be good for hiding cluttered backgrounds and isolating subjects. I photographed a couple of trees on the edge of the playing field. Back on the computer I turned them into a diptych.

This afternoon I turned west and headed for the beach. If in doubt go to the seaside is my motto! I love the place in winter. All the summer attractions shut and either closed down or being renovated. I've photographed the rollercoasters many times before but today I took a couple of shots which again made a reasonable diptych. I'm wondering if there might be some mileage in making a series of these pairings.

Not an original concept, Sophie Green uses diptychs quite frequently. But she wasn't the first either. There'd be no point making pairs for the sake of it. There would have to be some thematic connection for it to work. Another one for the back-burner I guess.

Continuing my rather aimless afternoon wandering I came across a group of reenactors practising their fighting moves. I'd seen them in the same park once before, but this time I had a chat with them. Apparently Sunday afternoons are practice time and they meet up every week when they are not putting on a display somewhere.

Initially I thought I might have found another project. I could see how it could work out. However, once I began to hear about what they get up to and the lengths they go to I realised there was a problem. Just as with any group of fanatics (be they anglers, photographer, reenactors or poultry fanciers) they all have a wealth of in-depth knowledge of their subject. The trouble was that it wasn't knowledge that I wanted to acquire! This is a stressed lesson in On Being a Photographer - pick subjects that interest you.

Later I began to think there is an irony in what reenactors do. They are all about 'heritage' and history, yet they are not (certainly when it comes to the Norman period) directly connected with what they are representing. It's neither history in action or a maintaining of a cultural heritage. It's infotainment. Poultry fanciers, on the other hand, are maintaining a cultural heritage. They really are an example of history being made right now. And that is worth documenting.

These thoughts made me realise that it might be time to start getting my beach life pictures going again. A chance encounter with a coal picker who let me take his portrait (and I think this time I have made a portrait) got me back in the mood to progress this, and a way to do it. What it needs most is a commitment of time.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Eggs For Sale

I thought it was time to collect some of my egg sale pictures together in book format. This time I shrugged off my aversion to cropping photographs in order to benefit the layout, which I wanted to keep simple and consistent. If I'd thought on before starting this side project I'd have followed a policy used when shooting for editorial use when photographing each display - one portrait, one landscape, and one wide to allow for cropping and/or text overlay. At least having more pictures to choose from than I ended up using gave me sufficient material to work with.

My next editing task is to finish off the Sales and Shows book. The photographs are selected and sequenced, I think. Just the introduction to write. The hardest part.

Sunday, 4 December 2016


Yet another visit to the auction mart yesterday for the final pure bred poultry sale of the year. It was very much a case of diminishing returns. There comes a point when all the regular stuff has been seen and photographed and you're left looking for one-offs and trying different angles. Seeing someone lighting up penned birds was novel, and tricky to make the point in a photograph.

As far as telling the 'story' of the mart I think I've covered all the angles I can. I might have a last try in February and then call it quits.

It's almost the same as far as the show scene goes too. In another building on the mart site there was a poultry show. I got invited to take photographs while the judging was in progress. This was welcome because it's something that's lacking in the files. There was a bit more space between the rows at this show but there was still a lack of room. As usual the light was variable, both in colour and intensity. It would be a lot easier to do the journalistic thing and use flash, but I reckon that would kill the atmosphere and maybe the spontaneity.

As it happened there was a photographer and reporter at the show and the auction, apparently doing a feature for Lancashire Life. It was the usual hit and run thing. Pose a few shots of people holding chickens, take a few names and on to the next job.

Getting in for the judging came with a price. The birds from champions row needed photographing for the club and because the poultry folk have got to know me and  I have 'a good camera' I was asked if I'd oblige. Bugger! I almost put a flashgun in my bag but changed my mind at the last minute. It was going to have to be available light or he pop-up flash. The background wasn't ideal and as it turned out the camera's flash was useless. I did warn everyone that I couldn't promise much. They're OK on the web but I haven't tried printing them.

Organising and running these shows takes a lot of time and effort. Even on the day there are cards and prizes to sort out, making sure everyone gets the correct awards. This is another aspect that's been under represented in the files.

While I think the next auction might be my last, at least for a while, I'll continue attending shows. There are still aspects I want to photograph. More from the show here.