Sunday, 23 July 2017


With nothing to focus my attention on I've been at a loose end recently, resorting to either vegetating or more recently wandering around the usual places with a camera or two. Yesterday evening I forced myself to go out with two neglected lenses (the long zoom and the wide zoom) just as a thunder system was skirting the area. That was good in that it made for dramatic skies, and light when it had passed away.

My first stop was the marsh reserve, more to see what changes had taken place since I was last there than to take photographs. I shot a few frames, trying to be clever, but only managed the one below when the sun went into hiding. Too bright a sun when it is low can make things too contrasty. I much prefer a softer light for this sort of picture.

Then it was on to the beach. Again more to have a look at what was going on. The tide was well out, and there were two hours until dark so the chances of the fishing boat returning to its trailer parked on the shore without a long wait were slim. The thunder was over to the east now and the sky clearing behind it casting low, warm, sunlight on the dunes. Luck favoured me and there was someone wearing a bright yellow jacket stood looking out to sea atop one of the sandhills. The yellow contrasting nicely against the blue-grey sky. All I had to do was get the framing and the timing right.

Landscape photographers are divided as to including people in their pictures. Luckily I'm not a landscape photographer so I don't give a toss. Although on the whole I prefer pictures with people in them regardless.

There are rarely any people in the sandplant these days, except when it's being worked on. After a period of inactivity I saw the other week that more work is going on. Calling in on my way home yesterday it looks like the outermost edge is being gradually skimmed back and the rubble and other junk that was under the old surface is being separated from the sand. It'll be a long process to remove all the hardcore and scrap metal to get the place anything like back to how it was. I guess in the days when the plant was started environmental issues were less of a concern. The coast road itself was built on building and household waste. I remember my parents tipping garden rubbish there. There must be all sorts under the road.

No matter what sort of photographer you are a rainbow is always hard to resist. Even when it's behind a pile of rubbish.

The rainbow arced right over the sandplant as I left it. I almost didn't take the shot when I noticed my shadow central in the frame, but now I think that is what makes it work. It's a connection of a person with the landscape. The play of light casting a foreground shadow helps balance the picture.

What the wanderings proved to me was that the long lens is still too long at the short end. That gap between the wide and long zooms was where I wanted to be a lot of the time. I suppose that if I stuck to that combination of lenses I might begin to 'see' in ways that suited them.

This afternoon I set out on another boredom relieving drive with even less idea of where to go or what to do. This time taking a daft combination of a moderately wide compact camera and the 85mm lens on a DSLR. Again I found myself falling between two stools. The only take away from the experiment being that the compact takes good shots, as does the 85mm.

Boring though it may be, I reckon for aimless wanderings a mid range zoom is more useful than anything I've tried this weekend. Then again, my two favourite shots form the lot were taken one at 18mm and the other at 200mm. So that's that theory blown!

The lack of poultry shows has made me realise that I'm desperately in need of a project to get my brain working.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

This and that

There's a lot of bad photography gets posted on line. I admit that I post more than my fair share of it! One  of the genres that suffers most from this is 'street photography'. What I find depressing about a lot of this stuff, apart from the endless repetition of the stale tropes, is that many of the photos simply aren't good pictures. They don't go beyond the 'I saw this' level. What's more they rarely seem to constitute a body of work. In recording everyday life as it is I think this is more important than in any other field.

A one-off landscape can stand on its own in a frame. To do that a 'street' photograph has to be something special. A set of not especially good street photographs, however, if shot to a theme has a change of saying something more than 'I saw this'. That's where I am trying to go with what has become my Dog Town project. They're quick grab shots of people walking dogs. Individually they aren't up to much. Put them all together, and if I stick at it long enough and make a good edit, they might just mean something more. That's what I'm hoping. In ten or twenty years time the background details will take on a social history tinge too. I'm probably being egotistical here. I doubt either I or my photography are as good as I imagine.

A case in point about superficially dodgy photographs adding up to more than the proverbial sum of their parts is Keith Arnatt's "I  wonder whether cows wonder?" I unexpectedly stumbled upon this in my local art gallery, The Atkinson, in a show inspired by John Berger's essay "Why Look at Animals?" I have read the essay, and I was aware of the Arnatt pictures, but hadn't seen them exhibited before.

Arnatt was a conceptual artist before taking to photography as his primary medium. Therefore it's no surprise that there is an intellectual element to his photographic works. I feel this adds to the pictures, even though they are engaging enough without having any background information. Cows are curious creatures (as in they exhibit curiosity), and like so many animals they make interesting shapes. Some of the 'Wonder' pictures are quite amusing!

I freely admit that I admire Arnatt's photography and approach a great deal, and that his "Walking the Dog" series is an influence on my Dog Town work.

It is always interesting to see work as it is intended to be shown. The scale of the images is always lost in a book or magazine, even if produced at the same scale. It's pretty obvious that the cow pictures are 6x4 enprints. I love this. Unpretentious prints like you'd get back from the chemists in the old days. It's the sort of presentation I could expect from a conceptual artist and it takes the idea of the snapshot aesthetic literally.  Photographs printed for gallery exhibition these days are all too frequently for my liking very big and very expensively archival. Rebelling against the concept of 'fine prints' is right up my street!

The making of perfect black and white conversions from digital files has been boring me to tears has been driving me away from The On-line Photographer recently. Just as I don't care about fine prints I also don't care about great processing. You can fiddle with digital files (and negatives in enlargers) until the cows come home and never settle on the ideal result. Ansel Adams was a perfectionist when it came to printing and he changed his views over the years with later prints looking different to earlier one. It's very subjective. Far  more so than what makes a picture great. Rarely (I'd say never) is that the tonal range or the paper quality. It's usually (always?) the subject and how it's arranged within the frame.

I started getting a little irate shortly before starting this post when reading a blog I'd clicked through to which was bemoaning how digital sensors are so good today that they make you lazy. I've never subscribed to the view that technological advances make creative people lazy. If you can use the ISO to select itself then all you have to consider are the values which affect how  your subject appears. Depth of field and motion blur are creative choices through aperture and shutter speed selection. ISO isn't a creative choice if it introduces next to no noise at any value. The more a camera can do for you the more you can concentrate on making pictures.

The same blogger was extolling the virtues of having an offset viewfinder so that the final framing of his pictures wasn't how he'd seen it. He had some airy fairy notion that this enabled him to compose with his eyes rather than having the scene before him and reduced to a rectangle in the viewfinder. Cobblers. I, and I expect many other photographers, see how they want to frame the picture before they put the camera to their eye. A viewfinder which shows exactly how the final image will be framed is what you need.

So endeth today's sermon rant!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Let sleeping pigs lie

There's no doubt that last winter's avian flu outbreaks have had a knock on effect for poultry shows this summer. It was the first day of the Great Eccleston Show today and the poultry pens appeared to be reduced in number compared to my visit last year. The weather was certainly wetter early on meaning the crowds were thinner.

With poultry judging not finishing until noon I was forced to take shelter in the pigeon, budgerigar and rabbit marquees. The enthusiastic fanaticism of all the fanciers is just the same as that of the poultry keepers.

Talking to the woman in the pigeon tent it seems that pigeon keeping is in decline. I can't speak for the show scene round here, but racing pigeon lofts were common thirty or forty years ago. many I remember have gone. It would appear that as with many rural orientated hobbies the participants are ageing with their numbers not being replaced by youngsters.

It's always interesting to watch the professionals at work. The chap above was shooting for the Blackpool Gazette. As he entered the pigeon tent it was a case of me photographing him and him photographing me. We got similar pictures of each other with pigeon pens between us! for him it was the usual case of call in at an event for the morning and make sure you get the expected sort of shots. It's what pays the bills so that's fair enough. I doubt I could do it because I'd get sidetracked after ten minutes!

Watching non-professional photographers is also interesting. Probably because I don't feel like either a hobbyist or a professional. It wasn't until I zoomed in on the badge on the sleeve of the photographer pictured on the left that I noticed its irony. Something to do with keeping film alive. I spotted his Leica first. A digital one. A quick Google of the badge's wording revealed its hipster origins.

The day was a bit of a washout, pun intended, photographically. I couldn't really get my head into gear. Most of my time was spent around the pig ring wishing I hadn't decided to try a different approach in terms of gear. I'd left my super-zoom at home in favour of something shorter and it wasn't really working out. The trouble is that without an 'access all areas' pass it's difficult to get close to the action, which I find gives more engaging pictures, at these shows.

I've noticed quite a few photographers favour a 70-200mm zoom for this sort of event. It's not a lens I can get to grips with. It's too long at the short end to get in close with and too short at the long end to use from afar. For me. Obviously others find it ideal. Maybe that's down to the sort of look they like for their photos?

Thinking I might miss having nothing longer than 85mm to use I put the toy camera in my bag with its 90-300mm equivalent zoom. I dug it out early on for the pig judging and immediately found the lens much too long at the short end!  I also got frustrated by the camera's controls as usual and put it back in the bag to stay there. Even so I got one shot I like with it. But I could have got it with the superzoom on a proper camera...

As far as poultry shows go I think I have reached the end. I've considered shooting shows of other creatures, but looking round the pigeon and rabbit sections it could be a case of a variation on a theme - just with different creatures in the cages. The goat and pig sections are somewhat different, and could offer some new photo-opportunities. Sheep shows have been photographed a lot in the past. Goat shows not so much. Goats are characterful too, making good subjects in their own right. As do pigs. Both are intelligent animals.

Much as I enjoy country and poultry shows, I'm not sure I can find anything fresh to say about them using photography. Not unless I change my approach. It looks like a new project to get obsessed with is no closer.

More of today's pics here.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Summer's here

May might be the month when agricultural shows start each year, but July is when it can be difficult to decide which one to visit. I would imagine that when these events started out they were attended by farming folk intent of exhibiting and inspecting animals with side shows of country crafts and a steam powered roundabout for the children's entertainment and a brass band and beer tent for the amusement of the adults.These days they seem to be more a hybrid of 'family fun days' and farmer's markets than livestock shows.

While the competition is no doubt as fiercely contended as it ever was, and the judging as strict, there are few entries in the sheep and cattle classes at the smaller shows. Which is a shame

For all there is going on I can never settle on an approach to photographing these shows. They've been a subject for documentary photography for as long as I can remember. As a consequence there are certain well repeated visual clichés that have developed. Then there are the inevitable candid shots of rural 'characters'. Trying to find a different way to depict things, without becoming too obtuse, is really difficult. Then there are the inevitable restrictions on access and vantage point.

A longish lens provides one option. Not to take 'sneaky' pictures of people from a distance but to compress space and make visual abstractions. That runs the risk of making pictures which go just a bit too far outside the box.

With the poultry section being restricted just to eggs at this show, as a hang over from the avian flu restrictions, I had hoped to concentrate on the heavy horses. Unfortunately the layout of the showground meant that the only angles for their show ring entailed shooting into the sun. On an overcast day that wouldn't have mattered, but today was seasonally bright. The cattle ring gave the best option. getting a decent viewpoint was the problem. My efforts were pretty much rubbish.

The egg show was quiet. More out of desperation than anything I gave my wide angle lens a go, using the flip down screen to give me a low angle without having to kneel down. It wasn't the soggy ground that bothered me, it was my dodgy knees and getting back up again! To a degree this approach worked. A bit more depth of field would have helped with hindsight. It's something to explore a bit more in future.

There was a lot to see, but mostly only worthy of a snap or two. Some of which can be seen in a gallery.

In the world of mistaken identities I usually get associated with serial killers. Peter Sutcliffe when I was younger and Harold Shipman after my beard went grey. I'm quite used to people asking if I work for the local paper or Lancashire Life when I'm at these events, but it was quite a shock for someone to stop me today and ask if I was Martin Parr! Other than using cameras, being a similar height and wearing glasses I don't think there's any resemblance. Maybe he noticed the sort of subjects I was concentrating on? Who knows.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Martin Parr's sandals

A few months back there was a post on Talk Photography announcing a talk in Worcester by Martin Parr. An unusual choice for a camera club speaker, but perhaps a sign of a shift in attitudes among amateur/hobbyist photographers.

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get there but last week I bought a ticket anyway. As things panned out I was able to make the 130 mile drive and it was worthwhile. Naturally I took a couple of cameras intending to spend a bit of time wandering round the city. Equally naturally I got lost and had less spare time than I'd hoped.

In advance I'd tried to find out if there were any country or agricultural shows in the vicinity on the day of the talk. I couldn't find any, but just outside Worcester, at four thirty, I saw a sign to one. Too late! However, when visiting a cathedral city and you have to photograph the building itself. So I did.

With the venue for the talk being close to the river and the racecourse I had a wander round there. It was a surprise to find that you can walk across the racecourse.

With time running out I only managed a few snaps before heading to the Swan Theatre to get a mug of tea before the main event. I was told that more than 200 tickets had been sold, and the theatre was certainly packed. Although I thought I'd left it late to book I got a seat in the centre of the third row.

Having read a fair bit about Parr's work and watched quite a few interviews he's given on Youtube there wasn't much to see or hear that I didn't already know. However it was nice to ask a question and have a few words with him before and after the talk.

It's quite apparent that part of the reason for his success at recording people the way he does without getting assaulted is that he is unthreatening and extremely affable. His sense of humour was evident throughout the talk and during the giving of prizes for a competition the camera club had run, which Parr judged, and the presentation of raffle prizes. The most amusing bit being when the top prize of a day with Damien Demolder was announced and Parr said he'd never heard of the guy but was sure he was a good photographer. Demolder was sitting in front of me at the time!

One the camera front Panasonic had donated many of the prizes and had a display of their wares on show. I'd taken my toy camera along as I wanted to try it out during the talk as it is silent. I had a play with one of the lenses I had considered getting for it. Very nice. I might get rid of all the other single focal length Panasonic lenses I have and get that one to use purely for 'street' photography. Which is all I can bring myself to use the camera for.

Quite a few people were getting books signed and taking photos of Mr Parr. There was only one of the books he'd brought to sell that I hadn't got already. So I asked for a discount and got a couple of quid knocked off. Then I asked if I could photograph his sandals. To which he willingly agreed.

Although I didn't learn anything from the event it did get me thinking. Which is always good when you are in a bit of a rut.

It says a lot that a busy photographer of Parr's status is willing to drive from Bristol to Worcester to give a talk to people who aren't in the same photographic circles as he moves. So well done him, and well done Beacon Camera Club for talking him into it. Their speaker next year is Joe Cornish. I'll be giving that one a miss.