Sunday, 1 April 2018

Laid up

It's been difficult for me to get out and about this last month or more. If it wasn't the Beast from the East making it unpleasant to be out, and closing roads in sheep country, it was the bug I contracted which immobilised me for the best part of three weeks. By the time I felt like moving around the weather had turned bad again. It's only in the last week I've felt like getting out with a camera when the weather took a turn for the better. But with nothing in mind to photograph the results have been poor.

I've been on the hunt for lambs, it being springtime. But the poor little things are living in mud and are far from photogenic. Not that I've managed to spot any when the sun has been shining. I've had to settle for sheep that haven't lambed. Not that I've managed anything worthwhile on that front.

On the days the sun has shone when I've been out the sheep have avoided me. When stuck for a subject recording 'stuff' passes the time.

Recently a barn owl has been making frequent appearances over the field behind my house. barn owls being corpuscular this means light levels are low. The owl also tends to stay well away from my back fence. At least it does when I have a camera in my hands. This results in noisy pictures of a far off bird. In the spirit of 'fixing it in post' I take the opposite path to most photographers. Instead of improving the image quality I degrade it. Convert to monochrome, add more grain in an attempt to add atmosphere. I'm not sure if it succeeds.

No need for computer trickery to add atmosphere when it's misty. Of course I left it a little too late to go out in the fog. By the time I got anywhere I might have made some interesting pictures the sun had burned the mist away. So I was stuck with this. At least I can add it to my file of gate pictures. Where the gate has gone, remains to be seen.

Coincidentally, not long after making the misty picture I read a blog post praising the 'dehaze' feature in Lightroom. It's some sort of contrast boosting feature that saves you using a combination of the other features to get a similar effect. I avoided using too much contrast or clarity in the misty picture because it stopped looking misty. The before and after shots used in the blog post shared that trait. To my eyes the un-dehazed picture looked more interesting than the treated on. Sure the dehazed version had more punch. But the scene hadn't been punchy, it had been hazy. Photography is getting dumbed down through a combination of digital trickery and lack of understanding. It's that bloody 'wow factor' again. I shall continue to refrain from giving my pictures punch!

It being Eastertide I was loathe to leave home today. But the lull in the biting winds and hints of sun tempted me out. last week I'd been reading a book about the derelict farmsteads on the localish moors. It explained to me what the piles of stones I've seen over the years are. I thought I'd go and revisit a couple armed with my newfound knowledge. Once moor the light thwarted me. Although making pictures of moss covered rubble isn't easy no matter what the light is like.

White skies are the bane of any sort of landscape photography, perhaps with the exception of minimalist themes. However, modern sensors capture more detail in such skies than the eye perceives. The problem is recovering that detail in a way which looks 'right'. It's all too easy to end up with a landscape that is in colour and a sky filled with black and white clouds. It's a look that is quite common these days. It's awful. I prefer the white sky. Also, if the sky is darkened too much it simply looks 'wrong' The sky is always brighter than the land.

Being stuck indoors has given me time to read and to think. The former is good. I'm not so sure about the thinking bit though! A friend leant me a book by one of the celebrity shepherds a few weeks back. It clarified some thoughts I've had. Twitter and Instagram are giving alls sorts of subcultures a chance to expose their worlds to the general public with their own photographs. This could be seen to negate the need for 'real' documentary photographers to cover such subjects. Subcultures have long been a source for documentary photographers. Are they now out of a job? I think not. If anything I reckon they are needed more than ever.

In the shepherd's book, mostly his own phone photographs interspersed with brief notes, he makes the point that people (by which I assume he means the non-farming folk who follow him on Twitter) don't want to see dead sheep. This is self-censorship, or (more acceptably?) self-curation. It fits Martin Parr's view that "all photography is propaganda". A documentary photographer would, again I assume, photograph dead sheep.

This has given me encouragement to stick at photographing subjects which seem to be well photographed. I guess it's about having faith that one's own 'vision' is capable of spotting the unexpected, the unusual, the stuff that is kept hidden. Not necessarily in order to expose the unacceptable. Just to record the facts. That's what a document is at it's best - a record without comment. Although there is always the element of interpretation on behalf of the photographer and the viewer. There is also no guarantee that pictures are used without comment. They can be appropriated and have a twisted interpretation placed upon them. It's a muddy area. Photographs are not innocent.

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