Saturday, 25 July 2020

Still ploughing the same old furrow

It's been another week of up and down weather. Throw in the time limitations work makes and it's been a case of getting out when the opportunity arises. either during a break in the rain or early doors. At least I don't have far to go to make pictures for the meanygate project, and access is always available even if there isn't always anything to see.

One day I might get bored of photographing the bird scaring kites. Not for a while I suspect!

On the morning walks I'm more likely to encounter work taking place. I'm finding the seedling trays almost as big a draw as the kites. One morning I made the picture below of 'before and after' trays on a trailer.

One my next visit there was more going on giving me a chance to take some pictures to provide more context. It's that push-pull of decisions between making stand alone 'art' pictures and story telling pictures.

I even got a bit 'clever'. I don't think too clever though.

I like the idea of the the next picture, but it should have been technically better. Like a fool I didn't check it for focus/sharpness and the tractor (which is what I focused on) is a bit soft. But as I always say, display it smaller enough and nobody will know it's soft!

This pic must have got me thinking because on a subsequent wander I changed my viewpoint for a picture of a fleece reel. I'm starting to break out of a visual rut and thinking about adding variety to the pictures.

Just a snap as I didn't have time to think about framing this one. The idea was to get an old and a new tractor in the frame, but the composition isn't good enough. It's another idea filed away in my memory banks to be dragged out at some appropriate time.

A later walk taken after a morning had improved saw me passing the hose reel which is better photographed earlier in the day. I contemplated exposing for the sky and lifting the shadows in post but popped the flash up for fill instead. I think it worked OK. Not too obviously lit.

One way or the other I need to start adding pictures of field work. The hard thing is to make visually compelling pictures. There's a bit of before and after interest in the ploughed and unploughed earth in a picture like the one below. A number of frames showing the turning procedure in which the harrow is jettisoned before the turn and picked up again might make for a sequence. Single images are more of a challenge.

 When the tractor turned right in front of me I saw a potential picture a fraction too late. D'oh! Another for the Nearly File...

That's been about my lot for the meanygate project. I'm still thinking about how to move it forward. Without much success.

The greenhouse pics have moved on a bit. I took a few more which, with some planning and additions might work up into a grid. Either as an out-take from the meanygate thing, as a standalone, or part of a future greenhouse project. I'll see.

Outside the project I carry on taking random pics. I'd seen these chooks looking out of their pop hole previously but not stopped to photograph them. This particular morning I did. I was glad I had the 28-300 attached. Which was a pity in one way as it made me more indecisive about getting rid of it. The picture needed a bit more processing than I usually do because there was a distracting out of focus patch of light green in the centre at the bottom of the frame. I couldn't quite get high enough to keep some hedge out of shot. It was a simple fix. A desaturation brush over the area and it was gone. This worked because of the dark wood. A slight decrease of the exposure as a graduated filter up from the frame bottom finished the job. I's also cropped in a little from the left for symmetry's sake.

Given that the lens was used wide open and the ISO was 7200 it's pretty well detailed and noise free at larger viewing sizes. An example of how high ISOs are more usable in good light than in poor. Which the review sites tend to gloss over when talking about high ISO performance.

Enough of the technical nerdery. The picture works because the subject is central, there's a near symmetry, and the colour palette is limited with a strong colour to draw the eye to the main subject. The hen's pose, being in profile, helps too. Not a great shot, but one I'm reasonably satisfied with.

Sheep dog trails are slowly starting up. Some are not allowing the public to attend because of the Covid-19 rules. Surprisingly I'm not finding myself too bothered by that. Maybe I've burned myself out on that front? It was certainly getting harder to find new pictures and my enthusiasm had been flagging because of that in the way it did with poultry shows. Then again, I'm only capable of maintaining one obsession at a time, and the moss farming is what's occupying my thoughts right now.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Rambling - literally and metaphorically

Three months of wandering around the same square mile (or thereabouts) is unavoidably resulting it becoming harder and harder to avoid repeating myself. There's always the chance of taking photographs in the same place but in different light or when crops have grown or been harvested, but most of the time that is just tinkering. It can make things more obvious, such as this ditch which I found interesting because of the way the its two sides were differently managed. Flat light didn't make the difference as apparent as early morning sunshine did. So there' the chance to replace pictures with similar ones which tell the story more clearly. It adds nothing new though.

Then there's the possibility of photographing something from a different angle. Maybe including something else in the picture which might add to the narrative, or tell it more succinctly.

Now and then I get ideas for grids or pairs of pictures. The only way I could think of to illustrate how one field will be planted to provide a succession of crops was with a pair of pictures. Taking one picture 'side on' didn't show clearly enough how planting is done in sequence over a period of time.

While the farmed land is the main focus of this project greenhouses are still a interest. Whitewashed glazing can produce and almost endless variety of semi-abstracts.

Making pictures of farming machinery is part of the project. The dilemma is whether to make record shots which show them in situ in their entirety or make close up near-abstracts which don't explain much. Not that I have any clue what this thing below is!

Walking the deserted meanygates this morning got me to pondering about rural/farming documentary photography, both contemporary and from the past. There is a trend I've commented on for publishing books of British documentary photographs from the 1970s through to the 1990s these days. Bluecoat Press and Cafe Royal Books being two such publishers operating in different ways. Take a look at their catalogues and there is little in the way of rural subject matter. Is this because there is none to reproduce? Or is there something else at play?

I suppose it is probably inevitable that most documentary photography takes place where most people live - in towns and cities. That makes sense as an explanation. However, maybe there is also a bias against subject matter which can appear romantically nostalgic, or even twee. Especially when it is looked at retrospectively. This could be a result of the British view of the countryside as some green and pleasant idyll. I do sometimes wonder if James Ravilious's pictures were taken through slightly rose tinted lenses.

Then there is contemporary rural documentary photography. Is it treated equally with urban photography by today's taste makers? The rural makes forays into the works of some contemporary lights' oeuvres, but it never makes up a continued focus. Then there is the problem (for me) of 'art documentary' and 'poetic photography' which are s more about the pictures as pictures than about what is in the pictures.

There are, of course, exceptions. John Darwell's Dark Days and Ken Grant's Flock are two books of photographs on rural/farming issues which manage to avoid tweeness and consist of unpretentious documentary photography. There are others who can be found online who photograph the rural and rural life. Some in an art based practice, some in a more documentary way. This is not to include working agricultural journalists, those shooting for stock libraries, or devoted amateurs.

Contemporary pictures are out there, and there must be archives from previous generations waiting to be discovered. But perhaps not appreciated by the photographic establishment.

Those were some of my random thoughts about the visual recording of the rural as I pondered what I'm up to and why I should make more of an effort to record the work that goes on locally. And more importantly get it disseminated.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Taking the photos is the fun bit

While I like laying out zines and books the editing of a load of pictures to go in them is hard work for me. It's a task which makes my brain freeze. Taking photographs is far less stressful!

I've decided it's time to round up my poultry show pictures and make a proper book of them. I've settled on the format, the paper and cover quality. I've even designed a cover. But whittling down the thousands of pics to my target of 100 was something I kept putting off. Eventually I dived in and got it down to 500 plus. That was the easy bit. The final (or more likely penultimate) cull is proving really difficult. As much for motivation as for making the choices.

While going through the pics I found some which had no real use beforehand but when put together made a set. The number plates I'd photographed because they were amusing, when cropped and arranged in a grid, had more meaning. Throw in a couple of pics of chicken decals on car windows and a sign pointing to a poultry car park and you might end up with a spread for a book.

This is one reason I take lots of pictures which are nothing more than record shots of things which interest or amuse me. Given time they can become something when combined with other pictures. A case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. In a way that's what a project is, on a larger scale. More than a collection of pictures.

My wanderings have been erratic this week. Either short or at odd times. The weather has turned gloomy again too. There was a route I'd almost taken a week or two back but changed my mind about. I wanted to see where a path lead and to walk a different road outside the area I'm concentrating on for this project. It was quicker to drive out and park up to approach it from a different direction to save time.

Although taken outside the designated area two pictures I took are related to what goes on within the area. The first was these trays of what I think are celery plants ready to be taken out to the fields where I have photographed plenty of these red trays.

The second was the picture of a polytunnel where strawberries are grown. The source of the strawberry waste piled up on the moss.

My fascination with greenhouses hasn't abated. It's possible they could become the basis for another project at some future date.

 Some things demand to be photographed because they are a bit strange. Framing is everything with this kind of juxtaposition. Not too sure it's any good though.

Back on the moss there wasn't much to photograph but the pipe discharging water from one ditch to another adds to my collection of drainage pictures. The action makes what's happening clearer than a picture of a pump which looks the same when switched on or off.

Potatoes are coming into flower at different times in different places. I've yet to get a picture of them with which I'm really satisfied.

Knowing I'd be stuck in all day waiting for the UPS van I got up early on Tuesday. It didn't get me anywhere in terms of photographs other than potential 'fillers' like this box of free veg outside a farm's bungalow.

Just because I'm looking for pictures to go in the project doesn't stop me taking others I see when wandering around. This wood pigeon being a case in point. It was the lines and pole against the almost clear blue sky which initially caught my eye. The pigeon added a little something to it.

An unplanned walk today while waiting for glue to set was proving less than productive. One not very good building picture and that was looking like my lot.

Again the day was dull. Apart from the stick picture it was back to the geometric fieldscapes. I take them in the vain hope that one or two new ones might work in better than what I already have. Sort of reordering the set, pushing rejects to the bottom.

Much of the time when roaming the meanygates I've been using the 28-300 for convenience. It's sharp enough for me. Where it does fall down is with horizontals. Any time there is a horizon line - and with it being so flat and open on the moss that's often - I have to apply lens correction in post. Sometimes to the extent that things on the horizon get cropped. I try to frame such shots a bit wider to compensate for this in advance, but it's easy to forget.

The other lens I've used a lot is the 24-85 because it's light and has vibration reduction. Again it's sharp, but again there's a lot of distortion - more so at the wide end, whereas the longer lens has distortion at both ends of its range.

My 24-70 is less prone to the annoying curved horizons, so I've been taking that out a bit of late. I do like a bit more reach at the long end though. It's a conundrum when trying to travel light. I might have to bite the bullet and take two cameras with me because some subjects are just that bit too far away for a standard zoom range.

The upshot is that I'm considering a compromise. Sacrifice my two slow zooms and replace them with one slightly faster one with a range between them both. Trouble is I can't decide which way to jump!

Friday, 10 July 2020

No words, just pictures