Sunday, 21 February 2021

Sidetracked

Yet another week without much chance to use a camera. Wednesday was set fair so I made plans to take photos for a zine swap project. Hardly had I left the car than I got distracted by the Bayleaf which is in an even worse state than the last time I poked around it with a camera. It was bad enough that the pub which was originally called The Rams Head and was obviously a lovely 17th century brick building got extended and the brickwork rendered over. The state it's in now and the hopes of developers to turn it into yet another supermarket is criminal.

 

It's not possible to get inside the building so I wandered around outside making the most of the winter light.








After fifteen minuets or so I carried on my way and by the time I got to my destination the sun had gone. It was still bright, but overcast. I'd really hoped for sunshine to make the pictures for the zine.I made them anyway.  I've got a month or more before it needs to go to print so I might have another go if I get a free day when the sun is shining again. For once it's not too much of a chore to take preplanned photographs with this concept. There are only eighteen require and they can be done in half an hour!

Since typing the above paragraph on Saturday I have been back. Not so much for the light, which was a little better, but to retake nine pictures with different framing having played around wit the zine design. Another easy box ticking exercise that I think was worth it. Slotting the pictures into the template also prompted a redesign of the front and back covers. It's' not ready for exposure yet as the zine swap is usually a surprise for all concerned. The inside pages might also get a makeover before the deadline forces it to be set in stone.

As the day was almost windless and seasonally mild I ventured out round the moss after lunch. This proved to be one of the most fruitless walks I've taken there, returning with only six frames worth keeping, and only half of them likely to have a 'life' within the overall project. This is one of them.

On both outings I restricted my options by taking two cameras, one sporting my 28mm lens the other my 85mm. While this might seem like an affectation I find it a good discipline to adopt every now and again. When training or learning there's no gain to be had from taking the easy option, you only progress by having to push yourself. I could never manage that when it came to sport or even guitar playing, but for visually creative outlets I have always enjoyed working within limitations.

The fewer choices you have the more creative you have to think. In some ways having very little idea how to use desktop publishing software is a restriction that works to prevent getting over-elaborate. Less being more most of the time when it comes to graphic design I think.

Back indoors I've managed to keep my resolution for the year going by printing another set of pictures to put in an album. That's three so far. I doubt I'll manage to make an album a month, but that's the idea. For the next try I might get the pictures printed on-line rather than use my own printer. As an experiment as much as a money saving exercise. If I like the results then the saving in ink could be significant and maybe encourage me to print more. I do wish the Easybooks came in a larger size in terms of capacity. Twenty three sheets isn't a lot, but I guess reasonable for an album.



Monday, 15 February 2021

Frozen out

No snow here, but it's been cold enough to freeze the ground solid which has given the farmers a chance to get machinery on the land and work under way. However a strong wind or really dull light has kept me indoors most of the time, with just a few late afternoon forays with a camera.

Even so new sights continue to appear when trudging the usual routes. They just get further apart than they used to.

When I did happen upon some activity I was a bit late on the scene and couldn't quite get the angles I wanted. The idea below was to have backlit gulls against dark fields. In addition to poor angles when the tractor got in range for a well framed shot it was too close to me for the gulls' comfort and they wheeled of and upwards.


That evening I did manage to get the setting sunlight reflecting off one of the road signs, which is a picture I've seen but never managed to take before. Usually when the sun is at the right angle to reflect it also casts my shadow into the frame. This time for some reason only the sign was lit.

 
 
Next time out I was later still and only managed a couple of pictures. One showing recent cultivation with still frozen surface water, the other what looks like hail stones but which are actually fertiliser pellets. Not important pictures on their own, but potentially useful in a series.


being stuck indoors induces boredom. Boredom induces web browsing. Web browsing induces impulse purchases. I'd forgotten I'd ordered Joanne Coates's zine from ADM so it was a pleasant surprise to get an email notification that it was on its way. I'd seen the work on a number of websites over the last few years and was glad to have a hard copy of some pictures from it. It really needs a bigger publication with text to do it justice though.

When Camerasnaps tweeted a video of them going through Blood Sweat and Tears I immediately searched out a copy. Great documentary photography of the miners strike of 1984 published straight after the fact. If it had been a new publication I'd have given it a miss in keeping with my attempt to restrict my photobook buying to contemporary work, 'vintage' editions and the very occasional reprint at a more affordable price than the original of the same book on the collectors' market.

Also via Twitter I discovered The Dartmoor Collective and ordered a copy of their nice little collaborative zine, A Worked Landscape. A subject right up my street. Zines for a fiver are a great idea and should be encouraged.
 

The freeze finally came to an end today but it took a while for me to get work out of the way and make the most of the last hour of sunlight. I timed it just a bit late to catch some field and ditch work going on, and had to console myself with some static subject matter. An advantage of a flat landscape is teh ability to spot things which have appeared since a previous visit from afar. A big yellow digger by one of the pumps I have photographed numerous times had to be investigated.

I tried, and failed, to make a picture including one of the irrigation outlets but framing using the flip down screen was more trouble than I could be bothered with as time was short.

Even getting a shot of the digger on its own was tricky to frame without having something cutting into the left edge.

The greenhouses I sometimes walk by usually throw up some chance of a picture. If not of or through the glass then something reflected in it. Today was no exception. The greenhouses are used for bringing on houseplants and they are now being stocked up ready for the spring season. The trays of seedlings making for a nicely repetitive pattern.

The lack of contrast in the above picture being due to the dirty glass. The same applies to the picture below, with the addition of out of focus whitewash on the inside of the glass which I deliberately used as a device to provide a visual unifier to the picture's structure.

A reflected sunset is irresistible. So I didn't resist. Quite a few frames were exposed and only two or three worked. I tried focusing on the reflection and on the glass. The pictures with the sharp reflections were the most immediately satisfying. I've kept both versions though as I might change my mind with time. That's something I often do, keep two versions in case what initially appeals about a picture loses it's attraction as time passes.

With the warmer conditions set to stay for a while I'll be trying to get out and about more often, at more productive times. That's if work allows me to.

Monday, 1 February 2021

New gear makes no difference

What a winter. Locked down and real winter weather. Some snow fell but didn't stick for long. The sub-zero temperatures have been another matter.

 
I can vaguely remember thinking the Benbo tripod design was a good one back in the 1980s but in those days it was out of my price range, and I didn't use the tripod I had anyway. Before Christmas I was checking a photographer out and found a video of him using Benbo tripods which got me thinking that the time might be right. Despite all the tales of woe I've read on forums that they are tricky to set up but a few instructional videos didn't look that way to me. Even so, knowing my antipathy towards tripods I managed to resist buying one, despite the fact that they are now comparatively affordable.

It must have been a combination of the lack of photographic productivity and a dull evening's web browsing that made me crack. I told myself it was a late birthday present to myself...

When the tripod arrived I found it was dead easy to set up. Easier than my Manfrotto. I screwed one of my spare tripod heads (which I have kept as they have little resale value) and after playing around indoors took it for a walk. I do have in mind a series of pictures which would benefit form being taken using a tripod. That was another excuse for the purchase.

 
 
The photo series is to shoot vertical landscapes including ditches in the foreground. My initial intention being to use a 35mm lens for all the pictures. That was what I took out with me on the tripod expedition. I only made one test shot and it decided me that 28mm might be better on a couple of counts. Whether this project within a project comes off is still up in the air...

 
One thing that was a bit annoying with the Benbo was the fixed hard plastic feet. They're great outdoors where the pointy bits will dig in to soft ground, but indoors they don't work so well. I thought that I might cut the points off and see if that improved thinsg. Or maybe remove the feet and replace when with plain rubber ones. I went in search of rubber feet and found a website selling nothing but plastic and rubber ferrules for chairs, tables, walking sticks and such like. Noticing that they had some large ferrules I measured the Benbo feet and took a chance that I might be able to push the largest size over the spikey feet. When the ferrules arrived that was indeed the case. Indoors the tripod is much improved. Outdoors it remains to be tested.

 
With the deadline for the thirds zine swap looming (it's three months away but that's looming in my world) I have been scratching my head for a plan. The ones I've had so far have yet to come to fruition. Then I had a flash of inspiration. Put two ideas together. With a dry day in the offing I headed for my chosen location and set to work.


 
The results were promising and a play around putting them into a zine format went quite well too. The only negative being that the light on the day I took the photos was a bit bland. Normally that wouldn't bother me but for the zine concept I think a sunnier day would have worked better. As I know exactly what photos I want for this it should be easy to go back and get them. Of course the sun has yet to shine... That might not be a bad thing as the project might work even better when the leaves start to appear on the hedgerows and trees. 

Still being stuck for a fresh project to get my teeth into it's been a case of going back to the moss hoping to find something's changed. I don't know why but I can usually find something different to make a picture of from the greenhouses I sometimes walk past. Not that they meet with widespread adulation.

 
The lack of sunshine has meant that frost and ice lingers into the afternoon. I added to my selection of detail shots with this one of some frosty but cracked ground.

 
When I saw this 'flow' of straw which I'm guessing was deposited as the field drained it cried out to be recorded. However I don't think the picture succeeds in getting across how the chopped straw has formed the flow. Certainly not at this small size. Maybe larger it would. Or if I'd had a wider lens to exaggerate the effect. Or if the light had been different.  Or?
 

At least fields are drying, in some places because of pumping. I wanted to make a picture of this bright red pump in a way that was more than a picture of a bright red pump. I tried to do that by including the fallen branch/tree over which the blue pipe lay as I felt it echoed the black pipe. The pipes, trunk and bottom of the ditch lead the eye in a circle towards the pump, which already stands out as the brightest object in the frame. That's the way I read it at any rate.


Elsewhere I tried to make a picture of some machinery in a field which included a 'bog oak' laid on teh side of the track.


I almost found myself wishing I wasn't so dead set on avoiding wide angle lenses at times. Would have a few more millimetres improved things?


That's been about my lot. This afternoon the sun made a rare appearance and there was hope of a sunset to drag me out into the cold. I had a letter to post so walked along the main road before contemplating heading to the fields. The warm light of the low sun cast a soft shadow on a rendered wall. I'm amassing a collection of similar pictures which might make a series at some point.

 

The light didn't last. By the time the sun was low enough to be considered setting it was behind yet another bank of greyness. I'm not crying out for bright sunshine to get on with any of my plans, all I want is some relief from the relentless dullness. Maybe when the sky lightens I'll start feeling a bit more positive about making photographs, which in turn should get my coming up with more and better ideas. Buying a new tripod certainly hasn't done that.




Friday, 22 January 2021

The democratic medium?

Before I get into my 'thought piece' some photos. The weather this past week has been wetter than ever, so I haven't been out much - with or without a camera. Thursday I drove round my most frequent walking route on the moss to see what was what as I didn't want to get caught in one of the frequent showers. I parked up and walked back to take some photos and before I reached where I wanted to take pictures I got hit by yet another load of rain. 

The downpours had made a significant impact on land that I hadn't seen so wet before.

 

Today the rain had gone and the sun was shining, although the sun did its usual disappearing act when I went out in the late afternoon. I'd put my wellies on because the field path had been under more water than I'd ever seen on Thursday. When I got to the field the wellies were more than sufficient s the water level had dropped back to below the ditch top. It was the same on the moss with the water being mostly back in the ditches. What a difference a day made.



Sunset is getting noticeably later now making it possible to get work done and still manage an hour or more wandering with the camera. This wood often attracts my attention at this time of year when teh sun sets behind, or almost behind, it. This evening  the glow from the low sun and the towering clouds made it look as if the wood were on fire. Or maybe I just have a vivid imagination?
 
Next to no photographs, certainly none with any great utility, and loads of rain. A dismal week all round.

Having been put in a miserable mood I got all gloomy an started pondering, for the umpteenth time, who is it that looks at zines and photobooks. Who are the people making these publications making them for? Given the limited print runs of most zines and books, and let's face it anything under tens of thousands is limited, I can only conclude that the audience is predominantly (if not entirely) other photographers plus those involved in the photo-world - gallerists, collectors, curators. this most democratic of media is making publications for an elite.

If that wasn't bad enough when I look at the price of photobooks these days they are creeping up beyond what I can justify paying. I grudgingly coughed up £45 for a copy of the reprint of Paul Graham's A1 because it was a book I had wanted for some time. Okay, so it was cheaper than buying a first edition, but compared to some other books I've bought it was a bit pricey. This week I saw that his Beyond Caring is to be reissued at the same price. Another book I'd like to have on my shelves but this time I'm wavering over the price. Almost a ton for two books. I could buy a whole library of zines for that kind of cash. I'd get a load more photos to look at that way. If I'm feeling flush when the release date nears I'll probably pull the trigger. However, Beyond Caring is scheduled to be the second of a trilogy of reprints over three years, the third being Troubled Land. This one doesn't interest me. I've never been a completist so not having 'the full set' wouldn't bother me at all. No doubt the publisher's hope if that most people aren't like me and will have to buy the hat trick.

I'm sure that the collecting of sets instinct, which I admit is tempting, works for a number of small zine publishers who produce publications which are uniform in cover design. I don't really have a problem with that as zines are still pretty affordable. Although buying them on a regular basis can soon put a dent in the bank balance.

Perhaps perversely, while I'll happily cough up a tenner for a small zine I am loathe to hand a similar sum over each month for a magazine like the BJP. When it was in the region of six quid I bought it fairly regularly, but when it got into double figures (despite it's increased heft) it had to have a lot of content which interested me to part me from my cash. Eventually I gave up on it altogether. Way back when I remember (perhaps wrongly) that the BJP was very much aimed at commercial photographers. More recently it seems to be aimed at the photo-art world. Another example of catering for an elite?

If a tenner is getting into the realms of putting off a pleb like me then what to make of something flagged up on The Online Photographer? At first glance a print magazine of photojournalism would be my kind of thing. especially one harking back to the days of Life, Picture Post, and the likes of the Sunday Times Magazine's long form photo features. Even though it was US based I had to check out The Curious Society. Particularly as it is fronted by Kenneth Jarecke.

Great photography about important stories in a well produced magazine. What's not to like? How about $300 for four issues? Again I ask; Who is it for? It can only be fore photoworld insiders and middle class elites. It makes £45 for a book look like excellent value.

Maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe I'm misjudging the average disposable income. It still doesn't seem to me that it's a good way to get photojournalism out to the masses. Which surely is what photojournalism used to do. If the venture succeeds with it's business model then it might succeed in its aim to pay photographers properly, as they used to be paid before print media began to be squeezed by the internet. But is that enough? I don't think so. Pictures like that need to be seen by millions, not thousands. I can't see it expanding the audience, just as I don't see worth projects like Small Town Inertia making a difference when it's audience is, once again as far as I can see, predominantly that photoworld elite.

Naturally I can't put forward a better way of doing any of this, but it does all seem a little futile and incestuous to me.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Bath time

Yet another week of dire weather keeping me indoors most of the time. One dry morning I took the opportunity to park in my accountant's car park and have a wander down a rough lane in search of sheep. I found sheep but they weren't up for having their photos taken. This lane is the kind of place I like looking at but, as with so many places I like being and looking, it's somewhere I find difficult to photograph.

But give me an object and I'll snap away. Unusually for this area the fields are mostly used for grazing, at least on one side of the track. Stock needs watering and old baths have long been used as water troughs for cattle and horses. for some reason a couple of baths down this track had been put in the hedges. Kind of surreal. So they had to be photographed. That then got me to thinking there might be a project to be had photographing other baths in the countryside. The idea didn't last long, but you never know, it might take over from Lost Balls Found when I finish that one off.


With nothing else to do that day I went out again in the late afternoon. I swithered about going for too long which meant that I was a bit late to get any really decent pictures of some ditch clearing work on the moss edge.


After the thaw and rain three days later I woke to frost and fog. I couldn't face walking far in that so I drove round my most frequently tramped mossland route hoping to see something worth making a picture of. I pretty much failed so stopped and took a boring picture.

Feeling as though the moss is probably best left alone as the returns are diminishing I still couldn't think of anywhere or anything else to photograph so it was back there again this afternoon. To my surprise I saw a few things which I either hadn't thought of photographing before or things which had appeared since my last wander around the route I took.

The patterns made by the trailing pumpkin stems (or whatever they are called) struck me as otherworldly.

One of the flooded field wasn't as wet as it had been for weeks. This was partly due to a drainage channel having been dug to the nearby ditch. I made two pictures of this channel. One as an abstract, the other in vertical orientation to show the scene in full - and explain what was going on.

The vertical shot has given me the idea to make more pictures in that orientation of the mossland landscape. Something else I'll probably forget about...

I seem to have a thing about diesel pumps. Although I've photographed this one before it hasn't had a leak before.


The print making has got started. How long it will last is another matter. However, the albums work well. I've populated one with a set of prints from my short canal project. It took a bit of messing about to work out the layout for the first page but now I have a template it'll be easy to make variations on the theme.

Using 270gsm paper I have 23 sheets in the album and reckon a couple more will fit with ease. 


Going forward I intend to add a clear coversheet for the front page to protect what is visible through the hard cover. The snap-in page loading has also given me ideas for including other material along with the photo prints, and maybe also to use double sided photo paper.

Recently I've added a couple more books to my library. Photo Work was recommended on The Online Photographer. It was reasonably priced and the concept appealed to me. Forty photographers answering the same questions about the way they approach project based photography.

It's a book to dip in to, or read in bursts, rather than from cover to cover in one go. This is because it's a little repetitive. I'd have liked it more if the photographers hadn't been mainly American, and had been ones whose work was familiar to me. One I'll dip into again.

The other book is the third edition of one of my favourites, Paul Hill's Approaching Photography.  This is a significant update and worth having even if you have an earlier edition.