Friday, 21 May 2021

A zine for a swap

This zine swap was set to run from November last year until the end of April this year. By the time New Year cam round I had nothing planned or even a clue where to start.Tired of wandering the moss with nothing much to see and things likely to remain that way until March time I went for a look down Back Lane, a place which fascinates me but which I've never managed to make any photos of despite feeling there was a project to be made along the track.

A few days prior to my visit I'd been remembering an idea I had for a street photography project which I'd never got round to starting and which Covid restrictions scuppered. That was to take out of focus pictures as a way of commenting on how people are less willing to be 'snapped' by random strangers than they used to be. Or at least that's how it often comes across in discussions on street photography. It was also to be about how we recognise things as much by shape and colour as by fine detail. 

After some time trying to find a way to make a series of pictures of a walk down the lane I remembered the out of focus idea and gave it a try. I liked the results, which were all shot in vertical format as I was thinking 'zine' by then. There is an element of deliberate rejection of the ongoing search among camera nerds for the sharpest lenses and the highest resolution sensors behind the out of focus approach. Particularly when it comes to landscape photography.

At the same time I was looking for details to photograph in focus. My slowly formulating plan being to find a way to combine the blurred pictures of the 'landscape' with the sharp close ups.

Back on the computer I couldn't make the verticals fit any layout I tried. Messing about I thought that a spread across two pages with the close ups overlaid somehow would work. 


When the weather permitted I went back to re-shoot the 'landscapes' horizontally.

It might seem simple to take out of focus pictures but it's not as straightforward. Open the aperture too much and all detail is lost. Focus to far into the scene and too much detail is revealed. Focal length also plays a part as that affects depth of field. After some messing about I settled on 35mm focal length with an aperture of f4.5 and focus at the closest focusing distance. Things were coming together.

Although I had the idea sussed I wasn't too happy with the overcast skies. I needed to have another go at taking the pictures on a brighter day with a blue sky. When one came around it was a simple matter to go and take the pictures I now knew I needed to fill out a zine.

All that remained was then to put it all together. I fairly quickly abandoned the original page layout and went with a simple double page spread for the landscapes. How to add in the focused pictures though? As I wanted the blurred pictures to be a 'surprise' when the zine was opened I tried having scene setting pictures on the outside covers. I got a couple of samples like that printed.

This was OK but I still didn't have the detail shots. One idea I made a dummy for was to print nine up on a sheet of A4 in a grid and paste them one to the inside back page so it folded over the inside back page with what would have been on that side of the spread printed on the rear of the grid. This would have worked well, but it was beyond my design ability to make everything line up! That idea was therefore abandoned. I liked the grid though and tried it as the centre spread. But that broke the flow.

Another dummy was ordered with a blurred cover shot and the grid on the back cover. The minimal lettering on the cover I liked, but the picture gave the game away for what was to be found inside. Going even more minimal seemed like a plan as that would take away all expectations on picking up the zine.

The grid was still intrinsic to the project, as was the picture of the sign. An A6 card with these pictures on was one option, and it sort of worked. Job done. Anything else would be tinkering for the sake of tinkering. Time to abandon the project! When posted out the card was put in an envelope as another layer of disguising what was to be seen.

While I enjoyed the process of thinking this all through I'm not sure if it's successful. I am sure that if there were more pages it would have been tedious. And I still think that having the detail pictures in with the 'landscapes' would have been better. I just couldn't find a way to do it.

All that aside it has given me a couple more ideas to pursue along the lane. In that respect it's been a worthwhile exercise.

I have done the usual zine flip video. It's about as rubbish as my usual standard. Video is much harder to do than stills!

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Desert Island Photo Books - 8

I really should have learned the lesson by now, to never make predictions for what I'm going to do. This 'should' be my post about the books which didn't quite make it to my imaginary desert island, but it's not. That post may well have disappeared into the black hole of my 'plans that won't get fulfilled'!

 The English by Ian Berry.

This is number eight, and the one book I would save from the waves if my sandy library was threatened. It's top of my heap whichever way I pile my photobooks for a number of reasons. Not least being that it was the first photobook I bought, back in 1978 when it was published. I guess I found out about it through one of the magazines I used to buy at the time - the weekly Amateur Photographer and  monthly Practical Photography. It was an eye-opener.

Here were photographs which weren't all about technique which is how those in the mags' features came across accompanied by the details of shutter speed, f-stop and filter. While there is a little info on the cameras, lenses and films used that's as far as it goes for technical information. What mattered was the pictures, and they really made an impact on me.

That was down to a combination of composition and subject matter, decisive moments and framing. Here was a book of pictures which happened to be photographs. Pictures which showed me there could be more to photographs than the 'camera club' fare I'd been exposed to through the populist photography media of the day.

Even back then I was drawn to pictures of life in Britain, in England in this case. That's something which has stuck with me ever since. I have photobooks by photographers about other parts of the world but the ones I look at most frequently are those about the island I live on.

Somewhere along the line my original copy of The English went missing. When I rekindled my interest in photography in 2010 I dug out all my photobooks and catalogues but no matter where I searched The English was not to be found. Eventually I gave in and found a copy on-line for £35 which felt a bit steep considering the condition it's in. Checking prices recently it's starting to look like a bargain!

Aside from the wonderful pictures what I like about this book is that it is a paperback (a hardback was produced but I guess I couldn't afford it back then any more than I could justify its used price today) published by a mainstream publishing house, Penguin. That meant that it was widely available for a reasonable price - £12. This, to me, suggests that it's target audience was not photographers but the general public.

If the current surge in popularity for photobooks is to be believed, and there does seem to be plenty of them appearing these days, it is mostly taking place within a limited photocentric audience. Look at the short print runs of many titles and it makes it plain enough that these books are not aimed at the person in the street.

A run of 500, while common for contemporary photobooks, is, frankly, pathetic. My pike rig book sold three times that back in the 1990s, and the pike fishing book market is pretty niche. Maybe they aim is a collectors' market. And given the high price of some publications that could be the case but it doesn't apply across the board. It's far more like vanity publishing in a lot of cases rather than a financial venture. Sure it's great to get work 'out there' but to 500 people?

The same applies to the photography zine world where print runs can be even more limited. One or two hundred being pretty standard. There's lots of material being produced, but it's being seen by other people producing zines. While I'm a fan of making zines as a way to preserve (hopefully) work I am beginning to question this making zines and photographs to be seen only by other zine making photographers. It's all a bit incestuous.

Zines are cheap, that's the point of them, get them to a wider audience. Even if that means giving them away! Of course here we run into the hurdle of subject matter. Your average non-photographer isn't likely to be interested in a zine full of empty urban scenes no mater how well composed they are. If that's your kind of subject matter than get creative with your distribution. Hide copies on the shelves of public libraries, leave them on train seats, get them out in the wider world any way you can!

Better still make photographs people relate to and give zines of them to the people in the photos, be that local communities or subculture groups. And by subculture I don't mean it as in motorbike gangs or fasionistas I mean it as in flower arrangers and yarn bombers! Or in my case poultry fanciers and sheep breeders.

The best photobooks to my mind are affordable, accessible and widely available. The English was just that.

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Desert Island Photo Books - 7

Almost done. In case anyone hasn't sussed it, I'm primarily interested in photographs of British people in Britain. Where the landscape is involved I like to see people, or at least animals, in it. The mania among landscape photographers for showing it as unpopulated really frustrates me. Perhaps in far flung corners of the world the landscape hasn't been populated or manipulated, but in Britain it has - for millennia.

The British have a special relationship with the countryside, part nostalgic reverence and part a desire to make it like the indoors, or at least utilise it as they would an urban space.

This is why Simon Roberts's book We English is on my list. Taken on a journey round England Roberts used social media to have places to visit suggested to him, which is an interesting idea and helps the book reflect how the English see their outdoors as a place to enjoy in a peculiarly English way.

The large format photographs, taken from a high viewpoint, contain lots of detail and probably work even better as large prints, but the book format is fine by me.

My next 'Desert Island' post will not be my number one choice, but a quick mention of some books which didn't quite make it. Just to keep heighten the suspense!

Saturday, 8 May 2021

500 up!

The weather and work have again kept me from venturing forth. if the day was dry I was tied up with work, if I had spare hours the rain arrived. I'm typing this when I'd rather be out and about while the rain lashes down again.

This said I have had some fruitful outings. This field being drained had been spotted on a day I had no time to stop the carp. Luckily work hadn't carried on a couple of days later when I was free to go for a look. It's yet another of my centrally aligned near-symmetrical compositions which are building into a substantial collection.

The fields of fleece and bags make regular appearances in this collection.

On one late afternoon walk when the sun shone I passed by some pigeon shooters and their decoys. If I hadn't been on a mission, which proved fruitless as my missions usually do, I would have lingered and taken more pictures. As it was by the time I returned they had left.

Setting out late in the day has been a feature thanks to the tedium of waiting in for deliveries. This means that by the time I hit the moss work is coming to an end for the day. So it was the day onions were being planted. The last rows going in as I arrived on the scene.

The new month didn't start off much different. When I did manage an hour or two earlier in the day my daft idea of taking just two single focal length lenses backfired on me with plenty of work taking place but too far away for the lenses I had with me. I guess I need to decided if I'm working on a project or just playing around. Maybe play around away from the moss? Still, I have improved slightly on my search for a photo of the Private Land sign and the yard beyond.

When there's a ditch between you and the subject you want to photograph having a zoom lens can help you get the best angle. That's why this picture isn't framed the way I'd have preferred...

It might have been cool and breezy but the sun was at least shining and the morning looking set fair when I started out. Rounding the corner on to the moss itself the distant sky looked ominous. Great as a backdrop when the sun illuminated the foreground making the colours sing. Not so great as a prospect to be walking towards when the clouds were heading my way.

Not onions being planted, but still going the wrong way - like the weather. By the time I'd walked another fifty yards it hit. Not just rain but hail too. I was lucky to take shelter by the greenhouses, the wind strong enough to blow most of the precipitation past me. Planting was called off and an early lunch taken while I waited out the passing of the shower. Ten minutes of standing around and it was dry again. April showers in May.

The moss project, such as it is, has therefore made little progress. The Lost Balls Found project, on the other hand, has reached it's conclusion. I spotted ball number 500 and managed to get a sharp photograph of it! It's a bit of a mish-mash of a series as far as artistic merit goes, but it was something I wanted to get out of my system. Now it's done I can stop looking out for lonely balls!


The zine swap is in full swing. Fifteen of us involved this time and already six have dropped through my letterbox. Mine is still in the pipeline but expected to arrive on Monday. I can't wait to find out how appalled the other fourteen are with it! When they are all complete and received I might have something to say about the swap and zines in general.