Learning from our Failures

Strictly speaking we photographers don’t tend to show our failures. Why should we ? What would the point of that ? I’m going to break with that because  I want to share with you why the image below fails. We learn from our failures don’t we ? It’s obvious really and it was a damn shame because it would have been a good image for me. The reason this image fails is quite simply because the lady on the left is not looking at us the viewer. I asked her politely to look directly at the camera but she refused and continued to look out and down. This was taken at our town’s annual May Day March and these ladies were protesting about the pollution of the oceans. A noble and worthwhile cause you might say and I admire these ladies for taking their stance but the irony is that by refusing to look into the camera as directed, this lady she unwittingly made herself look a bit silly and thus unsure of her motives and personal political viewpoint. Had she looked into the camera as requested she would have presented herself as confident of her opinions and confrontation with us the viewer. This lady thus looks almost embarrassed to be there, unlike the lady on the right who is confronting us with an opinion and thus asking us to question this political protest. We are left in somewhat confusion and by that the image does not work as it should. The disappointment for me was that this lady did not put her trust in me to make the right kind of image even though I acknowledge she might not have wanted me to take a picture in the first place. The other disappointment for is that this lady was not sufficiently visually literate to know this. Compare the above to the image below and see how it works much better in this instance with the protestor looking directly out at us the viewer.

My Life in Cameras

Before I begin this article let me make it absolutely clear ! It’s not the camera that matters it’s what you do with it !

I’ve been playing about with this photography lark quite a while now. Since I was about nineteen and I’m fifty four now. Am I fifty four ? I’m beginning to forget which is a little scary. Thought it would be nice to do a life in cameras article.

  1. Olympus OM-10 – I got a B at Art O Level. My Art teacher a Mrs Turner told me off because she thought I should have got an A. I didn’t think I was that good. Yeah I could copy draw  and shade a  pair of black leather shoes and maybe a teapot and some flowers but my free hand imaginative drawing was dodgy despite my portrait of David Bowie which hung on the wall of the Art Classroom for months. I was a frustrated artist and so photography appealed. My Mum bought me an OM-10 for my eighteenth and nineteenth birthday combined. With 50mm lens they cost I seem to remember about £110. The OM-10 was a good little starter camera. Well built and reasonably simple to use in automatic. The Zuiko lenses had a good reputation even though they were bloody expensive. Eventually I had the manual adaptor, Winder 2 and a couple of Tamron Zoom Lenses, the full kit. The problem with the Manual Adaptor was that the camera would indicate by little red light in the viewfinder which shutter speed it thought you should be using if in auto  so you had to constantly check which one you were on when in manual. That said this aspect helped you learn quicker. The Pentax K100 was also a good little starter camera as well.

The Olympus Om-10 with Manual Adaptor and Auto Winder 2.

2. The Olympus OM1-n – Now you’re talking ! A bit more expensive than the OM10 these are still superb film cameras. Reliable, robust and amazingly simple to use. Fully manual correct exposure is indicated by a needle in the viewfinder which worked by one of those little round silver batteries. If the battery went flat it didn’t matter because you could still use the camera by either guessing the correct exposure or using an external light meter. I traded in my OM-10 to get one of these and eventually I had two OM1-n bodies. I still have one and I’m loathe to part with it. Pick em up on Ebay for a good price. The zuiko lenses are excellent as well.

The OM1n a little beauty, they don’t make em like this anymore

3. The Pentax SFX  – I actually won one of these  in a  national photography competition organised by Practical Photography magazine and sponsored by Ford Motors and Pentax. There were four categories and the overall winner won a Ford Escort Xr3i. I won one of the categories and got this camera, camera  bag and a t-shirt. We had to go to a photography studio run by car photographer Taly Noy in London’s Dockland area ……..which was nice. Some models had been employed to give the prize giving a bit of glamour which irritated the shit out my girlfriend who fancied herself as a bit of a model as well but she wasn’t tall enough.

The Pentax SFX I wasn’t overjoyed with although I did get some decent images from it and in a sense it kicked off my street photography  because it was fully automatic and autofocus,  ideal for just pointing and shooting. I used to take it to football matches to do some crowd shots with it. At West Bromwich Albion they took it off me in exchange for a raffle ticket until after the match.  It met a sorry end when I dropped it in the sea in Nigeria while cavorting with an attractive young lady from Angola. I tried to dry it off with my towel but the salt water got in it and when I switched it back on it started melting from the inside. Claimed back through the insurance.

Pentax SFX – heavy and clunky and sounded a bit cheap

4. The Nikon D300

I’m looking back on my life in cameras and beginning to think I’ve not had that many. The thing is I’m not an equipment nerd. As a reportage, documentary, street  photographer the last thing you want is to be weighed down with kit and it soon adds up. Besides I just simply can’t afford to spend that kind of money. I’ve seen photographers with the latest cameras and the biggest lenses and they couldn’t take a decent image to save their lives. I once knew a bloke ( looked like a fat Roy Orbison) he had a Hasselblad and all the lenses, a Mecablitz Hammerhead flashgun, Benbo tripod, filters, the full works and all he did was take his appallingly bad Glamour Weekend colour print shots to Trueprint on the High St.
I digress. Back in 2009 I spent some of my redundancy and leapt both feet first into Digital. The Nikon D300 had good write ups. It cost a lot of money with the wide to medium zoom lens attached. Over the last few years I’ve had some  pleasing images from it. Chunky and robust it was easy to handle. My mate a photojournalist gave me the best advice “treat it like you would the OM1-n” and so I did. Some of the menu facilities I still don’t understand but the D300 has a good reputation. The only regret is that it wasn’t Full Frame. It just irritated me that there was a calculation to make to work out the lenses, 50mm etc and trying to explain this aspect to a class of beginners is a real pain in the arse.  Nevertheless I got some good paid work out of it and I hope it goes to a good home.

5. The Fuji X-Pro2

In all these years have I only ever had five ‘serious’ cameras ? In thirty years have I only had five cameras ?

It’s a crazy notion I know but the Fujifilm X-Pro2 is making me feel like I’ve finally arrived as a photographer. It feels like a serious photographers camera. The kind of camera that any photographer who knows his stuff will look at hung around my neck and say to themselves that dude knows what he’s about. I’ve done it myself, seen someone with a Leica and thought they know what’s what. Either that or they’re rich and they always buy the most expensive ? Don’t get me wrong, for I’m a firm  believer and I always tell my students that it’s not the camera it’s what you do with it that counts. The X-Pro2 however doesn’t shout out loud about itself. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It’s smallish, lightweight,  rugged and modest  looking. I’m still getting used to it, all the functions and after all these years with SLR’s the Rangefinder approach is taking some getting used to. As someone who shoots a lot of street type work it’s unobtrusive. Some might say it’s a poor man’s Leica but more than one person has told me they think it’s better than a Leica. I promised myself that my next camera would have prime lens as well so I got the 50mm F2 equivalent. The Nikon zoom lens on the D300 suffered from barrelling which irritated the hell out of me when shooting distant horizons on the wide angle. I’m looking forward to a few good years with this camera.

 

You Beauty !

6. Other Cameras I Own

Plastic 120 Film Camera – Great fun !

Twin Lens Reflex – Cheap Russian 120 film Camera.         A Lovely Thing

Minox 35GT Precious Gift from a Friend

Polaroid SX-70 – Design Classic !!   You’ve not lived until you’ve sampled the delights of the SX-70 !

 

Eye Witness Works

My dog’s Twitter followers continues to rise while mine has stuck doggedly at nineteen. Not that I’m counting. I’m having fun on Twitter. I’m amusing myself. What have I learnt this week of any significance ? Well Sir Patrick Stewart that wonderful actor  has adopted a Pit Bull Terrier called Ginger from the ASPCA, Grayson Perry is making two pots about Brexit, one for the Remain group and one for the Leave group and Ricky Gervais is going down an absolute storm on his stand up tour of the world. Apparently one of the characters Grayson Perry is basing\using for his Leave pot is a bloke from Chesterfield, where I’m writing from you now, stood in his back garden waving a hammer about. Why is it there’s always a twat from Chesterfield ?

Highlight of the week is I’m following ( on Twitter not stalking him physically )  a bloke in Sheffield whose posting diary entries from when he was a lot younger back in the 80’s  and a real hard line lefty. His account is @SRSYDiaries so you can follow him too. One entry has him going to the Independent Bookshop and buying a copy of ‘Lenin for Beginners’ has tickled me all week.

I went to Sheffield yesterday for a rare on my own trip out. It was a toss up between the steel city or Manchester and as Sheffield is closer and therefore cheaper to get to this fine city won. The sun was shining and spring was in the air. I had a lovely day. Young people in shops  actually spoke to me and I still can’t work out why. Was it my fashionable beard that I’ve been growing the past few weeks ? Was it that I’d made an effort to smarten myself up in my moleskin jeans, Rab down insulated jacket and Rohan beanie hat or was it that I had my little Panasonic camera slung around my neck ? Or was it all of these things. I like to think at my age I’ve still got a certain style, a little bit of hip and little bit of trend. Although entering the skateboarding shop on Division Street was maybe stretching it a bit far, the two young geezers looked at me like I was about to buy something for the grandchild. I had better response in the Vintage Clothing shop even though I could remember the clothes on the rack the first time they came around, the Sergio Tachini tracksuit tops, the Burberry jackets the Levi jeans. Nevertheless the young lady behind the counter was not only very attractive but friendly, chatty and interested. Don’t worry ! I know there’s nothing looks more pathetic than a fifty something man trying ( and even thinking ) that he can flirt with a good looking young lady. As the wife would say’ “you’re old enough to be her Grandad”.

Understanding a photograph

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A new camera won’t improve my photography. I am under no illusions. A change from an SLR to a Rangefinder might change the way I look at something through the viewfinder. It might even change my approach to the medium but it won’t improve my photography. I’m not saying it can’t be improved upon. Absolutely not. On the contrary. I’m my own worst critic and that’s how it should be. Sometimes I look at my images and……well ? There’s a difference between want and need. I don’t need a new camera. I can manage without one. I just fancy a change, that’s all.

What might improve my photography is my continued attempts to understand the subject by reading around and within it. Books by authors whose capacity to think about things and elucidate their thoughts far better than I can. I’m currently reading Understanding a Photograph – John Berger (he died recently) –  Edited and introduced by Geoff Dyer (he wrote a good book on photography called The Ongoing Moment.

Here’s a paragraph which resonates somewhat with my own thoughts on photography being viewed as fine art and particularly with this continued assessment by those supposed photography experts who seldom get beyond discussing whether a photograph is well composed or not.

“We must rid ourselves of a confusion brought about by continually comparing  photography with the fine arts. Every handbook on photography talks about  composition. The good photograph is the well‐composed one. Yet this is true only in so  far as we think of photographic images imitating painted ones. Painting, is an art of  arrangement: therefore it is reasonable to demand that there is some kind of order in what is arranged. Every  relation between forms in a painting is to some degree adaptable to the painter’s purpose. This is not the case with photography (Unless we  include those absurd studio works in which the photographer arranges every detail of  his subject before he takes the picture). Composition in the profound, formative sense  of the word cannot enter into photography.”

understanding

Over the next few weeks I will be adding my Photography Reading List to a new page on this Blog and I’ll welcome suggestions from readers for more.

Do More – Say Less

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Well a  very hopeful and brave New Year to all my followers and random readers and a special warm welcome to my 300th follower of this blog. Although  I don’t like the term ‘follower’ very much. Jesus had followers and I ain’t no Jesus.

I’ve not been on here for a while. Before Christmas my Laptop Hard Disk crashed. Fortunately, friend, neighbour and computer geek helped me get up and running in a relatively painless manner and saved me some cash in the process. A new hard disk in the same laptop against a brand new laptop at a fraction of the cost. What was disconcerting about the event was that it  brought home to me just how dependent  on having a computer and being attached to the World Wide Web I’ve become. From having to pay bills on line to just being in touch with friends and a multitude of other things.  It’s a dependency I can’t say I’m happy with oh no.

I’ve resisted the urge to do a Review of 2016. I haven’t got that much to say about it that probably hasn’t been said already. Like a lot of people I know, for me personally,  it was a pretty bum year and I’m glad to see the back of it. My father in law passed away at the end of September after an 18 month illness. Much of 2016 was spent helping the family to look after him.That’s him in the above photo which I took back in 2009 for my project on Englishness. He died of what we categorize here in the UK as an “Industrial Disease”. Actually it was Mesothelioma, commonly known as Asbestosis. As a Pattern Maker for the local Iron Foundry he’d worked with asbestos back in the late 70’s early 80’s. Doing a job he loved to provide for his family but a job which eventually would kill him. I’m glad I made the effort to make this image of him and his wife in their back garden, one foot on the path and one foot on the English soil.

On the subject of English soil I didn’t vote for this country to leave Europe. I didn’t believe it was in the nation’s best interests, economically or socially. Certainly not for the majority of us anyway and I’ve not seen anything yet to change my mind. Now the deed has been done and we’re waiting for a soft, hard or semi erect Brexit I hope, very much hope that it will all turn out alright in the end and I’m wrong in my opinion. I suspect we’ll not know for about  30 years by which time I’ll either be gone or too old to give a shit. One of the men to blame will be Nigel Farage and he’ll be long gone too. When Trump won the election Farage went over to congratulate him and have his photo taken with him. Like Trump, Farage is one of those people who abuses anyone who doesn’t agree with him; a political bully.

Meanwhile over in the USA !

What is there to say about Donald Trump that hasn’t already been said ? There’s a part of me that thinks he’ll not actually achieve much, if anything at all. He’ll be the most ineffectual American President in history. He strikes me as a dodgy business man who’ll say anything to anyone in order to sell something. I’d be interested to hear and see him perform in front of an all black American audience in one of the Southern States and compare that to an all Hispanic audience. Might be alright as a business man running your own Companies but quite different as President of the good ole US of A surrounded by lots of intelligent bureaucrats who have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves to delay policies that don’t fit. Here in the UK we have the Civil Service for all that malarkey. You’ve got to laugh at the Democrats though haven’t you. I mean if they didn’t write dodgy emails in the first place then the Russians wouldn’t have found them to leak. Give someone enough rope and eventually they’ll hang themselves which is kinda what I hope will happen to Trump.

So in 2017 I’m very much hoping to curtail my dependency on computers and not worry about all those things like world politics that I can do absolutely nothing about. My New Year’s resolution ? Do More – Say Less.

A brave and hopeful New Year to you all.