Category Archives: Art

Art

Those Damn Flags

Leica Cyclist

There is so little time

Left in Eternity

For our dearest dreams

To reach their climax

So little time

Written November 1968

 

Photography is a passion

Photography is a record

Photography is time

 

Like most photographers, digital happened to me years ago. Digital has exploded photography. Creativity is everywhere. Social media compounds the creative energy.

Taking. Sharing.

And whilst we all still compose and “take” pictures, in so many ways the computer is leading us. It takes skill, even bravery to override the camera’s automatic settings.  The camera beeps and flashes if it is not focused right. Numbers appear, and symbols rotate.

Magic happens behind the view screen.

And it works.

A long time Glastonbury fan, I rely on the Nikon to capture impossible shots, zoomed way out, in lighting so bad. Serendipity plays a part, but the Nikon handles chance with its computerised dice.

The show of the ages

The Stones at Glasto. Everyone’s dream. Mick has been in special training, studying headliners, not wanting to copy U2’s disappointment. 50 years in the business and still at the top. And what a great gig it was!

But, much though I love Mr Eavis, those damn flags just get in the way. So imagine my surprise when a sequence of shots captured the three Micks, perfectly.

Mick Jagger

I was going through the images, comparing and contrasting, looking at the settings used. And then I remembered the very last film camera that I bought.

A Leica. M6. And a couple of lenses.

Time to dig them out of the family squirrel box.

A Noctilux, a lens that can see in the dark. Let’s try it. Where can I get 35mm film? Better yet, didn’t I read somewhere that the digital brother of the M6 can use every lens ever made by Leica? No messing about with new fangled mounts.

You still set the shutter speed by hand. You can’t actually see through the lens. The rangefinder glows bright, and your fingers twiddle and turn. You mess up, and there is no way the camera will rescue your image.

Is it sharp? Isn’t this taking too long? Wouldn’t the Nikon have taken 10 pictures by now?

Contemplating

Well, it works.

The rangefinder forces you to compose, to consider. The manual settings force you to re-learn how light really works.

And you rediscover time.

Time to think. Time to compose. Time to be sure the image is right. Once it’s set up, it also eliminates false precision.  Set the exposure, and leave it. Don’t fiddle.

A trip to Ghent was a good test.

Usually, it’s a bag full of lenses, switching to match the possibilities. I am proud of the kit, and know how to use it. It takes time, of course, but it’s action, movement.

So it’s not a waste. It’s a positive to have such complexity. What happens if we drop all of that?

What happens if we keep it simple?

Let’s try just one lens, and not even a zoom. Let’s try 28mm.

And let’s push it as far as you can. Low light. Low shutter speed, hand held.

Gent

Technically, the Leica M9 has a smaller sensor than the Nikon. Lower megapixels. It has a more restricted ISO range. So grain shouldn’t be handled as well. But the eye is happy with the results, and that’s what counts.

It is true that the D800 takes absolutely stunning images. But never take a Leica to a rock festival and try to shoot from the other side of the field. Never take a Leica to a Formula One event. Yes, by all means capture the driver’s mood, their confidence, and their escorts.

But if you want the racing action, the Nikon wins every time.

Then remember that some of the world’s greatest photographers only ever used a rangefinder, a Leica. They did it on film, and they took their time.

Gent

I can never be Henri, and would never even dream that I could be. His “perfect moment” is etched in the world’s consciousness.

But when you spend a little more time, thinking about the scene, you calm down. Your brain is at work, not the computer. Images are more instinctively about the people, and less about the technology.

You take time to be sure the image is sharp, and that it is well composed.

And time slows down

Gent

It even deals with those damn flags.

Ok, maybe not exactly flags, but the wind blowing the streamers. The man, the piano, the cyclist and the streamers.

With one lens. One setting.

Those damn flags. Captured. Frozen. 

A moment in time.

 

The Painter, the Photographer and the Mobile Phone

Paris

I, The Painter

Mix the colours
of golden apricot
and Spring cabbage

Lay the mixture
on the warmest paper

Create a melee
of contortionate light.

This is the process of painting.

Written July 1970

Painting was where I started all those years ago.

Yet photography has always been close to my heart. I remember getting my first serious camera (a Pentax KX) shortly after leaving University. I was later lucky enough to become a Nikon devotee, and still am.

In 1990′s digital started to appear. The Nikon D1 broke all the rules, and helped to make digital accesible, professional and mainstream.

Now of course it is almost all digital – no messy chemicals, no risks with the film, instant pictures which are infinitely modifiable.

Not just professionals, but all of us now have the ability to fix things later. We do not need to just rely on the moment of capture. Photoshop takes care of that.

“Clone out the weeds, the detritus”.

The Thames

But it’s not just the transformation from film to digits. It’s the transformation in the device we use to capture the image. We have the iPhone to thank for an enormous explosion in photographic creativity. The latest Apple TV Ad notes that there are more pictures taken every day on an iPhone than on any other device. Is that true? I think I can believe it.

Is there a debate any more? You still hear purists saying:

“Mobile is killing serious photography”

“The world has gone LoFi” – not just the music but also the images.

I think that’s nonsense.

It’s still true that some understanding of the basics of photography are essential to creating good images.

Is the subject in focus? Handling the backlight? When to fill-in with flash? What is the rule of thirds? How do you manage depth of field?

It’s not just the camera settings, though. How many filters do you have on your phone?

They might just be simple auto fixes – but then we can grunge things, make them “noir”, pointillist, artistic.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

So the devices have changed. And the way we process has changed.

But perhaps the biggest difference is how we now share images.

Do you post to Facebook? Google? Instagram? Flickr? 500px? EyEm? Oggl? Blipfoto?

Do you post in carefully constructed albums, or for instant sharing?

I remember the mantra of “Good subject, good light and good composition”.

Today, that seems to become questions such as “Share with who, and with which filter”?

Create a melee of contortionate light” I wrote all those years ago. And that’s still true today. The light is constant – that is the artistic given.

But the melee has changed.

The melee is the sharing.

Tulips

Despite this change, behind every good photograph, the purpose of the image is still the central question. What is the photographer trying to portray? What emotion is being elicited? What information is being imparted to the viewer?

Isn’t that still true, when you share to Facebook?

Why are you sharing? What are you sharing? What response do you expect?

This sharing leads to another massive shift – the “instant” critique of the picture. Whatever you upload, there is no going back. No fiddling in the darkroom. The image is there. Public. And it is voted upon.

Is it liked? Loved? Commented upon?

Perhaps as well that Anselm Adams wasn’t subject to such stress.

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All you can ever do is delete the image, and admit defeat. It’s now. Instant, and it’s public.

A kind of social polaroid. Fixed. Frozen. Locked. And either admired or ignored.

So, did digital kill the craft of photography? No, of course not. It simply spawned dozens of new crafts, and made a few unnecessary.

And is mobile killing quality?

No, the wisdom of crowds, and their appreciation or dislike push us to quality.

There has always been snapshots. Fodder for the processing lab. Instagram is home to a lot of rubbish.

But it seems to me that photography has never been creatively more alive

Images of all kinds. All genre. All styles. All in copious quantities.

Shadows

Quality is getting better.

And our discernment of a powerful image has never been better.

Communication

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Communication

talking without words
an instant impression
of time
the constant value
revealing itself
in the depths
of our hearts

Written 1969

It was a week of variety. There was a collection of toilet pods, pink for ladies, blue for men. Fun and funky, and who would have thought that images of toilets could ever look like an alien space ship, recently arrived in the Capital City at Sketch, a Mayfair restaurant..

The image pops out, telling us something new. Communication without words, just like the verse said all of those years ago. Photography is morphing into constant sharing, like a diary of everything we do. No words needed, just the image.

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Before that, an intriguing new hotel called 21C in Cincinnati, a museum concept where business meets art. When the image is of an image, there is a double impact. There are so many things to ponder, and images to share. The artist created the sculpture, and proudly set them in place. The hotel created an ambiance, and a mood, to show them at their best. And the photographer took a view that was unique. Images on images on images. It’s a visual world after all.

On the way home, the plane’s technology worked just fine, and you never will need that life jacket. The transfer from Cincinnati to Boston was easy. Delta’s seats had space and comfort, and the in-flight Wi-Fi helped us all to stay connected. The crew tried hard and smiled throughout.

Images in flight.

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It was pretty on the ground, and the air was clear allowing a few quick pictures. But inside the cabin, subtle things defeated a perfect trip. On a night flight, airlines sometimes offer their business customers a “quick meal”, to cut down eating time and to let them get more sleep. After all, the flight from Boston to London is only around 6 hours, and you loose 4 or 5 hours on the time zone shift overnight. It’s not called a “Red Eye” for nothing.

“Yes sir, I will bring you a quick soup and not the full meal, so then you can sleep”.

Nice promise, but pity it arrives at the same time as everyone’s meal. Just too hard to organise things I assume. But then, why say that it was possible? Words become promises, and promises that aren’t delivered lead to reactions and pain. So which will I remember most about that flight? The fleeting glimpse of the ground 35,000 feet below, which could have been on any flight, almost anywhere. Or the specific disappointment of insufficient sleep?

We’d all accepted a delayed flight, as we couldn’t do much about it, and the airline carefully explained what had happened – so we were all sympathetic. The words worked. Eventually the plane landed smoothly in London, and the pilot was pleased that we offered him our business. Rain welcomed us and an image beckoned of the airport around us.

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Unfortunately the dock wasn’t ready, as though Heathrow had never had a plane arrive before. We all paid intent attention to those essential messages on our smartphones, and even took a picture or two. We all managed to avoid the outside world. Still, a little annoyance about the dock overshadowed things. It wasn’t the words or images. It was the lack of words. Of warning and sympathy. No words could reassure.

Whatever images inspire, if the simple words of communication disappoint, it all falls apart.

Sketch was a very cool restaurant, designed to be a visual treat. Art meets food. The staff was immaculately turned out, and everything was very professional.

Did they need a little too much “push” to change us to a better table? “I won’t comment on that, madam”. So we all moved on.

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The food was excellent, served quickly and with a little panache. Looked and tasted good, too.

The sommelier asked

Would you like a drink, madam? Certainly, madam”.

[Not that I approve of the way you are drinking my wine … but I will try not to let that show on my face].

Of course when he forgot to bring the drink the whole effect was spoilt. Words of apology become words of reaction.

The negative words overtook the positive, if only for a few moments.

Images are so diverse, so strong, and so creative. And there are an infinite number of them. What is this do you think?

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It’s a light at Sketch – abstracted. To the artist, it doesn’t really matter, as the shape and colour is all. But to others, knowing what it is needs words. And if the words disappoint, so does the image.

Great intentions let down with small mistakes. Beautiful images lost because of simple words.

Images can’t cover for words or deeds.

Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.” Peter Drucker

Rose

Rose

Rose

Tall and straight with vestal eye.
Sunset embodied in life eternal,
Golden charm of folded petal.
Coloured scarlet with flaming torch.
Virgin purity of snowy white,
Or rainbow hues of any in nature.

Short and bushy in green confusion.
Often chosen with ecstatic movement,
Showing love, cherished enchantment,
But creature of death to people fallen.
This we ask of a solitary flower
Which we ourselves can never reach.

Written Summer 1967

It’s snowing out there. And, this being the UK, a national disaster is being declared. We read that 11 inches of snow fell on Moscow last night, and almost 200 people have died in that country because of extreme cold. “Snowpocalypse” the Moscow press are calling it.

Yet the M4 gets closed down with an inch of snow. People pretend they can’t get to work, and show themselves in snowball fights on Facebook. And then they wonder why their management get annoyed.

Some years back, I took a picture of a Rose, ignoring the odds and poking its tongue out at the heaviest frost of the year.

It became one of my most viewed images on flickr.

Here’s the original:

 

Rose Original

In 1967 I also wrote a poem about a rose. Looking back, it’s too complex and wordy – but it is a poem of its time. It’s how I felt, and it was of course heavily influenced by the sights, sounds and social upheaval of the “Summer of Love”.

It was the year that the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Who and many other bands tried to out-innovate the Beatles.

Which was an impossible task.

John, Paul, George and Ringo were demonstrating what a “high performance team” is. Extraordinary achievements followed with quickening momentum, and every member of the band contributed in a unique way – the smoke and the acid flowed like water untroubled by small pebbles. They were leaving the others behind.

“High Performance Team: A small group of people so committed to something larger than themselves that they will not be denied”

Katzenbach, J and Smith, D (1993), The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the high-performance organization.

I am a Walrus”, sang the man in that high-performance team.

“Sitting in an english garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don’t come, you get a tan
From standing in the english rain.
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen.
I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob goo goo g’joob”.

Was the Rose sitting in the garden, waiting for the sun?  Or was the Rose in a team with the rain?

The Rose was both part of the whole and yet totally alone.

The picture doesn’t work without the background, and the Rose could not survive without the help of the sun, piercing the frost. Yet the Rose was standing tall, doing what it does best. It was not just surviving – it prospered.

And it made the garden and its world a happier place.

By being together alone.

“We could feel alone when we were together, alone against the others”.

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Jump .. Home

Jump

Jump .. Home

Jump once Jump twice Jump thrice
And we feel the life that there is around us
within us beside us and beyond us.

Jump once
And there is another jump with another beyond that.
Jump twice and there is no jump
Just a distant measure of success
Jump thrice and the smile disappears
Because the jumper has lost his beat
Jump once Jump twice Jump thrice
And the works becomes clear by comparison.

Written 1998

 

Home is where you came from. Home is where the family is. Home is where you work.

Home is where you are.

Where is that, exactly?

“Runaway Train” was a favourite song. Cool video too. But was years later that the meaning became clear, explained first hand by someone who did it. Someone who left home to find home. Someone who believed that actions not ideas were the key.

Home is not an idea. It’s an action.

Well, let’s recall the pediatrician story. Some time ago, a new expat family were asked how they would know if they were well settled in their new assignment.

“When your toddler has a problem, who will you call? Will you go to the local doctor, first, and ask for advice? Or will you call the pediatrician “back home”?

Call the local, it means you are home. Call the pediatrician, it means you aren’t home”

It’s the test of being home. Where is your doctor? Who do you trust?

Home. The place we feel safe. The place we go back to. Where we hide, and where we celebrate. We all have somewhere like that. Even travellers have the caravan, embedded in their group.

Home is where the way of life fits living the way you want to.

Jump home then.

The ugly Expat was having a beer by the pool, his pretty companion happily munching on nasi. She lounges with a certain style, practised and without conscience. The sun covers everything like a cloak of anonymity, baking everyone with its constant stare. Well trained staff walk backwards and forwards, offering ice but little consolation. He looks across the pool.

Is he thinking of home? Perhaps more to the point, where are her thoughts? She is a long way from home. Or maybe she is home. Who knows.

A young Japanese mother, daintily dressed in black, was also by the pool. She plays with her toddler. Careful to avoid the sun, and equally careful not to smile. Snacks arrive. Cold drinks refresh. Other mothers watch, yet they seem lost in their own dreams without truly seeing. The toddler is oblivious.

Home.

It’s raining at home. It usually does. The day you need the Sun it plays a peeking game.

The police car sat on the bypass, keeping watch lest laws get broken. At the Queens, the likely lads enjoy an illegal Scotch, hidden deep inside a creamy coffee. Scarves at a nautical angle, the afternoon will be spent playing snooker and giggling at music magazines.

Trying to be mod, failing to be hippie, ignoring the pervasive scent of hops and barley. And still hoping to have an amorous evening in the meadows.

Home it was.

Safe, comfortable even as wonders needed to be explored and worlds waited to be changed. Yet it was a place to leave, to put into the perspective of experience and never to repeat. But oh, the stories that it led to. The myths it created.

“Sing out if you want anything” said the Purser, knowing that the acquaintance was brief and the impression immense. Darkness enveloped the flight, with everyone doing their best to turn away. Too late now.

A single cube made it all right. Sleep now.

Home is where you stop, and this bird isn’t it. The infamous second night. But the bird is known, like so many others. It starts here, goes there, and does so with a cosy sequence.

Home used to be 2K. And it still is. But rarely.

Let’s catch some fish – coral trout, spangled emperor, Spanish mackerel and have a barbie. Family from all over, fishing, cooking, eating. And smiling. Don’t forget the smiling. They come together both through tragedy and the start of new lives. They are together because the chose to be. And home is wherever they are, as family.

Jump. Jump all over.

It was home, overlooking the South China Sea. No skyscrapers in sight so it couldn’t have been real. The big boss visited, inspecting the kingdom. Drinks flowed, and cautious small talk from the dozens present. “Would you like peanuts?” asked the 3 year old of the big boss. “Of course, thank you” he replied. He was handed exactly one peanut. Maybe for the first time in his life. One peanut. But it was the 3 year old that was home, not him. Her peanuts after all.

Spiritual home. What an old-fashioned concept, never recognised in an election. Is it a collectivist or individualist place. It’s neither. If individual, how can you be attached to others in some big whole? And, if collectivist, what does it mean to your soul?

So, “where is home”?

Home is where your spirit is. On the grass, by the pool, at work or in love. It’s everywhere and nowhere. It’s now yet, yet also was then. One thing is for sure, though. It will be there tomorrow.

Jump there. Once, twice or thrice.

Home will be right there.