A Visit to the Barber

This isn’t about getting my hair cut, though my pre-Christmas trim is starting to get unruly. No, this article is about a quick trip I made to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts between Christmas and New Year.

As I said in my previous article, my intention is to make it to more exhibitions this year, but I’m not making this exclusive to photography. Any decent photographer will tell you they draw inspiration from other forms of art; notably painting, though sculpture and other art forms can also inspire. And so what if I’m just a humble corporate photographer? It’s incredibly useful to refresh my understanding of light and its effect on the emphasis of a portrait or scene. Plus, I love art.

If you’re not familiar with the Barber, it’s located within the campus complex of Birmingham University. The building itself, in particular the interior, is a splendour of Art Deco marble, brass and wonderfulness and well worth a visit in its own right, but within the collection you can view, free of charge (we made a donation), works of art by the likes of Manet, Turner, Monet, Picasso and many more. I highly recommend it.

When visiting galleries, I tend to avoid taking photos within the gallery space, even where it is allowed. I’m there to observe, enjoy and learn, not interpret or, more crucially, get in other people’s way. The photo you see here is of a light shining through the window in a door to one of the institute’s lecture theatres, which I took before entering the gallery space. So on this visit I sated my urge to click the shutter, without breaking my personal rule.

I’m not sure when I’ll next get to any kind of gallery, perhaps the Martin Par Foundation for a dose of photography, but I hope to get back to the Barber to really soak up some of what I saw last time. Don’t you find it takes a few trips to really understand a large collection?

Niall on a par with Parr

It isn’t often I get to see the launch of a new photographic exhibition. I either seem to be working, or have other family commitments, or it’s too far away, but yesterday evening was a real treat as it brought together two very excellent photographic forces in one space and time.

Niall McDiarmid’s Town to Town exhibition launched at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, and this was too good an opportunity to miss and I’m glad I didn’t.

First of all there’s the Foundation itself. There are highly regarded photographers who have achieved great success without necessarily putting anything back into the profession. Of course this isn’t a prerequisite of success, but it’s wonderful when someone of Martin Parr’s renown decides to set up a foundation and an exhibition space dedicated to photography which includes facilities for research, teaching and more importantly the patronage of photographers who don’t get the exposure they deserve.

All these principles are at the heart of what the Martin Parr Foundation is about, and this is such a rare thing in the world of photography that it can only be a force for good. That it’s in Bristol rather than the capital (Parr lives in Bristol and clearly loves the city) is an added bonus as London is already well-served with gallery space.

Town to Town is drawn from many years’ work by Niall, who has travelled the UK in search of the diversity and colour which makes up our society today. You can read more about the exhibition and Niall’s work here, but it’s clear from seeing this work that in an era when documentary photography often struggles for an outlet and recognition, it’s incredibly important that our society is documented.

We all live in our social bubbles, online and in real life, and seeing such colour and diversity reminds us that other people live lives which may be different to our own, but with many of the same hopes and dreams which we carry too.

If you do manage to get along to the exhibition (entry is free and it’s easy access from Bristol Temple Meads station) you’ll be rewarded with an astonishing array of characters all captured with Niall’s subtle eye for colour and detail. There’s a definite formula to his photos but the uniform approach, broken only occasionally, simply reinforces the fact (to me at least) that all our differences are what make us all so similar.

Oh and it was a delight to see Martin Parr there (he doesn’t know me, but I did a cross-the-room man greeting* and he responded in the universally accepted way**), and I also managed a quick word with Niall who is just such a humble being and deserves a great deal of recognition for his work. And before anyone says it, no he’s not the new Martin Parr; he is Niall McDiarmid.

*A mimed “alright?” with a nod and a smile. When walking around Frome, this is a common greeting between males who don’t know each other.

** A mimed “yup” or similar with corresponding nod and smile as above.

Inspired By Inertia

Having no scheduled shoots this morning I decided to process the two films I shot yesterday evening for my Saxonvale project (it’s a long term project which I’ve been posting on Instagram as @takeagander).

So there I was, up to my elbows in my dark bag, wrestling (circa 30-year-old East German black and white) ORWO 120 films onto processing reels when I heard a knock at the front door. I knew exactly who and what it was, but couldn’t risk fogging my film to go and answer the door.

Thankfully our post lady didn’t just push a “we tried to deliver” card through the door, instead she found a safe place to stow the package and told me on the card where it was.

I was also grateful that the films loaded remarkably easily (very old 120 film tends to resist being unfurled), so as soon as they were safely in the developing tank I retrieved the package.

It was a book I’d been looking forward to receiving for some months, J.A (Jim) Mortram’s Small Town Inertia.

The book is a searingly poignant collection of black and white images and testimonies detailing the daily struggles of people in the small Norfolk town where Jim lives.

Unapologetically political, very anti-Tory, anti-globalisation and definitely anti-austerity, Jim’s book documents his subjects in a way which brings home in the starkest possible terms the effects of unemployment, mental and physical illness and addiction under successive governments which have sought to sideline these issues in favour of a market economy unfettered by the constraints of conscience.

It is to some extent due to my awareness of Jim’s work that I have sought to spend more of my time on documentary and working in traditional film. The Faces of Routes project, though shot digitally, would almost certainly not have happened if I hadn’t had my social conscience re-awakened by seeing images from the Small Town Inertia project a year or two ago.

Of course my work is very different to Jim’s and nowhere near as comprehensive (or, of course, as good). Jim has been deeply involved in the lives of his subjects, often helping them with bureaucratic paperwork or just daily tasks, and this shows in the photos.

However, even though my projects tend to be more random, less overtly political and involve being less embedded with my subjects, I will continue to be inspired by the work of J.A Mortram and others like him.

To which end, I’d better get this morning’s negatives scanned and added to my own personal project. It’s all very well to be moved and inspired, but if I’m to genuinely honour the work of others, there is no better way than to keep on pursuing my own.

If you would like your own copy of Small Town Inertia you can buy it here. Visit Jim Mortram’s website here.

Get With The Union

A couple of years ago I mentioned Union magazine in a blog post about how I need to feed my creative soul with things like magazines, Huck being another good example.

Union was started by a small group of individuals including photographer James Cheadle who I first met way back in the early 1990s when he was a darkroom technician at The Bath Chronicle and I was a freelance photographer in the throes of training for my certificate in newspaper photography.

In the intervening years James and I have met on very occasional jobs, but we only kept vaguely in touch. But when I saw he’d launched a magazine, I had to take a look.

I’ve supported the magazine from the start and am the proud owner of all four copies so far published. If I’m not careful I’ll have to build a glass-fronted teak display case with internal illumination to store my burgeoning library, but for now the copies I have will reside in my MFI bedside cabinet.

The magazine is a good read and very much photography led, touching on the quirkier corners of society; girl bikers, religious cult members, gang members and a few more bikers. James’ interest in motorbikes and those who ride them certainly shines through, and while I’m not a particular fan of bikes I really enjoy reading the stories and seeing the biker culture represented insightful, engaging photography.

Always a pleasure too is the added bonus of receiving some Union stickers and even occasionally some defunct, but weirdly fresh, foreign currency.

Union magazine won’t be to everyones’ tastes, and since its first edition some design and typology issues have needed to be worked out, but issue 4 is looking fantastic and I’m really looking forward to reading it. I wish James and the team the absolute best of luck with a magazine which deserves success in a market dominated by the big publishers churning out cookie-cutter, vanilla publications.

Up with the UNION!

This Hamster Needs Feeding

Perhaps one of the toughest aspects of making a profession out of photography is that of maintaining inspiration. I love what I do, and I love working with businesses to create the images they need for their projects. Sometimes it can seem a little formulaic and routine, such as when I’m shooting 30 executive headshots in a board room, but even then I enjoy meeting all the different people, having a chat and laugh with them, relaxing them into their photo session while simultaneously ensuring the results are top notch. I never tire of this.

Other times I get to work on projects with which I can get more creative – just look back through my recent posts and case studies to get a flavour of the kinds of jobs I’m talking about, but inspiration for everything I do has to come from somewhere and I’ve become increasingly aware that over the last few years I’ve been neglecting to feed my creative soul.

Back when I worked on newspapers I would take inspiration from colleagues and competitors. I would see their work every day, and it would spur me on. Now that I tend to work in isolation, this source is a little dry.

My personal projects help feed into, inform and inspire me for my paid assignments, but even these require some kind of external input or I’ll find myself running like a hamster in a wheel, feet going like crazy, but not actually getting anywhere new in a creative sense.

I’ve started to address this issue. I’ve realised that while I do spend time looking at images online, following favoured Instagram accounts and the twitter feeds of some really incredible photographers, I also need to see printed photography, which forces you to sit and consider rather than just flicking to the next image as one tends to do online. Plus it’s an edited source, rather than the constant rush of throwaway pics in which the good stuff tends to get buried.

So when I saw that Huck magazine (whose twitter feed I follow and enjoy) were bringing out a special edition, I bought it. Packed with inspirational people in all kinds of fields, all photographed differently by a wide variety of photographers, as much as anything it was the pleasure of seeing photographs in print again (and sniffing the printed page… you know what I mean) which has helped wake my creative soul again.

Likewise when I saw that an old photographer friend of mine, James Cheadle, was working on a new magazine, I had to get my hands on a copy.

Like Huck, James’ magazine, Union, is a stylish, high-quality publication beautifully printed (mmmm smell the print!). Where the Huck Special Edition profiles different creative people and entrepreneurs, Union consists of fascinating photojournalistic articles about gangs, drugs, tribes, religions, bikers… the list goes on. It’s a hell of an undertaking and I really hope it thrives because there seem to be so few outlets for this style of photojournalism in mainstream newspapers and magazines.

So now to the next step. I have to take the inspiration I get from the likes of Huck and Union and start applying it to my own work again and stop being the hamster in the wheel. I’m taking the time to get off the wheel, and fill my cheeks with yummy inspiration.

My 2014 In Pictures

This, dear reader, is the last post of 2014 and as such it’s become something of a tradition for me to do an annual roundup of images, choosing one for each month of the year as it comes to a juddering halt.

The middle of this year was rather dominated with work for University of Bath as I stepped in while their staff photographer recovered from a cycling accident, and while I could have filled more months with student profiles and university events I’ve tried to keep it more varied than that.

I hope you enjoy this year’s selection. It just remains for me to thank all my clients for their custom and support over the year and to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Tim

Rotating milking parlour on a dairy in Wiltshire

January – Rotating milking parlour in Wiltshire for an article on the benefits of mechanised dairies

Jolly's of Bath store assistant Josh Gottschling in Revolutions Bar in Bath

February – Portrait of Jolly’s of Bath staff member Josh Gottschling in his favourite bar for an in-house magazine article

Nigel Lawson talking to an audience at University of Bath

March – Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson addresses an audience at University of Bath on issues surrounding renewable energy – he’s not a fan of it

Two silhouetted faces in profile talking with Future Everything Festival signage displayed between them

April – The Future Everything Festival in Manchester for client Digital Connected Economy Catapult

 

Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

May – Mechanical Engineering student Robert Ford of University of Bath works on his design for a vertical climbing robot

Student  Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

June – Student Noel Kwan poses for the Humanities and Social Sciences prospectus for University of Bath

Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

July – Hundreds of new University of Bath graduates spill from Bath Abbey to be greeted by friends and family members

A street at dusk in the historic part of Hall in Tirol

August – Finally, a holiday in Austria and I get to take pretty pictures of picturesque streets

Business portrait of Andy Harriss

September – Andy Harris of Rookery Software Ltd is a man every bit as interesting as his hair

Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco's store in Salisbury

October – Eight-year-old Scout Adam Henderson concentrates on packing customer bags for charity at Tesco’s store in Salisbury

Chef John Melican stands at a farm gate with the sign PLEASE SHUT GATE nailed to it

November – A fresh portrait for chef John Melican’s new Melican’s Events website

Yarn-bombed tree in Melksham, Wiltshire

December – On the way back to the car from a job in Melksham I couldn’t resist a shot of this yarn-bombed tree in the December sunshine

 

 

 

New Reviews News

It’s been a bit of a shame that lately I’ve been so busy taking pictures I’ve barely had time to blog, yet I have so few photos I can post here from these crazy times as I’m bound by client exclusivity. Hopefully there will be some interesting case studies I can post as the brochures, banners and web publications I’ve been shooting for come to be published.

One thing I can tell you about actually consists of three things, that is to say three other articles I’ve recently written over on my PhotoEspresso blog.

SanDisk memory card and Hähnel battery arrive from Clifton Cameras in Bristol for review

A memory card and a very orange camera battery were included in my review

The articles came about as a result of an approach from Clifton Cameras in Bristol asking if I’d be interested in reviewing their website in return for a couple of items I could purchase and have refunded, thereby gaining the user’s experience of the site. A sort of sponsored post if you like.

In the event I turned it into three posts because the items I received are worth reviewing and discussing on a photography help site and because it’s always useful to have fresh things to write about for that blog, which has a different purpose to my main one here.

Anyway, I ordered the items – a memory card and a camera battery, wrote a review for each and I’ve just published the Clifton Cameras website review. The whole exercise has been useful and enjoyable. It would be good to build up the paid blogging part of what I do, so if anyone out there knows anyone looking for someone to write honest reviews, critiques or general photography-related articles, send them my way!

In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye on which assignments I can feature here as they become available. Stay tuned!

A few tips for Michael Middleton

Maybe this is my silly season, but I can’t help thinking there must be something more important for me to write about than the first official photographs of Prince George. If there is, it’ll have to wait because for some reason I can’t let these images pass without comment.

Of course I’m not alone. There has been quite a bit of justifiable criticism of the photos which were taken by Kate’s father.

I’m not a fan of the stagey Royal shots which are often presented to us, all glitz and kitsch,  and I can understand why the Royals are trying to be more “of the people”, but I can’t help feeling Michael Middleton isn’t familiar enough with his camera or photography in general to pull this off convincingly. It takes a reasonable amount of skill to make an un-staged photo still look like a good photo.

In a spirit of generosity, I’ll give Mr Middleton a few pointers for the next time he has to take a family group, or George’s sibling is born and official photos are required again (apart from finding a decent photographer, for which I’d charge only a reasonable fee and expenses).

kate and william official baby photo

  1. The sun being behind the group, the lawn and other landscape features in the background have become washed out. Not always a problem, but it doesn’t work in this context. Bleached-out skies aren’t attractive.
  2. Tied in with 1, the camera sensor can’t cope with the deep shadow in Kate and William’s faces. They too look washy and lack detail, this time by being too dark. The problem is probably made worse by using a cheap lens. It would take a fair bit of Photoshop fiddling to rescue the details. A better option would have been a reflector or flash. Nothing fancy, just a small flash would have helped balance up the contrast between faces and background and brought out more detail.
  3. An ugly splash of light on William’s head. Moving the couple into a shadier area, or turning them would have helped 1 and 2 and avoided ugly highlights like this one.
  4. I only know that’s a dog because I’ve read the caption. It looks like an abandoned rug and adds nothing to the photo.
  5. The baby, perhaps the most critical element of the photo, takes up less of the photo than 6, a dog. The main purpose of the photo is the baby, but he’s lost here in a sea of distractions.
  6. A black dog, unlit, with its tongue lolling out. Just another distraction.
  7. I could have put this number in so many places on the photo – there is so much wasted space. Take out the dogs, turn the camera vertical and focus in on parents and baby. A bit of garden in the background to give some context and location and the job’s a good un.

Well even if Michael Middleton ignores my advice, you’re welcome to use it next time you need to take an “official” photo of your family.

Xcellent20

Once again I’m too swamped with work to write a full blog article. Luckily for you, an article I wrote for Wex Photographic about the rather super Fuji X20 has just been published, which is also lucky for me as it gets me off the hook for another week. I’m away next week too, so I may have to give it a rest until the week after.

In the meantime, do please read and share the Wex article with all your best friends! They’ll thank you for it I’m sure. Thank you for your patience, here’s one of the photos from the review as a reward.

Photo taken in Bath using the Fuji X20 camera

I’ve enjoyed shooting in black and white with the X20

pix improves

Back in July 2012 I stumbled across something called pix magazine and was so taken aback by it’s absurd fixation on girlie accessories for female photographers, other wise known as photographers, that I felt compelled to lay into it.

My problem with that edition of the magazine was its focus on pretty fripperies like flowery camera straps, pretty shoes and make-up and seemed to be written from the point of view of people who really didn’t have a clue what photography is beyond an excuse to buy pretty things. For a photographic magazine aimed at women photographer it featured very few photographers talking about their work or giving guidance on how to break into a male-dominated industry.

When the Spring 2013 issue dropped into my inbox I took another look. I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised with the transformation. This time around there is more focus on working photographers. This edition focusses on travel photography, so there’s plenty of scope for pretty pictures and they are present in abundance.

Cover of pix magazine

The latest edition of pix magazine. Big improvement!

The copy is still fairly light and a little fluffy for my tastes; photographers talking about capturing emotions and moments is something of a cliché and I still wish there was a magazine out there for people (of either gender) wanting to know more about the stories behind photographers who’ve made a success of their work. It would be nice to know the stories of photographers who have failed once or twice so we could all learn from their experiences. Stories of photographers who “love to capture the moment” aren’t really that interesting.

There are still articles on buying groovy kit, but then I suppose a magazine has to attract advertisers if it is to survive. I remember when I was much younger a magazine entitled PIC (People In Camera) which was interesting because it interviewed photographers in depth and pix could do more of that and still talk about accessories.

Credit where credit is due though, a change of editor has worked wonders and it would be good to see this direction pursued further. It might even become something I would spend time reading for the sake of a good read, rather than for the sake of a good blog article.