Post Apocalyptic?

Yesterday I was nominated by my friend and office colleague David to take part in a Facebook seven-day black and white photo posting challenge. A personal photo each day, no people, no caption or explanation and I’m meant to nominate someone else each day.

Now much as I love David, he knows I’m not a massive fan of this kind of thing, but he’s a big fan of my photography so couldn’t resist just to see how I’d handle it. He also likes to watch me squirm, so that’s two excellent reasons for him to nominate me.

You might wonder why I’m not a big fan of this kind of thing then. Well, since you’ve made the mistake of asking, I’ll tell you.

I’ve been on Facebook for, oh I dunno, many years. Twitter and Instagram too. Over the years I’ve posted pictures I’m very proud of and some junk I probably should have left on my hard drive or in my head. Of late I’ve been working to get my feeds looking more consistent in quality, more coherent in style and less scattered with random junk. This kind of posting challenge may not help.

Therefore I’ll have to be careful that what I post adheres to qualities I can be proud of. Tough to do every single day. But that isn’t the only reason – When I post pictures online I’m aware there is a trade-off happening; I’m exposing my work to a wider audience, getting more eyeballs on my pictures and helping my search engine optimisation, while the social media platforms are benefitting from a constant supply of free content and data they can mine, monetise and aggregate for future, as yet un-defined purposes.

Perhaps I’m being too conspiracy-theorist about this, but here’s a final point to consider; I’m meant to nominate one person every day of the challenge. That’s seven people over seven days (and even I remember from my school times tables terrors, that comes to 49). Each of those 49 people is meant to nominate 7 people, so that’s 343. 343 x 49 = 16,807. You get the idea, if nobody drops the chain we’re quickly into millions of people posting more millions of photos (I tried to work it out, my brain melted).

So mana for Facebook as it keeps people going back to their pages, interacting and laying rich soil for the advertisers who pay Facebook to display their wares in our feeds. We’re all working to feed it like we’re being paid, feeling guilty if we don’t, and so it goes on.

Thankfully we’re not all robot slaves. I was the only person David nominated during his 7 days. My wife got nominated, made it to day 4 and then forgot to continue. There is hope for the human race when we don’t follow the peer pressure and the made-up rules.

So my plan is to post a photo each day, only nominate if I can think of someone who would like to be nominated and I’ll state here that I won’t be accepting future nominations for this kind of thing. If it’s a nomination to be King of the World, I might accept that, but not another photo challenge please.

Impressions of London

The other week my son Joe and I took a day trip to London. We try to make it each year, normally in Summer, but this year was a little later than normal.

Apart from the tradition of the trip, Joe also had some pictures to take for his college photography course. So naturally I took a film camera to capture some of my own impressions and just to have a play with more film.

Joe’s work took precedence, so I did only get around to shooting one roll of Kodak Tri-X which, because it was a dismal day, I rated at 800iso.

Here are the results, with special thanks to Brick Lane’s finest leafleteer Charlie Kloos for posing while I messed about with a Pentax lens from the 1960s, which was a little tricky to focus as the evening light started to fail.

 

Expired Film Teaches Me A Lesson

I’m meant to use this blog to talk about nothing but corporate photography, hitting those all-important keywords, shoehorning them into sentences until Google says “I get it, you’re a corporate photographer shooting portraits and other corporate communications images for businesses who care about the quality of their image and the values it conveys, so we’ll put you at the top of the listings whenever we think you’re what the client is looking for.”

Thanks Google, you’re doing a grand job and I should apologise that I don’t always make it easy for you by writing instead about magazines I like, exhibitions I’ve launched (actually, singular exhibition, but hey I’ll keep working on that), or my return to shooting film as a way of working out new ideas and pursuing my passion for telling the stories of ordinary people.

And this week I’m not making it any easier as once again I’m on the subject of film.

My return to film has been a bit stop/start but it continues. More recently I’ve been working with expired film, that is stock which is well past its use-by date. Yes, film has a use-by date because the light-sensitive chemicals which react to light start to break down.

However, I managed to source a large, mixed bag of film; 35mm, medium format, colour and black and white and I’ve been working my way through it with various trial projects and one project which has been fairly fruitful, that of a series of photos documenting the derelict site in Frome known as Saxonvale.

Saxonvale is an area of the town which has been left partially cleared for many years now while the various landowners and interested parties take their time working out how to make the most money from its redevelopment. You might say I’ve used derelict film to record a derelict site, recording not just the waste discarded there, but also sometimes the people who pass through or visit for their own reasons.

Some of the film stock I’ve used has been in such a poor state it barely rendered an image. One trip was wasted because the film was so utterly degraded it was blank when I processed it. All part of the project and a useful reminder to me that the film is the boss on this one.

In due course I’ll be updating my main website with some of these images, but in the meantime here’s a mini gallery to give you a flavour of the Saxonvale project. If you want to see more of it and some of the other film images I’ve shot lately, head over to my Instagram account where you’ll find me as @takeagander.

My Latest Camera

Regular clients will be delighted to learn I haven’t stopped investing in camera equipment, though they may be surprised that my latest Canon purchase cost me exactly two whole British Pounds. Yes, £2.00.

On Sunday I paid a visit to the Frome Wessex Camera Fair at the Cheese and Grain venue (where The Foo Fighters recently and very famously played a surprise gig).

There were no superstars on this occasion, but the entry fee was a mere £3.00 which I happily paid. So let’s pretend a portion of that should be considered part of the cost of the camera, but since I also bought a cable release (£3.00) and a handheld light meter (£4.00), at worst the camera cost me £3.00.

My reason for this particular purchase, a Canon Sureshot Supreme, is that this was a camera which came out in the 1980s when I was working at London Camera Exchange in Bath. It caused quite a stir at the time for its modern styling and fast, accurate automation of focus and exposure settings. There was a huge advertising campaign behind it, and though it wasn’t a budget model of its day, retailing as it did at around £120, we sold bucket loads of them.

I spotted this particular one on a table at the fair, but when I looked at it more closely I thought it might be dead (the battery level showed good, but the shutter wasn’t firing). So I negotiated £2.00 for it, took it home, popped a fresh battery in and BINGO! it worked. Clearly the battery level indicator is a die-hard optimist.

So then I thought, what can I do with this? Would it be possible to shoot a set of pictures which might present an interesting project? Does the camera actually work as a photographic tool, or might some part of the electronics or optical system be so old as to be non-functioning? Only one way to find out.

Loaded with a roll of Kodak Tri-X black and white film and with the help of my son Joe and his friends, I set about making a series of portraits that I hoped would make a mini series on skaters and their boards – battle scars and all (the boards more than the skaters).

I tried using the built-in flash in the outdoor setting to see what effect I could conjure with that, but it was pretty horrible, so I went with the daylight-only images in my selection.

My verdict on the camera is it’s not the sharpest lens in the world, but the exposure is good and the overall effect is quite interesting. Not bad for a 30-year-old pocket camera, the current value of which is quadrupled by the loading of a roll of film and a fresh battery.

The result is a series of portraits of these young lads, each standing confidently as teenage boys do with their skateboards acting as shields – to be fair, I asked them to bring the boards up into the frame. But each has their own way of confronting the lens. A couple look away, one would only be photographed blindfolded with his bandana, but I love the unexpected in a photo and if someone chooses to hide their eyes, avert their gaze, or perform some other unexpected motion which reveals something about them, I’m happy to include this as it says more than a straight portrait.

Whatever I like or don’t about these pictures, your opinion is more important and if you’ve a mind to, I’d love to hear what you see in these pictures.

Whether I’ll shoot much on the Sureshot, or just keep it as a museum piece, I’ve yet to decide, but heck, for £2.00 and a roll of film it’s been an interesting exercise.

Thank you to Finlay, Ben, Christy, Joe, Toby and Danni for your help. It probably seemed a peculiar request on the day, but I hope you like the results.

 

 

Adventures in Film: Canada

You know if you’re going to travel to Nova Scotia in Fall the trees will be spectacularly colourful. So when I went over a couple of weekends ago for the wedding of a couple of friends, I chose to take black and white film.

Let’s be honest, if you want to see great pictures of anything, anywhere, taken at any time of year, you may as well look online. I chose to take my old film camera and some rolls of black and white film so that I would avoid clichés like the plague (nice cliché).

For the most part I took pictures of the friends there, and some new friends I made, but the shot I wanted to share this week is of Cape Split, the very tip of a spit of land which when viewed on a map resembles the swept-back ears of a racing hare. From this point you can look across the Bay of Fundy and at certain times of day you’ll see the colliding tide swirling around the isolated rocks which jut up from the sea off the end of the spit.

My photo can’t compete with an Ansel Adams masterpiece, but the use of grainy, black and white film on such a dramatic, craggy subject adds I think a certain extra texture to what could have been just another tourist shot.

My adventures in film will continue, but as a side-project to my main work. I’m finding it invigorating and exciting to recall old techniques and try new tricks and tweaks and I’m sure it’s refreshing how I approach my corporate work too, but I’ll probably be keeping it under wraps a bit more until it evolves into something more like a coherent body of work.

Black and white view of Cape Split, Nova Scotia, Canada looking over the Bay of Fundy.

Cape Split, Nova Scotia, Canada

First Film Results!

Last week I told you about my new adventures in black and white film photography, well here’s a selection of the results. I need to work on my digitisation process a bit more because of course this is all still a bit trial and error.

I’ve owned a scanner in the past, but the results were never more than “ok” in spite of it being quite a high-end Nikon machine, so I’m using a digital camera and a copy box which I constructed myself.

As much as possible I want to preserve the beauty of the negatives (and they are quite lovely) and while this might only be truly possible by making direct prints from them, that’s not so practical when it comes to showing them on my blog.

But away with all this technical talk, what about the subjects of the photos?

There’s the shopfitter in Bath who didn’t mind me taking a few frames while he was on his cigarette break, but wasn’t going to pose. That’s ok, I just wanted an interesting face and some half-decent light for my test photos. He was the perfect candidate.

Then, back in Frome, I met Bad Rasta who travels the country selling balloons and novelty toys at carnivals. He was on a break before the start of the evening carnival in the town and was great fun to chat to and was very happy to pose for me with his van and balloons.

Finally Geoff, a Frome local who I met while wandering around the funfair in Frome. Full of interesting reminiscences, a face full of character, and a pig skin jacket that belonged to his father.

There are more photos of course, but some were just tests to check the camera metering and to see how the Kodak Tri-X film would handle different lighting situations. I wanted to make sure I had a few engaging portraits to share.

Of course the question has to be is this worth all the effort and expense? And of course the answer is yes. Ok, I could have taken these photos digitally with better technical quality for web, but these negatives would print beautifully well, and even if I never get the pleasure of doing that, it does give me satisfaction.

There is also the fact that knowing how to do this improves my work as a digital photographer. I’ve always firmly believed that having a background in processing and printing my own film work back when I started has always been a big advantage over photographers who didn’t get that grounding. So to continue it now is helping me keep in touch with the basics.

And besides all that, getting out and about to discover personal stories and just talking to people I wouldn’t otherwise get to photograph makes the whole exercise utterly, utterly worth it.

Back to Black (and white)

For the past 16 years I’ve shot exclusively digital images for my clients which is brilliant for client work.

Deadlines have reached a stage where pictures are sometimes needed for social media even before an event has finished, and even for more polished work the turnaround required often needs to be pretty rapid. It’s also fair to say that on a purely technical level, digital has matched or exceeded that which was ever possible with film.

And of course I can do so much more with digital than I ever could with film, but whatever my medium I work hard to keep things “honest”. I don’t use filters or add grain to my digital images. My style is in the lighting, composition and final presentation of my work. Anything else risks dishonesty in my view, and even when I’ve shot digital and converted to black and white, it’s not the same as shooting a black and white original.

Ah, but film. I spent the first 13 years of my career shooting film; the first couple of years shooting only black and white. In recent years I’ve had a real itch to get back to film one way or another. I doubt I will ever have another client request that I shoot film, though I’d be delighted if the opportunity arose, so it has to be a self-motivated project.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago I could take it no more. I started to research what I needed. I still had my old film processing tanks, measures, thermometer and bits and pieces, so just needed film and chemicals to get started again.

To be fair, it had been so long that I had to remind myself of exactly what was required – vague memories of Ilford ID-11, stop bath, fixer were all very well, but I needed to refresh my memory of the specifics. As an initial competency test I found an out-of-date roll of colour film that had been languishing in the back of my fridge which I sacrificed to practicing loading film onto a spool in the dark bag. It all came back like I’d never stopped, so that was a good start.

Of course film is no good without a camera. I still have my Canon EOS 1N which must be 20 years old, but works with all my current lenses so I dusted that off, popped a new battery in and it still works perfectly. I confess I spent a while lusting over old Nikon and Leica mechanical SLR cameras on eBay, but collectors have turned these into objects of fetish obsession and the prices are ridiculous for anything which hasn’t been dropped in salt water or run over by a bus.

The EOS 1N isn’t a “refined” camera, but it’s solid and dependable and I could spend £450.00 on an old, mechanical Nikon (not including a lens) or replace mine (if it ever dies) for about £90.00 because it doesn’t look cool and retro enough for collectors to lust after it.

Now this is the point at which I’m going to tease you to death because I have already shot and processed my first two rolls of Kodak Tri-X film, but they’re not yet digitised (oh the irony) for display here. Looking at them on my old Cabin light panel they look pretty damn lovely. Film really does have something digital lacks; the difference is greater than that between vinyl and mp3s in the music world and it’s just a shame that short of mounting an exhibition there’s no getting away from digital if I want anyone to see the photos. I guess I’ll just have to mount an exhibition then.

Seriously though, in an ideal world I would get myself into a darkroom with a Durst enlarger with a Schneider Kreuznach lens and make beautiful prints on fibre-based paper, but if I can manage that ever at all it’s unlikely to be in the next few weeks. In the meantime I’m working out a system for achieving the best possible digital versions of the negatives.

When that’s done, I’ll definitely update you with images here. I honestly can’t wait. It’ll be interesting to see if the conversion to digital retains any of the character of the film. I do hope so!

Experiment Time!

Last weekend I had a sudden urge. I dug out my old film camera, found a roll of Fuji film in the fridge (three years out of date, but what the heck) and headed out into miserably wet weather to see what I could find.

To my astonishment, having shot the roll, I discovered Frome Photo Centre still runs a one-hour service, so I headed off for coffee and cake at Paccamora while my film was being processed and printed.

Now I no longer have a film scanner, so had to use a slightly Heath Robinson arrangement to digitise the negatives, and even then they don’t come out as positive images. A bit of work on them in software is required to achieve positives, and the colours aren’t perfect, but it’s a chance to be experimental. See what you think…

The exercise was fun, despite the fact I was soaked by the end. The portrait of Anthony pleases me because it was literally a frame to finish the roll and I used a 30-year-old flash gun to light him, yet it looks so natural. At some point I’ll organise a decent scan of this shot.

I’d like to get back to shooting more film, if only for personal projects, but will probably do black and white rather than colour because I know I can process this myself and get exactly the quality I want. Of course if a client wants a job shot on film, I’ll jump at the chance. For all the benefits of digital, film still has a certain quality about it which digital can’t quite replicate. It would be interesting to talk to a client who wants that difference in their marketing imagery.

As if this wasn’t enough, I decided to pop out on Sunday evening with my friend Nik Jones, a graphic designer based in Frome, to shoot some long-exposure pictures. This time in digital. Nik wanted some pointers on getting photos of trailing car lights, so we headed to a bridge over the Frome bypass.

As a result of that little adventure, I turned a series of still images into this GIF animation using gifmaker.me.

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So my weekend spanned everything from old-school film to new-school animation, and while all this might seem to serve little purpose beyond a weekend’s entertainment and a blog post, exercises like this get me thinking about new approaches and techniques which I can apply to client work. It would certainly be interesting to speak to anyone interested in having either film-based photography on their website or even a GIF. I can think of interesting applications for both.

Film isn’t dead, it’s just resting its eyes

Getting rambly and nostalgic in my middle (going-on-old) age…

Remember film? I do. I remember hand-processing black and white film in the Bath Chronicle dark room. I remember chemicals that stained my clothes and made them disintegrate. I remember the beautiful, shiny strips of cellulose hanging in the drying cabinet, fluttering ribbons of potential Pulitzer prize-winning images awaiting the lightbox, the loupe and the enlarger.

And now I’m getting all nostalgic again because for some strange reason I went from preparing to sell my last film camera (a Canon EOS 1N) on Ebay to buying black and white film and shooting some photos with it the other week.

This change of heart/mind came about partly because having seen some of the feeble prices the 1N commands on Ebay I knew I’d get more than 90 quids’ worth of fun from using it again.

I hadn’t used the camera since the year 2000 when I went digital, but it still works perfectly, and going back to film has re-informed how I shoot digital.

As an example, because I was shooting film that I didn’t want to waste I decided to be extra careful with the metering, so I used a hand-held light meter instead of relying on the built-in one. Seeing the consistency in exposure across the negatives, and thinking of all the times I’ve had to override the metering on my digital cameras, I think I’ll use a hand-held meter a lot more often when shooting digitally.

Now as tempting as it is to go back to processing my own films, and I do still have the tank, bag and reels for doing that, I don’t think I’m going to go that far. At least not yet.

For my first outing with film in 12 years I opted for Kodak BW400CN, which is black and white film you can process in a colour lab, which means that having shot my film I was able to drop it into Boots and have it processed and printed in an hour.

The next stage was to choose a couple of negatives and have them scanned by the lovely folk at click2scan who by amazing coincidence have just expanded into a premises in Frome. The photo here is my favourite from the roll of 36, which was mainly test shots for metering, contrast and the like.

Catering staff on cigarette break in Frome, Somersey

Smokers, Apple Alley, Frome

I’ve put another roll of the 400CN in the camera and might shoot colour after that. If I do, I’m sure I’ll keep you updated here.

In the meantime, why not dig out your old film camera and try some shots (instead of taking snaps on your iPhone and trying to make them look like old timey Polaroids, Kodachromes or sepia prints) But be prepared for something that took me by surprise; at first, every time I shot a frame, I’d find myself looking at the back of the camera where the digital preview would be. A slightly embarrassing tic I need to deal with.