2019?

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a peaceful Christmas and an enjoyable New Year.

I’m starting 2019 with an apology; normally by mid December I’d have posted a round-up of my year, but between shooting and delivering pictures for clients, getting my quarterly VAT return finalised (an annual Christmas joy for me) and having to lose my laptop for a week while a replacement battery was fitted, I just ran out of time. So yes, sorry about that. I know you were all looking forward to that.

To make up for this I’m going to post some thoughts on the year just gone and the year to come, because while I’m looking forward to some interesting commissions and new personal projects, I’m also raring to get going on the next stage of the Saxonvale project on its journey to becoming a book. Heaven knows if that will get finished this year, but I’m determined to make serious headway.

2018 got off to a pretty exciting start. I posted an article on Petapixel about my motivation for shooting film again. The response to that was pretty astonishing and led to me being interviewed by Bill Manning for the Studio C-41 podcast; the first time I’ve been cast in a pod! That generated further interest and I’ve been following the podcast ever since.

If you’re not already aware, Studio C-41 is a podcast (now also a vlog on YouTube) all about film, its resurgence, the cameras, film manufacturers and so on. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, this podcast has gone from strength to strength and has interviewed some of the most important names in film photography today (yours truly excepted). If you’re into C-41 (or E6 or black and white), check out C-41 on any of the links above.

It’s also going to be an interesting year for photography in other ways. I see Matt Smith (the actor formerly known as Dr Who) is playing Robert Mapplethorpe in a new film which I believe is being released in the USA this year. That should be interesting and probably eye-boggling, but I’m also wondering what’s happening with the biopic of Don McCullin, reported to be played by Tom Hardy, which was press-released in 2016. Hopefully we’ll hear more on that this year.

In January 2018 I was pleased to be able to make the launch of Niall McDiarmid’s Town to Town exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol. I’m slightly in awe of Niall’s street portraits, and really thrilled that the MPF has been set up in Bristol, so finally there is a quality gallery and photographic resource not based in London.

This year I’m really hoping I can get along to a few more exhibitions at the Martin Parr Foundation and further afield. There really is nothing like getting to see photographs in the real world as opposed to online.

And in between all my corporate communications work, I’ll be beavering away on those personal projects which you’ll see slowly revealing (unraveling?) on Instagram. I’ve started Unsigned (see my Instagram), a series of images of torn-off posters, stickers and street signage which creates inadvertent art. I have no idea how long or big this project will get, but I feel it’s only just started. Rather like 2019, except I have a fair idea how long that will be, just no idea how big.

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.

The Film Thing

It’s official, I have got the film bug quite seriously. I’ve always loved film and I find I’m more drawn to shooting personal projects on film than on digital. In fact with digital I found it hard to get started on personal projects because the process always ended up feeling very much like all my other work. For personal work I needed some kind of demarcation from my corporate communications photography, and I’ve realised film gives me that distinction.

It also makes a difference to those I’m photographing. People seem to engage more with the idea that I’m producing an image of them using a tradition they thought had died. On a subconscious level I wonder if they feel more comfortable knowing they’re not being instantly “digitised”, albeit at some point I have to scan the images in order to be able to print or display them.

Shooting film the way I do with the subjects I tend to be drawn to is often a slower process than digital and I’ve realised people now expect photography to happen much more quickly than perhaps it used to. With film I will take a more considered approach. I’ve never been one to shoot thousands of pictures in the hope of getting one good one, but with film I find I’m taking this further and taking more time to consider the picture I’m taking. Accordingly I find I have to manage my subjects’ expectations and explain things won’t happen as quickly as they may be used to. That seems to relax them too.

A pile of assorted out of date photographic film

Out of date film is on my list of projects

The benefit I’m getting from shooting film is that I’m going back to basics again, re-remembering my core strengths, abilities and values as a photographer and this is feeding back into my corporate communications work. I’m also having more fun sharing the results on Instagram where you can see my feed has become more focussed on my film work.

I have new projects in planning, including a whole series to be shot on out-of-date film which presents a whole new set of challenges.

If you’d like to follow my foray back into film, check out my Instagram account, I’ll be delighted to see you there and even more so if you decide to click the Follow button.

Back to Personal Projects

 

It has been quite a while since I managed to get out and work on my personal project, People’s Frome, but on Wednesday afternoon last week I did manage to get out for a couple of hours. The weird thing is that whenever I decide I’m going to go and work on it, I worry there won’t be anything which will present itself to help move the project along.

And yet, almost every time I do go out, I find something that works. I guess that’s what they call making your own luck.

This particular trip was a bit of a mixture though. I’d taken a walk into the area of Frome which has so far been the anchor to the project, The Mount, and not seen anything worth a look. The light was rather flat and uninteresting; one of the strengths of this project so far has been how the light has helped set the tone. This time though, light wasn’t on my side.

The shot I came up with did include some serendipity though. I’d decided to show this path and fence with its view through to the Knights Maltings estate beyond (a relatively modern development which hugs up to a precipitous bank, above which sits The Mount). I’d taken a few shots when I heard a dog walker coming along behind me. We exchanged hellos as he passed and I waited for dog and owner to get to the right part of the frame to complete the shot.

Just as they got there, the dog cocked its leg and I grabbed the frame. I’m not going to pretend this is a modern classic, yet there is a lot about this image which pleases me; the balance between the rather grim fence and ticky-tacky housing beyond and the humour of the dog taking a leak and the way all the elements work together.

On the down-side, once I’d got this shot I carried on down the path, but while trying to traverse some flood water which was blocking my way, I managed to slip and fall forwards onto my camera. The camera was fine (once I’d cleaned all the mud off it), but I’ve been putting up with a very sore, possibly broken rib since. I guess that’s what they call suffering for your art.