2020 and BEYOND!

Often at the close of a year I’ll put together an annual review, but 2019 was different in that it was the close of a decade.

So why didn’t I do a review of the decade? Simply put, I ran out of time. After three months of Bunker conversion, the end-rush to get it ready to coincide with the looming termination date of my tenancy at The Old Church School (eight years there!) PLUS client work PLUS admin PLUS Christmas, I had to make some harsh decisions about what I could and could not fit in.

In fact I was so busy, it barely sank in until quite late in December that we were in fact staring down the barrel of the 2020s. By the time I’d twigged, it was too late to put anything meaningful together. Sorry about that.

However, I’m now fully set up in the new space and although it’s early days, so far it’s working very well and I’m proud of what I accomplished in renovating what was a tatty-looking concrete structure, turning it into a genuinely usable, some may say attractive, workspace. I’m particularly chuffed that the only part of the project I didn’t tackle was the electrical installation. I may be insane, but I’m not mad! My general DIY skills have definitely improved with this project though, just don’t ask me to convert your shed/bunker/garage for you.

Returning to the subject of the turn of the decade, perhaps it’s a shame I didn’t get to look back and reflect, but I actually feel more in the mood for looking forward. After all, my photography of ten years ago is nothing like the work I’m doing now, and even further removed from where I want to take it in the coming years.

Through this year and the next few years, I’ll be working hard to build the fine art projects and prints side of my business (takeagander.co.uk) while continuing to invest in my corporate work, which still represents the bulk of my business.

The launch (see previous post) of the open air exhibition of panels from What Happened Here was a great end to the year and an indicator of the kind of outcome I’m looking for with my personal work – getting it out there and noticed and looking for new opportunities to shoot fresh work and see where it takes me.

With the corporate work I will of course keep developing my style, skills and services, but this relies in part on the personal projects which help me develop new practices outside of client time; I don’t believe in using my clients as guinea pigs for experiments.

What I’m aiming for is more of the same as in recent years, only bigger and better; my corporate work feeding my ability to shoot personal projects, with income from fine art prints and other uses of that work building up into it’s own sizeable income. I have plans, some vaguer than others, but plans nonetheless.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sign off now and start putting those plans into practice. In the meantime, do watch this space for news on forthcoming deals on fine art prints – I hope to announce something big soon.

Drive-In Gallery

As Bowie never sang, “It’s a crash course for the ravers, it’s a dri-i-i-ive-in photo exhibition.”

So having crammed another Bowie reference into a blog post like pushing a banana through a keyhole, what I’m trying to explain here is that I’m massively thrilled to announce that tomorrow sees the launch of my first solo exhibition in an open-air space. To be precise, it’s a car park, making this the world’s first drive-in photo exhibition.

Now, don’t ruin it for me by googling this and finding one already exists, I did search and the closest I found was an underground car park ramp to some billionaire’s posh residence with walls lined with priceless paintings. That doesn’t count.

This all started a few months ago when I approached Mendip District Council (owners of the Saxonvale site) to see if there was any way I could continue documenting the site since they’d made it secure. The timing of my contact was perfect – someone in the council had seen What Happened Here and decided some of the photos would look great on the site hoardings, so we looked at various possibilities from a few different angles and came up with a plan.

Mendip council officers agreed to go ahead with the project and I re-scanned the chosen images since they were going to go big, and I mean VERY big.

Two days ago I visited the very excellent Compugraphic in Frome to see some of the prints coming off their large-format printer ready to be mounted on aluminium composite board; thirteen images in total, 1.5 x 1 metre in size with two of them 1 metre square format. In other words, really huge prints and certainly larger than I’d ever had anything printed before.

I’d been concerned that I couldn’t supply good enough files for such enlargement, but when I saw the prints I nearly cried! They look fantastic, and where I’d been thinking that viewing distance would make up for any loss in quality, I’ll be happy for visitors to walk right up to these. They’ll be able to dive right into the grain of the images.

The panels will be displayed on hoardings in the Merchants Barton car park in the town centre for at least the next few months, so if you do happen to be in the area I hope you’ll check it out. You can find out even more from Mendip’s press release here.

In the meantime, this may well be my final post of 2019 as Project Bunker is overrunning and I’m on a deadline to transfer my office into it by the end of December.

So I’ll take this opportunity to thank you, my clients, my friends, colleagues and suppliers for making 2019 a pretty good year, with an extra special thank you to Naomi and her colleagues at Mendip District Council for rounding it off so spectacularly for me.

Oh and with regards the continued access to the Saxonvale site, we’ll see. I’m doubtful at this stage, but you never know, it could be what keeps me busy in 2020.

Photos with Grace

Between running the Found Notes project, converting the bunker into an office, client work and a yet-to-be-announced exciting piece of news (watch this space!), I’ve also been trying to get out and about with film cameras to make new photo-documentary work.

That’s not easy when I seem to be in a phase of casting about trying to work out exactly what it is I feel I need to document, but while I work through that question it’s important that I don’t let that side of my practice grind to a complete halt. Apart from anything else, just getting out and looking and shooting pictures opens up ideas to possible new series, even if the pictures I take don’t present obvious answers right now.

One example is from yesterday when I got a few minutes to pop along the road to take pictures of local climate protestor Grace Maddrell. Her specific campaign is to raise awareness of the forest fires destroying rain forest in The Congo.

I’d seen Grace over the last couple of weeks, but yesterday was my first opportunity to make a few images. We started with a chat so I could get more background to her campaign and motivation, then it was a mix of posed and un-posed pictures to see what worked.

The image here is probably my favourite, though ultimately it’s just a fairly simple posed portrait. It’s possible I’ll re-visit Grace for more photos – it would be interesting to document her protest as it continues in different weathers and as the Winter really sets in. That may sound a little heartless on paper, but I want to show her dedication and she is very serious about this cause.

Grace spends her time protesting in her home town of Frome as well as Bath and Bristol and campaigns alongside the Extinction Rebellion and FridaysForFuture movements, but by her own admission her ability to travel is limited by her lack of funds. But at least she’s doing what she can.

If you’d like to follow Grace’s story, you can find her on Twitter as @ElmGrace. Go give her some support and if you see her, give her a wave and a smile, she’d appreciate that. Even better, join her on her protest.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to do what I can to document her campaign locally. It could become the unexpected next series.

Tah Dah!

Well I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, but I hope you’ll think it’s worth it. My new site takeagander.co.uk is now live!

The name comes from my Instagram handle, takeagander, and since that’s where I’ve been posting work from my personal projects it seemed fitting to create a website which tied in with that. I was also incredibly lucky that the business which was holding the URL takeagander.co.uk had let their subscription lapse and they didn’t renew it before it expired. Get in there!

So now I have a site where I can bring projects together and offer high-quality fine art prints of the images, which I hope will fund new projects in turn. Of course that’s the dream and it’s very early days, but with the site having been launched less than a week ago, I’m thrilled to have made sales already.

I’ve kept the offer simple for now, just two paper types and a range of sizes, but if there’s anything you’d like to see (framing options, canvas prints perhaps?) let me know and I’ll look into the possibilities.

The galleries are set to grow in size and increase in number as I add new images and entire new series, so I hope you’ll bookmark it for regular visits. You can even sign up for updates, which I promise will be kept infrequent.

Of course this is all in addition to my on-going corporate communications work, but I have found that personal projects have really helped keep me fresh and energised when tackling commissioned assignments. It’s great to have both sides of my career up and running.

Please do let me know what you think of the new site, or perhaps more importantly the photos on there. I have to say the quality of display is impressive compared to how images render pretty much anywhere else on the web.

Of course if you see something you’d like to hang on your home or office wall, I’d be thrilled to make your custom, but you’re welcome to just say hello.

Sound Move

In this post I’m back to talking personal photographic projects, this time with one of the quickest I’ve ever done!

A few weeks ago, the local record shop in Frome, Raves from the Grave, was preparing for a move to a new location within the town as they’d outgrown their current store.

In fact they were only moving a couple of streets away, but they’d been in the Cheap Street shop for 12 years (22 years on the same cobbled street and Catherine Hill even before that), so in all that time had become something of a local institution.

I remember my first trip to the Cheap Street store. It was astonishing, with CDs on shelves which extended right up to the ceiling, with more squidged in wherever there was a nook or cranny. The same with DVDs, though I was never a big purchaser of those. The real pleasure though was that they also specialised in vinyl, new and secondhand.

So when I heard about the impending move, I decided someone (me) ought to go in and capture the essence of the place – the heady mix of chaos and order, the colours, lines and hopefully some of the people too.

Of course being a personal project, it had to be shot on film, which also seems appropriate for a record shop (in particular, one selling vinyl).

I only had a two-hour gap in my day and three rolls of film with which to capture what I could, so there was a bit of a challenge, but as a series it sits together pretty well.

Of course Raves from the Grave and I were able to trickle the images out on social media over the course of a week and it was fun to see the reactions to the images. I even started meeting people in town who told me how much they enjoyed the series.

Now the move is pretty much complete and the old shop is soon to be taken over by a new business, a chocolatier I believe, so I’ve captured the end of an era. What with that and Saxonvale, I seem to have a knack of capturing era ends. Maybe I’ve found a new niche!

Christmas came early!

My film foray continues, and with it new ideas about how I want to work and the personal projects I want to use it for.

For a few years now I’ve had a hankering for a camera which had no reliance on batteries. Unbelievably, in all my 30 years as a photographer, every camera I’ve ever owned has needed at least a couple of LR44 button cells to make the shutter work.

It was never a problem, but when looking at secondhand film cameras now (s/h being the only option since nobody makes a 35mm SLR or rangefinder film camera any more), we’re talking about cameras between 20 and 40 years old which all have electronics in them, and circuit boards being rather delicate, specialist parts, it’s less likely they’ll be repairable in years to come.

My very electronic Canon EOS 1N cameras are going well and I’m confident they’ll keep going for several years to come, but an all-mechanical camera, albeit an old one, is still more serviceable than one packed with fine ribbon circuit boards, motors and silicon chips.

Which is why when a Nikon F2 popped up in my Facebook Marketplace, I stopped in my tracks and took a good look.

The Nikon F2 is something of a legend, but I won’t bore you with the full history of this model right now. Suffice to say, it was ‘the’ camera of choice of photojournalists from the early 1970s to the 1980s (when the battery-reliant F3 came out) and finding one in good condition now is getting tricky; they’re actually becoming collectible (aka stupidly expensive). It takes a couple of button cells, but they only work the meter. The shutter is completely mechanical, so if the batteries die, I still have a working camera in my hands.

The particular one which popped up in my Facebook feed looked to be in fantastic condition and even better, it wasn’t a million miles away from me. So I dropped a tentative line to the seller about having a look at it, while assuming I’d never hear back.

Far from it, the seller called me almost immediately and we got chatting. Long story short, we met an hour later and I bought the camera (with 50mm lens). An early Christmas present to myself then, albeit one with some serious intent.

Even though it’s had little use since it was bought in 1973, the camera will need a service. The slower shutter speeds are a little dodgy and it’ll do it no harm to have the original lubricants cleaned off and replaced along with any decayed foam seals (though the film door and mirror box foams look incredibly good).

The camera is already booked in to be serviced by the one person in the UK who specialises exclusively in servicing and repairing Nikon F2s, Sover Wong. Sadly his waiting list is over a year, but he’s assured me I should be fine to use the camera while I await my slot.

The downside of it being a Nikon is that I can’t use any of my Canon lenses on it, but that would have been the same if I’d bought Canon’s last mechanical camera because Canon changed their lens mount system for the EOS autofocus cameras, so my EOS lenses don’t fit older Canons. Complicated, ain’t it?!

Thankfully, I’m only interested in using a very limited set of lenses with the Nikon and I can build these up over time.

In the meantime, I’ve put a couple of rolls of Kodak Tri-X through this amazing machine and I’m happy to say it seems to be working just fine. Even the meter is accurate, which isn’t bad for a 45-year-old camera. Yes, it’s only 7 years younger than me, but it looks prettier and less wrinkly.

In time I’ll be using it for personal projects and personal work where the scream of my Canon’s built-in motor-drives are perhaps less appropriate. Keep watching for updates!

Don’t I Ever Stop?!

Even when I’m not taking business photos for clients or shooting a personal project, when I go away on a break I take yet more photos. Which would be fine except that I obsess about not taking the kind of holiday photos I ought really to be taking.

If I tell someone I’m going for a break in wherever, the common reaction is for them to suggest things I should take pictures of while I’m there. It might be the pretty houses, the beautiful landscapes, the amazing night lights by the river or whatever. The problem is, most of these photos can already be seen on Google, so why would I just repeat what someone else has already done?

I’m not entirely sure it’s a healthy state of affairs, but whenever I go away I end up treating it like some kind of mini assignment. A good recent example is when my wife Helen and I went to Kent for a music festival she was performing in. We decided to make it a weekend as the weather was glorious and we were very close to Dymchurch Beach.

So instead of a snap of a sunny beach and blue skies, I zeroed in on the detectorist who was kind enough to chat and be photographed.

And during the festival, instead of photographing the beautiful little church where the music was being performed, I honed in on the side details of the event. Which would be fine if that just meant drinking the tea and eating the biscuits, but I came over all Martin Parr and took wry, dry observational shots of tea cups, trays of mugs and helpers in the cake tent.

Just to make it even more of an inconvenience for myself, I took all my photos on expired film (yes, I still have some from my Saxonvale project).

Now you may ask what the heck’s wrong with me, but the thing is a break is about enjoying yourself and having freedom to do what you want. It just happens I enjoy shooting film (expired or not) but with the freedom to explore a subject however I want.

It might not be everyone’s idea of a break, but I fid it liberating even though there’s still a background static of wishing not to fail to get good shots.

Am I weird? Probably. Perhaps I need a break. Which reminds me, I’ve got four rolls of black and white film from my holiday in France to process.

Get Shorty

Even this short blog post is longer than the super small Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 lens, my absolutely favourite lens. It’s tiny, sometimes referred to as a pancake lens, but so sharp you could cut your thumb on the images it produces, yet costs just £200.00 new. I got mine for £90.00 secondhand.

It’s been the most-used lens through my Saxonvale project, but whenever I get the opportunity I use it for corporate photo sessions too, including portraits as well as for fly-on-the-wall work.

And in my experience it’s tough! I once slipped and fell and landed with my camera (40mm mounted) between me and a mud bank. I heard a click which I thought was the lens mechanism breaking. It wasn’t, it was the sound of one of my ribs fracturing! That hurt for a few weeks, but the lens was fine.

I wanted to write this post after seeing Neil Turner’s post about his favourite lens. Go here to find out which one he reaches for most.

So if I’m ever on a job for you and I put this dinky lens on my camera, check out the smile on my face.

 

On My Hobby Horse

When a professional musician isn’t gigging or recording, they’ll be practicing; running up and down the scales, trying new techniques, working on pieces they may have to (or would like to) perform some time. When they do this, we don’t consider them to be indulging in a hobby, it’s just part of being a professional.

Professional photographers also need to practice between gigs. Of course we can’t sit in a room or studio and just run up and down the shutter speeds on the camera for an hour or two. We have to find pictures to take, pictures which stretch our abilities and keep our brains photographically sharp. That’s where the personal project comes in, at least for me.

I’m not very good at just going out with a camera and taking random photos. In particular I’m not very good at photographing pretty scenes just for the pleasure of it. I have to find a theme and work to that, but sometimes when I’m doing this I’m told “It’s nice you still have photography as a hobby.”

Ok, I’m not massively irked by this kind of reaction. It’s understandable when photography is such a hugely popular hobby. I’m even aware of people who think that being a professional photographer is simply a case of translating one’s hobby into paid work. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy meeting people and taking pictures for businesses, but I’m not sure I’d spend a day taking head shots against a white backdrop just for the giggles.

However, this mode of thinking ignores the possibility that a personal project has the potential to turn into something with a value beyond just being practice between gigs. Currently I have a number of projects on the go which pay nothing up-front, but about which I’m hugely excited and I hope will excite other people too, once they come to fruition.

The problem could be in the term “personal work” or “personal project” which implies I’m only taking the pictures for my personal photo album, but it’s the term most widely recognised by photographers and publishers to mean a project which is exploring an idea without having a defined end point or deadline, or a pre-determined place for publication.

For now at least we have to stick with the term, so perhaps I should just get off my hobby horse and await the day when the terms are more widely understood and photography between gigs is recognised as having a value.

It’s fair to say that over the last year or two, my actual hobbies (cycling, playing guitar) have been rather squeezed out of my life by my personal photo essay work. It’s up to me to re-adjust that balance, but photography is definitely not my hobby.

It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

Just when I thought my Saxonvale project might come to an end it seems it’s not over yet.

My original plan was to shoot the project until either my original stock of expired film ran out, or when the site got cleared or developed. Well the site got partially cleared and I’m down to the last few rolls of film, so it would have made sense to bring the project to a close.

However, the site is still accessible and the story is still developing as a couple of “tenants” have moved onto an area which has yet to be cleared and secured, and so rather than reaching a conclusion, the story has simply evolved.

Because of this I took the decision that I wasn’t prepared to let my film supply run out just yet. I put out a plea on a Facebook group for photographers and one in particular, a notable veteran of documentary photography David Hoffman, came forward with a very generous offer to help. This morning an intriguing mixed box of film arrived which should keep me going for quite some time yet!

There’s a freezer drawer at home which was starting to look rather empty, well it’s about to get indigestion.