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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Choosing the right person to photograph is a big part of the way I work. I make a lot of my portraits by stopping people in the street and asking if I can take their photograph then and there. I mostly shoot 2-4 frames on each person, but I have already set up the shot. I will have chosen the background, thought about the light and camera angle.

Which of the passersby will make a good portrait? It is all too easy to be distracted by youth and beauty. Too easy to have your head turned by someone fashionably dressed or a fresh face. Too easy to be drawn to the ‘peacocks’ of the human race. The flamboyant types that dress up and show off their brightly coloured feathers.

Many photographers are drawn to, and make work about beauty. Less are interested in the mundane, ordinary and every day, but we mostly choose to photograph one or the other. Sometimes having a choice of who to photograph is too contrived, too fueled with my own preconceptions and assumptions. I sometimes force myself to stop the next person that walks along. I have tried this, but the method that I have settled with, are to have varies categories of people that I am looking for. In that way if someone fits one of my categories I ask them. The choice is then taken form me. On the day when I took these two photographs, and the two from my previous post, not one person fitted into any category. I was looking for women with grey hair,  people with take away coffee cups, girls wearing lots of make-up, someone wearing an animal hat. In this way I can create a series and hopefully record an image that comments on, or acknowledges something that is going on now.

I would be so much happier to have a whole group of people to photograph, allow the process to happen and then choose the most successful portrait in the edit. Where I captured the best expression, on the most compelling face, that made for an arresting photograph. It would allow me to work without the distractions.

On this occasion I reverted back to whoever caught my eye. For my next big project I will be inviting anyone who wants their portrait taken to sit for me in a kind of free mini portrait studio. This will take the choice of who to photograph away from me and I am looking forward to some great surprises.

Many thanks to another two Whiteladies Rd girls.

Two photographs today instead of my usual one. I have been trying out a new background. This one is in Whiteladies Road in Bristol, just across the road from the bus stop where I photographed Kaitlin. It is the entrance to an old cinema and perfect for photography, as it is like a small stage, with steps leading up to it, two pillars at the front, and light coming in from three sides. I love the palm beach scene on the back wall. It contrasts nicely with the drab February day on which I took the photographs. A cloudy day with a bit of drizzle, but in front of this old cinema, there are no high buildings, so a clear view of a nice big chunk of sky acting as a great big soft box. It is located on a good spot on a busy road where I can have some control over the daylight and grab interesting passersby.

I usually go for plain backgrounds, just a bit of texture on a wall or shop front. This kind of shot is new for me. I just couldn’t resist this sunny scene. I have spotted a few more painted backgrounds around town, which I might try out too.

This is Meadhb (above). She told me that her friends call her ‘bitch face’, as she tends to come across as stern and bitchy looking in photographs. No bitch faces here. I like her expression and openness. I am always impressed by people that I photograph. They can be so open and giving to the camera. As is this girl below – unusually I didn’t get her name.

Thank you to my Whiteladies girls.

I took this photograph in Stokes Croft, Bristol. I photographed this guy with his girlfriend and then took the shot with his girlfriend out of shot, just with her hand showing. I didn’t notice the graffiti above his head. At least I don’t consciously remember it. They were both so wrapped up in each other, so I think that’s why left a bit of her in there.

I was always drawn to Stokes Croft and it is an area that I keep going back to, to take photographs and to find people to photograph. It is an area that had been run down and forgotten about until a group of activists and artists called “The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft” set about transforming the area. It is the sight of a well known Bansky – ” The Mild Mild West” done back in the nineties and now entire buildings are covered with graffiti. It has become an interesting, vibrant and thriving place as well as the sight of the Tesco riots last year.

I would like to do some more photographs here, perhaps a whole project. There is something about the spirit of the people of Stokes Croft ; I think perhaps they are a bit ahead of their time, and for me embody a feeling of discontentment that many people across the country share, but the People’s republic of Stokes Croft are banding together independently and making positive changes to their community.

I always give my images a working title, just something descriptive that I can easily remember, and this guy has always been called Maninlove.jpg/tiff

Happy Valentine’s Day! x

I have been asked to make a short video about my experience on the MA Documentary Photography course at the University of Wales in Newport. I was there from 2003- 2005. There will be a group show in October this year featuring work from ex students and staff. When I think back to what I really learned on the course the main things that stand out are reading and writing. I know it sounds odd to get that on a photography course, but it was there that I learned to articulate and explore my thoughts and ideas, to write them down. And it also got me reading.

I came across this great quote recently from the legendary American photographer Tod Papageorge, which really sums it up – “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t reading enough.”

This past week I haven’t taken any photographs for myself (except iPhone pics) and that makes me very uneasy. A stockpile is mounting up, of the images on my list that I need to take. I can at least console myself that I am reading and building up a couple of new ideas for future projects. Newport set me on the right path and made me realize how reading other people’s ideas and their explanations of current situations, helps to clarify why I am drawn to particular subjects. I can then begin to understand exactly what it is that interests me, and that I feel I need to explore through my photography. I now know how reading can influence and aid my photography. The course at Newport taught me how to take photographs that are about something, that say something and can tell a story. In my case I didn’t achieve this until after I had finished the course, but it was the catalyst that started the ball rolling.

Big thanks to Clive, Ian, Ken and my fellow students.

I went to the see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy this week. Despite my initial reservations, as I have never been that drawn to landscapes. It really blew me away. I have always been interested in Hockney, especially his use of image making devices and theories on photography. It was an absolute joy to come face to face with his work ‘The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire 2011 (twenty eleven)‘ which includes one huge painting comprising of 32 canvases, and 51 prints that he made on his iPad. As you turn around the room you can actually see spring arriving. I thought this was the final piece, however the exhibition went on to show some amazing video work (made using 9 video cameras mounted together) and then a room of his sketchbooks. I would highly recommend it – even if you are not into landscapes.

So I am inspired. Hockney has said about his work that ‘everything begins with the sketchbooks’. This blog is my photographic sketchbook – a place for me to put down, and work on, my ideas and images. I don’t find it easy to show work that is not 100% perfect and that I am not yet happy with, but that is what this is all about. I have always found the sketchbooks in a show fascinating and sometimes more interesting that the final work. So this week I feel back on track and more focused on my original intention. It is all too tempting, to stray from the path and just show your best work, but not quite so interesting or insightful.

So here we have, a very much work in progress shot, taken last week at my daughter’s school. The headteacher, who herself is very into pink has very kindly given me permission to take photographs. I was looking for ‘evidence’ of pink and found that it is much more concentrated the lower down the school you go. I took this picture of the nursery children’s (age 3-4) lunch boxes. I placed all the pink ones together for the shot. Out of a total of 15 lunchboxes 7 were all pink and two partly pink. As it is unlikely that any of these belong to a boy. It is possible that every girl who has a pack lunch has a pink one or one with pink on it.

This approach is new for me and I don’t think I’ve got it quite right yet. I like the idea and was pleased with what I found, but think I’ll need to reshoot, perhaps in another nursery that has more daylight or by using flash. I am trying new ways to tell the story of the pink phenomenon. I do feel that I am getting there…gradually and hope it will become a more well rounded and complete project.