I’ve had a few disappointments lately with setting up portraits and then people letting me down, so I have been concentrating on ‘other’ shots. I don’t want to call them street photos, as that term is so loaded these days, but they are photos that I have taken out on the street and in the shopping mall.
I have been taking my camera out and just seeing what I can find and I have been rewarded for my efforts. When I have been out and about looking for photographs I have found a pink washing line, “It’s a girl!” decorations hung all across the front of a house, a pink plastercast, scooter, head scarfs and an ice-cream van – all of which fit in well to my Generation Pink book project.
It was like being given a gift, that I then snapped up quickly with my camera. Here’s a few for you to see.
In a couple of weeks I’ll be starting a new project – The Pop up Portrait Studio. Fuji Cameras are letting me get my hands on their brand new X-Pro 1 digital camera. I already use the X100s, so I’m really excited to test drive this new model, which unlike the X100s comes with interchangeable lenses including a lovely portrait lens (equivalent to 90mm on 135 format) – perfect for my portrait work.
I will be setting up a makeshift portrait studio in Bristol’s city centre and inviting anyone and everyone to have their portrait taken by me for free. It’s a huge project to take on, as I am aiming to do at least 20 portraits a day over a one month period.
The photographs above were taken several years ago at the St Mark’s Rd street party in Bristol. I set up my Polaroid camera in the street and offered passersby a free Polaroid. It was a great way to work as people just assumed I was part of the festivities. These photos and this way of working created a spark in my imagination that is now becoming a reality in The Pop up Portrait studio.
I am always trying to make a better picture. To take a perfect photograph, that has everything I wanted and no flaws.
This is a portrait I took of my daughter. I like it, but it’s not perfect. As a photograph I am happy with it but I know it could have been just a bit better. When she first sat down in the chair and looked at the camera – it was perfect. I wasn’t ready, so missed that first moment. Within a second she had moved. Her expression had changed and what results is my efforts to get her back to that initial moment – sitting up straight, posed like she thinks she should when having her picture taken and giving her full attention to the camera, without looking bored. She is a wriggly five year old and because I’m her mum I have even less influence over her in this senario, than I would with someone else’s child.
I have been trying to find other ways to photograph young children that are set apart from the family snap shot and create a more interesting photograph. I have been looking at old Victorian children’s portraits. The Victorians used back braces to keep their children still enough for the required long exposure times. I have considered concentrating on photographing older children for my Generation Pink project. It is easier to make a good portrait with an older child, as there is more of a connection between the photographer and child. The child is more aware of themselves and that someone else it looking and photographing them. Young children are so un self conscious. They know you are photographing them, but are too young to show any sense of vulnerability.
I have just edited out a lot of my earlier portraits from this project. I knew all along that there was something not quite right with them. I had told myself that as the subject matter was sugary and sweet and pretty that was what it was. They just weren’t interesting enough. I came across a quote from W. M. Hunt “Insist on engagement. Wrestle with what is difficult. Pretty is boring. Seek intensity.” So out they went and I am almost starting afresh.
It is important to include younger children in this project so I am trying a new approach. For a while I went down the road of being really flexible and almost following the child around, going with the flow with what they wanted to do and give to the camera. Lately I have taken more control over the situation . I choose a background/setting and get them to sit down more formally (without back brace) and just look at the camera. It won’t work with all children, but I think I’m now heading in the right direction.
It’s been a dull week. I haven’t shot anything all week. I have spent the week emailing and calling, trying to set up some new photographs and organize a project for over the summer. It is slow work and tedious. I want to be out. I want to be photographing.
And then there’s the rain! I’m on umbrella number three. Usually if I didn’t have something set up I could go into town and just do something off the cuff – but not this week. The weather has put a stop to that.
The Guardian this week has an article on Richard Mosse’s Best Shot. He describes his moments between projects and his low points – ‘They’re like jumping out of a plane without a parachute’.
I did think about not posting this week, but photography is not all about the end result of the bright and shiny new picture. There is a lot of research and planning, writing proposals and form filling. It wouldn’t be truthful to just post my latest pictures every week.
So this week, I have for you, a couple of my photographs of Bristol. For most of May the Bristol Festival of photography is on. It is a biannual festival and only in its second year. It’s very small by photography festival standards, but it is right on my door step. I have been to see the excellent work of Zed Nelson ‘Hackney – A Tale of two Cities’. Simon Norfolk will be here doing a talk next week and tomorrow I will be going down to Stokes Croft to have my own portrait taken by the wetplate collodion process.
Now the sun has just come out so maybe I’ll just take my camera out for a walk..
Last weekend I went on a book design course at the World Photo London, festival. The course was led my Stuart Smith of Smith design, who make around 30 photo books every year. The number one consideration of the workshop was editing, and Stuart recommends that you get someone else to edit your work. Photographers have so many other associations to their images, i.e. the experience they had when taking the photo. The important information is what can be taken from the image itself – everything else is supplementary. It helps to trust someone else who has a more neutral response to your images.
This has led me to think about what makes a good photograph and also to revaluate my own work. A lot of the photographs that I thought were going to be in my book project are now out. Some photographs that I thought were maybes are now definitely in. I have gained a new way of looking at my work and I now know that I need to strive even harder to make more interesting photographs.
What makes a good photograph? I saw a quote recently by Magnum photographer Constantine Manos “Taking good pictures is easy. Making very good pictures is difficult. Making great pictures is almost immposible.” Great photos are easy to spot. We know them when we see them, but hard to pin down and define what exactly makes them great. For me a great photo has all the elements of a good photo (composition, good light, aesthetics, expression, capturing a moment, telling a story) but then something else. That something else is hard to define and is varies depending on what you are looking for. It could be mistery, subtlty, a feeling of uneasyness or wonderment. It has to be something that sustains your interest, forces you to want to know more, and makes you keep looking – rather than flicking onto the next one. There has to be an element that causes you to remember that photo and will make you go back and look at it again and again. Something that the photographer brings to the image that is greater than the sum of all of its parts, and gives more than a depiction of a scene, or what one might have seen with the naked eye.
In this digital age where “everyone is now a photographer” (Martin Parr), is it becoming more and more difficult to take a great picture? I don’t think so. There are more good pictures, and a great deal more bad pictures, but the great ones still stand out. I am setting my own goals higher and will be striving to take better pictures.
Thanks to Ruby for giving such an open expression to my camera and helping me to get a bit closer to where i want my pictures to be.