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I have been working on another edit of these portraits from Cardiff. They’ll be part of a group exhibition in Stuttgart, and last night Wes Anderson’s ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ was on. This clip reminded me how I felt, in May 2013 when I set up my make shift studio, on the streets of Cardiff. I photographed 110 willing participants, each one a beautiful creature.

Have a great summer. Over and out x

 

 

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I’ve been thinking about writing this post for some time, and then I watched Interstellar. The film has the words of Dylan Thomas at it’s core, from his poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight’. Matthew Mcconaughey gives a brilliant performance, but it was Thomas’ words that grabbed me and pulled me wholeheartedly into the film. In my photography, other people’s words have become part of my way of working. Often, other people – writers, can better articulate what I – a picture maker, am trying to say. Their words give me a better understanding of a subject, reinforce my original ideas and expand on that idea. I use them to get to the bottom of what I want to say, which is not always easy to figure out.

In my book project – ‘My Favourite Colour Was Yellow’ I found the words of two people especially useful. I read Jo B Paoletti’s book ‘Pink and Blue – Telling the Boys from the Girls in America’. The book traces the history of the colours pink and blue in children’s clothing. Jo’s research reinforced some of the hunches I had and helped me to understand how this phenomenon had come about. A greater understanding of a subject is going to lead to better pictures. Jo has since written an essay for my book, and she ends it on a posssitive note, hinting that a change is in the air. A sentiment that I share and have echoed in the photographs towards the end of my edit.

There is also a quote that helped in the making of the portraits. It’s from W M Hunt (if you don’t know him, look him up) “Insist on engagement. Wrestle with what is difficult. Pretty is boring. Seek intensity.” This was ringing in my ears when I was making photographs. It helped me to get away from making pleasing pictures, that the girls parents would approve of. I was guided towards making more interesting photographs of each girl, that was more true to each of them. I was dealing with what could be a saccharine subject matter, and these words steered me through.

At his talk in Bristol last year David Goldblatt spoke about the influence of South African literature in his practice. I was reminded recently (via Colin Pantall’s blog) of Ken Grant’s mantra to ‘rush slowly’ the borrowed words from Josef Sudek.

We can’t do it all ourselves. All work is collaborative. When we find someone else that can articulate our feelings for us, whether its through a song lyric, a quote, novel or poem – we love them for it. The people who help us to feel and to understand. Whether its Dylan Thomas, John Martyn or Nabokov.

Don’t forget about the words when making pictures.

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With Christmas fast approaching these recent images will be amongst my last serious photographs for this year. I have been working with book designer Victoria Forrest. Even when I thought all the work for my book was done – Victoria told me to keep shooting. So there is more in the pipeline, but now that will have to wait until the new year.

For now my attentions are set on planning my Kickstarter campaign. I am on a mission to self publish my book, in time for a launch at Photo Book Bristol next June. I am aiming to raise £12,000 over the next few months. People have told me that I am a quietly confident person. I am confident about my photography work and even the process of making a photo book for the first time. With other people’s help I have gained enough confidence to embark on self publishing. However the thought of raising such a small fortune, by crowd funding, is seriously worrying. If I don’t reach my target- I won’t get a penny.

I have the confidence in my own work, but somehow I need to turn that into other people having confidence in the project, enough to want to preorder a copy, with their own money. From what I’ve learned, crowd funding campaigns are all about momentum, and people having faith that it will be successful. So what can I do? I have never taken on such a huge challenge as this before. All I can do is to research and plan. I have been talking to other photographers who have run successful crowd funding campaigns and self published. Asking as many questions as possible, trying to gain tips and advice and and understanding of the whole process. I have been compiling a mailing list, planning a video shoot for the campaign, gathering endorsements etc etc. All I can do is be prepared and give it my best shot. I will be launching the campaign towards the end of January. Look out for it. You’ll be able to pre order the book or back the campaign. I need to move a 12K mountain and I won’t be able to do it alone.

Big thanks to Rudi Thoemmes, Rosie Barnes and Tom Groves for their generous help.

 

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The idea for this photograph came to me 3 years ago. I had noticed people on the street with bright pink hair, and I realised I had to use this in my book project. It has taken me all that time to get the right picture. I first photographed Sarah and Christie below, but as my work envolved to focus solely on children these portraits went out. I then had the idea of photographing a mum with pink hair. The first two mums I approached were initially interested but didn’t make it to the shoot stage. Then there was the pink haired girl that I met on the bus, but again no shot. I met Liz in a cafe, pictured below with her baby daughter. We made some really nice portraits, but the picture didn’t capture what I was trying to say. Then I bumped into Rachel (bottom image) in the park. I thought I made some nice portraits, but when I saw them back I realised that she wasn’t really a child anymore and my head had been turned by her pink locks.

Then a few months ago, out of the blue, my friend Shelby dyed her hair pink. I had photographed her daughter before for my project. When I photographed them together it worked. I talked to Rosie about her mum and that is when she hugged her in this protective way. Her mum looks doll like and I like that. I once read that Trent Parke went to the same spot every day for 3 months to try to capture a picture. That is devotion and detection. It is what I would tell students and those at the early stages of learning to take pictures – that sometimes photographs take time. So often, we only see the finished article, but photographs are made from many failed attempts, journeys down the wrong path, experiments, hard work and then one day it all just falls into place.

 

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I will be holding a workshop on portrait photography, here in Bristol with local photography organisation IC – Visual Lab. It’s a whole day event aiming to simplify the process of making portraits. The first practical session will be broken down into: people, backgrounds and lighting.

The afternoon session will try to help participants become more confident at approaching and photographing strangers.  We will also look at how to make people feel at ease in front of your camera and how you can get  the best out of the people you photograph.

There are still places left. Here is the link to sign up http://icvl.co.uk/portraitworkshop/

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Two of my favourite painters used photography in their process. Richter I have always known, uses photographs as a staring point for his painting. It now looks likely that Vermeer used a kind of camera obscura, together with a mirror to accurately paint the tones that were reflected through his lens. His paintings glow like Kodachromes. According to the film ‘Tim’s Vermeer’ this technique enabled him to create that glowing effect in his work. His work differs from that of his contemporaries. The way he captured light and tone looks filmic.

 

Now I recognise the photography in their work, I can see why I have been drawn to these two artists.  I have often thought that I would like my photographs to look like a Richter. Now I can pinpoint that it is their use of optics and prints that has caught my attention.

In photography we use the elements in front of the camera to create our compositions, we can’t just make them up – draw or paint them wherever we wish. Often we try to tease these physical forms into a composition that aligns perfectly; in the same way that we would have chosen where to place them, if they were on canvas. This takes skill, patience, timing, openness and chance. It’s not an easy job. It take mastery, but it’s what many of us strive for. It’s the difference between a good photograph and a great photograph and what I have found to be the most fustrating aspect of photography. When photographer Jim Mortram, was asked how he decided exactly when to press the shutter he says “It’s when I see the painting”.

The photograph above is one of my images, taken with an iPhone, that reminds me of a painting. In this instance, it’s because the texture is reminiscent of brush strokes. The portrait below is a photograph I made at a second sitting with Jo and Louis. When I was taking it the light made me think of Vermeer, but another photograph also came into my mind. A portrait by Tom Hunter of a girl opening a possession order in front of a window. I assume that Tom Hunter’s image is a homage to Vermeer’s ‘Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window’. I didn’t know these two portraits were connected at the time of taking the photograph. I wasn’t setting up the shot with the idea of copying either portrait. This image evolved of its own accord, but with the whisper of these two portraits somewhere at the back of my mind.

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With only three days left to enter the Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize, I am still deciding what to enter. I have one definite portrait in mind and one other that I’m not so sure about. The Taylor Wessing has the most complex entry system of all the competitions I’ve entered. All the others accept digital files. Taylor Wessing requires A3 prints, minimum. Here’s what this involves for me.

– Entry fee of £26 per image.

– A trip to London with my negs, to my printer to get the prints made and approved that same day. No one in Bristol prints C-types from negs these days and there is no point entering with an inferior quality print.

– the size A3 (not a photographic paper size) needs to be printed on 24×20 paper costing £105 +VAT, really hoping the lab will do me a deal.

-Courier fee £30 to pick up the prints, packaged to exact requirements, the day before I leave to go on holiday. Delivered during the exact dates and office opening hours. I could use special delivery, but they don’t guarantee delivering within these times and not on Saturdays.

So even if I manage to get a cheep ticket to London, we are talking hundreds of pounds to enter two images. This expense makes taking a risk less likely. The chances are your going to play it safe and it makes me wonder if this effects the overall entries.

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve entered the competition, but I think this year could be my 7th attempt. So why bother with the expense and complicated entry system? Because the majority of my work are portraits and TW is the largest, most high profile, photographic portrait prize in the country. It’s preferred style may be traditional and lack surprises, but it’s always controversial. We love it and we hate it and it is an institution in itself.

This year, for the first time I’ll also be entering Portrait Salon. Now in it’s fourth year, Portrait Salon only accepts the rejected images from TW -genius! With around only 60 images selected by TW and 6,000 rejected each year the PS is a really high calibre selection of work, more interesting that TW, and more in line with current photographic practice.

So this year I can spread the expense across two competitions. I can afford to take more risk and I feel like playing a wild card along with my safe bet. But the gamble this year feels more like betting each way.