December 3, 2013
Street photography, in the strict sense of “Street Photography” isn’t something I do very often. I might take photos in a street, but Street is a genre in its own right and I can’t devote enough time to it to ever consider myself a street photographer. Besides, it seems to have rapidly become another over-used term by people who just want to justify buying a nice retro-style camera so they can pretend to be William Eggleston or some such.
There are photographers who have built entire careers on walking the streets, spotting moments and coincidences and photographing them. They make their living from selling the images in books or as fine art prints. They might get paid for spreads in magazines, or editorial and commercial commissions on the strength of their style.
I suppose what defines a street photo over its closest relative, stock, is that stock tends not to be as free-form. Street should make the viewer consider the contents and the “message”, where stock tends to be more illustrative.
Street’s second-closest relative would be editorial (in the journalistic sense), but this is different again because the usual task for editorial is to tell a story. Like stock, editorial can be simply illustrative, but can also be more free-form and artistic, but is always confined to telling a specific story.
Street can be random, story-less, artistic, silly, funny, shocking, thought-provoking without any of the tethers which confine other forms of photography. I suppose that is what makes street photography intriguing for me on the odd occasions I do get to spend time shooting it.
Perhaps… no, scrub “perhaps”; I know another reason I don’t do much street photography is that I’m not that comfortable with it. Taking someone’s photo in the street when they hadn’t got up that morning intending to be photographed does carry certain responsibilities for the photographer. Unlike news, where you find yourself photographing someone who might not have been expecting it (but where the reporting of a story makes the photo imperative), taking a street photo is almost always optional, though I’d not want to live in a world where it is outlawed or non-existent.
In a nutshell, my discomfort in taking street pictures boils down to permission or lack of from those I capture on my camera; Ask permission before taking a photo and you lose spontaneity. Ask permission after and you risk promoting the notion that taking photos of people in public requires permission. I don’t never ask, but it does depend on the situation and context.
My approach depends very much on the situation, but above all I avoid images which mock the subjects. That isn’t to say all my shots need to be humourless, but I won’t photograph someone just because they look different or strange. Looking at the limited number of street shots I’ve taken I would say on the whole I include people as a way of adding interest to the scene, rather than making the people the main focus of the image. The people are always pretty un-remarkable to look at, but without them the shots wouldn’t work.
A photo I took last week was made very much with this intention in mind, but one commenter on Twitter gave me pause for thought as they felt I’d shown a lack of respect to the person in my shot. Now perhaps it’s compounding any indiscretion I may have committed by showing the photo here, but I’d like to know what others think and I can’t do that without publishing the photo again.
I’m not looking for praise of this photo. I’d rather be told it was worthless than have to read lots of “nice capture” nonsense. If I wanted that I’d join flickr. But I would be interested to hear from anyone who feels I shouldn’t have included anyone in this shot. So fire away, tell me what you think.
November 27, 2013
When it comes to finding the starting point for the look of a brand new website, it’s often the photography that will set the tone and direction for the visual design. That’s how it went with the new Cornerstones website, and I have to say I’m extremely pleased to see how the website turned out. All too often, images which have been taken to help tell the story end up squashed, cropped and overlaid with graphics to the point of oblivion. Not so with this project.
Cornerstones runs a school in Cheshire for young people with Autism and learning difficulties, spanning a wide range of learning and communication requirements. They also have four homes in which boarders live, having their own en-suite bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens as well as gardens, and my task was to reflect the facilities and the likely experience of anyone going there. So far so good, except that while I needed to communicate the friendly, nurturing ethos of the school and homes, I couldn’t let any of the pupils be identified in the shots.
What I wanted to produce was a series of images which allowed some evidence of pupil activity, but avoiding identification, while also showcasing the bright, friendly atmosphere of the locations. I’ve included some screen-grabs here, but take a look at the site to see how the images and the site graphics work well together.
I would like to add that working with the staff and pupils of the organisation was an absolute pleasure and I really enjoyed my couple of days there. I’d also like to include the fact that working with Ghost Limited, the digital design agency who project-managed and built the site (and with whom I happen to share office space) was a pleasure from start to finish.
November 19, 2013
Sometimes my job can be quite mucky, and one recent commission was especially so.
I was booked to shoot portraits of a couple of Somerset farmers who were nominated for a national dairy award. The forecast for the next day was dull but dry. The thing is, when I woke up it was dull alright, but it was lashing with rain. The weather and the roads were so filthy that on my way to the first farm my windscreen wipers were shifting muddy spray as well as the rain, but I was on a deadline so couldn’t reschedule.
The brief was to get a selection of shots of each farmer, perhaps at the gate, but certainly with some evidence of their herd behind them. In both cases, because of the time of year and especially because of the weather, this meant the herds would be in sheds. Probably not the best of photographic situations because of the low light inside, made worse by the low light generally.
However, despite the weather, my subjects getting rained on and the animals all being fairly dark colours in dim lighting, I was pleased with the results. It wasn’t easy, but it was helped by the good nature of the farmers and I’d like to thank Alan Creed of Withial Farm near Shepton Mallet and Philip Cotterrell of Warren Farm near Wells for their help and patience when they probably had better things to do. It’s fair to say though, I had some laundry to do when I got home.
November 12, 2013
Last week I covered the installation of the new Chancellor of University of Bath, HRH Prince Edward. The event started at Bath Guildhall, where the VIPs got robed and ready to process to Bath Abbey for the official ceremony.
I was second photographer to the university’s staff man, Nic Delves-Broughton, and my task largely consisted of helping to record the day and capture some “flavour of the day” images.
Rather than write a long description of how I spent my time running around trying to get the shots I needed without annoying close protection officers, I thought you’d like to see a smattering of the images from the ceremony…
November 5, 2013
In July this year I undertook a review of a tripod and part of the exercise required me to take photos of myself using it. I decided the best location for this would be Cley Hill near Frome (very close to Longleat) which would allow me to get dramatic skies in the background.
As anyone local knows, Cley Hill isn’t a huge mountain; it’s not even a huge hill, but it’s big enough and a very steep climb. Which is fine on an ordinary walk, but to get photos of myself using the tripod I had to take two cameras and an extra tripod so I could have a camera on the test tripod and one mounted and aimed at myself to get the self-portraits.
The plan was then to trigger the remote camera using my radio triggers. Which I forgot to take with me. This meant resorting to the self-timer function of the camera, which only gave me 10 seconds to get from the “taking” camera to the one on the test tripod. That’s not easy when you’re trying to line up a shot at the top of a very steep hill, the wind is blowing, and cows are starting to take a close interest in what you’re doing.
I wanted to use evening light to get the best drama from the sky, but what with having to get to the top of the hill and set up, time was ticking by and things weren’t helped by the fact that I had to keep changing my location due to one factor or another.
Once I’d finally found the spot that would work best I was able to get cracking, but 10 seconds isn’t that long when you have to dash up a last steep section to get to the location before the shutter clicked and as you can see from the photos below, I slightly mis-judged the timer…
October 29, 2013
Newspapers love a good “bad weather” story, and the St Jude storm this week was a gift to editors who could fill their print and web pages with a broad mix of images from agencies, readers and possibly one or two “courtesy of the internet” accidentally-stolen shots too.
Thankfully, rumours that Sir Paul McCartney is to re-write Hey Jude and perform it live on the roof of Buckingham Palace to raise money for those who lost patio chairs in the storm have proved to be unfounded.
Unfortunately for you, the storm does give me the opportunity to regurgitate some crusty old newspaper cuttings from my early career when I was part of The Bath Chronicle’s Storm Watch team in 1990. Indeed, everyone talks about the 1987 storm, but the 1990 storm also brought down trees and caused umbrellas to be inverted. Looking at these old pics, I realise I wasn’t exactly lead photographer being sent to cover the full devastation, but it’s still fun seeing some odd little scraps of time again. Enjoy!
October 22, 2013
I’m kicking myself a little because I saw an interesting article a while ago about camera security, what measures can be taken to help prevent theft, some of the security options available to buy and all that kind of thing, but of course I neglected to bookmark the article and now it’s lost in the sea of pages trying to sell security kit or CCTV.
That said, I didn’t find the article all that useful for myself. Ultimately if a thief wants your kit they’ll have it off you. If you’re walking through an unfamiliar backstreet of Palermo and get mugged, having your camera attached to your neck with a non-cuttable strap isn’t going to prevent you from being forced to release the gear. It might deter the grab-and-run thief, but only if they know your strap can’t be cut. Personally I’d fear having someone grab my camera and start to run off with me permanently attached to it. I’d rather let it go than end up being throttled by my own strap.
Other options for security might involve tags, either overt ones which attach to camera cases, or covert trackable stickers which attach to cameras. These might help in certain situations, though tags on bags are a bit pointless unless your kit stays with the bags once it’s stolen. I’m not sure how likely that is.
Besides the obvious holes in the logic of some of these solutions, I don’t spend much time walking around places where mugging is a high probability. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the larger risk for me is theft from the boot of my car while I’m having lunch at a motorway service station, so my own security measures are targeted at preventing that.
Firstly, I keep all my kit locked out of sight in the boot with no clues in the rest of the car about what I might be carrying. This fulfils my responsibility under my camera insurance policy, though of course a theft would still leave me without essential kit until I could purchase replacements. But ultimately kit is replaceable. Perhaps the biggest problem for me if someone lifted my cameras from my car would be if I suffered the theft just after I’d just shot a job. The thief would unknowingly be lifting all the day’s work as well as the tools.
So my routine if I need a comfort break on the way back from a job is to ensure I’ve removed all memory cards before I set off and put them in a pocket. Ideally I do this before leaving the site of the job so that I’m not opening the boot of my car in a service area car park, risking some nefarious character a view of the contents. This way if I am burgled, I might suffer the trauma and inconvenience of lost equipment while my client doesn’t have to suffer the inconvenience of lost images too.
I would say the most valuable asset any photographer has is the images he or she takes. Equipment can be replaced, if it isn’t rare (none of my gear is rare), but the photos normally can’t be. I take good precautions over my cameras and lenses while I’m out and about, but a simple security measure which costs nothing helps protect the images a client is paying for.