Thursday, 25 October 2018

24 October | What Makes a Good Photograph? - Andrew Mills

24 October | What Makes a Good Photograph? - Andrew Mills

‘Some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them…’. Tonight we were discovering some of the secrets of great (not just ‘good’) photos, with the help of examples drawn from throughout the history of photography and from many of its different genres.

First photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras (Retouched), Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, ca. 1826
Gernsheim Collection, Harry Ransom Center.
Andrew Mills is a professional photographer, based in Southampton, who has specialised in advertising, editorial and commercial photography for over thirty years and has taught photography at degree level. He hadn’t come to lecture us, though - just to get us thinking outside the conventional camera club ‘box’. Andrew doesn’t believe in the standard camera club. His own photography group, Phorum, has ‘no competitions and each month there is a set theme chosen by the group, the results of which are reviewed at each meeting’. He acknowledged that judges wouldn’t necessarily appreciate all the great photos he was showing us – because sometimes the genre was too eccentric and/or too many ‘rules of photography’ were being broken. I wonder what score anyone would get if they entered a ‘foodscape’ (inspired by Carl Warner’s photography) in the next Photocraft PDI or Open Print competition? Perhaps I might need to eat my hat if it scored a 10!

I lost count of the number of photos in Andrew’s presentation. It was a generous cornucopia of great photography. Some images were so famous that you recognised them immediately, but the beauty of the evening was that so many great images had been combined in a single presentation. Granted there wasn’t enough time to analyse each and every image. Does that mean we were short changed? I don’t think so. I suspect his approach was intended to be subliminal – fire enough highly varied images in rapid succession and you’re bound to stimulate some new approaches and fresh perspectives! 

Andrew summed up the evening with three headlines:

  • Be historic – remember to take some photos that document the present day: so that future generations can get a sense of what it was like to live in our part of London in 2018. (By the way, did you see this recent BBC article that compared two photos taken on New York’s Fifth Avenue – just 13 years apart, but in other ways a whole world apart!)
  • Attend to light – for instance, never take a portrait with the sun immediately behind you.
  • Don’t believe camera club judges* – get the confidence to make photos ‘outside the box’.

Altogether, it was a breathless, but stimulating evening. Incidentally, one of the famous photographers that he referred to, Eadweard Muybridge (perhaps best known for his motion photos proving that horses have all four legs off the ground when they gallop), grew up down the road in Kingston and later retired there. Kingston Museum has a corridor-gallery devoted to Muybridge, including a large panoramic photo of San Francisco from 1878 – an immersive and truly historic image, as it shows us what the city looked like before the earthquake and fire of 1906. If you’re in Kingston it’s worth a brief visit.   

(* excepting, of course, judges in our membership!)

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Telling a Story Part 1 (17 October 2018)

A photo is a two dimensional record frozen in time, so it can be a challenge to capture one that delivers much of a narrative. But this is what we often want to do and Aodan's talk explored  various options for telling a bigger story by using multiple images presented in various ways.

A selection of images can be shown together on a single surface as a diptych (pronounced to rhyme with dipstick, dipstick!), triptych, polytych or collage, a collage being characterised by significant irregularity of the arrangement.

What pictures you choose and how you arrange them will vary depending on who it's for and what you are trying to say. It might simply be that you want to project a mood by juxtaposing images that complement or contrast with each other. Or you may want them to tell a story by putting together different aspects of an event or location, or the same subject from different perspectives, or the progression or growth of a subject over time.

Because a camera captures an image in a similar way to the human eye it uses single point perspective. The real world isn't like that (objects don't actually get smaller the further away they are, for example) and artists like Picasso and David Hockney explored ways of expressing multipoint perspective on a flat surface. (I am a bit surprised that more photographers haven't explored this issue considering how effective photo-merging software is nowadays.)

Aodan illustrated this with artwork by David Hockney who assembled collages of Polaroid prints to striking effect. Most famously ‘Pearblossom Highway’. By taking pictures as he walked about the scene and pasting them together, he produced a multipoint perspective image giving a sense that you are ‘in’ the scene rather than standing looking at it.

Another example from Hockney  is ‘Christopher Isherwood talking to Bob Holman’. This collage shows the progress of a dialogue between the participants, introducing a time dimension to the picture.

An example of the 'polytych' is what the Royal Photographic Society demands from candidates aspiring to gain one of their Distinctions (LRPS, ARPS or FRPS). Applicants are required to present a fixed number of prints (10, 15 or 20, respectively) as a panel carefully mounted and presented for judging in a tastefully calculated arrangement. Good luck with that one!

Then Aodan moved on to the photoessay. More photojournalism this, and a genre first surfacing in a German publication in 1920. The idea was picked up by Life magazine in 1936 and Time magazine in 1937, and later the Sunday Times magazine and other newspapers. In the photoessay, the main story-telling is carried by the pictures and any explanatory text was secondary.

Aodan encouraged us to give it a try ourselves as producing a bound photoessay using online services like Photobox is now relatively straightforward and can be very satisfying and rewarding.

The first issue of Life magazine in 1936 carried a photoessay on the construction of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana with the photographs taken on assignment by Margaret Bourke-White. Her brief was to come back with photos of the massive construction taking shape, but instead, the vast majority of them were of the workers themselves, how they worked and their way of life in the neighbouring town of New Deal. Aodan showed us 34 of the photos she brought back. Only 17 of these were used in the magazine and we spent an entertaining latter part of the evening trying to guess which images were accepted for publication by the picture editor, and which were not and why.

Thanks Aodan for a very entertaining evening priming us all with ideas for Part 2,  a 'Show and Tell' evening on 10th April next year.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Open Print Competition No 1

Thank you to Darren Pullman for sharing his comments and scores on our first Print competition of the year.

The winner in Level 1 was Steve H with "Sunset walk to St Ives"

The winner in Level 2 was David H with "Escape"

Mandy B also scored 10 in Level 2 with her photo "Common Starling"

Monday, 15 October 2018

10 October | Intentional Camera Movement & Street Photography

This Wednesday the club experienced a night of 2 halves.

The first half was led by David P, introducing us to the art of ICM, or Intentional Camera Movement. Having had a foray into the technique himself, he was able to share some of his wisdom regarding settings. Naturally enough, a longer shutter speed is beneficial to allow the motion to be reflected in the image. This does cause issues on a bright day – so David used a polarising filter to reduce the amount of light getting to the lens. An ND filter would also work for this purpose.

We were taken through David’s experiments – motion blur achieved from within a driving car, handheld free-styling and the single-axis rigidity afforded by a tripod.

He did warn that fascinating as the results may be (and they were), it seems that the competition world isn’t quite ready for the genius of ICM. This was borne out by the distinctly unimpressive scores (by his standards) in the last competition, where he entered 2 of his works of art.

Anyone interested in learning more can ask for David to add his notes to their Photocraft CD. Alternatively there are a few informative pages on the web regarding this technique:

The second half was led by Martin F, who introduced us to his interest in street photography, an eminently flexible concept. Drawing from both his own extensive experience and also some of the historical street photography greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Saul Leiter, Steve McCurry and Martin Parr, he was able to show us how street photography draws from clever use of contrast and combinations, associations and conflict to create striking images that elicit an emotional response from the viewer.

Both of these thought provoking talks were also precursors to nights in May 2019, where there will be a night dedicated to each of these topics – and everyone is invited to participate and enter our own “just for fun” competitions!