Slow photography

Back last December on a birthday weekend in Belgium I lent my camera to a stranger and this is the result.

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The waitress in the café was amazed by my camera when I got it out to take a shot of a table where jams and preserves were set out and Christmas baubles hung amidst the pendulous lights.

Birthday brunch

I showed her how to look through the waist-level viewfinder and she swayed a little, doing the Blad shuffle as she looked at the image reversed in the ground glass screen.

She called her colleague over to look through while the first waitress struck the right pose. I let them take a shot, then asked for one of the two of them together.

I don’t usually photograph strangers. I’m often a little shy — I don’t like to intrude. And I’m not comfortable with street photography, which feels a little like stealing. But this, though, this felt natural and right.
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Back at home, there was Christmas and New Year. It was a while before I developed the film. And when I tried to scan, the scanner was having none of it. So I had to wait to get into the darkroom before I had something I was reasonably happy with.

Which is why Easter has just passed and I am looking back at the run up to Christmas. But in my book at least, the best photographs are the ones you’ve forgotten you’ve even taken until one day the film is developed and you hold in your hand a memory.

I hope that these women had a good day when we took these shots, and the photos I sent off to them today will remind them of something good from a Christmas past. Because that is one of the things that slow photography should be about.

I shoot film

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This shot was taken on a dull day, weather wise. But silver birches are anything but dull, even when the sky is overcast. I love their luminosity and the gnarled texture of the bark. It’s a black and white photographer’s dream. So I spent as long as I could get away with photographing them. While I was setting up this shot, a trio of hikers wandered into view, carefully skirting around me so as not to ruin my shot. One of them stopped for a little Bladmiration™*.  “I’ve got a Mamiya at home in the loft,” he told me. “But it’s far too heavy to carry out on the hill.” It’s true, they are heavy if the alternative is a point and snap, but compare it to a high end or even mid range DSLR and I’ll bet there’s less in it than you might think.

A few minutes later we met another pair of hikers. “I shoot film,” one of them told me. “but not today. I like to travel light when I walk.”

I know what he means. There have been times when I’ve cursed the heavy weight I’ve lugged around all day, only to find that the light wasn’t right or the scenery uninspiring and I haven’t taken my camera out of my rucksack.

This wasn’t one of those days, But most of my shots were in colour and it doesn’t seem right to post them here. They’ll have to wait for another day.

*Bladmiration – an admiring attitude towards an old Hasselblad camera.

Dream

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I have longed to stop here every time I’ve passed by. You can see the top of the sculpture from the motorway, a gentle dreaming head above a line of trees. It seems such an improbable thing in the unlikliest of places.

Finally I got the chance on a day trip to Liverpool and learned about the huge gap it filled after a colliery closed down. I’m not a fan of fossil fuels, but the trade unionist in me still remembers the devestation caused to people’s lives by those pit closures of the last Tory administration. I still remember the sad stories told my a former mineworker at Trade Union College.

I have no idea whether he would approve of the sculpture. Art doesn’t put bread on the table, or save marriages like a living wages does. But art can help fill a void in the heart and can help us remember all that we were and all we can be.

More on  Dream here http://www.dreamsthelens.com

Week 35 — In Character

Earlier this year I took part in a project. Not any old project – it was a Big Project. An attempt to learn about some great photographers by paying homage to them.

I toyed with some ideas, getting so far as to scoping some signage that would be perfect to give quintessential English spin to the Eggleston vibe. I thought hard about the dreamy elegance and style of Bassman, but struggled to find a willing model.

What I didn’t want to do was Cindy Sherman. I already know about self portraits. I already do self-portraits. Why do the same when you can do something different and learn a thing or two in the process?

As time went by and the deadline loomed I began to realise it would have to be the Shermans. I had no model but myself but I soon came up with a suitcase of ideas.

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I’ll own up to the fact that I shot digital. But though I prefer to use film, I know that photography is so much more than what kind of box you use to direct the light and what you use to capture it on. So, pixels then.

These photos are imaginary film stills. The first two I came up with in advance but as soon as I started taking the shots more ideas came to me.

These are some of my favourite – the full set is available on Flickr

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It was fun to do and even more fun to check out the results from other Utata members on the website.

But what did I learn?

Well, one thing was how surprised people were to see some of the shots. Most of my self-portraits have an element of play acting so I was a little bemused at that. I learned how much fun it was to really go for the play-acting element.

I also learned how different I can look with a few props and a change of attitude.

And most of all I relearned that you don’t even need to step outside your front door to make an interesting photo. So later the same week I took that to heart when I shot my yet another self-portrait for a completely different project.

Another self-portrait

The official week 35 self-portrait, shot on film.

Week 31

So here I am at the summit cairn of Pike O’Blisco – a hill I’d long wanted to climb, in part due to its interesting name. It lies on its own  in the Langdale valley near the Crinkle Crags but far enough removed from them that on this sultry August morning we didn’t encounter a soul on the stiff climb up to the top. Image

On the summit we could see the promise of bad weather, heavy clouds caressing the crinkles while we sat with our feet dangling over one of the rock bands, eating our sandwiches and enjoying the solitude which was soon to be broken.

Shot on Ilford Delta 100 (120 Gelatin Silver)

A family arrived, the dad bossily announcing that this was the wrong top – the actual summit was the other point of the twin cairned top. (I think he must have had his map upside down.) More people began emerging head and shoulders over the last of the rock bands and brushing past us to discover the other summit where the family were being ordered to eat their lunch according to some rule or another.

Shot on Ilford Delta 100

We decided to make a retreat from the crowds, but a self-portrait was in order. There was a queue forming behind me to have photos snapped at the summit cairn. There was no time take another shot  before the next person leapt in to get their piece of the summit. My eyes may be shut but at least is it the right summit. If there is such a thing.