It starts simply enough, I want to do a deep dive on a photograph. As I begin to do the research necessary, I uncover new threads of history, interwoven with the photographer or with the location or subject. I then dig there and I find new rabbit holes to dive into. I can go on and on forever. But sooner or later the blog post must be finished, the deep dive must end and I must come up for air.
Researching the photographer 'Comings and Goings' by Colin O'Brien, I ran across Bert Hardy, a English photographer that influenced O'Brien. I encounter an image he shot using a box camera that came to epitomize post war London.
I follow then only to find that one of the two ladies in the photograph just died but not before she went back to the same place. She tells of the image from her perspective and how in changed her life. I read about her kids, her marriage and find that she has written a book about her life after that picture.
I also read that there is a movie that was influenced by it all. And so I add, the biography to the books I would like to read, and the movie 'Alfie' that I need to watch soon. I can keep digging, I want to keep digging. Each foot I dig, I get a better understanding of the events leading up to that picture and all of the people who influenced.
The problem is that I need to finish the deep dive. I need to come up for air. I need to stop traveling from one rabbit hole to another and just bring it all to a close. If I don't, I risk losing myself forever.
A few years ago I picked up a book, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom which was the autobiography of Lawrence of Arabia. This took me to a WWI book written by an Australian veteran about the war. The book was no longer published through normal means, so I had to dig to find it. I finally found it and read it. This took me to Ancient Greek military tactics and the ancient world of the Spartans. This took me to a political history of the Spartan city state. A year and a half later I came up for breath. I had not read anything else. I was constantly seeking context for my initial read and this kept forcing me to dig.
So here I sit, at my computer late at night after following three or four rabbit holes. I finished my article on the deep dive and I learned about other photographers I will need to study. I read about the woman in the polka dotted dress and how she wound up on that cool London beach. I learned about Bert and his photography and have a deeper appreciation of what was done. So I lift my glass, after coming up for air, and toast the wonderful rabbit holes that I keep finding.
Bert Hardy was an English photographer who wrote an article in Amateur Photographer stating that you did not need an expensive camera to take a good image. The editor asked him to prove it, as he was known for his Leica camera. He took a box camera to Blackpool, got two models to pose on a fence and took this image.
The wind helped show plenty of leg and the image became an iconic shot representing young London after the war. The shot proves his point very well. He got down low and I am guessing he took several images and selected this one as the keeper.
The beach in the background, the clearly sunny day and the lighthearted mood that the ladies are in all feeds into a mood for the photograph. This is what Bert captured and this is why the image became iconic.
So, if Bert's objective was to prove that a professional, talented photographer with professional models can take a good image on a box camera he did indeed prove it. The problem is that the talent is not in the camera but in the photographer. I myself have no talent, so I opt to up my chances with excellent cameras.
Every now and then even I get lucky!
I have added a new page to my website focusing on a single image deep dive. You can see it HERE.
These images were shown on a CNN report on color images from WWII. You can see the article HERE. We are all very used to seeing images of WWII in black and white which somehow separates us from what is happening in the image. As soon as we see a color image, we immediately associate it with our own time. That brings the images into our daily lives.
The image above was shot after the liberation of the Netherlands, and you can see all the nationalist sentiment reflected in the orange scarves and hats. But the image might have come from a reenactment as the color of the image brings it closer to our own lives. You can picture yourself walking through that very crowd of people. Aside from the clothes and hair nothing would seem out of place.
The image above is amazingly powerful. We see Eisenhower with the leaders of the D-Day Invasion that took allied forces on the first true offensive in the European theater. But we see that as if they were there today. The detail in the shadows, the cabling on the lights on the ceiling, the grey metal chairs they are sitting on and the rough wooden tables used. Event he blue velvet coverings of the table top is clearly seen.
It is powerful because we understand the context, it is powerful because of the consequences but it is also powerful because it is taking us to that moment sixty or so years ago. The historical nature gives these photographs strength.
Below is an image I took earlier this year visiting a room very similar to the one shot above. The velvet color is the same, the ashtrays are the same, and the lights above are the same. One was taking sixty years ago while the other was just a few months. Powerful because the color brings it to life for us.
Images however do not have to have historical context to be powerful. They can capture family, friends or a moment of emotion that we can relate to. These are powerful images. Gone are the discussion of the composition, lighting and the like. The subject trumps all other discussion, no one notices the noise, shadows or imperfections. The image stands alone due to the subject.
Here a US Mustang plane with the kill marks on her fuselage, again brings the historic moment of the image into sharp relief. Here there is no gesture, no monuments decision being made. Here we see an escort aircraft doings its duty just as we have seen in thousands of black & white images. But this time the kill marks are in color. The deep red and black lines of the Nazi flag.
I was watching a YouTube channel where the author was commenting that while she takes thousands of pictures while on vacation, she has very few images of her everyday life. I do believe that if you looked through most people's photography, it would appear that we all live on a constant vacation.
I started shooting my everyday life thanks to film. I love shooting, it helps me manage the stresses of everyday life. So I would take the camera, load a roll and try to kill the entire roll in one day. I would then practice development techniques to learn more. Some of these images are my favorite ones.
Some are shot with point and shoot cameras, some with professional gear still selling for thousands but all are film. I capture my everyday life on film and they are some of my favorite images, not because of their artistic value, but because they remind me of the everyday details of places I once called home.
All these images were shot around our house in London. Behind the plant is the house we lived in. But this is shot just as I would see the house. I would walk in everyday and look at the plants and see the house as a backdrop. The friendly space where my family was waiting on me. It was my home and I loved what it housed.
The fall with the tree on the left, was shot about five minutes from my house. I loved the light coming through the trees and I kept coming back to this spot and have tons of pictures, shot in fog, rain and sun. It reminds me of the sound of rushing water, the light playing off the leaves and the sound of kids running around to play.
Near the falls I captured the image above on the left. I loved the raw iron fence, the ancient roman ruins behind the fence and the dew wet spider web reflecting in the light. On the right is a shot from my office into the front yard of the house. My son's basketball hoop, the garage and my darkroom on the left. This is what I would look out to when contemplating my next project.
Friends chatting in a bar. Here the friend on the right was showing pictures of his family on his phone. The scene was a favorite bar we would go to. Cold beer, good conversation and wonderful service. I can look at the image and smell the place. Leather, wood and beer.
Winter, early morning as I would leave for work. This is the train station near home, ice cold, fog with complete darkness all around. I would wait for the bright light that would single my train and hurry to find a seat for the long ride into town. The light would start to shine so as I reached Waterloo I would have plenty of light to walk to the office.
Walking from Waterloo to my office I would pass the London eye and the Thames. This was my walk almost everyday for 18 months. I loved the walk and always looked forward to it. Each of these sights would remind me of the wonderful city I was living in and I always felt lucky to be there.
None of these images would make my top photographs. None of them would win a photography award. But they represent the average days in my life while living in London. I had good days and bad days but I loved my time there and always look back on these pictures with a warm smile on my face.
Take your camera and shoot your everyday life. Years from now this is more valuable than the pictures of Niagara falls.
While I love film, it is not practical to completely give up the digital workflow. As explained in an earlier post, my MacBook Pro from 2009 is getting a bit old. Due to the lack of hard drives set up for Firewire I had to either buy a new machine or settle for USB2.0 transfer speeds. I decided to get this wonderful desktop for USD 2,500 bought right here in Indonesia.
In terms of specs it has a 3.8Ghz Intel Core i5 with a meager 8 GB of RAM and a 2Tb hard drive. The processor is the fastest I could get in the 2017 iMac. I never get higher RAM from Apple as I have found it easy and more affordable to upgrade myself. The lack of RAM is evident when I get Lightroom and Photoshop running at the same time with some other programs in the background.
The screen is to die for. It is massive and give more flexibility in terms of calibrations then the MacBook Pro does. The sound is extremely good for monitor speakers and the thin design is wonderful to look at. The four USB 3.0 drives and two Thunderbolt help ensure that I can plug in anything I need to. Set up is a breeze and I was up and running in a couple of hours, after downloading the software I use again.
It has a heck of a chin and the screen does not go to the edges. I know this is a small issue however I am sure that this is what will make this machine look dated in a few years time. The Keyboard it comes with is a bit small and the keys are a little squishy to press.
I love laptops. The problem is that I use them as desktops for 95% of the time. So it was time for a dedicated desktop. Now I know I could have gone PC and gotten much more for my dollar however, as explained before, PC is what I use at work. The Mac interface reminds me that I am on a computer to have fun. I am very happy with my purchase and once I get the new external hard drives and some more RAM this will be the exact machine for me.
Price & Value:
Final price was just over USD 2,500 so it is high. But for those who know Macs you get what you pay for. Sure you can get better specs for the money but if you want the Mac experience it will set you back a bit. It is very well built so I believe it will indeed last. My MacBook Pro lasted for 8 years, so if I get a similar longevity from this machine I will be looking at about USD 1 per day.
The younger "Millennial" generation seems to get some rough treatment from older generations. I believe they are altering the world to match how they want to live and this causes the rest of us some anxiety. But the truth is, they have brought a great deal of wonderful things. Take for example the coffee shop. Starbucks seems to be all over the place, but the millennials were not happy with the cookie cutter, large franchise coffee shop. They wanted the unique experience of a local, community coffee shop.
The image above, with the peeling paint, exposed brick and humidity damage would make previous generations drive to Home Depot to buy a can of paint. But for millennials this imperfection is what gives this locations its character. It should be left alone and enjoyed. If you want perfection, go to Starbucks!
This trend has found its way into photography with various filters trying to mimic the imperfections of film. Everything from grain to light leaks are being mimicked in order to give an image some unique character. The very things that photographers tried to avoid in the search of the perfect photograph, is now being sought after. A perfect image is very easy to make in the digital world. But to make a digital image that mimics the random influence of nature, that is a real challenge.
Here is an image I shot on film using my trusty Nikon F2. I had this window in a very old hotel I was staying in that looked out onto the house next door. It was winter in the Lake District of Northern England. I took two images of this same scene because I was not sure if I wanted to house in focus or out. I did not square up to the window and took it from an odd angle. I set the f stop to an f/3 or so to though out the background but keep the window frame sharp. I had the added challenge of the net behind the window which I wanted to be a bit out of focus. This is why I did not use a f/1.8 as everything would have been far too out of focus to properly see. This was HP5 film pushed to 800 to give me the contrast I wanted.
The point is that a great deal of thought, time and effort has gone into making an imperfect image. It hints at what is in the background without stating it clearly. The odd angle makes you feel as if you are looking at it. The line of the house is clear as is the window and chimney stack.
The shot above was the last shot on the roll of film. I wanted a picture of the shoes these young women were wearing with my son in the foreground out of focus. I wanted it to be the last shot in the roll so I took three images of the same scene. I kept the full scan and the light leak of the end of the roll is clear. The shoes are bright and in focus but the rest of the image is a complete mess. And this is what makes the shot.
This last one was a very tough photo to capture. I was in the basement of Charles Dickens's hope in London. It is a museum now and you can see some of his furniture, cloths and the general outlay of the house. In the basement I had this terrible light which was amazingly beautiful casting haunting shadows all over the wall. There was a coat hook holding the old keys. The challenge is that we were in a cramped hallway and while I had plenty of time it was difficult to find an angle that worked. I settled on this image that is completely wrong but in the right way. It has a great many flaws but it somehow works.
There are times that the accidental muse hits us and we trip over a shot that somehow works. This is fun to see however we can indeed plan and work for it. That is what the millennial have taught me...perfection is over rated.
The benefit of traveling around the world is the chance to live in different countries, not just visit. When you live there you get a better feel of the people, culture and city vibe. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the "Paris Mystique" which looked at the city of Paris from a photographic point of view.
But Paris is not the only city with a special reputation and feel. London, a city we lived in for a year and a half, has its very own character that translates very well in photographs. While Paris might be all about the art and joy of life, London is about sophistication. Everything in the city has a reason, a purpose and is named accordingly. While the French may enjoy their artistic disorder, the English have built their main city to reflect their love of order. London, the city of banking, industry and growth.
If there is a single author who captured the streets of London it would have to be Charles Dickens. Reading "Great Expectations" is like taking a walk down the city streets. His descriptions of the Thames ring so authentic that once seen, can not be confused for another. London was such a vital part of Dickens's books that it grew beyond a backdrop and became a critical character.
Looking to photography we find many of the very basic beginnings of this art on the London streets. People have been photographing London since photography first was being tested. William Henry Fox Talbot was one of the first and many of his images still exist today.
The same working class people, stopping for a break, looking over the sights and sounds that have made London famous. The chime of Big Ben, the horns of the boats traveling the Thames River, the quiet people on public transport. Since the advent of photography, London has been photographed and looking back over those images we can easily recognize the same city we have before us today. One of sophistication and working class utility.
Here are some of the shots I took in Singapore. The trip was to take care of the surgery that my wife had to go through so I only took my OM-1. I shot a couple of rolls of HP5+ film through it at an Exposure Index of 200. These were the first two rolls I developed in Jakarta which is an indication that this is slowly becoming home.
Most of the shots have nothing to do with the city, but of everyday objects and gestures around the hospital room and apartment. Above is a tea service that the executive apartments offered upon our arrival. I loved the simple bamboo try, straight decorations on the little cups and the classic tea pot in the background.
Here my son turns from watching TV and peaks at me from over the couch. I loved the look in his eye, and wanted to frame this near the bottom. I like the TV centered above his head.
Below I was obviously wanting to capture the rain drops. The challenge with these pictures is the background. I tried several shots until I had a background simple enough to reduce distraction but complex enough to give different tones.
The technical details: I shot using my OM-1 with a 50mm f/1.8 lens. This thing is tack sharp and the viewfinder on the OM-1 is dream like. Since the overhaul the camera is functioning like new.
In terms of film, I shot HP5+ which has a recommended ISO of 400 but exposed it as it if was a 200. I developed using D-76 and the recommended timing minus 10%. This was my first attempt at this technique and I must admit that I love it!