Technique: SXSW 2014

I use Photoshop often. I use roughly the same tools on every image: levels and curves; but while I can be quite conservative in my use, I have been both learning to use other tools in the Photoshop toolbox and experimenting with my usual techniques.

Editing some old performance images from the South by South-West festival at Austin, Texas in 2014 showed what I’ve learned and how far I need to learn, especially with editing dark images.

sxsw141172 copyThe red hues burnt into orange with this shot of East Cameron Folkcore performing at ATX Music.

sxsw141195 copyArthur Beatrice at Haven had some highlights burning out.

sxsw141202 copyBurnouts continued with my shots of The Preatures that same night: this is one of the less distorted images.

sxsw141224 copyI have the most regrets with Banks: my record of her stunning performance is filled with these pushed and distorted colours.

sxsw141243 copyI had more luck with the highlights at Pure Bathing Culture‘s performance at the Paste Party in Swan Dive.

sxsw141252 copyAlthough quite a distance away, the impeccably-styled Ski Lodge came across well at the same event.

sxsw141300 copyOne image from the Planete Quebec showcase [can anyone help with the band name?] was very much the type of image I wanted to be making.

sxsw141308 copyMy shots of Ume at Brazos Hall had a mixture of post-edit distortion and more muted colour.

sxsw141317 copyI loved the look of the singer in White Sea that same night, but I’m gutted about those hot spots on her beautiful dress.

sxsw141345 copyThis was more like it! Deborah Harry stood out with Blondie later that evening.

sxsw141364 copyWith all these colour blotches and the like, I started experimenting on levels with my London Grammar shots from Hype Hotel. A little tweak with a slider brought out the faces, grain and light beams with a lovely glow.

sxsw141374 copyI loved the light show for No Joy, which had as much distortion as their music. This was the least obscured shot I got of their enigmatic performance.

Like many digital tools, Photoshop is an endless source of versatility. Maybe too much: after all, how many tools can one use? Still, the deeper and wider my editing experience gets, the more adventure I’ll have in making images.

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A lasting poet

Apart from seeing a vinyl copy of his Forces of Victory long player, hearing his contributions to some historical documentaries and viewing the occasional performance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, I had not experienced Linton Kwesi Johnson’s dub poetry live until very recently.

His recent appearance at the South Bank’s B(old) festival was a delight, with archive footage, an on-stage interview with Robin Denselow and a signed live recital of his poetry. I was most touched by his first words: after a rapturous welcome, he immediately thanked the audience, those who supported him and the staff at the event; most gracious.

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Mr. Johnson is the second living poet to have his work published in the Penguin Modern Classics series. I will get round to reading it soon: with current events, his poetry seems to have lost none of its relevance.

The Power of the Print

Some years ago, I was taught how to print black and white prints in a darkroom by the leader of our camera club. As I pulled my first complete print out of the fixing bath, he advised that I’d have to do about 200 prints before I knew what I was doing.

Over the next few years, I went past that amount in the gallery darkroom I’d been taught and in one of London’s communal darkrooms, printing images taken with SLRs and my preferred mirrorless 35mm cameras, along with the odd image taken with my medium format camera.

The time spent in the red-lit darkness was delightful: I’d get lost in print making and enjoy looking at the images I’d made on the tube journey home; the delayed gratification, of capturing, processing, developing and printing drawn out over days or weeks, added to the fun.

Until it didn’t. The allure of digital image capture, with its instant gratification of seeing precisely what one had photographed – even faster than a Polaroid – proved too attractive to ignore. I bought my first compact digital camera and used it with relish, along with my smartphone’s camera, supplanting both with my mirrorless digital camera which I use to this day.

I’ve since taken thousands of digital images, which currently reside on a number of portable hard drives. About half have been edited. Quite a few have been displayed online. None have been printed. Despite the time I’ve spent editing these images, despite the enjoyment I get from sharing these pictures with friends and the “likes” they get online and on social media, at times I feel that without being printed, these images don’t really exist. They feel ephemeral and fleeting, like superficial chatter.

Recently, I visited an exhibition space to enquire about exhibiting some images. As I was taken around the large space, the impact of a photographic print in such a space sank in. But it also sank in with my recent discovery of a plethora of family photos: envelope upon envelope of printed images; permanent representations of family life on celluloid and paper.

I’ve enjoyed sharing my photos and will continue to do so, but I shall be printing more in future. I want to see my images on walls and in albums and not just on screens.

Top ten and half the sky

A friend tagged me on a social media site to list ten significant albums over ten days: “albums that really made an impact and that you still play today, even if only now and then,” ran the definition. I don’t think that what I chose were my absolute favourite albums (I think in a couple of cases I chose whichever album that was on my mind that day), but they each meant something to me and I aimed to get that across in my comments.

The albums I chose were: Miles Davis – Kind of Blue; Muse – Absolution; Steve Reich – The Desert Music; Mike Oldfield – QE2; My Bloody Valentine – Loveless; Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On; Howard Skempton – Lento (not an album, really, but it has affected me greatly); John Barry – Goldfinger; Gary Numan – The Pleasure Principle; and Led Zeppelin III.

Having nailed my colours to the mast, I thought about this list for some days, wondering why there were only two artists of colour and no women musicians at all. There was a fair amount of rock music, so why didn’t I consider Living Colour’s powerful Time’s Up? I included one album I’ve never actually owned, so why didn’t I choose Carole King’s Tapestry, for which I have an equal affection (and lack of ownership)? Wasn’t I fascinated by Beyonce’s last two solo releases? Wasn’t I a huge Kate Bush fan?

While I could bat away such doubts by insisting that this was a spur of the moment list at best,  I was troubled. While this short list excluded a lot of my favourite artists, it made me think a lot about the music I was listening to regularly, and which artists I was ignoring. This wasn’t restricted to music: the ratio of female-to-male writers on my bookshelves is shocking.  I’ve only recently started reading science fiction by black female writers and I am stunned by what I have missed out on so far.

Maybe this is the big issue: by following a fairly mainstream cultural line, I am missing out on vast swathes of creativity. Some artists, mainly artists of colour and women, have to fire on all cylinders – be they musical, visual and verbal – before they can be considered alongside a male artist who can concentrate on just putting out good music. It’s unfair and I’ve been contributing to it.

I’ve been making an effort to hear new voices in culture, but it seems like I must redouble my efforts when considering the movies, music and art I’m consuming. This isn’t about quotas, but more about looking a little further and wider than I normally do.

 

More performance

On going through photos from recent years, I worked through a crop of images taken at South by South West in 2015.

These were taken with my Fujifilm X-Pro1: I was in full flow with this camera and took it everywhere with me. However I was shooting in jpeg format rather than RAW, so I couldn’t be too creative with image editing, which is probably just as well as I took hundreds of photos.

DSCF7505 copyTove Styrke

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DSCF7690 copyAutre Ne Vert

DSCF7795 copyJames Davis

DSCF7771 copyMiranda and the Diamonds: beautiful voice, but I was too far away!

I’ve been adding to this section periodically, putting in music and theatrical images where I find them. More than any other type of photography, this encourages me to get closer to the subject. More images can be found here.

 

Photographs Not Taken

One evening as I was walking from school towards Shepherd’s Bush tube station, I chanced by a number of singers walking in the opposite direction.

I recognised Jane Eugene of Loose Ends and Juliet Roberts of Working Week, with… was it Carol Kenyon? They were uniformly dressed in houndstooth trousers and black leather jackets: I imagined they had come from a photo session or video shoot.

I thought about asking to take their photo. In my schoolbag was my newly bought (and soon to be stolen) Pentax K1000. My first SLR and I were still getting acquainted: what an opportunity! But I was too shy to take advantage. I walked past the singers annoyed at myself.

Ten plus years later I was on my first solo trip to Paris. I spent the evening walking along the Champs Elysees taking photos with the Pentax’s replacement: a Chinon SLR. I sat at a bus stop to photograph an amusingly hoarded Louis Vuitton store when a people carrier pulled up in front of me.

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Out stepped the fashion designer Valentino and associates. This was special, but I lowered my camera: I didn’t want to take the photo.

I thought of these two brushes with celebrity while reading Photographs Not Taken, a collection of photographers’ essays, published in 2012, on photos they didn’t take. Reasons include reticence, discretion, fear, unloaded film and pure chance among others. Each essay is fascinating.

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Among the stories about not taking photos are motivations for the images the photographers do make. Bearing witness to political events, representing the voiceless and discovering something new all feature, but in each case the photographers are driven to get the image that is important to them.

This made me think not only about the moments when I’ve decided against taking photos, but about what images I most want to take. The sense I got from the photographers’ essays was that they constantly got out of their comfort zone to take the images that were important to them, even though at times circumstances held them back. I don’t think I do that enough.

There’s a plethora of photographers in this book that I wish to learn more about. I’ll use their stories as an inspiration in my photographic journey – and I’ll get out of my comfort zone more in future along the way.

Collages

As part of the Dogwood photography challenge in 2017, I experimented with the Brenizer Method for the first time.

This method, otherwise known as Bokeh Panorama or Bokehrama, is a photographic technique that creates a digital image exhibiting a shallow depth of field in tandem with a wide angle of view. Using photo merging techniques, it was popularized by photographer Ryan Brenizer, and enables digital photographers to mimic the look of medium or large format film photography.

I’ve seen it used brilliantly in portraiture, and I hope to use it in my portraits soon, but my experimenting with it so far has taken in sculpture, landscape and architecture.

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About six photos were used in this panorama from La Olivia, Fuertaventura.

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This image of the Physical Energy sculpture by GF Watts was made up of about 30 images.

This link here has been the best guide for this technique. More images can be seen on my Behance page. As enjoyable as I’ve found building up these collages, I haven’t quite “got” the process. More playing and experimenting will follow.