I don’t intend for these pieces to be overly wordy, as I am not, as you may already be aware from this standout starting sentence. Indeed, I do like to write it’s just I find it easier to translate the things in my head into pictures rather than words but, anyway, I thought I would start to really focus and think about what I am writing instead of having lots of posts with little rushed pieces I would actually take the time to craft together a piece that, at the very least, had some meat and context. That all felt a little repetitive. Basically, I am trying to make a change. Whether this will be any better is yet to been seen. Shall we begin…
I thought that it may be best to start at the beginning, or at least as close to as I remember it, and give an insight into my photographic mind, body, sole, past, present and possibly future…
Photography has always been ‘an out’ for me, a way to escape my head, to interact and understand the world and to record what I see. In the beginning, some of that was my exact reality, only slightly twisted in some cases but now most of it, although still reality, is a reality being crafted by me. A world in which I am a nineteen twenties flat foot detective out on the prowl for clues, clues being photographers and the rest being a delusion concocted by my over-imagination. This theme will appear later in the post. This all feels a little repetitive….
I was introduced to street photography through a friend of mine, Jim. For the life of me now, I can’t actually remember how I met him, Jim, I just remember him being in my life. I suppose some friendships are just like that, they just simply exist. No start, middle or end, just are. Jim introduced me to Street Photography and at first I was tentative, unsure of how I could, or would, go about photographing out on the streets. What would I shoot, what would people say, what would people think of me, would everyone be annoyed at me, what do I say if someone asks what I am doing, the list goes on and on, each one a question and a worry, that plagued me constantly – some still do – but after our first flurry together I was hooked. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know it but I was definitely hooked, like sunken into a pit of itching despair, lusting like a fiend for a meander about town with camera in hand. I might not actually photograph much or anything at all but I felt a pull, a need, to go. Initially that was always with Jim, pestering him with a menagerie of messages – correct use or not of that word I like the way it rolls – to come through to town with me, talking his ear off about techniques, tricks, confidence tactics, the lot. He was ever patient in his listening to me and he was ever patient in his delivery of information. I learned a lot from our time together and although we don’t photography together now, we haven’t for a long time, I still think on those times fondly. I learned a lot and a lot of it was and has been very useful.
I chewed through photography books, wallowed on the web and wondered when I would find my ‘decisive moment’, absorbing all I could with the slow, and I mean very slow, realisation that the more I did out on the streets the more I would actually grow and learn. Theory is wonderful but it is also abstract. Practical is where I really started to grow. I would shoot reflections, I snapped secret little scenes of people chatting on the street, I captured portraits, I tried my hand at every genre that street photography encompassed. I enjoyed them all and I was having fun but I didn’t feel that I was making anything good or worthwhile. I wanted to make something more, I wanted to take better shots that I could relate to, photos that had a piece of me in them. At this time, a cascade of small but very important coincidences accrued and everything came to light in my mind.
I am almost certain this is exactly how the moment happened but it has been a few years since it did and I am the product of a fairly exuberant, would that be the right word, exuberant? … maybe excessive would be a better word… I am the product of a fairly exuberantly excessive teenage haze so forgive me if it’s not one hundred percent correct.
It was a Wednesday mid-afternoon, around One Thirtyish and I was eating a hot bratwurst sausage in a warm bum with ketchup. I had to eat ends in as the roll was a tad too short for the meat (as opposed to eating from one end to the other as I realise that sentence kind of implies that you can eat a hotdog middle out. Impressive if you can do that but I can’t image it being fun and it most certainly is messy), man alive it was tasty but cost me my last three quid. It is the obvious eureka food. I stood staring off a bridge in the city, while taking bite after bite of meat, bun and sauce when I caught sight of a single shoe sitting on the bridge ledge. It was a plain brown classic thick-soled shoe but it was on the other side of a very tall railing, facing away from the bridge, like the owner just step off the ledge and simply left it there as a statement or note. My mind was on fire. I thought myself a detective (here we go again. Maybe I should have just studied harder and actually become a detective?), the classic self-narrating, Trilby wearing, silent type that exist in Noir B-movies or Broadchurch – I looking at you Tennant, with your bold, hard-hitting attitude to reach the truth. Actually, both Tennant and Colman were fantastic in it. If you haven’t already, watch it! – who get all their answers from one of two places. A bar, from the bartender named Ali, or from the mean streets they beat. I kept puzzling over all the sets of circumstances that resulted in the shoe being departed from on its owner. I always loved those films, detective types, I still do. All the little coincidences that collide to make a whole. During these floods of food and thoughts a realisation slowly seeped in that the ‘more’ I wanted, the ‘more’ I was looking for was the story element. I wanted to bring n all the little things I liked to my work and start to try to make stories with my images. At very least I wanted them to look like a black and white film still. A snippet, or scene, that would wouldn’t look a miss in any Hitchcockian-esk film! I felt satisfied, both in body, thank you bratwurst, an in sole as I felt as though I had a found my direction. The next step… action!
That evening I decided to I was going to ditch the DSLR in favour of something smaller, something pocketable, something that let me get closer and help me make the work I wanted to make. Now I know that kit shouldn’t matter and that it’s the photographer and that yah, yah, yah but I strongly believe that you must have a good connection with your gear, ‘Don’t think of it as a cigarette. Think of it as the thing that’s been missing from your hand. When you’re holding it, you feel right. You feel complete.’ Chandler teaches joey how to smoke, Friends: The One with the Thumb. I think this analogy works well. The camera should feel like an extension of your eye, mind and imagination and for that to occur a good connection between eye, mind, hand and gear has to exist. Can’t make the work you want if you are can’t operate your gear properly. So, I sold what I owned and got an Olympus Pen, I forget which one now, and I loved it, despite forgetting which one it was. I hit the streets with my new-found feeling of freedom.
Manifesto in mind – I do love a bit of drama – I looked for anything that looked vaguely Noir-ish. For the first time, ever, I found myself slowing down, like right down, like snail’s pace, like I was being overtaken by snails, like any slower and I’d be going backwards slow. I was observing everything, well trying to anyway. Composition moved to the very forefront of my mind, I was getting closer and closer to people and to situations I wanted to snap. Bit by bit I felt like I was making real progress. I followed the advice of the great artist Pablo Picasso, ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal’, not literally, I wasn’t in galleries taking photos off the wall and you can’t prove otherwise… I can neither confirm nor deny anything without my lawyer present. Actually, maybe I did take it literally as I started to actively seek out artists I admire, dissect their work and take the parts that I like for myself. I would like to take this moment to say thank you and even apologise to all the great artists whose work I borrowed from. Trent Parke, Garry Winogrand, Alex Webb and Richard Koci Hernandez were especially influential, followed swiftly by the likes of Brue Gilden, Dougie Wallace, Martin Parr, Vivian Maier, Cindy Sherman, Dorothea Lange. Thank you and I am sorry, more thankful than sorry but still all the same.
I had a small stint with the Olympus Pen, sold it or the Fuji X100 and continued to develop my own ‘style’. Yes, an amalgamated ‘borrowed’ style borrowed from all the photographers I like but I’m making it my own. I picked up a technique called ‘Day For Night’. ‘Day for night is a set of cinematic techniques used to simulate a night scene while filming in daylight. It is often employed when it is too difficult or expensive to actually shoot during night-time. Because both film stocks and digital image sensors lack the sensitivity of the human eye in low light conditions, night scenes recorded in natural light, with or without moonlight, may be underexposed to the point where little or nothing is visible. This problem can be avoided by using daylight to substitute for darkness. When shooting day for night, the scene is typically underexposed in-camera or darkened during post-production, with a blue tint added. Additional effects are often used to heighten the impression of night’, Wikipedia. So, that is a lot of information to process but basically, I use the technique to deepen the shadows and heighten the contrast in my images. I like the look that it produces and it is also the reason I shoot in JPEG instead of RAW. I try to get it all in-camera. Less time spent editing, more time out shooting. I started to drift towards the idea of alienation in my scenes, let’s not peek behind the curtain of that idea, the less we pry into the psychology of my mind the better, no more than what the piece already has done anyway, if it has, has it? Whatever… I would find a scene, explore it until I discovered why I like it and then I would wait until a single solitary someone walked through the scene. Sometimes it only took a short time, sometimes a long time but usually until I got my shot. I lost a lot of lovely hours gaining some of my photos. Always worth it, I always learned something. Come to think about it that is also exactly how I work right now but without the idea of alienation hanging over them. Nope, now I just do my best to make little Noir scenes, pure and simple. Little stories full of interesting light and shadows and people all framed with the idea of behind a small movie stills. Fun and hopefully enjoyable.
‘What’s next?’, I hear you cry. Actually, I am unsure if you have even made it this far and for those of you who have I can understand why you are crying – the spelling, the grammar, the structure, the endless descriptions and overexaggerating that could have been reduced to a five-word sentence – well done to you for surviving this far. I don’t wholly know what is to come. I am becoming more prolific, still photographing every day, everything and anything I fancy. That was something that I had at the start that I don’t have now, a lot of rules. Lord, I had rules for every aspect of my photographic life and although some restrictions can breed creativity my rules, my rules were just constrictive, destructive and outright ridiculous at times. I remember them well and I am glad there are gone. I will continue to work until I make my one perfect shot and I always get me shot…
Well that didn’t go so bad, did it? Now to reread and see what I need touch up. I will add any amendments to the bottom.
Lines that didn’t make the post:
‘Like most of my ideas I rarely think them all the way through before I wade in and start making an absolute cock-up of it but it is how I learn and it is who I am, so why be any different now?’
‘It all came together in my head while’
And that’s it, all finished up for the first piece. I thought it went ok, yeah? All thoughts and comments are welcome. Any suggestions for topics would also be handy. I will see what I can do on my end.