In Search of Style

FUJIFILM XPRO 2 WITH 21MM VOIGTLANDER F/4 [click image for larger size]

I did have a few other working titles for the piece, In Search of Spok was one but due to copyright that was a no go. Then I thought that In Search of Spook would work but it just didn’t have the same feel, same for In Search of Spork. Then I thought that I would call it Miss Congeniality but at that point I realised that I was just being ridiculous, Opted for Mr Congeniality, closer to me and gets round that copyright, I registered it as a LTD company, opened up a business and started selling modus operandi’s to passing trade. There were two things that were wrong with that, well, to be honest, there were a lot more things wrong with it but there were two key points. The first is that what I thought were modus operandi were actually small, cleverly painted spoons that had been cover in chocolate spread and licked off prior to being painted and the second is that no one what to buy cleverly painted spoons that had been cover in chocolate spread and licked off prior to being painted. I have since discovered what modus operandi means. I thought it would also make a good name for the post but I have decided to stick with the current one.

I have style, I am writing this while wearing a red tie. OK, so what I have is a red tie. And a flowery tie, I have several really cool ties, including one with little whales on it, thank you Boss, and a tie with multiple cactus on it. That’s right, I have a tie with cacti on it, which is a cactie, a tie with cacti on it. Whoever designed it should take a month off as it is genius. Also, just so we are clear, I am wearing more than just a red tie. If you must know, I am from head to toe floppy quiffed hair with a stripy shirt dark blue, light blue and white shirt, a red tie (which we have already covered), a grey cardigan, teal blue trousers, stripy socks and creeper shoes. I think I have style. It’s not that style I want to ramble about however well I can do it. I mean photographic style and the search for my own look and feel.

Style is always a personal choice, what your own style is and what style you like but recently I feel there has been a flood of postcardesque images that are popping up all over social media, being entered into competitions, etc. showing off how great they can take long exposure photo of a light house or rock on the beach or stars in the sky, I mean yeah, they are pretty but my god they are boring. I like landscape photography, there is some fantastic landscape work out there to be admired and I have found to be inspiring but these types of photographs I just find boring and a little too easy to make. I do also feel like this about some of the photographs I make, I think it is the reason that style is in the forefront of my mind and is the reason I am trying to develop beyond my current ‘look’ but my current overexposure to the ‘I stood for twenty minutes while using two ND filters as the sky rode by and the sea washed up over these three rocks/ by this fence post/ wrecked pier pieces in the sand’, or the ‘how pretty is this shot of a weathered tree/ old barn standing aged against the stars at night’, type or style of work has meant I have become extra bored of it lately and while I am on this opinionated rant why all the competitions for photography work. I enter one and I dislike myself for doing it as I do it purely for exposure and that’s no reason to photograph. My soul for exposure… on second thoughts, I think I would take that…

I think I have a photographic style, hear unsure my voice is there. I am fairly certain, about as certain as I am that jelly babies are by far the best sweet this world currently has to offer and yes, I have considered rhubarb and custard rock and I have even thought of the mighty classic, midget gems but they all just miss out on title of top sweet and based on that certainty I am sure that I have a photographic style. At very least my photos have a look and feel that connects them. It has taken me a while to get to my current look, one of mystic, magic, shadows and street, I know, I am a very modest man. I don’t ever want to feel static though. I always want to progress and evolve and I do, it just takes time and understanding.

When I first started out on the streets I had no idea what I was looking for, no idea what to photograph. I thought faces was what I wanted but also street scenes, things happening, the little goings ons. I wanted it all but on every other day I wanted none of it. That is to say, I didn’t know what I wanted. At my core I wanted to get a show stopping shot that would become a Pulitzer Prize winning photo that everyone would sit around in a gallery or book shop or café, agreeing in unison how great the image was and they would do this for millennia to come. So we are all clear when I say millennia I mean the brief moments of interconnecting time between now and the end, which, according to most of the internet, is any day now. Can’t wait! What I hadn’t realised at the time is that, that kind of photo doesn’t happen on your very first day out on the street and especially doesn’t happen when you, and by you I mean I, have no idea what you/I are/am looking to photograph. Only time, effort, exercise and patience will produce that kind of thing.

I started with faces. Characters. As in characterful faces, interesting looking people not like ‘Characters’, the slightly borderline nut jobs who you laugh at because they are funny and because you don’t want to be their next victim. Most cities have them, usually the type who are swearing at pigeons but that is understandable as anyone who has talk with a pigeon will know they deliberately disagree with everything that anyone says, even if they believe it to be true themselves, because pigeons are bastards. All Villages have Characters too, all of them without exception. They also swear at pigeons, pigeons are bastards, only real difference is that in a village you’re more likely to be related to the ‘characters’. I would walk the streets, camera in hand trying to grab these faces. That lasted for a little while, few great faces, both asked for and candidly obtained but I felt that I wasn’t getting anything that good. Certainly nothing that hadn’t already been taken and definitely nothing I was connecting to or having fun with. My next step was in reflections. I like reflections, they are layered and full of possibilities, like multiple exposure images. I liked reflections but they felt like an escape from progressing. I was using the photographing of reflections to avoid talking to people on the streets. I could snap a few shots from the hip while walking by a window and grab something semi interesting and not have to talk to or make eye contact with or nod, smile, wink and/ or acknowledgement of anyone else in existence. Nice images but no real connection. I don’t think you have to work hard for an image, there is always a certain amount of work to each photo, some little, some long but the photos I was taking were just drive-by snaps. I was growing, wanting more and starting to learn.

I started to draw inspiration from all over, not just photographic resources but from all over. At this point I also took a little step into landscape photography. I had started there and thought that it would be good to go back to give me fresh eyes on the street but I just couldn’t adjust, I had to learn if I wanted to move forward. I remember watching a great little documentary called ‘Exit It Through The Gift Shop’. It is a British documentary film which is directed by Banksy. It is about Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant in Los Angeles, and his obsession with street art. And is well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. There was an artist featured in this, for the life of me I can’t remember his name, feel free to roast me in the comments section while writing out the artist’s name in BLOCK CAPITALS to really ram your point home because that’s what we do to each other now. This artist, he would spray paint round shadows in the middle of the night to mark out where they were at the point he discovers them and show, in a permanent fashion, where these shadows had been. A way of showing the fleeting things that happen. Well I am fairly sure that was the artists intention, that is certainly what I thought and it was because of this thought that my style changed again.

I started to realise that stories could be told, moments could be seized, scenes could be made out of what light was playing around. So, I started to look and shoot and in the moments I saw fleeting light and shadow I snapped at it, trying to make something interesting out of the darks and the lights, adding people to keep the human element. I liked the isolating element of just one person in frame. Alienation is what I first felt like in the city, now it feels like my hunting ground but I still like the single, solitary human for aesthetic reasons. I was furious and in search of my own aesthetic I started to use both my camera phone and my fixed lens camera trying to get a ‘look’. The lens you choose does have an impact on the look and feel of your images. It’s all far more technical than I can break it down into but real masters of the craft can look at an image and know, due to the distortion, etc, I think, what lens was used. I started to favour the 35mm or equivalent look. Its tasty and is what the eye can roughly see. I say rough as I have yet to have an exam since the mandatory one you get as a young kid and even then, I got the answers from a kid in my glass. Call it what you want, I thought it was genius. In hindsight it was the start of a slippery slope of me following around that kid from my glass and harassing him for the answers, which is now mainly ‘No comment’. He is a lawyer now and a pay him. I should get an eye tested as I do, on good days, only roughly see. I have recently started to experiment with two different focal lengths, equal parts successfully and unsuccessfully but that’s street photography as far as I am concerned. Shooting the streets, finding interesting light and shadows to photograph and doing it all through, eventually, one lens and one camera really help me lay the foundations for what would eventually become my taste and my style. Bold Noir blacks, single isolated person and hints of light. Simple.

FUJIFILM X100T @23mm, ISO 3200, 1/125 sec, f/14
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FUJIFILM X100T @23mm, ISO 3200, 1/250 sec, f/8
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FUJIFILM X100T @23mm, ISO 3200, 1/250 sec, f/7.1
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FUJIFILM X100T @23mm, ISO 3200, 1/250 sec, f/10
[click image for larger size]
The next step was to take what I got out on the streets and make it look like it did in my minds-eye and memory of the shot. Sometimes that was easy, other times I had a little work to do but the work that is done in post-production is incredible important as it is the last stage in developing the photo. I try to do as much as I can in-camera as a way to limit my post-production work. Sounds like I know what I am doing, maybe, rereading this it sounds a little snobby ‘Oh, well, actually I do most, almost all of my work in-camera. Yah, yah, it’s just knowing how to, blah, blah, blah…’, man sometimes when I read things like that all I can do is cough Bullshit! Yeah, it is important to know your camera and if you have a good relationship with your gear you will make great work but I think you are always going to need some form of post-production. It was a way of finalising what you got, a way to dodge and burn, tweak and edit, smooth out or rough up any photo taken, putting your final spin, your look onto the photograph. I really do most of my work in-camera but only because I am lazy and would rather be photographing than editing plus, I have basic editing skills so it’s easier for me to be out photographing. I am trying to get better at the whole editing process but having a magpie-like brain, only interested in shiny things and as soon as I see a shiny thing I’m off and it is just one shiny thing after another. Bloody shiny things and magpie brain.

It is thanks to my magpie-like brain however that I keep wanting to change. Although I like the look of my photos I always want to be making something more, going beyond what I know and like to do. I want something, something else from my work, something that I can make my stamp on but wouldn’t normally be a photo I would think to take. That’s no easy task, having to think like me but not me, beyond me, more than what I could usually muster. It’s fun and challenging and challenging. I’m thinking flash, I have always wanted to use it while out on the streets just never found the how or the why to use it. On thinking about it I don’t really need a how or way I just need to do it. Future Graeme, when you reread this, and I suggest you do if only to proof read and spell check, go out, get a flash and start shooting street photography with a flash. If you are not going to do it, you jessie, then do something. I hope to continue to grow, I don’t want to bore myself or anyone else viewing my work, just got to keep on snap, snap, snapping. Game on!

FUJIFILM XPRO 2 WITH 35MM LEICA SUMMARIT-M F/2.5 [click image for larger size]
FUJIFILM XPRO 2 WITH 21MM VOIGTLANDER F/4 [click image for larger size]

iPhone

All comments and questions are more than welcome.

Happy Reading

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