Sharing

‘tis the season for resolutions, for looking back and for generally taking stock of life. There was a time when I would have written a series of blog posts on these themes incorporating a commentary too on what I’d written about and how regularly I’d actually written during the previous 12 months. Well, spoiler alert, I’m not doing it this year so this isn’t that post. I have however been doing the thinking even if I’ve decided against writing it all down.

© Dave Whenham

I’ve spent almost all of the Christmas period unwell, missing family gatherings, sleeping upstairs all day whilst children and grandchildren all descended on the house on Boxing Day, most disappointing of all though I’ve not been eating and drinking all the festive treats we got in for the holiday. As I write this, Christmas was four days away and there’s only a little over two days left of 2022 and I’m still coughing and spluttering, using at least half a dozen handkerchiefs a day and generally feeling crap. I therefore don’t particularly feel like reviewing the past year or contemplating the next. I just want to feel human again!

And I shall.

One thing that I did ponder on whilst laying in bed on Boxing Day was, as it happens, this blog of mine. I started it many years ago as a diary for my studies. Somewhere that I could record my research and related activities, ponder results and share them with my tutor and fellow students. I continued with the blog post studies, including a big “move” to a different blogging platform during which I lost 75% of my blog. Not a good time. I still dream of finding in a forgotten folder some of the essays that I’d worked so hard on and whose loss I still regret. But, as my studies came to a close, I continued to write in the blog.

Partly as a way of sharing my hobby … but mainly because I actually enjoy writing.

Why did I carry on though? Partly as a way of sharing my hobby with the handful of people I stayed in touch with but mainly because I actually enjoy writing. I enjoy crafting the flow and pace of a written piece. I also enjoy seeing where my thoughts will take me; unlike an essay for my studies I rarely start with a firm plan and the subject evolves as too does the main point I am going to make. Sometimes this resembles whatever induced me to put fingertip to screen in the first place but oft-times it’s a surprise to me and the first I know of it is when I proof read the copy.

The germ of an idea this time came from watching Alex Luyckx’s latest YouTube video. This led me to ponder resurrecting my nascent interest in making videos, or VLOGs as I termed them, a pursuit I put on the back burner when my formal studies ended. I then found that Alex had, somehow, left me with a thought revolving around the empty recesses of my skull … “write about what you know”. This in turn led me to think about what I do write about and why and thereby to this point of sitting at the dining table tapping furiously at a screen trying to get it all out of my head before the family need the table for tea.

One thing I have noticed is that my blog became more focused once I’d made the transition from digital to digital plus film and from there to being once again a mostly-film based photographer. Much of what I’ve written about has related to my experiences and experiments returning to film photography and also discovering new techniques or formats. Often these are things I couldn’t experience first time around due to lack of funds or time but often through simply not knowing about them. Hard to understand in this digital age I know and I suspect many take for granted the wealth of information available at the tap of a finger or the click of a mouse button.

It’s not a gear-centric blog, although I enjoy the gear, but is more focused on what I can achieve with the tools and materials. At times, usually when I’m restricted in my movements through ill-health, I write opinion-based content, but on the whole I like to share what I know, what I’m learning and what I’m trying out by way of new techniques. This is both as a means of making sense of it myself but also as a way of sharing.

So, that’s my point for today in what is probably, but not definitely, my last blog post of 2022. If you are a film photographer, whatever your level of experience and whatever your particular specialist subject is, please consider sharing your knowledge, your experience and your technical skills. Whilst film photography is enjoying a resurgence it’s still a fledgling and its long-term survival is not secured yet. For it to continue to thrive and continue to grow we all need to play our part.

It’s not just about supporting those companies that are undoubtedly doing their best to keep film alive, they have a strong vested interest, nor is it just about making the gear available but it’s about keeping the knowledge and skills alive, ensuring they are passed on through the generations. I don’t mean simply burying things in websites or online databases. Those artefacts can be found of course and have value – but only if they are found, only if future film photographers know the right questions to ask or keywords to enter in a search engine. Our mission, should we wish to accept it, is to actively spread the word, to share and not to hoard our knowledge so that newcomers to this world can see for themselves the wonders that await beyond the marketing stories, the slick packaging and the glossy offerings of hip influencers.

So, that’s what I will be doing in 2023. Or rather, that’s what I shall continue doing in 2023. Whether or not I branch out into a podcast or I resurrect my nascent and long-dormant YT channel (thanks for that ear-worm Alex!) I shall at least be continuing to write for my blog. Continuing to share via social media and continuing to do my small bit to keep the film flag flying.

I hope you do too.

Here’s to a healthy, happy and creative 2023 with as much sharing as we can all manage.

Pondering on influence

Does the camera you choose influence what and how you make photographs on the day?

I was pondering that this morning following my wife’s announcement that the bathroom, where I hang films to dry, was out of bounds. “You will have to shot digital for a few days” was her less than sympathetic postscript. Now I’ve nothing against digital, I’ve several digi-cams available, but as my reader probably knows by now, I habitually use film. Mind you, having used (exposed, developed, digitised and sleeved) seven rolls of film over the last two days I thought it probably wouldn’t hurt. My thoughts shifted to what camera I should take.

iPhone

I took my phone.

I still need to make a photograph every day as my picture-a-day challenge continues but the phone will be well up to the job. Had I known about the bathroom ban last night, I’d have charged a battery or two and stowed a small digital camera in my bag in readiness for this morning. As it was, I had just five minutes to decide what camera to take. However, we make the best of situations.

Once outside I photographed heavy frost on the car, explored some frost covered leaves and patterns in ice. All things the phone handles well enough for my needs. Scraping the ice off the protective screen with a fingernail I photographed the outdoor thermometer (-5°) and headed off on my morning’s errands which in large part covered exactly the same ground that I covered yesterday.

iPhone (and my car)
iPhone

It was whilst sat in my favourite café, jobs completed, that I realised I had been looking at the world around me differently to how I’d looked at it yesterday. I further realised that this change in perspective was actually quite normal for me. I am always looking or at least sub-consciously watching, for compositions and photo-opportunities but it dawned on me that what I watch for varies with the camera in my bag.

Yesterday, I had the Holga Pan and two rolls of film in my bag. My thoughts instantly turned to architectural multiple exposures, inspired totally by friend and fellow photographer Andrew Keedle. My phone was in my pocket but it was the Holga Pan that had my attention and I photographed accordingly.

Holga Pan

Today with just a phone for company I was instinctively looking for images that suited the “camera” in my hand. Thinking back over the past week during which I’ve used five or six different cameras, I’ve adapted my vision each day to the cameras at hand. Adding the Holga Pan on a couple of days was a conscious decision as it’s on loan and I wanted to try the multiple exposure technique Andrew demonstrated. However, going back through my archive it is clear that what and how I photograph is very much influenced by whichever camera I happen to have with me.

The fact that I probably make more images in the streets surrounding my home than everywhere else combined means that I am very familiar with my surroundings. I still manage to find something different every time I venture out however and I think that this is in part down to the fact that I look at my surroundings with slightly different eyes each time I go out.

Sometimes I go out with an idea in mind and on those occasions I choose the camera for the job. Oft-times though the camera I take is chosen quickly and the choice also influenced by what cameras currently have film loaded (normally at least four cameras have film loaded).

Horizon S3 Pro
Canon 5DII

After a full English and several mugs of hot, black tea it was clear that I needed to vacate my corner seat as the café was starting to get busier with lunchtime trade. I’d written most of this blog post whilst sat there in the warmth but it was time to venture back outside onto the frosty streets. I thought more about the topic as I walked home and the more I thought about it the more I realised that my day-to-day photography was influenced mostly by what photographic tool I put in my bag or pocket as I leave the house.

In passing I guess that another factor to consider is the experience levels of the individual. I’ve tried most genres of photography over almost fifty years and am comfortable with quite a few of them. I am also predisposed to trying new things and experimenting, something that has grown particularly in the last few years. My familiarity with my cameras also means I generally don’t need to think too much about the technical aspects which leaves the brain free to attend to creative matters.

So, in conclusion, what I chose to photograph is generally influenced by the camera(s) I have with me. Other factors, such as the light and if using film, what films I have with me, are also contributing influences. The main exception is when I go out with a specific project in mind in which case the camera is chosen accordingly.

Hhhhhmmmm, now then, does your mood influence the camera you choose?


All images created over the last five days

On being sociable

The flurry of posts here over the last few days didn’t go unnoticed in the land of the bird. “Are you becoming a Superblogger?” asked one, tongue firmly in cheek. Well, to give a serious answer to a not-so-serious question, no. Tried that, couldn’t keep up! Not just with coming up with something to say every day but finding time to write and post it. It was a bold experiment not least because I was working full time. But even noting that, I wouldn’t attempt it again even though I’m now retired.

This recent flurry, after a break of several weeks, does however serve to reaffirm that this blogger also has a life outside of social media. And outside of photography. My 365 continued, aided by the mobile phone and school run, but “serious” photography took a back seat due to unexpected and pressing family duties. It reminds me why I’m glad to be an amateur, without the demands of a professional practice. I could deal with real life without worrying about letting clients down.

For the record, I did briefly set up a portrait business soon after retirement. It was hard work albeit very enjoyable. However, the illness and death of my father, shortly followed by my uncle and then father-in-law meant that within six months I’d had to put the business on hold. When the time came to resume work I didn’t have the enthusiasm to start from scratch again, almost a year after pausing, that I took the pragmatic decision to return to strictly amateur photography – and the life of a full-time grandad!

One of, indeed probably the major, benefits of being resolutely amateur is not having to please anyone else. Not having to follow a brief, however vague, allows for full artistic freedom. I unashamedly make images for myself. Of course, if others enjoy an image then that is also fabulous; we all like to be appreciated and I’m not so self-centred that I don’t like applause from the sidelines. One thing that social media has done for me however is to introduce me to a group of people with similar outlooks, who appreciate the work that goes into an image and are always supportive even when work isn’t to their taste. I’m talking about the #believeinfilm community on Twitter of course.

I recently passed the 5-year marker on my picture-a-day (365) challenge. Belatedly I made reference to this milestone and amongst the responses was from Helen who commented on the mix of photographic methods I’ve employed over these five years:

“… mine was almost entirely digital – doing so many different types of photography along the way is just amazing.”

Helen H

It’s the type of support that we see daily from across the #believeinfilm community and means way more than any number of ticks, thumbs-up or heart emojis. Appreciated as these are its when people take time to engage that makes the time spent on social media worthwhile. And yes, any social media interaction worth having has to be worked at; you can’t simply post work then sit back and await the plaudits. The community works because people get involve, share ideas, provide feedback, encouragement and support. Like most things, the more you put in the more you get back.

“You are supporting my devious master plan of helping all photographers, across the world, enjoy their film cameras. I see you doing this too with your amazing blog!”

John F*

Another great thing about the community as I experience it is the diversity of experience and ways of working. From educators and authors through to complete newbies and every level in between, everyone within the community shares knowledge, ideas and even kit. I interact with photographers from around the globe and with such a diversity of photographic practices. Can you tell that I’m passionate about the #believeinfilm community?

So, I started by talking about the joys of being an amateur but this has ended up as an eulogy for the #believeinfilm community … I’ve even had to change the title of the post! If you are on Twitter please do come and say hello!

* The Art of Black & White Developing. John Finch

The Influence of Intent

Does intent influence photography? By which I mean that if I’m just out for a walk and happen to take a camera with me will my images be any different to those I’d have taken if I’d gone out intending to complete a dérive or make images for my portfolio? Or if I’m out and engaged in routine domestic activity will that change how I see the world through my camera? For that matter, does what photographic device I am carrying (phone, digital or film camera, pinhole etc) make any difference?

School run 28/9/22

I’ve probably not explained that very well so let’s take this morning. It’s a weekday and on most weekdays I leave the house around 8.20am to walk one of my grandsons to school. There are basically two routes and he always chooses; it makes no odds to me as both take the same time.

Today it’s the front door route. Out of the house, turn right and walk to the end of the terrace and through the enclosed path behind the pub. Down a slight incline, turn right and walk in a straight line until the school gates are reached. A simple walk, it takes under ten minutes, twenty if you include the return.

School run 28/9/22

On days like today I leave the house intending to return straight home after seeing Harry safely into the care of his teachers. I always have my phone and sometimes a camera as I often make an image during the walk back. I’ve been working on a picture-a-day project since October 2017 and these “insurance” images take the pressure off me if the day evolves in an unexpected way. So, whilst I have a camera the purpose of the walk is practical and mundane and definitely not something I’d class as a dérive. Or “serious” photography.

At this time of the year the sun is still working it’s way up above the terraced houses yet it still sneaks it’s way through the gaps, bouncing off windows and creating wonderful patterns and shapes. I can’t resist. Never.

School run 28/9/22

This morning I made four images during the journey. Each uses the shadows created by the rising sun as it filters through gaps in the houses. None are what I’d call pictorial; I doubt if anyone thinks they are pretty and they are certainly not traditional picture postcard material. I’m probably the only person who will like them, especially once I’ve removed the colour.

They aren’t really documentary images either except in the sense that they are documenting something I saw. Rather they represent the way I responded to the urban landscape. These are the vignettes, small slices of the landscape, that caught my eye this morning on a walk I’ve probably made hundreds of times now.

School run 28/9/22

As I’ve been writing and thinking this morning I’ve realised that, to answer my own question, whatever my reason for being out I still photograph with the same intent. What differs is the amount of time I can devote to the act of photographing the world around me. However, this is something that has evolved over time so in a way is a learnt behaviour. I do remember a time when I termed an outing as either a “serious” photographic expedition or a “snapshot” day. The former would inevitably be me alone with “proper” kit including a choice of lenses, two or three cameras and a bag containing filters etcetera. The latter? Any time when I was with a member of the family or when the trip was for a specific purpose other than photography.

So what changed? Well, I did I guess. I believe that subconsciously I must have gradually realised that any outing could form the basis for “serious” photography. Slowly the things that caught my eye when out with a camera started to merge into a more coherent form. Still an eclectic mixture but the “serious” and the snapshot have gradually merged and I just take photographs these days. Perhaps “serious” photography should be renamed as “my” photography?

Whilst not necessarily “pretty” my photography still exhibits fairly formal composition – part of my “style” perhaps?

Thinking about it, I have always made photographs that appealed to me. Yes, I went through a brief period of entering competitions and did so successfully. But I very quickly realised that in many ways I wasn’t being successful as a photographer but as someone who could identify an image that a camera club judge would deem worthy. I enjoyed the accolades at the time but it was a brief dopamine hit if truth be told especially as I realised that in a lot of cases I no longer liked my own photographs any more! I soon reverted to making work for myself. If anything I took a conscious step away from the typical camera club aesthetic and returned to film photography, embracing pinhole for the first time and in doing so found a photographic genre that really resonates with my view of the world.

Reading: pre-breakfast wander 25/9/22

I have habitually carried a camera at all times for the last fifteen or more years. Every time I leave the house I am full of intent. My intent is to capture images that resonate with my view of the world. Whether that’s through a day dedicated to the craft or something I fit around other activities is irrelevant to me. Be it a couple of quick images on my phone or several rolls of film. But it hasn’t always been like that and I’m sure the same is true for many people.

Turning briefly to the last question in my opening paragraph. What difference does the type of camera make? The only difference it makes these days for me is from a practical perspective. I routinely carry a wooden medium format pinhole camera in my bag and with exposures lasting into the minutes I am constrained in where I can place the camera in an urban environment by the need to stay out of peoples way. My panoramic swing-lens camera has a clockwork motor and is not a discrete tool; I was using it recently at an indoor exhibition (photography was allowed) and in the cavernous mill loft I was sure that people at the far end of the room could hear every exposure as it was made.

The Ian Beesley retrospective at Salt Mill

In truth I can only answer the question I originally posed through the lens of my own experience. For me the answer would be that it used to make a difference but not any more. I make images that appeal to me, that reflect how I interact with the world and how I interpret it. Increasingly, the images that I share are the most personal rather than sugar-coated picture postcards (think stunning sunsets or sunrises) and in many cases are the complete antithesis of the work currently in favour amongst many photography enthusiasts.

Finally, I spoke with someone yesterday that I’d not spoken to since before the pandemic. She and I had both been on the same college course a few years back and had stayed in touch. Writing on the college forum later she said: “Love the images you shared, very evocative and they are very much your style.” That made my day.

As for style that’s a topic for another day but perhaps the evolution of intent has been hand-in-glove with the evolution of my style?

I got rain!

Last time out I was bemoaning the lack of rain. Well, not today. I’d already had a taste of light drizzle when I took the grandkids to school but as I set out for a wander with the cameras half an hour later it had stopped.

I turned right and walked to the end of our street. I decided that it was time I photographed the small row of shops opposite the entrance to Albert Street so took my battered Weston Master V from my jacket pocket. One glance at the dial and I knew I was going to have a challenging morning.

Challenging light … but at least not raining

The KMZ FT2 was loaded with Ilford Pan F, a 50 ISO film. Even the fixed aperture of f5 wasn’t enough to give me my preferred 1/200th second shutter speed. In fact even the “secret” 1/50th option wasn’t enough as the needle hovered between 1/20th and 1/30th. I’m a pragmatist though and accept that my choice of such basic, some might say crude, tools comes with such limitations. I’d deal with the problem later when I came to develop the film and once I knew what other compromises I’d had to make on this roll.

The other camera in my bag, you knew there’d be another I’m sure, was the Horizon S3 Pro. I have plenty of options with this one although I prefer to use it at f16 and 1/125th second. Again, my film choice was against me.

A partly used roll of Kodak Double X, was forcing me down to f8 at 1/30th. I rarely use any apertures other than f16 as images get quite soft from f8 onwards in my experience. The sweet spot is undoubtedly f16 with f11 as wide as I usually go.

I spent ten minutes at this spot. Using both cameras and seeing if I could get some blurry traffic but mainly waiting for a moment with no traffic. A moment which never came!

Nearly empty of cars!

Putting the S3 back in the bag and turning left I was debating walking straight on into the town centre or heading south through the back streets. Debate was cut short by a cloudburst though and I darted left under some well established trees to escape the worst of the rain. I’d wanted rain and now I had it!

Sheltering under the trees

I amused myself with some compositions under the trees, with even less light than before and employing the same settings though. I’d decided at that point that semi-stand development was going to be the way to go. The rain was clearly settling in so I decided to move on, across the playing field towards the town centre.

Half way around the field and I was already soaked. It was the classic situation, I had the right clothes on … but not for the prevailing weather. Ever the pragmatist I decided to cut my losses. The film in the KMZ was finished and there were only a few frames left in the S3. I was wet through, I’d not had any breakfast … so I headed north towards my favourite local cafe.

“Good morning! Your usual?”

No better greeting!

Whilst I ate the usual the rain eased and by the time I left the sun was making a feeble effort to peep out. I though had a date with a developing tank and some Rodinal!

I Want Rain

“What are you doing today? [subtext: I want you out from under my feet.]
“Depends. If it rains I’m going for a walk”
“I want rain!”

At Whenham Towers … 8am Saturday

It has been very dry of late. The urban landscape is dry. Parched grass, wilting flowers and dusty grey pavements. It needs rain. The plants and grass need rain. I need rain!

So I load the camera. Unsurprisingly it’s the Horizon S3 Pro, this time with a roll of Fomapan 400. The ONDU 6×6 pinhole is already loaded and sat patiently in my shoulder bag. But with what is it loaded?
The label has fallen off somewhere and apart from a guess of ISO 100 or 400 film I’ve no idea what is inside. No worries, I will expose at ISO 200 and push or pull as required when I develop.
Or should I expose at 400 thus giving a 50% chance of a normal development?

Decisions, decisions.

Fortunately, that decision can wait a while yet- SO, I wait.

Patiently(ish).

For the rain.

An hour later and I am still waiting. Patiently(ish). I check the weather app
on my phone. When I checked earlier in the day it had indicated that rain WAS due, around lunchtime, and that it would be heavy. How it reads “Mostly Cloudy”. It then teases with: “Rainy conditions due around 5pm”.

5pm! Even then it’s only a 50% chance of rain and sunny conditions are forecasted to return within an hour or so.

What does that mean for me now though? I want rain! The wife wants rain! Oh, and some daylight please. This is the UK. It ALWAYS rains here surely.

I settle back to wait patiently(ish).

It’s not easy though. I’ve spent three weeks either childminding or DIY-ing and I’m due a walk with a camera – in the rain!

Have I mentioned rain?

I sit. And wait.

Patiently(ish) .


Postscript: I’m still waiting

Edgelands

Outskirts of Halifax – site of a disused railway track

When I was studying a few years back a couple of concepts really caught my imagination. One was psychogeography which I wrote about HERE. The other was the “edgelands” which is the subject of todays post. The two are for me interconnected as my own exploration of the edgelands concept in the past, and indeed more recently, has been conducted in the manner of the flaneur we discussed briefly in that earlier post.

For the purposes of my studies back then, the discussion about these edgelands was linked primarily to the book EDGELANDS: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts published in 2011. I have just reread the book prior to writing this post and found it as engaging as the first time I read it over five years ago.

Take two steps backwards and you’d fall off the edge

So, to a definition. Farley and Roberts acknowledge that the term “edgelands” is not theirs. It seems that geographer Marion Shoard got there first. She wrote about England’s edgelands and gave them their name. The edgelands too are perhaps not really meant to be seen, no one creates edgelands to attract people to the space. As Farley and Roberts note they are more likely to be seen as a blur from a car window than experienced for their own sake.

For me, when we talk about the edgelands, we are thinking about those places where one urban space meets another or where town meets country. Typically they are untidy, neglected areas where neither town nor country have the ascendancy. And they shift too. Periodically, new development will sweep away the neglected periphery replacing it with something shiny and new. Yet there will always be edges, they don’t get rubbed out but are simply relocated.

If you know those places where overspill housing estates break into scrubland, wasteland; if you know these underdeveloped, unwatched territories, you know that they have ‘edge’.

Farley & Roberts
Halifax – edge of the town centre

Take my home town of Elland. The edges of the town clearly show the effect of the decline in industry, particularly the textiles and allied trades, that has caused Elland to become run down over the decades since textiles ceased to be King in this part of the country. Surprisingly, behind some of these crumbling and dilapidated walls business does go on, albeit in far less skilled trades and far less grand surroundings. But there’s no escaping that the periphery of town is in many ways no-man’s land. Unloved and neglected but still very much there. From time to time a piece of land is repurposed, perhaps a few new houses, but that simply relocates the edge; there is never a neat transition twixt the town and country.

The edgelands then represent a complex landscape, a debatable zone to quote Farley & Roberts. As the economic and social situation changes so too can the fate of these edges. High demand for new housing and the opportunity for a good profit for example can make that derelict plot on the edge of town more attractive to house builders than when the original factory that had been slowly decaying was demolished years before, the land left to its own devices and slowly being reclaimed by nature.

Revisit an edgelands site you haven’t seen for six months, and likely as not there will be a Victorian factory knocked down, a business park newly built, a section of waste ground cleared and landscaped, a pre-war warehouse abandoned and open to the elements. Such are the constantly shifting sands of edgelands that any writing about these landscapes is a snapshot.

Farley and Roberts
Development Opportunity

Photography too can only reveal a snapshot of the edges. A moment in time which few will remember and fewer still care for. As photographers it feels almost incumbent upon us to capture, to celebrate and to remember these fleeting edges.

But there’s the rub.

As photographers we tend to try to make our images as appealing as possible on the whole, especially those of us with a leaning towards the pictorial. Let’s face it unless the images are part of a documentary-style story who wants to see the crummy face of town? However, whilst I am at heart a pictorial photographer I have nevertheless always been drawn to the less-glamourous face of the towns and places I live and work in. I’ve even been known to seek out the grimier side of town when on holiday or visiting somewhere new. It seems I have a natural tendency to gravitate towards the edge.

Literally on the edge of Elland

As I perambulated around the edges of Elland a few weeks back I was musing on how run-down the town is and not for the first time started to wonder how I’d photograph it to attract visitors, say for a tourist information website. But, how much more interesting to document it as it really is. The plain, unvarnished truth rather than the glossy, beautified fiction of a tourist guide. In truth, I have lots of both types of these images already, particularly the less picturesque but these days I’m drawn to the edges even more. The pandemic is of course partly responsible for a change in behaviour as movement was restricted. I have probably walked more of the edgelands of Elland in the last eighteen months than in the previous eighteen years.

One thing that I’ve noticed more recently is that even the cobbled lanes running along the backs of terraced houses seem to constitute an edge. The periphery of a back yard where it abuts the unadopted lane, no one willing to “own” upkeep of either and so the edges creep like tendrils into the town. As an urban photographer there is a seemingly never ending supply of subjects for my lens. That I tend to photograph the edges using a more pictorial rather than documentary style is perhaps how I put my own stamp on edgelands images.

Are you drawn to the edges? Do you lend a pictorial eye to these less-loved spaces? I’d love to know your thoughts on the subject!

Psychogeography

A few years back I completed a diploma in photography. Much to my disappointment at the time virtually all of the course was theoretically based rather than practical and a grounding in art history and appreciation was taken for granted it seems. Without an art foundation course under my belt I struggled if I’m honest. Exploring personal motivation, history, art theory and influences amongst other topics I eventually fell out with my tutor as he wouldn’t (couldn’t?) accept “because I liked it” as a motivation for making an image. When I started inventing motivations to satisfy the academic requirements I knew this wasn’t something for me and so rather than complete the full degree I took my credits and the award of the diploma. However, there were two subjects that did pique my interest and that I have explored further since. These were psychogeography and the idea of exploring the periphery of our towns and living spaces which were given the label “edgelands”. In this post I want to consider psychogeography, hopefully I will return to the edgelands concept in a later post.

I wrote a full, hopefully academic, essay on psychogeography back in 2015 or thereabouts and much to my frustration have been unable to find it despite my best efforts. So, I will need to start afresh. And I might just ditch the academic rigour whilst I’m doing it. 😀

Psychogeography was founded in 1955 by Guy Debordas as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”. It is also a term much associated with photography these days, particularly in the academic environment. As far as I see it, there appear to be two main ways in which photographers approach this genre, although I doubt that there is one “true” way to approach the activity.

For the likes of Pedro Guimares in his project ‘Bluetown’, and Marco Barbieri’s project ‘Our Drinking Habits’, both have set out a code as the basis of their wandering. Guimares’s code determines the location he will stop at to take a photo, with each photo in the series linked by this code. Barbieri’s code is the choice of object (ie evidence of street drinking) before he then wanders to find that evidence.

The alternative approach is to decide on an area to wander to find what catches the photographer’s eye. A series is then bound by the link between place, photographer and choice of subjects chosen in that area. Debra Fabricius’s project ‘Urban Drift’ is a good example of this approach where she wanders along a pre-defined area and photographs what catches her eye. This creates a commentary on that place along with its relationship to the photographer.

Author Will Self in his book “Psychogeography” noted that the psychogeographic fraternity is typically middle-aged males “armed with notebooks and cameras”. Now, I probably resemble that remark, although perhaps a bit older than the typical! He also likened psychogeographers to “local historians with an attitude problem”. Make of that what you will!

The concept of the flaneur is a key one within psychogeography. The French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) described the flaneur as a person who walks their environment in order to experience it. As I was writing that now-lost essay I realised that a lot of my approach to my hobby fits very neatly within psychogeographic principles.

Occasionally I will undertake what I call a “9 in 45” where I will decide on a starting point and then walk, often at random, for 45 minutes, stopping every five minutes, exactly, to make a photograph (within 60 seconds) of my current surroundings. Nine photographs therefore in forty five minutes. I believe that this too fits within the spirit of psychogeography as related to photography. Since the start of the pandemic the majority of my photography has been urban in nature, and almost exclusively the result of random wandering around Elland turning left and right as the whim takes me.

For me a wander with a camera is in a sense a form of therapy. Walking, exercising, looking and seeing, remembering and thinking are all potential attributes of this form of photography to my mind. It’s an opportunity to turn off the noise that constitutes twenty-first century living. A perambulation around the streets of my childhood or any of the towns and cities in which I’ve lived and work will throw up many memories and feelings. Walking along the local stretch of canal however is both familiar and alien. Familiar in that I’ve walked these towpaths countless times in the last few years yet alien as they stir no real memories for me – as yet. I still manage to “lose” myself however, pondering the history of the canal or losing myself in memories of different places and times. The longer I live here however, the more localised my memories are becoming and the canal is slowly but surely becoming less alien and evolving into the familiar.

For those of you wanting a diversion from pure photography I can highly recommend digging into this subject a little deeper. It is possible, if desired, to avoid the overly academic and to relate elements of psychogeography to the photography of many of us so there is something for everyone regardless of whether you like the theoretical, academic or simply the practical.

In particular an account of the flaneur may well strike a chord for some of you!

All three images taken on the day this post was written, within ten minutes as I walked from car park to dentist.

It’s all about the feeling …

I’ve been making photographs since my teens and after nearly fifty years of the hobby I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not about what you use to make photographs but about how you feel when you’ve got a camera in hand. I’m currently thinking about what kit to pack for a few days on the coast and as ever it will be a mix of film and digital. One of my pinhole cameras will certainly make the cut as will my 35mm film swing-lens panoramic camera and my drone. But what about my “daily” camera? Film or digital? DSLR, SLR, compact, rangefinder?

I’ve got it down to two, both digital as it happens. My recent purchase, an elderly Canon 5DII DSLR is currently favourite despite the fact that the other, a mirrorless Fujifilm X-H1, is arguably the better of the two, particularly in terms of ergonomics. The Canon has a fixed screen and basic live-view compared to the tilting screen of the Fuji with its well thought through live view and EVF. The Fuji is lighter and smaller, has better low light performance and I love the JPEGs it produces. I also have a better choice of lenses for the Fuji.

So why am I dithering? Put simply it’s how the Canon feels in the hand.

I used exclusively Canon kit for many, many years starting with a Canon AE1 and so when I moved to digital it was logical to stay with them. I started with the diminutive 400D and progressed through various models until I was using a full-frame Canon 5DIII, which is what I used for the image above. Even though it’s a few years since I swapped systems, it turns out that I still retain a lot of muscle memory from so many years behind a Canon viewfinder. Picking up the 5DII a week or two ago just felt natural. I wanted to go out and make photographs. It fits my hand well, it is surprisingly familiar still despite it being several years since I last picked up a Canon DSLR.

How a camera feels in your hand, how it makes you feel when using it and the pleasure you get from using it are just as important as the camera specs in my view.

Yes, I enjoy using the X-H1. Yes, I really like the quality of images it produces. But, picking it up doesn’t make me want to immediately rush out and take some photographs.  I’ve been using it this morning as it was the right tool for the job today, and whilst the images are exactly what I’d hoped for I didn’t get the same buzz from making them as the old Canon provides.

Whenever anyone asks me what camera they should get I do my best to ask questions and help them narrow the field BUT I always then recommend that if at all possible they should handle them before choosing. A few years back a very good friend of mine had narrowed his choice to a couple of Canon DSLR models, partly because he’d borrowed one of mine. He was however pretty certain which of the two he’d plump for having regard for their relative specs.  However, when we visited a camera store together I encouraged him to handle several other models.   He left the store with a Nikon D700 DSLR. When I asked why he went for that one he replied “it just felt right in my hand”. I’ve never forgotten that moment.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you are a first-time buyer or someone looking to upgrade, don’t be swayed purely by specs. Or by what others say about particular models.  Pick it up and ask yourself the question … “does it feel right?”

As for my current decision … I’m taking both! Now, what film should I take for the pinhole?


This post first appeared in a slightly different form on my Ko-Fi pages. https://ko-fi.com/post/Its-all-about-the-feel-H2H8BHMCH

Review of 2021 (Part 4)

My “365” Challenge for 2021

Looking at the mosaic (above) of the images from the 2021-365 Challenge I was struck by how “black & white” it was. Bear in mind too that the majority of these images are digital with the minority being created on film. It turns out that around 90% of these daily images is in B&W, which actually correlates quite strongly with the film stats for 2021 too. Around 96% of the roll films I used in 2021 were B&W and the percentage for LF is closer still to 100%. Ilford HP5+ was my most used film with Fomapan 100 pushing it a close second. Unsurprisingly these are my go-to films for my panoramic cameras and pinhole cameras respectively.

This fourth, and final, post covers the period October to December although sad to say the year ended as it started with just the single post in the last month. October though was another busy month blog-wise with sixteen posts, Holga Week, the arrival of the 6×17 pinhole camera and even a few days Shropshire, an area we had not explored previously.

The RSS 6×17 brought with it the need for a new “scanning” approach

I rarely write technique guides but in both October and November I wrote fairly extensively about digitising negatives (a three-part series) and about the Trichrome process (five posts in total). Another essay appeared on the theme of doing your own thing photographically and allowing yourself to have fun with it. Not conforming to the whims of others was a recurring theme in my blog over the year.

Two images taken for my own amusement – I practice what I preach in that regard!

October saw Holga Week and my first participation in this annual event. I entered into it wholeheartedly and dedicated six posts to the event. Using a Holga 120N exclusively for a week was fun, even the roll where I inadvertently switched the camera into bulb mode for all but one image. Guess it could be labelled UnIntended Camera Movement (UCM) rather than the more often seen Intentional Camera Movement (ICM).

UCM – not for the conformist!

In November I finally succumbed to Andrew K’s suggestions and gave Trichromes a try … Trying Trichrome was the obvious alliterative title and I didn’t resist its lure. For many reasons I haven’t pursued it further since working out a process that suits me but that will be rectified over the coming months as I have plans for some large format trichomes possibly even glass plate trichomes but that needs to wait for some better weather.

During November I also reflected upon my ongoing 365 Challenge which celebrated its fourth anniversary at the end of October.

Reality So Subtle 6×17 pinhole