Brexit, Trump and modern photography.

Brexit, Trump and modern photography.

So, against all reasonable predictions we are leaving the EU, and Trump is entering the White House. I’m almost tempted to say, ‘I told you so’. But of course I didn’t. I didn’t say it, but I feared it might well happen in exactly the way it, in the end, turned out. Now that’s an easy thing to say after the event, but my experiences with photographers have telegraphed the scenario very accurately.

On the news this morning (as I write) a BBC business editor started a sentence with the words, ‘Well, the experts predict ….’, to which a colleague (from the BBC) openly snorted her derision.

Experts? Experts? We don’t listen to experts anymore. They’re the ones who always get it wrong.

Actually, you could argue that the experts are the last people standing who expect other people to make rational choices based upon the facts.

Facts? Facts? Don’t you know that we live in a post-factual world?

These days, it seems that possession of information and a basic ability to reason logically are impediments to success.

It would be wrong to label every UK voter who voted Leave as a racist (although perhaps every racist may have voted leave). It would be wrong to label every American Trump voter as belonging to a basket of deplorables (although, again, maybe all those in the basket may have voted for him).

People vote for complex reasons, but there does seem to be a strong anti-intellectual, anti-expert feeling at large in the world today.

Personally, in this country I blame Thatcher and her attacks on the teaching profession in the early 1980’s. The children on the ‘80’s are the over entitled parents of today. You can’t tell them what to do, you know? No, really, you can’t. If the establishment points out the economic folly of a course of action, ‘Thatcher’s children’ will do the exact opposite. Partly because they don’t think it will hurt them personally (and the destruction of any sense of community was one of Thatcher’s major victories), but also because they simply want to stick the boot in and show the Westminster elite that they can’t be told what to do.

But what has this got to do with photography?

Well, we live in a photographic world where producing quality images is easier than ever before. That is a fact, no matter how unpalatable it is to those who believe that they are actually better than Ansel Adams or David Bailey. What used to take a huge amount of skill is now sorted out by the computing power of the camera.

But like Trump or Farage supporters, instead of using the technology to free up time to learn about why a photograph is great, or to understand the semiotics within great images, many current photographers simply mock and sneer, count their pixels, and admire their long lenses.

Instead of wanting to learn more, education is seen as some sort of barrier to ‘creativity’. Why do a degree, when you have Youtube to copy. Why attempt to understand when you can simply ape. I recently saw a one day course advertised where it was claimed you could learn to shoot like Helmut Newton. Really? And what academic and pedagogic genius was offering this service. Someone who proudly studied at the ‘university of life’.

Ah, well, you don’t actually need qualifications to be a professional, do you?

If not qualifications, then perhaps a healthy client book of people wishing to pay for your services. That would at least make photography a job. Some people’s websites are crammed full of inspiring images with clear and identifiable commercial content. Others are simply aspirational personal portfolios. They might be great, but don’t kid yourself, not even in this post factual world. Unless these images are generating income, or have generated income, then you are deluding yourself if you think this is anything more than a hobby.

It doesn’t matter how many hits you get on your site. It doesn’t matter how many ‘likes’ you get on facebook, or how many followers you have.

And don’t be amazed or ‘super’ shocked by current events in the wider world because you’re part of that world.

While I actually  think that anyone who uses the word ‘super’ other than referring to the man of steel  has the vocabulary of a child and this alone should stop them having an opinion, that makes me part of the problem. For a very long time, those with an education or the dominant cultural capital  have been convinced of the superiority of their position and this has left them be blind-sided by those who wish to exploit the lack of those qualities in others.

In the real world, that has led to a series of events that have stunned the establishment. In photography, it’s led to a state of whinging that people will work for nothing and no-one appreciates the time and investment that goes into buying the sort of kit that – well, the sort of kit that more or less does the work for you.

So, whether or not you are ‘super shocked’ at Brexit, or ‘super depressed’ that people don’t want to pay you for your hobby, perhaps it’s time to wake up. If you disagree with someone’s argument, then engage with them rather than sneer at them. If your photography isn’t getting the financial regard you feel it deserves, then stop playing around on social media, stop testing, stop gazing at website statistics and actually go out and sell some images and get some paying jobs. Don’t know how? Perhaps Youtube wasn’t the best teacher after all!

Talent? No, it’s called hard work.

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The last book I’ve read is ‘Bounce’ by Mathew Syed. The central idea of the book is that success is not determined by talent, but by practice – lots of practice if you want to be really good at anything.

10 000 hours of practice if you want to be world class – or if you want to put that in perspective, about 20 hours a week, for ten years.

This seems a very long time at first sight so I thought I’d see what others thought. I posted the following question on a number of facebook photography groups.

‘OK good people. A couple of questions that we’re considering for my photography class at school. Firstly, who are the really, really great photographers, and secondly, how long do you think it takes to be a world class photographer? Thanks.’

The intent was to see who people thought of as being truly great and then researching those photographers to see if they confirmed or  refuted this 10 000 hour rule. The follow up question is designed to test the idea that people might think that this general rule, if proven, has specific exceptions.

Let’s start with a case study that includes photography, but has many other facets. Firstly I want to make a clear distinction. To be world class in anything is not the same as being really intelligent. Syed gives examples of chess Grand Masters; a sport which one perhaps would associate with intelligence, but Syed explains success in chess (or indeed anything) as something that could, under the right conditions be achievable by anyone of normal ability.

Intelligence is something different, and for my case study this distinction has to be recognised. When I was studying gifted children at university, the following analogy was used to describe intelligence, which I find useful.

Imagine everyone lived on the same street, but were ordered by IQ. Let’s call it Quotient Street. Everyone’s home reflected in some way their intellectual ability. The middlemost houses in the street were those of those of average intelligence. These houses are normal two or three bedroomed houses with all the normal facilities you might expect with suburbia; gardens, garages, access to local amenities. Generally, an  OK, sort of place to live.

As you move further down Quotient Street, the houses might be a little larger, and further apart. As you travel along, the houses become more unique, and the gap between houses gets much, much bigger.  Once you get into the very, very high house numbers, say the 99.99 centile, every house is different. Some are neat, others scruffy. Some houses have superfast broadband connection, others are full of ancient books, or even notebooks full of information on train spotting. The occupants of these houses may, or may not, be successful in terms of money, but they all incredibly bright. The houses, indeed the worlds these super bright people occupy, are not only very different from the three bedroomed semi of the median, but different from each other. They may tend to be more successful than the average, but intelligence alone is not a sufficient condition for being successful. You need something else. You need to work.

So, my case study concerns a young woman who is, at the time of writing, twenty four years old.

Her CV is impressive.

At age four she had a solo photographic exhibition and was featured in the national press.

At eight she qualified for the county swimming championships for the first time and also joined the National Association for Gifted Children.

At nine she joined Mensa.

At ten she was admitted to the National Academy for Gifted and Talent Youth. She also achieved the British Science Association’s Gold Crest Award, and had a paper on bat behaviour published by a local bat group.

By the time she left school she had seven AS levels and four A levels, had competed many times in swimming competitions at a high level and had won a number of awards in photography.

In her B.Sc. she was awarded a First class degree in a science subject.

A Merit in M.Sc. in geography was awarded a year later.

A year later, as part of her Phd, her first book is published on social policy.

But, in the rarefied atmosphere of the brightest five or six thousand in the entire UK population, ability alone is actually not enough.

Let’s consider this subject’s love of swimming. When she was in Year 8 at school, the girls (it was a single sex school) had swimming lessons. When it became apparent that there were eight or nine good swimmers in the year, the school formed a swimming team which had great success in local school competitions. However, when the girls went to competitions, they didn’t want to sit with their school mates. They moved around and sat with other children. They cheered on children from other schools and often celebrated the success of children they were competing against, rather than always supporting children from their own school.

What the children were doing was naturally reforming into their club identities. Yes, this child was from school A, but she was a member of club X. If another child from their school was in club Y, then she will support and encourage her club teammate rather than her school teammate.

By the time our subject had reached Year 8, she had been a member of the same swimming club for nine years. She’d already been training for an average of ten hours a week with that club. By the age of thirteen, she’d amassed over 4500 hours of training. When she left the club two years later, she’d built up a total of nearly 6000 hours of training.  Pressure from exams and a persistent injury were the stated reasons for walking away from competitive swimming, but neither had she done enough work. A close friend made it to the national championships before quitting, but she had started earlier (three) and therefore had not only a year’s head-start, but  would usually train for about three hours a week more than our subject, building up over 8000 hours of training before quitting at sixteen.

Let’s consider the same person’s photography. She had her first exhibition at four years of age, and by the time she left school had won a number of national competitions. At the gallery where her first work was shown, the curator was stopped by a gentleman who criticised the work on show. He claimed to be able to do better, so why had his request for gallery space been turned down. ‘Well, you’re not four years old’, was the rather obvious response. And that’s the key. Our subject was not, and children generally are not, compared to adults. They’re compared against other children of the same age. Maybe, the work on show was not of the same standard as a seasoned adult camera club member of many years standing, but compared to the average four year old, it was great!

What our four year old case study subject had, was something that is common of all child ‘prodigies’; adults in her life driving her towards a desired outcome. The question that naturally arises is that of freedom of choice. Is the child a willing participant in this process?

For those who ‘make it’ the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Syed cites a number of examples where the most successful later in life, were the keenest to work hard. This makes absolute sense. If you do not want to do the work, you will not be as successful as someone who does want to do the work.

The obvious objection to this practice theory of success goes something like this.

I drive for about 10 hours a week – or 500 hours a year.  If I’ve been driving for thirty years, will have accumulated 15 000 hours of driving. I must be really, really good at driving. (I am!)

Actually, in driving as so many other things, more does not lead to better. When I was learning to drive I concentrated on driving. When I’m driving through Glasgow (which I do once every two or three years) I concentrate on driving. When I’m driving to work, though; well that’s a different matter.

Again, from my university studies, I recall reading that a child gifted in maths needs only three successful attempts for a mathematical technique to become embedded in their ‘normal’ practice. I find that learning a new route in the car is similar. For the first three journeys I really focus of the task, learning the road layouts and the best lane positioning. From that point on, I’m on autopilot, listening to music, daydreaming or my mind focussed on another task entirely.

If the journey takes an hour and I drive the journey a hundred times, that is not a hundred hours practice. It’s only the three hours I spent learning the route, then I stop getting any better. If, for some reason I chose a particularly bad route, then I’m doomed to repeat the same mistakes until chance or someone else puts me back onto a better route.

It doesn’t take long to reach a level on competence that most people are content with. They may dream of being better, being the best, being a world beater, but dreaming will not lead to achievement unless it is backed by purposeful  actions. In the arena of photography, many people who consider themselves to be good photographers are never tested on that assumption. They are content with the applause of their peers and the ubiquitous ‘likes’ of social media.

So far, then, with the children who have gone on to great success in various fields, the pattern seems to be built on the driven ambition of parents and a joy in practice by the child. Combine that with inspired coaching or teaching and we’re on the track to outstanding achievement.

Earlier today (as I write this) I was teaching a thirteen year old maths. She goes to what is generally regarded to be a good school in an affluent area. However, the school is situated in a county where grammar schools exist, and her school is not a grammar school. At the age of 10, this girl took a test to decide her secondary school, and in her eyes (and those of her parents) she failed. She comes to me as a child lacking confidence in her ability, but from a background that absolutely wants the best educational outcome for her.

The comedian, Mark Thomas is of the opinion that the difference between middle class parents and working class parents is one of attitude. Middle class parents want, he suggests, their children to have all the privileges and advantages that come with their class. Essentially, they want (expect) their children to do as well as they did. Thomas argues that working class parents want their children to do better than their parents.

My maths student comes from such a family. Lacking much in the way of educational success themselves, they are desperate that their child will do better at school. Thinking that their daughter lacks confidence in a school where she can effectively pass her time on auto pilot, they decided to send her to me for an hour a week on Saturday mornings.

Today we covered solving quadratics by formula, converting recurring decimals to fractions and started surds. All the exam questions that followed were answered correctly – all were A grade GCSE questions, and all were achieved independently after practicing each type only three times.

This girl was considered average in her school (according to her most last school report), but has recently shown accelerated progress across all subjects. At the age of thirteen, she has learnt the power of practice. Practice accompanied by feedback.

‘What’s the next step?’

‘Working out the square root.’

‘Of?’

‘Sixty five’. (reaching for the calculator.)

‘Stop. Work it out. What number is it close too, that we know the answer?’

‘Sixty four is a square number, so the answer will be about eight.’

‘About?’

‘About 8.1?’

‘Is that a question?’

‘No, it’s going to be about 8.1.’

‘Try it on the calculator now.’

‘8.06.’

‘You’re correct to one decimal place. Well done. What if the calculator had said something different?’

‘Then I’ve either worked it out wrong in my head, or I’ve pressed the wrong buttons.’

‘What do you do then?’

‘Do it again to see where the mistake is.’

‘Brilliant. Good work. Really, good work. Let’s move on to the next step.’

If she has no effective mechanism for internal feedback her progress will be slower.

This girl thinks I’m teaching her maths. Her parents think I’m trying to make her more confident. I hope I’m laying the foundations of future success. The attitude she is learning, that of checking and reflecting, may be the most useful thing she learns from me. What I emphasis, and say several times each session is ‘work’. It is her work that brings success.

This is a different type of feedback than photographers are used to. Invitations for CC (Constructive Criticism) on social media are open invitations to attack by internet trolls, or in some ways worse, ‘helpful’ criticism from people who know little about photography.

The problem in eliciting feedback from the internet community is that everyone feels entitled to an opinion. Of course, this is where I started this piece, by asking facebook groups for opinions. I’m not asking for judgements on the artistic or photographic quality of my own work, however. I’m also in total agreement with the words of the writer Harlen Ellison when he said, ‘You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.’ I’m also aware that from the middle of Quotient Street you can turn left as well right. Photography is a mixed ability activity.

In ‘Bounce’, Syed describes the months of practice required to understand a particular shot, and the internal feedback it developed to understand why shots went wrong. What my maths student is learning is to check for sense. From what she knows, does the solution she has come up with make sense? From that, we lead to transfer. Can she use what she knows to, not only check her answer, but to move on to something that she previously did not know? She has not built up the necessary practice to see the best solution immediately, but is beginning to be able to apply tests to her solution to check the answer against things she has already learnt.

In photographic terms, when something goes wrong, does the photographer have the experience to identify the problem and then correct it? Faced with a novel situation, does s/he have the ability to move to a new level of understanding based upon accumulated knowledge and experience.

Turning to who are the very best photographers, the world beaters, truly world class performers, the list was full of famous names, all  of whom learnt their craft in earlier times where the skill-set of a photographer included extensive darkroom experience and the ability to lift heavy weights.

Two names though, emerged from the modern digital age, and were mentioned by a number of respondents to my initial facebook question.

The first name is Lara Jade, a 28 year old British born commercial and fashion photographer who is based in New York.

Here’s what a fellow British photographer said in early 2016, ‘(To) Watch people like … Lara Jade … grow is a daunting prospect. It’s hard not to self blame when you see people grow at such an increasing rate, do all the things you want to do yet make it look so easy. It seems so effortless for them, but I seem to get in the mud whenever I try and just live day to day.’

Lara makes it look easy, and has achieved noticeable success at a relatively early age.  Dig a little deeper and you find a young woman who took up photography at 14 and started her own photography business at 17. Being comfortable on the other side of the camera and being extremely photogenic has probably opened a few doors closed to the above quoted photographer, but Lara Jade’s story is one of a body of committed hard work built up over a number of years.

The other contemporary name is Damien Lovegrove. As he is on my facebook friend list I put the question to him directly.

Damien, I’ve been asking people their views on the truly great photographers. Of current photographers, yours was one of the few names that came up. Would you mind answering a few questions for my students?

 

Thank you Ian, I’d be very happy to answer some questions. – flattered.

 

Brilliant. If you don’t mind, I’ll tell you the context after you answer. Knowing, can change the answers!

 

No problem, that’s fine with me.

 

Just three questions, but many, many thanks.

 

  1. How old were you when you became interested in photography?
  2. How long did it take to gain any form of recognition?
  3. What do you think are the key components of your success?

 

  1. I was 19 (back in 1984) when I first got the bug for photography. I had got an audition/ interview for a job at the BBC as a video cameraman and on my application form I had said I was interested in photography. They asked me to bring my portfolio to the interview. I had just 3 days to create a portfolio from scratch including printing it in a home bathroom darkroom. They were the first pictures I had taken and I loved it. I have never lost the passion for photography.

 

  1. I shot stills on my days off from training as a cameraman and by 21 (1986) I was shooting for the Science Photo Library in London. Some of the shots I took then on a second-hand Hasselblad 500C are still selling today. However it wasn’t until 2002 that I became a well-known photographer. I was known then as a wedding photographer with a very successful brand image. 3. When I left the BBC I thought I could make it big as a commercial photographer but I struggled and ended up in a lot of debt. I picked myself up and got trained in business and changed career to wedding photography. I have changed career many times since and here are my reasons for success:

 

I learn from my mistakes and try harder next time

 

I leave each career at it’s peak.

 

I Stay inspired and keep my life exciting

 

Q3 additional info… Careers:

 

BBC Cameraman

BBC lighting cameraman

Commercial Photographer

Wedding Photographer

Portrait Photographer

Writer

Educator

Video Presenter

Travel Photographer (Just starting this one)

 

Back in those days 1984-2001 we were all shooting on film. Practice was expensive but my career and photo library royalties gave me the revenue to shoot, shoot, shoot. I guess I shot 30 rolls of film each week during my 3 days off and I made pictures/ video for the BBC too.

 

Now I still shoot 1000 frames a week. If I don’t, I get rusty. I’ve always made progress through practice. It’s the same for sports people too I suppose.

 

 

So, Damien started in 1984 and felt he was recognised in 2002. Over that time he took thousands of photographs – with equipment that required a great deal of expertise to get the best out of. When I suggested to him that success equalled the amount of work you put in, Damien replied,  ‘I think “Success comes from work” is a bit scary. Photography is fun, work is boring. I’ve never had a desk job or an ‘in’ tray. (scary)  Most people I meet think I have it easy. Maybe they are right. I am so passionate about my photography that it never seems like work to me. If your students become as passionate about taking pictures as I am they will be self motivated, prolific and successful. Enthusiasm is the currency they will find easiest to trade with. Happy, exciting, motivated photographers often get the best jobs as the art directors and commissioners all want a slice of that energy pie. Just an observation.’

 

That of course makes a central part of my argument. When the Venus sisters served at an upturned baseball bat hour after hour, or when Beckham took free kick after free kick, on a deserted football pitch over and over again, they weren’t working, they were enjoying themselves.

 

If it’s work, if it’s ‘effort’, to do the hours, develop the experience, to hone your skills, then you may become competent, but never excellent, never a world beater.

 

We live in an information rich world and there is no excuse for not bothering to find out the things you need to know. The comedian Stephen Fry has suggested it’s like living in a world where gold coins litter the streets. How do you respond then to someone begging for money?  Information, like wealth in Fry’s example, is all around you, you just need to make the effort to reach out for it.

 

Some (actually many) don’t seem to see the need to learn about their subject, but that learning isn’t nearly enough. You need to put in the work, you need the experience. If it seems like too much effort, fair enough, but don’t ever believe that you will be the best – at anything.

 

Perhaps the good news is that average people living at around half-way down Centile Street, can learn skills to a fairly competent level. Most photographers can take reasonable photos which others will like.

 

‘Oh , you’re so talented – that’s a lovely photo.’ Yes, it might be pleasing, but if it relies on technology you do not understand, and have little (or any) control over, then your ‘talent’ is mostly some (talented) technician’s programming.

 

Let’s go back to our case study. When our 24 year old Phd student was 8 years old, she had swimming lessons at school. The teacher told the class to sort themselves out into three groups. If they were really confident they were to go to the far end of the pool. If they were really nervous, they were to stay near the teacher, and if they were not sure they should go to the middle of the pool.

 

The children sorted themselves out and a voice from a swimming coach boomed out to our subject, ‘Why are you standing in the middle group. I saw you compete at the county championships last week?’

 

‘Yes, but I didn’t win anything’, was the reply.

 

Many of the ‘confident’ group had seen swimming on the TV and therefore thought it was easy, just as many learner photographers watch videos thinking that watching and doing are the same thing.

 

So, if you want to be really, really good at anything, be prepared to put in a huge amount of work. Not only that, you need to learn from people who can correct the mistakes you will inevitably make. You eventually need to develop a feedback system that will allow you to analyse and correct your own mistakes. Lastly, it has to be fun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panning the Landscape

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As part of the ‘movement’ project I’ve been working on for the past few months with my photography students, I’ve been playing with panning the camera during long exposures to create abstract landscapes. This is very different from the type of landscapes I usually take, but I’ve got to admit, I like the effect.

The ‘art’ of the ‘possible’

Politics, as any Essex Graduate should know, is the ‘art of the possible’.

Photography is political.

Moreover, it is ideological.

When I lift my camera to my eye, I choose what to include and exclude. The act of framing is as much about what to leave out as what to leave in. When I underexpose to create areas of darkness in a low key shot, I do so deliberately and with intent.

My actions are purposeful, but to use Kant’s definition of art (purposeful without purpose) I am not creating art, I am making an ideological statement about my subject, and indeed myself.

I have long contended that photography is about ‘craft’, the articulation of knowledge and practice to a desired outcome, but that craft has semiotic meaning. We do not (should not), simply commit acts of photography without prior purpose. I would argue that all purpose is political in one sense or another.

Something as simple as a selfie, if kept,  creates history. It locks the taker and to a lesser extent the viewer into a specific context, but a mutable one that can be revisited and rewritten to suit new interpretations of the act.

Most of my own photographs contain no people and or of landscapes. They are taken in the belief, fundamentally held, that only through knowledge and love of the world we live in is there any hope of protecting it.

When I photograph people I am not concerned with producing a ‘pretty’ portrait. These are driven by a different sort of politics. I seek rather, and oh so often fail, to produce an image that goes to the core of my personal ideology, one driven by conflict and what I still see as the inherent contradictions of our society.

So, Haji Mike; friend and comrade.

Not your stereotypical professor!

The Photography Show is coming – hide your wallet!

Well, it’s nearly that time again. The Photography Show is nearly upon us, and like the true meaning of Christmas, for a few days we’ll get to fully understand what it’s all about.

Forget art, forget talent, forget skills honed over years or decades. No, good people, it’s all about the money. We’ll be told; again and again and again, to be good, you need to spend lots and lots of money.

More pixels, bigger lenses, lighter tripods, ridiculous bags, the list goes on and on.

To demonstrate that their brand is better, the manufacturers will wheel out their heavily sponsored ‘ambassadors’ in the belief that we will genuinely be convinced that they are giving us their unbiased opinions and endorsements.

The completely unqualified amateurs of a few years ago will strut around stages making nonsensical statements about their (unproven) talents, and the technical merits of equipment they can barely operate, let alone understand.

Men, and it is actually always the men, will demonstrate their photographic skills by literally bringing every piece of kit they own to an event where there are actually few photographic opportunities. Doubled up under the weight of numerous bags, they will stagger around the event, vainly seeking  something interesting to shoot, and if by sheer chance they find any opportunity, will spend the best part of an hour setting up completely unnecessary equipment which demonstrates that, yes, they are pros!

Cards will be flexed and credit scores destroyed in the Darwinian battle to have the best equipment at literally any cost. Like ancient hunters the ‘victors’ will return home with the spoils of the hunt – highly complex equipment destined to remain, at best on auto, and at worst left in its box.

Of course, it isn’t all like this. Some speakers will be fantastic, and some of the ‘ambassadors’ are truly talented. Not everyone will be showing off their equipment or the size of their penis (sorry, wallet/lens/bag).

Some, like myself, will be taking students who are desperate to learn, or perhaps just going to catch up with people they rarely get to see.

Yes, despite all of the above I’ll be there too, but not spending money I don’t have. My students will be running around trying to learn and get freebies. I’ll be drinking coffee with some friends and talking shop.

Here are the questions that always occurs to me. Why do manufacturers spend money on photographers who only use equipment because it’s free? How gullible do they think we really are? How many people do they actually think they are convincing to buy their equipment?

Let’s take Fuji for example. I have nothing but respect for one of their sponsored photographers, but someone like Trevor Yerbury doesn’t need a Fuji camera to demonstrate his skill. No one will really think they will be able to create shots like his simply if they buy a Fuji camera. Another Fuji sponsored photographer; I have nothing but contempt for. His sponsorship, for me, makes the likelihood of buying a Fuji much, much less.

I’m exactly the type of person to buy a Fuji, and yet I haven’t. I think I’m the sort of customer that Fuji would want (feel free to delete the word Fuji and insert the manufacturer of your choice). I take photographs and people sometimes pay me to do that. Much, much more importantly, I teach photography as a job and I use my cameras in demonstrations. Any one of my students will be able to tell you what cameras I use and why I use them. I lend them cameras to use, and their buying decisions are influenced by the equipment they’ve used.

Oh why, oh why, oh why don’t they sponsor me?

Ha! I don’t trust sponsored photographers to be totally honest, and wouldn’t even trust myself to be objective if I was being paid (in money or in kind) to promote a brand like the sycophantic fan-boys of Peli or 3 legged things.

No. Actually what I’d want from Fuji/Olympus/Nikon/Canon/etc. what might actually convince me to buy their equipment over someone else’s  next time I buy a camera, is a free, structured, educational course that will show me how to be a better photographer. Obviously I would expect the manufacturer to promote their equipment, but the science and the art is quite transferable to other brands (yes, really). Something actually useful, and free from the personalities of the people now promoting the brand.

My students don’t have much money – yet. But they will remember the twit from the Nikon stand ignoring them in favour of the fat guy with already too many lenses around his neck at last year’s show. They will remember being barged out of the way by a herd of sweating pervs when a model appeared on a lighting stage. And they will definitely remember the arrogant strutting fool promoting Fuji – a few future customers lost there guys.

Yes, I’ll be there – and I’ll probably enjoy it. But let’s not forget the purpose of a trade show. It is naked capitalism designed to make you spend. And it is the true meaning of Christmas in the modern age, profit over people.

Kop Hill Climb

The 19th and 20th September saw what has become a massive event in the local community. Hundreds of classic and vintage cars gathered on our sports field for the 7th revival of Kop Hill Climb. Over the two days of the event, over 16 000 visitors attended, including members of the school photography club who were on hand to record the event.

Many miles were walked; ice creams and pizza were eaten, sun-tans were gained – and over        3 000 brilliant photos were taken. The pupils were given access to the Rotary Club stand overlooking the hill so they could take photographs the public could not take, Rachel was allowed on the Start-line and Calum even got to ride up the hill in an Audi Quattro.

It was an amazing event for the pupils, and they produced amazing work.

Rachel Murdoch, now a veteran of photographic competitions with numerous awards entered  a Kop Hill photo (Classic Dashboard) into the Risborough Photographic Society Youth competition, coming a creditable second place.

Charlotte Wood, a relative newcomer to photographic competitions, entered a Kop Hill photo (Vintage Wheel) into the Bucks County Museum, British Institute of Professional Photography competition and gained a merit.

Two excellent examples of our strength in depth in photography. In the Risborough competition, seven out of eight winners were from Princes Risborough School. In the BIPP competition, four out of seven winners came from the school. In the Amnesty International Youth Awards, we’ve had three shortlisted photographers in the past two years, including Rachel coming second overall in 2014.

No department, no real course, no resources, no budget – just passion, creativity and craftsmanship.

PHOTOGRAPHY! work of the BIPP

PHOTOGRAPHY! – The work of the British Institute of Professional Photography

16th January – 5th March, at the Bucks County Museum, Church St, Aylesbury HP20 2QP

 

I do love a great exhibition, and this is a great exhibition.

The BIPP is  is an internationally recognised qualifying organisation with over 100 years of experience in supporting and networking photographers.

As it states on the BIPP site,  “There is a general agreement that professional photography emerged in 1842, just three years after William Fox Talbot demonstrated his ‘photogenic drawings’ to the Royal Institution and the Royal Society.  The evidence is in an advertisement suggesting that photographic portraits would make useful Christmas presents, studios were besieged and photography emerged as a profession.

On 28 March 1901, at a meeting at a hotel in Fleet Street, one hundred photographers assembled and unanimously formed ‘The Professional Photographers’ Association’. Branches were formed in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Hull and Liverpool and in 1907 the membership stood at 757. Evolving through the years and after three name changes, we have become The British Institute of Professional Photography.”

Yes, I’ve questioned the term ‘professional photographer’ many times, but it seems to me that the BIPP encapsulates the essential qualities of a truly professional body. If you’re out there claiming to be a professional, the question has to be asked, are you a member of a professional association?

For many years, the BIPP was based a stones’ throw away from the Bucks County Museum so this exhibition is long overdue.

The exhibition is made up of around a hundred and forty images, with photographers exhibiting different numbers of images. Some of the work is clearly commercial, some personal projects, but the over-arching theme is that of quality – these are really good.

It would be, however, be wrong to imply that they are all of the same standard. Some are merely really good – others simply stunning, and a few really intriguing.

I really enjoyed the children’s portraits of Lisa Visser (http://lisavisserfineart.co.uk/about-lisa  ). While bright and modern, they have a timeless element to them, but for me they illustrate the type of photograph that I simply can’t get with my crop-sensor or M4/3 cameras: so my admiration for them is somewhat tinged with  frustration over the limitation of the equipment I choose to use. Contrasting nicely with Visser’s work is Chris Harpers fitness images. Continuing what appears to be a homoerotic odyssey, Harper’s work has evolved to the point where it appears the lovechild of Edward Weston and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Who doesn’t like a good animal portrait? The monochrome shots created by Paul Coghill are some of the best I’ve seen and Simon John’s, a modern nostalgia does what is says on the tin – applied to  a very individual approach to wedding photography.

Show standouts? For me there are two photographers who really engaged with my imagination.

The first is Bryn Griffiths shots of Chernobyl (http://www.hasselblad.com/inspiration/storytellers/bryn-griffiths/) . Any images of that blighted city have iconic status, but Griffiths images have a particular power, focussing on the personal details and the sense of entropic decay that we associate with the tragic accident there. For me, this is alone would make a visit to the exhibition a must.

However, we have seen images of Chernobyl before. Much more thought provoking, for me, were the images of Kinga Kocimska. Superficially they look like well executed product shots, but in reality are much more. The project, Dementia is a personal project about the way perceptional illusions and fragmentary memories can be overwhelmingly confusing to patients. (http://kingakocimska.com/?bw_gallery=dementia)

As a teacher of photography this exhibition demonstrates many virtues that I feel have been lost in the pursuit of ‘art’ in photography. These photographs are the product of diligent hard work, expert knowledge and the eye for the winning image. These are the attributes of the professional, the craftsman, the perfectionist.

I’ll be back to visit this again – I hope to see you there!