Saturday, 13 December 2014

A different viewpoint

Not a photo taken with film..

One of the things I enjoy about being a member of a photography club is the talks from guest photographers.

Whatever you may think of the guests actual photographs, I find I always pick up something new from the talks, whether it be a new viewpoint on taking photographs, new techniques or just a different philosophic take on photography.

In the last couple of weeks at Melbourne photographic club we have had two talks which very much represent the different ends of the photographic spectrum.

First in the blue corner was Barry Payling. He is a photographer from Rotherham, Yorkshire and and  it would not take you long to work it out. Barry very much represents the purist view of photography.

Mr Payling eschews all modern photographic aids. He uses a old Hasselblad medium format camera, slide film and does no post processing on his photographs, He doesn't even use filters on his cameras or a light meter to gauge exposure, relying on his experience to get the best photos. Even his presentations are even done using a monster of a slide projector that clanks like some mechanical beast when switching slides, resulting in a bit of a shock to audiences used to digital projectors.

Barry's attitude is that modern technology is a unnecessary complication to the art of photography. He contends that while digital cameras can fail, the purely mechanical Hasselblad is virtually bullet proof, being immune to the damp, easily dis-assembled and most parts replaced or repairable. Also by not using modern post processing you concentrate more on scene and composition and learn how to make better use of the available light.

He also believes that despite the advances in digital cameras, you simply cannot get the same quality of images than you can on film, especially images of reflections on chrome (I must admit that I have some doubts hers since digital technology is a moving target and some of the high end full-frame cameras such as the Sony A7 have been favorable compared to the medium format analog versions). However the quality of his images were excellent, and I can see the merits of stripping photography back to basics

In the red corner were a pair of photographers from Worcester called Chris Haynes and Martin Addison, who very much represent the opposite end of the spectrum.

While Barry Payling's show was something that would not be out of place from the 1970's, Chris and Martin's was bang up to date using all today's modern technology including digital projectors, audio visual presentations and even 3D images.

Their attitude was very much anything goes when it comes into photography. While most of Barry's photographs would have a landscape photo judges purring, some of Chris's and Martin's would leave many judges confused. Chris' philosophy is that if a judge does not like the way you have processed your photo, then they are at fault for being behind the photographic curve. Rather than you change, your ways, you should just wait for them to catch up!

That said some of Chris's photo were abstract in the extreme, to the point where it was not possible to actually see the original image in the final processed artefact. He had one sequence where he had a number of images which he said they looked like images of various imaginary deities, created from the heavy processing of an old boiler. Another were where he could see images of stars and alien suns from images of flower pots. While entertaining, this is not a man to serve breakfast too, in case he starts seeing images of Elvis in his toast :)

So two very different phiosophies, with all the photographers being masters of their craft and ending up producing stunning images.

The question is then, which one did I relate to most.

Firstly I have to state that I greatly appreciate the uncompromising purists in this world. They provide a bench mark in which you can compare yourself with. However I don't think I would like to follow their lead. Eschewing technology for technology sake is too much like wearing a hair shirt, so that people are impressed by your dedication.

Technology is there to help us achieve things easily that in the past were hard. Unless there is a good reason why the old ways was better, it should never be dismissed just because it is new. If you do go down that route, where do you stop? Mr Payling chose to use slide film, but why not use photographic wet plates or the Daguerrotype process. Also why travel by car, use a mobile phone,  have a website. Barry would probably reply that he still feels slide film still provides better images, but the truth is slides produce different types of images. It is a bit like saying that music today is not as good as in my youth (which is true, but lets move on).

Today there are photographers who have never taken a film photo. I still remember my days of film photography and that disheartening feeling, when after a day out with your camera, you send a film off to be developed with high hopes, and 2 weeks (and £5) later you get rubbish back. Of course by that time the moment has passed, meaning you lost that ability to learn from your mistakes.

This is why I like digital. I can play with it to my hearts content, knowing that all I am wasting is my time. Not a cheap commodity, but better than spending money.

For one thing I would of liked to have known what Barry's reject rate was. The truth is I would only ever consider going back to film once I was sure that at least 50% of my photo's had some merit. But by then, there would not be much point because I would be wedded to digital.

That is not to say I did not learn some things that I will want to incorporate into my own photography.

One thing that particularly stood out, was the way that he chose his lighting reference point when composing the photo and set the camera exposure to that level(remember he has no light meter, so this is done by guess work and experience)

So what about Chris And Martin. Well my problem here is something I have grappled with for a time and that is, when does a photograph stop being a photograph and become a purely artificial creation?

Some of the images, while visually stunning, had been processed so much that it was impossible to discern the original photograph that it was formed from. I remember making similar images in the past using computer programs, the difference being that this required no photography element at all.

For me a photo has to retain the essence of the original image to be a photo, otherwise we might as well sell our cameras and just spend all day hacking on our computers. That does not mean however none of the techniques they use are without merit. Chris's photos of the Indian dances where he swirled the back ground to produce a photo of high energy, while retaining the essence of the subject stood out. As he said, before he did this the photo contained a boring background, but the techniques added new life to an otherwise ordinary image. Similarly the process of taking multiple shots and combining them in-camera, produced some great dynamic images of otherwise static structures.

Again I got some great ideas for taking different images  which hopefully I can add to my war chest of possible techniques, ready to use when the need arises.

The truth is all 3 are great photographers, who have learned there craft and trade. The difference for me is that Barry's photographic journey takes him to places well visited, and how ever well driven he will always end up at the same destination. Chris and Martin journey however is a mystery tour. Most days you will end up no where interesting, but with luck you may end up in somewhere wonderful that no one else has ever seen before.

In the meantime I would gladly pay to see all 3 photographers in a debating chamber. That would be true entertainment :)


One of the techniques Chris and Martin use is multiple exposures while putting the cameras at different angles. For example, taking one photo and then moving the camera 180 degrees and taking a photo of the same scene. The effect is very much akin to taking a photo of something with a reflection.

Unfortunately my camera does not support multiple exposure functionality. However I thought I could do the same thing in Photoshop.

Basically you duplicate the layer, flip it vertically(do not rotate 180 degrees since we want a mirror image). Move the  new layer  where you want and then set the Layer mode to exclusion.

It is possible you may want to remove some of the bottom layer and new layer to get rid of artifacts but the result is a picture looking like you have taken over a flat calm lake or  sea, which in reality does not exist.

Here's an example of the result

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