Virtual Photo Tour: Nostalgia Edition: Part 1 – Yorkshire

Paul Hart: Windy Corner, 2013

Like many of you I’m starting to get itchy feet. 2020 was the first year that I did not get in a plane in a long while and 2021 has started off looking like travel will be limited this year too.

That got me thinking about all the places I would like to visit. So this is the first of what I’m calling ‘virtual photo tours’ where we explore some of the places I want to visit and highlight who might be good companions for our trips. For our first photo tour I wanted to go ‘home’ and explore with a camera places from my past.

First up Yorkshire. I grew up in a very flat part of Yorkshire, on the border of the old East and West Ridings. Paul Hart’s images of The Fens, such as the one above, could have been taken in this area rather than in East Anglia. They really remind me of foggy Sunday mornings driving around to play football against the neighboring village team.

The river Don flows through the village I grew up in. Growing up I heard stories of epic flooding in the local area. Those times seem to have returned as you can see in the footage below.

Let’s head out to the Yorkshire Coast next and take a drive up from Filey to Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby and finally to Staithes.

I spent all my summers at the beach in Filey and I’m looking forward to returning with my camera soon. My uncles used to keep their fishing boat just to the left of the little hut in the image below.

The Lifeboat Station Project: 12×10 inch Clear Glass Ambrotype by Jack Lowe The view from Filey RNLI Lifeboat Station, 11th June 2017

As places do, Filey has changed a lot since I was a kid. The fishing boats on cobble landing are essentially gone and there is talk of closing the lifeboat station. What a travesty.

View of Filey Bay

The Brigg – the land that juts out into the sea in the image above has lots of possibilities. You have to be careful though – the tide comes in quick and it’s easy to get cut off.

After a stop in Robin Hood’s Bay lets stop at Whitby. I’ve only been to Whitby a few times. It’s famous as the place where Captain Cook learned seamanship and connections with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s also the last stop on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. When I think of Whitby I think of the breakwaters that guard the entrance of the harbor shown in the image below.

https://www.discoveryorkshirecoast.com/whitby

Adam Karnacz of First Man Photography gives a great tour of the sights of Whitby in his video below and also a tutorial of long exposure seascapes too!

On to Staithes! I’ve never been to Staithes and only know it from the Joe Cornish images of the harbor below. I can wait to visit, especially at different times of year. What a difference a coating of snow makes!

Joe Cornish: Staithes
Joe Cornish: Staithes

Listen to Joe talk about the image at the top and how he thinks about preparing the image for print in the video below.

Perhaps we could get Joe Cornish or Adam Karnacz to join us for our coastal adventure or better yet the two of them together they clearly have great chemistry in the video below.

For the final leg of our nostalgia edition photo tour I want to visit Snowdonia. More about that next time.

Doing’ it for the ‘Gram

I learn all kinds of stuff by listening to my kids talk to their friends. Some of it immediately, some of it takes me a while to unravel.

It’s snowboard season here in New England which means trips to and from the slopes with groups of high school age kids for me. They are very much into making videos of their exploits to get feedback on how they are doing with learning tricks but also to post on social media. ‘Doin’ it for the ‘gram’ was the phrase used in a rather derogatory tone.

That got me thinking about what I post on social media and why and what are my expectations. I am playing a game with my posts on Instagram, or at least I have some simple rules that I am following. Must be shot and edited on my phone. No wireless transfer of files from any of my ‘fancy’ cameras, no transfer of files from the phone onto my computer for editing. All has to be done on the phone. Also the apps that I use can’t be mobile versions of Lightroom or Photoshop.

This of course is less of an amazing feat now that the phone cameras are so incredibly capable and produce high-res files. It goes without saying that phones themselves are way more powerful computers than the first desktop computers I worked with but then I grew up with a single rotary dial phone in the house if you catch my drift.

The result is a set of photos that are in effect sketches or studies. I’m trying out composition ideas using the phone and quickly processing using filters and effects in a small number of apps – typically Snapseed and VSCO. I’m often accused of being heavy handed with the processing – probably true, certainly lacking the kind of finesse possible on a desktop. Are these the high impact, portfolio best images that will garner lots of ‘likes’ not at all. But that’s not the point.

I’m having fun playing and don’t mind letting people look over my shoulder see my sketchbook develop.

How about you? How do you use social media?

Friday Inspiration: William Neill

William Neill: Dawn, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Canada 1995

I’ve been spending sometime with Bill Neill’s new book ‘Light on the Landscape‘ which is a collection of the essays from his column in Outdoor Photographer magazine, paired with his magnificent images. It’s a fantastic resource for those of us who are more interested in the creative aspects of photography, the why rather than the how. Have a quick glimpse in the flick through video below.

For those of you not familiar with Bill, he got his start in photography working at the Ansel Adams gallery in the ’80s where he got to know Ansel and some of the people that were in his orbit – John Sexton, Alan Ross and Joel Meyerowitz to name but a few. Although he has been based in the Yosemite area for the last 40+years his photography has avoided the potential cliches of the area and shows what is really possible when you are true to your own sensibilities.

I was fortunate to take a portfolio development class online with Bill a long, long time ago. It was excellent! He was patient, engaging and a wealth of information. I was just starting my journey into photography at the time and was just entering what has been a long and steep learning curve. He introduced me to photographers such as Ernst Haas and the seminal book The Creation and to Eliot Porter and his intimate landscapes. I learned from Bill how much you can get from having subjects close to him that you can return to at different times of the day, different weather and different seasons. How to really work a scene; how to find not just the obvious shot but to really explore what the scene and subject really have to offer.

I was delighted then to come across the recent interview with Bill on Alister Benn’s YouTube channel. Many of these topics come up in the discussion between Bill and Alister and others that I hadn’t heard Bill talk about. So check out the interview below and to learn more about Bill visit his website here.

James Richards – Urban Sketcher

I wanted to finish this trilogy of urban sketchers with James Richards. I recently got a free trial to SkillShare and poking around found James’ Urban Sketching tutorials. After that was off down the rabbit hole.

He’s an engaging teacher with a very distinct style. I especially enjoyed learning how he adds and draws people. I now have pages and pages of people in my notebooks as I learned to draw people the way James shows in his tutorials.

I find having a framework to guide and structure your thinking really helps. James has a 5 step process that he articulates in his class that makes sense to me and as I listen to others is one that many people seem to follow. The process that he follows starts with a thumbnail sketch to get a sense of the composition and contrast – light and dark areas. From that the real work starts – Eyeline, People & Big Shapes; Details; Darks; Color. It’s a learnable process that even I could manage to wrap my head around. Really enjoyable! If you’re interested you should check out the tutorials on SkillShare. Get a little taste in the video below. He also has a book that describes his process, Freehand Drawing & Discovery. For more information about James check out his website here and his instagram feed here.

Are Small Steps Everyday Better Than a Big Push Once in a While?

In the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you. — Hindu saying that Steve Jobs was fond of 

I tend to circle topics until I get a satisfactory answer – something that makes sense to me, is actionable or is a definitive end. It’s a funny trait that I didn’t realize I did until someone pointed it out to me recently. One of those topics is how to learn. I’ll certainly come back to this a few times here.

I was thinking about a story that I read in the book Art & Fear about a pottery class that was split into two. One group was told that their grade would be based on the quantity of work that they produce during the semester while the other group would be graded on the quality of work they produced. At the end of the semester the group that produced the most work also produced work of a higher quality. The act of making, making mistakes, correcting and making again had lead to a deeper understanding.

How can we apply this thinking to our photography to push ourselves forward? I am contemplating a project where I would post an image a day to Instagram and then review my progress at the end of a year. Would this spur me forward to actively create and finish more images? Would that help me get out of a rut and move me forward? I think it may be fun but would be an immense challenge for me. At the moment I rarely leave the house makes it a challenge or at least pushes me in a different direction.

Carrying a camera with me is not a habit that I need to adopt – my phone is always with me. I’m often mentally taking photographs – I still see the American flag, framed on 3 edges by fall leaves that I looked at for a week when I was dropping my daughter off at school but never took the photo – but I don’t take enough photos to be able to post one a day. Not yet anyway.

How about you do you carry a camera with you all the time and do ‘visual push-ups’ every day? Want to join me in the challenge? Need an accountability partner for your project? A year too long? How about a sprint? Everyday for a month? Let me know here or tag me on Instagram.

Friday Inspiration: Thomas Joshua Cooper – The World’s Edge

“Looking towards the Old Lands.” Thomas Joshua Cooper

I’m currently thinking about projects that I can engage with while travel is restricted and we are locked down. I feel like a good photography project, one that will keep you engaged for a while, is one that is multi-dimensional, one that engages multiple areas of your interest.

Thomas Joshua Cooper certainly found this with his Atlantic Basin Project. The ambition of this project was to chart the Atlantic Basin from the extremity of land north, south, east, and west. An enormous undertaking and one he has been engaged with since the end of the ‘80s. Longer than he’s been married and a project older than his kids!

The work recently reached completion with the publication of ‘The World’s Edge‘ and the exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

I find the work absolutely captivating, although I struggle to put my finger on what it is about his photographs that draws me in. The subject matter appeals to me. I enjoy being at the coast, I’m awed by the power of the ocean and can’t help but feel that the transition from land to water is a place of great possibility.

The images of Thomas Joshua Cooper for this project are abstractions with no real sense of place, not grand vistas but truly what it would feel like if you were stood at the edge of the land looking out to the sea. Often they appear to be long exposures, giving movement to the water which really gives you a sense of dynamics. There are images that provide visual breaks – the images taken during white out conditions on Antarctica or those taken during the winter solstice at the North Pole.

If you only get one book from this project get ‘The World’s Edge‘ if you want to dig deeper you could explore The Point of No Return, Eye of the Water Ojo De Agua, or True that represent images from major sections of the work. Watch the video below to hear Professor Cooper provide an entertaining and engaging description of his Atlantic Basin Project.

The Shoreditch Sketcher: Phil Dean

I thought that I would continue my exploration of Urban Sketchers today with Phil Dean, known as The Shoreditch Sketcher on Instagram . By the very nature – Urban – it’s a little outside of what I would consider to be my subject area but I enjoy the images and the process of making them.

I wanted to learn more about how Phil approaches his drawing and hopefully learn something that could help my drawing or photography so I purchased his book ‘Urban Drawing: Sketch Club’. The book provides an excellent tour of materials, how to get started and etiquette for working on the street. Then moves on to a series of lessons and associated exercises covering topics such as composition, perspective, contrast, tone, people and adding color.

I enjoyed Phil’s prompts for subjects with sketching potential: Your environment while you’re traveling; mundanity, locals sitting drinking coffee, students doing their laundry, a dog sitting under a table; architectural mayhem, architecture that tells the story of the city, contrasts of old and new and of course vistas.

The appeal to me of drawing over photography is being able to be selective about what you include in the scene or indeed move things around to suit your composition and intent. Interesting to hear Phil talk about this and that he doesn’t really do that and was shocked when one of his students moved subjects around in her composition. Where do you stand on this?

The discussion of perspective, which of course comes up in almost every book on drawing, has me thinking about how I use perspective or view point to tell the story or add depth and interest to a scene. More on this topic in the future once it has had time to percolate.

Check out more of Phil’s work on Instagram or on his website.

What Would You Do If No One Was Looking? And Oh By The Way They Aren’t!

I woke up thinking about:

‘What would you do if no one was looking?’

And

‘What would you say if no one was listening?’

The answer for me is the same as if someone was looking and was listening. It’s about staying true to your values and having integrity.

About making the things that you want to make because those are the things that you need to make.

There’s freedom and opportunity in such a space. No constraints resulting from the expectations of others. No ties or obligations to what’s gone before preventing you from striking out in a new direction.

Certainly something to think about as we get going this week.

How about you? What you you do if no one was watching or so say if no one was listening?

Friday Inspiration: Rachael Talibart

I must have been living under a rock to only recently have found Rachael Talibart’s seascape work. She is perhaps best know for her Sirens photos, a series of storm waves named after mythological beings. A book of the same name was published by Triplekite Books in 2018. As an aside I can’t believe I missed this book since I thought I had all of the books that Triplekite had published. I found her work through the recently published book, Tides and Tempests, that further explores her interest in storm waves but also the coast in general.

It sounds like Rachael has had a lifelong relationship with the sea having grown up on the South Coast of England, spending time as a child on the family sailboat. She describes herself as a poor swimmer and a poor sailor who is happier and safer viewing the ocean from the shore. Reading between the lines in the introductory essay to Tides and Tempests it sounds like she had lots of ‘fun’ on the sailboat as a child. These episodes really do shape your life both as an adult and as a child, either pushing you away or drawing you in. Personally I’m glad that she is drawn towards the ocean and chooses to capture the majesty, power and potential that the ocean offers. Check out more of Rachael’s work on her website here.

Also check out the videos that Rachel put together below. Scroll all the way to the bottom to hear Rachel talk about her work and her process.

Check out the mini-documentary/interview with Rachel that Sean Tucker put together below. Sean is worth a ‘Friday Inspiration’ slot of his own. Until then check out his YouTube channel here.

Layers of Looking – Ian Fennelly

Ian Fennelly Layers of Looking

During the break between Christmas and New Year I took a deep dive into the world of urban sketching. It’s always fun to look at the world through other view points and how other visual artists approach their work can inform how I make photographs.

Drawing, and particularly the ink and watercolor approach is something that I’ve been interested in for years. Not being able to draw always held me back from pursuing this kind of work but it is often on my radar. I particularly appreciate the looseness that is found in the work of many ‘urban sketchers’. As I have thought about this I recognize that for me the starting photograph is just that, a start, a point of departure, and how I interpret the scene could then go in many ways.

One of the artists I’ve been learning from has been Ian Fennelly. Ian is an exceptionally talented and patient teacher. You can get a sense of his approach in the video below.

His new book ‘Layers of Looking’ provides the thinking behind the work rather that being a step by step how to. I enjoyed each of the chapters, taking away something that is relevant to my work from most of them. I liked the section below from the section on the factors important to choosing a subject:

…finding something visually interesting, something that grabs me and makes me feel I can tell the story of that place.

… it needs to have a rich variety of content; interesting perspective and shapes, patterns and storytelling potential.

Have a quick look at more of the book in the video below.