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.

A Walk in The Woods

I spent an afternoon over the weekend wandering around the local woods. Not hard to do in this part of Connecticut – everything seems to be in the Woods! It’s nice but I find it a little claustrophobic. Fortunately there are lots of ponds and lakes too which breaks up the walk nicely.

The ponds are now starting to catch the falling leaves. It will be snowing soon enough.

Friday Inspiration: Robert Adams

I have enjoyed Robert Adams’ writing about photography immensely. ‘Why People Photograph‘ and ‘Beauty in Photography‘ contain a series of short essays covering topics such as collectors, humor, teaching, money and dogs and discussions of Photographers such as Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Laura Gilpin, Judith Joy Ross, Susan Meiselas, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Minor White. His recent book ‘Art Can Help‘ continues in a similar vein and is well worth picking up.

As a photographer however he’s someone that I feel I should like but his photographs just don’t move me. It was interesting then to come across the two videos below and listen to him talk about what he’s trying to achieve with his work.

Check out the videos below and tell me what you think.

Friday Inspiration: Victoria Sambunaris

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After running through a string a contemporary landscape photographers in recent weeks I could help but recognize that all of these were guys which made me wonder who were the women active in this genre. It was then that I remembered the fabulous book by Victoria Sambunaris, ‘Taxonomy of a Landscape‘ that I had recently came across. The book documents a decade long exploration of the American landscape and our place in it. In fact it’s two books, the companion volume collects the associated research materials and other bits and pieces that Sambunaris accumulated during the course of the project. A fascinating behind the scenes look into her process.

For more information on Sambunaris and her projects check out the video here and the embeded video below.

Victoria Sambunaris lecture, February 7, 2013 from MoCP, Columbia College Chicago on Vimeo.

Friday Inspiration: Stephen Shore

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I’m continuing to dig deeper into the work of some of the photographers that were part of the New Topographics exhibition curated by William Jenkins in 1975. These were a group of photographers working to find ‘beauty in the banal’, making ‘photographs of a man-altered landscape’. In many ways it’s easy to dismiss this work as having a ‘snap-shot’ aesthetic and for some of this work I really struggle to connect with it. This week’s project has been Stephen Shore. If you read his biography one of the first things that is pointed out is that he sold his first photographs at age 14 to Alfred Steiglitz and that at 24 was only the second living photographer to have a solo show at the MoMA.

His work in the New Topographics exhibition was in color whereas the other 7 photographers were shooting in black and white. It’s interesting to reflect on the fact that at that time in the early ’70’s shooting in color was not what you did if you wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. Color was okay for magazines but not for ‘art’. Perhaps this further adds to the sense of these photographs being snapshots. In looking over this work and some of the subsequent work that arose out of these early projects I can’t help but think that this would be a great instagram feed and indeed you can find Stephen Shore on Instagram although I was surprised to find that I don’t connect with these photographs in the way that I do with the images in his books.

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I often feel like I’m missing the joke when I look at contemporary photography and so it’s been useful for me to listen to Shore talk about his work in the videos below and lift the veil, at least a little.

Stephen Shore American Surfaces from Spike Productions on Vimeo.

Stephen Shore Uncommon Places from Spike Productions on Vimeo.

Stephen Shore in Conversation with Peter Schjeldahl from Aperture Foundation on Vimeo.

G.G.A.S.*: Canon 100-400 mkII

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*Galloping Gear Acquisition Syndrome

I am generally happy to remain ignorant of the latest bells and whistles that the camera manufacturers have added in order to sell another piece of gear that no-one really needs. However, of late my head has bean turned by lots of new doodads. The latest in this parade of head turners is the updated version of Canon’s 100-400mm lens. I had the original ‘dust pump’ version of this lens which I eventually retired because it never saw much action and following it’s use I ended up spending a while cleaning the sensor on the body that it was used on. Having said that, there was a certain novelty factor to the way that the lens extended to change focal length. For the weight and number of times I used the lens I decided to leave it on my desk at home and make do with my very much lighter 70-200mm lens.

There are times however when the extra reach can allow you to make the photograph that you have in mind. The image above is a case in point. I’d tried with my 70-200, it really wasn’t working, click on the image below to see what I mean. Nixon_150115_6450

While getting closer was certainly an option I had an opportunity to use the new 100-400 lens and made the image below using the same settings as I had with my 70-200mm. Nixon_150115_6462

Immediately noticeable on the LCD screen on the camera was that the image made using the 100-400 was sharper than that made with the 70-200 even though all the camera settings and lens settings were the same. This in inevitably led me to wonder what if I dumped the 70-200 and replaced it with the 100-400 lens. That way I’d have a nice sharp lens capable of the extra reach when I need it. My only concern is the weight – a chunky albs. We’ll see how I get on!

Friday Inspiration: Nobuyuki Kobayashi

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In continuing my exploration of Japanese photographers I recently came across Nobuyuki Kobayashi. Kobayashi may be most well known for his work in magazines as a portrait photographer or for his humanitarian work but what caught my attention were his black and white landscapes. Landscape might be the wrong word, since for many it evokes the grand view and Kobayashi’s work offers a much subtler take on the land. He feels that he is taking portraits of the Gods and this delicate approach certainly comes through in the work of his that I’ve seen so far.

I find his process intriguing – use of an 8×10 large format camera, film and printing on traditional Japanese paper, washi. I’ve tried printing on washi in the past and found that the heavy intrinsic texture works against many subjects but Kobayashi seems to be making it work. It rails against the increasingly small format, mirrorless digital cameras and yet his choice of materials that should last for hundreds of years supports his goal of using photography as a tool to preserve the beauty of the natural world.

I’m hoping to see more in the book that accompanies this body of work ‘Myriads of Gods’.

Listen to Kobayashi describe this project in the short interview below and watch the longer documentary for a behind the scenes look at his process of platinum palladium printing on washi.

(English sub)Portrait of Nature – Myriads of Gods on Platinum Palladium Prints – from augment5 Inc. on Vimeo.