Being ‘geographically restricted’ for the last 18 months or so has forced many of us to either stope making photographs or shift our thinking. For me that has been a deeper dive into subject matter that is close to home. What I have come to realize of course is that I would make the same photographs regardless of whether I had travelled 5 miles or 5,000. It’s just how I’m wired.
I’ve also been thinking about how people work close to home but make stunningly original work. One person I came across was Lori Vrba. Originally from Texas, Lori moved to North Carolina about 14 years ago. With that move came a shift in perspective and some really imaginative photographs.
I often think about the subject matter and process and how they inform one another. Does Lori make the images she makes because she uses film and traditional darkroom processes? Would she be off in a different direction if she were to switch to digital? I suspect we’re not likely to find out any time soon, the magic of film and the darkroom (her new darkroom!) pull too strongly.
Check out the flip through of Lori’s book ‘The Moth Wing Diaries’ below and see more of her work on her website here.
I had a hearty dose of nostalgia when I first came across the work of Paul Hart. I grew up in the north east corner of South Yorkshire, close to the borders of East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire. The mining village where I lived was surrounded by farm land and so biking out of the village in almost any direction I would see vistas such as the one above.
Paul Hart has published three books of his work – Truncated, Farmed and Drained. Farmed and Drained are the first two books in what will eventually be the Fenland trilogy. Francis Hodgson in the preface to Drained describes his work this way “Paul Hart is a photographer interested in the slow harvesting of hidden truth from the ordinary places that most of us pass by”.
His images have a special resonance with me. I wouldn’t have thought to stop and take photographs of what for me was the everyday but I wish that I had. The view from our upstairs window used to be across a farmers field, the canal and the river with an odd little house on the bank between the two. I have no idea if the house is still there because the housing estate that has sprung up on the fields obscures the view. Paul’s work reminds me that as photographers we have a duty to photograph our everyday as well as the spectacular scenes.
The Bio on Paul’s webpage tells us that he’s working with ‘cumbersome analogue equipment in and unfashionable area’. I’m personally glad that he is and hope he keeps at it.
Check out more about Paul here and listen to him describe his truncated series below.
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.
A section in a book that I’m reading at the moment provided a twist to the ‘you’re the average of the 5 people you spend most time with‘ idea that has been circling the internet for several years now. Specifically it said that if you’re the smartest person you know then you need to get to know some more people, if you’re the most creative person you know then you need to get to know some more people and went on like that for quite a bit. It’s funny that the Ninety Degrees Five group is five people – all are very talented and successful, if the alphabet soup of letters that they are able to append to their names is anything to go by – I wouldn’t mind being the average of this group by any means!
Of this group Christian Fletcher recently won Western Australian Landscape photographer of the year and International Landscape photographer of the year. He’s based in Dunsborough in South Western Australia, which looks like a fantastic part of the world if his photographs are anything to go by and is now on my list of places to visit. Christian seems to work predominantly with digital medium format cameras, which allows him to create large prints of his work, working with photoshop to fully extract the potential in each of his images. Check out the videos below to hear more from Christian himself.
I thought that I’d share my first in the field experiment with a tilt shift lens. My first attempt with a tilt shift was this which of course taught me that in addition to manual focusing I needed to also be manual exposure. Probably not too much of a surprise for anyone whose used these lenses but it’s all new to me. I also was ready for the back end freak out where photoshop isn’t able to stitch my images together for me but that comes later.
So how did I get here? I’ve been worrying unnecessarily about depth of field. While you, like me, are setting the F stop to 22 (or some other high number) focusing a third into the scene and then firing away with the knowledge that you’re going to have good front to back focus. While this has served me well I realize that the only thing in your image that actual is in focus in the thing that you’ve focused upon and everything else in the same plane as that point of focus. Everything else is acceptably out of focus.
The medium and large focus photographers that have access to tilt and shift are able to angle the plane of focus and by doing so get more (all?) of the image in focus. Scheimpflug principle anyone? With a DSLR one way to achieve the same large depth of field is by taking multiple images with different points of focus and then blend them to extend the depth of field. Helicon focus is a well respected piece of software that can help if this is something that you’re interested in, beyond what you can achieve in photoshop. This approach is somewhat problematic when things in your image are in motion, such as my favorite subject – water. This is where a tilt shift lens comes in. It should give you access to the same tilt and shift functions that you would have with a medium or large format camera.
My playing so far has been restricted to the shift function which is how the image above was made. A vertical panorama stitched together and then cropped. See the images that I used below.
Which when stitched together give:
Which I then cropped to this:
I think that this is working. The next experiment will be to see what I can do with the tilt functionality. That should be fun.
My introduction to the ND5 group was actually through Peter Eastway. I’ve been a subscriber of Better Photography, the magazine that he edits and publishes, for a very long time now and have enjoyed his various online tutorials. In fact as I was thinking over the summer about the options we have as photographers to express our voice Peter’s work came immediately to mind. I essentially decided that there were two places in which your voice can shine through – in the subjects you choose to photograph and then how you choose to process those images. Peter has a really unique style that, to my mind at least, is largely achieved through his post-processing work. In particular I feel that he has developed a a distinct and unifying color palette, perhaps not intentionally, through the consistent use of a particular set of tools in photoshop. The masterclass tutorials show you his process in detail and are worth a look. For single image processing check out his photo atelier series which give a behind the scenes look at Peter’s thought process.
I found the interview below to be a fascinating look at how Peter thinks and works. Check it out:
It seemed appropriate, given where my head has been in the last few weeks, to look at the collaborative group Ninety degrees Five this week. One of the questions that I’ve been asking is ‘as a beginning photographer how can you accelerate your improvement’ and realized that being part of a working group can greatly help. While I was thinking about that I was also wondering once you ‘make it’ whatever that means to you then what. Does the group that you’re a part of still work for you, do you move onto a new group that are more aligned with where you’re currently at? Where do the modern day masters go for feedback?
One of the things that came out of the Impressionists was a group sensibility within which the individuals still had a indue voice. I think that could also be said for this group too. The work hangs together as a whole and yet they clearly have distinct voices. Check out the videos below for more about the Pilabara project and South West Light.
I was poking around on the Phase One website recently (more about that in an upcoming post) when I came across a pair of videos (here and here) of Albert Watson working with a Phase One camera system to make landscape images. I felt as though I knew the name but it wasn’t until video 2 that it dawned on me from where. Albert Watson, as I’m sure you’re well aware, is perhaps best know for his fashion and celebrity portraiture. The photograph that kicked his career into high gear was of Alfred Hitchcock holding a plucked goose and the photograph that I was most familiar with was the photograph of Steve Jobs. It was surprising then for me to see this icon of celebrity portraiture out in the wilds of Scotland taking landscape photographs and a reminder of how important it is to sustain a long a fruitful career to find the things that are out of your everyday, that energize and push you and make the time for these things.
I also found an additional documentary that features Albert Watson’s landscape work that was shown on BBC4. I must admit to scratching my head a little about that one – I can remember when there were only 3 tv channels in the UK and BBC2 was a little out there. The documentary has lots of take aways including: “Always have two assistants, that way if one falls off the mountain you have a spare” more seriously was his way of having a series of words that he uses as an intellectual framework for what he’s trying to achieve with the project. Something that we all can use right now. Check out the documentary below:
For me the Lindhof Techno falls into the group of things that are out of reach. I’ve never shot film, never used a medium format camera and yet this camera appeals to me on all kinds if levels. It’s a digital based system using the medium format backs from companies like Hasselblad or Phase One. High resolution files and big prints! That it is a medium format system with bellows, means that you can get excellent front to back depth of field. Something that you would have to use either focus stacking or a tilt shift lens on a DSLR to get close to. It looks like it would be work to set up an use – this more deliberate style of photography is something that increasingly appeals to me rather than the run and gun approach that I all too often fall into with my DSLR.
I’d love to rent one of these systems for a couple of weeks to see how I’d get along with it – let me know if you know where I could rent one. If you have experience with the Linhof Techno I’d be delighted to hear your experience with it.