Category: Photography

21
Feb

Classic Chrome on Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-E1

PEOPLE FREQUENTLY ASK WHY FUJIFILM NEVER OFFERED CLASSIC CHROME AS A RENDERING OPTION FOR THEIR X-PRO1 AND X-E1 CAMERAS. I confess that I’ve googled to see if this update is available on a few occasions.

It isn’t, or at least the availability is not obvious.

Classic Chrome didn’t appear as an in-camera option until the X-Trans II sensor appeared in later cameras. The lack of firmware upgrades for it on the for the X-Pro1 and XE-1 are thought to be connected with the way in which the newer sensor works.

But, both the X-Pro1 and X-E1 are boxed with a custom version of SilkyPix a RAW converter that is specially adapted for the Fujifilm X-Trans sensor. Kodachrome was included within the rendering options available even before the end of February 2015. I am currently using SilkyPix version 3.2.23.0. The Kodachrome option is often overlooked because the .jpg files from all the X-Series cameras are so good many, especially professionals, avoid using RAW. RAW processing increases workflow time, and when you’re busy, rather than a hobbyist, time is money. Also the option is marked ‘K’, rather than Chrome.

If you really want a ‘chrome experience’ from your X-Pro1 or X-E1 processing a RAW file using SilkyPix is a fast and painless way of achieving one version of this classic look. Not everyone is happy with the result from the default SilkyPix K setting. You may want to play around with it.

The following image is a Standard (Provia) .jpg from my XE-1, and the images below it are variations processed using the different methods described in the texts below them.

Fujifilm X-E1 Provia

Fujifilm X-E1 Provia (Standard)

SilkyPix Kodachrome RAW Conversion

Kodachrome SilkyPix RAW Conversion

Kodachrome SilkyPix RAW Conversion

Three Versions of Kodachrome 64 from Alien Skin

The colors in the default image are quite nice, but they’re not anything like Kodachrome. This is emulated far better with SilkyPix. But, as an experiment I fired up Alien Skin Exposure. It offers many versions of the classic film. Using Alien Skin’s Exposure also defaults to adding film grain to your file, an in-camera feature only just released on the Fujifilm X-Pro2.

Vintage 1930s Kodachrome from Alien Skin

Vintage (1935 – 1964) Kodachrome from Alien Skin

I well remember this film from my childhood, and also Kodachrome II, which replaced it during the 1970s. Originally, the movie version of this film, this was balanced for artificial light and an amber filter was used to correct the color for daylight.

Kodachrome II, (1970s) by Alien Skin

Kodachrome II, (1962 – 1974) by Alien Skin

The final version of Kodachrome was popular with photographers, such as Steve McCurry, working for National Geographic. Here the film was at the top of its game. This is the version produced using Alien Skin Exposure.

Alien Skin Kodachrome

Alien Skin Kodachrome (1974 – 2010)

A Quick and Dirty in-camera Classic Chrome tweak

Alien Skin provides very nice renditions across a range of films, including the three versions of Kodachrome illustrated above. One advantage of using Alien Skin Exposure is that it can also add film grain to your files, adding realism to the film simulation. But, SilkyPix and Alien Skin can’t produce Classic Chrome in the camera. After some Googling I came across a report of someone achieving a very approximate workaround by using custom settings on their X-Pro1 and X-E1 cameras. To achieve the result below select Astia and toggle Color to -2 and Higlight and Shadow to +1. I’m unsure that the result looks like Kodachrome, but it is quite pleasing.

Simulated Classic Chrome on Fujifilm XE-1

Simulated Classic Chrome on Fujifilm XE-1

For those wishing for the more vintage look it’s possible to process the RAW file in the camera. To get this antiqued effect make your RAW conversion settings: Film S Astia, Color -2, Highlights +1, Shadows +1, WB Shift + 2 Red -1 Blue. This takes just a few seconds 🙂

In camera chrome tweaked in RAW conversion

My in camera chrome plus adjusted WB in RAW conversion

Processing RAW images in your camera is both quick and simple. The only problem with the method is that you cannot see the result until after you press the button. You may not be able to achieve the exact look of Classic Chrome boxed with the X-Pro2, X-E2s or X 100T, but if you own the X-Pro 1, or X-E1, you don’t need to throw your camera away because it lacks Classic Chrome in the menu. Just experiment with SilkyPix or in Camera conversions until you achieve an effect that suits your style of photography.

14
Dec

In Praise of The Expo Disc

FOR SOME YEARS I’VE BEEN WRITING ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY AND AWARENESS. I even discuss how, in post-processing, I attempt to restore to images the colours as I saw them and why they moved me.

I discuss the defining moment, when an experience registers in consciousness before we describe it in dualistic terms, such as colour, tonality, pallet, exposure and other words.

For me, photography explores experience – mine – and attempts to communicate it. I discourage people from making value judgements, about their own work, and that of others.

Some years back I purchased what I thought an expensive gadget called the Expo Disc. I don’t remember just how much I paid but I thought I had lost my marbles!

I tried it out immediately, and was amazed by the realistic results, even with my compact, and this was perhaps ten years ago.

Then, because it was so expensive I kept it in its case, couldn’t be bothered to attach it to my belt, and my expensive toy rarely got used.

Yes, from time to time, I got it out. Attached it with a lanyard around my neck, but still it seemed more of a nuisance than an asset. Meanwhile, I was shifting the white balance in my camera to the manufacturer’s settings for sunny, cloudy, shade etc.

I even got egocentric at one time declaring that as I shoot RAW anyway I always tweak the WB in post-production.

I also use a range of legacy lenses and digital filters to tweak colours and create period styles.

Deep down, however, I like my images to have the colours that inspired me. The Expo Disc achieves this painlessly, but you have to be prepared to discard the protective case and just put the thing in your pocket.

Do this and you’ll reap a return in investment in spades. The colours are perfect. They recreate the magical experience of seeing 🙂

21
Nov

Why Photography and Awareness?

Animated gif of a rock pool at Hartland Quay

Rocks at Hartland Quay, Devon 2015

WORDS . . . TRICKY BLIGHTERS, because they are rooted in dualism. That’s why some like to make photographic images. No duplicitous words there.

Take the idea of ‘The Decisive Moment’. It was popularized by Henri Cartier-Bresson as a way of describing a split second when an apparent outer event coincides with an equally fictitious inner psychology. But don’t you sometimes need more than a split second to fully become aware of your, repetitive, free flowing, original nature?

It’s all appearance and fiction because it’s not two becoming one but, rather, multidimensional awareness overlapping and interconnecting. For many, however, their fate is to experience nightmares in which their worlds, and they, are experienced as separated.

Consciousness plays such roles usually without revealing your real identity, but sometimes, as part of the show, you may find yourself knowing what you really are.

Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, for example. He admits to curing an entire ward of the criminally insane without visiting with any one of them. Instead he read their files and worked upon himself using ho ‘oponopono a traditional Hawaiian healing practice. This powerful technique demands that we take responsibility for whatever appears within our experience in the knowledge that it really dwells within us, clouding the clear plane of awareness.

Language separates because sentences are split syntactically into subjects and objects. The thing to remember, however, is that despite this apparent dualism, every sentence carries a complete meaning. It is this not simply the specific meaning of a sentence that is conveyed, but also the implication that communication reaches out.

Photography, too, has always been a medium of communication. But in the wonder of conscious-awareness, who or what is specifically communicating with whom?

Michael Eldridge, my friend and teacher, writes: ‘And so,’Photography and Awareness’, although the other way around would make more sense because with a developed and acute awareness, photography just follows like a happy and obedient puppy.’ I like this metaphor.

Cartier-Bresson put what Michael alludes to in this exchange:

‘Why did you press the button at that precise moment?’ asked the painter, (66 year old Paul Bonnard).

Cartier-Bresson turned towards one of the unfinished canvases leaning against the wall, and pointed in detail: ‘Why did you put a little touch of yellow here?’

Michael goes on: ‘. . . I would prefer the word ‘Absorption’ to ‘Awareness’ but it would sound silly as a title, so we’ll let it stand.

‘You see, when we are in a state of absorption, the awarer (sic) is not there as a separate entity and there is no duality.’

Here I take issue, although it’s probably just words being deceiving. This state of ‘absorption’ to which Michael refers, is misleading. Nothing, and on-one, gets absorbed into anything else, because they are both properties of the great illusion. No matter how much you may hypothesize on the nature of living the only thing that ever resists dissection is the fact that you experience and that you are aware of doing so. From where you, apparently, are everything you experience occurs upon a screen of awareness with which you originally, and correctly, identified .

Nathan Gill wrote in 2000: ‘If all there is is Consciousness, if there is only Consciousness, then why or for what are you still seeking? If there is only Consciousness then right now you must be that and everything else that appears in and as awareness must also be that, including your sense of separate self if that is how you appear now. Any personal sense of I or ‘doership’ or ego must be Consciousness. What else could it be?’

Michael continues:
‘And we all experience this state when deeply into a book or film, or fishing or playing chess whatever. And of course children spend most of their waking hours in this wondrous state until adults begin to interfere. And the deepest state of absorption is when we are in the act of creating, whether a painting, a poem, a garden etc. In short, simply doing the things we love, if we haven’t forgotten what these are.’

I love this idea but feel impelled to clarify something. Awareness implies a grasping of life’s immediacy. There is a possibility, for most largely misconceived, of taking responsibility. Absorption, on the other hand, suggests something less concrete. Something dreamlike perhaps?, to be possessed, not quite all there, spaced out.

It’s not forgetting what creative things we used to enjoy that causes our problems, but rather having forgotten what we are.

Jean Bolen, a Jungian Analyst, once explained to me that when this happens archetypes may consume us. We then become insensitive to those with whom we live or work. A variety of symptoms may break out, as a result, ranging from a chaotic lifestyle with its missed appointments and inability to stay with planned agreements, to plain old fashioned narcissism and insensitivity.

American psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson was once consulted by a painter who suffered with a creativity block. Erickson gave the man a post-hypnotic suggestion that the next time he attempted to paint he would go into a deep trance and complete the painting with no memory of the event.

In due course the man set up a canvas, and before starting took a bite from a cheese sandwich he had prepared for his refreshment. When he took the second bite he found that the bread was dry, which puzzled him. Upon looking up he was amazed to find that his room was quite dark and before him was a fully painted canvas. A whole day had passed.

Many of us would like to enjoy such ability when completing tax returns, or cleaning the lavatory basin, but we must ask ourselves what role awareness plays in this story.

The question also relates to how art is regarded.

Dutch-born painter Willem de Kooning first began to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in the 1980s. He began working far faster than ever before, producing more than 300 paintings before he died. These lacked the density and layered complexity that had put de Kooning at the forefront of Abstract Expressionism. Where before he took eighteen months, or so, to complete a work, often painting and repainting layer upon layer on the canvas, his work was now ‘complete’ when ‘assistants’ were ‘satisfied’ by it.

This is one of the dangers of focusing upon ‘absorption’ as a destination. Within the dreamlike matrix projecting what we call ‘reality’ awareness tends to conjure up what incomplete aspect of the idealized image it has of itself that it focuses upon.

Sometimes, words matter after all.

Cartier-Bresson said many wise things. Here are three of them: ‘You just have to live and life will give you pictures. . . . We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole. . . . While we’re working, we must be conscious of what we’re doing.’

22
May

Adams & Eggleston

WHEN YOU’RE IDENTIFIED WITH BEING A PHOTOGRAPHER YOU CAN’T STOP YOURSELF FROM MAKING PICTURES. Painters are like this with oils and canvas. Even without a camera in your hands you will be making mental images that record snapshots of another world.

This world forms a synthesis of what appears to be ‘out there’, waiting to be photographed, and ‘in your head and heart’ comprised of intuition, movement and emotions. In fact there is solely one world for you, which you assemble as a result of stories you have learned, or created, and the pleasures and pains you seem to have experienced. All this occurs through and within Consciousness, however, because of conditioning most personalize Consciousness and associate it within an egoistic concept of themselves. They claim ownership of Consciousness when referring to their Personal Awareness. I attempted to explain this theory briefly, and more poetically, here in 2001.

If you ask William Eggleston why he makes photographs you get a straight, honest, answer. He says: ‘I like to do it.’ Isn’t that enough?

Alec Soth - image Jolson CC 3.0

Alec Soth – image Jolson CC 3.0

Another photographer, Alec Soth once said that there are now too many Egglestons in the world, or words to that effect. I take this to mean that there are today many people photographing mundane subjects and assembling them as collections in photo-books. This begs a question, however, are the photographs any good?

An image isn’t good, or bad, in comparison to any of William Eggleston’s photographs. Each of his images stands, or falls, on its own merit. The same applies to any image you happen to make. Some, when experiencing an image through the filters of their ‘personal awareness’, which is just code for conditioned prejudices, will not be able to see any merit in your work. An iconic landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, was critical of Eggleston’s work when it was first displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, (MOMA). He dismissed it, but back then in 1976 Adams had the attention of politicians, such as Richard Nixon who, like advertising agencies, were keen to sell us the iconic idea of Americans as plainsmen. Beat photographers thought differently, especially following the publication of Larry Clark’s disturbing work Tulsa in 1971.

I think there are, today, too many Ansel Adamses in the world, and too few Egglestons. Flickr, Picassa, and Facebook are crammed with dreamy images of blurred waterfalls and saturated meadows. Meanwhile, the world is drowning in beautiful, if deadly, human-made detritus. It is true that Ansel Adams was moved by the majesty of the American landscape, especially the Yosemites. He experienced the high peaks, tones, and the struggle to achieve perfection in a print as if a great musical work, which is not a bad way. His problem, however, is that even if he heard notes, or saw a potential score in the ordinary when he photographed it few were interested.

Baton Practice Manzanar War Relocation Center, 1943 - Ansel Adams

Baton Practice Manzanar War Relocation Center, 1943 – Ansel Adams

William Eggleston, seems to live in a unique, other worldly, place where he has remained oblivious to praise and criticism alike. It helps to have been born into a wealthy family, of course. within his images everything is beautiful, even objects most find ugly. He’s on some trip!

Adrian Searle, wrote in The Guardian:

“The pleasure of an Adams photograph lies in the quality he brings to, and draws out of, the rocks and ponds, the trees and falls. . . . Adams’s America presents itself as ancient and apparently uninhabited. Eggleston’s America is trashy and shrill, messed-up, beat-up, littered with man-made detritus. Adams and Eggleston do, however, make an oddly apposite pairing, harsh though the contrasts and contradictions are.”

Shell Oil Field, Pacific Coast, 1945 - Ansel Adams courtesy of Fortune

Shell Oil Field, Pacific Coast, 1945 – Ansel Adams courtesy of Fortune

Once, following an encounter group in the 1970s, someone spiked the last cup of tea with LSD. I have long since abandoned the idea that what I experienced, during my journey home and the few days following, were the result of gestalt therapy. I am grateful to whoever it was because, for a while, I was able to fully identify with the world as it surrendered to me. Flowers would beckon from the hedgerows and seem to kiss my soul. There was no space/time between us.

I feel, somewhat this way when I see a photograph, indeed I feel I may claim no authorship, save the moral right to copyright images under the Berne Convention, for pecuniary reasons. I do not make them, any more than they make me. They simply happen. I think it must be the same for William Eggleston.

Water Tanks, Ataköy 2015 - image Stephen Bray

Water Tanks, Ataköy 2015 – image Stephen Bray

Where Ansel Adams required a mule, packed with large format cameras, plates and lenses, with which to set out like some archetypal prospector into the mountains mining for images in idyllic landscapes; Eggleston simply walks out of his front door, or takes a car ride with his son. He is not recording landscapes but, instead, experiences. Nothing is contrived, although his images are carefully framed in order to convey the psychological flavor of his experience.

It may appear that I’m suggesting that William Eggleston is a better photographer than Ansel Adams. Let’s be clear, I’m not. They are different; they come from different times. Ansel Adams was part of America’s ‘f64 group’ and lecturing in photography when Eggleston was hanging out with Andy Warhol at ‘The Factory’.

Ulli Lommel and Andy Warhol on the set of Cocaine Cowboys, 1979. Warhol is playing himself CC 3.0

Ulli Lommel and Andy Warhol on the set of Cocaine Cowboys, 1979. Warhol is playing himself CC 3.0

Warhol was also, among other talents, a photographer. He made colorful artwork inspired by commercial, everyday, packaging, and the iconography of stardom. Eggleston’s work isn’t derivative of that of Warhol in any way, but just maybe the time spent at The Factory spurred Eggleston to using the commercial dye-transfer process as the medium for his color photography.

There is a generation gap, between Adams and Eggleston, that is perhaps wider than the split between film vs digital. Eggleston reflects his conservative upbringing in his attire, but little else is conventional about him. Adams, on the other hand, looked far more like one of today’s people, dressed as he did in denim and cowboy shirts, but if he ever were a rebel it was in a different time. As Eggleston says:

“None of us was interested in, back then, what was considered art photography, which was very large large-negative landscapes like Ansel Adams.”

The Tetons and the Snake River, 1942 by Ansel Adams

The Tetons and the Snake River, 1942 by Ansel Adams

To photograph, and print, like Ansel Adams, requires great patience and skill, but I suspect there is a formula to it. Eggleston, on the other hand, is more spontaneous; almost like street photography but, when you really look, even his pictures taken on the street are more like landscapes than street photography as most know it.

Now go out and do your own thing!

Stephen Bray, 2014

Stephen Bray, 2014

02
May

Photography, Awareness, and Digital Media

MICHAEL ELDRIDGE, COLIN TRACY AND I ARE PUTTING TOGETHER A PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP ABOUT AWARENESS. It takes place in Bristol from 3rd to 6th July.

Photography_Awareness

Workshop poster by Colin Tracy

To be frank, though, I doubt our work has mass appeal. Digital people tend to find themselves hypnotized by the Apps on their phones, and being being available with a service, or ‘selfie’, whenever their boss calls. There is an audience, for our workshop, of course. It’s made up of those who like to slow down and enjoy each moment of living.

In galleries people come with time to look, see, explore and comment. Sometimes they are moved by what they encounter.

Playful comments, especially in visitors’ books, are the ones I enjoy most, because they reveal that people really have been touched by the work. Polite comments tend to be well meant but point to someone’s social conditioning. All are welcome.

Thinking about awareness led me to consider the nature of photography as a medium, particularly in this age where digital manipulation easily makes images share many of the attributes of painting. There is a cross-over with digital art.

Image © Stephen Bray

Digitally Enhanced Bonfire

I posted an image about this on Facebook a day, or so ago. I titled it ‘Digitally Enhanced Bonfire’.

Today’s work is more solemn. It’s not about changing light, but changing attention. Please watch and let me know what you make of it.

27
Apr

Digital Cyanotype

I was out in Marmaris with my favorite 40mm equivalent lens, the 27mm Fujinon that I use on the aging and wonderful XE-1.

The lens is perfect for working on the street because it’s compact. It also helps that I have a stepping-ring and set of N.D. filters that I can use with it when the sun gets bright.

Suddenly, out at sea this configuration of yachts against a wonderful sky invited me to make an image. The trouble was the image was just a tiny speck in the frame. I would never have considered cropping so dramatically were it not for the Internet. The images posted here are so reduced in size that cropping from a good sensor doesn’t make such a difference.

Cropped .JPG from camera

Cropped .JPG from camera

Besides, my first digital camera, which I still own, has only 2.3 megapixels and I found ways to make good prints from those files, way back in the last century, when  I first acquired it.

With the crop in mind I framed and recorded the image. The result looked rather like a Cyanotype. It pretty accurately resembled what I saw. More colors and subtleties were to be found in the image recorded by my mind’s eye, so I went into Photoshop and so made some basic corrections.

Basic colour correction

Basic colour correction

I love the result.

At this stage the image intrigued, and engaged me. I found myself creating a monochrome conversion. To make this work it was necessary to change the contrast using a curves adjustment.

Mono conversion with curves ajustment

Mono conversion with curves adjustment

I still prefer the corrected colour version, because it looks more natural but the tones in the monochrome version are both subtle, and dramatic. They are the kind of thing that may work in a book illustration.

It then occurred to me then that perhaps I might go full-circle and create a simulated Cyanotype based upon the monochrome file. This didn’t really work until I added a second colour and brushed border.

Digital Cyanotype, (split tone with brushed edges).

Digital Cyanotype, (split tone with brushed edges)

26
Mar

Can Photography Foresee the Future?

Photography has come a long way since Nicéphore Niépce made the first photogravure etching in 1822 and thus created an industry.

When I last visited his birthplace and the Musée de Châlon Sur Saone nearly forty years ago it was possible to take a sheet of sensitized paper from a drawer, and develop it into a replica of that first ‘magical’ image.

The First Successful Photographic Image via Wikipedia

The First Successful Photographic Image

Fashions wax and wane in photography, but I fancy that first image  was never deliberately composed yet, stylistically, it resembles something from the Cubist method for representing a mechanistic fragmented world that would soon unfold.

I don’t propose to dwell on how photographic processes developed here, research into Louis Daguerre, William Fox-Talbot and George Eastman are readily available elsewhere.

Instead I want to look at how some images have the ‘creepy’ ability to foretell the future.

Jacques-HenriLartigue

Bichonnade Leaping © Jacques-Henri Lartigue Foundation

Who could doubt that the image, (above), by Jaques Henri-Lartique must have been taken by a mischievous eight year old?

But look closer, and it becomes apparent that there is something absurd about the bourgeois life depicted with its restrictive long skirts, peacock feathers, and whalebone corsets. In a very few years they disappeared from fashion forever.

Lartique caught this, (below), when he was just a few years older. Taken in 1912 it is emblematic of the twenties and thirties, because it celebrates the power of that forthcoming benzene driven age.

LartigueCars

Papa at 80 kilometers an hour © Jacques-Henri Lartigue Foundation

Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote in 1952:

“Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression”.

His words were inspired by the philosophy of Zen Buddhism, which he discovered as he read ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’ by Eugen Herrigel. But there’s more to it than that.

Even before knowing anything of Zen Cartier-Bresson was working from another philosophy, and one that was augmented, rather than diminished, by Zen.

He was a surrealist.

The surrealists believe that just beyond our range of common perception life is pregnant with a far richer depth of meaning. Sometimes we catch glimpses of this. Psychoanalysts claim that dreams reveal such alternate worlds. Physicists, such as David Bohm, claim that there is an implicate order – a potential – beyond the explicable that is revealed to us.

Artists attempt to convey something of this by creating works that arrest the mind causing it to refocus and momentarily bring forth an alternate reality.

Sometimes a photograph has the power to do so.

Behind the Gare St. Lazare © Cartier-Bresson Foundation

Behind the Gare St. Lazare © Cartier-Bresson Foundation

In 1933 at the Gare Saint-Lazarre station, in Paris, Cartier Bresson saw that something remarkable was about to happen and pointed his Leica through the wire fence surrounding the station. Then he snapped this.

Some photographers consider this to be the greatest photograph of the twentieth century, not simply because it shows something of what we’ve all done at some time in our lives, but because of what else is in the frame. It is a portent of a global disaster.

The man of course, somewhat, resembles the Joker in a card deck – more specifically ‘The Fool’ from the mysterious Tarot Pack.

The Fool is considered to be the spirit in search of experience. He represents the mystical cleverness bereft of reason within us. In recent decks he is depicted as someone about to walk off the edge of a cliff.

Now lest you think that suggesting a man puddle-jumping is a far cry from the Joker about to jump a cliff into an abyss that is the future I must warn you that many consider ‘Behind Gare Saint-Lazarre’ to contain even more than this.

In the background a poster reads: ‘Railowski’, an almost generic name that could be invented to describe a Jewish rail transportee. On the foreground there is a broken hoop, perhaps symbolising the greatest calamity that may befall what was for centuries the world’s most useful mechanical object, the wheel.

The wheel also appears in the Tarot deck. It symbolises fortune, and appears exactly half way through the court cards at the point where Psyche, symbolised by ‘The Fool’ begins to experience the vagaries, and seasons of fortune.

It is written of ‘The Wheel’: ‘A common aspect to most interpretations of this card within a reading is to introduce an element of change in the querent’s life, such change being in station, position or fortune: such as the rich becoming poor, or the poor becoming rich.’

The open hoop protrudes above the water, symbolising the unconscious potentia and points to the reflection to the man’s reflection on its surface.

Could this really be a portent of changes of fortune things to come? The image was taken the year in which Hitler came to power.

Fanciful? Maybe . . . but Cartier-Bresson had a remarkable facility with fortune. As a boy a gypsy predicted many events that were to become true in his life. She predicted his marriages; their outcomes; the birth of his daughter as well as other significant matters that were to befall him.

Generations of photographers have been influenced by Cartier-Bresson. I’ve written about him elsewhere and, when he read my words, he was gracious enough to send me a message, which I found not simply helpful but also portentous.

One such individual is the mysterious Mr. William Eggleston of Houston, Texas. Perhaps more than any other photographer he has the ability to see through the American Dream, whilst still preserving a reverence for beauty.

It’s not that he’s an aesthete, far from it. But I do believe him to also be a surrealist. His pictures illuminate something beyond what is obvious, and indeed in photographing everyday scenes and objects, as they appear before him, he claims to take pictures ‘democratically’ and to be ‘at war with the obvious’.

You can see something of Eggleston’s democratic eye in this image of his uncle and a manservant. A black man in a white jacket strikes an identical posture to that of a white man in a black jacket.

‘Adyn And Jasper’ © William Eggleston Trust

‘Adyn And Jasper’ © William Eggleston Trust

This was taken at a time when the South was segregated, and so says something beyond the fact that these two men shared access to similar objects in their day to day lives. It’s not just that they’re in rapport – it simultaneously indicates a difference in station whilst pointing to a, soon to be, equality in rights unprecedented in modern American, and recent South African, history.

It was taken at a funeral. Could it be the funeral of male white dominance?

Perhaps the creepiest of Eggleston’s prophetic images is this one.

Greenwood, Mississippi © William Eggleston Trust

Greenwood, Mississippi © William Eggleston Trust

In it we see a blood red ceiling savagely cut by the white electric cables. In the centre is an electrical fitting, once ornate it now lacks a shade.

The only other features of the room are the top of a door, and some pop art poster renditions of the Karma Sutra. There is something beautiful about the depth of colour in it, yet few would want to hang it on a wall in their front room.

It could be the kind of room where a murder has taken place – a crime scene?

Eggleston took it whilst laying on a bed with the room’s incumbents a couple who were his friends. He just saw something, pointed the camera at the ceiling and . . .

The house is no longer there. It was burned down with his friend in it. He had first been murdered with an axe.

A note on the copyright images included from the Cartier-Bresson Foundation; the Jacques-Henri Lartigue Foundation; and the Willian Eggleston Trust.

Fair Use Rational:

1. Used in an scholarly article about the artist. 2. Is a historically significant work that could not be conveyed in words. 3. Inclusion is for information, education and analysis only. 4. Its inclusion in the article adds significantly to the article because it shows the subject, or the work of the subject, of the article.5. The image is a low resolution copy of the original work and would be unlikely to impact sales of prints or be usable as a desktop backdrop. 6. An equivalent free image is not available and cannot be made.

This article was first published on ‘Blokes on the Blog’, as ‘For Grown Up Photographers Only’, February 13, 2012. The topics expressed here were subsequently expanded into two volumes: Photography and Psychoanalysis: The Development of Emotional Persuasion in Image Making, and Photography and Zen: Discovering your true nature through photography.  These are available paper bound and as Kindle publications.

08
Mar

Cecil Beaton’s Land-Girls

This unusual photograph is attributed to Sir Cecil Beaton. It is part of the Vogue archive. I use it here because I’m going to discuss it in some detail, and since it is the subject of this post it constitutes what I consider to be ‘fair use’, rather than simply a ‘stolen’ illustration.

In the summer of 1940 The Battle of Britain was being fought in the skies over England. Beaton, who was not knighted until 1972, was working hard on British propaganda. As an aesthete he wasn’t particularly skilled at this because he made the jungles of the East and the deserts of Africa beautiful, even when littered with the detritus of war.

I admire him for this skill and wish more photographers had the ability find beauty, whatever the circumstances in which they find themselves.

On the day this image was taken Beaton was photographing Land-Girls in the Home Counties. There is some confusion about whether the young women in question were professional models, or simply local people of suitable ages and appearance. In the posed images on the roll of film, from which this image was made, they epitomise the kind of people who are known as English roses.

Beaton’s contemporary, Norman Parkinson, who spent the Second World War as a farmer, made lots of images at his home that show just how dirty and demanding farming can be. There is none of that in Beaton’s work.

So what about this image? It seems that a couple of pilots dropped by to see their sweethearts, and persuaded Beaton to photograph them. It may well have been posed, of course, but as it’s the sole photograph of the kind on the film I like to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Two flyers with their uniform trousers rolled above the knee gallantly carry Land-Girls, who in this image wear slacks, across a mere. All four are smiling and you can almost hear jocularity from the men and squeals of delight uttering from the women. In the background there are trees at the horizon, as if these images were taken in parkland.

It’s a historical document, to be sure, but more than that for we might easily substitute the RAF uniforms for denim, and the sweet English faces for those of proud African ethnicity and the magic of this moment would be preserved.

It’s a fair assumption that all four people in this image, as well as Beaton, are dead. The park-like setting is probably a housing estate, the mere drained and no longer used for agriculture.

So, what is it that makes this picture so powerful that it came during sleep causing me to search in old texts until I located it in Unseen Vogue: The Secret History of Fashion Photography?

We have established that it’s not the time in which it was photographed, nor stories we may know about the people depicted. It’s not this particular landscape, for this like the people has long since changed.

No, it’s a kind of moment-less moment beyond time, beyond space, simply aliveness finding itself in the aliveness that is us and in which we appear, to exist, as separate entities.

20
Nov

A Five Day Monochrome Challenge

I respect John Amy highly as a graphic designer. Recently he challenged me to post a monochrome photograph every day for five days. In the spirit of the challenge I only posted work created on the day.

Day One - Monochrome Challenge

‘Rise and Shine’

Sometimes my images are so mundane that they are disregarded.

Day Two - Monochrome Challenge

‘Where’s Willy?’

‘It’s a window, a lavatory basin, a nut, a face, or a sky’ are the thoughts, which seek closure rather than explore simplicity.

Image Three - Monochrome Challenge

‘Muğla Ceviz’, (A universe in a nutshell).

These images are one point of view. In them the entirety of perception is compressed into a digital artifact.

Image four - Monochrome Challenge

Lost in the eternity from which we seem to emerge.

I don’t photograph in order to win competitions, or claim to be more exceptional, or different from you.

Image five - Monochrome Challenge

Man and Nature, The Miraculous Sky

Looking out of the window, peeing, eating nuts, delighting in the company of another – acknowledging that self and other simultaneously appear as mirages in this mysterious space is not enough for most photographers.

I wish good luck and success to those of you who want to be the best, rather than content to be whole, and who must collect ‘likes’ on Facebook and win competitions in clubs. It is as good a way as any, and there’s nothing wrong with such ambitions.

My miracle, however, like these photographs, is very ordinary. For me the moment represents something sacred – special, simple, times encapsulating wholeness – those which most take for granted without gratitude, or reverence.

11
Nov

Aslı Beslek: complimentary health doctor

A few weeks ago I happened into the office of Aslı Beslek who is the number one medically qualified, English speaking,  complimentary health doctor in the Muğla region of Turkey.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered behind her desk a large, stark, monochrome photograph of Manhattan. Everything else in her office pointed to her practice as an acupuncturist, and an allergist, as well as some more conventional medical disciplines.

I discovered that Dr. Aslı  had inherited the Manhattan photograph with the office and had just never bothered to change it. Why was it obvious to me, then, that the image was completely wrong for her sensitive personality or, indeed, her medical practice?

The Manhattan Skyline, similar to the one I write about.

The Manhattan Skyline, similar to the one I write about.

According to the ancient art of Feng Shui there are some fundamentals about setting out your office. For example it’s not a good idea to sit with your back to a door, perhaps because you are in danger of sitting in a draught, but more likely because it’s harder for someone to enter and ambush you.

Another significant idea is that it’s a good idea to be supported by a mountain. This is really military logic. With a mountain behind you once again it’s difficult for someone to come up upon you unexpectedly. This provides you with a sense of security enabling you to relax and recuperate between engagements. It also keeps you committed because its easier to fight down a hill than run away up a mountain.

These are fanciful considerations based upon the idea we evolved from nomadic people who had developed instinctive patterns in order to adapt and survive in hostile terrain.  It seems illogical that some of these distinctions may be hard-wired into the parts of our brains that give rise to involuntary behaviours.

There is an ancient Taoist story about a rainmaker. She was once called to a village after over three years of drought. Animals had died, crops failed; men, women and children starved. On arrival the woman asked to be allowed to rest in the seclusion of a hut. She remained there for three days. People began to worry about her, but on the third day it rained and she emerged.

When asked how she achieved this she said it was not her but Tao. When she arrived she was not in harmony with Tao and so experienced separation. After three days of rest she recognised once more that she and Tao were one. As a consequence the clouds burst and the rain, so long separated from the villagers, fell in abundance.

I feel, somewhat, like the rainmaker when thinking about photography and healing.

Today it’s not always possible to locate your office in such a way that there’s a mountain behind you. One remedy is to install an image.

You could argue that the Manhattan skyline, with all its towers, is the contemporary equivalent of a mountain. It’s man-made to be sure, but it is high rise, isn’t it? Indeed the New York Observer describes it thus: “Like a great mountain range, the city is arrayed around the twin peaks of Downtown and Midtown.

I can’t really argue with their conclusion BUT although the bedrock for New York is good to support skyscrapers the area was originally swamp, which is a very different metaphor from that of a mountainscape. Maybe this is why, whilst some make their fortune in the city, a large proportion simply get bogged down and lost?

For a sensitive soul, such as Dr. Aslı , the Manhattan skyline is at odds with her practice, especially when placed so prominently behind her. Indeed I can think of nothing worse than a photograph of an area full of confusion, crime, and complexity, as the backdrop to a therapist’s desk.

So I replaced the picture with this one. It’s a more local mountain near Dereözü, and one that I’ve exhibited before. A small version is located as part of a collection at the Turunç School, but the new version made for Dr. Aslı  measures 100 cms x 140 cms. It looks great – I hope it will support her, and who knows if it works maybe we can try her with something just a little more dramatic?

Mountain Nr. Dereozu, Turkey image © Stephen Bray

Mountain Nr. Dereozu, Turkey image © Stephen Bray