Portrait of an Artist

Any serious photographer will relish photographing a great artist, so I certainly enjoyed this photoshoot.

At just 26 years old, Eli Gander has rapidly built a reputation as one of the finest tattoo artists around. Now if the name sounds familiar, I’m Eli’s dad so you might think I’m biased.

But bear in mind that Eli has a permanent waiting list. She has over 15,500 Instagram followers and she’s just opened her own tattoo studio. She has invitations to work as a guest artist at other studios, which shows how much respect she’s already gained. Did I mention she’s just 26 years old? Think about that for a moment. So yes I’m biased, but her progress has been astonishing.

Eli’s Story

Eli decided she wanted to be a tattoo artist when she was a teenager. She started her training when she was too young to have a tattoo herself, and she pretty much put herself through hell to get there, often holding down waitressing jobs to pay her way.

Now all that grit and determination is paying off, and I can’t tell you how excited I was to visit her newly-opened studio in the heart of Trowbridge to shoot a few portraits for her website and social media channels.

The pictures

These are just couple of the images I took. On the left is one shot into a mirror to condense as much of the mood of the studio into a single image as I could. And on the right is one she hasn’t used, but is a wonderful, un-guarded moment.

Eli’s style is intricate botanical designs and since her studio is festooned with plants, it was inevitable I would bring these elements into the images.

To see more of Eli’s work, visit her Instagram account or the Alchemilla website https://alchemillatattoo.com/

I’m looking forward to seeing Eli’s practice grow. At this rate she’ll be taking the world by storm pretty soon.

Why Media Studies Are More Important Than Ever

Where are we now?

Media Studies is a subject which is often viewed with disdain, sometimes suspicion. Certainly at GCSE level it’s often seen as a less academic subject, a bit of an easy one. And to my discredit I’m pretty sure I’ve held that view too. To be honest, I hadn’t given it much thought for many years, but either way I’ve certainly changed my mind now.

I would go even further and say that the subject very much needs to be brought to the fore, studied at all ages and all levels. No longer a Cinderella subject, it must be taught at a high-quality and given the same standing as any ‘mainstream’ subject.

Why this shift in opinion? And why am I bringing this up now? I can give the same answer to both questions – because we’re all now so immersed in media, we barely even recognise it, and when we do, we often misunderstand it.

So What’s the Problem?

Traditionally we think of ‘the media’ as being newspapers, magazines, television, radio, with the internet now a part of how those traditional media operate. But of course social media is also a large part of the media we consume (possibly the largest part).

The information we gain from sites such as Twitter, Facebook and similar are an un-edited deluge of personal opinion (often fed by exposure to other, un-edited social media opinion). It’s trite to say information can be disseminated at break-neck speed via these channels, what is less trivial is the effect it can have.

In particular when the information is untrue, contradicts the truth or even distracts us from core issues, the harm this un-edited information can cause has a real affect on our understanding of events and issues concerning us.

How Can Media Studies Help?

One of my pet peeves is the derogatory use of the term ‘mainstream media’. The term itself is useful to describe the main channels. However those who use it with disdain usually neither understand what they mean by it, or have any real understanding of the media organisations they’re trying to deride. It could even be argued that social media is now mainstream.

I’m not suggesting media studies should be used to simply to fill this knowledge gap. I happen to believe everyone would benefit from it. We can all have a better understanding of all the media we interact with if we start with a broad knowledge of how it works.

We need to become more analytical and critical of the messages we see, regardless of their source. The strained relationship with the truth that we’ve witnessed from Vladimir Putin and, sadly, from our own government is easier to analyse if we have the tools to dissect the message.

Who Should Be Studying Media?

Now I’ve said that media studies needs to be taught at all levels, and by this I mean at least from same age as sex education. We need to start from a young age. With children exposed to 100s, even 1000s of media messages a day it’s vital they have the knowledge to understand what they’re consuming. Their lives are a world away from the 3 channels of TV I grew up with.

Conclusion

Our understanding of the world around us, from local to national, climate change to conflict, is shaped not only by the information we receive, but also by our understanding of the channels by which it comes to us. If we don’t understand the mechanics behind the message, we cannot analyse the message itself. And if we can’t analyse it, we often take it at face value.

In that instance, information becomes weaponised and dangerous. Having the knowledge to counter this would be truly liberating.

Hacked Off

Is Putin’s War the Cause?

It’s possible I’m turning into a conspiracy theorist, but having had my website hacked twice in two weeks, each time within hours of tweeting something derogatory about Putin and his invasion of Ukraine, I have had to wonder if there wasn’t a connection.

Even if it’s un-related, it’s been a complete pain in the !@*^# to sort out. It has disrupted my schedule and soaked up my time; I’ve had to postpone blogging for two weeks, I’ve postponed much-needed updates to my website, I’ve been trying to compose the text for my book What Happened Here as well as handle client enquiries and prepare for up-coming work. All this has been disrupted while I tackled the situation.

All that might sound trivial, and of course compared with the horrors being inflicted on Ukrainians by Putin’s invasion, it is indeed piffling. But if these hacks do have tentacles reaching back to The Kremlin, that would make them part of Putin’s war effort. Ok, perhaps that’s going too far. If it’s a theory with any legs at all, it could simply be part of a mass, un-targeted attack on any IT vulnerabilities the hackers can find, regardless of their importance.

Impact on the Sole Trader

The impact of these hacks is also greatest on those of us who operate as sole traders and freelancers because we don’t have large resources to fight back. Even with outside help, we’re having to be there liaising and dealing with the situation. We can’t just hand the problem off and go and do other tasks. If you’re a sole trader handling sensitive customer information through your website, it could be crippling.

Thankfully I did manage to get some help from my wonderful web design colleague Ben who finally got everything back to normal. I have now beefed up the security to a level which should keep the hackers out. Only time will tell.

And Just… WHY?!

Dismissing my earlier, possibly paranoid theories, it still begs the question of why my site. I haven’t the foggiest idea what the hackers wanted to achieve. There were malicious files found (now deleted), but there is no client database to compromise, no e-commerce aspect to the site. Presumably it was “just because we can” hackers.

Hacking is big now. It affects everyone. From personal Facebook accounts to huge corporate databases, everyone now has to spend more time battling hackers. We could be approaching a time when we’re spending more time using technology to sort out problems caused by technology (or more accurately, the misuse of technology) than we are using technology to assist our lives and livelihoods. Technology could be on the way to becoming a zero sum game.

Chain Reaction

Now I know this next conspiracy theory is straying into tin foil hat territory, but last weekend I was on a bike ride with my best friend. He commented that his blue and yellow bike was in the colours of Ukraine. Twenty minutes later, his rear gear mechanism packed up and his pedals would only free-spin. He couldn’t pedal anywhere and had to call his wife to come and pick him up. Coincidence? Or conspiracy? You decide!

Is shooting film pointless in a digital age?

I have been told by people who clearly know more than I do about these things that shooting film, then digitising it, is a pointless exercise because you end up with a digital photo; why not shoot digital in the first place? Well sometimes I do shoot digital for personal projects, but it’s my choice.

So here’s my response:

1. If I shoot digital, I can only ever have a digital print from that file. Conversely, if I shoot film I have the option of a traditional (wet) print if I want it, with all the nuance and quality that gives me – far above and beyond anything achievable from a digital file.

2. Done correctly (and I’ve spent a lot of time working on this), a digital reproduction of a film negative (or positive, for that matter), should preserve much of the tonality and look of the original. It still doesn’t look like a digital image.

3. So why not add a film look to a digital original and be done with it? Because it always looks fake. And I still can’t get a traditional print from that (see 1 above).

4. When I shoot film I’ve already made certain creative choices about how I want the end result to look; I’ve baked my commitment in from the moment I loaded the film. When I shoot digital, the choices can overwhelm the creative process and the question arises, what was my original intention? What constitutes ‘the original image’?

5. Detail isn’t everything. Digital cameras now record scenes in such fine detail, it can leave the result looking sterile and forensic. Emotion and nuance are difficult to preserve in a forensic medium.

6. Why get so bent out of shape about the fact I shoot film? Some people get quite heated about this and I just don’t understand this reaction. Do they rant at watercolour artists? Do they criticise sculptors who must surely be throwing their chisels away in favour of 3D printing?

Apart from all that

I shoot film for all of the above reasons and for more besides (archival stability, provenance, approach and so on). Let me do my thing. And if my results are rubbish, by all means have a go at me for that. Criticise my results, not my method of obtaining them.

Right, I’m glad that’s settled once and for all…

PS. To see more of my personal project work, head over to https://www.takeagander.co.uk

If you sign up to my quarterly newsletter at https://www.takeagander.co.uk/contact before March 1st 2022 you’ll receive a 10% discount code for any order worth £75.00 or above AND be in with the chance to win an A4 fine art print of your choice! The winner will be announced on Friday 4th March 2022.

What Happens Next?

Happy New Year! I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas. By the way, do you also suffer the anxiety of not quite knowing when to cease starting emails and texts with that line? It’s ok, you’re not alone! I’ll stop around Jan 20th, if that’s any help.

At the end of last year I promised a look back at 2021 and a look forward to 2022, so here goes. I won’t dwell too much on last year because my final post of 2021 summed up most of what I wanted to say. However, as I wrote that article, I didn’t know how soon I’d be back on the subject of covering vaccines.

More Vaccine Work!

On December 22nd, at a time of the morning I prefer not to know exists, I was up and on my way to Stonehenge. This time I was covering a pop-up vaccination clinic at Stonehenge, again for NHS Banes, Swindon and Wiltshire CCG (BSWCCG). The plan was to invite Solstice visitors to have vaccines once they’d celebrated the sunrise over the stones.

It was a cold morning, but the sky looked spectacular as I came across Salisbury Plain and the visitors were treated to a beautiful sunrise. Of course I missed it because I was busy setting up alongside the clinical team who had commandeered the visitor centre cafe for their work.

The session went incredibly well and by the time I left Stonehenge, my client had a rush set of images for immediate press release.

The shot shown above got really great take-up by local press and on social media. Even my humble tweet got over 4,300 impressions! Not bad considering we didn’t even know if anyone would take up the jab on the day.

Except for shooting a quick wedding for friends who got married on December 28th, that was pretty much it for me!

So how is 2022 looking?

More Of The Same, But Different

Well I’ve already got bookings in the diary; a mixture of stills and video work, and I’m looking to plan more trips to Salisbury Plain soon. I didn’t get much time over Christmas and New Year to do any end-of-year tidying-up, so that’s sort of happening now. I did get time to start on an exciting new project, but more on that when the time is right. Exciting eh?!

My main focus as we enter 2022 is to keep developing the corporate work, while building the Salisbury Plain project into something more cohesive and rounded. That might sound a little vague, but I hope it will become clearer as the year progresses.

In the meantime, this shot from November was a good way to end 2021’s Salisbury Plain sessions. I’m keen to get back, but with a long-term project, patience is everything. I need to update the project gallery with some of the latest work as I try to make the personal projects as self-sufficient as possible. So don’t forget, if you like what I do and would like to see more, please feel free to support me in whichever way you can! None of this happens without my amazing supporters 🙂

And finally, whatever your plans for the coming year, I hope they come good for you. Here’s to an exciting 2022!

 

 

 

Documenting Challenging Times

On The Vaccination Trail

Regular readers will be aware of my recent work covering the vaccination programme in Wiltshire. I’d like to dedicate this post to all the hard-working front line staff who are the reason the vaccination rollout has been such a huge success.

I blogged previously about the initial coverage of the walk-in vaccination service at Bath Racecourse, but since then I’ve visited a mobile service on a bus, a school vaccination day and most recently, a session on a narrow boat.

The client, NHS BANES, Swindon & Wiltshire CCG (BSWCCG), use the images for social media promotion of the vaccination programme as well as for external stakeholder communications and reports. However, the images are more than just PR. They’re an historical record of the regional effort to control Covid-19 and its effects.

A Client With Vision

Perhaps 20 years ago such a huge national effort would have been covered more widely and in greater depth by the regional and local press, but they are largely absent from from the scene. With few (I suspect now the number is 0) industry-trained photographers covering local news events anymore, there’s a vacuum of photographic coverage of important regional stories.

This is a shame, but I’m thrilled to be able to help document what is undoubtedly a critical moment.

While BSWCCG is not a media company, their communications team have recognised the need for photography not only as a promotional tool, but also as a means to document the clinical effort within the pandemic. And though I’m no Dorothea Lange, this exercise echos that need to record a critical issue to raise awareness.

My Approach

Not all of my images are strictly fly-on-the-wall photo-documentary, though I do strive to capture what I witness with as much honesty and integrity as if I was still a staff news photographer.

For example, at Clarendon Academy, the two pupils I had permission to photograph had recently come out of self-isolation after contracting Covid-19. This meant they were unable to have their boosters on the day, so I posed those shots with empty syringes (and they were captioned as posed). However the images of the nurse at the dilution station were all taken as she did her work. Nothing staged, pure documentary.

Meanwhile for the narrow boat visit, as for the Bath Racecourse and Lackham College sessions, the vaccinations were real and I had to get my shots live. I couldn’t ask a nurse to hold a position or pose while I got set up – I couldn’t interrupt the process of administering an injection.

This makes for some challenging moments. In particular, in the cramped confines of a narrow boat I had to be very aware of my surroundings. Hats off to the staff who had to work in there all day; I kept my time on board to a minimum.

Regardless of any challenges, I have to go in with a calm, professional attitude. Being jittery about camera settings, working in the rain, with difficult light, or stressing about working in a mask will transmit to those I need to work with, and they’ll react negatively and rightly so. They have a job to do and protocols to follow, they don’t need a clown in the room.

Thank You

So I want to say a big thank you to NHS BANES, Swindon & Wiltshire CCG for commissioning me. I value my involvement in this effort and if there is more to come, I’ll relish the opportunity to play my small part. Also to the administrative staff who’ve been so helpful and in particular to all the registered nurses who, while being utterly professional in their work, have accommodated me in mine.

Thank you.

And Finally

This is probably my final post for the year. I’ll be back in January, kicking off with a look back at 2021 and a look forward at 2022. So have a great and safe Christmas and New Year and I’ll see you again soon. Thanks for staying loyal through 2021.

Tim

From the Archive: The Musicians

This week I’m going to talk about a collection of pictures which are relatively recent, but which seem much older. To be honest, anything from 2020 now feels like a different era.

Rachel and Silas

One, a portrait of Rachel Byrt, is already in my Business Portraits portfolio. While the other, featuring Silas Wollston, hasn’t made it in yet, but I think it needs to because it’s a strong image. There are in fact a few potential candidates in the set.

Viola player Rachel and harpsichordist and organist Silas visited my home back in August 2020. It was part social/part portrait session, so for the portraits we made space in our kitchen/dining room for a mini studio. As ever through 2020, the prevailing Covid restrictions were observed.

Working Smart

Being such a tight space, I had to be creative with just a single studio light and a black backdrop which I used as a flag to control the lighting. Our bright yellow feature wall took up backdrop duty. This worked very well for both the colour and black and white photos.

Each portrait required a slightly different setup, but for an impromptu music session I took the studio gear away and captured some action using my medium format film camera.

Because Rachel and Silas are busy professionals, it was important to ensure they had a decent choice of pictures for different areas of their work. Also, without knowing where pictures will be used it was important to have a variety of upright and landscape oriented images. Both Rachel and Silas have their own picture galleries from which they can download what they need, when they need it.

Ready for the Comeback

I would love to do more musician profile work, but of course it’s been a tough time in the creative arts. Fingers crossed 2022 will be the year when live music really gets going again. When it does, I’ll certainly be happy to do my bit whenever it happens.

A Perfect Storm

Sometimes an email arrives which catches me by surprise, and this week’s post is about one which started with surprise and concluded with a delightful outcome.

The email came from Maisy, now a resident of Brighton, but the story goes back to 2019 when she was living in Glastonbury.

What Maisy sent was, in essence, “Hi Tim, I’m just wondering if you took any pictures of the storm from 2019, July 23/24. I know it was a while ago but I’m looking to buy a photo for my partner, we used to live in Glastonbury and both watched the storm and were astounded, it was the most amazing display of lightening – I saw a picture online from that night which took me to your website and I wondered if I could buy a photo off you. Many thanks in advance Maisy”

Well it was such a spectacular storm that I remembered the night and I knew I had the pictures in my archive, so searched them out and sent Maisy a low-res, watermarked version of the one I’d posted to establish that it was the photo she’d seen.

Having confirmed that it was, I worked out a price (the image isn’t listed on my Takeagander site) and I arranged for printing on beautiful Hahnemühle Photo Rag fine art paper and shipping to Maisy in time for her partner’s birthday.

But I was intrigued about the story behind why she wanted this particular picture. Here is her reply, re-formatted and published with Maisy’s consent:

“Re the image, yes so the story behind it is a little odd! But it was before my partner and I were together; I was in quite a tricky place in an unhappy and unhealthy relationship and he was also in a difficult place taking care of an unwell family member.

At the time of the storm we both went outside (although we viewed it separately, about 5 minutes away from each other) and we were both with other people. Everyone left and we both decided to stay alone and watched it for just over 30 minutes, just watching the lightning.

Although neither of us are very spiritual, we both individually felt this massive pull towards the storm and couldn’t stop looking at it. We both felt like it was the most amazing thing we had ever seen and for some reason we both felt like it was a really special moment and that we weren’t really alone.

Fast forward to a couple months ago, we have been together about a year and a half and I mentioned this amazing experience that I had with the storm years ago and Jai (my partner) knew exactly which storm I was talking about and we realised we shared the same story with lots of strange coincidences. And we both took lots of comfort knowing that even though we were alone watching it, we were both actually experiencing the same thing together.

So it’s a special moment that we share, even though we didn’t share it, if that makes sense!”

Well I don’t know about you, but it makes perfect sense to me and I’m so pleased that a photo I took is now on Maisy and Jai’s wall as a permanent reminder of the incredible experience they shared before they even met. I’ll let Maisy have the final word:

“(Jai) absolutely loved the photo, as soon as he saw it he knew what it was from! He wanted to pass on thanks for such a lovely picture. The storm was a really special moment so I’m glad we can remember it through that photo.”

Lens Love

It may surprise you to know this, but I have little time to get sentimental about camera equipment. I do enjoy working with my old film cameras, but my digital gear is just tools for the job.

The exception to this is one lens which I’ve been using a lot lately. It’s one of those little gems that just seems to quietly help you get the job done.

The Joy of 40mm

I’ve long favoured fixed 40mm lenses. I discovered the joys of a 40mm lens when I bought Canon’s dinky 40mm f/2.8 STM lens, which I use on my Canon film bodies. This prompted me to buy a Voigtländer 40mm f/2 lens for my 1973 Nikon F2. However for my new digital gear I only had zooms.

That is until I picked up the Sigma 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary lens. Yes, 45mm is close enough to 40mm for me.

Reading forums, this lens divides opinions. Some write it off for being too “slow” (as in, the maximum aperture isn’t nearer f/1.4). It’s claimed not to be sharp, but my God is this lens ever sharp! It is light, quick to use, engaging and I just love the results it can deliver.

I’ve used it on quite a few jobs recently, and almost exclusively on the recent Covid vaccination jobs I’ve shot for NHS BANES, Swindon and Wiltshire CCG. Its unobtrusive size, speed of use and quality were perfect for the fly-on-the-wall images I needed.

Practice Practice Practice

Between commissions I’ve been trying this lens out extensively. As I’m sure I’ve said many times before, using a commission to get familiar with kit is not a great idea. It’s best done in down time, not at a client’s expense.

So this morning I spent more time with the Sigma lens working on some tests shots with a new flash unit, another piece of kit recently acquired as I transform my equipment line-up to better serve my clients’ needs.

One of my favourite test subjects at home is our dining table, which we bought via Facebook from an artist. We were going to strip and re-varnish it, but decided we love the paint splashes and gouges so much we’ve left it as-is. It makes a great backdrop to still life images, which are perfect for controlled equipment tests.

This image might become part of my Home Front series, which I started during the first lockdown of 2020. At the very least it was a good exercise in testing this new lens/flash combination, but the more I worked on the picture, the more I liked what it said as a photo, above and beyond mere test subject.