So… 2018

Having looked back at 2017 in my previous blog post, it’s time to gaze into the crystal ball, check the tea leaves and the alignment of the planets and hazard a guess at what this, my 20th year as a freelance photographer, will bring.

It’s always hard to predict. Each year brings surprises, both good and bad – mainly good thankfully, and if the last couple of years are anything to go by, I will continue to find new clients while work from others will go quieter. It’s the natural cycle of business and no longer terrifies me the way it used to.

I look forward to working with new people just as much as I enjoy undertaking repeat work for established clients and I know there will be a similar mix this year as ever.

2017 was incredibly busy, and it’ll be interesting to see if 2018 can match it, but even if the shape of the year is different I’m sure it’ll be just as much fun.

What will make 2018 quite different from previous years will be the level of personal work I hope to undertake. The Saxonvale project continues to grow and there’s a possibility it will come to fruition this year, though I have a funny feeling it will continue into next year. It partly depends on how much longer my stock of expired film will last.

In addition to Saxonvale I have ideas for other, possibly smaller, self-contained mini projects which I would like to pursue. One thing is certain, my personal projects will be shot on film. Getting back into shooting film has transformed my approach to personal work and I find it a great way to separate the personal from the commercial. It also informs my commercial work and keeps me fresh, so there’s no going back to digital-only now.

Whatever 2018 brings for me, I hope it brings my loyal readers, clients and friends every success in whatever they set out to achieve and I look forward to hearing from some of you over the coming months.

2017 In Review

In keeping with a tradition which stretches back oh, at least some years now, it’s time for me to review my year in pictures. I hope you enjoy the brief selection of photos in the gallery below.

Actually, what an incredible year it’s been! I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a busy year since I went freelance 19 years ago, so I’m looking forward to 2018 more in anticipation than trepidation.

January was a total whirlwind as the Faces of Routes project went from conception to launch in less than five weeks. The reaction from Frome people and beyond was stunning (and I don’t often use that word) and the Routes service was saved for another few years. In an ideal world, this service would be centrally funded, but for now it relies on donations and grants.

The Routes project largely came about because I was itching to do a personal project with a bigger purpose, but it also gave me the boot up the backside I needed to spur me on to undertake more personal projects generally. So it was good timing when a neighbour offered me his old medium format camera and lenses at a very reasonable price.

I’d been meddling with film again in a lighthearted way, but finding myself well-equipped with a solid film camera, and having dusted off my old 35mm film equipment, something was starting to take shape.

After a couple of false starts, out of some random whim that I can’t now remember having, I acquired a freezer drawer full of expired film of varying types and formats and the Saxonvale project was born. It doesn’t yet have its own gallery in my portfolio, but you can spot some examples in my Personal Favourites section.

So far Saxonvale has largely been an Instagram project, but I’ll add more to my website in time.

Through all this, the paid work has just kept coming; January turned out to be much busier than I would normally have expected. In fact that pattern repeated through the year, including August when my diary would normally have tumbleweed blowing across it.

Now it’s mid December and things are definitely winding down a bit for Christmas, but it’s been another good month. So I’ll leave you with some highlights from the year and take this opportunity to thank you all, clients and casual visitors alike, for all your support through 2017.

I wish everyone a merry Christmas, happy New Year and all the very best for 2018. Oh and this will be my last post this year, see you all in January!

 

Impressions of London

The other week my son Joe and I took a day trip to London. We try to make it each year, normally in Summer, but this year was a little later than normal.

Apart from the tradition of the trip, Joe also had some pictures to take for his college photography course. So naturally I took a film camera to capture some of my own impressions and just to have a play with more film.

Joe’s work took precedence, so I did only get around to shooting one roll of Kodak Tri-X which, because it was a dismal day, I rated at 800iso.

Here are the results, with special thanks to Brick Lane’s finest leafleteer Charlie Kloos for posing while I messed about with a Pentax lens from the 1960s, which was a little tricky to focus as the evening light started to fail.

 

The Film Fad

When I started shooting film again I thought it might just be an itch that needed to be scratched, but Im enjoying it so much that the current project on the Saxonvale area of Frome really is building into something interesting.

If you’d like to see all the images so far you’ll need an Instagram account where you’ll find me as @takeagander, but in the meantime here’s a selection of recent posts. All shot on expired film, all the flaws and colour-shifts are a result of the age of the film used.

And no, this isn’t just a hipster fad for me; I love shooting film and the way it makes me slow down and think. Wherever possible it’ll be my medium of choice for all my personal projects from now on, so sorry if I keep banging on about it.

Inspired By Inertia

Having no scheduled shoots this morning I decided to process the two films I shot yesterday evening for my Saxonvale project (it’s a long term project which I’ve been posting on Instagram as @takeagander).

So there I was, up to my elbows in my dark bag, wrestling (circa 30-year-old East German black and white) ORWO 120 films onto processing reels when I heard a knock at the front door. I knew exactly who and what it was, but couldn’t risk fogging my film to go and answer the door.

Thankfully our post lady didn’t just push a “we tried to deliver” card through the door, instead she found a safe place to stow the package and told me on the card where it was.

I was also grateful that the films loaded remarkably easily (very old 120 film tends to resist being unfurled), so as soon as they were safely in the developing tank I retrieved the package.

It was a book I’d been looking forward to receiving for some months, J.A (Jim) Mortram’s Small Town Inertia.

The book is a searingly poignant collection of black and white images and testimonies detailing the daily struggles of people in the small Norfolk town where Jim lives.

Unapologetically political, very anti-Tory, anti-globalisation and definitely anti-austerity, Jim’s book documents his subjects in a way which brings home in the starkest possible terms the effects of unemployment, mental and physical illness and addiction under successive governments which have sought to sideline these issues in favour of a market economy unfettered by the constraints of conscience.

It is to some extent due to my awareness of Jim’s work that I have sought to spend more of my time on documentary and working in traditional film. The Faces of Routes project, though shot digitally, would almost certainly not have happened if I hadn’t had my social conscience re-awakened by seeing images from the Small Town Inertia project a year or two ago.

Of course my work is very different to Jim’s and nowhere near as comprehensive (or, of course, as good). Jim has been deeply involved in the lives of his subjects, often helping them with bureaucratic paperwork or just daily tasks, and this shows in the photos.

However, even though my projects tend to be more random, less overtly political and involve being less embedded with my subjects, I will continue to be inspired by the work of J.A Mortram and others like him.

To which end, I’d better get this morning’s negatives scanned and added to my own personal project. It’s all very well to be moved and inspired, but if I’m to genuinely honour the work of others, there is no better way than to keep on pursuing my own.

If you would like your own copy of Small Town Inertia you can buy it here. Visit Jim Mortram’s website here.

Expired Film Teaches Me A Lesson

I’m meant to use this blog to talk about nothing but corporate photography, hitting those all-important keywords, shoehorning them into sentences until Google says “I get it, you’re a corporate photographer shooting portraits and other corporate communications images for businesses who care about the quality of their image and the values it conveys, so we’ll put you at the top of the listings whenever we think you’re what the client is looking for.”

Thanks Google, you’re doing a grand job and I should apologise that I don’t always make it easy for you by writing instead about magazines I like, exhibitions I’ve launched (actually, singular exhibition, but hey I’ll keep working on that), or my return to shooting film as a way of working out new ideas and pursuing my passion for telling the stories of ordinary people.

And this week I’m not making it any easier as once again I’m on the subject of film.

My return to film has been a bit stop/start but it continues. More recently I’ve been working with expired film, that is stock which is well past its use-by date. Yes, film has a use-by date because the light-sensitive chemicals which react to light start to break down.

However, I managed to source a large, mixed bag of film; 35mm, medium format, colour and black and white and I’ve been working my way through it with various trial projects and one project which has been fairly fruitful, that of a series of photos documenting the derelict site in Frome known as Saxonvale.

Saxonvale is an area of the town which has been left partially cleared for many years now while the various landowners and interested parties take their time working out how to make the most money from its redevelopment. You might say I’ve used derelict film to record a derelict site, recording not just the waste discarded there, but also sometimes the people who pass through or visit for their own reasons.

Some of the film stock I’ve used has been in such a poor state it barely rendered an image. One trip was wasted because the film was so utterly degraded it was blank when I processed it. All part of the project and a useful reminder to me that the film is the boss on this one.

In due course I’ll be updating my main website with some of these images, but in the meantime here’s a mini gallery to give you a flavour of the Saxonvale project. If you want to see more of it and some of the other film images I’ve shot lately, head over to my Instagram account where you’ll find me as @takeagander.

The Film Thing

It’s official, I have got the film bug quite seriously. I’ve always loved film and I find I’m more drawn to shooting personal projects on film than on digital. In fact with digital I found it hard to get started on personal projects because the process always ended up feeling very much like all my other work. For personal work I needed some kind of demarcation from my corporate communications photography, and I’ve realised film gives me that distinction.

It also makes a difference to those I’m photographing. People seem to engage more with the idea that I’m producing an image of them using a tradition they thought had died. On a subconscious level I wonder if they feel more comfortable knowing they’re not being instantly “digitised”, albeit at some point I have to scan the images in order to be able to print or display them.

Shooting film the way I do with the subjects I tend to be drawn to is often a slower process than digital and I’ve realised people now expect photography to happen much more quickly than perhaps it used to. With film I will take a more considered approach. I’ve never been one to shoot thousands of pictures in the hope of getting one good one, but with film I find I’m taking this further and taking more time to consider the picture I’m taking. Accordingly I find I have to manage my subjects’ expectations and explain things won’t happen as quickly as they may be used to. That seems to relax them too.

A pile of assorted out of date photographic film

Out of date film is on my list of projects

The benefit I’m getting from shooting film is that I’m going back to basics again, re-remembering my core strengths, abilities and values as a photographer and this is feeding back into my corporate communications work. I’m also having more fun sharing the results on Instagram where you can see my feed has become more focussed on my film work.

I have new projects in planning, including a whole series to be shot on out-of-date film which presents a whole new set of challenges.

If you’d like to follow my foray back into film, check out my Instagram account, I’ll be delighted to see you there and even more so if you decide to click the Follow button.

My Latest Camera

Regular clients will be delighted to learn I haven’t stopped investing in camera equipment, though they may be surprised that my latest Canon purchase cost me exactly two whole British Pounds. Yes, £2.00.

On Sunday I paid a visit to the Frome Wessex Camera Fair at the Cheese and Grain venue (where The Foo Fighters recently and very famously played a surprise gig).

There were no superstars on this occasion, but the entry fee was a mere £3.00 which I happily paid. So let’s pretend a portion of that should be considered part of the cost of the camera, but since I also bought a cable release (£3.00) and a handheld light meter (£4.00), at worst the camera cost me £3.00.

My reason for this particular purchase, a Canon Sureshot Supreme, is that this was a camera which came out in the 1980s when I was working at London Camera Exchange in Bath. It caused quite a stir at the time for its modern styling and fast, accurate automation of focus and exposure settings. There was a huge advertising campaign behind it, and though it wasn’t a budget model of its day, retailing as it did at around £120, we sold bucket loads of them.

I spotted this particular one on a table at the fair, but when I looked at it more closely I thought it might be dead (the battery level showed good, but the shutter wasn’t firing). So I negotiated £2.00 for it, took it home, popped a fresh battery in and BINGO! it worked. Clearly the battery level indicator is a die-hard optimist.

So then I thought, what can I do with this? Would it be possible to shoot a set of pictures which might present an interesting project? Does the camera actually work as a photographic tool, or might some part of the electronics or optical system be so old as to be non-functioning? Only one way to find out.

Loaded with a roll of Kodak Tri-X black and white film and with the help of my son Joe and his friends, I set about making a series of portraits that I hoped would make a mini series on skaters and their boards – battle scars and all (the boards more than the skaters).

I tried using the built-in flash in the outdoor setting to see what effect I could conjure with that, but it was pretty horrible, so I went with the daylight-only images in my selection.

My verdict on the camera is it’s not the sharpest lens in the world, but the exposure is good and the overall effect is quite interesting. Not bad for a 30-year-old pocket camera, the current value of which is quadrupled by the loading of a roll of film and a fresh battery.

The result is a series of portraits of these young lads, each standing confidently as teenage boys do with their skateboards acting as shields – to be fair, I asked them to bring the boards up into the frame. But each has their own way of confronting the lens. A couple look away, one would only be photographed blindfolded with his bandana, but I love the unexpected in a photo and if someone chooses to hide their eyes, avert their gaze, or perform some other unexpected motion which reveals something about them, I’m happy to include this as it says more than a straight portrait.

Whatever I like or don’t about these pictures, your opinion is more important and if you’ve a mind to, I’d love to hear what you see in these pictures.

Whether I’ll shoot much on the Sureshot, or just keep it as a museum piece, I’ve yet to decide, but heck, for £2.00 and a roll of film it’s been an interesting exercise.

Thank you to Finlay, Ben, Christy, Joe, Toby and Danni for your help. It probably seemed a peculiar request on the day, but I hope you like the results.

 

 

2016, a personal review

Normally I’d post a “year in pictures” round-up just about now, but I’ve decided to do something a little different this time just because.

Instead I’m going to focus on the more off-beat, off-diary photos I’ve taken. You’ll have seen most of them, but not all, in various blog posts through the year, but it’s fun to pull them together into a single gallery to enjoy again.

So sit back with your cuppa and your mince pie and enjoy…

 

 

Basic as a spade

You might know, or at least you should if you’re a regular reader of this blog, that I’ve been taking some time to revisit film photography of late and I have to say I’ve been rather enjoying it.

There’s definitely a different interaction with photography when your camera isn’t buzzing with electronics, utterly reliant on batteries and a whole host of features which are sold to us as benefits, but which on the whole are just technological mitigations for the shortcomings of digital.

That’s what I said, digital has shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong, digital is incredible and of course it’s perfect for my corporate photography. The technical image quality of digital is astounding and under most circumstances far out-performs film, but this isn’t an article for those wishing to watch a punch-up between film and digital.

My point is just this; shooting with film allows you (indeed often forces you) to think differently, approach your subject differently. It sometimes limits what you can do, but if you’re doing it properly then you’ll realise that film isn’t about photographing everything, it’s about considering and carefully choosing not only how we photograph something, but also which things we choose to photograph.

I’m also finding it’s getting me back to basics, and as of Wednesday evening even more back to basics than I have probably been in maybe 30 years. That’s because there was a knock on my door and my neighbour, knowing my interest in getting back into film photography (and him having cupboards crammed with gear he stopped using years ago) gave me, gratis and for free, a Pentax S1a camera with three lenses and a camera-top light meter. I was bowled over and spent the evening cleaning and cooing over it.

To say this camera is in stunning condition would be an understatement. In all likelihood it was manufactured in the 1960s, but apart from the odd mark, scuff and slightest of dents, it’s immaculate. Inside, the film chamber looks like it’s never been accessed; it’s that clean.

For several months now I’ve had an inexplicable craving for a basic, no-frills, fully-mechanical camera. No batteries, no lights, bleepers or anything which could break or fail through old age and lo and behold, my amazing neighbour just gives me this utterly scrumptious camera. It has no instructions, but then it’s got nothing to learn beyond the theory of photography. It’s as basic as a spade.

It’s weighty for sure; it’s solid metal, but everything seems to work. I’ve put a film through it and will get it serviced soon because I suspect the seals around the film door have probably deteriorated, but I bet it’s still light tight. I just want to be sure and I want to have the shutter serviced too. Of course components on this camera could fail, but they’re all almost certainly repairable.

One thing I can say for certain about my current digital cameras is that as fine as they are, I (or more realistically, my descendants) won’t be able to get the batteries for them in 50 years time. They will at best be nostalgic, novelty doorstops, at worst landfill.

At the same time I’m having a look at a medium format kit he’s selling because I also want to have a go with a larger film format. One thing is for sure, my adventures in film have only just begun. Obviously I’ll be keeping you updated here.