Friday, March 28, 2008

Retro-Vintage Trailer Trash

I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do—that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse...My favorite things is to go where I’ve never been. ~ Diane Arbus

A number of factors worked on my warped mind to produce this weeks photos. Firstly I had watched Fur, a strange but inspiring film film about Diane Arbus (well an "imaginary portrait"). Arbus took a voyeuristic approach to photographing her subjects, often circus performers, eccentrics, midgets and transvestites both as fascinating real-life personas and as mythic figures. That gave me the "performer away from the stage" idea. Secondly, two photos from Flickr have been on my mind for a while Crystal Breaking by antiskeptic and The Belly Dancer by Maria Kristin Steinsson, that gave me the "naughty belly dancer" idea. Lastly, I was going to spend a couple of days in a caravan park, you can't really get more British retro than that, that gave me the backdrop and the idea to post-process my photos using vintage retro actions.

So, in the freezing cold, in a caravan park near Skegness, I donned the performer outfit, the props (fag and wine), and spent as little time as possible getting a few pics (it wasn't really the right environment to be standing around semi-naked). In these I'm trying to capture the performer outside of the performance, as a persona with issues and an unglamorous lifestlye despite the sequins and glitter. I would have liked to have a spent longer composing these, but unfortunately I didn't get the opportunity. They are not as good as I would have liked. Bit disappointed.

The post-processing was incredibly easy after I found this tutorial on Retro Colours which uses Photoshop's "Match Colours" filter. I tried some with high contrast Black and White too, channel-mixing to monocrome from the retroized images then fading to colour and boosting the contrast. Again, I can't decide which I like best. Below are some of my attempts, the best few I've put in my Flickr Account.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Alexander Rodchenko "Revolution in Photography", Hayward Gallery, London

After reading great reviews of the Rodchenko exhibition at the Hayward Gallery I finally popped down on a Saturday afternoon ready to be inspired and learn something about Soviet modernist photography.

The Russians are dominating British Art Galleries at the moment, Russian money is pouring in, they are buying back their heritage – this exhibition was made made possible, I read, “with the support of Roman Abramovich”.

Rodchenko is classed as one of the key figures of European modernism. I don't doubt his importance. However it wasn't long before a fog of Soviet boredom rolled in. With the best will in the world, there are only so many thrusting factory chimneys and gleaming rows of identical Moscow machine cogs that can keep one's interest, no matter how wonky, worm's eye, or bird's eye they are. And yes, I know "the photomontage" was a new and radical concept at the time, I appreciate that, I do, but it all appeared a bit bluepeter-ish to me, now have we got our scissors and prit stick ready?

What I did find interesting is the intermingling of art forms. Rodchenko began as a painter and never really became a pure photographer. But he stuck with photography because he believed it to be the most appropriate artistic medium for the times ahead: fast, mechanical, futuristic. I also found his views on politics and photography interesting: "I want to lead people to art, not use art to lead them somewhere else", he said, "art must be separate from politics". I find it very hard to separate documentary photography from politics, especially when the backdrop is Soviet Russia and the title of the exhibition has the word "revolution" in it! May be Rodchenko felt the brunt of this himself when, in the 1930s, Stalin consolidated his power and clamped down on photography in public places. Rodchenko's shows fizzled out.

Sadly, the ticket also paid for me to visit the exhibition in the ground floor galleries "Laughing in a foreign language". I really don't want to talk about that other than it's hard enough to find something funny in art in your own language without dragging yourself through Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Scandanavian perspectives.

Photographs featured:
1. Lengiz, Books in all Branches of Knowledge (1925)
2. The Critic Osip Brik (1924)

"Alexander Rodchenko: Revolution in Photography" is on at the Hayward Gallery, SE1, until April 27th 2008. Tickets cost £9 and unfortunately get you into "Laughing in a Foreign Language", on until 13th April 2008.

Ansel Adams "Celebration of Genius" Exhibition, City Art Centre, Edinburgh

In my mind's eye, I visualize how a particular... sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice. ~ Ansel Adams

Really the name "Ansel Adams" is just shorthand for "landscape photography", wonderful, inspiring, landscape photography. This incredible exhibition of over 150 prints and documentary film footage charts Adams career from the 1920s to the 1960s as he tells the story of the valleys and hills of Yosemite, the Californian Sierra Nevada mountains and the flow of the Pacific ocean at Point Sur.

Of course I am familiar with Adams' work, appreciated it, as any one with a vague interest in photography does. However I've never been that inspired by landscape photographs, but seeing Adams work in context and understanding how he came to create the images that he did completely converted me. I love the story of "the last plate", where his first meaningful photograph was the only plate he had left after a day of hiking and photography and he actually stopped and thought "I need to take a picture of how this valley makes me feel, not just the valley itself". How he was quietly one of the first "environmentalists" dedicating his life to capturing the beauty of America's wilderness and in doing so acted to prompt it's conservation. Adams' photographs came into being in the darkroom, dodging and burning to get the effect he wanted, he said "the negative is the composer's score, the print is the conductor's performance". I like that, it shows that even "real" photography is crafted to become art. It doesn't just come straight out of a camera.

It was also interesting to see his portraits and abstracts of nature, images which I had never come across before. However it was his lanscapes that really stood head and shoulders above the rest, you can loose yourself in an Adams' moonrise. I adore the natural world, I love being it it, to me it represents freedom, sublimity, heroism. I've always thought it would be impossible to capture what I see and more importantly how it makes me feel through a viewfinder. Adams' however managed to pour his magic into a little box, make a mountain look how it feels as opposed to geology, not only photograph the weather but also the quality of the air, capture Earth's beauty.

Photographs featured above:
1. Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park (1941)
2. Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico (1941)
3. Roots, Foster Gardens, Honolulu, T.H. (1948)

The Ansel Adams "Celebration of Genius" Exhibition is on at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh until April 19th 2008. Entry is £4.00.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Small Theory

People observe the colours of a day only at its beginning and ends, but to me it is quite clear that a day merges through a multitude of shades and intonations, with each passing moment. A single hour can consist of thousands if different colours. Waxy yellows, cloud-spat blues. Murky darkness. In my line of work, I make a point to notice them.

Death, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Saturday, March 08, 2008

A bit of music and fashion...

I've been too busy over the past few weeks to day any photography or digital imaging, work stuff. I've also become quite obsessed with the prospect of buying my first DSLR (planned adoption end of March the pennies permitting!), so much so that my poor old camera has been snubbed the more I read about Nikons and Canons which do not only have super-sonic image stabilisation, bags of megapixels, and an ISO bigger than 400, but will also walk the dog and give you a foot massage at the end of the day!

I shouldn't have been so harsh on my poor compact Olympus however. After being inspired by Portishead on Jools Holland, a crazy model who takes photos in designer clothes stores' changing rooms and armed with the magic of photoshop, it and I managed to produce some decent pictures.

This one is called "Can't anybody see", a lyric taken from Portishead's track "Roads". It's a bit of a juxtaposition with the model's bright clothes and plain background, she can be seen but no one sees her, see can see but she chooses not to look. There are also a few other lines in the lyrics that make sense with this picture, about internalization and being alone. Her clothes and pose are strong, but her own composition is not.

To begin with I had very strong preference for this picture to be in colour, however I tried it in monochrome and really like the high contrast effect (below). I've entered that into this weeks Digital Photography School Competition on monochrome.